Sympathy for the Devil

Shouted out who killed the Kennedys?

When after all

It was You and Me

-Sympathy for the Devil, Rolling Stones

If you count yourself as a fan in any way, shape or form then you probably have heard about the controversy at the USATF Indoor Track Championships surrounding the Women’s 3000m. Gabe Grunewald of Brooks Running won the race after some seemingly innocuous contact with Jordan Hasay with 170m to go. A yellow flag went up meaning the official on the turn saw contact. The head official discussed the call with the turn official and they agreed it was not worthy of a DQ. Anyone who has ever raced, especially indoors, already knew that. Grunewald was clearly the class of the field over the last 200m contact or not. Long story short as many of you I’m sure already know (and those that don’t can do your due diligence here and here and here) Grunewald’s victory was then protested by Alberto Salazar and the protest was denied. Somehow a third protest was made and the DQ was handed down to Grunewald.

I don’t want to write about yesterday. What I really want to do is make the point that yesterday was merely the harvest coming in. We have sown this crop over decades and now we are dealing with it. We, the fans, are to blame. So, I would like to apologize to Gabe. It has been year after year of apathy by all of us that has led to this.

We bitch to each other about TV coverage and never call or email anyone who can do something.

We complain that the Millrose Games left MSG but we did that from our couch instead of from a seat in MSG.

We complained about Americans never being any good on the World stage but we never thought to help fund the few teams that existed in the 90’s to support them.

Now we are good on the World stage and we question every fast time that gets run.

We want more coverage online but we scream in protest when someone lays the money down to do that coverage and has the audacity to charge us to watch.

We scream when we find out someone is guilty of PED use but we stay silent when they coach the next generation.

We wonder why past generations had the Jim Ryuns and Steve Prefontaines on magazine covers but we are too cheap to subscribe to a magazine like Track & Field News that actually covers the sport and too lazy to write to a magazine like Sports Illustrated and tell them to cover the sport.

We sat back and watched the sport die. We watched and we did nothing. We never gave a sponsor a good reason to be involved.

So, Nike stepped up. They became the lifeline because there was no one else who could, because no one else wanted to. Without them we would not even have a sport to bitch about. Then we handed them the keys because we no longer cared to drive the sport ourselves. Soon, we were not even sitting shotgun. We’re hitch hiking now.

All of this is our fault.

But, now, we need to get up off our asses and do something.

The USATF has always been a JV organization tasked with doing a Varsity job. They need to be held accountable. Now is not the time to let that USATF membership lapse. Now is the time to renew or join. Then open your mouth as a member.

Now is not the time to throw away your Nikes. Now is the time to let Nike know that if they want to keep you in the swoosh they need to change the way they wield their power. Let them know they have the power to fix so much of this and if they do, well, they will have your continued loyalty. If not….

Now is also the time to see if Brooks Running or New Balance or upstart Oiselle are willing to take on a larger role. Are they? If the last twelve months indicate anything it is that they are.

Now is not the time to turn off your TV set. Now is the time to watch the coverage and then email, tweet, write, call NBC and truly voice what is wrong with the broadcast.

But before all of that, NOW is the time to apologize, all of us, the fans. We’re sorry. We have let this sport suffer. We fell asleep.

But, now we’re awake.

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What I Know I Know Because of Running

I did not know what to write about. I thought about the Millrose Games. Incredible meet, nice additions to the TV coverage, some solid commentating by a few, and some horrendous commentating by others. I decided that I had little to offer or at least I had little motivation to offer what little I had to offer. So, I will get to Millrose and the good and bad of major meet coverage another time. USA XC Championships was another option. I love me some XC ya’ll. But, I passed on that too. XC in February is weird to me. College racing this past weekend was pretty hot. Some exceptional Indoor 5k’s were had and not just on the West Coast. Did I really want to write about that? Nah. I was stuck. So, what does one do when one can’t think of anything to write about? One writes about himself.

I figured I’d pass on some of what I’ve learned over the years about this sport and from this sport. Whatever I write is not in order of importance nor should it be viewed as anything resembling a final list or even a good list. I plan on writing whatever comes to me. Coherence may take a back seat if it gets a ride from me on this one at all. Buckle up.

Things I Have Learned About and/or From Running

Part I

(In no particular order as mentioned above)

Quitting is never a good idea. Ever. Stopping is OK. Retiring is OK. Quitting is not OK.

Beyond Hot Buffalo Wings with an extra side of 911 Sauce should not be eaten after 5 PM if you plan on doing an AM run. If you are a morning coffee drinker then said wings should not be eaten after 1:30 PM the day before an AM run.

Never fall in love with your socks. You never know when you may have to leave them behind. Pun intended.

Run early. Run late. No matter what set a date. I have been running for a long time. I have skipped alot of runs. Too many. So I know how best to set up a run that won’t happen and how best to set up runs that will happen. Pick a time. Pick a place. Be specific. Then do it. Short of that you have a 50-50 chance of success happening 50% of the time.

Gimmicks don’t work unless they do. I’ve tried some. Some work because they do. Some don’t work because they don’t. Others, well, it’s up to you. And if you believe that the magnetic bracelet or double shot of espresso is a small part of your success then you hitch your wagon to that star. Just remember that it is a small part, a very small part of any success you experience. You are the main ingredient not your sweat wicking headband in the recipe for success. The same goes for your failures too. Your the owner.

Eat something before you race. Eat something after you race. Just make sure practice eating something while you run before you eat something while you race

Water is your friend. Watered down gatorade is a good friend. A cold can of Coca-Cola after a hard run is something worth living for.

Watermelon, after a day in the fridge, cut in half, on your lap with a spoon in hand is a perfect post Summer run meal. Do it. Try to disagree.

Running in the intense cold can be fun and exhilarating. Running in intense heat can lead to dizziness, loss of bowel control, and death.

Once you get out of the long shorts and into the short shorts it is hard to go back. Once you then leave the short shorts and go back to the long shorts it is even harder to go back to the short shorts. Have not made it back to the short shorts to add another line of deep truth here.

The treadmill can be an incredible run if you have the right music. Arcade Fire can help you run the rotor off the damn machine.

Don’t run on a treadmill with the wrong music. Tarzan Boy is a great song when you are not running. Tarzan Boy while on the treadmill has ended runners careers.

Great runners are great runners. That is it. And that greatness does not translate to equivalent awesomeness on a bike or in a pool. Be careful not to extend your ego you earned running into those other arenas against swimmers and cyclists. They will rip you to shreds.

You can run more.

You can run faster.

The Milers are studs. Milers should not race in half tights though.

The first step is the hardest. The next step is hard too. After that? Depends on the run. Sometimes every step is hard. Sorry.

Sometimes your run will be magic. You will float. Time will disappear. You will believe you can do things you have never done before. Sometimes you are alone on these runs and sometime you are running with others. These runs are great. They stay with you. Even if you can’t remember them, they are there. They are stored in your muscles for use during long and dark winters when inspiration cannot be found.

Sprinting is something that we stop doing when we get older. We shouldn’t stop sprinting.

If you want to truly enjoy participating in this sport you have to be a fan of this sport. Watch the Elites race and train and you will gain respect and lose fear.

Road races are fun but too many people only try to finish them instead of trying to race them.

Running will break your heart.

Running reminds you that in order to live you need to be open to failing and maybe even having your heart broken.

Running can heal a broken heart.

Broken hearts heal stronger than before.

Sleep. Get some. You need it. Your running needs it. I need it. Now.

Good night.

This One Goes to Eleven

One can find inspiration and insight wherever one wants – even in Spinal Tap.

This scene is only one of so many classic scenes that can be found in This is Spinal Tap . The movie is the first rockumentary, really a mockumentary about the heavy metal band Spinal Tap. The movie, the band, the music are all ridiculous and brilliant . You may have seen the movie and know all of this. But, did you know that if you watch it the right way or maybe just a different way This is Spinal Tap is also a movie about running.

Go with me on this.

A fictional band from England, Spinal Tap had their ups and downs and downs and downs. They experienced a few hits and the fame that came along with it during the good times. They experienced tough times too. A drummer spontaneoulsy combusting on stage (happens more than you think) had to have been rough on the guys! But they carried on show after show in smaller and smaller arenas. The size of the crowds or lack of crowds at their shows never dictated the effort they put into their rocking. They believed that they could not only get back to their former heights, which were not so high, but also reach even higher. They believed they could reach that great stage they set out for so many years ago.

As runners we are forced to set goals. Every time we start a run there is a goal – maybe even many goals. Run 5 miles. Run 10 miles. Average 6 minute pace. Hammer the hills. When we race it is the same, just more serious. Finish in top 10. Finish in top 100. Maybe just finish. Beat Mick. Beat Viv. Set a course best. Set a personal best. Goals and goals.

For awhile these goals get bigger, more impressive. We can train harder, hurt longer, run faster. The goals mirror these truths and we find ourselves training and running our best. During these periods, these good times, it’s easy or at least easier to take on the suffering and sacrifices of training and racing. Every time we take the line we may do something better than we ever have before! How can it not be easy and exciting? We can forget to embrace these periods while we are in their midst. We are so focused on achieving the next goal that we don’t stop, take that encore bow and soak it all up.

We concentrate on getting the next run in, workout done, race scheduled, anything that keeps us from getting in the way of the momentum. We don’t know how long a great stretch of running is going to last, when it is going to end. But those stretches do end. Sometimes the runs don’t get done easily. The exhilarating workouts with all the splits getting hit become exhausting workouts with all of the splits getting missed. Before, that hurt had to come to terms with you. Suddenly you have to come to terms with being hurt. When healthy and rocking it’s hard to really remember those times when you were hurt and every step was pain. It can be difficult to remember when any step without pain was a gift and just how awful it was to not be able to run. Why remember or draw attention to those tough times when every stride is coming easily, every race is a success, every show is sold out. Why think about those dark days?

Because those struggles are part of the tour. Those periods and moments are a part of the music you are playing and will play.

We shouldn’t only enjoy running or think we can only learn and improve when we are running well, or fast or better than ever. Spinal Tap knew this. They saw the bad times as nothing more than stumbles on their way to the top. Sometimes they simply ignore all the (overwhelming) evidence that shows they are failing, epically failing – every show in Boston gets cancelled, at least it’s not a college town.

The good and the bad times, both, inspired their music. The shows were not always sold out. They didn’t always get top billing. In fact, sometimes, even though Jeanine told them…

Jeanine: Uh oh. If I told them once, I told them a hundred times – Spinal Tap First. Puppet show last.

Derek Smalls: It’s a morale builder, isn’t it?

It was never all about the times was it? It was never all about the medals. Not really. It was about the the music you made. The sound of your shoes striking and leaving the ground, your breathing – labored or effortless – beautiful all the same, the pounding flicker- fast beat of your heart while hard at work or the heavy and powerful sleepy slow ba-booms of your heart while blissfully at rest. Running was never always about the competition or the number on the stick you got in the chute. If it was, then your love for this would be focused on things outside of you and that means they can leave. Yet, you know, that love for this sport begins and is centered inside you, where the melody and the rhythm reside.

It has always been about the music and everything good and bad should find its way into that music. Once in awhile get away from the PB’s, and the gear, and the medals and ribbons and expensive races. Be alone – and take care to listen to the run, to you. Hear the music you make for you.

So, when the runs get slower and those hills getting hammered get changed to the hills hammering you – keep running. Keep grinding up that slope. You may not be headlining the EnormoDome like Duke Fame is right now. Maybe you’ll never be headlining there. Not ever. It might be gigs at the Music Temple. And those gigs may be cancelled too. But play on brothers and sisters, there is always Japan.

If you do that you will know the greatest lesson Spinal Tap has for us band of runners – you can always rock out louder than ever. It may not be a lifetime best, it may not be the yearly best or the best anything. But it can be loud and powerful. You can turn that volume way way up on yourself.

Nigel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…
Martin: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel: Exactly.
Martin: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Martin: I don’t know.
Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Martin: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Martin: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
[Pause.]
Nigel: These go to eleven.

I know exactly what Nigel is talking about. Sometimes ten just is not enough. Sometimes, when you’re playing guitar, running a race, living your life – you have to go to eleven.

Filling Up an Empty Wall of Fame

I’m doing my best. I’m really trying here. I brainwash my kids as best as I can. I’ve gotten them to start drinking the Track & Field Kool-Aid. All I wanted to do was get some stars up on their walls. I figured that my girls could get a Shalane Flanagan poster and a Jenny Simpson poster with all the other New Balance women and a Mary Cain one and Kara Goucher poster. You know, cover the walls with some studs. My son, I was going to get Galen Rupp, Evan Jager and Nick Symmonds posters. I’d have the major distance events covered. Then, I could sneak in some of my heroes onto their walls. If I could get a poster of Seb Coe, Steve Cram and Steve Ovett all together, like the picture below,  I could save some serious money.

This would be a GREAT poster
This would be a GREAT poster

Same for the women’s Marathon at those same LA Olympics. Joan Benoit and Greta Waitz on the same poster would be pretty cool. While I’m at it I might as well get some posters for me! I imagine the walls around my treadmill could be decked out with a Kip Keino and Henry Rono (battling some Oregon guys preferably) an Eammon Coghlan poster (’83 World Champs would be nice) and maybe a Dave Wottle one.  Oh! Definitely a few Kiwis too! Rod Dixon and John Walker would look great up on the wall. It would be hard to cut a run short with those guys staring at me.

We’re a few weeks away from kiddie track starting too. How excited would my kids be if I got them some Oregon Track Club t-shirts and maybe a few Brooks Beasts sweatshirts and some Oregon Project long sleeves? We could represent the local heroes too and buy a few NJ*NY TC jersey’s. Go big or go home. No more NY Giants t-shirts or Knicks gear at Track practice.

I ran into trouble, actually, I ran into nothing the moment I tried to make all of these things a reality. I had my credit cards out. I had my computer on. I was ready to strengthen the US economy. I was set to wallpaper a number of rooms in my house with pictures of the harrier pantheon. It was not to be. Sure, I can get a wall sized Andy Roddick mural or an incredibly awkward poster of an out of the pool but still soaking wet Ryan Lochte yet I cannot get one poster of an elite distance runner that isn’t named Prefontaine or Zatopek! Seriously. I googled. Alot.  Runners names + poster. I clicked shopping. Nothing. Nada. I tried to hunt down kid sizes for Brooks Beasts TC and OTC gear. Zero. Zilch.

We have kept the stars of our sport off our children’s walls! We have kept all of these young runners (and potential fans) from decking themselves out to look like their favorite runners. Or maybe it is worse. Maybe, the young fans simply don’t exist. Maybe, Track & Field has been negligent for so long, that all we have now are participants. Maybe. It could just be that the shoe companies and the agents and the meet directors and the running magazines are deciding that little things like posters are a waste of precious resources. Maybe those that market Track & Field are incompetent or just don’t care. If 200,000 people are going to buy your shoes does it matter if they have Ajee Wilson or Dathan Ritzenhein on their wall or not? Does it matter if teenage distance runners know who Lauren Fleshman is? Does it matter if the 14 year old boy wearing your Dri-Fit pants does strides imagining he is Andrew Wheating and dating Emma Coburn?

Yes. It does. Those were dumb questions.

What came first though? Did we have young fans and lose them or did we never have them? Shouldn’t we at least try to get them or get them back?

I know that there are leagues and races and meets on TV occasionally but how about some posters? How about some kids gear that looks like the stuff that their (soon to be) heroes are wearing? How about  we schedule meets so more victory laps get taken and autographs get signed and more pictures get taken with the kids?

Little things. Large amounts of little things.

A red and black Michael Jordan basketball, a home field blue Joe Morris Giants jersey, an Andre Agassi shirt, the Don Mattingly poster -these are the presents I remember. Hours of practice in the driveway with MJ’s signature on the ball I was dribbling with my weaker left hand, running straight up the middle on the playground and taking the hit and the pain as I pretended to be gaining a few more yards on my way to an imaginary 1000 yard season, spending too much time alone hitting a little yellow ball against a concrete wall in a bright green shirt in the hopes that one day I’d take centre court at Wimbledon, and the excitement that Opening Day in Yankee Stadium and the Holmdel Community Fields were finally here. Those are the links, the bonds, the sometimes silly dreams that always inspired serious work for the younger version of myself.

A connection. I was connected, in my mind, to Jordan and Morris and Agassi and Mattingly through a poster and a shirt and a basketball. Those objects were representation of the athlete and their work and their desire and their motivations and sacrifices. I’d like my kids to be connected too.

For now, the wall space is vacant. But, this prime real estate is still available. I’ll keep looking for these posters, these wall tenants. I know they are out there or at least, they will be. They will need to be exceptional. They need to be inspiring. Because I will have them up on my kids wall.

I’ll have them there so my kids can look up at them and up to them.

We need those places filled. We’ve got the people. Give us the posters.

Johnny Track & Field

My favorite baseball player is Don Mattingly. He was the first baseman for the NY Yankees from 1984-1997. He is now the Manager for the NL Champion LA Dodgers. Many of us Mattingly fans refer to him as Donnie Baseball. Mattingly was the AL MVP in 1985 when he averaged .324 with an AL leading 48 doubles and 145 RBI’s. He was the best defensive first baseman of his era winning the Golden Glove 9 times. He was absolutely brilliant in the batters box. He had both power and discipline. He once hit homers in 8 straight games, a Major League Record. In one three year stretch he hit 96 home runs and only struck out 114 times! Amazing stuff.  He even rocked a mustache. He was The Captain of the Yankees. He respected baseball and played the game the right way. For a young Yankees fan during a dark time for the franchise (the Yanks stunk when I was a kid) he was the one guy in pinstripes that kept the fire burning. He was the Yankee that gave us hope and pride. He seemed destined to someday take his place in Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Injuries derailed his career. A bad back made Mattingly’s last few years not only painful for him but painful for his fans to watch. He only knew how to give everything he had but the injuries meant he couldn’t play his best. He retired in 1995 having never played in a World Series. The Yankees won the World Series in 1996. They won in 1998 too. They won in 1999 and 2000 also. His shortened career has not been enough to get Donnie Baseball in the Hall of Fame. It just does not seem fair. I thought of Mattingly the other day as I read about a runner that I looked up to during that same time.

John Trautmann was a complete stud in HS. He ran for Monroe-Woodbury High School of New York graduating in 1986. He set still standing NY Sophomore Class Records when he ran 4:11.8 for 1600m, 9:08.61 for 2 Miles, 32:02 for the 10k and 12:29 at Van Cortland Park. He would run 12:18 his senior year at VCP on a course that had at best terrible footing. He set an overall NY record when he ran 8:05.8 for 3000m in the 1986 Penn Relays HS Boys 3k. That is still the Boys Record at the Penn Relays. He was a beast.

Trautmann took his fleet feet to Georgetown University to run for legendary coach Frank “Gags” Gagliano and the Hoyas. His excellence continued at Georgetown. Trautmann was the NCAA Outdoor 5,000 meter Champion and ran the lead-off 1200m leg on the World Record setting distance medley relay at the 1987 Penn Relays. He anchored the Georgetown DMR in 1991 with one of the fastest splits, 3:55.3, ever at Penn. He utterly dominated the Big East distance events while he was a Hoya. He was an animal.

After Georgetown he continued his tear. He ran a great 13:20 for 5k when Americans simply were not great. He was the #1 ranked American at 5000m in 1992, an Olympic year. He won the Olympic Trials that year hammering past the great Bob Kennedy. The Barcelona Games looked to be a breakout stage for Trautmann. Then he got hurt. His forefoot/toes were in excruciating pain. His training suffered. He could not even finish his semi-final heat in the 5k. He had to stop. The injury never really healed. The pain never left. In fact, it started to affect his achilles. As a runner few could run with and through pain like Trautmann. But, there is a difference between hurting and being hurt. I would find out about that difference a few weeks after an injured and dejected Trautmann walked off the 1992 Olympic track.

As my favorite baseball player was showing up for work every day in pain and one of my first running heroes was limping more than he was running I got injured for the first time in my young running career. I got a stress fracture in 1992. Then I got mono in 1992. Then I severely hurt my hip flexor in 1993. My favorite athletes were hurt. I was hurt. They were not getting any better. I was. I  used them as inspiration. They helped get me out the door to do those 5 minute and then 10 minute and then 20 minute training runs as I tried to come back because I knew they were fighting to get back. They helped get me through those early bad races which turned into mediocre races which soon enough became good races because I knew they were not at the top of their game but they still showed up to play, to race, to train. I watched Mattingly play in pain on WPIX. I saw Trautmann race,injured, at the Colonial Relays at William and Mary in VA. He was limping so badly. I could tell he wanted to be able to do it, without that pain. I remembered what that had been like only a few months earlier for me. I was healthy though. He was still hurt.

They kept trying, until the pain simply became too much. Mattingly retired just as the Yankees re-established their dominance of baseball. Trautmann, the injury not healing, stopped running. A few of Trautmann’s competitors’ especially Bob Kennedy, Steve Holman, Mark Croghan, Rich Kenah, and Todd Williams carried the torch of American distance running. They bridged the gap between the American Distance Running Dark Ages of the 1990’s and the current American Golden Age. Trautmann should have been one of those guys. He might have been the best of the group. He might of been Track & Field Hall of Fame material, a world beater.

He still might get his chance

Trautmann is back. He is healthy, at least healthy for John Trautmann. He is training with Gags again. He is racing in New York again. He is 45 years old. He’s a Master’s runner and he just ran 4:22 for the mile. The World Record for 45 year olds is 4:16.83. He is having his second act.  The focus this Indoor Track season has been, and rightly so, on up and coming studs, American Records falling and runners leaving this sponsor for that sponsor. I’m hoping we have the room for one more great story.

John Trautmann could see the mountaintop back in 1992. It was there, so close, when he dominated the US Olympic Trials 5k. Injury kept him from reaching the apex. He had to walk back down, limp back down really. Most people, once they put in all that work, all those years of effort, after they experience such a setback may keep the trainers out but will pack up the spikes for good.  Trautmann has decided, after leaving the sport and gaining 72 pounds, after working as a successful bond trader, after having multiple foot surgeries, to go after it all again. He never quit. He stopped. Now, he has started again. In a terrific season of Track & Field where we will have Rupp looking to break 3:50 in the mile, Mary Cain and Alexa Efraimson shattering HS records, the Brooks Beast 4×800 trying to set a World Record at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix I have to admit my loudest cheering will be saved for John Trautmann. I’ve owed him for a very long time for inspiring me to come back from injuries; to never give up. He’s reminding me of those lessons again. Now, it’s time to pay him back. I may not be able to put on a Dodger’s jersey for Mattingly, that is asking too much. But this Tar Heel can put on a Georgetown hat, head to the NYC Armory, stand along the rail on that back straightaway and cheer like hell for one of the best who never had a chance to be the best. Until now.

Look out world. Hoya Saxa!

Trautmann will be racing in the Master’s Mile at the NB Indoor Grand Prix Meet in Boston. You can get the info you need on this great meet by clicking here.