Monday, March 9, 2015

Who goes to Boston in February???

Having been a certified track and field umpire for about 6 years, it's always been a goal to work the big meets, like national championships. And maybe, one day, the Olympic Trials. Since there are a lot of umpires across the country, it can be very difficult to get selected.

Last fall, I threw my hat into the ring for the two major championships of 2015: Indoor Nationals in Boston and Outdoor Nationals in Eugene. I was hoping to get picked for one of the meets.

But the track gods smiled upon me; I was selected for both!

Did I mention that I have to pay my own way? There are lots of eligible officials who are willing to work for free, so the compensation is usually limited to some gear, possibly lodging, some meals, and the best seat in the house. A new benefit this year is $100 for each day of competition; I'll lose money on the 2-day indoor meet (especially with airfare) and I'll make money on the 4-day outdoor meet that is within an easy drive. It's basically a wash for the two meets.

Call me Even Steven.

Did I mention what the Boston weather has been like? About 80 inches of snow. IN ONE MONTH. Oh well. If the plane can land, I'll be happy.

Zoe was pretty sad to see me go. What is it about an upset 11 year old that can can rip your heart to shreds? I cheered her up on the phone from the airport when I handed the phone to her 2nd grade teacher who just happened to be on my flight.
Teacher Kay: she's normally not this blurry...

I mentioned lodging: for this event, USA Track and Field picked up the tab at the Marriott Copley Square in Back Bay. Gorgeous hotel: that's a 4 story beaded chandelier in the shape of a Christmas Tree. 
With the free accommodations comes a roommate: everyone was paired up. I lucked out big time by being matched with Rex Harvey, owner of the unofficial record for most decathlons every completed: 161, with 12 in one year! That's an amazing 'track' record (apologies for the horrific pun). Rex competed in the 1976 Olympic Trials against some guy named Jenner and held his own.
Fortunately, I brought my vintage Sports Illustrated editions from the 1976, 1980, and 1980 Olympic years with me. Rex had a grand time reading about the guys he used to compete against, and man oh man did he have some great war stories!
Since I flew in on the red eye and didn't have many obligations that first day, I took a nap before wandering off in search of the best lobster roll in town. The concierge directed me to the North End, when I quickly discovered that lobster is quite expensive.
Then I saw a 24 hour supermarket across the street from the hotel that had great sushi. This place became my second home. Incidentally, on one of many trips there, I end up in the checkout line behind a woman who was buying this:
8 bottles of beer and two cases of Top Ramen. I just had to record the scene for posterity.
Friday morning was a big outing: I wanted to see the last 10 miles of the Boston Marathon course. By foot. And it was COLD.

As in 5 degrees cold: my GPS watch really wasn't interested in working in those conditions. However, the bus system is excellent. And forgiving: I was a quarter short of the fare, but the driver took pity on me.

Within a mile of disembarking, I'm at the Newton Fire Station; a landmark on the course, and the last chance to breathe before the hills begin. 
Here's the fire house, at the corner of Washington and Commonwealth.

Did I mention how cold it was? Brutal. I did have the grand idea of taping hand warmers on top of my toes inside the socks. Very glad I did, because without that chemical heat I would have been miserable out there.

Folks did a nice job of clearing sidewalks, but some cars were left to their own devices. This one isn't moving any time soon.

Newton City Hall?

This might be Heartbreak, but I'm not sure...

I knew there were 3 climbs before I hit Heartbreak Hill, so I just drifted off and enjoyed the run. With all the ice and nasty cold, though, I had to focus on the footing constantly. Got to the top of the third hill with no problem, then had a long plunge down. Kept looking for the fourth hill and never found it.
wait a minute...
I later remember that the first of the four hills was BEFORE the fire station, so that 3rd grinder was in fact the fabled Heartbreak. Wasn't bad at all, though i only had a couple of miles in my legs at that point, not 20. It'll be quite a different story on race day next year.
Came across this sign and wondered just where in the heck I really was: Boston or Portland...

Then I turn a corner and see this landmark:

Very famous sign for marathoners, because it comes into view at the 25 mile mark. Trouble is, you're supposed to be able to see it for about a mile, and it just jumped out at me. Turns out i made several navigation errors, not just one. Somehow i missed the turn to Cleveland Circle and Beacon Street, instead continuing all the way into the city on Commonwealth.
Across the Mass Pike from the Citgo sign is a fairly well-known ballpark named Fenway.

Can't wait to see this sign again; it's 3 blocks to the finish line.
Which is right here:
Along with a sad reminder of a senseless act...
Now it's time to work. 2015 US Indoor National Championships at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center on the campus of Roxbury Community College.

In the van heading over for the first day, there's Olympian Aretha Thurmond on one side of me, talking to Olympic Champion Dan O'Brien on the other side.

I love track.
Neat event! Indoor track meets are like human pinball, with bodies flying everywhere and moving very fast. I won't bore you with too many details, except for these....
Walking along Lane 6 en route to my post, I pass the TV production area. My buddy Dan O'Brien sees me, then nods and grins. I'm digging this!
First indoor track meet, first day, first event, first heat: a hurdle violation and incident report. Really?
Next post was along the finishing straight, and uncomfortably close to the landing area for the 35# weight throw. I really, REALLY hope no one uncorks one. Christian Cantwell wins, and I'm pretty sure the photogs need a wide angle lens to get all of him in the picture: he's 6'5" and a svelte 340 pounds.

Two guys together in the stands, and I swear they are both sports figures:

Brian Wilson, pitcher

Tim Howard, goalie

Heading to the track on the subway the next day, I'm sitting across from a dad with his boy and girl.
The daughter, maybe 7-8: "Daddy, can I see your phone?"
Dad: "No."
Daughter: "That's because you don't love me."
I had to write that down!

Shannon Rowbury wins the mile/two mile double with a great kick and lots of lipstick.

Last time Alysia Montano raced, she was 34 weeks pregnant and still ran a 2:34 half mile. Today, much slimmer, she wins the 600m in 1:26, just under 60 second pace. That's nuts. And she brought Junior along with her.

In the Masters 1500m, a guy destroys the 55-59 age group world record by running a sick 4:07. That's about a 4:25 mile.

Fun three days on the track. Here's the crew:

My last official act after the meet finished was to run the banked turn. I am happy to report that I didn't fall off.
The next morning, I had to get my speed work in, so I did a nice 8 x 800m on the treadmill. Good way to shake the cobwebs loose. Too bad I had to sacrifice my planned intervals around Jamaica Pond, but we had more snow overnight and I didn't want to deal with frozen toes again.

Monday noon was my departure from Boston to points south. Specifically, Jackson NJ to visit my brother Curt and sister in law Angela. Along the way, this appropriately named grocery store near Freehold:

With my 'little' brother Curt, whose biceps are bigger than my quads:
Angela's horse, Jenny: 

Somewhere, somehow, Curt appropriated this sign and stuck it next to his driveway:
Great visit, even though I botched the return by missing an exit off the GW Bridge and ending up in, Harlem, then Yonkers. Neither of which are on the way back to Boston.

An overnight stop in Hartford to see college buddy Eric, and more snow. 

My breakfast at Cosmic Omelet: that's a smiley face of some sort.

 Then, since I don't do anything in order, I hit the first half of the Boston Marathon last:

That blue stripe is the starting line...

And here's the starting line sculpture of Dick and Rick Hoyt, the father/son team who have completed over 1,100 races, including 72 marathons and 6 full Ironman triathlons. Rick was born with cerebral palsy and has never walked a step; that's him in the wheelchair below. His dad has pushed and towed Rick thru all those races, and even a fastest marathon of 2:40:47. Amazing....but did I mention the snow?

All in all, a great trip. Looking forward to returning....on April 18th, 2016.