Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

2010 Highs and Lows and Bowl Picks update coming tomorrow. Ran out of time today due to some pool closing/hour issues Beth and I had. Can't believe the week off is already over!

Roxy's ready for 2011! She's got her party hat on!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Your Name... a song performed by a handful of Christian artists and is one of the songs we sing throughout the year at church (I have a nice version of it from the Itunes podcast, too). It was also weaved into the theme of tonight's Christmas Eve-Eve service (our church is pretty big, so it has two services on the 23rd too).

The reason why is that the pastor used his message to highlight the many names that we call Jesus. A handful of them come from one of my favorite verses in
Isaiah 9:6-7:

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

Throughout the service, families came up and shared a story of their life and summed up what word that Jesus meant to them. Things like father, patient, friend, and provider were given.

Then, he turned it to us and asked us to write a word or phrase that we felt described Jesus. For me:


That came to my mind as I thought about how, through highs and lows, when I'm close to God and when I'm not, Jesus and his love never change. That's reassuring to know he's always there.

One other thing that was used during the service was a video that was a 'facebook'-like story that captured What would happen if Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah were using Facebook in the times of Jesus Birth.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Monday, December 20, 2010

BCS Playoff Proposal - Year 3

Note: To see this year's proposal, follow this link.

In what has become an annual suggestion to the NCAA on my behalf, I present to you year three of my BCS playoff proposal (see year 1 and year 2 for more background).
The overall objective: To provide every single Division 1-A (aka FBS, whatever that means) football team the hope in August that, if they win all of their games, they will be in the national championship game. All teams, even those in the Sun Belt and Big East (sorry, too easy to take the shot) deserve this shot. Teams like Boise State and TCU will know that they can earn respect through winning in the playoff. Also, to finish the season before the spring semester of classes start.

Some of the parameters
*Everyone's regular season would need to end by November 20th (with non-BCS the weekend of the 13th so they could play their conference championship the weekend of the 20th), or the weekend before Thanksgiving. The Big Ten did it for years, so it can be done. Also, the teams in the "BCS Conference" Championships would then get a week off to rest up and prepare for their next game.

*The bracket is seeded after the regular season is completed, so I used the BCS rankings from BEFORE the conference championship games. The seeds are laid out so that you get a quarterfinal of 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, and 4-5. However, if a team is locked into a conference championship (like #4 Stanford vs Oregon), then their seed is skipped and you move on to the next one.

*BCS conferences championships are round of 16 games and played the weekend of December 2-4. Non-BCS conference championships are the weekend before and are played over Thanksgiving weekend.

*The four at-large teams (AL1 - AL4) are the top four teams according to BCS rankings that are NOT in a conference championship. I thought about making TCU an at-large, but figured it was best to keep them in a Mountain West Championship game.

*The five non-BCS conference champions are in the play-in round with the top four having home dates and the fifth (probably the worst rated team in the whole playoffs) playing at the best. For example, this year it would be Florida International playing at TCU.

Several notes to the plan:

*Most importantly, this format will need to be revamped over the next few years with all of the changes in conferences. However, it just solidifies the Pac-10 and Big Ten Championship games. Notre Dame would maybe get moved to the Big East group?

*If this were to happen this year the semi-final dates would need to be adjusted since Christmas is on the Saturday. Perhaps Thursday, December 23rd?

*What about the bowl games? Would they disappear? Since this playoff only involves 20 teams, there's still plenty of bowl-eligible teams to fill out many bowls. Also, give some of the bowl locations quarter-final or semi-final games? I still like the idea of sending at-large teams to non-BCS school home sites to give that home-field advantage to the conference champ.

*Still not sure how to seed the non-conference round winners. Does TCU play the winner of Miami (OH) (next worst non-BCS conf champ)-Michigan State (best at-large in round) or the winner of the Boise State (next best non-BCS conf champ)-Missouri (lowest at-large team)? Or do you just re-seed those after you see who wins? Regardless, the conference champion should get the home game to make it tougher on the BCS non-conference champion.

Over the weekend (before the games started), I thought it would be entertaining to pick the bowl games this year. I used to do this in high school, but haven't for a while. With Penn State being a little down this year, I have to admit I didn't watch as much college football as in years past. So, I figure why not pick games to see if I can do better than a coin flip. (I'm already only 2-1 vs the spread and 1-2 on the over-under). Spreads are from the as of Saturday 12/18.

So, here's some predictions sure to go wrong (and why I don't gamble). My selections are underlined.

Sat Dec 18BYU 12 Utep 50½ U
NO Illinois 1 FRESNO STATE 57½ U
TROY 2½ Ohio 57½ U
Tue Dec 21Louisville 3 SOUTHERN MISS 57 UWed Dec 22BOISE STATE 16½ Utah 60½ OThu Dec 23Navy 12½ SAN DIEGO STATEFri Dec 24HAWAII 10 Tulsa 73 USun Dec 26TOLEDO 2 Florida Intl 56 OMon Dec 27AIR FORCE 2½ Georgia Tech 56 O
Tue Dec 28
Missouri 1 IOWA 47 U
Wed Dec 29OKLAHOMA STATE 4½ Arizona 65½ U
MARYLAND 7 East Carolina 68 U
BAYLOR 2 Illinois 61½ O
Thu Dec 30SMU 9½ Army
Kansas State PK SYRACUSE 47½ O
North Carolina 2½ TENNESSEE 50 U
NEBRASKA 13½ Washington 52½ O
Fri Dec 31CLEMSON 4½ South Florida 40 O
MIAMI FLORIDA 3 Notre Dame 47 O
GEORGIA 7 Central Florida 55 U
SOUTH CAROLINA 3 Florida State 54½ O
Sat Jan 1TEXAS TECH 9 Northwestern 60½ U
FLORIDA 7 Penn State 47½ U
ALABAMA 10½ Michigan State 52 U
OKLAHOMA 16½ Connecticut 55 O
Mon Jan 3STANFORD 3 Virginia Tech 58 OTue Jan 4OHIO STATE 3½ Arkansas 57½ U
Thu Jan 6
MIAMI OHIO 1 Middle Tenn St 48 U
Fri Jan 7
LSU 1 Texas A&m 48½ O
Sat Jan 8PITTSBURGH 3 Kentucky 52 USun Jan 9NEVADA 9½ Boston College 55 OMon Jan 10AUBURN 3 Oregon 74 U

And, for even MORE entertainment, here's Beth's picks (which I'm guessing will end up better than mine! She's already 3-0)

Sat Dec 18BYU 12 Utep 50½
NO Illinois 1 FRESNO STATE 57½
TROY 2½ Ohio 57½
Tue Dec 21
Louisville 3 SOUTHERN MISS 57
Wed Dec 22
BOISE STATE 16½ Utah 60½
Thu Dec 23Navy 12½ SAN DIEGO STATEFri Dec 24HAWAII 10 Tulsa 73
Sun Dec 26TOLEDO 2 Florida Intl 56
Mon Dec 27AIR FORCE 2½ Georgia Tech 56
Tue Dec 28WEST VIRGINIA 3 NC State 48½
Missouri 1 IOWA 47
Wed Dec 29OKLAHOMA STATE 4½ Arizona 65½
MARYLAND 7 East Carolina 68
BAYLOR 2 Illinois 61½
Thu Dec 30SMU 9½ Army
Kansas State PK SYRACUSE 47½
North Carolina 2½ TENNESSEE 50
NEBRASKA 13½ Washington 52½
Fri Dec 31
CLEMSON 4½ South Florida 40
MIAMI FLORIDA 3 Notre Dame 47
GEORGIA 7 Central Florida 55
SOUTH CAROLINA 3 Florida State 54½
Sat Jan 1TEXAS TECH 9 Northwestern 60½
FLORIDA 7 Penn State 47½
ALABAMA 10½ Michigan State 52
OKLAHOMA 16½ Connecticut 55
Mon Jan 3STANFORD 3 Virginia Tech 58
Tue Jan 4OHIO STATE 3½ Arkansas 57½
Thu Jan 6MIAMI OHIO 1 Middle Tenn St 48
Fri Jan 7
LSU 1 Texas A&m 48½
Sat Jan 8PITTSBURGH 3 Kentucky 52
Sun Jan 9NEVADA 9½ Boston College 55
Mon Jan 10AUBURN 3 Oregon 74

For even MORE entertainment, post YOUR PICKS in the comments and see how we all fare. We could even make this a little pool. As in, donate $5 to the Alzheimer's Association to be considered for being named "THE CHAMPION" in a future blog post. Feel free to select all the games or maybe just from Jan 1 and beyond.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Running with a Bigger Picture

As can be seen in the right margin, I am teaming up with the Alzheimer's Association to help them raise funds for their charity. Their goal is to work on a global, national and local level to enhance care and support for all those affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

I'm sure it would be very moving to give this profound story of how my life and family has been deeply affected by Alzheimer's and how great it will be if they can find a cure for it. I know there are many of those kind of stories out there.

However, it's nothing like that. Actually, it boils down to I had nothing to do on a Saturday morning and I like Panera Bread. Beth was asked a few months back to join a support team as the dietitian for the Alzheimer's Association of Greater PA registrants participating in the Pittsburgh Marathon. So, along with a coach/trainer, owner of a running store, and a physical therapist, Beth is providing consultations to people in this group as the prepare for the race in May.

Being the great husband that I am (either that or the prospects of going to Panera Bread for a Cinnamon Crunch Bagel!), I joined Beth on that Saturday morning and sat in the back of the room to give moral support as she and the other presenters gave a short talk on their specialty for those interested in joining the "Alz Stars" marathon team.

During the time there I thought, "Hey - I'm doing the marathon. Why not sign up and raise money also?"

So, that's the story. Told you it wasn't life-altering. Just thought it would be rewarding to run for something beyond just myself as I challenge myself towards that sub-3:00 marathon.

But, what I do know is that I like to run, they were looking for people to represent their group, and I know that Alzheimer's is a very difficult and frustrating disease for family members because the patient is physically fine in a lot of cases, but just isn't there mentally.

I know I'm going to learn a lot more in my journey of marathon training and researching this disease. I hope you can join me on this journey. If you have any stories to share, please feel free to post them in the blog comments or to email me.

I also know it's the Christmas season and things are tight for everybody, but I think there's always room for giving selflessly for others. One practical way to look at it is that a donation before the end of the year can be written off as a non-profit charitable donation for your 2010 taxes.

So, if you can find it in your heart and wallet (even if it's $5 or $10), thank you and you can click here. If now's not the time, I'm sure you'll be reading about this again in my blog over the next five months and you can always click on the link in the right hand margin.

Thank you and may God bless you during the Christmas season as you bless others!

Note: BCS Playoff Proposal Year 3 coming later this week (here's year 1 and year 2). Also, a scintillating Pirates rumor I'm trying single-handedly to spread about a Texas Rangers infielder that is rumored to be on the trading block. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 6, 2010

On a Cold, Blustery Day Along the Montour Trail

Crossing the line first. What a feeling!

The closest I had come to this experience before was my senior year in high school where we had a cross country dual meet against perennial doormat Yough HS and our team ran it as a workout and we finished a 5-way tie for first. But, mind you I was the 5th man that year so they were pretty much waiting on me and going at my pace. In track, our 4x800m team won the county meet, but I was the 2nd leg (aka slow leg) so didn't have the experience of crossing the finish line there. Beth and I did this 10 mile race when we were down at Virginia Tech and crossed together for first, but I think there were maybe 50 people in the race.

So, onto Sunday's 5k and 10k. I told Beth going into the race that I feel like I've had a pretty good year of racing and I was pleased with how things went. This last race was just going to be a bonus if I did well. I was going to put all my eggs in the 5k and then see what was left over for the 10k. From looking at the times from last year, I thought I could maybe be near the top of the 5k, but you never know how the conditions were and how that could've affected the times.

All this factored in, I told Beth that I was just going to throw caution to the wind and go out right behind the leader and stay a few strides back of him for as long as I could. If I was then in a position to challenge at the finish, great. If we went through the first mile in 5:00 and I had to walk the rest of the race, whatever. It was the last race of the season and I had already accomplished all of my goals. I was going "all in."

The funny thing was, the race plan worked exactly as I had mapped out. The top runner went out and I hung a few strides back in 2nd. As can be seen back in the picture above, the conditions certainly were not ideal with the snow-covered path and the slightly uneven terrain of the rails-to-trails surface. I commented early on in the race that track spikes may have been appropriate for traction. Beside me was the top female (who finished 3rd overall in the race!) and not too far behind us was (of course) Racer X and a few others. We go through the first mile in just under 5:40 and I'm thinking so far so good this is doable.

We get to the 1.5mi turnaround and the female started to fall back a little. At the turnaround I size up the next people behind us and feel that they won't be a factor. So, it's just me and the guy in front of me now for 1.5 mi. I stuck to my plan and just stayed right behind him. We pass through the 2 mile at 11:40, so that means mile 2 was 6:00 pace. Now, I'm thinking that since mile 2 was 'easier' I just may have enough left to challenge him near the end. Exciting!

After another quarter mile or so I figure I should begin feeling out how much he has left. I pull up almost beside him on the left and he starts drifting left to cut me off on the narrow trail that could support maybe 3-4 across. I back off, wait a few seconds and then around the next curve try to tuck up along him to the right. He drifts back right and cuts off my path that way also. I hear him breathing hard, but not sure if that meant he was tired.

We come around the next bend and I see a mile marker flag in the distance--maybe a quarter mile away? I figure I should test him again and this time put a little surge on to see if I can put a gap on him. Onto the surge and sure enough he begins to answer.....but then starts to fall back a little. This is my chance! Maintain that surge to gap him!

Uh oh! I'm now in first place! I'm then coming up on what I had in my head the 3-mile marker banner and pick up the pace even more when.....CRAP! - I suddenly remember that the first banner I was going to see was the 6-mile marker for the 10k race. DOUBLE CRAP! I've got 0.2 to go to the finish instead of 0.1 and I've already started my kick. That's a big difference! The thoughts start racing--No looking back, just keep kicking. Sure, the legs are getting tired but this is your last race. Just finish it. He's getting tired too.

I then get to the ACTUAL 3-mile marker and he hasn't caught me yet. So, just keep kicking and focusing in on that finish line and the truck. I then see Beth and she gives me some words of encouragement. I was hoping to hear her say something like "He's so far back you've got it, just finish it." But Beth's spectathlete skills aren't quite as refined since she's usually the one racing (not to mention she had already done a 90-minute run and was standing out in the freezing cold in sweaty running clothes) and I think I received a "Finish strong." No urgency in her voice like the time I was doing my parametric calculations for Beth and her Kona-clinching finish at Eagleman. But, I just couldn't risk giving up 1st when I was so close.

A few more grunts and violent arm drives and I get to the line first in 17:56!

What do I do as I break the tape for my first ever victory?

A) Raise my arms in triumph?
B) Blow a kiss to the crowd?
C) Give a fist pump to the air?
D) Move off to the side and heave up breakfast?
E) Collapse in exhaustion?
G) Do the Blazeman roll?

Nope. Try option (H) - What I do at ever other race....hit my watch to get my finishing time. A true rookie mistake in my rookie tape-crossing. I guess I was too tired to soak it up at the line and was still scared that the guy was right behind me (turned out to be 15 seconds back). Oh well.

The winner of the 10k race later got the finishing pose right:

Mental note for next time......if there ever is a 'next time' crossing the line first in my career.

Okay, so it was a small race and most people are taking time off in December, but a win is a win I suppose. Also, while most of the other top people from the 5k RACED the 10k, my cousin K and I leisurely jogged the distance as an extended cooldown. We were chatting the whole time (probably to the disdain of the people around us). I even snuck in a wave and a smile for Beth the fan/photographer as we neared the finish.

So, all in all, an awesome day. K was the 3rd female overall in the 5k and even won her age group in the 10k. Way to go! It was cold and blustery, but sure was worth it! The only demoralizing part of the day was finding out that the 2nd place finisher I outkicked in the 5k turned out to be a 16-year-old high schooler from the area. The realization hit me later on the ride home that the kid was HALF MY AGE. Ugh! I'm getting old!

What a great way to finish the racing season. Now it's time for a little break and then (as I've been saying) begin to crank it up again in January to begin the journey of acheiving my marathon goals in Pittsburgh on May 15th.

I've also got some additional running goals in mind for next year that scope beyond just focusing on my marathon finishing time. Those are still in the works, but will definitely be passing those on in the near future and I look forward to expanding my experiences through these goals. Stay tuned....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Soggy Trot RR and the weekend

Normally they're called Turkey Trots. This one was a SOGGY Trot along the North Shore and Downtown. Upper-30's and LOTS of rain. But, it's the same weather for everybody (at least the 50% of the registrants that decided to show up), so onto the race.

After warming up (in the rain) but finding a dry covering by the FSN Pittsburgh studios building to stretch it was time for the race. Of course, when lining up, there were the usual suspects of people who SHOULDN'T be lined up in the first 5 or 6 'rows' of runners - the group of four wearing the elf costumes, the lady with the headphones and 80's warmups, the 'rookies' wearing their bright yellow Turkey Trot long-sleeve t-shirt for the race (a 'true' runner fashion faux pas), the couple with the turkey hats, and the list goes on and on....

The gun goes off and I weave around this group and settle in to see 'Racer X' (see background story for that) only a quarter mile into the race. I figure I'll just hang out on his hip for the first 5k and see how things go from there. The night before, I was studying the course map (so I wouldn't get lost again) and plugged it into to see where the mile markers were. Good thing I did because there were no mile markers on the course. So, I split my watch at about the points where I thought the mile markers were. I checked out the map after the race and adjusted my splits.

Anyway, the course is mostly flat other than going over the Clemente Bridge and back. So, it went out fast, but staying on Racer X's hip helped me stay under control for the first mile in front of Heinz Field and around PNC Park--5:50-5:55-ish. Up over the Clemente Bridge and hang a right past the KDKA studios over to the Boulevard of the Allies. The hands were pretty cold, but I figured wearing wet gloves wouldn't make much of a difference (other than being heavy) so the hands were bare for the race.

There's a turnaround around the two mile-ish mark by the old YMCA and I was able to see how many runners were ahead (though it didn't really matter yet since the 5k runners were with us still) and see who was behind. I saw Charlie among the group on their way back in his usual racing red top. It looked like there were 20 or 30 or so people ahead of me, but not much to learn from that yet.

We go back over the bridge (with Racer X still right around me) and hit the 3 mile mark. I was right around 18:00 at this point. The 5k-ers turned in to the finish by the home plate entrance to PNC Park while us 5-milers moved on to go around Heinz Field and turnaround at the casino.

In my vicinity, there was a group of three runners and then me and Racer X. I started sizing things up at the casino turnaround (mile 4-ish) and thought I felt pretty good considering the circumstances of the weather and everything. So, with about a half mile to go, I put a surge on before the final U-turn. I planted my foot hard at that turn and sprinted a couple of strides. Then, we had a right turn onto Art Rooney Ave and I planted the foot and sprinted a couple of more strides. Next thing you know, it was no longer about holding off Racer X but realizing that group of 3 in front of me just may be catchable. We make the final turn onto General Robinson St and I'm sizing up how far away PNC Park is off in the distance and how soon and how hard I should make my kick.

I go for it and pass the first runner, putting on a surge so he wouldn't hold on. This transitioned me right beside runner number two so I just kept it up and went past him. I'm closing in on runner 3 and laying it out there. Unfortunately, I didn't catch him by surprise because I think I let out a few grunts of effort in my attempts to close the gap on him. He looked over his shoulder, saw me, and put in an extra little kick to where I couldn't catch him.

But, it was a fun time trying to chase him down. We talked after the finish line and he was in town from Denver, Colorado visiting family. Real nice guy....and I couldn't believe from hearing the results that he won the masters division. I looked in the results when I got home and sure enough there he was. No way this guy was 42! But, I guess staying in shape pays off and makes you look younger.

The final tally was I ended up a soggy 30:43 on the chip (6:08 pace) good for 10th overall and 1st in my age group (30-39). The first picture is from the race website photos. It's funny because that diagonal copyright text flowed down the screen--very fitting analogy for how it rained all day.
Also, I posted the picture of the bobblehead award on facebook and it earned a description of 'creepy.' Can't say I disagree with that....especially when the head starts bobbling and those eyes seem to follow you around the room.

Another thing, I'm not a big fan of when the age group is 30-39 because the next number after 39 is 40 and that just seems OLD (just kidding and apologies to those great athletes already in their 40's--not that I'll mention names and call you out since you don't look like you're 40. You know who you are!). I'm real excited about a top 10 finish in this big of a race. Also, I was really happy about how the race played out. Staying conservative at the beginning and not getting pulled in by the top 5k people left enough in the tank for a strong half mile surge to the finish to pick up three spots. Other than the rain, a real fun, fast race and I'll definitely consider doing it again next year.

Congrats to all the people who toughed it out and showed up and raced in that weather including Charlie, Jeremy & Jocelyn, Tara, Shelly, and a handful of the students from my school. Up next, we're doing the Trot for Tots next weekend and then I'm going to shut it down for December before ramping it up in January for the Pittsburgh marathon.

I ended up sticking around for the awards, which of course weren't done in a timely manner despite there only being about 30 people standing there inside the PNC Park garage. I thought it would be most efficient to just ask each person still there to state their name and give each poor, soggy soul their award so we could go home to get dry and warm!!!, Although a little tighter on time than originally planned, I stopped at home for a really quick (and very HOT!) shower and, thanks to Beth's exemplary driving (that officer was targeting someone else for speeding!), we made it just in time for the Thanksgiving lunch at my parents house.

Then, Thursday night we went down to Uniontown to save a drive the next morning when they were calling for a wintry mix. After a nice, chilly (although thank goodness dry!) hour run around downtown Uniontown in the morning, we caught the Pitt-WVU game. What was up with those uniforms? I read something about it paying tribute to the miners and steelworkers, but...ugh!

We then went down to Fallingwater. That was my first ever time there. Pretty impressive structure. It would be amazing to live there in the summer and fall asleep to that running water every night.
After an amazing dinner at Nemacolin (Beth and I only managed to make ourselves look like country bumkins a handful of times), back home.

Saturday, we saw an amazing movie called '127 hours' about Aaron Ralston and his fight for survival after getting his arm pinned underneath a rock while hiking. I heard his interview on Dateline NBC a few years back and it was amazing to see that story be placed on the big screen. Amazing is all I can say. If you're looking for a Christmas present, he wrote a book telling the story. It's called 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place.' At least the man has a sense of humor with that title.

Back to school on Monday and the start of indoor track practice, but Christmas will be right around the corner I'm sure. That's how December usually works!

Good luck to Kim competing at IM Cozumel today!

Hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

This n'at

It's my offseason from coaching and other stuff, so nothing really noteworthy going on around here of late. However, might as well do a little post for the sake of doing one for the first time in a few weeks. So here's a little bit of ramblings about the Pirates

(Note: For non-Pirates related matter, skip down to the next heading)

*The Pirates hired a new manager in Clint Hurdle. Not that it'll make much of a difference. I say that in the sense that a great manager vs a poor manager will only make a 5-8 game difference. When you're the last-place team that doesn't help much. That said, I thought Hurdle was the best candidate for the job and there's only one way to go. It's a young team and should be improving. Also, maybe Hurdle can sway a free agent or two to come to Pittsburgh.

*I'll be interested to see what kind of moves the Pirates make this winter. There is a definite need for starting pitching, but a very thin market. They could also use a right-handed power bat in the mold of 2003-2004 Reggie Sanders.

*It's a shame to see Zach Duke, Delwyn Young, and Andy LaRoche be released but being good guys isn't enough to warrant remaining on the roster. Duke would've been making $5-6 million this year and have a 5-6 ERA. We'll see if he'd want to come back from $1 million or so. LaRoche had his chance at 3B and, while he played great defensively in 2009, he wasn't good offensively OR defensively at a corner position in 2010. Had the bat played, there would have been a spot for him (like Neil Walker) even with Alvarez coming up. Young was a nice bat off the bench, but didn't offer much more than that. A dime a dozen.

*Just for curiosity's sake, let's take a look at the starting lineups for the Pirates and the San Francisco Giants and tell me who you'd rather have going into 2011.

C - Buster Posey vs Ryan Doumit and Chris Snider. Just wanted to get the 4-hole rookie-of-the-year obvious one in favor of SF out of the way, but the rest of the argument is pretty compelling.
1B - Aubrey Huff vs Garret Jones. Huff, who will be 34, had a great 2010, but look at the average OPS over the past two years for the two players
2B - Freddy Sanchez vs Neil Walker. Sanchez will be 33 and is declining. Walker, 26, had an over .800 OPS and is still just learning second base.
3B - Juan Uribe vs Pedro Alvarez. No contest here - go with the raw middle-of-the-order power of Alvarez
SS - Edgar Renteria vs Ronny Cedeno. Only because Cedeno's not that good, would you pick the old has-been Renteria (who was so clutch in the playoffs). Can anyone say a 2007 model of Jack Wilson instead?
LF - Pat Burrell or Cody Ross vs Jose Tabata. Ross caught fire down the stretch but was just a September waiver trade. Burrell (and his contract) got released from fiscally conscious Tampa Bay. Take the youth and speed and potential of Tabata.
CF - Andres Torres vs Andrew McCutchen. Torres is pretty good, but McCutchen is getting close to being all-star material (16 HR, 33 SB, .814 OPS). Close call, but both are good options.
RF - Aaron Rowand vs TBD. Okay, but here's where the Pirates need to make a good move.

The moral of the story is that, from a batting order standpoint, the Pirates match up fairly well against the World Series Champs. HOWEVER, there's that little thing called starting pitching. Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner are ALL better than the Pirates' best starting pitcher. But, that's why I find no fault in the Pirates investing so much the last few years in the draft in high-end pitchers. It seems like you don't need a great offensive team (just an adequate one), but you NEED GREAT PITCHING. Talk to me in 2-3 years when the Pirates' rotation is made up of Morris, Locke, Owens, Tallion, Allie, Heredia, or maybe a few others. It's all about developing pitching.

One of the runners from our school is going to the Foot Locker regional meet in New York this weekend. He was inspired by his teammate from last year qualifying for and competing at Foot Locker Nationals. Since he's a junior, he's going into this race with an open mind, trying to gain experience to put him in a position to try to be top-10 next year. However, who knows, maybe this year...

So, since the rest of the team was resting up and getting ready for indoor track training to start in December, I volunteered to come a few times and workout with him to give him someone to train with. As with Rad last year, I enjoy training with these high-caliber athletes because it's a great challenge but also a good humbling exercise to keep in perspective my level of talent (or lack thereof). For example from this past week:

His workout - 6 mile long run
My workout - 6 mile TEMPO RUN (left wheezing up the final hill to the locker room)

His workout - 3x1600 working down towards 5:00
My workout - 3x800 (2nd half of his 1600's) holding on for dear life to run beside him even though he was going twice as far as me and I got extra rest

His workout - 9x400 in the 70's
My workout - 2 out of every 3 400's and I get to run in lane 1 while he's running in lane 2 (yet I still use his stagger)

But, it's fun and I'm hoping he has a great experience up there this weekend.

This training has been fun preparation for the Downtown Turkey Trot. I'm going for the 5-mile option and am excited to run this race for the first time. I've done the Greensburg Turkey Trot, but this'll be my first time dahn-tahn. I'll be sure to study this map a little closer than I did than my last race. The Turkey Trot is such a great idea to burn a few calories and have fun prior to feasting on some turkey and fixin's. It should be a prerequisite for Turkey day.

Congrats to JoePa on win #400. No coach will ever do that again. I'll be interested which Michigan State and which Penn State teams show up Saturday. MSU has a lot riding on the game, but they haven't won at Beaver Stadium since the inception of the Land Grant Trophy (aka concocted rivalry) when PSU came into the Big Ten. PSU looked equally impressive then embarrassing for stretches the last two weeks against Ohio State and Indiana. Who knows what kind of team will show up.

I'm getting ready to prepare my annual BCS Playoff proposal. Here's the ones from last year and the year before. It's all about giving every team in Division 1-A a chance when they start in August.

Congrats to Penn State (and Richmond men for Charlie!) on their performance at NCAA Cross Country Regionals and Nationals. Also, congrats to Etown men & women for top 15 performances at D3 Nationals.

The Steelers bounced back from the beating they took from New England. They handled the Raiders easily. I thought after the game against the Patriots they may start tanking. Too bad about Jeff Reed getting cut. It's a result league and he wasn't getting results (and he was running his mouth).

In other NFL news, I'm right on the bubble of making the playoffs in my fantasy football league. Who knew? If only I had a running back...

Prayers go out to Colt Brennan, his girlfriend, and the passenger in the other car from this accident in Kona on the Queen K just north of the airport (where Beth was riding last month). An interesting link for us is we met Colt Brennan's mother in Alabama when we were down there for Beth to compete in USAT Nationals. It was the Sunday morning after the race and we were eating breakfast in the hotel (yummy waffles) and she came up to us and said, "Do you know the score of the Redskins exhibition game from yesterday?" Since it was August and I was still in baseball mode, I said, "Sorry, I don't follow the NFL too close and just pretty much the Steelers." Well, it turned out the Redskins played the Steelers (oops!) and I was just uninformed. She introduced herself and told us how she was visiting relatives and on her way (either from or to) Texas to catch his next game. Very friendly woman and very humble about her son being talented NCAA quarterback trying to stick in the NFL.

Okay, that turned out long. If you can't sleep tonight, this just may do the trick. Good night!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Oh DEER, Oh BABY, what a weekend!

If you told me Thursday night that my weekend would be highlighted by a deer and a baby, I probably would've been stumped. Let's see....Pitt Calculus Meeting doesn't really involve deer (maybe a related rates problem?), the runners competing in Hershey are amazing and tough--no babies running at the state meet.

So....I think I left off with the great pasta and chicken parm we had friday night. yum! Race morning was the usual preparations. It was a cool, crisp morning (low 40's), but the sun was shining--perfect for racing!

(The hillside says PIAA--Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association--if you can't tell with the sun)

The girls raced at 10am so they were getting ready first. I mapped out my plan to try to catch the girls multiple times out on the back of the course. Things were going great. Our girls got out quickly and were in great position to achieve the top 10 finish we were shooting for....that is, until a little incident shortly after the 2 mile mark.

Our first four girls had gone by and I was cheering for them and snapping photos. Our 5th girl was approaching and I snapped a good shot of her. I was yelling something encouraging when I see a rustle in the bushes to the right. Next thing you know, a deer pops up and starts running towards the runners. This was about halfway out of the nearly 300 runners, so it was a pretty tight pack. Wouldn't you know it, out of all the runners, our girl was directly in the path of the deer.

I didn't get to snap a shot of the deer, so I "modified" the picture that I took seconds before the deer emerged to capture the essence of the situation. The deer just plowed through, drilling the girl in red from CB East (#362) and knocking over our girl (in yellow).

The result was the girl in red down in a heap with a bloody nose and our girl got the football equivalent of being 'ear-holed.' Here's an example I found on YouTube:

The coach in me kicked in for a split second, thinking if I go out there and help her, I may get her DQ-ed. However, realizing that a DEER JUST BLINDSIDED HER I figured I needed to see if she was okay.

Doing my best to stay within the rules (just because that's what I do) I moved her over to the side, careful not to assist her forward. I checked her out--no blood, just stunned and I'm sure dazed and confused about what just happened. Seeing she was now pretty coherent after some time (30-60-90 seconds???....time was standing still!!!!), I extended two fingers and asked her how many fingers I was holding up. She laughed and said, "TWO." So, I told her it was her senior year and that if she felt good, that she should finish the race. She said okay and went on her way just about at the back of the pack.

I see that the other girl (who ended up with not only the bloody nose, but also a concussion and a facial fracture) was being attended to by two other people plus the medical cart was coming. So, I made a mad dash for the finish hoping I did the right thing by sending Shannon on her way. Turns out that she is a machine. Not only did she finish the race, she passed back our 6th and 7th runners (who passed her during the minute or so I was checking her out) and ENDED UP OUR 5TH RUNNER! If that isn't tough I don't know what is!!!!

Here's an article that talks about the deer. Apparently, the deer were in several places during that girls race. To sum that up--surreal.

As the picture shows, all survived the race!!! So, to come off of that (after talking the newspaper guy, retelling the story to all the parents and coaches, and still trying to wrap my head around seeing that deer plow through the crowd of runners), now to get ready for the boys' race.

Going in, we were hoping to be in the top 8-10 with a chance of getting a little higher with a good day. I round up the JV and alum guys who came out to watch the race and we head out to our spot on the course. We see the guys go by about a half mile in and they are in solid position (not that you can really tell and count places that early in a race). They head into the woods, pass the mile mark, emerge from the woods, cross a little bridge and the leaders approach us......wait a minute, who's that in the lead? That's our guy!! Gutsy start to the race!

Talking to him after the race, he said things settled in a little too much for him and he felt good so he went for it. It was a good race for him and he ended up 14th overall. The team ended up 7th, but only 11 points out of fourth. That's each runner passing two guys in the home stretch.

The exciting part is that we only had 1 senior in the top 10 of our team, a handful of freshmen knocking on the door of varsity this year (who will only get a year stronger), a sophomore who was going to be our #2-4 runner out with a stress fracture, and some 8th graders who rewrote the middle school XC record book coming next year. Exciting!

Also, amid the chaos, I found out at the awards ceremony that North Allegheny won the boys AAA team title. Congrats to the New York Yankees of the WPIAL!

I also caught up with Elizabethtown College XC and T&F head coach Chris Straub (posing with a couple of great XC playoff beards!!!!!). He started at Etown right when I left for Penn State and has done an amazing job. Something like 10 out of the past 12 conference championships for the men and 4 in a row for the women. If you know someone interested in running at the division 3 level, it doesn't get much better than Etown (plus they're great academically and socially).
They'll be up at Cooper's Lake (where WPIAL's was) for the D3 regional meet this Saturday. Beth and I will be up at Penn State to watch the Nittany Lions at their regional championship and meet up with some other friends.

Oh, by the way, after the race, I then went southward to Maryland to visit my sister and her husband to see my new nephew!!!
Oh by the way #2: JoePa won his 400th game as my dad and I were listening to it on the way home from Maryland (XM radio was never more useful!). Definitely a historic milestone that will never be reached perhaps ever again.

So, I don't know what this weekend in Happy Valley has in store when we go up for regionals, but I can't imagine it topping the excitement of this past weekend. But, I guess stranger things have happened.....

Friday, November 5, 2010

Winning Whirlwind Weekend

Lots of stuff going on this weekend.

Friday morning, I was down at Pitt for a Calculus teacher get-together. We talked about policies and guidelines for teaching our Pitt-affiliated College in High School Calculus (aka Calc 1, the first semester of college Calc, AP AB Calc). We then had two speakers. The first had a talk on proving Pascal's Triangle and the Binomial Theorem. The second was on looking at volume of a ball in the 4th dimension and beyond. That's right, 4th dimension. Made my head spin.

Then, on the road to Hershey to meet up with the XC teams. I didn't quite get a chance to meet up with them to run the course, so I met them at the hotel for the team dinner. We had a little get together and then tomorrow's race day! Good luck to MB and Jay on getting their runners to the State Championship. It's going to be a little chilly (around 40 degrees), but should be a great day!Below is a picture of Rad and the top boys from the AAA race last year.

Then, from Hershey, off to Maryland to meet up with my parents because my sister had her baby! Congrats Daph and Taruan and welcome to the world, Damian Jovani Matthews! Aunt Beth and Uncle Oscar has a ring to it!

So, time for some sleep and then the big day of racing and baby-visiting Saturday.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Heading in the Right Direction

So a funny thing happened along the way between mile 9 and 10 in the race this morning....

Before getting to that, to recap the last few days.

Thursday, both the boys and girls XC teams each finished 3rd and earned berths to the state championship in Hershey next Saturday.

This is a picture of the girls. The exciting thing is that there is one senior in our top 6. On the boys' side, there was only one senior, too. The makings of a solid foundation for next year!

Friday night, we went to the high school football game--my first I've attended (listened to many online) since I started there five years ago. Both teams were undefeated in the section and our Blue Devils beat the hated rival Panthers from Kari M's school.

Then, on to the race on Saturday. It was a chilly morning (about 35 degrees). Beth came out to offer her support since she's just starting to get back in the swing of things after Kona. My cousin K came out to do the 5k and I was doing the 10-miler. The topography of map my run made it seem not too bad. Not so fast my friend. It was either up or down. No killer hills, just lots of little ones....and the mile uphill from 7 to 8.

There were people at just about every turn, guiding you to head left or right. Until the final turn. Nobody there. You see, as illustrated in the picture below, I THOUGHT the 10 miler was going to finish like the 5k. However, we came out on to Beaver Grade Road where I needed to take a left. I make the right, and start opening it up down the hill (only a half mile to go, right?) when I see two racers who were in front of me coming back up the hill.
I think, "uh oh." As I'm approaching them I say, "Is this the wrong way?" They say, "We think." So, I throw it into reverse and try to follow them in. All told, probably about an extra half mile. Oh well. It didn't really affect the finishing places, just some of our times. It was crazy that those two guys ended up independently making the same error as me. After the race, I cooled down and went back to see what went wrong. The intersection wasn't marked at all. However, there was NOW a police car guiding the runners to turn right. In the end, 1:07:10 for 10 (and a half) miles, good enough for 6th place. Congrats also to Karen for a 5k win!
Time for a fun week of preparations for the kids for the state XC meet. Countdown to Hershey!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Post-Triathlon Season

My triathlon spectathlete (spectator/athlete for those who were wondering) duties are wrapped up for the year. Since we've been back, I've been playing a lot of catch-up (especially on sleep) and enjoying the meat of the cross country season.

The Wednesday through Friday back at school were interesting. Trying to get up to speed on what the students did while I was gone and trying to keep pace with the other teachers who teach those courses was interesting. Waking up wasn't too bad (I thought it would be rough to wake up at "11pm" Hawaiian), however I hit the wall each of those days on my drive home from work. I was struggling to keep the eyes open and tried everything from blasting music, singing at the top of my lungs, listening to political debates, having debates with myself, and calling Beth. Ultimately, I made it home each day in one piece, and (after getting 10+ hours of sleep each day of the weekend), I felt back on track last week and this week.

On the cross country front, our district meet (precursor to the state meet) is this Thursday. Where did the season go? Next Saturday's the state meet already!! I am ready as I've got my XC Playoff beard in tip-top shape.

They're calling for sun, wind, and highs in the upper 50's. Just about perfect! The top 4 teams qualify and I think both our boys and girls have decent shots of making it. That would be fun to have both teams make it, but we shall see. That's why the run the race! The district JV race was Monday in the POURING rain. Ugh! It's fun watching the younger kids go out and compete and have the day be about them. Those are the future stars. Just for the record, North Allegheny is loaded on JV and could probably field about three teams at WPIAL's and qualify them all for the state meet.

In other news, I'm signed up for a 10-miler this weekend. The race website describes the course as "Some challenging hills mixed with mildly rolling paved roads around the Cherrington Office complex and the roads around Moon Township." This is making me worry that it's going to be some crazy course (like the end of the Frigid 5). Then, to compound things, I've been going into the race thinking that I'd like to shoot for 6-minute pace when I see the winner the past two years (my archnemisis Racer X) has won the race in 1:03. Hmmmm.

So, I did a little research to see how bad the hills really were using I compared the following course's elevations:

1) Martha's Run 10k
2) A loop near our house that starts up in "The Heights" and goes down to the river and back
3) The Frigid 5-miler (with the crazy hill at the end)
4) The Harvest Moon Run 10-miler

So, this eased my concerns about the hilliness of the course, but I still wonder why the times aren't all that fast. Regardless, I guess I'll just get out there and compete and let the time take care of itself.

After this, I may do a Thanksgiving day race and/or a race the 1st weekend of December. Then, a little time off for cross-training before ramping up the training for the Pittsburgh Marathon in January.

A fellow teacher (and fellow strong Pirates supporter) forwarded me this link about a Pirate fan who placed a $20 bet against the Pirates every game this past year and ended up making a 9.8% return on investment. I put on FB that I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or try the investment strategy next April. That's an ROI that would even impress Marty the investor! If you look at the excel sheet linked in the article, you can be really entertained. Okay, if you like math, money, and followed the Pirates all year you would like it. Had the Pirates not put on a mini-surge in September, he would have even made more. Alas, one of these years they'll be relevant...

Looking forward to the World Series starting Wednesday and I'll break out my baseball tie my sister-in-law got me a few years back.

I'm excited to see Cliff Lee throw a few more times. I heard this stat on the radio that Cliff Lee has 4 postseason games where he's struck out double digits and walked NONE. In postseason HISTORY (since 1903), only two other pitchers have done it ONCE!! And to think the Indians offered him as part of a package deal for Jason Bay. Sigh. Josh Hamilton is a great story, too, if you haven't heard it before.

I guess I was pulling for a Tampa Bay-Philadelphia final, but this should be fun, too. All the pitching that San Francisco has should match up well against Texas. And, how about mediocre and expendable Pirates reliever Javier Lopez becoming the dominant left-on-left reliever against the Phillies? Who knew?

Off to catch up on a few more things I haven't gotten around to in the last few weeks....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To Sum Up The Kona Experience

Here was Beth's day:

with my amateur video capturing her finish

Here was my day:

Of course, if I left it at that, this would be a fairly boring entry. So.....

Where did I leave off?

Ah, yes, Seattle. I got in a nice 4 mile run in the morning and then trekked back across the street to SeaTac Airport. I was very impressed with the area and the organization of the airport (except the security lines). Of course, since I was in Seattle, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to purchase something at Starbucks. However, I'm not a coffee drinker, so I went for the smoothie option.

The flight across the Pacific went off without a hitch and I was in Kona around noon (Hawaiian). We stopped off at the most-popular Lava Java for some food and then went over to the expo. There, we swung by the MAO tent and I finally got to meet Mark Allen in person. Not being a big triathlon participant myself, it wasn't that lifetime memory or anything. However, the man is the Michael Jordan of his sport and you've got to respect that.

Back to the home for the rest of Thursday afternoon and I tried to take a nap to help adjust to the time. However, the Welcome dinner went on until almost 9pm (3am for me as of 24 hours previously) and, as you can see in the photo, I don't know how coherent I was for this.

Friday was pre-race day. I ran with Beth and ran a little further as she did a short bike workout. We then went over to the Kona pier and I had a chance to swim there. That was amazing seeing how clear the water was--seeing the coral, swimming among the fish. After a pasta dinner courtesy of Beth's mom, it was off to bed for the early wakeup call.

Race morning, I dropped off Beth and her mom near the pier on Palani and then drove back to park by Lava Java. I met up with them, we got our morning photos and then the pros went off and then the mass of age-groupers went off.

In addition to Beth's parents, I was joined by some other Pittsburgh area spectathletes--the significant others of Chad and Matt (and Kristen's sister). They came ready to represent the burgh with the shirts and the terrible towels.

After we saw everyone go past on the bike out to the Queen K, we went our separate ways. Beth's mom and I went over towards Lava Java. It was packed so we went next door to U Top It and set up information tracker headquarters (not to mention eat some food!)

As they came back from the bike we went out to Alii Drive outside of Lava Java (Mile 1 & 9-ish). Our setup can be summarized below with the spectathletes cheering and shooting photos.

Matty Mo was soaking it all in, stopping for some hi-fives and a kiss for his lovely wife.

Beth and the crew went back to the finish before midnight to cheer in the final competitors. I wanted to go, but my body started revolting. I slept almost as soon as we got Beth home from the race. She tried to get me to go, but I remember making my argument to her about how I just couldn't muster up the energy to go as my eyes were closing shut. I know--pretty weak. Something I'll have to improve upon if Beth makes it back.

The day after the race, we had a chance to swing by a beach, take our underwater camera, and do some fun swimming. Beth even snapped a shot of a turtle!

Then began the long trek home: Kona-San Jose-2 hour layover-overnight to Atlanta-1.5 hour layover-Pittsburgh. We made it home!

Some summary statistics:

6 days for this trip
6 cities stopped in (PIT-CHI-SEA-KOA-SJ-ATL-PIT)
4 beds slept in (if you include the airplane seat on the redeye back)
7 smoothies consumed
5 trips to Lava Java
1.75 books read
71 tests graded on the airplane (very cramped!)
1 turtle spotted
1 fellow teacher spotted impersonating an evil villian at the Chicago airport (see the Make-a-Wish foundation)

We traveled from the NLDS winner (San Francisco) to the loser (Atlanta)
On Wednesday, I was fortunate to hit my layover in Chicago out perfectly to witness innings 5-9 of Roy Halladay's no hitter (my first ever one I've seen live)
Hundreds of pictures taken

Great job to Beth, Chad, Matt, Jeremy, Jocelyn, and everybody else out there who can now call themselves an IRONMAN!

To sum it up, a marvelous time!