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.