12 Miles, 3 Goals, and 2 Unexpected Surprises

Today was my last really long run before the Arizona Half Marathon in 13 days! Eeep! I have to say that I really, really did not want to get up this morning. I had seven hours of meetings on campus yesterday (yes, on a Saturday) and then got to bed a bit late because my IT band strap keeps getting up and wandering away from me in the night. After my IT band was sore last week, the idea of a 12-mile run without it made me a little panicky. Anyway, after three times snoozing the alarm this morning I finally forced myself up and out.

The spirit may have been weak this morning, but my body was ready:

Mile 1: 9:56

Mile 2: 10:18

Mile 3: 10:05

Mile 4: 9:52

Mile 5: 10:03

Mile 6: 9:57

Mile 7: 10:02

Mile 8: 11:07 (Gu and water refill)

Mile 9: 10:18

Mile 10: 10:47 (More water–first fountain was wonky)

Mile 11: 10:25

Mile 12: 10:41 (and another .1 at 9:36/pace)

Total: 12.1 at 10:17

Stolen from the Pima County Government. Public domain, booya!

I’m pretty thrilled to have achieved three goals: 1) Finished the 12.1 miles I wanted; 2) Held to the race pace I want, despite making an extra water stop; 3) Reached a new farthest point on the Rillito River Trail where I run. Next week I will cut back mileage on my weekend run in preparation for the race, and at this point a 2:15 finish time seems within reach.

I also had two unexpected surprises on this run, which is nice. First, I found a small outdoor plaza or amphitheater that I never knew existed on the path between La Cañada Drive and La Cholla Blvd. I assume it’s part of the nearby apartment complex, but it’s still pretty cool. My second surprise was even cooler, though. I’m pretty sure that I saw Tucsonan and  U.S. Olympic athlete Abdi Abdirahman on my run this morning. It’s actually the second time that I thought I’ve seen him on this trail, but this time he startled me by passing me so close on the left, and when he lapped me and came back, I got a big smile on my face and he smiled back. Again, I’m not 100% sure it was him, but I’m at least 90% sure. And I tweeted him to ask if it was him. So, Mr. Abdirahman, if you see my tweet and happen to find this blog, just know that you made my day today. I ran a bit farther and faster because of you. Unless it wasn’t you. In that case, thank you random smiling stranger!

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Olympic Wrap-Up: Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I discussed some of the many things I enjoyed about the London 2012 games. This post reflects on some ways that organizers and broadcasters could make Rio 2016 even better. Here are some semi-random thoughts from a semi-anonymous Internet blogger. 🙂

Advice for the IOC and Rio 2016 Organizers

I have every confidence that Rio 2016 will be unforgettable. How could it not be, set in one of the world’s most beautiful places? I really hope Rio uses the games as an opportunity to show off its natural beauty and diverse culture. I also hope the games bring a financial boost that can help the country address the very real issues of crime and poverty that it faces. I know many of the 2016 venues are probably under construction already (especially with the World Cup coming up in 2014), but Rio could take a page from London’s book by using the games to highlight and revitalize many of the neighborhoods of Rio that tourists don’t often see. The city is really, really big—so show it off as much as possible!

In a more controversial suggestion, I’d love to see more co-ed events in the Olympics. 2012 was such a big year for women in the games, why not take it one step further? As a runner, I like women’s races… but I also sometimes like racing with men. Why stage two marathons when you could stage one? The same goes for triathlons. I’m hard pressed to see the downside of men and women racing together. There may be cultural issues here, sure, but the IOC already kind of forces countries to allow women to compete alongside men… it’s a short step to putting them in the same events. Some of the games, like equestrian competitions, already have co-ed teams, and separating the genders in some sports just seems archaic. Sure, it’s also more bodies on the field of play at once… but we all know that marathons and triathlons can be staged with thousands of participants. The marginal cost would be small, and the result would be a lot more excitement and the ability to more easily broadcast distance events. (See also my note below on the coverage of distance events, generally.)

My favorite pic from Brazil

Advice for NBC: Fixing an #nbcfail

In the U.S., NBC also really needs work on its coverage. I know that in broadcasting the games, it’s impossible to please everyone… but NBC does need to listen to criticism in a few areas. In Rio, there’s no reason not to show the opening ceremonies live. Given how long the broadcast is, even folks on the West Coast can tune in and catch part of it if they’re just getting home. If not, then just air it live in the East and repeat it for those in other time zones. It was baffling to me here out West that marquee events like the triathlons and the marathons were covered live at 3 or 4AM local time and then weren’t replayed during the afternoon/evening. Also, good luck if you wanted to see the open water swim marathon, which was barely promoted and buried in a weird time slot. What’s with the disdain for distance events?

It also incensed me that NBC continually touted “live online coverage of every event” when it wasn’t really available to everyone. If you had a premium cable package with a major provider, you were golden. But those of us who rely on broadcast TV couldn’t get live coverage—even of events that were being shown over the air! That wasn’t a classy move; it was false advertising. NBC should make at least some events free and live for everyone. They should also think about showing a more diverse selection of events over the air. Archery was very highly rated on cable, but I never saw it on broadcast. By contrast, volleyball and water polo were on almost every freaking day, and NBC seemed to have an aggressive marketing campaign for water polo that was totally baffling. I don’t care how many times you tell me that water polo is “just like ice hockey”; it isn’t ice hockey. That’s why we have Winter Olympics.

Yep, still not an ice rink.

NBC should also dial down the “filler.” Showing lengthy documentaries on the host country and past Olympic teams is not in and of itself a bad thing, but when you air this programming unannounced in the time slot reserved for Olympic coverage, viewers again feel cheated. Consider moving more of this filler to online content or air it in the weeks leading up to the game. As much as I love Oscar Pistorius, it was interesting to me that NBC aired Mary Carillo’s in-depth story on him once before the games on Rock Center, and then aired the same piece at least two more times during the games. I just found it odd that I saw that three times… and yet would have had to wake up at 3AM for the marathon coverage. Hmm.

With that being said, I’m sorry to see the Summer Olympics end for another four years. I hope some of you enjoyed them as much as I did!

Olympic Wrap-Up: Part 1

London 2012: Best Olympics Ever?

I’m totally sad to have reached the final day of the London Olympics. These games have been really inspiring and memorable in some unprecedented ways. To honor the efforts of the athletes, volunteers, employees, and all those who made London 2012 special, here’s a recap of some of my favorite moments.

Jamaican Sprinting Dominance

Usain Bolt is definitely one confident guy, but at this point he’s earned it. Bolt recaptured the 100m and 200m sprinting medals and a gold in the amazing 4×100 relay Saturday night—unprecedented feats that will ensure him not only of the title “fastest man alive,” but it makes him perhaps the fastest man ever. Seeing Bolt and his teammates last night, I felt lucky to be watching his amazing career. But was really makes Bolt special is that he looks like he’s having fun doing it. I’m sure his antics rub some people the wrong way and make him look like he’s full of himself, but in an interview after his 100m victory, Bolt said he would not call himself “the greatest” until he had captured victory in his other races. He did, and so when he called himself a legend last night it sure seemed like he earned it.

Athletes Who Inspired

I’ve already blogged about the historic entries of Oscar Pistorius (here and here) and of the first female athletes from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. These were amazing feats, but they weren’t the only historic inclusions of these games. Caster Semenya, the South African runner who was humiliatingly subjected to gender testing as a teen, made her Olympic debut and took silver in the women’s 800m. It was great to see that her much-commented-upon experience a few years ago did not keep her from competition. Semenya was also flag bearer for South Africa in the opening ceremonies, a very meaningful gesture coming from one’s country and fellow athletes.

 New Names in the Medal Race

In addition to the great stories of first-time athletes, several countries tasted victory for the first time in these games; congratulations to the athletes from Cyprus, Guatemala, Gabon, Montenegro, Botswana, and Granada, all of whom took home their countries’ first Olympic medals ever. Athletes from Uganda and the Bahamas should also be congratulated for winning their countries’ first medals in years. It’s sometimes nice to be reminded how much one medal can mean to a whole country.

Did they just happen to have a Ugandan flag at the finish, or did they have to order one special? I’m curious.

Discovering New Sports

Part of why the Olympics are great is that they offer the chance to see sporting events that often go unheralded. If you’re so inclined, you can learn a lot about sports that are historic or that are loved by people in other parts of the world. Today’s rhythmic gymnastics finals were amazing, with jaw-dropping performances by medalists Russia, Italy, and Belarus that made me want to get up and dance. (The Belarus routine, featuring music by Rodrigo y Gabriela, was especially awesome.) In spite of my riffing on synchronized swimming, I also really got into that. I was sorry not to see Spain win gold after a very sparkly and athletic performance. Now that I’m swimming regularly, I’m far more impressed than I used to be by this kind of thing. How do they swim upside-down??? How???

Discovering Sportsmanship

The Olympics are about bringing the world together, and these games featured some genuinely touching moments. Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, after experiencing injury on the track, made a heroic effort to finish and was then carried from the track by his competitors from Hungary, Great Britain, and Spain in a tremendous show of respect. Kirani James and Oscar Pistorius exchanged bibs on the track after running a heat together in another memorable moment. And the show of affection after the men’s 10K between Britain’s Mo Farah and U.S. runner Galen Rupp—friends who train together and who just happen to wear different uniforms on the track—was really what the Olympics should be all about.

In my next post, I’ll include some thoughts looking forward to Rio 2016. I visited Rio three years ago and I’m really hoping to go back and attend the Olympics there in person—fulfilling a dream of mine. Then again, if it doesn’t work out, I hear rumors a bid may be in the works between Buffalo and Toronto, not far from my home town. All I can say about that is: YES YES YES! I’ll save the date!

The Spirit of the Olympics

In case you’ve missed the last three days of the London Olympics, you’ve missed a great few days. On Friday, Noor Hussain Al-Malki became the first woman from Qatar to compete in the Olympics. Her debut was unfortunately short lived as a hamstring pull (I think) kept her from finishing her heat in the 100 meter dash. However, her participation–as well as the participation of the first female athletes from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain–marks a notable achievement for women in sport. Every country sending athletes to London sent at least one woman, the first time that has ever happened.

If that wasn’t enough for you, Saturday also brought more firsts. Erick Barrondo of Guatemala won the first-ever Olympic medal for the country of Guatemala–a silver in the 20K race walk. He then promptly used his newfound fame to call for an end to violence in his home country, saying: “I hope that this medal inspires the kids at home to put down guns and knives and pick up a pair of trainers instead. If they do that, I will be the happiest guy in the world.”

Also on Saturday, Oscar Pistorius–who I posted about several weeks ago–became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. I fully admit to getting emotional when I saw him getting ready to run. I cried when I saw him up on the blocks, and throughout his entire heat (which, OK, lasted only about 45 seconds). Pistorius qualified for the semifinals, but last night he failed to advance to the 400m finals. Despite the disappointing finish, the race ended with a real shining moment of sportsmanship as Grenada’s Kirani James (a favorite to win tonight’s 400m race), approached Pistorius to congratulate him and the two traded bibs. And, yes, I cried again.

 

It’s very easy to see injustice in the world these days. There is too much violence, too little empathy, and sometimes it feels like we’re all adrift and heading in the wrong direction. But this weekend’s events made me believe that perhaps this is also a great time to be alive, a time where many people have unprecedented opportunities. Perhaps, in spite of the tragedies that mar our lives, we have hope. Perhaps we are headed in the right direction.

I leave you with Usain Bolt. Who is just awesome.

Book Review: Eat and Run by Scott Jurek (with Steve Friedman)

What can I say about this book? I’ve been waiting months to read Eat and Run, ever since I saw it profiled at Runner’s World. After ripping through the 272 page book (well, e-book in my case) in just over 24 hours, I have to say my only complaint is that I wish there was more!

Jurek is one of America’s ultrarunning greats. He has won the Western States 100 numerous times, was the first American winner of the Spartathalon, and the list goes on. What makes him even more noteworthy, though, is that he is also a dedicated vegan. Born and raised in Minnesota by a rough, at times unaffectionate father and a mother whose MS would eventually confine her to a nursing home, Scott discovered running as a way to train for ski races and to bond with his best friend, Dusty, a renegade who kind of steals the show in this book. His move toward veganism is a gradual progression, motivated in part by concerns for his health and performance, in part by ethical concerns, and in part from the influence of the many friends he makes along his life’s journey. The book is structured as a collection of race reports, which in and of themselves are awe-inspiring. I’m sure that, as a distance runner, these stories appealed to me more than they might to some others… but anyone who loves adventure will be rapt by his tales of running over mountains, through snowfields, encountering locals, dealing with injuries, and even a hilarious/freaky encounter with a rattlesnake. The narrative of his life, though, is also woven into his story. While Jurek clearly has an innate talent that helps him, his diet and training are also the result of hard work and running through pain.

In addition to the story, which is readable and moves quickly, each chapter also concludes with a running tip and recipes. The recipes are what pushed me over from liking this book to loving it. I’ve made two already and they are great! Unlike the Weekday Vegetarian recipes that I commented on earlier in the week, these recipes are approachable. Many are easy in preparation (which makes sense, since he makes so many of them on the road), and even if you haven’t heard of every ingredient, the overall impact is to make a healthier version of foods you already eat: dips, chili, burgers, etc. I made a batch of Jurek’s tofu “cheese” spread and the lentil burgers (a recipe available for free on the Runner’s World page above). The cheese spread is only kind of cheese-ish, but it has a nice tangy flavor and is good with chips or veggies. The burgers are delicious, which is a good thing since I now have a month’s supply!

Wanting more was honestly my only complaint with this book. I actually gasped when I “turned” a page on my e-book and saw I was already at the epilogue. The story, and maybe Jurek’s real-life story, ends on a hopeful but very unfinished note. I would have liked to hear more about his coaching, what he’s doing now, where he sees himself going. He also seems hesitant to delve too much into his present-day relationships with ex-wife Leah, friend Dusty, and Jenny. I understand his reticence about doing so… It probably makes life easier for him, but artistically it makes the book seems less full. His affection for Dusty, his mother, and even his father is clear though, and it’s genuine and moving.

Pick this one up if you’re a runner. Cook as many of the recipes as you can. Then turn on the Olympics tomorrow for the start of the running events and totally geek out, as I plan to do!

It’s Time for the Olympics!

How much do I love the Olympics? The answer is very, very much. I watched the opening ceremonies last night with a friend and really enjoyed them. Frankly, I don’t remember much of the heavily praised opening ceremonies from Beijing, but the reason for that is because I was a little busy in the summer of 2008–while the Beijing games were going on I was in the process of moving from New York to Arizona, so there was a lot going on in my life at the time. I remember watching some of the games from a hotel room in New Mexico… but that’s about it.

This time, I’ve got my calendar marked for a few choice events. The times here are listed in U.S. Mountain Time, but check your local listings to see where these will be broadcast where you are.

  • Swimming: Swimming events will be broadcast on NBC in primetime from tonight (7/28) until 8/4. There’s no particular event that I want to see, though I just learned that there’s such a thing as the swimming marathon (which is really a 10K). The women’s swim marathon will be broadcast August 9 at 11:45AM and the men’s is August 10 at 12:15.
  • Triathlon: Unfortunately, the triathlon is on the NBC Sports channel, which I don’t get, so I will try to watch it online. Triathlon events will be broadcast at 4:00AM (!) on 8/4 for the women, 8/7 at 6:30AM for the men.
  • Kayak: You know I love to kayak, and kayaking finals will be broadcast 7/31 at 10:00AM, 8/1 at 2:30PM, 8/2 at 10:15AM, and 8/3 at 12:35AM on NBC.
  • RunningI mean, duh, you know I wouldn’t miss this. Track and field competition starts on 8/3 but here are a few marquee events:
    • Women’s 100m: 8/4 8:00PM (NBC)
    • Men’s 100m: 8/5 7:00PM (NBC)
    • Women’s 800m, expected to feature Caster Semenya: 8/8 1:15PM (NBC–I think, the web site says this is the qualifying heats but doesn’t note when the finals will air)
    • Men’s 400m, expected to feature Oscar Pistorius: 8/9 12:00PM (NBC)
    • Women’s Marathon: 8/5 9:00AM (Telemundo, practice your Spanish!)
    • Men’s Marathon: 8/12 6:00AM (NBC)

These are what I’m most looking forward to… but who am I kidding? You’ll probably find me parked in front of my TV for several hours a day between now and August 12. Feel free to let me know any events that you’re excited about or anything I’m missing!

Random Thoughts on the Olympic Trials

So, who’s been watching the USATF Olympic Track and Field Trials this week? I have. You know, when you’re injured and barely running yourself, there’s nothing quite like watching other people be super fast and in shape while pouting about your own miserable condition. Huzzah. Here are a few random observations:

  • Hurdles are for show-offs. Oooh, look at me, I run super fast. I run so super fast that it’s not enough for me to just run super fast, somebody has to put something in my way that I can jump over. Ten times. Whatever, get over yourself.
  • Steeplechase is weird. Seriously, what is this event? And why is it a different event than hurdling? So, instead of all of us jumping over different hurdles, we’re all going to jump over one, big hurdle at roughly the same time. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s special because some of them have water underneath them? But I don’t understand this, either. Do the horses get to use this course after the people are done?
  • Who put the “field” in “track and field?” I am a sports fan. I really am. But when I hear the phrase “live discus action” I roll my eyes. Hard. I mean, congrats to Lance Brooks and his companions who have made the U.S. discus team, but I can only think that sports like javelin, discus, and shot put remain in the Olympic games only for historical value. Not every sport in existence since Ancient Greece deserves a place in the games. If we’re going to keep discus, I demand a spot for jousting and caber-tossing. Maybe we could also put a guy in a pit with a tiger. Serious question: Do U.S. universities award discus scholarships?
  • Distance running is still king. My love to the speedy women and men of the sprinting distances. I am really, honestly in awe of how fast you can go. But when the race is over in under a minute, it just reminds me how much more excitement, tension, and drama I’ll get watching the marathon. The final moments of the women’s 5000 at these trials was the best excitement I’ve seen so far.
  • In spite of everything, the USATF trials are fun to watch. Much has been made in the media about the still-unsettled tie for third in the women’s 100M race. Only three women can advance to the Olympic team, but Allyson Felix and her friend and training partner Jeneba Tarmoh finished in a dead heat for third in the event finals. Even a photo finish couldn’t resolve the question, leading the New York Times to blast USATF as amateurish for not having a procedure in place to resolve the tie. In all fairness, it’s hard to anticipate a situation arising that would be so close that in-person observation and even a high-speed camera couldn’t resolve the issue. In this day and age sports have become increasingly reliant on technology, but the third-place tie mostly reminds us that however much smaller you can make the space of uncertainty, there always is a space remaining. Various options have been put forward for resolving the tie; I personally prefer a re-race to something like a coin toss, just to assuage everyone involved that the strongest athlete really is on the team. But this is a live-and-learn situation for the USATF. Rest assured, this is probably the first and last time a situation like this will happen. In the meantime, we got a lot of entertainment at the trials, a lot of publicity for the sport, and a great team for London. Looking forward to the games!