A Running Wish From Alaska

Run is a word that runners take for granted. It’s ours. We own it. We remind everyone around us incessantly with our mileage counts, tights and bulky watches that we are the chosen ones, the runners.

On my first trip to Alaska, I found that we are not alone.  Other things run.   My plane ran late, and I was feeling a little run down, and my daughter’s nose was running, but my toilet did not.  What’s more, even though it does happen to me more than I would care to admit, and is a bit of an occupational hazard for a writer like me, who should really know better, considering how many courses I’ve taken and how many of them I’ve put together over the many years that I have pursued this avocation of mine, which perhaps you share too, it was not my sentences, other than this one, that were running on.  (And yes, among writers, that’s a running joke.)

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We could see the salmon running through Ketchican, AK from the bridge outside our room.

I was in Ketchican, Alaska, and the most popular runners in this town are not people like us.  They are the salmon.

Ketchican is self-proclaimed Salmon Capital of the World.  And when we visited in mid-July, they were just starting to head back upstream to the place where they were born.  Not just to visit for a spaghetti dinner, like I do when I go home to visit my hometown.  They were going to drop off some eggs. And die. Or, if they have flair for the dramatic, be eaten by bears or by the waves of bald eagles we saw there day after day.   So when I took my scenic run around town and along the salmon creek that yes, runs, in the middle of town, with the hope that this runner would escape that kind of ironic ending to this trip.

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So could the bald eagles.

So here’s my running wish for you from Alaska: next time you head out for a run , may you run like the salmon, but eat like the eagle.

 

 

The End of the Beginning

Here are some lasting images and observations from Days 3 and 4 of the first big-time track meet I’ve ever attended, the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR last weekend.

Practically every event had me on the brink of choking up with emotion, seeing the athletes put so much at stake for one singular chance to compete in Rio.  A handful did, and a boatload did not.  Curiously, I found myself emotionally going back and forth between the dids and the didnots.   For me, that impulse is one I can’t always plan. Who I actually find myself rooting for tells me something that is indiscernible with logic. Only in the moment on the brink do I realize whose story is tugging at me.   That happens in life too– I often use that “heart tug” to show me the way through a decision that is not revealing itself to me through analysis.

I hope you find yourself rooting for someone in Rio, when these athletes begin to represent the United States on the track.

 

 

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Ashton Eaton finishes the 1500m to win the decathlon.
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And when the World’s Greatest Athlete invites you to a pool party, you go. His fellow decathletes have their own Rocky/Apollo Creed moment in the steeplechase pit.
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Allyson Felix settles in for the start of the 400m. My heart is probably beating faster than hers at this point.
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Felix won the event with world’s best time this year. Look for her on a podium in Rio.
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This is how my stomach felt to be so close to my track crush.
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I did not make the team.

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On Independence Day morning, I drove out to Florence, OR to see the sand dunes. What struck me even more was the surreal shelters built from driftwood. Just goes to show what beautiful and useful pieces can be built from what others’ discard.
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Allyson Felix be warned. Emma Coburn may be my new track crush after her dominating win the 3,000m steeplechase.
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In the most talked about race on the first weekend, Alysia Montano leads on the first lap of the 800m, with a flower in her hair.
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But Montano finishes alone and despondent. She tumbled just before the final turn and poof!, just like that, her Olympic dream ends.
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Montano’s daughter Linnea consoles her mom after the race. Montano famously competed in the US Championships two years ago while 34 weeks pregnant with Linnea.
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In my favorite photo of the weekend, Akron’s Clayton Murphy blows by Boris Berian to win the 800m. Both go to Rio.
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Murphy, Berian and Charles Jock. Your 800m US Olympic team.
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My brush with greatness. I got to meet Dave Wottle, who was one of the first distance runners I ever idolized when he won the 1972 Olympic 800m race with his mammoth kick. He is still the last US man to win the race. This time, I wore the hat.
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So long, Historic one. Thanks for bringing together so many staggeringly prepared athletes (and track nerds) in one place. Who knew?

Trials, Tribulations and Track and Field

Here are some images that caught my eye on July 2, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon during the United States Olympic Trials, the second day of the meet to choose America’s representatives in Rio.

 

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I was not allowed entry.

 

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The main event on Day Two was the women’s 10k. Molly Huddle took the lead on the first lap and never looked back. Three things I like about her: 1. She’s a fellow New York state product, hailing from Elmira, which I routinely pass through on my way to visit my own hometown of LeRoy, NY. 2) She was born the year I graduated from college in nearby Syracuse. 3) Her name is Molly Huddle, which sounds more like an American Girl doll than America’s most dominant middle distance runner.

 

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My main interest in the race was to root for Laura Thweatt, a Colorado runner I had met at the past two USATF Cross Country Club Championships, where she won the race in my current hometown, Bethlehem, PA in 2014. See my article in Runners World about this race, “Cross Country Romance”. You can see Laura challenging for her place on the US Olympic Team with this move to the front of the pack, on Huddle’s shoulder.

 

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Laura was the top American female in the NYC Marathon last year and was looking to make her first Olympic Team.

 

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Unfortunately for her, she couldn’t maintain that position and drifted back into the field. I was proud to be there to see her compete so strongly though– and hope to see her again this year as she continues her excellence in cross country racing. Note to Sebastian Coe: Let’s hurry up and get cross country as an Olympic event in the 2022 Winter Games!

 

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Oregon is home to many big names in running, including this one.

 

When My Baby Smiles At Me, I Go To Eugene

As exotic as Peter Allen’s lyrical invitation may be, I am not going to Rio. Day-Jena-Arrow.  As close as I’m getting is Eugene, Oregon, home of the U.S. Olympic Trials for Track and Field. I was in TrackTown for last weekend’s events and wanted to share a few images that caught my eye.

Even though I’ve been following track and field intently since the 1972 Olympics,  this was my the first major track meet I’d ever attended. In fact, it’s actually the only one I’d ever seen in full other than my own high school meets more than 35 years ago.

From seeing many of the heroes of my day paraded out to wave to the crowd and bestow medals upon this year’s team, to the (literally) ups and downs of competitive racing, to the sheer magnificence of the athletes performing with so much at stake, it was a weekend to remember.

Here’s some of what I remember from Day One.

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I believe this vague sign was from a local sandal company. Not sure it will ever catch on. What do they even mean by “It”?

 

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Best breakfast of the past 25 years (since leftover Mexican on Half Moon Bay beach). Some kind of Koreanesque hot bowl at Tasty and Alder in Portland.

 

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IMG_2440 Historic Hayward Field is the Fenway Park of American Track. I’d have said Wrigley, but the hometown heroes at the University of Oregon actually win here.

 

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My own hometown hero, Joe Kovacs of Bethlehem Catholic High School, gathers himself before the throw that would put him on the U.S. Olympic Shot Put team.

 

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The 800m was Berry Berry good for Boris Berian.

 

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The top performer of the weekend was no doubt, Allyson Felix. Here’s that moment before she takes the blocks for the first heat of the Trials in the 400m. As beautiful as she looks on television, seeing her run in person was a revelation. She runs like a spider, long swift strides that make the track disappear behind her.

 

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Galen Rupp picks up the flag given to the top 3 finishers of every final, symbolizing their place on the Olympic Team. He already had secured a berth on the marathon team, and his dominant run in the 10,000m left no doubt. He’s the man. And he’s greedy in the best way.

 

Spelling Fun with Raritan Valley Road Runners

On a day where snow is going to prevent many of us from running, I am left to think back about some of the most memorable runs of 2015.

And while here’s no place I love running more than in New York’s Central Park, I think my favorite NYC run this year was when I was on my way to the park but never got there.

You see, as I headed out of my midtown hotel on a Sunday am in December, I ran smack into something that immediately diverted me from my route to the park.

I mean how could I look away once I saw this?

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I don’t get a ton of giddy, happy smiles and leaping tutus in midtown Manhattan, even during the Christmas season.   But there they were, a frolicking pack of jolly runners having way too much fun to ignore.

I instantly recognized that my new destination was the journey with these folks

“How far are you guys going?,” I asked one of the women who had the biggest smile of the crowd.  “Oh I don’t know,” she said. “We are doing the letters run.”

I had no idea what a letters run was, but she was cute. And cute is cute and fun is fun, so I asked if I could join in and she enthusiastically welcomed me to the club. I thought maybe they were with the post office

As we went on, it seemed less like a delivery route and like the kind of run I often do in my own town. We ran through the streets seemingly at random.  We’d go a block, turn, go another block turn, stop, start.

Not exactly a rigorous training run, but more like the kind of playful romp I advocate as the best remedy to bring fun and spontaneity to an otherwise monotonous running routine.

Not only did we keep stopping for group photos…

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….. but I was quickly volunteered to be the club photographer.

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As it turns out this  run was not random at all.  In fact, it was an annual ritual of one of New Jersey’s more active running clubs, the Raritan Valley Road Runners.

Our path wasn’t just following the whims of the pack leader, it was a very precise attempt to spell out the initials of the club, RVRR, on the GPS watches of the group.

 

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When a run is more play than work, it is, by definition, a good run.  No matter how you spell it, this was a good run.

And I have the smiles to prove it– and Raritan Valley Road Runners to thank for it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scenes from 2015 Club Nationals

Here’s an assortment of images that struck me at the USATF National Club Cross Country Championship at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.   I’m working on some putting together some thoughts on my race, but until then have a peek at what it looked like to be there.

 

Chasing The Bike. Early leaders of the Women’s 40+ race set the pace.

 

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Watch This, Young Fella. The start of the Men’s 60+ Masters race.

 

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Flying By. Cally Macumber (210), Laura Thweatt (148) and the women’s open leaders about 1K into the race.

 

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My Kind of Beach. The women’s open field race over the sandy track that surrounds the Polo Field.

 

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That’s A Wrap. Amy Van Alstine takes the tape at the women’s open 6K.

 

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One Second. Two-time defending champ Laura Thweatt is one second back this year. She now sets her sights on the Olympic Track Trials.

 

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Straight Outta Jersey. My new teammates from adidas Garden State Track Club get ready for Men’s Open 10K. They would finish 7th overall.

 

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Ups And Downs of XC. Before the Open Men’s 10K, each has his own style of warmup: one hops, one stretches and one dons Will Ferrell’s headband from Semi-Pro.

 

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Where You Lead, I Will Follow. Before the Men’s Open 10K.

 

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Eyes On The Prize. You need a clear mind to run a cross country race.  And perhaps, a mustache.

 

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Tough field? Put it this way, 800m Olympian Nick Symmonds started in the third row.

 

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GOING,

 

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GOING,

 

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GONE.

 

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Watch Where He’s Going. Runner checks his pace during Men’s Open 10K.

 

 

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Through the Shadow. The sun was shining bright by the time the Men’s Open 10K neared midrace.

 

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This Only Looks Downhill. These guys are actually running a slight uphill, just before the turn that brought them back toward the ocean.

 

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Keeping Order. The USATF clerk’s desk provided answers all day long.

 

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The Leader of the Pack. Head Honcho Irene Herman ran every race without breaking a sweat.

 

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Just For Pretty. Anyone know what this is, other than beautiful?

 

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HOKUS POCUS. Hoka One NAZ Elite take men’s open title, Boston Athletic Association second and Boulder Track Club third.

 

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Queens of the Golden Gate. Amy Van Alstine stands head and shoulders above the top 10 women finishers in the Open Women’s 6K.

 

 

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I Never Saw These Guys. But apparently they (and just about everyone else) beat me in the men’s masters 40+ 10K race. Bowerman Track Club, West Valley and Boston Athletic Association took the top medals.

 

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Best Moment of the Weekend. I had the privilege of listening to this legendary coach and the honor of shaking his hand when he completed his remarks. Coach Bob Vigil, who among other achievements, helped transform Deena Kastor into possibly the greatest American female distance runner of her generation, was featured in the national best-seller Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

 

My Alma Mater Wins NCAA Cross Country Championship??!!

I went to Syracuse University, a basketball school that also played football and has a pretty decent journalism school.  When those seasons inevitably ended without satisfaction, we turned our attention to the one sport we dominated– lacrosse.  As far as I knew then, those were the only sports offered at Syracuse.

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What do I have in common with these guys? We both went to Syracuse University. We also both ran cross country meets this year. They did a little better than I did. (Photo grab from NCAA video)

Apparently, I was wrong.  So wrong, I didn’t even know my alma mater had won a national championship in another sport until I found the news on Runnersworld.com while searching for my own feature article on the very same sport: cross country.   (Here’s my article, by the way.  It’s called Cross Country Romance and it’s about my deep abiding love for the sport, which I rediscovered by running my first race since before I even enrolled at Syracuse 35 years ago!).

So my congratulations are slightly belated, but very much in order to coach Chris Fox and the Orange for topping #1 ranked Colorado, the legendary program immortalized in one of running’s great books, Running With the Buffaloes. I have that book within arm’s reach as I write this and am thrilled to know that the Boys of Syracuse could go head-to-head with Coach Wetmore’s squad and win one for homegrown New York state runners like me.

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Orange is my favorite color. (Photo from SU Athletics)

Here’s the Runners Times article on the  historic victory, Syracuse’s first XC national championship in 64 years.