Coming Up Millroses

When the Millrose Games decided to move the meet out of Madison Square Garden and into the New Balance Center/168th Street Armory for the 2012 meet I was disappointed. I fell in love with running during the 80’s. I remember watching Eamonn Coghlan and Marcus O’Sullivan win just about every Wanamaker Mile there was in front of sold out Madison Square Garden crowds. I remember the seemingly endless meet coverage on the MSG channel. More than anything else I remember imagining how exciting it would be to race at Madison Square Garden. (I was the first HS miler not invited to race in the Millrose HS Mile! Still stings.) Having a meet in the greatest arena there is seemed to legitimize the sport. Due to dwindling attendance at the meet which was due to boring races which was due to incredibly weak fields which was due to no one caring about Millrose anymore which was due to no one caring about Indoor Track anymore the meet finally left the increasingly barren MSG. I was pissed. I was frustrated. I was mostly sad. It seemed like yet another capitulation by our sport.

The meet organizers decided to move Millrose to the Armory. Even though the Armory has one of the fastest tracks in the world I kept saying it won’t be the same if it’s not at MSG. I was right. But not in the way I thought.

After attending Millrose each of the last 5 years (3 at MSG and 2 at the Armory)I have to admit that the quality of the meet has improved dramatically since the move. The fan experience has improved each year it has been at the Armory as well. Year two at the armory had the ushers being more polite, the athletes were treated better, the food offerings were improved, and Coogan’s is still nearby.

And the organizers have added some nice bells and whistles. There is a  great raffle that the organizers are having to benefit the Armory Prep College Fund. I was fully prepared to see some really weak offerings for the potential raffle winners. Instead, I saw 8 awesome prizes. You could win a burger and beer with Nick Symmonds at Coogan’s after the meet or a brunch with the Chairmen of the Boards Eamonn Coghlan or even an entire Millrose weekend with hotel and tickets included. It may seem silly that I am dedicating part of a post to a raffle. It’s not silly. The people at Millrose are trying to make their meet better on and off the track. That deserves recognition.

Let’s talk about the track part. Bernard Lagat, Nick Willis and Evan Jager in the (rarely run) 2000m, Nick Symmonds, Duane Soloman, Robby Andrews, and Eric Sowinski in the (rarely run) 1000m, young studettes Mary Cain and Ajee Wilson will battle in the 800m and the greatest athlete on Earth, Ashton Eaton, will be competing in two events, the 60m Hurdles and the pole vault. The Millrose Games will be a family affair for Ashton as his wife  just happens to be the World Championship Heptathlon Silver Medalist, Brianne Thiessen. Mrs. Eaton will  be competing in two events, the long jump and hurdles. Add to this already great meet the classic Wanamaker Mile and the HS relays and mile races. Really, what you have is what we have always asked for: a well run, compact, and exciting Track & Field meet…with beers.

What will we as Track & Field Fans do with this? If history is any indicator we will collectively yawn and then make sure we bitch about having to pay money to experience it. Any money at all to watch the meet online or in person is too much for us cheap bastards. Hell, $30 is too much for a raffle ticket, isn’t it? We want Track to be more slick and more exciting and more popular and less expensive – as if it could get any cheaper. We’ll pay $100 so we can run a 13.1 miles with other people on a road but we’ll protest $100 for ticket to one of the premier Indoor meets in the World. Hypocritical? Apathetic? Naive? Pessimistic? All of the above? Worse?

If the Millrose Games can turn around a dying meet maybe we can turnaround a dying fanbase. If you are from the tri-state area then try to attend. Buy some tickets. It’s worth it. If you can’t attend the meet then make sure you watch it on ESPN or online. Throw some cash at the raffle. Visit the sponsors at the bottom of the NYRR Millrose Games homepage. Make sure you READ and SHARE the articles you see about the meet. Talk about the Millrose Games. Do something because they are doing something. And that is what we wanted.

What happens when we get what we want?

See you at Millrose.

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Mr. Rupp! Tear Down These Walls!

Finally! We have something, really truly something to be jacked up about in our fledgling sport of Track & Field!

According to Oregon Project Head Honcho/Coach Alberto Salazar and his star pupil Galen Rupp there are going to be some fireworks this Indoor Season. Yes, some real deal epic throw-down record attempt fireworks!

I am giddy, a little lightheaded now that I think about it. I may be in the early stages of shock, I’m not a doctor. I can’t really be sure. I am definitely euphoric though as I type this post. This is not like Track & Field. It seems as if the sport goes out of its way to be boring and impossible to engage with. Yet, this seems really exciting! Feeling woozy.

Check out these two awesome trailers about the Oregon Project record attempts. The first one can be found here. Great stuff right? Want some more? Check out trailer #2 here. Yes, baby yes!

There is actually some legitimate excitement being created in track & field! I know, crazy right?

It seems like each of the last few years Rupp has said he was going to go after a record. One year it was the 5k at Arkansas, another year it was the 2 mile at Boston, last year it was the 1 mile (3:50.92!!!). Each time there were momentary glimpses of what track could and should be: large crowds, high-pitched-crazy-person screaming, fanboys and fangirls swarming the rails, and kick ass racing.

The 2013 mile record attempt by Rupp was the single coolest indoor race I have seen since Eammon Coghlan got 18,000 fans to rise to their feet and cheer him to the first ever sub 3:50 Indoor Mile at the Vitalis Meet in NJ. That was not a typo by the way, 18,000. Here, watch the race by Rupp in Boston last year. Listen to that crowd, see the relentless drive by Rupp, and did you notice your heart rate jump? Now, here you can watch Eamonn Coghlan break the 3:50 barrier at the 1983 Vitalis Meet. These races are Track & Field at its best.

This year is going to be extra special thanks to Coach Salazar getting his entire stable of runners all hot and bothered for the Indoor campaign. Jordan Hasay, Mary Cain, Treniere Moser, and Cam Levins are also going after big time records this season. 2014 will have THREE record attempts in 24 days by Rupp alone.

Did you get that weird feeling there? Did you? Did you have a momentary flashback to Seb Coe and his infamous 40 Days? Huh? If you don’t know what I am talking about, well, that is part of what is wrong with Track & Field. We don’t celebrate our history because we don’t KNOW our history! Anyway, back to Rupp but be assured that the Seb Coe lesson is coming, and coming soon, to RUNonsense.

The first record attempts take place TODAY – Thursday,January 16, 2014 and Flotrack will have LIVE coverage. Mary Cain and Treniere Moser will go for Jen Toomey’s 2004 1000m American Record of 2:34 at 7:25 PM ET. At 7:40 PM ET Rupp will be going after the American Record in the 5k. The time to beat? 13:07! There is so much that is right about this. What I am really happy about is that the powers that be decided to have the record attempts back to back on the schedule.

Again, I am dizzy. Does this mean that someone associated with Track & Field thought about, actually thought about what would make for the most exciting experience for the FANS! What is next?  Onscreen info with AR and WR splits shown (like in swimming) so we can see if Rupp or Cain are on pace? I need to calm down and not be so greedy.

So, what do we do? I’ll tell you what we do! Watch the races! Sign up for the coverage on Flotrack, read the articles on the race, share any and all coverage on your Twitter, Facebook, Digg accounts. Blog about the races and the athletes and the coverage. Talk about it. Shout about it. Run some extra miles in anticipation of it. Run some extra miles after it. No matter what be EXCITED about it.

We, as participants of this great sport, we as fans of this great sport, we as salesman of this great sport have only reaped what we have sown this last few decades. The sport has been boring because we are boring. Well, not any longer. Rupp and Cain are getting ready to rock. The big cheese himself, Alberto Salazar, says so. Let’s get excited. Let’s get rowdy. Let’s spread the word that there is finally a party in Track & Field. Put on your dancing shoes spikes because tomorrow in Beantown we have a party to go to. Finally!

Run? Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

The Darkness comes early. The Cold clings. Sound ominous? It should. Winter running is ominous.

How do you get up and run in the morning during the Winter? They ask. Don’t they? How do you crawl out and run in this…weather? They ask. They ask. They ask. It’s so cold outside.

Cold, lonely roads. So dark. Those streetlights never really light the sidewalk the way we want do they? So we hug the curb, just off the roads crown. Every passing car heading towards you blinds and every car heading with you seems to get too damn close on those Winter mornings. The special ordered tights can’t keep out those hard icy roped winds. That chill hangs on to your insides like an Amazonian Candiru. And Slush. Awful. It’s not snow. Snow is beautiful. You can run and slip and slide all over some freshly fallen snow and not get too bitter about the run. Grey dirty slush just lies there waiting to attack your warm and dry shoes, waiting to satiate your suddenly thirsty cotton sock. Winter running is slush.

And those first moments after the alarm blazes, horrifying. Blackness except for those red coal numbers harassing you from the clock. No birds singing. They left months ago for sunnier, kinder confines. We’re left with the sounds of an occasional passing car…driving through slush.

How can one get up, out of bed and leave the womblike warmth of the now, finally, perfectly placed bed covers to run? Outside? Even the feet, both of them, are ensconced. Yes, ensconced, your feet are warmly ensconced.

How do we get up, and out, and run in the Winter?

They do, truly, want to know. They ask because they don’t understand. Because they don’t understand they ask the wrong question.

Why do we get up and run during the Winter? That is the question! Not how? How is sterile. How is a series of steps that offer no depth or passion behind the movements. Why?

The correct question should lead to a clearer answer. right? Can we explain ourselves? Can’t we?

We can try.

I’ve found when trying to explain running as with running itself coming close sometimes has to be enough.

Why do we run in the Winter?

Because while everything around us, the trees, the grass, the bugs, the leaves, is dead or sleeping, we remember we are alive and awake.

Because breathing cold hard air hurts and purifies us deep inside.

Because slipping and falling is part of the gig.

Because slipping and almost falling is a glorious victory and a reminder that we can still escape disaster from time to time.

Because the hot shower feels better on chilled skin.

Because a coffee or hot chocolate will blaze more.

Because we like being asked this question.

Because we like the battle against the elements, and the dark, and the battle within ourselves. We tempt and taunt and curse ourselves most of those mornings, don’t we? It’s not easy. It never is. Not even in the beautiful Spring or perfect Summer or glorious Autumn is it ever really easy. But, it’s really not easy in Winter. The personal victory of getting that run in, that conquest over ourselves, that better, stronger person we become when we do hit the roads in Winter, well, that is why.

That and all the rest that I can’t describe or remember or have not experienced yet. That and all the rest. That’s why.

So, as I get ready to fall into bed and collapse into sleep, as I get ready to embrace the warmth and solace of a Winter nights sleep I can’t help but shiver a little, no, alot, thinking about tomorrow morning’s mean, nasty run. It’s waiting for me, for you. Ominously.

Eugene is Pass Go

I read a really interesting blog from Dan McQuaid about Eugene being awarded the next EIGHT, yes eight, NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. You can and should read his blog here.
Dan wondered whether the NCAA really achieves the goal of “emphasizing the fan experience” by placing the meet in the same location for eight, yes eight straight years. He admits that the “fan experience” in Eugene is great. But, he writes that the meet location will effectively price him out of attending considering he lives in the Midwest. Dan was able to attend the meet in Des Moines for around $100. Visiting Eugene for the NCAA meet would cost him close to $1000. Can’t argue with those numbers. But I disagree with him when he says the Eugene “monopoly” will not better emphasize the fan experience. I live in the Northeast. I, like Dan, am a teacher and coach. It will be expensive for me to attend the NCAA meet in Oregon. It would be expensive for me to attend the meet in Des Moines, or Baton Rouge, or Knoxville, or Sacramento, or Fayetteville, or Austin. So, I will do what I usually do. I will watch the meet on TV. That means I will join the overwhelming majority of track fans that actually watch the meet by sitting on a couch in front of our TV’s or increasingly on our laptops. And when I do watch the NCAA meet (and the USATF Champs) when it is NOT located in Eugene I will more often than not be welcomed to the broadcast by the site of 1000’s of empty seats. I know that I should only be concentrating on the performances but I don’t. I can’t. I see those empty seats and it depresses me. And I imagine it depresses those athletes competing too. They deserve, the sport deserves, we fans deserve the greatest possible stage to showcase the best Track & Field has to offer. That stage is not available everywhere. Dan mentioned Des Moines in his blog. Des Moines is a great example of a Track & Field friendly city. Yet, Des Moines could not deliver butts in the seats at USATF last June. They wanted to make a strong case for being able to host the Olympic Trials down the road and God bless them for that! We need cities that want the premier track meets. The problem was that Des Moines could not fill or even come close to filling their uncovered seats. It was a USATF Championship meet that served as the Word Championship qualifier and was the year after the London Olympic Games. Short of an Olympic Trials this was as sure a thing as you can get and they still couldn’t come remotely close to filling the place up on any of the days. Maybe the stadium was too big. Maybe. But it was the stadium that hosted the meet and to this formerly anorexic looking distance runner it was depressing to watch those oversized humans toss their metal balls in front of such sparse crowds. The shot putters and high jumpers and sprinters and distance runners should be competing in front of big and if possible knowledgeable crowds. It seems that being so close to Dan’s Chicago was not enough to make Des Moines a success. This sport needs success. It needs sell out crowds. If Track & Field was healthy then maybe it would only need Eugene every couple of years. But, Track & Field is not healthy. There are not nearly enough people like Dan who will drive over an hour and buy tickets to watch a Championship Track & Field meet. I wish there was. You can read this great post by the Track Superfan blog that looks at attendance numbers of some recent Championship track meets in the U.S.
Maybe this Eugene “Monopoly” will awaken fans from the Midwest and Southeast and yes, Northeast. Maybe having the meet in Eugene for 8 years will fire us up enough to put together a movement to host it in our own regions in a way that makes Eugene jealous! Maybe. But, so far, it seems like having it in Track Town, the real Track Town is the safest and healthiest move for the sport. I do know that I will enjoy watching the NCAA meet on TV or on my computer more seeing the big and loud and excited crowds. And I will tell you something else, I may only be a teacher and a coach and I may not have that much money, but I now know I have eight years to save up so I can take my family west, to Eugene, OR, a place known as Track Town USA to see the NCAA Track & Field Championships. And I know that my family will see it done right. That is the experience this fan wants.

Getting High at The Ultimate Non-Event

I ran 2 miles yesterday. There really is no reason to share this with anyone. I apologize ahead of time. It’s been awhile since I ran. Again, this is way down the list, I hope for your sake, of events that merit attention by you. It was a struggle at first too. And I started SLOW! Really slow. And I was on a treadmill. And the weather outside was far from frightful. The list of things that could make these 2 miles, and sadly only 2, forgettable  just goes on and on. Yet, here I am committed to telling you about them. Both of them.

As I type I realize that this event in the grand scheme of things is the ultimate non-event. I get it. It’s not news, news worthy, maybe not even worth your time. But I already apologized to you for this so I can’t do that again. Redundancy is something I am against and I am against it. So, why am I telling you about my 2 mile slog…on a treadmill (slight feeling of shame and inadequacy coursing through my body because the weather was fine to run outside)? Because I realized as I stepped off the treadmill just how freaking awesome this sport was, is, and can still be for me as a participant.

I spend almost all my time now with the sport of running as a coach and a fan. I almost never run anymore. It’s been a month since I ran last. I think. It may be longer. Is that possible? How I can miss all that time is beyond me because when I do run I feel great. Even today, only 2 miles I know, on a treadmill I know, slow, so very slow, I know, I felt great when I finished. I was a better runner after only 2 miles! Minimal effort with maximum gains! I can remember, barely, because it has been so long, but I can remember how I felt when I gave maximum effort. Yes, it was years ago, but i remember dammit! And those memories keep bringing me back.

I also understand that I got a little high yesterday. How many endorphins are needed for a guy at my fitness level to experience the high. The answer is obviously not many. And it felt good. It felt really good. Good enough to get addicted to running again? I don’t know. But, I hope so. I really hope so. Just to make sure I plan on getting high again today…on the treadmill. I’m still pathetic. Just less pathetic than yesterday. And that is something to be excited about.

Let Him Go! Let Him Go! Let Him Go?

It’s going to be weird seeing Nick Symmonds in Brooks gear. It’s going to be odd not having him anchor the OTC team this Spring and Summer. And it’s going to be interesting seeing the Hayward reaction to Symmonds when he returns for the Prefontaine Classic. Will he still be the beloved (adopted) son? Will he be the prodigal son? And if so, is he returning or leaving? Even worse, for Eugene, Symmonds and all of us fans will he be ignored? And if that happens who deserves the blame? Nick, Nike, Brooks, or all of us?

Hopefully, you know what I am talking about. If not, you have either already left or are patiently waiting for this, the recap.

Symmonds recently announced that he would be signing with and running for Brooks. This is after competing for Nike through the Oregon Track Club Elite (OTC Elite) since 2006. These last 7 years have seen Symmonds establish himself as not only the preeminent American 800m runner but also one of the Worlds’ best. He was 4th in the 2012 Olympics with a PB 1:42 and won his first medal on the World stage, a silver, at this past summer’s World Championships in Russia. Along the way he became the face of the OTC Elite team and the most consistent American middle distance runner at the World level in over a generation.

So, two questions arise. How could Nike let Symmonds leave and how could Brooks afford to match or beat Nike’s offer? From the sound of this interview with Symmonds from Flotrack, it seems that some major shifts may be about to take place with elite athletes and their relationships with shoe companies. Nick has mentioned in his interviews that his departure from Nike has quite a bit to do with the ability or lack of ability he had to represent non-competing companies in addition to Nike.

It is no secret that elite runners benefit from the sponsorships coming from the major shoe companies. As it stands now, without those shoe companies what little professional sport we have would be gone. It is also no secret that the elite athletes, as a result of this, are at the complete and total mercy of these shoe companies.

There has never been a viable second or third option for elite runners when it came to sponsorship. The runner either signed with a major shoe company or took a second full time job.

Symmonds has often stated that he feels track and field should be more like NASCAR – athletes should be bedecked with as many sponsor tags as possible. The shoe companies and more importantly, the IAAF has worked diligently to block that from happening.

Here is a blog written by Symmonds on just that topic.

In signing with Brooks, Symmonds has hinted that he has their blessing and support to pursue non-competing sponsors. That is something he said Nike was not willing to afford him. Of course, one has to also mention that Nike has paid Nick for 7 plus years and I imagine they could make the case that one would be hard pressed to show that Nike sold enough shoes because of Nick to pay for Nick.

That is an entirely other topic. We’ll get to that one in due time. I digress.

It will be interesting if Nick can take this freedom and actually convince someone other than a shoe company to pay him. Will a car company or fast food chain or beer company pay Nick Symmonds to run 2 or 4 laps around a track as fast as he can? Will they feel that paying Nick Symmonds in some way benefits their brand? The answer to that question may be the most important event of the 2014 Track & Field season. If the answer is yes, then it reaffirms to all the shoe companies, and especially Nike who is the primary benefactor of elite Track & Field in the US, that sponsoring runners can help their brand. It may also open the door for athletes to look for non-traditional sponsors.

If the answer is no, well, then back to the shoe companies they all go, hat in hand. And guess what fellas, they may not take you back. They are not obligated to. If it makes business sense they will. If it does not, and let’s make sure it does, but if it does not…

Let’s hope that this starts a new chapter in Track & Field.

If nothing else, it has started a new chapter in Eugene, at Nike Running, at Brooks and in Nick Symmonds’ life. And I am looking forward to the Prefontaine Classic already…

another starting line

Such a cheesy title for the first post but better to be upfront early about what will happen here I guess. It’s going to get cheesy at times because I get cheesy. But, it will always be honest because all of that velveeta comes from a real place. I’m hoping that maybe, in a small way, and also hoping that someday in a big way, this blog, these messages, battlecries, anthems, jokes, incoherent ramblings can help push running forward as a sport. Not just for the elite or just the weekend warrior or the new or the old but rather push the entire sport forward.

Big goal. Yes. Why not? Worst case scenario this exercise makes only the smallest wave, maybe even only a ripple.  Maybe this only helps me gather my thoughts, celebrate those I believe in, vent my frustrations, offer advice to the wind. That is alright too.  I’d rather it all matter though. So, we start. Here at the beginning of 2014.

I will be writing about running. I will be writing about all of the aspects and people and stories and events that I find exceptional within this great sport. I will be writing about what I see  wrong with the sport and how the sport is run or how meets are executed and how the events and athletes are marketed, how we deliver the message. I will share with you my story as an athlete, a coach, a fan. I will draw attention to areas that I feel deserve attention and in doing so draw attention away from areas that I believe do not. I will shine lights on those people and events that take this sport forward and I will shine those same bright lights on those that try to drag the sport into dark corners.

Make no mistake, this will be my point of view. I sincerely hope you are interested, inspired, motivated and entertained.  I will be cheesy at times, I will be honest always, and I will do my best.

Please visit and come back often.

Runonsense.

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