After a long travel back from USAT Age Group Nationals, Mo and I made it back to Flagstaff safe and sound. Flagstaff is absolutely gorgeous this time of year, and it is great to be back to the familiar sights and smells.
Starting this new semester has been full of change for me. As all my loyal followers know, I am no longer competing for NAU’s cross country team; I AM COACHING IT! Coach Heins asked me last year if I would be interested in taking a graduate assistant position with the team. I have always been interested in coaching and this is a great opportunity to see if this is something I want to pursue in the future. My coaching duties include helping out at practices, recruiting, and getting some more publicity for the team via a blog (imagine that?). The blog is NAUTrack.com and I will probably include several more shameless plugs throughout the year.
The team has had one meet thus far, the George Kyte Classic at Buffalo Park here in Flagstaff. Both teams are showing lots of new talent and I am looking forward to seeing them reach their goals this year.
Training has been going pretty well these last couple of weeks. I have been getting my feet wet with the masters swim team. I try to swim with them every chance that I get. I am able to do a bit of running with the team, which has reminded me why I ran 100 mile weeks in college instead of my current 40. I have also gone on a few great rides with Joe Withers and have found a great group ride on Saturday’s as well. (…which deserves its own blog post. It is that much fun!)
On Saturday I returned to the Stanford Cross Country Invitational in Palo Alto, CA for the first time in five years. I had a great race last time I was there, finishing 10th in the 5k Seeded race as an 18-year old senior at Royal High School. Unfortunately, shortly after that race I was plagued by IT band problems and ultimately missed six weeks of running. Thanks to a supportive team and lots of hours in the pool and on the bike, I was able to finish up the season on a positive note.
This time was a bit different — I’m now a 23-year old graduate student finishing my fifth year of eligibility at NAU. The course has changed since then, now much flatter and longer at 8km. But standing on the starting line before the race, I realized not much has changed. Not the important things anyway. I still love this sport and I am still both amazed and inspired by the energy of a competitive cross country race. Hundreds of bodies pushing themselves across an undulating course as fast as possible for not just their own selfish gratification, but more importantly for the benefit of their six teammates that toed the line with them. What a beautiful thing. “I love the energy of the start of a cross country race,” I said under my breath as we did strides.
I was pumped.
I got out pretty good behind David McNeill and Matt Coloe and luckily I didn’t fall coming off the starting line like in my last two races (George Kyte Classic and Strawberry Fields Triathlon). If you ask me, the course narrows a bit too quickly for a mens collegiate field of this size and as a result, there was a bad pileup less the 800m into the race. Rounding a sharp right hand turn, an LMU runner in front of me got tripped off and I guess I jumped out of the way, getting away unscathed. Matt was just behind me and his leg went right into the bottom of my foot and I thought for sure my spikes must have just shredded his shin. He went right around me after that, so I assumed he was fine (and after the race we confirmed that he didn’t get too banged up). I got back into the race and tried to slowly close the gap that had formed.
A couple hundred meters after the fall, Andrew Belus came by me and said, “PD, step on my left heel.” I looked down and saw that Andrew was running with only one spike, losing the other shoe back in the pile up. I think I said something like, “Dude, I’m not stepping on your heel.” In my mind, there were three possible outcomes: a) I was going to stab him in the achilles with my spikes, b) I will miss all together and we’ll have to try again, or c) I’m going to trip him or both of us. Reluctantly accepting my wishes, Andrew stepped off the course to yank the other shoe off so he was just running with two socks on. If there is anyone on our team that could handle racing 7k without shoes, Andrew is the guy. He is a “minimalist,” logging most of his miles on beat up racing flats and always looking for opportunities to get in some barefoot miles.
While this was going on, Dave had broken away from the field with a sizable lead. Tim Freriks and Matt were also running aggressively near the back of the front pack and I knew that’s where Andrew and I belonged. I worked my way up to my teammates, passing a few runners along the way.
The Stanford course is on a golf course with several loops tracing back over one another. Since we were unable to run the course the day before, the repetitive nature had me and Matt a bit confused on where exactly in the race we were. Heading back toward the finish line for the second time or so, I began to surge thinking the race was almost over. I hadn’t heard any splits or noticed any markers, so in my not-so-alert mental state I was easily confused. Luckily I did have some doubt so I didn’t kick all out; my comrade Matt wasn’t so fortunate as he let out a full on end-of-the-race sprint with about 2 kilometers remaining. Ouch.
I was able to bounce back from my lapse in judgment thanks to my large aerobic base from five consecutive 100 mile weeks. I passed a few more guys the last lap and had my eyes locked on Dylan Knight from UCLA. I ran out of real estate and finished with the same time as him, 24:15 — good enough for an 11 second PR! In my chase for Dylan, I got rushed from behind by an Arkansas runner who ended up 2 seconds ahead of me. In my defense, the guy from Arkansas, Bryan Cantero, is a 1:50 800/3:41 1500 guy from France (10/18 seconds faster than my PRs!). I’ll get him next time.
Dave won the race in a very fast 23:18. I was second for our team in 19th with Andrew just behind me in 23rd at 24:23, a 36 second PR. Tim was next in 45th at 24:47, followed by freshman Bahlbi Gebreyohanns in 56th at 25:01. Matt faded back to 80th in 25:17 and Joe Withers closed out our top-7 in 85th at 25:23. As a team we finished back in 3rd, way behind Stanford and Arkansas.
Overall I am pleased with my performance. I wish I was more aware of where I was at in the race, but that won’t be an issue at Pre Nationals where I am very familiar with the course. As a team, considering the team we brought, I thought we did pretty well. Andrew had a great race considering the circumstances. He is a tough dude that loves to race — a huge asset to our team. Tim knows he can be up near me and Andrew and I know he has some great races in him this season. This was Matt’s first introduction to NCAA cross country, so I have high hopes for him in the future as well. . . especially if he doesn’t kick 2km out!
We returned to Flagstaff last night and we are ready to get back to work. A few of us had a great 18 mile long run this morning discussing the race and what lies ahead for us. Exciting things I hope.
Our next race is in three weeks at Pre Nationals in Terre Haute, IN — a place I have grown quite fond of. Can’t wait!
Special thanks to my family for coming out and always supporting me! My mom, dad, Farfar (translates to “father’s father” in Danish), brother, sister and her boyfriend came out to see me race. I’m so lucky to have their support.
Happy Super Bowl Sunday! What a great, American spectacle. I was rooting for the Colts (Manning is the man), but I am just happy it was a great game. We had some teammates over — Darius Terry, Joe Withers, Simon Gilna and Eric Lynch — and we all made and ate lots of food. My contribution was my Mom’s chili recipe and Trader Joe’s cornbread. Both were delicious.
The knee troubles continue. As of now, I am able to run 10-20 minutes without pain. As I go longer or increase pace it begins hurting. I have been icing, ultrasounding, and strengthening for over a month now with little improvement. It is getting pretty frustrating. And to frustrate me further, I have been trying to get a CD with my MRI images mailed to NAU’s team doctor for over a week now. Patience is a virtue, I guess.
Once the doctor receives the images, we will have some orthopedics take a look. Depending on their suggestions, I may end up undergoing arthroscopic surgery on my knee. I have read and been told that, as far as surgeries go, arthroscopic knee surgery is about as noninvasive as it gets, with reports of people back running in a couple of weeks. The quick recovery time makes the surgery very appealing. Frankly, I don’t see myself back running full strength in a couple weeks without the surgery anyway. Why not get it fixed?
But I am getting ahead of myself. For now, I wait to see what the doctors say.
Today I did a time trial as prescribed by USATriathlon. The protocol for the test is a 200 (yards or meters), 1 minute rest, 800. I did this test a month ago and, converting from yards to meters, 2:45 and 12:45 equivalents. In today’s test I swam a 2:39 and a 12:13, 6 and 32 second improvements, respectively. I plan to continue to do this test once a month to measure my improvement.
Needless to say, swimming is going in the right direction. Still, I have a lot of work to do. For 2010, I want to be under 2:30 for 200m and 11:06 for 800m (at sea level). I swam over 20,000m for the first time this last week. I am hopeful that many more high volume, high intensity weeks will get me closer to that goal.
Indoor and Outdoor
Because of my recent setbacks, running the 2010 indoor season is out of the question. There are but a couple meets left before the conference meet and there is no way I will be ready. Outdoor runs into the middle of May and beyond, so I think if I continue down the road to recovery, I should be able to salvage a decent outdoor season. After the improvements I made in cross country, I think even a mediocre season for me should yield some solid PRs.
What a season. I have so much to say about this season that I think I will break it up into several posts. Today, I want to recap the race while it is still fresh in my mind. This weekend I will have some more time to reflect on everything.
Heading into this race, I tried to do everything the same way that I have done it all season. Pre-race rituals get you to the starting line feeling the same way every time. If the feeling is good, the routine is good. Likewise, if the feelings are bad, the routine needs some adjusting.
8AM my roommate Jordan Chipangama and I awoke from a great night’s sleep on the cozy beds of the Terre Haute Hilton Garden Inn. We met our teammates for a 10 minute shakeout and then ate breakfast. For me: oatmeal, banana and a blueberry bagel.
Unlike Pre-Nationals, we all made the ride to the course together. Before leaving the van, Coach Heins told each of us that he believed in us and that he believed we could achieve our personal goals. He recognized the importance of the race, and told us, “Pressure bursts pipes, but it also makes diamonds.”
With those words resonating in our heads, we went through our usual warm up routine: 2 mile warm up 60 minutes before, some stretching and a 3 minute LT 20 minutes before the race. It seems we were able to iron out any of the problems we had earlier in the season as everything was like clock work before the race.
Half the battle was already over. I was standing on the starting line with my teammates at the National Championships healthy and almost 1,800 miles of training behind me. Unfortunately, Diego Estrada was unable to race, but he was definitely there with us and we hoped to represent him well. We all wrote his name on our hands to remind us that, if Diego was racing, he would run the only way he knows how — guts and glory all the way.
In the team clap before the race, senior Simon Gilna reminded us, “Believe we can become diamonds, guys. This is the greatest day to be a Lumberjack!” And with that, we raced.
The moment before the gun was fired was an eternity. I stared at the gun intensely, thinking, “Here we go.” Then it was over and we were on our way.
Heading into the race, I had planned to get out well, perhaps as high as 60th. I went with a bit more comfortable start and was probably somewhere in the top 150. I came flying through the 1km in 2:48. The pace seemed fast, but it was fast for everyone. I continued on in about the same position and came through the mile in 4:37. I found Oregon’s AJ Acosta and Stanford’s Brendan Gregg (Oregon’s 6th and Stanford’s 5th man) and decided to run off them for a while. I hit 2k in 5:50 and 3k in 8:55.
Acosta began moving up through the field, so I followed behind him. As we approached 5k in 15:11, I was very happy to see Ahmed Osman come by me. I gave him some encouragement, something like, “Lets go buddy.” Ahmed would spend the second half of the race passing lots of people. Passing people wasn’t as easy for me.
I was hurting. But this is the National Championships and no one wins anything without a fight. I slowly went by one runner at a time until 6k when I noticed the next runner was German Fernandez. Either I am having the best race of my life or German was having the worst of his. Judging by the desperation in German’s coach’s voice as he cheered him on, I think it was a little of both. So I went by German without looking back.
Around 7k it hit me, it is almost all over; just over 9 minutes to go. I tried to push a little bit harder and came through the 8k in 24:38, 5 seconds faster than my 8k time at Pre-Nationals and equalling my course PR set last year. There was no question that I would be setting a big PR today, but how many runners could I pass?
I continually heard coaches yelling to their runners around me that they were around 100th. In the beginning of the season I set a goal to be in the top 100. It is a very exciting thing to realize you are on the verge of besting a longterm goal. I decided several months and many miles ago that I would work as hard as I had to to reach top 100. Now, with the absence of one of our best runners, that goal was so much more important to me. I was the 5th man, in the thick of the race, and my points mattered.
With 1k remaining, I tried to put the hammer down and continued passing runners one by one. As we made our last turn, Coach Seth Watkins reminded me, “You want it!” I did want it and I thought about Diego. Diego would finish strong like he always does, leaving everything out on the course. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a gap ahead of me and I spent most of the finish closing the gap. Once I finally bridged the gap, I was able to pass a couple runners.
I finished in 95th place in 30:52.3, 99 places and 51 seconds better than last year. My season was over and I reached my goal. I was content. I talked to my teammates and heard that David McNeill was 2nd and Jordan was 5th! NAU had by far the best 1-2 punch in the country. Ben Ashkettle finished 59th and Ahmed was 74th. Andrew Belus finished 149th and Simon was 196th.
As a team we finished 4th, on the podium. We were all very happy with the outcome. Upon looking at the results, Oklahoma State won with 127 points to our 190. In team scoring, I scored 75 points. If Diego had run, he would have had to be 12th in team scoring, which was 14th overall, for us to win the meet. Most of the season, Diego ran just behind Jordan, and assuming today he was within 15 seconds of him, he would have been 14th.
As I have talked to family and friends since Monday, and explain the situation with Diego, many of them think it is a bummer that we were so close. We were so close, but once we swallowed the pill and realized that Diego would not be competing, new goals had to be created. A guy like Diego Estrada simply cannot be replaced. Heading into the meet, I think each of us wanted to compete in a way that would have put us in the hunt had Diego been there — and that is exactly what we did.
I am very proud of my team for never backing down in the face of adversity. This race, this season, this team will forever hold a very special place in my heart.
Thank you David McNeill, Jordan Chipangama, Ben Ashkettle, Ahmed Osman, Andrew Belus, Simon Gilna, Diego Estrada, Kam Holbrook, Tim Freriks, Darius Terry, Joe Withers, Eric Lynch, Scott Blair and Dan Lanzilotti.
I have been looking forward to posting my race report of the Aztec Invitational all week. School was quite busy last week, with three tests on top of the usual load, and I couldn’t justify spending time updating this blog when there was other work to be done.
Last weekend’s Aztec Invitational was the first time I led a cross country race alone since the Woodbridge Invitational in 2002, my freshman year of high school. I ended up winning and it still stands as the last cross country race I have won.
The race started out exactly as Coach Heins wanted it to, fairly conservative with NAU packing it up in the 10-20 spots. University of San Francisco had seven or eight runners leading the charge through one mile, with Junior Eric Lynch, freshman Tim Freriks and myself following close behind. The course is rather hilly, and shortly after the mile marker, an extremely steep hill kicks up towards the heavens. Lynch swore “that hill is definitely over 45??.” As I predicted the day before as we jogged the course, several runners found it necessary to make a move up the hill. Maybe us Lumberjacks are a little conservative when it comes to hills because we are used to reaching a point of no return level of oxygen debt when making moves up hills in Flagstaff at 7,000 feet… Nevertheless, the USF runners quickly paid for their efforts.
At the top of the hill, we meandered our way through a dog park, of all things, and a few more inclines before reaching the 2 mile mark. Around this point, NAU took over in a dominating fashion with Tim, sophomore Diego Estrada, and juniors Ahmed Osman and Jordan Chipangama taking over the lead pack. After a fast downhill half mile, the course kicked up again with a short, steep uphill with Jordan moving to the lead. I followed his move and closed the gap. Jordan seemed content to let someone else lead, and just like that, there I was in the lead.
Pretty quickly I realized that this was the first time in a long time that I had led a cross country race. Might as well roll with it, right? So I continued on, passing a large group of spectators (where I specifically heard my Mom with a very excited voice), back through the dog park and down that very steep hill. Shortly after reaching the bottom, Jordan came by with some words of encouragement, but I was unable to keep up. Ahmed and Diego came by me within the next mile, and I ended up finishing the 8km course in 25:41 in fourth.
I was really amazed that I was actually slower than a year ago on this course — 9 seconds slower. There was no doubt better competition last year. Add that to a very conservative first two miles and I guess that leaves me with a slower time than last year.
Nonetheless, I still finished really excited about the race, especially since we scored an almost-perfect-16. Leading the race, even for just a short kilometer or so, re-lit a little flame inside of me. Why not stick my nose in it and go for it?
Shout outs need to go out to the middle distance guys (“MD Crew”) for really stepping it up. Sophomore Darius Terry finished 6th overall and 5th on the team. Just a few seconds behind him were sophomore Joe Withers and junior (and roommate) Kam Holbrook. They suffer through the beatdowns in long runs and workouts all fall from the longer distance guys. I know they were happy to be putting the hurt on the other guys for a change.
In a week NAU will be competing at the Cowboy Jamboree at Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Ok. Last year we finished 2nd to a very strong Oklahoma State team. This year they are even stronger, with rankings of 1st and 2nd from Letsrun.com and the national poll. This will be our team’s first test of the season, even though team leader David McNeill may opt to miss the meet for a couple more weeks of solid training.
I have made my way back up to Flagstaff, Arizona for another year of school and running. Tina and I made the ~7 hour drive on Tuesday. Let the acclimating begin.
Upon arriving Tuesday, I got an easy 5 mile run in with Kam, Darius, Joe and even a few minutes with Tina. I averaged slower than 7:30 pace so natuarally I felt great. That evening, my new roommate Myles Kloer cooked a delicious dinner for his Mom, sisters and his roommates. He’ll be a great fit.
Wednesday I got an 11 mile run in on Soldier’s Loop then headed over to my physical at NAU’s Skydome. Later in the evening I got to meet most of my teammates for the year at our compliance meeting.
Thursday I helped move freshmen into Reilly Hall from 8-noon. I was exhausted all day (part of the acclimation process I think), but my legs perked up in the afternoon for a 12 mile run with some strides.
Yesterday we had our first workout as a team at Buffalo Park: 4×2?? mile repeats. We were supposed to be going 80%, but I admit I definitely was running harder than that. I was happy to see that I was 15 seconds faster on the same workout a year ago. I am feeling fit and I think I still have lots of room for improvement in the near future. A few short months will confirm or deny this.
In the evening Tina and I drove down to Munds Park to meet some UCLA cross country runners for dinner. They are staying in a cabin there for a few weeks of altitude training. Tina and I were amazed to see so many large, beautiful homes down there as we have passed through Munds Park many times on our way to and from Phoenix. From the highway, all you can see is a mobile home park, a couple gas stations and a church. Nevertheless, we had great food and enjoyed a game of the Royal favorite Go Home. Of course, my team won. (Thanks for the clutch rolling Tina. Sorry Kelcie… you really have Alex to blame.)
Today was a recovery run. 11.5 miles to the base of Fisher Point with Andrew Belus, Ben Ashkettle and Simon Gilna. We stopped briefly on the run just to look at the beautiful setting. If I ever get a mountain bike out there I will take pictures.
Tomorrow we will be doing a long run, hopefully ~18 miles for me to put me at 100 miles for the third consecutive week. My miles of trials is only just beginning.
Summer is finally here! I made it through finals and I am back home in Simi Valley breathing the the thick air and enjoying the good life.
Wednesday I had a break from finals and did a “triathlon day.” My roommate Kam Holbrook and I went for a 28 mile bike ride down to the Sedona overlook off of highway 89A. Awesome views. After the bike ride and a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich, I headed to the pool to get in 1800m. I swam a ladder of 50, 100, 150, 200, 150, 100, 5o. Pretty tough. Ate some more food then went for my last run with the team until next season, an easy 7 miler. I was beat.
Thursday I went for an easy 5 mile run in the morning wtih teammate Joe Withers (he had his last race of the season on Saturday so he was tapering) and then 1300m in the pool before my final. I made it to my final with about 5 minutes to spare. I think I still got an A?
Friday, my girlfriend Tina and I headed out to summit My Humphrey’s (12,633 ft). There was still a lot of snow on the trail and we got lost several times on the way up. Tina unfortunately got light headed and seemed to suffer some altitude sickness at around 11,600 feet. She told me I should go on, so I made it to about 12,100 feet before realizing that I had just left my girlfriend all alone on a poorly marked trail over 11,500 feet above sea level. I still got a great view. Next time we will make it all the way up together.
Saturday I finally made my way back home to Simi Valley. It is always nice to be back home. My parents and I enjoyed some great food at Limon’s Latin Grill (Flagstaff, Az isn’t known for its sea food) then we watched some old home videos.
Yesterday my sister and I made my mom breakfast before she had to leave at 9AM to catch a plane for business. Then I biked up to Challenger Park and ran through Bus Canyon. Everytime I am come back to Simi, it seems like this is my first run. The runs here are just as hilly as I remembered. I biked back home after the run, dropped off my running stuff, and biked for another 13 miles or so (probably ~22 for the day).?? Yesterday was the first day I tried using the aerobars… I actually felt pretty comfortable in them, although I think I still need to make a few adjustments to make me more aero. It can be a little sketchy when cars are zooming by a couple feet away and I’m trying to tuck into a good aero position. I’ll have to practice more.
I finished off the weekend with a Mother’s Day barbeque with family. I ate a lot of food and enjoyed some good beer. Life is good right now.