Wednesday, March 8, 2017

2017 Indoor Nationals: Albuquerque, here I come!

I was selected as an alternate for Indoor Nationals in Albuquerque, and was really hoping I'd get the chance to go. 30" of January snow on my roof had me pining for warm weather.

Two weeks ago, I got the call: USA Track and Field desperately needed my skilled services...actually, they needed a warm body. So here I go... 

A few months back, I did some workouts on the treadmill next to Garrett Heath, a near Olympian and monster XC runner who has lots of international wins. He and his girlfriend were on my flight today, he's running the mile on Sunday, and we talked T&F the whole way to the hotel.
Garrett Heath and girlfriend Katie
Upon arrival, I meet up with Doug and Russ for a quick dinner at a nearby pub. Nothing wrong with ahi tuna salad and sweet potato tots.

Dinner Friday night; so good...



Pre-meet briefing at the hotel
At the briefing on Friday night, I'm informed by Head Umpire Sue that I'm her Assistant Chief Umpire. Wasn't expecting that! Nor was I expecting the nice stipend that will offset some of my travel costs.

Saturday

There's no air here!!!  Albuquerque's 5000' altitude wreaks havoc on non-acclimated lungs trying to run a few miles.

Along the way, I went to the Frontier, a place recommended by a friend. Great mexican breakfast; i had a burrito with eggs, potatoes, carne, jalapenos, and lightning salsa. Incredibly tasty.

But the run back to the hotel post-meal? Not so good. I went very slow on purpose. And thank goodness for long gradual downhills.Then I went to the hotel gym and further wrecked my legs with a whole lot of lunges. 

Over to the venue: the Albuquerque Convention Center is across the street from the base hotel.  
The track at the Albuquerque Convention Center




I walked down to the finish line to get some pix of the signage....On my way back, two groups of spectators stopped me to ask where their seats are....I guess I look like an usher!

Rather odd lunch for one of our officials

As we're about to march out onto the track, Dan yells at me to get in step....we're not moving yet. Dan will be my roommate at NCAA East Regionals in the wonderfully decadent horse town of Lexington, Kentucky. Dan worked at both the 1984 and 1996 Olympics, and is pretty much my hero.

I love track.

A distinguished member of meet management

Two heats of the men's pentathlon hurdles and we're done for three hours. I made sure to shake hands with all the bigwigs so they'll remember me. Every one of them greeted me by name...the National Officials Chairman thanked me profusely for being a last-minute replacement. I didn't tell him I needed some warm weather for a change.

Yes, it's pretty, but it wears you down after awhile
A bunch of the officials are staying at the track for those three hours. Not me; I'd rather go put my feet up on a nice soft bed.

Gotta love a comfortable hotel room!


Shelby Houlihan rolled to a national title in the mile. The first 400 was a jog, then they spooled it up. At the bell, it was a drag race and she simply ran away from a solid field. 

Two world records: women's weight throw and men's 300m. The latter was won by a kid who was a high schooler during the 2016 Trials when he got 4th in the 200m. Guy was flying today, and he sure didn't look young.  

Indoor meets are screwy in that the TV people don't want to see us at all. We're pretty much banished outside the track, which makes it tough when dealing with banked turns. No platforms to stand on, so our field of vision is drastically reduced. 

Garrett Heath passed on the two mile and will race the mile tomorrow. Hope he wins; he specializes in longer distances, but he's run a highly competitive 3:52. I'd say he has a shot at the podium. 

Sunday

I was woken at 0230 by factors beyond my control. Oh well; i had already slept a solid 4 hours, and was eventually able to nod back off.

0700: I need coffee!!!!   Fortunately, the organizers give us not only a hotel room, but breakfast vouchers. Personally, I'd rather eat out in town and sample the local fare whenever possible.  

Planned a long walkabout downtown to stretch my legs from yesterday's work. As expected, not much was open. I did come across Cecilia's, a diner I found online...but no windows, bars on the door, 'Open' sign. 'Very sketch' as my daughter would say. I eventually found a neighborhood market with nice mural; the manager pointed me to the Gold Street Cafe around the corner, fabulous juevos with fresh jalapenos.

Some of Albuquerque's street art...



Sunday morning breakfast; juevos rancheros...

With some added heat!

A couple of meets ago, an experienced official told me the secret to success: get over to the medical/PT venue as soon as they open and get a free massage before the athletes show up. Awesome! My practitioner was literally named Wild Bill, and he was a thinner and much grayer version of the Anti-littering Indian from my youth. He had gorgeous moccasins that I saw much of while face down on the table. Meanwhile, he kneaded me like pizza dough.

Wild Bill's older brother...

Back in the hotel, on the lobby computer. Who is standing nearby? Olympic bronze medal pole vaulter Sam Kendricks. You may have seen the video of Army Reservist Kendricks during a previous meet's warmup....

Really nice guy! We spoke for a bit. He told me he brought 7 vaulting poles on this trip and used 3 of them: one for warming up, one for the main competition (which he won easily), and one for the extra heights he attempted and cleared, up to 19'3". Lots of daylight between him and the bar, too.

Since I'm a track history buff, I mentioned how Sergei Bubka, current WR holder who competed over 20 yrs ago, broke the world record something like 30 times, because he'd get huge bonuses for every record........Sam grinned and told me that Bubka also pushed many substantial rule changes only after he retired, like:
  • Shortening the time available between attempts: vaulters are on a clock
  • Shortening the length of the pegs on which the crossbar sits, so the bar will now fall with much less contact
  • Prohibiting the ability of the jumper to touch the bar while attempting to clear it: vaulters in the past could legally push the bar back onto the pegs while airborne

I was laughing out loud. Every one of those changes made successful jumps much harder, and they were enacted by Bubka the Track Adminstrator only after Bubka the Athlete had retired.

Some people play the game better than others!

Did I mention Sam won an Olympic Bronze medal in Rio??? He said he'll be watching the women's vault later today, so I told him where I'd be stationed and hoped I could get a selfie with him.

At the venue: I take a trip to the men's room and run into a Mr. Carl Lewis. 

Lunch in the hospitality room? Pulled pork sandwiches. I ask a woman in the hall if she's the one in charge of the meals. She confirms, then flinches and braces herself for a complaint. I told her the food was amazing...she exhaled, thanked me, and said most comments have not been nearly as positive.

Great lunch at the track: pulled pork (and more jalapenos)

Tara Davis of the Plyometric Fusion club wins the award for most spectacular dreadlocks.

From my post behind the starting blocks of the 60m hurdles prelims, I lock eyes with world record holder Aries Merritt. I nod, and he nods back. Later, Aries wins his first title since a kidney transplant in late 2015. 

I love track.

A few hours ago, I made a reservation for 6 at Tocano's Brazilian Grill. Figured I can cancel if I don't get enough takers. I got 9; gonna be a nice dinner!

Uh, Sam Kendricks? Olympic Bronze Medal pole vaulter? He came looking for me to give me that selfie. Truly a good guy.


Ridiculously nice guy Sam Kendricks
yes, I love track.

Garrett Heath runs an aggressive 3rd in the men's mile. I see him afterward, and he's pretty stoked.

Ben Blankenship won that mile with a nice last half mile. Garrett said Ben was aided by running the two mile yesterday. I noted for the record that Ben spent the first minutes after that two mile puking his guts out into a trash bin. Must have helped.

Fellow umpire Ray is from Virgina, just like 1000m favorite Robby Andrews. Ray says, "Robbie and I also came by way of NJ."  Hmmmm....me too. Ray lived in Ewing Township, and his brother lives in Belle Mead, right next to my hometown of Branchburg. Very, very small world! 

Shelby Houlihan, she of the cold-blooded homicidal race eyes, gets the mile/two mile double by wrecking yet another solid field. The girl has a great future. Later, she is waiting to be interviewed while standing next to shot put winner Michelle Carter. Shelby probably runs 5'4", maybe a buck fifteen, whereas Olympic Gold Medalist Michelle is close to 6' with the muscle mass of three Shelbys. Wish I got a picture of the two of them!

Did I mention dinner? On the way...

Ridiculously nice lady (and Olympic Gold Medalist) Michelle Carter

And then there's this...
I guess some people need reminders

Tocano's Brazilian Grill near the track. Insanity....if you're hungry, you might want to skip this part. And I will most definitely need to run again in the morning.

Here's the dessert tray in the lobby....


The salad bar had plenty of goodies. The collards were probably the best part.

Shrimp Bahia? Coconut milk, vegetables...fabulous.

Then it was time to get busy. See this thing?


Green side up means keep bringing the meat. 



Grilled pineapple...


Deep-fried whitefish with mango dressing.


Linguica...portuguese sausage.


Teriyaki beef and garlic beef...


Red side up means surrender. No more, I beg of you.



Sitting at the next table? Pole Vault Champions Sandi Morris Sam Kendricks; Sam looked up and remembered me from the track, so I raised a glass in salute.

The tally:
Garlic Beef
Teriyaki Beef
Top sirloin wrapped in bacon
Roasted Turkey wrapped in bacon
Tri tip
Swordfish
Grilled vegetables
Grilled pineapple
Whitefish
Salmon
etc...

Thankfully, each portion was tiny, but in the aggregate...ouch. 

Monday

Early breakfast, then a short run down to Old Town. The run became a little crazy due to gale-force winds blowing me backward down Lomas toward the Sandia Mountains. Old Town is pretty touristy, some neat shops. On the run back, I was carrying a small gift for my daughter in a plastic bag, and remembered an incident from 35 years ago while living in Glendale, AZ: running home from school on a hot day while shirtless and carrying a pack in my hand, I was stopped by the local police who thought I had just robbed someone. Uh...if that was the case, why am I on a major thruway for all to see? This morning, I half-expected to get stopped again, but it didn't happen.

I was somewhat disappointed.

On Monday, my plane didn't leave until late afternoon, so I had time to see the sights and try more great food. One more trip to The Frontier, across the street from UNM.



and a little gift I brought home for Zoe's 14th birthday...


Great event. Great trip.

I love track.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Back on the skinny skis...

What a winter....

Record snowfalls. Roofs collapsing. Lots of snow days: my daughter actually starting wishing her school would re-open.

Just a mess. 



What kind of idiot tries to train for a marathon in these conditions?

Guilty as charged, Your Honor.

I had planned on running the Eugene Marathon in May. Indeed, my fall fitness was improving nicely, and my metrics were looking very good. This was the first time in awhile that I spent a couple of months doing little except long, slow distance. And most of that was on dirt trails. Huge difference.

Then a local pro runner fell on black ice and fractured her shinbone in several places.

Yeah, let's rethink this running through the winter thing. I don't want to do 30+ hours a week on a treadmill again.

Hmmmm...there's these long skinny things in my garage that haven't gotten much use in the last 3-4 years. Nordic skis.

Why fight the conditions? I don't mind running in the cold, but I do mind slipping and falling and breaking parts of my body. Take what I'm given, right?

Right.

A few years ago, I skied all winter and didn't run more than a few times. Then I ran a 5k and smoked it, on nothing but Nordic legs.

Ok, FINE.

I  bought my skis at a swap meet. Not ideal for me, they are sized for someone smaller, and ski flex is a very critical issue. Time to get real gear.

The local guru told me to visit Webskis: they will fit me in a suitable pair and won't sell me anything that won't work. They sized me up and gave me a test pair to try, saying these will be the difference between a Chevy and a BMW.

And they were right! Wow, big difference. I could notice the change, even though it was a few years since my last workout like this.

Then I made a calculated decision: if I could ski much better on these skis after virtually no skiing in 4 years, then I want to buy skis another step up in performance so I'd had something to grow into. They warned me about the trade-off: faster skis are looser, more unstable. You need to be a better skier to make them work well, so it's critical to have better form.


Fischer RCR Skate Skis...awfully purdy. And fast. 

I started doing running-type workouts; mostly 350m intervals to work on form. Very quickly, my speed jumped while effort level became manageable. Meaning, less like an all-out exercise in trying not to red line with every stride.

The best Nordic skiers have better physiology markers than Steve Prefontaine. It's a hard, hard sport. More so when your technique is lacking.

Anyhow, my form quickly returned. Felt really good to glide, as always. Ten minutes faster on a hilly five mile loop. And it's fun, too.

And fresh air, besides.

Of course, I need to try things I haven't tried before. Like the Great Nordeen: 18k or 30k, with some screaming downhill from Mt Bachelor Resort. Hmmmm....30k? That's about 19 miles. My previous long was a 10k. And that was a few years ago.

But I was still thinking about it. Until I looked at a topographical map and saw long gradual climbs after 14 miles. Maybe next year.

In the meantime....race day morning had an amazing sunrise. 

I felt a little tired early, like I was missing some zip. Did a full warmup with dynamic stretching, so I don't know...

The downhills were pretty crazy, max speed 28mph. I need to work on my footwork; at one point, I lost control and 'fell' into a snowbank. More like I simply leaned over and the snow kept me from falling. 

Best mile: 3:42....that's pretty quick for me. 

The long gradual uphills weren't very steep, but I was short on power. And part of the course didn't get groomed due to mechanical breakdowns. Made for slow going at times. 

The last 5k was nice. Gradual downhill, hard snow, and I simply worked on form while going pretty fast. I keep adding to the distance where I can cruise at that speed. The skis felt a lot more stable than the last two times, and I'm not sure why. Growing into them, I guess. And I'm not arguing. 

I think the course was around 1k short, my watch showed 10.2 miles. 1:08 overall, pleased with that. The 30k course joined up with the 18k course near the end, and a small number of the longer racer went past. Those guys are very fit. 

VERY glad I didn't attempt the longer version. I would have been toast. 

Two weeks later, my company entered a team in a benefit ski/snowshoe event. Ski as much or as little as you want, for a nominal $10 fee. 

Great! Except I was sick for the better part of the previous week. No workouts for 8 days, lousy sleep, lots of congestion and fatigue. I was finally able to get back on the skis the day before the event, just to start getting my legs back. 

Race morning, and I'm feeling yesterday's work in my legs. No expectations: just stay smooth. 

It went better than expected. 20k covered, about 12 miles, and some really nice high speed cruising at times. An hour and 43 minutes, 35 minutes farther than my previous long workout, and that one was half downhill with lots of coasting. Today was flat, which meant consistent effort. And all this only one day removed from an extended hiatus. 

Oh, and then there's this....

Four years ago, I remember skiing on a day when a social service organization had an outing with their menntally challenged clientele. This group was routinely showcased in the newspaper for their efforts. 

One of the guys was around 35. He and his brother both seem to enjoy skiing, and are pretty sunny and cheerful out there. Back when I saw them last, the one guy was hootin' and hollerin' as I skied past. I think I stopped to watch....at one point, the guy changed his focus, looked directly at me, and yelled, "YOU'RE FIRED!" Then he howled with laughter. 

Cracked me up. 

Today, I saw the same guy, skiing the oval. And I smiled. 

It was a good day.