Monday, November 20, 2017

Running IS Control

I wrote this seven years ago and it remains exactly the same today.

Life often does not go the way we would like it to. Circumstances rarely play the way we want them to. Happy endings are called fairytales for a reason. Fortunately, there is one thing we can control when the proverbial “you know what” hits the fan. That is running.

Last week I had some personal things come home to roost in an unsavory way. I could neither control the outcome or how it was handled. I was forced to simply sit and wait when I knew I could not, well, sit and wait. The weather outside was, according to, cold and drizzling. The weather outside according to disagreed. The sun was shining and it didn’t look that chilly. But I bundled up anyway and began my run. I could control the run.

My mind was completely wrapped around the events of the day and I was wondering what exactly would happen next. As I ventured out on a familiar 9.9-mile course (I designed the course and then looked up the mileage afterward, which drives my numerically-minded friends crazy, saying they would run longer to get an even 10 on their GPSs) there was a tender bit of nip in the air. Soon, however, I heated up, took off my hat and rolled up my sleeves.

I realized that the temperatures were warming even while the sky was cloudy. Will that cloud and its dark underbelly venture north from the point of the mountain near Provo and head towards me in Salt Lake? (Yep.) Is that guy making a right turn going to even look to see me coming from his right? (Nope.) Is my mom going to forgive me for not making it home this Thanksgiving? (Remains to be seen.) Oh yeah, I then remembered I still had this crappy situation to deal with.

In the interim, I had run five miles and at one of the places where I checked to see how my pace was going I realized I was cruising along fairly well. I felt a little pleasure at this and then felt a little guilt right afterward as I shouldn’t be feeling pleasure because I am worried about what is going on. Soon I felt nothing. Leaves crunched underfoot, a few raindrops fell and I began the final descent of the last two miles, which drop me about 800 feet from the foothills of the mountains down into the valley near my home.

I finished, running one of the fastest times I ever had on this particular course. I went inside with no real answers to my problems, but at least I had burnt 1400 calories and killed 73 minutes while I waited. And also, I may have actually gotten some insight. Who knows?

Time will tell, that is for sure. But for even a small amount of time, I was in control. That is just one of the many reasons why I run. When the hail began to fall about 90 seconds after I stepped inside, I was thankful that I control the run, because I do not control the weather.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Madison Half Marathon Recap - My 100th Half-Marathon

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 14th Edition 
164.8 miles run; 4750m swam in 2017 races
Race: Madison Half Marathon
Place: Madison, WI
Miles from home: 1194
Weather: High 30s-Low 40s; cloudy

Races don't care about your milestones. I have learned this fact time and time again. Want to run a PR on your birthday? Race don't care. How about something special for your 50th marathon? Race still don't care. In fact, one way to almost assure you will not have a good race is to attach special meaning to it before it occurs.

OK, races aren't sentient and they can't affect outcomes. My point is that racing is hard. You rarely have the day you want on race day period and trying to sync it up with a certain date makes it even less likely to make you happy. So, when I headed into the Madison Half Marathon, as my 100th half-marathon ever, I was trying not to get excited. Couple this with the fact that it was first road race since being assaulted and having my face and thumb fractured (for those curious, 3.5 months after this happened, charges against the guys they had in their custody immediately still have not been filed) and I was both nervous and wary.

I would also be carrying a 3'x5' flag with me the whole way.

A few years ago I ran with the flag on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in Chicago. Then I decided I would like to do so on Veteran's Day to honor all vets, especially my brother and both grandfathers who served. I didn't want to run with it too often as I never wanted it to be too "showy." And showing that no matter what your intentions are, someone is going to be offended anyway, we have the lovely Daniel Alan Mabie from Jupiter Florida who decided to chime in on twitter after I ran this race with the following lovely comments. (This is a reminder that if you want to do something - just go right ahead and do it. Someone is always going to be an ass.)

Regardless, I knew that this race was going to be a challenge. My thumb was hardly fully prepared to hold that flag for the entirety of the race, I wasn't in the shape I would like to be to race, and blah blah blah. But it was my 100th lifetime half-marathon and I was running it in Dane County.  Doesn't get much more fun than that.

Race Morning:

After an very nice expo wherein I did a book signing and met a plethora of extremely pleasant new running friends, saw old ones, and mixed and mingled, I was really happy to be racing. The temperature at one time showed it might be in the 20s which made pleased beyond my ability to tell you. After a year of living in Austin's heat, and having over two plus years of races where the weather was always warmer than ideal, this seemed wonderful. Even when race day broke at 35 degrees, warmer than I wanted, I was still happy. I even debated the necessity for gloves and hat but figured I would err on the side of caution. Perhaps Texas had made me weak in the cold.

First 3 Miles:

I moved to the front of the corral before the start as I wanted to get to the side out of everyone's way.  In order to make sure the flag wouldn't hit anyone in the face, I put myself up a little further than I might have normally stood. Then again, I almost always end up passing dozens of people who line themseves up incorrectly, so sixes. My goal was to get under 1:30 and maybe even challenge for the time I ran at that Chicago race above (1:27:47 and my fastest ever with the flag.) I knew this course had a few rolling hills early and one that might be a toughie later in the race but who knows what the day would hold.

The countdown ended and we were off. With the beautiful capitol building in the background we make a couple of quick turns in the first mile including our first small climb just a block into the race. Well, that's one way to start.

Even though scores of people seemed to be passing me I felt like I was running fairly hard. Normally I can tell what my pace is and ignore others but being I am not in my typical shape and was undoubtedly slowed by carrying the flapping flag (let alone the non-use of one of my arms which really throws you off), I couldn't tell my pace. Hitting the first mile around 6:30 made me feel really good. But that is just the first mile. We made a few turns and soon were on Gorham Street which I knew we followed for a few miles at least. This game me a chance to settle into a pace, find the right grip for the flag, and get ready for the rest of the day.

My second mile was a bit slower, as expected but my average was still a 6:44 pace. A few runners had recognized me from the expo (no small feet since my hat covered my ears- my most prominent feature) and all wished me luck and I wished them as well. The weather hadn't warmed at all but I was already quite sweaty. There was a touch of a headwind which I only could really tell as he flag was standing straight back. Other than that, this was the best race weather I had run in for years. I was rather ecstatic.

The third mile would give me a good assessment of how the day was going as the first two were abut feeling out the race. As that third mile approached, I looked at my watch and saw it wasn't running.  Crap. I had hit the wrong button.

I was wearing a new Timex GPS watch whose buttons were configured slightly different than a watch I had worn previously.  Out of habit, instead of hitting the lap button. I had paused the watch. When I went to start it again I stopped it completely. Total user error here. Now I had to wait for it to save, start it up again, and do this all while wearing gloves and carrying a flag. As a result, had no idea what my overall time was as I ran. I just had to run each mile as its own little race and get them all under 6:52.

To Mile 6:

A little perturbed I had messed up my watch, I now was simply trying to get back into rhythm.  I had settled into a spot amongst runners who I would more or less be running with the entirety of rest of the race. Well, they would pull ahead of me on the flats and I would catch up to them on an uphill and then scream down them on a downhill. Lather, rinse, repeat. There is something about flat running that just doesn't work well with me. But give me a grade, especially a down one, and it is like we are running different races.

There was a rather sparse crowd out cheering us on and I felt for the marathoners. Usually if the half-marathon crowd is light the marathon crowd is worse. But as the marathon course utilized different parts of the city and wasn't just the half marathon could plus a longer loop somewhere, it is entirely possible they have fans the whole way as well.

Around the fifth mile my hand started to get a little numb. I was curious when holding the flapping flag would get to me and this is where it happened. I switched it over to my left hand but without even thinking switched it back to my right hand a few hundred yards later.  Regardless, as I entered Warner Park, I was ticking away 6:45 miles and feeling great. Not counting the one mile I wasn't sure of my time, I was pushing a 1:28 marathon.

To Mile 10: 

The miles from 7-10 (and I think 19-22 for the marathoners) were indeed the toughest. There was an odd little dogleg that we ran which went straight up a hill, turned around a cone, and then straight down. Then there were the two hills of Maple Bluff which undoubtedly made many a runner swear.

After continuing to play cat and mouse with a few runners over the hills, the toughest challenge for most runners began here in the Bluff. First was a tougher hill which curved out of sight.  Then after a nice downhill to get some of your time back, there was the much higher and steeper hill ending at mile nine. And it was a bear. Fortunately, when I finally crested it, I knew we had just another mile to go before we crossed through Burrows Park and had a long straightaway home.

I passed a few runners in this section and had a few runners pass me. It is always interesting to me how runners will plan their strategy. There is no real right or wrong way but some are front runners who just try and hold on and others who need some time to warm up before finishing strong.

To the Finish:

I took some time during this final straightaway to just focus on how happy I was to have finished 100 half-marathons. When I ran my 100th marathon in 2009, I had only run 14 half-marathons. My life began to become more involved with the running world around that time as an occupation which made me focus more on half marathons, primarily because it was far easier to work two long days of an expo and then run 13.1 miles rather than 26.2. I often used halfs as hard training runs to prepare me for a whole litany of different races and distances. There is something about the pace and length of a half-marathon that lends itself to be a multi-use training race. Thinking about this made the pavement fly under my feet and the few little bumps of hills we had sailed on by.

On the 11th and 12th miles, I was excited that both were well under the 6:52 average I needed. I had lost nearly half a minute on the big hills in Maple Bluff but figured I would have enough cushion to get under 1:30. However, as the final mile stretched on, I knew something was askew. From the course map I knew we had to run past the finish before turning around and coming back to it.  Looking at the real estate ahead of me and the time left needed to cover it told me that there was no way I was getting under 1:30. Throw in the exceedingly cruel long hill at mile 12.5, a sharp downhill followed by a handful of right angle turns, and one final uphill, and this was a tough finish.

When I conquered the last hill there was a solid crowd waiting to cheer runners to the finish.  I lifted the flag as high as I could and pushed it hard. I could see the clock ahead echoed what I knew from earlier - the course had to be long.  I don't say that lightly and I don't just rely on what my "GPS said." But it does appear the course as a good quarter of a mile long. Oh well. I ran a 1:32:13 for my 100th lifetime marathon and just missed cracking the top 100. Runners came out to run today, that is for sure. I haven't finished that far back in a half-marathon since Miami in 2016. On a curse no one would describe as easy, there were some stellar times.

Organization-wise the event was well-run. There was a surprisingly large amount of prize money for an event that while good-sized was hardly huge (roughly 1000 finishers this year.) Starting and finishing in the same place is always a plus for logistics and there was ample free parking near both. The t-shirt was a nice long-sleeved cotton blend that was uber soft and a solid medal to boot. There is a corner taken out of the medal which lends me to believe that if you get four they form some sort of design in the center. (I failed to ask.)

I literally only took one drink of water the entire race so I cannot comment on the aid stations very much. I know they were plentiful and the sip I had was cold but it was 34 degrees- it would have been shocking if it wasn't! All in all Madison is a lovely city. This is a low-key but still well-put together marathon that deserves to be on your list. With its date in November (it used to be in May but they said no on that a few years ago) and location in Wisconsin, chances are no matter how much race temps keep climbing later in the year, weather will be good for fast times.

For me, this was a nice race to get #100. I have run in 28 states and once into Canada for my half-marathons. I have paced friends, run charity events, and even made a short movie. I have averaged a 1:30:30 for all 100 races with my 3rd fastest happening just last year.  (In other words, I know I still have a half-marathon PR in me and I think it will be a doozy when I get it!)  I have plenty of more stats to look at and have fun with but now I have 100 marathons and 100 half marathons under my belt. I guess 100 ultras is next.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Timex Ironman GPS Review

I have been wearing Timex watches for as long as I can remember. They have had some hits and misses when it comes to the GPS market in the past few years, however. Some watches having some awesome features and others having other awesome features but never really hitting it out of the park so to speak. It seems, this time, Timex decided that they were just going to give many of us exactly what we wanted: "The Simplest GPS Watch Ever." Whether that is true remains to be seen but at a cost of less than a benjamin at $99, you will be hard pressed to find a less expensive one.

Timex has rarely gone with flair on its design for its watches, of which I am fine. The Ironman GPS falls right in line here with an unassuming, but well-put-together model. The only touch screen on the watch comes when you want to tap the screen for lap intervals. Other than that it has your standard five buttons configuration. In addition to running, biking, and swimming, the Ironman GPS can also track multisport workouts (triathlon training, for example.)  I haven't gotten around to those yet as since July I have only swam twice and haven't gotten on a bike. (Thank you, two random miscreants who assaulted me ad the Austin PD still haven't charged.)  But I have been putting the run part of the watch to the test.

You can customize the watch face to include whatever of the plethora of options one might want to see while running:  pace, distance, time of the day, lap, etc, rather simply. And you can keep it simple on the display as well.  That pleased me.

Like many other reviews I read, I saw I was not the only one pleased that there is no proprietary cable or dock needed for charging. Simply plug any microUSB cable into the bottom of the Ironman GPS and you are set.  Having had other cords go awry and having no way of charging or uploading data without delving into the Mines of Moria to find he right cable, this was pretty awesome.

Speaking of uploading, I really miss the automatic upload of data the Timex ONE GPS+  had available. It is not much of an extra step to plug your watch into your computer and manually upload the file or use the Timex Connect app to transfer the data.  But I am listing the pros and cons and that was one I really liked. But they were going for simple, so I can't complain, right?

The time to grab the satellites was super fast, something that has often been sketchy at best with other GPS watches. By the time I left my door and got out into the street to run, the GPS was ready.  That is a huge plus. It seemed to do a fairly decent job of tracking me and getting the distance almost spot on for runs I repeatedly do and know exactly how far they are, so that was appreciated.

Also, there is just something about the band of this watch that I really liked. I can't tell if it is its pliability or lack of heft or what but it just feels light and snug. Big fan.

So does, the Timex Ironman GPS do exactly what it sets out to do?  I think so. In fact, it might be simple and it might be inexpensive but it isn't lacking in any real measurable way for the person who is walking the line between just wanting a stopwatch but still wanting to let everyone know where they run.

Good job, Timex.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Running: Thank Goodness It's a Universal Language

Every sport has its own language. To convey essential ideas, shorthand is invented to save time. Running is no different. In fact, you know you've become a runner when you no longer giggle at the word “fartlek.”

But running has a different language from even that which defines its inner workings. Running becomes a mish-mosh of all the dialects of the traveling runner. Once you leave your own comfort zone and local colloquialisms and enter into another, you realize the differences in a language we all think is the same. When we cross a border or fly across a continent, we realize not everyone calls it “soda” or “pop.” Heck, if your fellow runner is from Texas they just may call everything “Coke” and be baffled when you don’t realize they want a Diet Mountain Dew. I mean, why wouldn’t you be able to figure that out?

Having spent some time in Canada recently, which is just different enough for me to think it might
actually be a different country, I got to thinking about our diverse language. Truisms which you feel are absolute are shattered when a completely normal group of people have no idea about which you speak.

What is a drinking fountain in one part of the country is a water fountain in another. Heck, in a few selected places, which obviously are still stuck in 1950s, said device is called a bubbler. You can almost imagine the poodle skirts.

If you happen to wear running tights to a black tie event in the South, someone is apt to say “Bless Your Heart.” Don’t think they are saying something nice. You should have definitely looked at the dress code on the invite. People are going to be talking about you for quite some time.

If you run the Boston Marathon, there is a high chance if you are up in Massachusetts, someone is going to tell you how wicked far that distance is to run. Your friends from Kentucky might wonder if you are fixin’ to go for a shakeout run the day before the race. But if you have some older catch phrases in your arsenal you might reply that you would rather stay home and rest if you had your druthers.

Take a trot through America’s Dairyland and you may hear someone tell you about one whoopensacker of a night. This night was one which was so amazing it almost defies definition. I say “almost” because Wisconsinites invented “whoopensacker” to cover that gap in our language.
If you are trying to avoid baggage fees but still get everything into your carry-on, you may need to pank all your clothes and toiletries down really hard to flatten them. It is almost like you are giving your luggage a snuggie, which people in Iowa know means a wedgie. Don’t be chincy, though, others in Ohio might tell you and just pay the baggage fee. It’s just a few bucks, your friend in Colorado might say so they have no idea why you are faunching about it so much.

Yinz from Pittsburgh and youse from Philly might wonder why y'all from Mississippi are being so snoopy on your ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page. Have a grinder, sub, hoagie, po-boy and relax. In fact, go for a jog in the forest and run through a crick. Better yet, go down the shore like your Jersey buddies. If the road is without a shoulder or berm, you might be able to run on the tree lawn. Unless, of course, you are in California where those weirdos call it a parking strip.

You might be surprised to learn that some in New York call “sprinkles” jimmies, especially when you learn that “jimmies” is slang for male contraception. Seriously, you sprinkle them. They are sprinkles.
While you might meet your buddies kitty corner from the Plaid Pantry in Oregon, you would meet them catty corner from the QuikTrip in Oklahoma. After a hard track workout in the Midwest you might be happy your Mom has the potluck dinner because you ate the hot dish when you were coming back from Minnesota, dontcha know. If you are thirsty, you can always drink from the faucet, spigot or heck even the spicket.

Regardless of where you go, you will learn on your runs that what we think is the same is not the same. But while you may call the sidewalk the pavement or add hella to modify how hard your workout was, know that speaking in terms of sweat is something which all runners can relate.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Weather Permitting

Having been running races for over two decades now, in every conceivable condition, over every conceivable type of distance, I can tell you what matters most when you want to have a good day: weather.

It is not how fit you are, what the course is like, what you ate the night before, or anything else. Being somewhat under-trained, or overcoming a big hill, or puking out some bad food are often things you can get over relatively quickly in a race. But the weather on race day is the one variable which will bring you to your knees the quickest with no chance of it getting any better.

I have paid special attention to how weather affects performance mostly because of something very me-centric: I am horrible in warm temperatures. And by "warm" I mean basically anything over 60 degrees. So bad am I when the mercury rises in the ole thermometer and how much I have had to deal with it as a runner in ever-increasing race temperatures worldwide that I was asked to give a speech in Ecuador at a Gatorade Sports Science Institute on sweat loss. In addition, while there, I performed like a gerbil on the treadmill, doing a brisk 45 minute run, indoors, losing seven pounds in sweat alone. (I wish I could tell you how hilarious the owner of the treadmill, who was loaning it to the event, was when he continued to wipe down the outer plastic shell as I ran. Isn't that what the plastic shell is for? He acted as if I had Alien acid sweat that would burn through it if he didn't wipe immediately or thoroughly.  But I digress.)

In addition, I have Gilbert's Syndrome. A relatively mild disorder (if you listen to Wikipedia) it comes into play for those of us who do endurance sports as it affects one's ability to recover from strenuous activity. Since I put myself in situations where I push my body further than most people ever have, I would disagree about how mild it is, Mr Wikipedia. Nevertheless, you take all of what I have described and suffice it to say I look at the weather app more than I do anything else as race day approaches.

Of my top ten fastest marathons, only one came when the weather was inclement: the Steamtown Marathon in 2007. Run on the day that Chicago infamously had to blackflag its race for heat, how I was able to pull this race out of the hat (after a wrong turn added extra mileage) is beyond me. In fact, as I look through even the top 25 marathons I have run, there are many different things which present themselves. I was in various level of fitness. I ran them over various terrains. Different elevations. Various times of my life. But one things remains the same: nice weather.

I don't say this without proof. In fact, I have written down what the weather is for every race I have ever run. (They are all accessible on this very website on the right sidebar.) Over and over again, I perform best, by leaps and bounds, when it is cooler.

OK, so that is anecdotal. It is rather Dane-centric. So don't just look at what works for me.  Look at science.  Then look again. And again. Wherever you look, it shows you that when the weather is cooler, humans run better. If it is less humid, you run better. If it is less windy, you run better.

Obviously, there are going to be some people who feel they perform more optimally in heat and when people just want to "feel" something, you can't tell them otherwise. But the science points to how our bodies warm the ambient air around us by 20 degrees when we run which is why we are told to dress for the run we will be having in the middle rather than the one we start with. Otherwise, you end up sweating so much that your clothes get soaked and even if it is cold when you start, you will be drenched in sweat. Then when you finish you freeze because of all the wet clothing.

Note that with this analysis, I am primarily speaking about longer distances races. Shorter distance races like the 100 meter dash (which I still contend is more like power lifting than it is running) need a warmer temperature to keep those ridiculous fast-twitch muscle fibers from snapping like a twig. But the longer you run, the cooler you want the temperature to be. Again, don't take my word for it. Read this exhaustive study here. Researchers reviewed weather and race data from past Olympics and determined the ideal temp for elite marathoners was 49.4 degrees Fahrenheit for men and 51.8 degrees for women. Athletes in sprint events fared better in warmer temps. For the 100m dash, for example, men did best when the race day temperature was 72.6 degrees, and women excelled at 73.4 degrees. Since they run so much faster than us mortals, elite runners are in the weather for far less time than the rest of us. A person finishing in 5 hours for a marathon is essentially running in a different day than when they started, the way temperatures climb.

So, next time you are looking for that fast race, it may behoove you to check out its historic weather even more than what type of downhill course it has or anything else people use to determine how they will have a good time. Planning for the factor which will probably have the biggest impact on your race, shouldn't be left to chance.

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 know 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 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. 

In addition, I had another friend who had made a team, went to the event and laughed at the idea that there was any special on-hand support services.  So, there's that.

If anyone knows a rich benefactor, I am taking emails. I guess I see why some people set up those GoFundMe accounts.

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. I wish it would be soon but chances are it will take a while.

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. Or Mueller could screw the pooch and kick it to Congress who won't follow obvious instructions and say "Wel, Robert didn't say specifically Trump raped Smokey the Bear, so he's free!" 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. 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 say th witch hunts which he has started have bogged down his presidency.  He will go on rally after rally to ever-dwindling crowds of knuckle-dragging supporters, still getting them to chant "Lock Her Up!" 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 disastrously 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. And the GOP will not turn on Trump no matter what happens in the 2018 mid-terms. They will milk him for everything they can until the last minute. Remember, they were with Nixon until they weren't.

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. But it sure would be amazing. Regardless, before the next election in 2020, Trump will resign.

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 nabbed 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 would end up dead last in that heat. I did. All the way in lane 6 I wasn't expecting much but I wanted to give it my all. Long story short, after there was one false start (and an automatic DQ for one fella), I led the entire field 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 and 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.