War and Peace

9 07 2012


Back from a drawn out, and at no point deserved, hiatus from blogging. Why so long? Why now? you may ask. Well for one, I’m back to searching for ways to kill time. Spilling my life’s events onto the web is always a good way to busy myself. But I think this time, the motivation arose out of the past couple weeks of preparing for and subsequently competing at the U.S. Trials, not because they were a big success, but more so because I was reminded that this whole running thing hinges on the support of numerous individuals, you know—family, friends, teammates, coaches, etc—a group let’s simply refer to as the “Usuals.” So I guess this blog post is essentially my way of giving them some sort of a ShoutOut. It may be a little long to make the Badger Herald and certainly not nearly crude enough. And it’s not entirely a direct thanks to that support group. Just my weird way of showing appreciation by briefly summarizing a year’s worth of running that was dependent on love from the Usuals. One last thing: I have a tendency to judge those people on Facebook who are always putting up unnecessarily emotional status updates, you know those people, we all scorn them. So I admit to my hypocrisy with the posting of this all too sentimental blog. My only consolation is that instead of being immediately barraged by my heartfelt narrative on the newsfeed, the reader is at least required to make the effort of clicking on the link before diving headlong into this excessive purge of feelings.

(Disclaimer: this blog really gets hung out to dry, seems to have transformed into more of a short story, so if you’re smart, you’ll break it up with a few friends to each read a section and regroup to exchange notes. Otherwise it’ll be like trying to get through War and Peace in one sitting.)

OK, I swear I can encapsulate the year into a paragraph, two at the most. Someone double-dog dared me to keep it shorter than the essay for my Wisco college application (not possible, didn’t write one…gotta love DI athletics). So after training in Mt.Laguna last Spring 2011, I jumped out to Europe for a few races to try and bust a time before returning to the states in mid-June to compete at last summer’s USA Championships. Let’s just say I struggled in Europe and the downward spiral had commenced. We could even take it back a bit further when I was injured during that preceding winter and the seed had been planted for a difficult track season. It wasn’t until Spring/Summer 2011 that the seed had grown into a plant and that plant was about to be… use your imagination. Needless to say, I was embarrassed at USAs and, with my tail tucked between my legs, returned to Europe for another series of races. Instead of being able to approach post-USAs racing as a chance for redemption, I seemed to sink further into the quicksand of burnout. So much of running for me, and racing for that matter, is dependent on momentum. Well I had plenty of mass and no velocity (sorry, that analogy might be a bit too academic) to keep things rolling with any sort of consistency through the end of the season. I think this failure, or maybe inability to achieve any of the expectations I had set forth, is the main reason why I decided to stop blogging. Shame is a very paralyzing emotion and it was shame that kept me from feeling like I should be sharing any of these happenings with the Usuals, despite their unrelenting support. So there it is—2011 in a nutshell, complete with all my deepest emotions. Definitely a learning experience of sorts as I tried, and continue to experiment with, different training techniques, environments, etc.

So that takes us to Fall 2011, which, as far as we’re concerned, is considered a new year. Best way to cope with a broken heart was to get my ass back toMadisonand go to work with the future NCAA XC champs. It seemed like a fool-proof plan: put 2011 behind me and train with the best, building that cross country strength that once resulted in a top 100, yeah that’s right, a double digit, finish at the NCAA cross championships. Unfortunately, I am a fool and the plan had some problems: 1. Don’t think for a second that just because you get paid to run you can keep up with the Wisconsin XC team. 2. It won’t happen. 3. You’ll inevitably get hurt trying. Now I know that some of you studs out there could probably manage it, seven of you in fact did. But by the time I jumped into training with the team mid-September, these kids were already stroking mile repeats at the XC course with ease on their way to an indisputable national championship. After a couple weeks trying to keep up, my body decided it was not about to support the cram-study method of building fitness. So there it was, another injury was born to add to the numerous prior. Not sure what I expected exactly. I think I had finally come to the realization that I’m a weak human being, that my injuries of past, present, and even future, are not just bad luck and stupid training, but they are reoccurring because I’ve never really taken the time to work on the simple things that can keep one healthy: core strength, balance, stabilization, etc. If you’ve ever seen me run or just move around in general, you’ve witnessed a slightly less extreme version of Forrest Gump before the leg braces came off. These unfortunate biomechanics have often been at the roots of any injury. Well this time around, and with additional goading from my sister, I started up with regular physical therapy. In time, these visits helped cure me of my present tribulation, but more importantly, they helped pave the way to injury-free training that has lasted seven months now. It’s difficult to admit that I need special treatment if I’m going to continue to pursue the running any further. I guess it’s like openly admitting you’re a Cubs fan or you still like Fastball. But there it is, I said it: I’m high maintenance. Either way, the Usuals expanded by one more individual, a PT.

In the interest of condensing, we’ll cut through Spring 2012 quickly. Started the season off with a bang, kind of, wherein I was waxed by a high schooler at the New Balance Games in NYC at the end of January, clocking a blazing 4:03 mile. Buried that one with the other dead bodies in the backyard ofAdams St(the race or the high schooler? you’re wondering) and kept putting in the miles. I have a nearly ideal setup in Madison. I live equidistant, about 10 minutes walk, from the two most important locations in Madison, the Stadium where all the facilities save for the outdoor track reside, and Trader Joe’s. And seeing as how all I do is eat, sleep, and run, I also spend equal time at each establishment. I could just as easily describe to you the happenings in the basement of Camp Randall as I could each aisle at the TJs on Monroe St. Anyway, progressed with the training, stayed healthy, and eventually ran my first 1500m PB in 3 years at Stanford in May, and then again in Indianapolis (3:36.3) just over a week before the Trials. A couple races that helped affirm that I was still improving, even if it took 36 months to see the results. Which brings us to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Four years ago, I competed at the Trials. It was a cherry on the top of a season I was more than content with. This time, however, the Trials was the ultimate test of everything I had done for the past seven months. The Trials was my season, and just as difficult as the actual competition, is trying to see that there’s more to a season or a career than one or two races. It’s just a little unfortunate that sometimes those couple races may only arrive once every 4 years. In trying not to beat it to death, and because I think most of you followed the event, I won’t delve into much detail. Simply put, it didn’t go the way I was hoping, and I’ll leave it at that. But the Trials is also why I’m writing this right now. I’ve already admitted that I’m needy. In addition to the physical requirements of that acknowledgment, it also brings with it the need for that group, the Usuals, some more vocal than others, some closer than others, but ultimately, the Trials seemed to sucker all those people into rallying for my cause. And as cliché as it sounds, it became clear that the Usuals are genuinely just good people that were pumped for me no matter the outcome. The shame of defeat was more present than ever after my semi-finals collapse. But the support, whether vocal or just as important, nonvocal, helped dissolve that shame so that I could continue to attack the rest of the season and even blog about it. So thanks Usuals, I hope you know who you are. The best I can awkwardly offer is this post and an effort to return the love in the future.

I assure you this is as sentimental as any post will get. Hope it’s sufficiently overwhelming. It also acts as a way to openly describe the life events I deem interesting. So now I’m off the hook when asked any variation of “what up?” because I’ll be directing you straight to this blog for answers. For now, I’m in Teddington (the Fitchburg of London, but teeming with people who lack some serious dental hygiene) for the next 3 weeks. I live with some other runners, mostly Aussies, and we jump off from here to various races around Europe. Next time I’ll breakdown the setup here and update results of any races.

(The answer to your question is yes, the title of this post is both metaphorical, as it relates to the nature of running, as well as literal, as the blog itself is too damn long, much like Tolstoy’s novel.)


Some Thrill, Some Laguna

16 05 2011

View of desert from PCT

This is purely business as I try to catch y’all up on the last few weeks so please excuse any inappropriate analogies or otherwise unnecessary comments.  I left Australia with a heavy heart, due to a somewhat-disappointing performance at Nationals and the sad, abandoned faces of the all the Aussies I had touched (metaphorically and physically) seared into my memory.  The goodbyes were tough and streaked with tears, but with the knowledge that it was only two weeks till our reunion stateside, we did that awkward high-five/handshake/one-armed hug thing real bros do, and parted ways.  Without over-reflecting and with weeks of the trip already recorded in previous blogs, I’ll wrap things up by saying my time in Australia was near ideal.  I didn’t necessarily achieve the expectations I’d set out for myself on the racing scene, but I banked several very solid weeks of training and maybe most importantly, earned a spot training with a real group of professionals.  I had serious concerns about finding individuals to train with post-collegiately, but at least for now, I’m in with an Olympic-class collection of studs, getting the opportunity to train and travel internationally.  I want to thank the Gregsons and Riseleys once more for their generosity in hosting me during my time in Australia.  Also, thanks to the Melbourne Track Club boys and Bidders for letting me join the entourage for awhile.  Lastly, huge thanks to John Evans and New Balance for hooking me up with the group and helping me make the trip to Australia.

Rode the jet plane back to NC for two weeks of ma’s home-cooking and a much anticipated visit with a Caribbean island-hopper whose professional title is listed as Personal Care Assistant; now I can write-off the fine dining I took her to at the Outback Steakhouse (wanted to give her a taste of that authentic Australian cuisine).  I slid right back into training, trail-blazing the town with my main man, Duncan “Diesel” Hoge.  Let me hit you with some history and try to describe this guy, as he’s my most reliable, and essentially, my only training partner when I’m home.  It started with a brutal rivalry in middle-school when most boys were busy perfecting their jump shot for the JV basketball team.  Instead, we clashed day after day on the local cross country courses sporting the same Mustangs singlets, fighting for pride, glory, fame.  Parents may have found it neat, just happy their boys were out being active.  For us, it was about the win, the popularity that only the skinniest of 12-year old boys could appreciate.  The intensity carried into high school, but with it came a bond, a brotherhood.  The intra-team competition between us faded as we grew into our respective roles, Duncan a supreme lady-killer, irresistible to females of all ages, as well as a national-class triathlete who simultaneously continued to run high school XC and track at the highest level.  Meanwhile, I lived vicariously through this legend and kept to swinging my purple lunchbox through the halls with a level of naivety matched only by my love of calculator games.  Some many years later, Diesel is still running (and still pulling trim) and successfully pursuing the longer distance trail racing side of the sport.  Anytime I’m in town, he unquestioningly accompanies me for any variety of workouts whether it’s repeats on the track or a furious session of King’s Cup.  So, just as with years prior, Duncan joined me during my brief stint in Chapel Hill for some quality mileage and one or two epic man-dates (we pay separately, no big deal).  Ma, meanwhile, babied me like she always does.  Even after growing accustomed to a league of stellar Australian moms, my transition back to America was smooth and effortless due to Debbie being the shit.  She raises the bar as only one’s true mom can do.  It would certainly be easy to dedicate many a blog post to ma, however I’ll leave it at this: most of us have moms, mothers, etc; but it’s like this, she’s the best one, simple.

Two weeks logged in the Thrill, and I headed west to join the Aussie crew at Mt. Laguna, MTC’s Stage II High-Altitude Training Facility, complete with a med-ball, a dart board, and three refrigerators (though I’m constantly reminded, “this is a running camp, not an eating camp”).  We’re sitting at about 6000 ft. elevation in the Cuyamaca Mountains adjacent to the Anza Borrego Desert, an hour or so east of San Diego.  The gang here consists of Grego, Jeff, Collis, Gaz, Bidders (no new faces there), and Benny Saint, the freshly crowned Australian 10k national record holder (27:24), snagging the title from Collis.  I share a beat up motel room with Jeffrey while the rest of the gang is close by, playing exclusive games of tummy-sticks to stay warm in their 3 bedroom cabin.  We’ve got a common room halfway between our places where all of the eating/cooking goes down, though it seems I’m the only one cramming the calories.  My enthusiasm for food earns me sneers and jeers from the gang, making me feel like I’m back in junior high, surrounded by hoards of Cosmo-reading, self conscious teenage girls struggling with image issues.  I guess we all have roles to fill here; I eat everyone’s food and build self-esteem for my peers with every session I get dropped in; Jeff and Grego battle for egotistical domination (though Grego wastes precious energy spitting weak, weak game); Collis aims to turn back the clock to 2008 when life was carefree and he wasn’t helplessly addicted to Fruit Ninja; and Benny Saint, MTC’s only hope for a stand-up comedian, provides the day-to-day humor.  We’re a sensitive people, us runners, so I’m hoping aforementioned comments don’t earn me the silent treatment. (What if I say “no offense”?  Pretty sure that universally negates anything insulting…)

Most of our runs take us on a series of single-track trails including the Big Laguna and Pacific Crest Trails that dive in and out of meadows, along ridges, and through the Cleveland National Forest.  Once a week, we head down the mountain in search of oxygen, winding up at El Capitan High for a track session at sea-level.  Atop the mountains, we share the territory with backpackers hiking the PCT from Mexico to Canada, bored couples who make the drive just for the scenic turnouts, and border patrol cops who seem increasingly suspicious of a handful of boys frolicking aimlessly through the woods in short-shorts; joggers or flamboyantly disguised drug-runners?  Every Friday afternoon, we get the pleasure of a sensual trigger-point massage from a middle-aged hippie so full of positivity, passion, and leafy greens that it more then makes up for his Catholic-priest-like body rubs.  Just as at Falls Creek, Gaz greases the chain of his Schwinn and throws his aging body at the mercy of the terrain, struggling along the trails with enough weezing and hissing to distract you from your own nauseating pain.  Bidders also makes the effort to take advantage of the altitude experience, hitting the trails with such a fierce intensity, it nearly conceals his graying hair, peeking muffin top, and a John Cena-esque pounding in each step (please refer to the box office hit, “The Marine”, for comprehensive visuals of said running style).  Jokes aside, Gary and Nic have been absolutely imperative in my transition into the MTC and have provided much-needed support as I strain to establish myself a member of the team.

I’m really enjoying my time training and hanging with the boys here.  With a great set-up and a motivated group, I feel like I’ve been able to continue to build upon the momentum I gained with these very same guys in Australia.  I leave Friday evening with Jeffrey after 3 weeks here to pursue a few PBs in Europe.  We’ll be joining Rowdy in London for a couple weeks before I head back to Madison, WI to prep for the USA championships at the end of June.

Internet here is slower than a ’94 telephone modem so the rest of the photos are going to have to wait til I’ve reached civilization again.

Big Country

13 04 2011

Jeffrey and THE ping pong table

Gonna go ahead and start off by saying this will likely be my final blog post from Australia.  I’m in my last week here, with my return trip to the states scheduled for Monday morning.  Some 24+ hours of travel later, I’m hoping to be greeted by Ma back in what they call “the southern part of heaven”, aka Chapel Hill, NC (I think it’s a self-proclaimed tag-line).  It’s been awhile since the last post and in my aged state, my memory is wearing thin so I may have forgotten some of the more intriguing moments of the past couple weeks.  I’m also feeling some pressure to keep things entertaining for my audience, but unfortunately my creativity is only about as consistent as the number of good movies John Cusack made post-1989.

When we left off, I had another week left in Wollongong with the Gregsons.  To spice it up a bit, Grego and I tripped it north to Sydney for a weekend.  We revisited the Olympic Park track and watched Robbo’s inspiring steeple debut (8:55) in rough conditions.  We then followed the meet up with some stellar kebabs and crashed at Grego’s girlfriend’s place, tucked comfortably below the international airport to ensure that we’d be up with the roar of the first engine at the ass-crack of dawn.  We met a couple others for a group Sunday long run in downtown’s Centennial Park, which, in my brief experience, convincingly rivals Central Park (nothing personal, NY).  The only good thing about a long run is following it up with a Last Supper-sized brunch (pretty sure it was some sort of banquet).  Grego’s gf, Jess, himself, and I joined Tricky for a true Australian brekky on the beaches of Bondi.  Supposedly Bondi Beach is where it’s at. “Like the most bodacious beach in the world,” as stated boldly by Grego and confirmed by the eleven others who religiously watch TV’s “Bondi Rescue,” a show where the manliest of Aussies risk life and limb to secure lost cell phones, massage one another with tanning oil, and every so often, yell “Shark”, quickly adding, “just kidding” amidst testosterone-juiced high fives with the other guards (I know now why Ryan digs the show so much…).  Usually, the beach is packed crotch to buttcheek with Aussies eager to ride the waves or cruise the beach looking for hotties.  Unfortunately, I think we caught Bondi on an off-day.  After peer pressure forced me to take a dip, alone, just to say I’d fully experienced Bondi (who really cares? I’ve been to Wrightsville, that’s gotta be good enough), we called it a weekend and returned to the Gong.

A quick fast-forward of the next week: a daring jump from a 3-story building into a bay of sharks with Grego’s bff and triathlete stud, Aaron Royale, surviving a ferocious riptide, also with Royale (seeing a pattern?), a legitimate deep-tissue massage at a back-alley brothel (no happy-ending, I sware), a grueling long run up Devil’s Peak overlooking the Gong, and to culminate the week, my first live experience of an in-your-face Australian Football game, complete with headless chicken-like coordination and a down to the wire finish that saw the Swannies come out victorious!  I’m told that’s a good thing.  With a hug, a kiss, and a proper spanking, the Gregsons sent me crying down to Melbourne for my final two weeks.

So that takes us to the 5th and final couch I will surf on for this trip, metaphorically speaking.  I arrived at the Riseley’s after staying one night at the boss’s place in Melbourne where I was treated to my very own candle-lit fish fry.  It wasn’t Friday night, but by golly, he really out-did himself (thanks Bidders).  Describing the Riseley’s estate via blog post does not begin to do this place justice.  Tucked away in the country about 30 minutes outside Melbourne, Tricky and I agree that this place could easily earn its spot in an episode of Cribs alongside Akon and Lil Wayne with its vast interior, acres of uncharted backyard, and a jacuzzi (they all have jacuzzis, right?).  A maze of bedrooms, a half-dozen bathrooms, a VIP lounge with shag-red carpets, a room exclusive to ping-pong, an indoor pool, and a squash court for a basement have kept us more than entertained.  Jeff even has a room just for his personal collection of empty shoe boxes; he’s strangely attached to them and spends his free time constructing shoebox monsters and really neat forts; never gonna grow up, bud, you and Peter Pan both!  The house is perched on a plot of land complete with its own petting zoo; chickens, bunnies, horses, exotic birds, wallabies…if you can name it, it probably lives on or around the perimeter of their land.  The Riseley family is just as nice as their crib is fly.  Something in the milk in Australia, if they drank milk, has produced a legion of unbelievably self-sacrificing moms as dedicated to generosity as U2 is to making mediocre music.  Wendy Riseley is one more mom in a long line of moms during my travels who has unquestioningly graced me with shelter and food.  “Big Mama” runs the household and takes care of any living creature under her roof, from the American to the dog to the rest of the individuals lucky enough to receive her attention.  She’s the closest thing to a real-life Mama Berenstain, spoiling each and everyone of us and coating everything we eat with 100% Australian-made honey.  Mr. Riseley is a working man, disappearing at all hours of the night to work his shift as a vegetable wholesaler; although definitely more likely he’s Dexter’s apprentice, throwing on a pair of latex gloves every night and using any number of torture items to ensure the streets of Melbourne stay clean.  He says the stains are from the newest batch of fresh tomatoes, but I’ve got my doubts.

Trickadonis made a celebrity appearance at the Riseley’s and forced me from the queen to a mattress on the floor.  But it’s a small sacrifice to make to have a 24/7 play buddy on call.  Ping-pong, Playstation, truth or dare.  You name it.  And to top it off, my main man accompanied me on an all-afternoon excursion to the Melbourne Zoo AND put up with my misguided and slightly inaccurate commentary on every other animal.  I’d like to add: when I say ping-pong, I’m not talking about a gentle game that a couple of school girls would play while waiting for the curling iron to warm up.  I’m talking about truly epic games, spikes, volleys, exhilaration, despair.  I’m talking competition, like Kobe vs. Lebron or Federer vs. Nadal.  With that being said and a left bicep the size of Popeye’s, I consider myself the Nadal of table-tennis, mimicking my game off the Spaniard with all the topspin to prove it.

Each morning, Jeffrey corrals us for a session in the bush, an outing to any one of the handful of nearby National Parks perfect for soft-surface running and thriving with wild kangaroos.  Guber is a good bloke, organized, methodical, and professional.  He’s only got a year on me, but my youth and inexperience in the pro-scene is very evident in comparison.  The guy might be the favorite to win the Australian 1500m national championship, but I know Guber, and deep-down he’s a country boy just like myself, raised on a farm on a diet of pure cattle milk, chasing chickens barefoot and wrestling naked with the hogs.  They make fun of us, Jeff, but we’ll fight ’em together, on the backs of stallions with fists full of free-range eggs.

Race this Saturday.  Jeff and I are in the 1500m and Tricks doing the 800m.  Afterward, probably be what the kids call a “rager” on Sunday night to send me staggering on my way home the following morning.  Next blog will find me in a new time zone and hemisphere.  In the meantime, entertain yourselves with updates to my other pages (biography/training strategies) and remain calm until I post again.

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From Falls to the Gong

28 03 2011

North Gong Beach

I apologize to my readers for the delay in this, my newest blog post.  I spent the last 2 weeks time developing a graphic novel based on the lives of the Falls Creek participants to be released simultaneously with the premier of our reality cable special.  Unfortunately, the final week at Falls was just about as exciting as the first, unscripted and uneventful.  The training the second week was nearly the same as the week prior, runs along the aqueduct and through Langford’s Gap; although my week was cut short due to a minor hamstring strain, compelling me to spend much of the days doing what I do best, rehabbing.  We were slammed by several days of rain so despite my top priority in coming to Australia, I failed to max out the sun exposure I was hoping for and my tan has suffered until recently.  So after another week’s worth of male bonding, a consecutive disappointing second place finish at The Man’s trivia night, and a few muddy miles in the mountains, we packed up Grego’s wagon and left Falls Creek, Sydney bound.

Seven hours of scenic views later, we pulled into Sydney Olympic Park, a small village that played host to the 2000 Olympic Games.  Rowdy, Robbo, and I were all entered to race the 1500m the following evening.  After killing a perfectly good Saturday in the hotel checking NCAA basketball scores and reading (an act of desperation), I made my Australian debut.  Without going into too much detail, let’s just say the race did not go ideally.  Four weeks out, I had envisioned something memorable, which it certainly was, but for all the wrong reasons.  It’s one of those races that you’re eager to grind into the past using the Sunday long run as a tool to flush your system of regret, embarrassment, and anger.  Fortunately Rowdy and Robbo held down the fort for the Falls Creek crew, with Rowdy scoring 2nd in a very tight race and Robbo running a two-second personal best.

On Sunday, Miller and I took out our cameras and maps, threw on some “I Love It Down Under” cut-off T’s, and spent the afternoon doing the tourist thing.  After lugging 8 weeks worth of baggage through downtown Sydney, making no attempt to avoid looking as American as possible, we took our time snapping some photos  of the Sydney harbor.  We were joined by Tristan Garrett, Sydney born and raised, who acted as our personal tour guide during the exploration.  With the harbor, the bridge, a plethora of unnecessary other tourist faces, and Oprah’s house excessively recorded for future blog posts, Miller and I called it a day, going our separate ways as he prepared to board a flight the next morning for the States while I jumped a train south for Wollongong.

I’ve got a week under my belt with another to go at the Gregson home in a beach-resort town of about 250,000 better known as the Gong.  They’ve got me sleeping in a 30-foot deep well straight out of “Silence of the Lambs” but I can’t complain; it comes complete with a ping-pong table and the lotion is actually sunscreen so it’s serving an appropriate function.  But in all seriousness, it’s really cool down there.  Mr. and Mrs. Gregson (Steve and Sue) are babying me like I’m their only son (Grego’s actually adopted…shhhh).  Amazing, home-cooked, 5-star feasts every night and little treats in the fridge at all times are mere examples of Sue’s inner goddess.  She’ll even watch cheesy American TV dramas with me post-dinner, and although they’re neither The Daily Show nor Jeopardy (miss ya moms), it still makes me feel at home.  Steve, in addition to possessing some serious worldly knowledge, is a one-man Team Contador, biking alongside Grego and I during repeat sessions and providing much needed words of encouragement as if they were spare tires.  The Gregsons even have Australian-Tivo here, so I’ve been able to record March Madness games and watch them at my leisure!  They have made me feel immediately comfortable in this new setting and have allowed me to slide smoothly into a healthy training regime where I can feel my fitness and confidence growing.  As much as I joke, it’s been really important to me that I’ve had the chance to gain some momentum in my training due to the support of the Gregsons and everyday running challenges and companionship of Ryan.  Not to say that the Gregsons haven’t put me to work to earn my keep around the house; between spoon-feeding Ryan his “cheesy, but not too cheesy, eggs” every morning and forcing leftovers down my throat for lunch each afternoon, I stay busy and gratefully rappel into the safety of my hole each night.

Running under a rich Australian sun with the waves on one side and mountains on the other is about as fantastic as it sounds.  I join Grego on soft surface grass paths that stretch from town to town up the coast.  I finish most runs at the set of the Gong’s own version of Baywatch where an older, more strung out Hasselhoff still goes at it, saving the lives of cougars scattered across the shore who overdo it during pilates routines.  Meanwhile Grego throws on his floaties and grabs his goggles for a fun romp in the waves–ain’t that right little guy?? awww he’s so cute.  Besides the torrential downpour that hit the area on my first day here, stranding a few at the house due to flooding, it’s been one nice day after another.  Hot, definitely hot, but it makes the post-run ocean dive that much more glorious.  This time next week, I’ll head back to Melbourne, and the adventure continues for another couple weeks.  Check in soon for more Gong love and a detailed comparison of Australian Football athletes to the everyday elementary school kid playing spiderball at recess.

And just for clarification, I’ve been told by those who masterfully bestow these brilliant nicknames that “Cracka” is based off of Cracker Jack, the dated and slightly over-rated, sugar-coated popcorn brand.

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Falls, Week I

13 03 2011

The journey into the mountains commenced last Friday, beginning with a train ride, transferring to a bus, and finishing up with a winding two-lane mountain road in Gaz’s 4-door pickup.  Gregson greeted us in an apron and ovenmits, eagerly preparing dinner for our arrival as he pranced around the kitchen singing along to Rihanna.  We’re staying the two weeks in Falls Creek, a small ski-town about 5 hours outside Melbourne.  We got ourselves a two-bedroom apartment up against the hills overlooking a valley.  Life here quickly assumes a pattern, intentionally for the running, and unfortunately, otherwise because there’s little to do.  Every morning, we’re up at around 9, and out the door driving to our jumping off spot to start running by 9:30.  Most of our runs have originated from Langford’s Gap, about a 5 minute drive from the apartment.  Running near the beginning of the path, a frigid cold mountain creek acts as our ice-bath post run (cold enough that I admittedly wussed out on the first two occasions).  Back at the apartment, Grego and Robbo fight over who showers first, ultimately agreeing to just share the thing.  The rest of the day consists of various forms of time-killing: playing around on the computer, sharing the sole broadband internet connection (which I usually monopolize), tweeting meaningless comments, watching ripped dvds/tv shows, reading (though very sparingly, sorry ma), and eating.  5:30pm marks our 2nd “practice session” which may involve an easy 5 miler and/or a variety of drills/exercises.  Like clockwork, 9:30 and 5:30 everyday.  The most challenging part of it all, aside from the obvious physical grind, is avoiding or more likely, accepting cabin fever (that, and the utter disappointment of missing March Madness).  7:30ish and we’re sitting down to a family dinner arranged by one of the crew, rotating meal responsibilities each night…most meat and pasta I’ve consumed in a week’s time.

Training, that’s why I’m here right?  So far, I’ve successfully been dropped on all but 1 run since arriving.  The brief drive to Langford’s Gap is enough to get pumped up as Gregson cranks the volume in his cush wagon, jamming to Australia’s most popular dance themes (oh, and Mike Bublee).  If I haven’t puked by the time we arrive, I’m ready to get started, excited for a run sure to wind into the hills with a group of studs to push me and Gaz whipping us while he bikes along.  Unfortunately, adapting to the training here has proven much more difficult than I expected.  We’re sitting at about 5500ft.  Not super high, but high enough to rock my lungs and sap my legs.  Compound that with my training partners and it’s been somewhat of a shock.  But I’m loving it.  If I somehow manage to stay healthy, then this is my ideal setting, running in the mountains with a group of guys who will redefine what I consider “fitness” while blowing me up like I’m some sort of recreational jogger (that’s a soft “j” sound).

Isolated in the mountains (closest town a brutal, motion-sickness guaranteed 45 minute drive away), the gang is more or less forced into a “Jersey Shore” situation, just without the guidos, clubs, drug use, promiscuity, fights, and otherwise cable-worthy entertainment.  But it’s a good crew and I’d say definitely worthy of at least an A & E special.  We’re still figuring each other out, but the initial awkwardness has essentially been lost to ragging on one another, a sign of acceptance and general harmony.  Rowdy, justly nicknamed due to certain personality traits, is difficult to characterize; a low-maintenance, easy-going individual who doesn’t cause a lot of commotion and trains harder than Gregson dances.  Miller brings to the table a keen knowledge of random information most useful during Tuesday’s pizza and trivia night at the local (and only) pub, The Man.  Most of the blog’s readers probably already know the man behind the nickname so I’ll leave it at that.  Robbo is a quiet one who packs a vicious punch.  19 years old, but has no trouble dropping his elders as calmly as he does politely.  Equally impressive is his apricot chicken, the dinner we wish would replicate every night.  Grego is the Jimmer Fredette of Australian track and field, just younger and a little cockier, though justly so.  I’m sure most of you have seen the highlight reels or read ESPN-Australia’s homepage enough to already have the scoop on this young buck.  At 20, he owns most of Australia’s mid-distance program and is working toward world domination; I mean save for one or two other studs, the rest of us pray that we might get a sniff of his slightly overwhelming Nivea-for-men body spray as he unloads a ferocious kick on his way to another record.  Lastly, Garry Henry, our “advisor.”  A graduate of UNC-Pembroke, Gaz has been with the program since Athens 2004.  With skin weathered from decades of sun and a course voice, I think Gaz typifies that rough Australian you might find in the outback hunting poisonous snakes (trust me, more of a badass than Steve Irwin, RIP).  He’s a disciplined old bloke, making sure we’re spot-on time, joining us for every run as he navigates the trails with a pair of disc-brakes and front shocks.  Essentially, Gaz is the man.  As far as nicknames go, I started as “Bolo” but most recently the boys have been calling me “Cracker” (the “er” pronounced “ah” because the Australians struggle mightily with “r” sounds).  It’s official once confirmed by Bidders (Nic).

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In the beginning…

7 03 2011

Downtown Melbourne along the Yarra.

Officially my first post, after a few practice attempts.  Not entirely sure what my plan is here, but I strongly encourage any and all to comment and give me suggestions on how to make this thing look/run smooth.  I guess my initial goal is to try and keep friends and family up to date on some of my happenings as I’m on the road training and racing over the next several months.

I’m gonna start back in time a bit.  Flew into Melbourne, Australia two weeks ago to begin an 8 week adventure down under.  My trip was actually delayed by 4 weeks due to some injury issues, a common occurrence in my life over the last 5 years.  But eventually made it, albeit lacking some serious fitness, especially when being thrown into training with guys I’d consider to be some of the best in the world. I stayed in an apartment with former wisco teammate, Craig “Rowdy” Miller (3:37 1500m, 7:49 3k), and Aussie 10k record holder Collis “Simba” Birmingham (27:29).  Side note–the nicknames are pretty big with the aussies, still working on mine though. Spent the first week more or less washing the 26-hour trip out of my legs and adjusting to the time change (16 hrs ahead).  Rowdy and I explored downtown a little, and upon my pleading, he joined me in a tour of the Melbourne Aqaurium–totally rad!  Ran around the city at various parks: the ‘Tan, Albert Park, Fawkner Park, and along the Port Melbourne Bay and Yarra River.  Wish I could tell you that I went on a lot of exciting adventures, but in all honesty, the majority of the time I’m running or doing running-related activities…stretch, drills, core stuff, ice, sleep, eat, relax (yes, I consider all to be in the job description).  It’s definitely incredible to be able to travel as a result of running, but I think that my experience of these new areas is maybe not the same as a traditional tourist.  My most exciting moments are exploring a new city by running all over it, meeting international athletes and learning about their philosophies and cultures (in this case, the Aussies). I can’t say I have any regrets about how I spend my time, yet.  For me, this is a business trip, and I’m trying to treat it as such.

There are a few other aussie athletes (among them Jeff “Goober” Riseley, 3:32 1500m best and Tristan “Tricky” Garret, 1:46 800m best) training in Melbourne under the management of our agent, Nic Bideau.  The group convened for workouts tuesday, thursday, and last Saturday the 26th, during which I joined in for my first track session since the end of December, a very humbling experience (and really just the beginning of such experiences). All the guys formentioned raced on Thursday, March 3rd in Melbourne at the Olympic Park Track in a huge meet that attracted international competition.  I (un)fortunately got to observe.  On Friday, Miller and I left Melbourne en route for the mountains and a little altitude training with 20 yr old Australian 1500m record holder Ryan “Grego” Gregson (3:31) and 19 yr old Brett “Robbo” Robinson (3:42), world-junior competitor.  Funny–although I’ve got a few years on these kids, I feel like a freshman all over again, getting mopped all over the trails by a couple of studs, Rowdy included of course. We’re accompanied by Garry “Gaz” Henry, a hardened, veteran marathoner here to manage the party.

More to follow soon. Keep in mind, this will be a constantly changing blog as I try to get grips on it all. Posts/pictures will be updated as often as possible.