Monday, October 16, 2017

Nickel and Dimed - Qualifying for a World Championship

So I made the US Aquathlon National team.  In my recap I said I was proud to make the team but hardly blown away with my performance.  In fact, with a very generous selection system, it seemed if you had modest talent you would make the team. Discussing how deep the team went with someone who had made two previous national teams they said "Well, the World Championship is in Denmark.  They now half the people who qualify aren't going to make the trip.  They just want to collect fees."  I wasn't exactly sure what he meant. 
Lo and behold I get an email today congratulating me on making the team. In order to hold my spot, I have two weeks to pay $50 to USA Triathlon. THEN, I can register for the race. Note, the $50 not only doesn't go toward the registration but I don't even know how much the registration is until I pay the $50. I could pay the money, see the registration is $200, realize that in a sprint type race that this world championship is that I will be noncompetitive and with the cost of travel and everything else, just say screw it.  But then I am out the original $50 because, wait for it, it is nonrefundable.

I truly believe that most people don't mind paying for things, even if it is a little more than they might expect, if they feel like it isn't an underhanded nickel and dime job. (I forgot to mention that it isn't just $50 as that charges a $5.12 processing fee. You know, it is 2017 and credit card stuff is so new-fangled. They are going to have to specifically train someone to figure out that infernal contraption.) If the $55.12 was just incorporated into the fee, or heck if even the $5.12 was incorporated into the $50 of profit for USAT, I am sure many wouldn't mind the expense.
So here I sit. I have two weeks to decided if I want to throw $50 away. I have emailed USAT asking for the registration price wondering if they will tell me before I register.  No response yet. I suddenly recall a similar circumstance when I last attempted to, and did, qualify for the World Championship in 2009.  I had to totally forgotten that this same scenario had turned me away then. Now I have to decide if it will turn me away again.

I'll keep you posted.

Addendum 10/20/17:  I received a reply that told me the $50 fee is a deposit that "
goes toward the support services (team doctor, mechanics, chiropractor, managers, travel agents, and coaches) that will be provided to Team USA once we arrive in Odense. We’ll also have our team coach supply training plans to all athletes in the new year."  Now that sounds a lot better than just throwing 50 bucks away.  It remains to be seen how well that all holds true, however, as I asked a friend who had made the team previously about this and they said "We'll see."

So just when a bit of goodwill had been restored, acting on some prodding from another friend in the know I asked about other expenses. More specifically I had heard that the Team USA kit was pricey ($400) and a parade kit was also required at an additional expense of $200. The reply?  "Those items are mandatory for all athletes that were not on Team USA this year. We use the uniform for four years and the parade package, with the exception of the shirt, for two years. These items will be available for purchase in early 2018."

So right now, we are looking at $50 deposit, $400 kit, $200 parade kit, probably $150-$200 registration fee and that is all before I even book a flight or hotel. Bear in mind this is all for a 1000meter swim and a 5km run.  For 35 minutes of exercise time I am looking at $1000 flight, lord knows how many nights of hotel at what cost (I am guessing 5 nights at $100 easy a night) rental car, meals, etc.

If anyone knows a rich benefactor, I am taking emails.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

US National Aquathlon Championship Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 13th Edition 
151.7 miles run; 4750m swam in 2017 races
Race: US National Aquathlon Championship
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 70; sunny; nice

All and all this has been a decent year of racing even if it has not felt like it. In January, I won a
rugged trail race I was ill-equipped to run. In April, I broke my course record at the Salt Flats 50k (even though I ended up taking second overall.) And in spite of the fact I was attacked, suffered facial fractures and a broken thumb two months ago, I was still able to make it to the start of the US National Aquathlon Championships.

It is my personal policy that if a National Championship race, or something close to it, is within relatively close driving distance, even if you are going to suck at it, you should probably do it. This policy led me to taking on the US Mountain Running National Championship race two years ago even though I knew I would get destroyed (and I did.) As well as qualifying for U.S. National Snowshoe Championships having never worn snowshoes. Or qualifying for the Long Course Duathlon World Championship on just about your first ever duathlon attempt. So when it looked like I would get a chance to compete here, even though I was completely not in the shape I wanted to be in, I found myself driving to the start in the 5 o'clock hour even though my race didn't start until 8:30 am. Why? Because rules. (More specifically, we had to have our transition set up at 6:45 so we could have the mandatory meeting at 7 so the women could start at 7:15. Yay.)

There were a couple of quirks about this race which I was eager to find out how they would work and a few logistical issues I hoped would not be too much.  First was the start of the race. Beginning outside of a fence, it was a time trial start, meaning that like most races today, it would be done by chip timing. However, the race also had us 157 men filing through a door in the fence that was just about wide enough for one and half men, before taking a sharp right angle turn, stepping over some football shaped rocks lining the path, which itself was rather uneven, filled with gravel in some places and rooty and rocky in others.  It was, for all in tense and purposes, a trail run. None of that
appealed to me.

Running a quarter of a loop would put us at the top of the ramp and transition area, upon which we would then do three more loops before heading down to swim in the quarry.  Changing into out swim gear (including putting a swim cap on, while in motion, which I was not a fan of) we would walk onto a dock and get into the water.

A rather funky shaped out and back, followed by a loop around the interior of quarry would have us finishing the swim. Then two and three quarter loops before an acute angle turn over an uneven grass surface into the finisher chute.  Let's just say I was filled with repidation about how much could go wrong here. I could not have been more happy that I had done 5 aquathlons out here since April which at least allowed me to know the course. I pitied those who came from all over the country who might not have been too familiar with it. I wouldn't pity them during the race, however. Screw that. I came to race.

The women took off over an hour before the me.  I was envious as it was actually, dare I say, chilly? I watched for a bit before deciding to head off and kill an hour or so doing...well...not much. But being awake for a few hours at least allowed me to wake up and get the motor running a bit.  This would still not make up for the fact that I as participating in a sprint race and I am an endurance guy but at least I wouldn't being doing it first thing in the morning.  Plus, for the first time since May, I felt mildly, and I mean just barely, chilly.  That alone made me happy.

Before too long it was time to head to the starting scrum and slide in with a lot of people that were undoubtedly more trained than I was. I would give it my best.

Run One: 78th overall in 14:49  

I seeded myself a little ways back even though I hoped it would not mean I was weaving around people who did not properly position themselves.  It probably took me a full thirty seconds to get through the gate, stepping over a huge boulder before crossing the mat. My goal was to run within myself and save my energy for the swim and second run.  I may be out of shape and I may not be a sprinter but I just had a feeling that the race was long enough that my endurance might kick in a bit.

I recognized a few athletes from some of the other aquathlons who I routinely finished right around so I felt I was in the right spot.  Even after the first loop where they pulled away a bit, comfort was what I felt.  In hindsight, comfort in a short race is not good.  Comfort is good for distance.  In short races, your lungs should be burning and your muscles screaming. But to be perfectly honest, I did not have that in me today.  If I could run relatively hard I would still be happy. I figured that later on, if I saw someone in my age group, I could maybe ignite the inner fire. Those in my age group were all that mattered to me today.  Not overall place, not which woman had a faster time earlier in the day, none of that.

Not that it mattered much but the watch I have had for ages broke about a week before the race.  I was using a backup and the buttons weren't as intuitive as usual. As such, I messed up a lap or two but I felt I was doing well. My best friend Shannon had trekked up to the quarry after a ridiculously early morning run to cheer me on and I heard her above the crowds.  She had been running early in response to some women who had been attacked running in Austin. A group of people had decided to "Take Back The Trail" in solidarity to show that they would not be frightened. This whole thing reminded me of my own article called Running While Male.

Starting the third loop I began to wonder about the transition.  We would have to run down a ramp
and put a swim cap and goggles on whilst moving. If you have ever seen swimmers, we fiddle with that stuff for minutes when we are standing still. I wasn't looking forward to trying to do it on the fly.  The third lap had me more or less standing pat pace wise with a few runners passing me and me passing a few . I literally had no idea where I was in the race but hoped the top 50.  Timewise I saw I finished this about midpack but it is entirely possible people ran it faster than I did who started after me. Another thing I didn't like about this time trail style of racing was not knowing who you were racing. Alas. Run fast and don't worry about others, my Dad would have said. Simple stuff.
Transition 1:  46th overall in 40 seconds

This wasn't too bad of a transition.  I was 46th overall but mere seconds separated the vast majority of us. For example, the 9th fastest guy was only ten seconds faster than me. Also, my dive from the dock was freaking He-Man epic. (If you got that reference: sweet.)  I hope someone got a picture.

Swim: 81st  overall  in 16:27   

Post-race finding out I was just midpack in the swim bothered me a bit. For the entirety of the portion in the water, all I was doing was passing people. Again, I know this means slower runners were making up time on me in the swim but man did I feel better than middle of the pack.

I didn't do the best job of navigating the swim and definitely swam less than a straight line.  Again, like the first run, I felt comfortable.  I should have, like the first run, pushed harder.  Granted this was only the second swim in 10 weeks and second since being attacked but just because I had pins in my thumb removed a month ago doesn't mean I don't expect more of myself.  Logic: I don't has it. It is entirely possible I would have swam harder if I had been up against better swimmers but I was lulled into false sense of effort by the number of people I was passing.

Soon I made the final turn around the buoy and was heading for the ramp out of the water.  Some kind volunteers stabilized me as I ran out and now it was time to find my shoes.

Transition 2: 55th overall in 51 seconds

Where are my shoes?!

I couldn't find my towel and gear even though I had wisely used an Archer Whore Island towel to
distinguish it from others.  What threw me was that when I laid it down in the dark, I had just done so in the first open space. I saw now that there were markings for each age group.  I knew mine wasn't in the right spot and I wasted way too much time trying to find my gear. When I finally did I was a little pissed. If I had just taken 40 seconds like before, I would have been 23rd fastest in this transition.

Run 2: 47th overall in 12:42  

My intention for this final run was to track down as many people in my age group as possible in order to do the best I could to place high in my age group. The problem was, as I finished the first loop, I still had not seen a single person in my age group for the entirety of the race.  Not a soul.. I saw none around me at the start,  I passed none in the run, none passed me, I didn't pass any in the swim and here I was again, all alone. (They write the ages of competitors on the calf muscle, in case you were curious how I knew the ages of people.)

As such, I began playing a cat and mouse game with a couple of guys who were not in my age group.  I couldn't rightly tell if they were on the same loop as me or one ahead but every time we would hit the flat, wide, top part of the loop I would pass them. When we went through the twisty, turny portion, or the uphill, they would pass me back.  At the very least we were pushing each other and this was keeping me from falling back.

On the final last bit of the course I passed a few runners who I thought might be in my age group but upon getting closer saw they weren't. (Again, it might not have mattered as they could have, in theory, started after me. Have I mentioned I hate this type of racing?)  Regardless, I gave it all I could at the end and crossed the finish in 45:32, just about 30 seconds slower than what I thought would be a decent time for me today.  Now I just had to wait a bit to see how I placed in my age group to find out if I qualified for the World Championships.

Now a little note about these qualifications.  I was fairly certain I was going to qualify.  Because I am relatively good at both running and swimming I had a fair chance. Also, in what I thought was very generous move, they took an exorbitant amount of participants in each age group. While this race is an automatic qualifier, there is apparently also a points system that US Triathlon uses for those who didn't race this particular race. If people who qualified here chose not to go to the World Championship race, others can sign up. This type of qualifying is something which has always been a bit distasteful for me about the world of multi-sport races.  Throw in my complete disdain for the bike and there are a couple of reasons that, while I am definitely a better athlete at multi-sport than running, it just doesn't appeal much to me.  I provide these caveats because I think they are necessary, especially in today's era of bragging about oneself when there is little to brag about.

So even though I was certain I had qualified, there was still a moment of pause as I entered in my bib number to see my result.  When it popped up that I not only had indeed qualified but was second overall in my age group, I was elated.  For five seconds. Then I realized I was one place out of being an age group national champion.  Damn it!

So I more than qualified.  Now I have to decide if I am going. The World championship race is 1000meter swim and a 5k.  A veritable sprint and something I will do nowhere near good enough to be happy. Why there isn't a few options for those of us who never had, even in our youth, fast twitch muscle fibers is beyond me. I salivate at the thought of a 1500m swim and a 15k.

But, I have never been to Denmark.  So....

Friday, September 22, 2017

Yanky Hanky Product Review

I don't like running with "stuff."

I prefer not to run with my phone. Occasionally I would run with an iPod Nanon when I would do a long lonely ultra.  Since moving to Austin, I can count on one hand the number of times I have worn a shirt because of cold weather.  Gadgets are fun but for the most part they just get in the way of what I want to do: run.

However, when I see a product that just seems like it will be a gamechanger, I have to check it out. The one which came across my view the other day was the Yanky Sport Hanky. Meant to be used as any other hanky to wipe away sweat or to stop your nose from running, the Yanky has an ingenious little feature - you don't have to carry it!

Attached to one of those retractable zipline things so many people have on their ID carrier, the super soft and compact Yanky allows you to clip it to your shorts, pull, wipe your face and then just let go. No litter. No searching in your pockets (if you have them) for a rag. No worries. (Click here for a quick video.)

The aforementioned moved to Austin last year had me discovering sweat glands I never knew existed. It also took me back to when I first started running marathons and I would carry a regular old
washcloth with me. I needed anything to wipe the sweat off of me to help the cooling effect.  It was effective for what it was meant for but the retucking it into my waistband and needing to pull it back out again was tiresome. So, on more than a few runs here when the temperature and humidity has been off the charts, I took the Yanky out for some test runs. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.

Created by one man in Canada, the Yanky was something I simply had to be a part of. I reached out to creator Ryan Jacobson and we have been talking for a few months about how to make that a reality. I believe in this product so much, I am hoping to not only become a user but an owner. That is how good it is.

N.B. This is not just for runners but is loved by golfers as well.  I took it for a hike in Utah the other day and loved it just as much then.  The hanky is actually a bit smaller than I was thinking it would be and that made it all the better.

The Yanky is made out of Bamboo and Organic Cotton with a velour finish. Super absorbent, quick to dry, ridiculously soft, and durable. You can tell right away that this can handle the rigors of sweat and snot and everything else thrown at it.  Heck, it was made in the wintery netherlands of Canada!  

So, take it from me, the Sweatatron 3000, this product is amazing.  Order yours today.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pure Austin Splash and Dash (6 of 6) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 12th Edition 
147.7 miles run; 3750m swam in 2017 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 94 freaking degrees; cloudy; humid

Oooh, boy.

In what can only be described as my most odd year of racing, less than two months ago I had no idea when I would actually be putting on a bib number again. 

I was attacked by two men late at night in what can only be described as an odd motor vehicle/pedestrian related incident. (More here.) Thumb broken in multiple spots, requiring surgery and pins and a face fractured in three places made me wonder when I would race again.  (N.B., The police have STILL not charged either man who attacked me as of today and have made it less than easy to even move forward with this process, even though they had both men in their hands mere minutes after the attack. But I digress.)

Because of my injuries, I had already cancelled several races, including my own that I was hosting, costing me thousands of dollars in lost income. While I was able to return to running sooner than expected by many, it was a slow return and one filled with trepidation. I flew in from a personal trip at midnight on Tuesday morning and realized the final Splash and Dash series was 6 pm that night.  If I was going to have any shot whatsoever of qualifying for the World Aquathlon Championship (the qualifying race would be held October 1st here in Austin) I knew I had to get back to racing and get in the water. So to the familiar aquathlon proving grounds I went.
Previous rocky ramp

My racing had taken me here on four prior occasions. I missed August's race for obvious reasons but as I drove to the start of this race, with 94 degree temperatures and typical Austin humidity, I was happy that it was at least cloudy. Getting to the race starting line I saw that the normally rocky exit ramp from the water had been paved over, in anticipation of the National Championship race in 12 days. That was nice.

Sliding into the 83 degree water, I was also pleased this was a little cooler than the bathwater I had swam in back in July. I didn't expect to have a particularly good race but at least I had a few small factors better than they could be.


The gun went off and I did my best to hang to the far right in an attempt to keep anyone from hitting my hand. For the most part, I forgot all about it as I sliced through the water. All it took was a few strokes and I was more concerned about my positioning than my thumb. My swim at no point felt particularly fast but it also did not feel like I was trying too hard. Unfortunately, my sighting was a bit off for this race and some foggy goggles did not help much.  Regardless, after the initial rush of swimmers, I only had one person pass me, which I was fine with. Again, I was just happy nothing hurt.

Getting out of the water, transitioning from swim to run, went rather smoothly, even if I did doddle a bit putting on my shoes. I saw one swimmer was about to run up the hill at the same time and I simply had a feeling I would pass them on the run anyway.  So I let them go in order to give chase.

Cresting the hill,  I noticed my time was 12:35. That was just 8 seconds slower than my fastest swim/transition time of the previous four swims. What the heck?  I hadn't swam in 2 months (63 days, actually) and in the month between my third and fourth aquathlons I had really hammered some swim workouts. So here I was, getting back from a trip to the mountains, staying with a friend who had a cat (I am allergic), feeling overall out of shape (I still am about 10 pounds over what I raced at two months ago) and for all intents and purposes, I swam my fastest time of the year?  *shaking head gif*

I can tell you that during the race I didn't know this. I thought I had been in the 11 minute range previously. I can't say that it changed my overall strategy much but I do wonder if I knew what I had done if it would have spurred me forward some.  Regardless, I had three loops to run.


Within yards of the start I saw one young fella ahead of me who I mentioned previously.  I knew he wasn't going to stay in front of me for long. Right before the first half of the first loop was done, I passed him and gave him a "good job."  Young guy. Good swimmer. Will be interesting to see how he fares. Yet while I passed him something was amiss. I was simply exhausted. Crossing the mat for the first loop only confirmed what I already knew:  I was basically jogging.  My first loop was completed in 4:49 or three seconds slower than my previous worst loop on a day when I mailed it in. I fully expected a deluge of runners to be passing me on the second loop.

However, as I ran on, sucking wind, paying extra care to the footing on this loop (which is really rather treacherous for a race and I have no idea how they are going to have a mass start for the championship, if they do in fact start like that) I just was going through the motions. With about a minute to go on the end of this second loop, first and second place overall lapped me. That was a bit demoralizing but not surprising.  Only a surge kept me under 5 minutes for the loop (by my watch a 4:59; by the timers: 5:00.)

This final loop was me passing runners and feeling a little good about lapping people myself while also being mindful of someone else lapping me. I had virtually no energy to fight off anyone but I did see one runner up ahead. In spite of being drained, I am happy to say I could still find a competitive edge somewhere in the murky darkness of exhaustion. I stalked him until the final turn and with just .1 of a mile to go I passed him. I saw I wasn't going to break 27 minutes which bothered me greatly but I was going to hold off this guy if it was the last thing I did. Crossing the mat in 27:13, I was 11th male overall.

Now, I don't know if this guy I just chased was on my same loop (I finished, veered to the right and collapsed on the grass - 100% spent), but I do know that someone finished just five seconds behind me.  I had not seen nor heard anyone else but it easily could have been. (Later I found out it was not the guy I was chasing but a rather slow swimmer and a super fast runner who had almost racked me down.) Regardless, I valiantly tried to hold onto the Master's OA win which I had won every time I had raced previously.  Alas, some other grey-haired speedster nabbed that award from me this time and even if I had run much better than expected I could not have beaten him. (He finished 5th overall.) 

So in my five aquathlons this year I had finished in 26:02; 25:49; 26:13; 26:33; 27:13. None of those are the times I thought I would run.  I truly thought I would be in the 23 range by the end of this year of racing.  With the championships in just 11 days, I can say I do not have much confidence in my repeating my 2009 world championship qualifying feat. Sure it could happen and the forecast "only" calls for a high of 87 that day. A 8:30 AM start might help a bit, too. But the main thing is I have gotten back in the water and faced my fears of what would happen with my hand.

Be in the arena, first and foremost.  You can do nothing if you don't show up.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Calling All Runners: Stop Stretching

Right now.
It is a horrible idea.

(N.B. throughout this article, I am referring to static stretching and stretching that approaches the limit of a muscle's extension, before a major effort. Light, active "stretching" which more or less mimics the actions you plan on doing is a different thing.)

We have been told for years to stretch before running.  As runners gather around before a run they sometimes nervously stretch. God forbid that they be caught doing nothing. People will think they aren't a real runner. (Sort of like the person coming in to the finish line at a 6 minute sprint when their overall pace will be 11 minutes.We can do the math. It's cool that you are slower.) Before a race, as the nervous energy kick in, people start doing stretches they haven't done in a decade. They push against poles and vehicles. They grab their leg and pull their shoe up to their quad. They more or less are not only not doing anything beneficial but they are probably doing a great deal of harm. (I cannot tell you how much I hate this stretch, if only because anytime I did a news story the photographer would ask me to do that for the pictures. I used to oblige. Now I tell them to take a shot of me running.)

But what do I know? I haven't stretched since the year began 19xx. My 150th marathon is in 10 days and the only injuries I have had stem from bicycle crashes. Go right ahead and ignore me. However, ignoring science might be a bad thing. What science? Oh, you know, basically all of it. Read this fella's blog for all kinds of sciency stuff.  He echoes or is saying many of the things I have said for years.

Why am I telling you this? Because my goal has not been about getting people to run. Motivating people for brief periods of time for specific goals is fairly easy.  My goal is to keep people running. The best way to keep someone doing something is to make it enjoyable and make it safe for them o do.  If they are injured, they are not going to want to run. Plain and simple. (This also goes to the point of streak running but that is another day's article.)

So many runners continue to think that flexibility is the key to being a good runner. They are wrong. For our sport the key is to keep everything going in a forward motion. Our need for lateral motion is very little, even for trail runners.The most efficient runners, especially as the distance gets longer are those who exerted the least effort to maintain a pace. Those runners are often the stiffest, or not at all that flexible.

Knee injuries, almost never caused by running, are however often caused when the ligaments are loose and allow the knee to slide and grind. Guess how ligaments get loose. Go ahead. I'll wait. (It's in the title of this article.)

Yet people continue to stretch. They also continue to smoke/chew tobacco and drink alcohol in spite of the overwhelming evidence for how bad those things are for the human body, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. However, I hope this will help drive home the point that stretching is not only overrated but detrimental to your success as a long-term, healthy endurance runners. (Same as ice baths. Again, another article.)

So stay tight, warm-up appropriately before your running with some light jogging or other aerobic activity, and leave the stretching for the Armstrongs. (Google it, you damn millennials.)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Trump Will Resign

I try my best to make even my few random posts about things that are political to be somewhat connected to the world of sport.But when it comes to the embarrassment currently in our White House, I don't even care to make that effort.

A week ago, on twitter, I predicted in a week, Seb Gorka would be gone. I based that prediction on observation, a gut feeling, and conversations with people in the know (earlier in my life I was knee deep in interviews with various governmental agencies.  I'm hardly security-cleared but I am not ignorant to what is going on, either.) My followers, mostly joking but probably hopefully as I made similar predictions about Sean Spicer and Michael Flynn, asked me for another. Well, while I was waiting to send this to a website with a more political slant, I decided to put it here first.

Trump will resign. Soon.

Whether Mike Pence, Paul Ryan or anyone else in the line of succession is sitting in his chair depends mostly on the findings of Robert Mueller and his massive team of investigators.  But long before they hand down indictments and eons before criminal cases, the papier-mâché thin skin of Trump will force him to resign.

For seven decades, Trump has bullied, cajoled, or overspent most of his opponents.  He has never had any reason to do anything else as those who dealt with the fraudulent stain left behind by his cheeto-colored grip-and-pull-handshake were often simply happy to have him out of their lives once he did his damage. But the United States Government has much more time, patience, and money than the short-fingered thousandaire.  More importantly, finally, there are people standing up to Trump. And nothing could possibly upset him more (other than learning prima nocta wasn’t actually a thing when Ivanka and Jared got married.)

Arrogantly, ignorantly, and ultimately against his own best interest, Trump will leave the job he never really wanted in the first place.  And he will leave it soon. His inability to hide who he is following the tragic events of Charlottesville, his pardoning of Joe Arpaio, and in his TransGender military ban and not being able to address only farm-show crowds of red-hatted simpletons in Harrisburg, PA or other like venues, Trump’s truest colors finally made many of his more moderate supporters blanch. Bear in mind, this revolt is not because those in the GOP disagree with his stances. Rather, they have learned, begrudgingly, you must be more clandestine with your prejudices.

If you want to be racist and let your followers know you are without being obvious, you have to call black people by the moniker of “thugs.” If you want to stifle women’s reproductive rights, you have to pretend you care about a cluster of cells which you will immediately stop caring about the minute it exits the womb. However, Trump has never had to have a filter and even remotely pretending to have one lasted about five minutes as he stood in front of the ostentatious gold elevators of Trump Tower trying to talk about infrastructure but instead calling the alt-right “us.” (Or seeming to, at the very least. Does it really matter if he actually said it? He would deny it two seconds later anyway.) 

As such,  the dust-off-hands, blackjack-dealer-change-out moment is coming. Trump will continue to claim he won the popular vote. He will continue to talk about his huge Electoral College victory. But now he will say that the swamp is too deep for him to drain and he has had enough.  He will walk away thinking that doing so will stop the investigations against him or he will be pardoned even if they don’t.  Regardless, the man unsuited for the job he didn’t want, who was only hoping to create buzz for his brand, is being questioned about the most basic of decencies any human being should have, and he no longer wants anymore of it.

The countdown to resignation is on. Now whether the investigations into his treason will spark a snap election and a constitutional amendment in order to save our country from the undoubtedly deep connections to his own malfeasance is another thing. One article at a time.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

High School Memories Jostled from the Women's Steeplechase Finals at IAAF Worlds

I recently received as a birthday gift some old VHS tapes transferred to digital. One of the files was my senior year of High School district swimming meet.  Many who follow my running career are surprised to learn that I am a far better swimmer naturally than I am a runner. Even though I did not start swimming until 10th grade, I was fortunate enough to do very well.  Just recently my last record fell and it stung a little bit. But when I remember that the record I broke was 9 years old and we
revered those guys, here's hoping the youngsters thought nice things about me.

As I watched this district meet, I was reminded of two separate events: my 200 yard and 500 yard races. I wasn't much of a 200 guy as my coach was always popping me in and out of events to help the team. Swimming is very much a game of chess when teams are evenly matched. You see even though I was our school record holder in the 500, I was also the team's fastest sprinter.  However, we had some guys who weren't too far off from me in the sprints which allowed us to move me around a bit. This definitely put me in some unenviable positions as sprints and distances events are often swam back-to-back because people rarely do both. (To put this in perspective, it would be like expecting Usain Bolt to run the 100 meter dash and then also compete in the mile or 5k.) I often was taking on events without must rest.

Watching the Women's 3000 Steeplechase Finals at IAAF Worlds a few weeks ago was a rollercoaster for track fans. Their were wrong turns (on a track?!), collisions, and surprise endings. If you haven't check it out, please do here. If you don't want the ending spoiled, stop reading until you watch the video.

When Courtney Frerichs napped a second place finish, knocking over 14 seconds from her time, it was absolutely amazing. When you are at that level, to take that sort of time off your finish is almost unheard of. As she lay on the track, hugging Emma Coburn, the overall winner, she was obviously overtaken not only with joy but disbelief. It showed all over her face.

This face struck me. I had just seen this face elsewhere and it was of me on those videotapes I just had transferred. Going into that district championship, in my last dual meet I had been able to eke under two minutes for the 200 for the first time ever. 1:59:7 if I recall. It was a big boost mentally as I knew that it was likely to put me in the fastest heat at districts, even if I was dead last in that heat. I was. All the way in lane 6 I wasn't expecting much but I wanted to give it my all. Long story short, there was one false start (and an automatic DQ for one fella), I led the entire race for the first 100 and then hung onto a 3rd place overall, a State Qualifier and knocked 5 seconds off my time to swim a 1:54.88. To say my face looked like Courtney's would be an understatement.

A little while later I was lined up for the 500 yard free. This was my favorite event and I had worked hard to be seeded third. I went out like a shot (which was how I swam), held onto to the lead for 400 yards and finally succumbed to a superior swimmer. However, even though I lost the overall win, I did take second place, knocking 14 seconds off my time and broke the district record (which obviously didn't matter since I took second.) But again, I remember sitting there completely thunderstruck.  

Earlier in the meet, the timeclock on the side of the wall which distance swimmers would use to see how their pace was, shorted out. Since I was swimming out of my mind, I had no idea how well I was doing.  Everything hurt more than it ever had at the same time it felt wonderful.  When I finished, I had no clock to look at. I had to ask the timers standing by what my time was. When they told me, I stood there stunned.

As I watched this video of Courtney, obviously far superior in her sport than I in any of mine, it nonetheless allowed me to take myself back to that time. That is what I love so much about sports which involve just you and the clock. There is no teammate to rely on. There are no timeouts. There is nothing but you hoping against hope to beat every time you have ever run or swam. In my instance I had two of those just a few hours apart. Courtney had hers on a world stage. But they hit us both personally just about the same, I am sure.

Thanks for the memory jog, Courtney.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

When You Can't Run

In 2009 a car turned in front of me when I was cycling. One Grade III acromioclavicular joint separation later and barring running the Pikes Peak Marathon a few days later (a VERY questionable decision on my part) I didn't run for 18 days. But the non-running streak was 12 days.

In 2012, another cycling accident left me with multiple breaks in my shoulder, again putting me on the shelf. I was only out for 10 days before I gingerly began running again.

In 2013, a freak staph infection in my foot had me dangerously close to losing it altogether.  Somehow I was out for only 9 days.

In 2015, I tripped on a run, broke my hand and only took 3 days off. I've taken that long off before a half-marathon multiple times!

In 2016, one of the worst colds I have ever had in my life, with the flu and I think the Black Death hitting me at once, made me not leave my apartment for a week. I didn't run for 10 days.

Those are basically the only long term times I have taken off from running since I started keeping track in 2006. I don't do long streaks of running very often as I am a big advocate of rest, but I also don't take extended breaks either. Until a little over a week ago.

Sunday, close to midnight, I was heading home from my best friend's. Without going into too much detail (you can read more here on my Facebook page), I was accosted by two men.  The end product had me fighting for what could have been my life (I don't know what weapons they had, whether they wanted to steal my car, what drugs they may have been on, etc.,) and heading to the hospital with a broken hand, various cuts, and three fracture to my face around my eye.  As I (inexplicably) deal with the question of whether the police are going to charge these men with a crime, I sit here with three pins in my thumb, warnings about not even bending over lest I risk permanent vision impairment, and an overwhelming desire to escape it all for a bit by going for a run.

Which, obviously, I can't do. For the 9th day in a row, in what may be as many as a month or more, the way I handle stress, the way I deal with people not returning calls so I can go about my business, the way I try to figure out how to reschedule the race series I was directing over Labor Day which now has to be postponed, and the way I control everything around me, if even only for an hour, is not available to me.



My perspective however is not with blinders, however. I know that I should be able to return to running someday soon. (Although, that is not guaranteed. My checkup on Monday will tell me more about the fractures in my face, why my teeth and jaw are numb, etc.) My friend, Dave Mackey, he who of great trail running chops who lost a leg after an accident while running, reached out to offer condolences. This gave me a touch of perspective even if I didn't really need it.  That said, when every fiber in you wants to run and you know the consequences if you do, it is a bit maddening.

I keep trying to think of other ways to keep my mind off of not running or my situation but am headed off at the pass each time. Every form of exercise which pops into my mind as an alternative is quickly brushed away for the same reasons I can't run.  I want to work on my next book but typing sucks. I have been asked to submit some new paintings for a gallery here in Austin but, well, that whole hand not working thing gets in the way. I dare not turn on the television because something Orange Delirious lets slip from that prolapsed anus he calls a mouth is bound to make me want to punch something, which, all together now: "You can't do because of your hand!"

There is no pithy way I can think of to end this post. I simply know that any of the 30 million or more people who call themselves runners in the U.S. alone can absolutely understand my frustration right now. I find it quite coincidental that as of right now the last run I did was one where, simply because I needed to blow off a little stress, I went for a quick three miler.  The words I attached to that run?

"It is so nice that I am fortunate enough to be able to change a bad mood around completely in just 24 minutes."

So true.

ADDENDUM: Two weeks after being attacked, and dealing with a detective who did more than just ask questions to move forward (at one point, yelling, and yes I mean yelling "Because your story is BULLSHIT!) it appears that by being calm, rational and not hurling falsehoods at the two delinquents who said "We are from the East Coast and not one of you Texas faggots. We will knock the white of of you" I am not being taken serious. Copious records have been taken and, as a former law school professor suggested I will "gather your medical bills, diary your aches, pains, sleepless nights, and you find the P. I. lawyer with the biggest ad on the back of a bus in Austin and call him or her!"

Apparently, not running over people and simply exiting your car when approached are enough for certain people to think that you are contributory negligent or at least semi deserving of facialand hand fractures.

Finally, on 5 pm on Friday before Labor Day, nearly 4 weeks after the "BULLSHIT!" call form above I get an email saying they need more medical records. When I finally obtain them this week, I am told it is strange as the police usually just get them themselves.  So now I have to make copies, take them to the police and see if even that is enough to press charges.  Mind you, I doubt I am getting a red cent out of these who supposedly homeless miscreants.  This is just so charges can be pressed criminally. Meanwhile, my medical bills mount.

All, again, because I didn't drive over them, as suggested by the detective.

I've lost tens of thousands of dollars from spineless companies and partners for standing up to Trump.  You think I am going to not pursue being assaulted by two men in the middle of the night? While the GoFundMe link isn't necessarily going to pay my medical bills, it is putting money in my pocket so I can pay bills. Please consider a contribution.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Will the NFL Finally Be The Answer to Climate Change Action?

While I live in Austin, I was fortunately spared the worst of Hurricane, and then Tropical Storm, Harvey.  (No one saw this coming. With a name so innocent who could have thought it would be so dangerous? *eyeroll out of my damn head*.) But being in the backyard of such a catastrophe assuredly had it in the mind of many residents here. 

As the storm finally gave Texas a bit of relief many thought this might finally be time to discuss climate change.  Of course, the GOP always has some indecipherable timeline in their head about what time is too close to a tragedy to discuss how to prevent it. Twenty children are viciously murdered in Sandy Hook and it is “too soon!” to discuss better gun control. A year’s worth of rainfall falls on Houston in a weekend and it is time to “focus on rescuing people!” not talk about how it could all be prevented.  But if history has told us anything, it is that these tragedies will fade from the forefront of most people’s minds. When the subject is brought up again at a time that is thought to have given the deferential amount of grieving period, the obvious response from the right will be why people are bringing up such an old story.  It is lose-lose for those wanting to use immediate undeniable occurrences to discuss what can be done to fix problems.  In other words, Harvey and its aftermath, by themselves, may not be enough to affect actual change.  Do you know what I realized it finally going to make this happen?

The NFL.

How the NFL will solve this crisis first came to mind after I finished a run in 104 degree Austin heat not too long ago. I plopped down in front of a box fan and poured ice cold water over me. While I tried to summon the energy to stand in the shower, I realized the NFL season was rapidly approaching. How could football season be right around the corner when it felt like I was standing on the surface of the sun.  Granted, this was Texas, but still.

I thought of those giant fans they use for the first full month of the season which shoot out cooling water onto the players on the bench. Then I thought of how when it really starts to snow, football fans say: "This is football weather!"  Why do they say that? Why isn’t hot weather considered football weather?

Because October, November, and December used to actually be freaking cold. The bulk of the football season used to be played in crisp, cool weather, often punctuated by snowfall and ice and wind and brrr. That is no longer the case. 

Long into the season, higher temperatures prevails.  The SuperBowl held in 2014 was played on February 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. People were worried about what temperatures would be like the day of the game as it would be the first “cold-weather” SuperBowl. Those worries were unfounded when a 49 degree starting temperature at kickoff only made it the 3rd coldest SuperBowl ever. (Granted, a big snowstorm hit the next day but that doesn’t negate a nearly 50 degree evening in New Jersey.  On Groundhog Day.)

The days are warmer, the nights are warmer, and the games are being played by faster, stronger men, pushing themselves more to the limit than ever before. The NFL rarely has men playing every down anymore, especially on defense, with the era of specialization upon us. Nutrition and hydration are no longer seen as things only the weak imbibe. So much more attention is being spent to getting the best out of the human body.  However, even with all of this, is only a matter of time before some player, in the heat of a September game, succumbs to the weather in a potentially fatal way. Then, finally, Congress may act. Why Congress? Wasn’t this about the NFL?

Think back to 2005 when Congress had hearings on steroids in baseball LONG after it was obvious that there was rampant use of steroids in baseball? N.B. I'm not saying they didn't have the right to do so (sports like MLB fall under "interstate commerce" according to Art I, Sec 8 of the Constitution) nor am I saying there isn't a legitimate interest. Congress is supposed to hold hearings about issues which concern the public. Let’s be honest, nothing worries the hardhat carrying John Q. Public more than sports and money. But sports have received extensive government assistance at the national, state and local levels. It's dishonest for baseball officials to claim that a steroid abuse scandal among players and league officials is "private business." The reality is that the sports industry has greatly benefited from exemptions to the anti-trust laws, subsidies for stadium construction and an assortment of federal tax breaks.

Baseball might be the national past time but right now football moves the needle. The NFL will bring $14 billion in revenue this year. That amount is more than the GDP of 36% of the countries on this planet. (Oh yeah, I really did my research on this one, folks!) When something begins to affect the bottom line of billionaire owners, and a death, especially to a franchise player would be just that, climate change will finally matter.  Of course, when I say “matter” I mean to their bottom line. They don’t care about the health and well-being of players.  If they did, hiding behind line of “inconclusive evidence” towards concussions and traumatic brain injuries would have never happened.  But the NFL  does care about making money.  And people dying on national television during a game because it is eleventy billion degrees in November will finally make somebody notice. By “somebody” I mean billionaires. By “billionaires”, I mean the people who control the elections by filling the coffers of our politicians. The NFL owners may finally be the answer to getting morons like Jim "Here's a Snowball in February so Climate Change isn't Real" Inhofe, to act to assure the rest of the world doesn't burst into flames or drown in a flood. Like the NFL, these politicians don’t care about people or “the earth.” 

What they care about is getting donors and staying elected.  How will that happen?

Just looking at presidential elections, NFL owners, not shockingly, lean to the right. In 2008, nine owners donated a total of $300,950 to the McCain campaign. Thirteen NFL owners donated a total of $412,600 to the Romney campaign in 2012. But here is where it gets interesting.

The biggest donating NFL owner, by far, was Texans owner Bob McNair. That’s HOUSTON Texans owner. You might have heard about a little thing that happened in Houston recently. Ole McNair has donated $3,560,700 over the four elections from 2008 to 2014. The bulk of that came in 2012 donations to Conservative PACs “Restore Our Future” ($2 million) and American Crossroads ($1 million). In other words, 99.06% of his donations when toward Republicans. None to Democrats.

As the NFL is overwhelmingly played outdoors, it is the one most affected by the climate. Bob McNair is worth 3.3 billion himself. Other owners, who have proven repeatedly to be able to hold entire city’s feet to the fire by promising to move to other locations, are also worth billions.  If their product, their bank accounts, and their ability to live ostentatious lifestyles are threatened by the changing climate, this might finally be smoking coalplant we have needed to save ourselves from the wrath of Mother Nature.

So, maybe this will be the hurricane which finally gets the NFL to make a change. When they survey the landscape and see one party is the one who believes the 99% of scientists on the matter and the other likes to listen to Alex Jones, they will go with the ones who support their best interests.  This isn’t the best way to get to where we need but when “500-year” events which happen on the regular, we will take what we can.

Are you ready for some football?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series (4 of 6) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 11th Edition 
145.7 miles run; 3000m swam in 2017 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 97 freaking degrees; sunny; humid

I started off my last of these recaps with the sentence: "Writing recaps for races that don't go well is not fun."  It is even less fun when they go WAY less better than planned. Alas.

This was the fourth time in as many months that I took on the Pure Austin Splash and Dash. (You can read the first, second and third installments of this race series here and here and here.) The first event was me feeling out how it was done.  The second was me racing it two days after a half-marathon and one day after a lot of international traveling. The third installment, 10 days after my most recent race, with some decent runs, a bike ride and as close to tapering as I get, felt prime for a big breakthrough. After a 26:02 and a 25:49 in the first two, I was looking to break 25 and start putting in respectable times. I didn't do it. So I formulated a plan.  My swim had not gotten how I wanted it to go so rather than rely on the fact I USED to be a good swimmer, I would actually  *gasp* train.

So for the past month I have hit the pool no less than three times a week, (mostly four) putting in around 10,000 yards a week.  Hardly Michael Phelps but assuredly the most swimming I have done in 24 years.  My last two workouts last week had me swimming some of the fastest 500 yard splits I had swam since I was 17.  I knew the race was calling for another 97 degree day but if it did that I should still be faster given my hard swim workouts.

Same race prep as before as I put my towel and shoes in the same place so I could quickly get out, have the shoes on and then run up the rocky steep embankment.  Right before I hopped in the bathwater that would serve as our swim portion, my best friend Shannon showed up and surprised me with some support.  As I so often train alone, race alone, and don't have many cheering for me, this was a huge spirit uplift.  I had been dealing with a rough day professionally and it put a smile on my face.  Well, my inner face. No smiling allowed when you are being mean tough competitor guy.


I staked out a good position in the water and was happy I was not too crowded this time. I don't fear a start elbow or even worry about getting hurt. I just don't want people swimming into me. The water was the clearest it had been in all the swims I had done and that made me quite happy. Hopefully I would have a less erratic swim than I had recently. The horn went off and away we went.

I couldn't tell if I was swimming slow or fast but it felt comfortable. There is not much to say about this portion other than I was able to maintain my overall position virtually the whole way through with one guy slightly ahead of me and another to my side. For the entire 750 meters this is where we stayed. Without a doubt I swam much straighter  than I had before and that made me feel like I might have a quick time. I could tell I was roughly 12th or so out of the water which didn't help this feeling as I should have been faster.

Getting out of the water I could see a slew of runners putting on their shoes.  I might have been not as fast as I hoped bu I rarely was this close to so many others as we started the run.  Perhaps it was faster than I thought.  tried to get my shoes on but as I did I noticed a rock was in my shoe.  A big one. It looked rather deliberate although I can't imagine why anyone would do that.  It only slowed me a second as I put on my visor, shoes, and ran up the hill. Shannon cheered for me and snapped a picture.

I got to the top of the hill and clicked my watch to see the swim and transition time: 12:27. I think that tied me for the fast swim time ever. That sounds good. It is not. I should have been a minute faster with all my training the past month. Bollocks. Not a good start.


After racing up the craggy hill to start the run, I had two guy in my immediate sights. However, already feeling a bit let down by the less-than-stellar swim I didn't know what I had in my legs to catch them.

I had heard in the announcements that they were going to have two aid stations on this .66 mile loop and figured I had heard wrong.  However, sure enough, under the shade of a tree were people handed out water and asking if you wanted to be splashed with water.  That's service. I declined both here.

While the two guys I was trying to catch did not seem to get any closer, I passed another man about halfway through the first loop.  I have passed this same guy on the run in other version of this race and it always surprises me. While obviously fit, he is a bit barrel-chested with no six-pack of abs (N.B. neither do I, so I am not judging) but somehow is able to absolutely crush the swim. It shows it takes all kinds of bodies to compete.

Finishing this first loop after the small but killer climb on the back half, my lungs were burning and my legs ached. I had to have crushed this run and traversed the loop in the fastest time ever, right?  Did I run 4:15 or even sneak under 4:10?  Nope. 4:41.

I cursed out loud. The race ended right there for me. I knew the remaining laps would be just me running out the string as this was not my day. I got passed on the next lop by one guy and ran a 4:46. The next loop I passed another guy and ran a 4:38 loop.  This would make the run my slowest of all four aquathlons by over a minute and the overall time the slowest of all four I have done as well. Don't get me wrong: I was putting everything I had into those loops. There was just nothing there.

Finishing in a time of 26:33 or close to two minutes slower than I thought I would left me with a lot of questions. Yes, I bettered my position from last month, taking 13th overall.  I also was fortunate enough to win the Masters division for the fourth straight time. But placement awards are all about who shows up. A luck of the draw, so to speak.  I do not mean to put them down but they are not nearly as indicative of your effort as the clock.

So, now it is back to the drawing board.  Was it a bad day? Was it the weather? Was it, well, what?! The good thing about races is that there is always another one to go run and see what happens.

Back to the experiment.