03 August, 2008

Amsterdam or bust?

Fricken-A! I woke up this morning (Thursday, July 31) with a cold and aching all over my body. Just what I need a couple of days before my last race.

New plan: load body full of Emergen-C, Airborne, fluids, and sleep a ton. This crap better be gone by race time or my body is going to be in for some serious thrashing.

Final Week

The last days in Leuven were characterized by many "last"s.

The last fresh, warm Belgian waffle with Speculose ice cream from Billy's.
The last supper with the boys.
The last bicycle ride to and from town.
The last night in the dorms.

... and most importantly to me:
The last beer & the last day with the mustache.

The 'stache had a good run, there is no doubt about that. It was with me through the highs and lows of the outdoor season. It evolved into what some considered a thing of beauty and a physical characteristic by which I could be easily identified.

But let's talk about that last beer. So, early on in the Belgium trip Ryan Bak and I purchased a couple of beers at the grocery store to enjoy with the dinner we were cooking. One of these types of beers was Kwak, a medium-dark, high alcohol content Belgian beer. We drank it out of pretty normal glasses and were less than impressed. Then we realized what we had been doing wrong all this time. This is an example of how the proper beer glass can make a huge difference in the taste of the beer. The proper glass from which one is supposed to consume Kwak beer is unlike anything I have ever seen. It looks like a tall beaker straight out of Chem Lab, or so I have been told since I never took Chem Lab or any Chem for that matter.

Doesn't that just look delicious? Well, it is. Kwak turned out to be one of my favorite beers in Belgium.

And now to the 'stache. Yes it is gone. Why? It was time. Everyone who knows me well knows that I enjoy changing my image every now and again. Since summer is now officially here for me I decided to celebrate with a good shave. I look about 10 years younger and still don't recognize my own face in the mirror but that will take care of itself in time.

Packing up my dorm room the other day really made me feel like the trip was coming to a close. The first part of this summers journey is winding down and I am getting ready for the fun to come in Paris next week.

What's left to do? Return the bike. Finalize travel to and from Amsterdam. Race the Amsterdam Open. Get to Paris. Tourize Paris for a couple of days and get to Boston for Falmouth.

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel over here and run in all of these races. Not only have I seen and experience some very exciting things but I have also met a ton of amazing people. I never knew that the elite-athlete body of USATF was so awesome. What a wonderful surprise.

30 July, 2008


The weather in Leuven has been less than ideal. Going to Dublin I was only expecting it to get worse. We got off the plane to what I would have considered to be a typical Irish summer day. It was cloudy, looked like it had just finished raining, and looked like that rain was about to start up again any minute.

Next big question: Where were we staying and how were we supposed to get there?

Answer: Irishman with huge smile waiting for us with sign outside of baggage claim. Awesome.

This guy looked way too excited to see us. Then we found out that his radiant smile and overall happiness weren't because of us, it was because it wasn't raining. Once again, awesome.

Things just started getting better from there.

We ended up staying at a Radisson right by the airport. A bit noisy, but quite a step up from the dorms in Leuven. We walk in the door and the meet director, a young guy in his late 20's, greets us with money for lunch. Did I mention we were starving? This catapulted him to A+ status in our books very quickly.

This meet, the Brother Ireland Morton Memorial Meeting, certainly knew how to take care of the athletes. We were about 30 minutes, by bus, from Dublin city center so going down there for food or entertainment was going to have to wait until after the meet. Luckily the hotel had a pretty damn good restaurant which was free to us. Booya.

Clean sheets, warm showers, and free, good food. Life was good for those couple of days.

So about this meet. This was basically an attempt to get high quality, professional athletics (otherwise known as track & field in the US) back to Ireland. Santry Stadium was once host to a number of high class meets. The stadium record is 3:53.8 in the mile, held by former American Record Holder Steve Scott.

For all of the information you could possibly desire about this meet here is the meet webpage.

The men's mile run was the marquee event of the evening, turns out I was running in it. The field was pretty loaded, 11 of the 13 athletes competing were sub-4 guys. We had rabbits whose job it was to take us through 1km in around 2:25. Despite perfect weather conditions, this did not happen.

We got off the line pretty quickly and probably ran our first 200m in close to 27 seconds. Things started to deteriorate after that. I was not too concerned about the pacing since I knew I could struggle through a fast pace or unleash a good kick off a slow pace. We came through 400m at 57.8 or so for the leaders. I was tucked in on the rail, in 6th or 7th place, closer to 58.5. Given the quality of the rabbits I knew we needed to be faster to hit the desired 1km split. Nothing really changed over the next 400m other than the rabbit slowed even more. 1:58 at 800m. And we were still slowing. I could visably see the rabbit struggling to maintain form now, his tight shoulders a clear indicator of the required effort to hold pace. All the while we have the meet director screaming at us to pick it up from the inside of the track at the top of the turn and another gentleman encouraging us to keep the pace moving halfway down the backstretch.

Once the rabbit dropped out it required a gametime decision from fellow American Brian Olinger (steeplechase specialist) to move to the front and keep the pace going. Olinger was one of the three guys in the field who had not yet broken 4-minutes.

I could feel runners bunching up behind me as we pounded towards the bell lap. Rob Myers, whose kick I know all too well (see US Indoors results), was seated nicely in second place. I on the other hand was running like an idiot, boxed in on the rail in about 7th. 2:59 for the leaders with 400m to go. I was at least a full 0.5 seconds back with no way in sight of getting out of the box.

Once the pace quickened at the front I knew I had to be at full alertness to find my way out to get some running room. Then it happened. With 300m remaining, Graham Wells, the tall Canadian wearing his bright yellow singlet, made a hard move on my outside opening just enough space for me to hop out to lane two and shadow his move. Everyone was in full flight now, given the slow pace the first three laps, and all I could think about was how good I felt. This came as a surprise since I had felt as though I was struggling to hit 60 for the entire race. At 250m to go I could see Rob was in the front and pushing hard. I didn't quite know how I was going to make it all the way up to him, since I was still in 5th, so I waited. This turned out to be my downfall. The pack was sprinting 3-wide going into the final turn. I kept hearing my high school coach, Jeff Renlund, explaining that for every lane out you go on that final 200m, you add on 2 extra meters. All I wanted was to run the shortest distance and power home the final 100m. And that is what I did. I swung wide and went into full sprint, really starting to "lift" and "squeeze it" is Gags terminology. I was inching closer and closer to Rob with every stride. But he had too much ground on me. I had to settle for second.

Rob Myers had beaten me again, this time covering the distance of one mile in 3 minutes, 56.25 seconds. Unhappy with losing the race, my spirits were lifted by the knowledge that I had run a personal best at the distance. It wasn't until after the awards ceremony that I found out my time. 3:56.76! And I was pumped.

Ireland turned out to be a great experience for me and I fully plan on returning next year!

Back Where I Left Off

So where was I? Oh, right, Braaschaat.

All in all the meet at Braaschaat turned out to be pretty decent. Two of my OTC teammates ran really well in the 3,000m: Bolota Asmerom (7:48) and Ryan Bak (7:50). The grounds where the track was located were incredible. The track itself was nestled in the woods, blocked on all sides by huge trees. This created an almost fairytale atmosphere as well as windless conditions. On top of that there was a really great trail system just outside of the entrance gate to the stadium. This was a huge relief to me since I have had to do some of my warm-ups looping small grass fields. That does not do good things for me mentally before a race. I prefer to get away from the hustle bustle of the meet and just focus on my race. Anyways, the less than cool parts of the meet were that when the big pile-up happened in the 1,500m, John Jefferson got thrown to the inside of the track and consequently ended up dropping out. Not good since he was really hoping to dip under 3:39. The other negative aspect of the meet was that all of the events were so late. This resulted in us not getting back to the dorms until almost 1:00 am. Pretty standard for all of the meets thus far, except I had to wake up at 7:00 am the next morning to catch the train to the Brussels airport. And I hadn't packed yet.

I finally got to sleep around 2:30 am or so after packing and winding down a bit, when my alarm went off I nearly cried. I was SO tired. But once I got moving and splashed some water on my face I was pretty ready to go.

The group of us travelling to Dublin rendez-vous-ed in the central courtyard of the dorms at 7:30 and biked to the train station. Let's just say biking at 7:30 carrying a bit of luggage is not such a good idea. I almost crashed three times and was about three feet from being broadsided by a Fiat.

The travel to Dublin was relatively painless, other than being exhausted, and I was looking forward to spending a couple of days outside of Belgium.

29 July, 2008

So it has been a while since I have posted anything on here and let me tell you, it is not due to lack of excitement. I will try to cram the last week in here. Also, I am going to have to preemptively appologize for any typing errors. The Dutch keyboard is quite a puzzle getting used to.

23 July, 2008:
Another cloudy, humid day here in Leuven. On a brighter side it is also race day! although I have yet to decide exactly what I am going to be racing... not the best way to mentally prepare. You see, there are a few options out there. a.) I race in the 1500m b.) I race in the 800m c.) I do nothing.

After Heusden I was pretty excited about my new PR. Then the reality set in that other than lowering my PR the race did nothing for me since I did not run the 'A' standard. The race in Braaschaat tonight should be a relatively loaded field (Rob Myers, Kurt Benninger, John Jefferson, etc.) but if it doesn't end up going really fast then running it will be kind of a wash. A wasted effort. And on top of that I am racing a full mile in Dublin in two days where the payout is pretty big and I would like to get in on some of those Euro.

I also want to lower my PR in the 800m. Tonights race would be a good opportunity to do that but it also might cost me a bit in terms of being ready to run fast less than 48 hours later.

The third option might be the safest but it certainly isn't why I am here.

On top of this mental debate I showed up at the bus to ride to the meet and it was full. So full in fact that a full dozen athletes could not get on. Alan Webb, the sweetheart that he is, manned up and drove us all the way there in his rental car. This just piled on the stress and I decided that racing a 1500m with the chance of blowing up just wasn't worth it. So the 800m it was then.

Turns out I made the right decision. First off, the 800m start was around 8:20 pm. The 1500m was not scheduled to run until almost 10:30 pm. Yes the weather was perfect during their race but I had other things on my mind. Secondly, this meet was freaking crazy. They packed 22 guys plus a rabbit onto the line on a 6-lane track. This just looked rediculous to me. The starting line was between 2 and 3 guys deep and looked to be a disaster.

If you are interested in the outcome of that race, please visit flotrack.org and search for the Braaschaat 1500m. (Disclaimer: if you are a person who does not like blood, be careful.) There was a huge pile-up with 350m to go and the winner only ended up running 3:38-high.

I on the other hand had a nice relaxed 800m race. I got smoked, of course, but didn't feel to bad about running 1:48.06 feeling relatively easy the whole time. The travel debacle and not being mentally prepared for a hard race took its toll as I had a lot of difficulty getting competitive with 300m to go, but that is life.

And now I am being kicked out of the computer lab so I will either finish this later on someone's computer or come back tomorrow. Cheers!

22 July, 2008

Belgian Indepence Day

Happy Belgium Day!

Today is Belgium's independence day and in celebration of their freedom from the Dutch in 1831 we took a day trip into Brussels for some sight seeing and mussels. Mussels in Brussels, how perfect.

Our chosen mode of transportation today was the automobile. Bram Coppens was our driver and car provider. He came to join our group via Ryan Bak (Bak stayed at his house a couple of years ago while racing here and has maintained that friendship since, he's a good guy to have around since none of us speak Flemmish.

Brussels was packed with people. It was like the whole city center turned into a festival and everyone came out to celebrate the holiday. We must have missed the main part of the parade because all I saw was a bunch of military policemen parading their big guns, kind of lame.

We finally escaped that fiasco and wound up doing the standard tourist thing, stopping by all the major landmarks and eating the traditional foods. Moules et pomme frites. Mussels and fries. All I can say is that it was a delectable feast and I will certainly be eating some more of this favorite national dish.

All of this on 5 hours of sleep because of the ridiculousness of last nights festivities has made me pretty tuckered out. Time again for some cards, reading and sleep.

Today's run: recovery, 45 minutes easy.

Next race on Wednesday in Braasschat, either 1,500m or 800m.

Heusden: the baby Grand Prix

Looking at the start lists for the 1500 at Heusden, aka KBC-Nacht, it looked like it would be a pretty decent opportunity to run fast. There were only a few guys in the race who were capable of running sub-3:40 and on top of that the pace was supposed to go out quickly, 57 through the first 400m and 2:24 through 1 km. It was also the first time this year that John Jefferson and I would race one another.

Let me explain this meeting a little bit. KBC-Nacht, translated: KBC Night of Athletics, is the biggest meet many of us Americans get to run in over here. It is classified as a Grand Prix 2 meet, which is beneath the Grand Prix, Super Grand Prix, and Golden League meets in terms of the quality of athletes participating in the meet. However, what Heusden has going for it is the the track is super fast and the atmosphere is more relaxed so people tend to still run quite quickly. For example: the meet record in the 1500m is held by none other than Hicham El-Geurrouj at 3:29, this year Paul Koech was going for the steeple chase world record, Daniel Komen was running the 1500m, Gary Reed was in the 800m, and the 5k was being paced for a sub-13-minute race. Basically this meet is a pretty big deal.

Now, before warming up I was convinced I hadn't adjusted to the time zone change yet. Stupid jet lag. This was a real mental burden to get over because it provided an easy out if I started to feel like crap during the race. Given that there are races here every three days or so it is easy to think about throwing in the towel and giving it another go at the next meeting.

It wasn't until I was standing behind the starting line waiting for the starters call that I got pumped up for the race and began feeling as though I could possibly have a good race.

Bang! I got off the line pretty well and found myself in 5th place behind the two rabbits, John, and Kurt Benninger. The pace was honest through the first lap and I think I was around 1:56 at 800. The pace then began to lag a little as we were 2:55 at 1200. I was now in third place and feeling comfortable, getting ready to kick. With about 180 meters remaining I put in my bid for the win as I went by Taylor Milne, the Canadian Olympic trials champion and 3:36-guy. I hammered home as hard as I could trying to stay away from the three guys chasing me to the line. 3:37.63 for the win and a new PR. Not a bad day.

And what makes this a better day? The meet provided us with dinner... but no free beer. Boo. Even better? The bus we rode back from the meet happened to have this marvelous device called a mini-fridge on it that happened to be stocked with nearly 30 Jupiler beers. I jokingly proposed the idea of offering the driver 20 euro for these fine beverages and fellow OTCer Louie Luchini immediately jumped on this and handed me the bills. The smiles on peoples faces as they walked onto the bus after a hard day of racing only to be offered a cold beer were enough to bring me to tears. I proceeded to enjoy these beers at will, thinking the bus had a bathroom. Unlucky for me I had a half a beer too many for my bladder and almost cried again because of the self-imposed agony of having to hold a piss for 20 or so minutes. Major bummer.

We returned safely to our dorms with everyone excited to go out and party. A great night ensued and I finally got to bed around 5 or 6 a.m.

I now have to decide when by next race is going to be, Wednesday in Braasschat or Friday in Dublin.