Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cork and Kortrijk, Fundamental Particles

These word travel in a battalion of binary, tinily constituent of a surging light pulse torrent hastening at the universal speed limit within a three inch diameter fibre optic cable on the bottom of the Atlantic.  Outside this intercontinental information superhighway lies absolute inky blackness, vertical miles of ocean hammering down in mute pressure.  At one point the cable passes a group of thermophilic deep sea organisms huddled around a volcanic vent for sulphur and heat.  We share some DNA with them.

Belgium was warm when we got in on the third of July.  That Saturday, Leuven set an all-time temperature record of 35, convert that, 95 degrees fahrenheit.  The bell tower near us played the Star Spangled Banner in the afternoon. #America.  Our apartment at the summit of its very steep and narrow staircase stuffed between buildings doesn't have air conditioning.  So it goes.

Ireland on Sunday was much cooler.  During the bus ride west from Dublin I was surprised to see large rolling hills and occasional stands of coniferous trees lining the highway.  Southwest Ireland was beautifully cast in late evening light filtering through clouds as we rolled into Cork, a harbor city.  The athletes competing in the Cork City Sports meet were put in student housing near the track a couple miles out of town.  There was one very weak wifi network set up for an army of twenty-somethings far from home.  We looked like thermophiles around a volcanic vent.

The 3k in Cork in front of race winner Brett Robinson
I think I enjoyed all the potatoes and sausage (bangers and mash) more than most.  The Irish are very hospitable and easy to strike up conversations with.  Most Irish will say they can't even understand the accent of the Cork Irish, and I could hear why.  The (friendly?) rivalry between Corkers and Dubliners extends to their respective local beers.  Drinking Cork's Murphys Irish Stout and Dublin's Guinness back-to-back, I'd have to say Guinness still takes the blood pudding.

Despite windy and chilly conditions for the meet, the 3000 went a relatively quick 3:08 for the first three paced laps.  I put myself immediately behind the rabbit and when he dropped off American Jon Peterson generously took over the lead.  We slacked a bit on laps four and five and I let my eyes off the front of the race momentarily which cost me.  Australian Brett Robinson and Jeff See plucked a lead ahead of the pack.  With 200 meters to go I was moving really well and passing Dave McNeil, another Aussie while the announcer billed it as an Australia versus America finish.  I was third in 7:54, a good start to the five race tour in Europe.

By mid-week the drove of American professional runners had settled in after their annual migration to Leuven, Belgium.  Like Canada Geese we are here for the climate, we fly in V-formations on runs, eat a lot, and generally piss off the locals.  Leuven is an out-of-the-way small town with everything Canada Geese need: a track to shit on (metaphorically), lots of awesome green space for our activity, and the by now famous waffle stand.

On Saturday seemingly everyone ran the 1500 in Kortrijk, a small town on the Belgium - France border.  Courtrai (the french name) has been nice Nice to me in the past: it's given me a 3k PB  before and nearly a 1500 PB last year.  This time the fields were large and loaded, perhaps to the detriment of the races.  I didn't get out quite hard enough over the first 100 meters, even though it was probably 13.xx, was far back in the pack, and had to make at least three huge moves, each on the backstretch of every lap, until I gained a spot in third with 200m to go right behind Lopez Lomong.  The moves cost me a strong kick to 3:42, a subpar time but decent considering the whipsaw pace.

George and I got in a little fartlek and 400s tuneup session this morning in light mist.  Both of us feel great coming into Saturday's KBC Nacht meet in Heusden, where we're both running the 5k along with Leuven apartment room mates Brian Shrader and Maverick Darling and several other US runners.  The Olympic qualifying window is open and a fast time is the target.

For now thanks for reading and I'll post an update after the next couple meets.  Here is my upcoming race schedule:
Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
July 18 KBC Nacht Heusden, Belgium Track 5000
July 24 Morton Games Morton, Ireland Track 3000
August 1 Flanders Cup Ninove Ninove, Belgium Track 5000
August 7 Sir Walter Miler Raleigh, NC Track Mile

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Contest for Speed in Running

First of all they held a contest for speed in running.  
The field strung out from the starting scratch, yet all at the same time
flew on together, turning up the dust of the plain.  Of these
stately Klytoneos was far the best in the running,
and was out in front by the length of a furrow for mules plowing
a field, and came back first to the crowd, with the rest behind him.
  - Homer, The Odyssey Book VIII 120-25

For forty meters my legs rode a wavelet of power; a small but resonant surge prevailing stubbornly against the spring tide of choppily rising blood PH levels.  In the video of the race you see me get passed with 220 meters left but briefly stick on, no gap opening, a bungie cord still attached, that last sun-weathered tether stubbornly keeping the canoe from flying off the car top into the ditch.  A lap earlier I'd taken the lead from Michael Atchoo after 61 and 63 second laps, the plan to push the pace and give myself the best shot at making the final.  I went for it, and I'm glad I did.  On a second chance I'd go to the front a lap earlier.  If I'm having a good race it means I'm focused when I'm focused I usually don't remember much afterwards (call it getting "track-out").  But I do remember feeling electric in that little moment, truly racing the 1500 and not caring if it was a world silver medalist I was kicking against.  In our soon-to-be demolished-and-replaced house on Blackberry Road at Zap Fitness, one of the ages-old Zap wall ornaments is a Reebok poster of Jorge Torres leading the 2005 US Cross Country Championships and a quote: "Someone out there has a better time than me.  And I'm going to beat him."  

I recently spoke with psychologist and author of Elite Minds Stan Beecham about competition mindset and racing.  We worked out that you never know how good you really are, so why not be open to being really good, open to beating a world beater.  What if one day you pull up alongside him with half a straightaway remaining and aren't open to the possibility of beating him?  He already has an advantage over you.  And you'll be swearing ya coulda have beat him at the tavern that night over something strong.  Why would you run a race if you didn't think you could win?  You don't know the future, so why make it up beforehand?  Give yourself the best possible chance of winning by thinking you will win.

Just over 200m to go in the 1500 Prelim last Thursday at USA Track and Field Championships (I'm in orange)
On Thursday I didn't take down Matt Centrowitz or Jordan Macnamera, the car top on the other end of the struggling elastic.  The bungie broke and we all clambered for the finish at speeds exceeding sixteen miles per hour, the other seven guys in the field drifting by at lazy relative velocities on the peripherals of my acidic tunnel vision as I closed in 55.9 for the final 400.  With that, I missed earning a Q or q to the 1500 final of the US Championships in Eugene at Hayward Field.  On the day the outcome wasn't a win or even a qualification, but I was running2win and my mindset was fearless.  Having that outlook in racing, hell in meeting challenges anywhere in life whips up a tailwind that tends to nudge you, over time, across the brink to meeting your goals.  Long-suffering Odysseus eventually made it home.  Bonus: you can't really be mad for long after losing if you did everything you could to win.  I spent the rest of the warm weekend swimming in the Pacific (for about 24 seconds) and watching track and field from a spectator's point of view, athlete credential perks of mini gatorades, austin cheese crackers and legs massages shamelessly included.  

I enjoyed it.  Sunday afternoon's smorgasbord of simultaneous men's triple jump, shot put, women's pole vault, high jump, and track event finals was incredible.  Former Florida Gators pumped the crowd all afternoon and went 1-2-3 in the men's triple jump, busted out mini dust pans and brooms, and literally swept the track surface.  There were heart breaking falls and weird pull-ups short of the finish line.  Galen Rupp lost.  Robby Andrews almost broke 12 seconds over his last 100m in the 1500 final.  Friends made teams and personal bests.  The meet troposphere was incredibly delectable, and next year's Olympic Trials are only going to be about one hundred times cooler, literally (I hope).  Speaking of, the window to post qualifying times for the OT just opened up, which brings me to what's next: Europe and #Euracing 2015.

George and I fly to Brussels on Thursday.  Last year he and I had a great time basing in the little town of Leuven, Belgium and living in a combination of unfurnished dorm rooms and overly modern business flats, the major perk being the queen sized bed we had (got to) share, now part of a storied Zap tradition, that is, men sharing beds on trips.  We're thin.  This time around we're living in different spots in town but I think we'll manage.  We still plan to be the first group on the practice track every morning, jam smeared croissants having been washed down with Aquarius sports drink and rented bikes locked up on the fence.

Racing around Europe is about train stations with names at the whim of local dialects, converting from kilometers, converting everything really, waffles, convincing yourself that the same brands of beer really do taste different here, running into other American runners on tiny streets and in massive churches, quests for establishments that serve tap water at dinner, sources of wifi, and hanging out with awesome Belgian dudes in fifteenth century underground bars who somehow know more about NCAA football than you do.  And of course racing every 3-7 days in perfectly set up opportunities at meets that serve beer and ice cream.  (Jeez, I've mentioned beer a lot in this paragraph.  Don't get the wrong impression.)  We train and race hard year round, but there's always a little voice that keeps repeating, "July.  July.  July.  Relax.  July."  Sounds oddly like Mugatu.  Our training at Zap is strength based with a long term view, but in July and a bit of August I get to rip it. Race six times in just 26 days.  The way they did in the '70s.  Race.  Recover.  Repeat.  Get sharper than a blade of Valerian steel.  I'm excited and emboldened by the moves at USA's.

I'll be writing approximately weekly on our Euro Odyssey across the wine-blue water, so check back for more.  For now, here's the race schedule:

Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
July 7 Cork City Games Cork, Ireland Track 3000
July 11 Flanders Cup Kortrijk Kortrijk, Belgium Track 1500
July 18 KBC Nacht Heusden, Belgium Track 5000
July 24 Morton Games Morton, Ireland Track 3000 or Mile
August 1 Flanders Cup Ninove Ninove, Belgium Track 5000