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Mission Accomplished!

January 26, 2016

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This post is long overdue… It’s a long story, but the punchline is “Mission Accomplished!”

On December 20th I hit the automatic qualifying standard for the 2016 50k Trials. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty, but when the going got tough, the tough–namely my wife, Loretta–told me to put my man pants on, suck it up, and get the job done!

Recovery from the 50k Nationals four weeks earlier took longer than I had hoped. I got in exactly one good workout between the two races, a solid 25k six days before the qualifying race. The following day Murphy’s Law kicked in in the form of a nasty sinus infection. I resisted the urge to take antibiotics, knowing from past experience that they make me feel lousy for at least a month after taking them.

Not one to make things easy for myself, I was the Race Director for the race. The 14-day weather forecast was looking good, so rather than take other race directors up on their offers to host qualifying races in the Carolinas or Southern California, I took a chance and secured a park permit at my “home course” at Rockland Lake State Park, judges, race officials and other competitors–some coming in from as far away as Ohio and Kentucky.

The weather didn’t disappoint. Although rain was in the forecast for several days, race morning dawned clear and unseasonably warm, with a starting temperature in the high 30s and highs in the low 50s with little wind–perfect racing weather!

Most fortuitously, Loretta, my favorite training partner, offered to pace me through 30k. We had done a couple of 30k workouts together (usually I would continue on for another five or 10k) so we knew she would be able to help me through the 30k point.

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Amazingly, she not only got me through 30k, she kept on for 40k before bowing out only after I urged her to do so before she hurt herself. By this point I was confident that I would be able to maintain the pace. But of course, this being a 50k, my confidence was misplaced…

At 42k I started hitting the wall, slowing some 30 seconds per kilometer. I had about 2 minutes in the bank (we had been walking about 3 seconds per kilometer under pace for the first 40k) but that quickly evaporated down to “par” by 47k. Working out the math in my head, I realized all I had to do was get back to the pace I had been walking for the first 40k and I would hit the qualifying time. A lap or two earlier I had switched from sports drink to cola, so was feeling the sugar and caffeine rush and was able to kick the pace down to 10-12 seconds per kilometer faster than what was required.

I tell athletes all the the time that walking mile after mile at the same pace burns out that particular “pace gear”. Most people end up slowing down, but the Big Secret is that it’s actually just as easy to speed up. I tried it, it worked, and I managed to finish about 30 seconds under the Olympic Trials automatic qualifying time–enough of a cushion to allow me to stop just short of the finish line for a few seconds to soak it all in.

I was pretty beat up from dehydration, carb.-depletion, and the sinus infection, but with the help of friends and a sturdy chair to lower myself down, I was still able to find the ground.

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Before long, pizza and more Coke brought me back to life. My sister uncle, aunt and cousin came out to watch the race, so (after literally being lifted into my car) we drove the mile or so around to the north side of the lake to Gethsemene Cemetery to share the good news with my father, a resident of Gethsemene for the past 30 years.

Recovery has been slow… I’ve had a few fast 15-20km walks, but nothing at any pace over 25k. It’s not easy to get much quality training in after walking two 50s within four weeks….

Training time is running short, as we’re less than four weeks out from the Trials. Although this go-around the goal was just to qualify for Numero Ocho, I’d still like to have a respectable race next month in Santee.

After that, who knows? I haven’t raced at the 20k Trials since 2004, so that would be the next obvious goal. And then…. Nueve? Maybe?

Or maybe it’ll be time to look into golf. Or shuffleboard…

To be continued!

Detour on the Road: US 50k Nationals

December 8, 2015
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At least it was great tanning weather in Santee!

US 50k Nationals were held two weekends ago in Santee, California. My results were… Mixed.

I actually placed right about where I had hoped. I wanted to make my 24th or 25th US National Team, and make enough prize money to cover most of my expenses. I finished 8th, which was good for that National Team spot and $500 in prize money. But that’s not why I was doing the race….

I was in Santee to hopefully get my qualifying time for the Olympic Trials. My training since the knee injury has actually gone pretty well. I’ve done some reasonably good 30 and 35k walks and even a couple of 40k efforts.

Conditions in Santee are usually quite good for racing. Usually… This year, not so much. Upon arrival on Saturday afternoon I was confronted with this:

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The forecast for Sunday was about the same: Pleasant morning temperatures that would climb into the 80s and beyond by noon. That was bad enough, but then the 7:30am race start time came and went with little sign that the race would be actually be starting. At about 7:40 a fleet of tow trucks pulled onto the course and started towing cars. Apparently the sheriff made an announcement that residents of the apartment complex across the road from the course needed to move their cars, but nobody responded. Long story short, the race didn’t start until 7:55, so everybody would be walking the second half of the race in brutal conditions.

Once we got rolling I started out with long-time friend, rival, and team mate Ray Sharp from the UP of Michigan, and another long-time great friend and rival, Jonathan Matthews from Helena, Montana. None of us were doing a heck of a lot of hot-weather training, so once things turned ugly we weren’t very well prepared. Ray has been battling a knee injury this year (I feel his pain!) The judges didn’t like what they saw and he was out by 22.5 km. Jonathan dropped out shortly after that.

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We were holding very steady at the 5:42/kilometer pace required to hit the 4:45 Trials qualifying time. My own knee injury set me back several weeks in my training, so the pace was a little less comfortable than it should have been. Once the temperature rose, and with Ray and Jonathan out, I lost steam. I gave up on the 4:45 goal and simply decided to finish, no matter what–or how long–it took.

The course is a 1.25 kilometer loop, which means 79 left-hand turns on my mangled left knee. When I was holding a good pace the knee was fine, but for whatever reason it’s worse when I walk slow so when my pace dropped the knee got wonky. I could either pick up the pace, which would more or less ensure that I wouldn’t finish, or slow down even more to take some of the strain off of the knee. Door #2 looked like a winner, so I slowed, at points even walking with Darlene Backlund. I hope I helped her in her quest to set the Women’s 70+ World Record for 50k, but it sure didn’t help me achieve my goal of making the Olympic Trials standard. But Darlene’s optimism DID help me to soldier on through a rough stretch so I was damned glad she was out there!

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Pre-race with Darlene (and our Brooks T7s!) 

For much of the early going I was walking in 12th or 13th place. As people started dropping out I moved up to 9th with no work done on my part, but when Steve Washburn dropped out, moving me to 8th, I figured I should make an honest effort of it. I picked up the pace over the last 10k, but walking with Darlene from 30k to 40k put me well behind even my worst-case-scenario time of 5:15. (I walked my 40k workouts at home at sub-5:12 pace…)

When it was all said and done, only three men walked under the Olympic Trials qualifying standard. John Nunn, who ended up a heart-breaking 40 seconds over the Olympic standard, Nick Christie who walked one of the only personal bests in the race, and “The Italian Stallion”, Mike Mannozzi. All three were already qualified for the Trials, and only two others, Patrick Stroupe and Ian Whatley had qualified in the past two years. Thus post-race we were looking at an Olympic Trials field of five men.

It was decided by the Race Walk Executive Committee to ease the qualifying standard to 5:15. Doing so only bumps the field up to nine men but it also presents a golden opportunity for a couple of walkers who are close (Pablo Gomez and Omar Nash, I’m looking at you!) as well as any young guns who would want to give the 50k a try.

There is the minor problem that there are no 50k races between now and the Olympic Trials! Minor problem… Conveniently World Class Racewalking will be hosting their 20k/50k Championship on December 20th at the storied Rockland Lake course in Valley Cottage, NY.

Barring any unforeseen disasters (and Lord knows I’ve built a career on unforeseen disasters!) I should be able to hit the new qualifying time next week without too much trouble. With the relaxed standard, my recovery should be a lot quicker so I may even be able to get in some good training for the February 22nd, 2016 50k Olympic Trials through January and February.

I’ve lost about 10 lbs. since this journey began and I’d like to lose about eight more, and also start kicking down my training paces, both to help my 50k, but also to make a smoother transition to spring 20k training.

Hmmm… Wouldn’t it be cool to race the 50k and the 20k Trials in 2016? 😉

Walk on!

 

 

 

On the Road Again (Again)

October 16, 2015

This is a knee:

My knee looks nothing like this. I know this because after nearly 40 years of more or less non-stop running and racewalking and the countless injuries that come with such a streak, I finally submitted to my first-ever MRI.

It isn’t pretty.

I’ve always politely declined suggestions to get my knees or back looked at because I knew there would be a lot of bad stuff in there that I didn’t want to know about. How right I was…

Rewind two weeks.

At a Fall festival with Loretta and the kids, a string of escaped balloons blew by us and naturally Liam wanted them. I was tight from a hard 35k the day before but I ran after them anyway. In flip-flops. On wet grass.

About 10 strides in I was taking off to jump for the balloons when I heard a loud pop–and it didn’t come from the balloons. When I came down I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. I’ve had iliotibial (IT) band problems for years, but this was much, much worse.

Very long story short, I had dislocated my fibula, the smaller bone in the lower leg. I discovered this at the chiropractor’s office several days later when he tried to fix my back, which had gone into spasm after a week of gimping around on the bad knee.

Getting me into position to adjust my back, the doc bent my leg and there was another loud pop as the fibula snapped back into place. Bam! An instant of searing  pain, but then almost complete and instant relief after that!

I got back to light training, first in the pool, and then back on the road. I was able to get through a solid 30k on Monday without much trouble. The IT band is still an issue, but with stretching, ice, and massive quantities of ibuprofen I’m managing.

Heading into the last six weeks of training before the US 50k Championships on November  22nd, I regained some confidence by getting through some solid workouts this week. Until I opened up the MRI report…

In addition to the dislocated fibula and the IT tendinitis, it seems I’ve been walking around with a 20% tear in my ACL, a torn and apparently completely detached (!) medial meniscus, a ruptured Baker’s cyst, and a ganglion cyst in the ACL.

As far as I’m concerned this MRI is TMI!

Since most of this stuff has probably been going on for years without affecting my training I’ll handle it the way men have for millennia handled ugly realities in life: Complete and utter denial.

Walk on!

Jesus, he’s fast!

August 15, 2015
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Jesús García

I first saw Jesús Ángel García Bragado at the 1997 World Cup in the Czech Republic. I raced the 20k, so I was able to watch his come-from-behind victory in the 50k the following day. García was 27 at the time, and was already a grizzled veteran, having won the 1993 World Championship 50k.

In two weeks, incredibly, García will compete in his 12th consecutive World Championships–a record for any event in track & field. What makes García’s accomplishment even more astounding is that he doesn’t compete for some 3rd-rate walking nation, but for Spain, year in, year out, one of the strongest squads on the planet. García, at the ripe old age of 45, had to walk well under 4:00 hours to punch his ticket to Beijing.

García’s amazing longevity in the sport at such a high level inspires me to do more. What struck me most about him in 1997, and every time I’ve seen him since, is his technique. While most of his peers have impecable style, García’s technique is labored, almost ungainly. Nothing is given to him; he works for every step, for every second. Another Jesus walked on water, this guy looks like he’s walking under water.

Knowing that I’ll be doing the US 40k Championship in a few weeks as a long, easy (hopefully!) workout, I knocked out 25k today with my wife and training partner Loretta. Although the pace was about 30 seconds per km slower than what I’ll need to earn my own small historical footnote by qualifying for an 8th consecutive Olympic Trials, now training at fully half the distance I’m starting to feel that the goal is attainable.

Throughout the workout I channeled García, at times mimicking his technique, and on my last 5km loop, grimacing the way I’ve often seen him do it as I pushed the pace well under my 5:42-per-kilometer Trials qualifying pace.

On August 28th I’ll be glued to the web cast, watching García walk into the history books. And over the coming months, as my miles get longer, the pace gets faster, and the going gets tougher, if ever I have a moment of doubt or weakness, I’ll be sure to ask myself “What would Jesús do?”

Walk on!

Weight training

February 23, 2015

John Trautmann was one of the reasons I gravitated towards racewalking and away from running in high school. In my junior and senior years there was a bumper crop of nearly a dozen sub-4:15 milers racing in New York. It was bad enough getting beaten by seniors, but when freshmen like Mike Rogan and Trautmann began beating me, it was really frustrating. It was small consolation that they were among the top runners in the state as freshman. Rogan — the Best Man at my wedding, incidentally — eventually ran sub-4:00 at Notre Dame, while Trautmann went on to Georgetown where he won the 1992 Olympic Trials at 5,000 meters. A series of foot injuries ended John’s career prematurely. After competing at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, he was unable to toe the line four years later at the ’96 Trials in Atlanta. He went to work on Wall Street, and gained over 70 lbs.

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Fast forward to 2009… After turning 40, Trautmann decided to start running again — first for his health, and eventually to get a taste of racing again. He progressed slowly at first, but steadily. By last winter he had lost 50 lbs. and came tantalizingly close to a 45-49 year-old age-group World Record at the mile. Last week he shattered the record, running 4:12.33 in Boston.

I meet people all the time at my clinics who have lost 50, 60, 70, even 80 or 100 lbs. Quite often the have beautiful, explosive technique. I tell them that carrying the extra weight for years was like living at altitude, and now they are at sea level. The added weight built strong legs to carry it, made their hearts work extra hard, and prompted the growth of an amazing circulatory system. Although it’s not the healthiest way to build this strength, carrying a lot of weight for a lot of years, and then losing it, often results in a surprisingly strong athlete.

I’m not morbidly over my racing weight, but over the course of the past six years and three babies, I’ve put on about 20 lbs. of pregnancy “sympathy weight”. Inspired by John’s weight loss and subsequent success on the track, I just may take the dieting end of the “diet and exercise” equation a little more seriously. (John didn’t do anything dramatic to lose the weight; he “just” trained 80 – 90 miles per week and cut all junk food out of his diet. As a long-time “nutritional atheist” cutting out junk food is against my religion, but I’m willing to give anything a try!)

I’ve gotten in a lot of base “weight-training” over the past few years, but with my first serious attempt at qualifying for the 2016 Trials just nine months away, it’s time to get serious. So John, thanks (again!) for the inspiration, “kid”!

Take Care of the Small Stuff…

November 25, 2014

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…and the big stuff will take care of itself.

I’ve had a good string of workouts since my last post, including a number of “firsts”: I walked my first 25k in quite some time, walked over 100 kilometers (62 miles) in a week–probably for the first time since the 2012 Olympic Trials–but also “crashed” my first long day in a long time! 😦

I tell athletes all the time to keep tabs on the little things. I recommend writing everything down in a training log, including keeping track of morning heart rate and morning weight to gauge recovery. Elevated heart rate is a sign of over-training, and sudden weight loss is a sign of dehydration and/or carb. depletion. (With every gram of carbs. stored in your muscles you store nearly three grams of water, so carb. depletion and dehydration are closely linked…)

My 100 km+ week ended with a 20-mile+ day spent coaching athletes in the Las Vegas Marathon last Sunday evening. After the race there were the obligatory celebratory drinks, karaoke, bull-riding, etc. well into the wee hours, then a 6:00am flight back to New York. Tuesday and Wednesday were typical 12- and 15k easy days, then I had planned a 27k walk on Thursday morning. I hadn’t weighed myself in about a week and was surprised to find on Wednesday evening that I had lost five pounds from the previous week. I’ve been trying to lose the most recent “spare tire” of sympathy baby weight that I’ve accumulated for every one of Loretta’s pregnancies, so I held out hope that the extra mileage I was doing, coupled with reasonable dietary choices, was working.

I felt fine for the first 15k on Thursday, then the wheels feel off. Loretta and I were cruising at a fairly easy pace, so I didn’t crash hard, but I did suddenly feel drained. A familiar nemesis, “The Wall” had appeared in the middle of my favorite training course. I bailed out at 21k while Loretta went on to complete her first 25k since (well) before her July c-section.

Today was quite different. My weight this morning was up three pounds, so apparently I have lost a couple of pounds, just not the five that registered on the scale last week. I carbo.-loaded and hydrated yesterday so I was able to breeze through the 21k mark today feeling fine. Although 27k was my scheduled goal, today may prove to be one of the last 60-degree+ weather days until spring so I pushed on to 30k to take advantage of the mild weather. Unlike last week’s attempt, I felt fine despite violating the 10% rule by increasing the distance of my longest day by 25%. I’m feeling pretty beat up now (!) but I’m elated to be at 60% of my 50k race distance where only two months ago I was having difficulty getting through 12k.

I still have a long way to go in terms of both distance and pace, but every training milestone gives me more confidence that when the time comes I’ll have what it takes to get the job done. As long as I don’t forget to take care of the small stuff….

Eating an Elephant

November 9, 2014

An African proverb says the best way to eat an elephant is to do it one bite at a time. This week I was able to take several more bites of the beast.

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A sub-4:45 50k still seems daunting, but my workouts are getting back to the range where it seems possible. I know I’ll need a lot of tasty 30- and 35-kilometer workouts at or near the 5:42 kilometer qualifying pace to polish off this pachyderm. I’m not there yet.  But my long days have grown to 21k, with 24k on the schedule for tomorrow; my shorter (12- to 15k) “longish not-so-easy days” are back at just over 6:00/km pace and are scheduled to go under soon; and my weekly mileage is back over 80km/50 miles per week for the first time since the 2012 50k Olympic Trials. Based on where I was just a few years ago (I made the 2010 World Cup Team in the 50k) these numbers are not very impressive, but compared to where I was just a few months ago there’s been a lot of progress.

I’m feeling really motivated, the weather is still pretty good around here, and I have a great training partner. I just hope she has a good recipe for Jumbo Jambalaya…

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Thinking Crazy Thoughts

October 31, 2014

I had the opportunity to train recently with 2-time Olympic Trials finalist Carolyn Kealty. She’s training hard, working on her own come-back, so she asked my about my plans. “Killer” has never been a fan of long distances so when I told her I was only planning on shooting for the 50k Trials she asked why the Hell I wasn’t going for the 20k. I gave my reasoning, rattling of the required paces–5:42/km for 50k and 4:48/km for 20k. I said that I knew I could get down to 5:42 fairly easily–although doing 50 of them in a row still seems a bit daunting–but that 4:48 looked out of reach. Then she brought up an excellent point: The pace we were walking was well under the pace I would need to qualify for the 20k Trials! Granted, we were only doing 400m repeats, but I was able to hit 4:35 km pace fairly easily. If I can do it for 400m, soon I will be able to do it for 1k; if I can do it for 1k, it won’t be long before I can walk that pace for 1,500m, then 2k, then 3k… The 50k Trials are about 16 months away. In my mind that’s plenty of time to get the 4:45 (four hours forty-five minutes) standard. So why am I giving up on the 20k Trials which are 21 months away? As of today I’m not, thanks to a kick in the pants by my diminutive friend, sometimes training partner, and many-time voice of reason. Thanks, Killer!

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Indian Summer

October 15, 2014

What an incredible day for training yesterday! 73 degrees, sunny, but with enough of a cooling breeze off of the Bay to make for perfect training weather. It’s nice to be in a place in my life where I can enjoy such a day for what it is. There was a time long, long ago when I would have seen such a day as almost a wasted training day. When the weather is perfect everybody is motivated and training. Only when the weather was really beastly hot or cold or rainy or snowy did I feel like I had a chance to get ahead of my competitors. Every time I went out to train in a rainstorm or snowstorm I told myself that the guy I was trying to beat was sitting at home waiting for the weather to clear and I was getting a leg up on him, and if I didn’t go out and battle the storm, that was the day my competitors were going to get ahead of me. I also felt like training in horrible weather would make me tougher for the inevitable hot or cold or rainy race days ahead. I’ll have plenty of nasty weather days ahead of me this winter, so today is another perfect weather day to revel in and store in the memory banks to help get me through the tougher days ahead. 18k or bust today!

The Road to Ocho

October 9, 2014

Dave McGovern is a 7-time 8-time (!) USA Track & Field Olympic Trials finalist in the 20 kilometer and 50 kilometer race walks. Only a handful of athletes in any track and field event have appeared in five consecutive Trials; fewer still have qualified for six. Only two have extended the streak to seven — hammer thrower Ed Burke, and McGovern. The Road to Ocho follows Dave McGovern in his quest to stand alone at eight by qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Trials.

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