Monday, September 27, 2010

Great Morning, Great Race

Great Race number three is under my belt and I'll definitely say it was a successful morning. I didn't hit my PR from two years ago, but I was pretty close. The weather was near perfect, starting out in the upper 40's/lower 50's when I went out to walk Roxy the Dog in the morning and was probably in the upper 50's at race time.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me throw in the obligatory disclaimer about the downhill topography of this course. It's a point-to-point course that has a layout like so:
I drove straight to the starting area and did the usual pre-race rituals. I met up with my cousin K and Uncle J after they got dropped off. After a pit stop, we set up camp at my car and did our warmup. Now, the lines at the port-o-jons at the Great Race are typically expansive, so when K and I found a construction site (with port-o-jon and no other people to form lines) during our warmup AWAY from the start, we took full advantage of it. We finished the jogging and stretching and off to the start line.

Since I didn't race last this year and didn't have any speedy 10k times to submit, I was back in the unseeded area. But, from my experience three years ago I knew exactly how to weave up to the front of it and put myself in a position to be right behind the seeded runners.

However, I must say I am still dismayed at the 50-year-old ladies (with headphones!!), 250-lb 'corporate' guys with cell phones, runners who "were" fast, and little kids that line up right near the start.

Dudes! Congrats on getting in line early and being near the front, but you're about to get run over unless you get out at sub-6:00 pace! I had this 60 or so year old guy beside me ask me why some of the people got to be in front of the yellow tape (oh, my friend, if you're asking that you REALLY shouldn't be standing beside me). Yoi!

With the record crowds (14,000 between the 5k and 10k), there was about a 10 minute delay getting everybody across the start line and up the hill to the back of the pack.

Finally, it was race time!

The gun goes off and I weave around a few people, but was in my rhythm by the first hill into Squirrel Hill. I catch K (the big time seeded runner) a little before the first mile and wish her good luck (not that she needed it with the day she had!).

Mile 1 came and went in 5:46. (2008 I was 5:33 and 2007 I was 5:59 with a lot of weaving). Right about where I wanted to be. Now, for the downhills to commence to Oakland.

Mile 2 was 5:33 (5:22/5:32 in 08/07) and find that I'm sighting off the seeded women to give me some targets among the hundred or so people ahead of me. Work hard to catch up to one and then set sights on the next one.

Mile 3 flattens out into Oakland and was 5:59 (5:57/6:05) so 17:18 through 3 miles and probably around 18 or so for the 5k.

Mile 4 takes us past Presby (Beth's work hangout) and towards the Boulevard of the Allies. Still feeling good and split a 5:29 (5:30/6:04) with 3 more females ahead of me.

Mile 5 goes up the Boulevard of the Allies past Duquesne University and is the only true uphill of the course and I wanted to keep it under 6 minutes...and I did--5:55 (5:57/6:30).

Mile 6 arrives after a plunge down to downtown and a couple of 90-degree turns to get out near the river. I pass the #2 and #1 females and split a 5:25 (5:42/5:50). The last two years I started developing stomach cramps in the last mile. Fortunately they didn't show up this year and I was able to breathe normal and it showed up in the time.

I pass Beth just past the 6-mile mark and then bring it in to the finish. With it being a point-to-point, nearly straight-line course, there wasn't much spectating for Beth to do. However, she made the most of her one chance by being really visible leaning over the fence, cheering loud, and snapping this great action photo.
So, finishing time on my watch of 35:15, but I guess I musn't have started my watch exactly when I crossed over the starting mats because the computers had me listed as 35:20. Regardless, not too far off of my 35:07 from two years ago. Good enough for 5:41 pace, 44th overall out of 7958 finishers, and 9th in my age group out of 570 finishers. I was hoping to be under 6:00 pace and be in the low 36:xx neighborhood, so I'll take it.

I wasn't sure how it would go since I wasn't training with the XC boys every day this year. But, coming off the solid half ironman training from the summer and I was pretty consistent with either running or swimming in the mornings 3-4 times/week and long runs with Beth on the weekend (In fact, I had a 1650yd pool PR last week and I'm getting close to cracking 30 minutes!!). I guess that showed up in my splits, not faster for the first half, but a great finish. If you go with 18 minutes-ish for the 5k, that's a negative split. I'll definitely take that.

K had a huge PR and finished in the top 10 females!

We also had 8 teachers from my school (plus another 5 or so from other schools in the district and another 5 or so wives/daughters/etc) that ran and a lot of them had great days also, hitting PR's and time goals. We had these big plans to rondezvous for a group photo after the race, but the whole 10,000+ people derailed that and we were only able to snap a shot of a fraction of the group.
A big congrats to the gal in the middle who went from not really running since high school, to running 55+ (9 minute pace) two years ago, to running the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009, to having a kid, and coming back to run 50:03 (8 minute pace). Great job!

One other loose end to tie up.....Racer X took me down 22 seconds. I never really saw him ahead of me during the race because of all the people, but Beth saw him and told me about it after I finished. He was 8 places ahead of me. Oh well, maybe next time.

Once we got our cars and stuff, we met up with K and Uncle J (and the spouses) for lunch at Mad Mex. Yum! We took some post-meal photos, lining up all kinds of different combinations. It was starting to feel like a wedding photo shoot!!! Here's a just a small sample:
The three racers.
The "kids"

The quads were a little sore today, but that's to be expected with the downhills. The high school guys were doing some crazy 400 repeats today. One of them asked me if I was joining them for the workout today. I laughed and grabbed a stopwatch and told them I was just being "coach" today.

6 days until Beth leaves for Kona. 9 for me. 12 until the big race on the big island!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Arch Nemisis

With the season debut of my favorite TV show, The Big Bang Theory, coming up Thursday night (8pm CBS), I thought I'd take a little spin off of the show and apply it to my 10k on Sunday.

Hey, it sure beats me complaining about my pre-race hypochondria and lack of sleep.

Back in season 2 (I can't believe season 4 is starting and it's lasted this long), Sheldon--the brainy Physics PhD grad student--enters into some card playing-type game tournament. The opposing team in the final includes Will Wheaton (of Star Trek fame, not sure which "generation" --never really got into that sci fi tv genre).

Anyway, Sheldon the know-it-all has the game won. He then tells Wheaton why he has had this decade-long built up angst toward him (didn't show up at some Star Trek convention when Sheldon attended one back in his youth). Wheaton goes on to say that the reason he wasn't there was because his grandmother was sick. Sheldon feels bad that he held this resentment all these years when there was a legitmate excuse.....or so he thought. Sheldon relents and lets Wheaton's team win. As he's placing the winning card, Wheaton tells Sheldon he made up the whole story and his grandma's fine. You can relive that on Youtube I think here. (Couldn't embed the video due to copyright issues)

Then, near the end of season 3 last spring, Wheaton returns as the arch nemesis during a bowling competition.
More laughs I think you can see here. Wheaton says to Sheldon (pointing to Sheldon's forehead), "I'm living rent-free up there." since he was clearly in Sheldon's head. Wheaton also says, "It's on," to which Sheldon replies under his breath as Wheaton walks away, "Oh you're wrong, it was never off."

Throughout both episodes, Sheldon will growl out with teeth clenched, "Willlllll Wea-tonnnnnn."

So reliving this teeth-clenching scowling of hated people's names made me think about how, in racing, just about everybody has come across a similar "arch nemesis." You know the person I'm talking about--they always finish right around you, usually beating you. Things always seem to come so effortless to them while you feel like your laying it all out there and still coming up short.

Well, I've discovered my arch nemesis over the past year. Let me give you the data on a person I'll just call "Racer X" to conceal the identity (not that he probably even knows who I am):

1/10/10 Frigid Five Miler: Racer X 5th place……me 6th, 13 seconds behind.

3/10/10 Martha’s Run 10k: Racer X 4th……me 5th, 13 seconds behind (isn't that crazy being the same time?).

4/25/10 Burgh’s Pizza & Wings 10k: me 5th……Racer X 6th, 32 seconds behind…but the disclaimer is that he also ran the 5k there about 30 minutes previously before the 10k and I was “fresh.”

Also, he ran the Philly Marathon last year. His 10k split – 38:29. Mine 39:02. Before I fell apart around mile 20, my half was 1:23:11. Racer X’s half was- 1:24:07. Needless to say after my hamstring siezures, he finished ahead of me that day, too.

So, my goal on Sunday is to finish ahead of Racer X. I'll try to spot him early, key off of his pace, and try to outkick him at the end. Who knows if he's even doing the race, but since he usually does like 2 races a weekend (included 3 or 4 marathons a year), I'm guessing he'll be there. AND I'LL BE WAITING FOR YOU, RACER X!!!

Actually, it's more amusing than anything, but just funny how I've been around him in recent races. My actual goals are to try to get under 6:00 pace (how far under, who knows?) and have fun watching our contingent of 10 or so teachers/family members from my school all shooting for PR's.

In other news, with their win on Tuesday night, the Pirates won 4 in a row for the first time since August of 2009. Ouch. Hopefully next year will be a little better with the core in place.

The xc teams had a good invitational up at Slippery Rock last weekend (albeit with a smaller field).

This weekend, we're heading out to Carlisle for an overnight trip to an invitational and a chance to see some teams from central and eastern PA.

Pictures and updates from the Carlisle/Great Race weekend to come...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Videogames in School?

I'm going to go a little off the board here from the normal sports, faith, and eating topics and delve into an interesting article I read today about a school in NYC that is utilizing video games to spearhead their instruction. Being a big-time sports videogame guy from the Nintendo days up until I got too busy the last year or two, I found it very interesting.

So, first my background and then I'll dive into some of the interesting points in the article. First of all, I was one of those kids who played hours upon hours of video games in middle school and high school and then when I had time in college. If there was a time in the summer back in the day when I had nothing going on, I could milk a good 4-6 hours playing games. Ah, those were the days.

Now, for me, sports were my genre of preference. I never really got into the shooting or adventure games. It started with Nintendo Baseball, RBI Baseball, Bases Loaded, and Baseball Stars (where I first developed my love for keeping statistics). Also in other sports 10-yard fight, Tecmo Bowl (1 and 2), Nintendo Hockey, Blades of Steel, and Double Dribble.

Then, I moved up to the Sega and got into the Madden, NHL (Mario & co.), and NBA (go Sean Elliott!) series. There was also a Bill Walsh College football that had top teams in history including (my favorite) the 1986 PSU Team. After that came the Playstation and more Madden, MLB, and NHL. The best was the college days when my roommate/best man John and I would play on the same team in Madden and block for each other. It was all about the teamwork!

Most recently, I got games for my computer (MLB, Madden, and Tiger Woods Golf) and loved the chance to create football teams and had an entire 'league' of college teams (uniforms created and all) in my Madden game. I never really got into the online world of gaming though. I just liked to sit down and take on the computer when I had the time.

So, take all that background and factor in my graduate work in HCI and recent summer work with a math education software company here in Pittsburgh (
Carnegie Learning), one could see how this article piqued my interest. An English teacher I was covering for during a period today showed me this article on her computer. She said that the leader of the entire project was a college teammate of hers back in the day (small world).

The goals of using the video games with the students is to better prepare them for the world of the 21st century. One of the tasks was playing video games to improve motor skills, spatial awareness, and collaboration. But, also, they had to develop games (some board games other video games) and this is where their creativity and understanding of establishing rules came to the front.

From the teacher side, I feel that currently in school we are cornered into meeting curriculum standards and our schedule is books from day 1 to day 181. To have this freedom to explore and learn would be exciting. I think it's great to be able to integrate all the different disciplines (math, communication, art, history, science) all at the same time. The current high school model does not really permit for full-blown collaborations between disciplines.

The other thing I always try to tell the kids is that you're not going to walk down the street or at your job and have someone say, "Quick, can you solve 3x+7=34." Rather, you're going to be solving, brainstorming, having successes and failures, and you need to be able to communicate your solutions and analyses to others.

Some of the interesting lines in the article included:
(Page 2)Salen (the teacher's friend) and Torres are at the forefront of a small but increasingly influential group of education specialists who believe that going to school can and should be more like playing a game, which is to say it could be made more participatory, more immersive and also, well, fun.

...while students at the school are put through the usual rigors of studying pre-algebra, basic physics, ancient civilizations and writing, they do it inside interdisciplinary classes with names like Codeworlds — a hybrid of math and English class — where the quests blend skills from different subject areas.

(Page 3) Salen’s theory goes like this: building a game — even the kind of simple game a sixth grader might build — is equivalent to building a miniworld, a dynamic system governed by a set of rules, complete with challenges, obstacles and goals. At its best, game design can be an interdisciplinary exercise involving math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. If children can build, play and understand games that work, it’s possible that someday they will understand and design systems that work. And the world is full of complicated systems.

(Page 6)Not only has excessive gaming — much like excessive TV watching — been associated with obesity and depression, but playing violent games has been linked in some studies to an increase in aggressive behavior. Advocates of game-based learning concede that these games can be spectacularly gory, amoral and loud, even when they are artful and complicated.

Brain researchers have found that playing first-person shooter games like Call of Duty does seem to have some neurological benefits, including improving peripheral vision and the ability to focus attention. The playing of shooter games has also been shown to enhance something called visual-spatial thinking — for example, the ability to rotate objects in one’s mind — which, it turns out, is a cognitive building block for understanding concepts in science and engineering.

" working through the levels of a complex game, a person is decoding its “internal design grammar” and that this is a form of critical thinking. “A game is nothing but a set of problems to solve,” Gee says. Its design often pushes players to explore, take risks, role-play and strategize — in other words putting a game’s informational content to use.

(Page 7) “Ten years ago, it would have taken a week to get kids to learn the difference between ‘save’ and ‘save as,’ ” he (Doyle) said. “Now I show them GarageBand” — a digital audio sequencer produced by Apple — “and five minutes later they’re recording and editing sound.” Doyle made a point that others had also made: whatever digital fluidity his students possessed, it hadn’t been taught to them, at least not by adults.

As Doyle saw it, his role was moving from teaching toward facilitating, building upon learning being done outside school. He talked about all the wasted energy that goes into teaching things that students don’t need so much anymore, thanks to the tools now available to them.

Then he went back to podcasting, saying that after a student has written, revised, scripted and recorded a podcast, “it’s just as valid as writing an essay.”

“We feel like we’re preparing these kids to be producers of media — whether they become graphic designers, video designers, journalists, publishers, communicators, bloggers, whatever,"

(Page 8) This concept is something that Will Wright, who is best known for designing the Sims game franchise and the 2008 evolution-related game Spore, refers to as “failure-based learning,” in which failure is brief, surmountable, often exciting and therefore not scary....“Failure in an academic environment is depressing. Failure in a video game is pleasant. It’s completely aspirational.”

“If you think about kids in school — especially in our testing regime — both the teacher and the student think that failure will lead to disaster,” he says. “That’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll never get to truly deep learning.”

Interesting stuff to think about as a teacher. How can we best prepare the students to be successful thinkers out in the world.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An Amusing Weekend at Cedar Point

Couldn't resist the pun!

The weekend started with Beth heading out Friday for the Rev3 Half Ironman at Cedar Point. I stuck around here because we had our first big XC invitational Saturday Morning.

As far as the XC Meet, we had a good start to the season. The race was PACKED--60 teams and you were allowed up to 10 runners per team in the varsity race. Almost too much for Schenley Park to handle. The teams did well. Both the boys and girls teams are pretty young so I'll be excited to see the team grow through the season and see how things work out at WPIAL's. Also, a local Elizabethtown College alum T joined me at the meet to help me do some recruiting/selling of Etown's academic and XC/track merits to the kids on the team. Along the way, she also got a small taste of the patented Shutt coach/spectathlete hill repeat workout regimen to mile 1 and back (x 4 races).

The awards wrapped up after the varsity and JV races and then I hit the road for Ohio to meet up with Beth. It was kind of weird missing all of the pre-race itinerary (packet pickup, driving the course, checking in the bike, etc.). However, it worked out for me to arrive just in time for dinner at Olive Garden. How convenient! I consumed a "pedestrian" two bowls of the never ending pasta bowl and we went back to the hotel to watch the PSU game.
The Tide sure did roll in their 24-3 victory. I was very split in the result of the game. Yes, they didn't score much and 'Bama's O-line pushed the Lions around a lot and Richardson was a man among boys as he broke many, many tackles. In spite of that, they went early into the 4th quarter with it being a two-score game. In fact, had PSU not turned the ball over FOUR TIMES (and three on Alabama's side of the field) perhaps it could have even been a closer game. So, hopefully JoePa, Frosh QB Rob Bolden, and the gang took away some good lessons to apply for when they head on the road to top-10 foes Ohio State and Iowa.

Okay, back to the race, Beth and I did our usual early morning wakeup call Sunday and went over for her to get the transition area set up. But, then we had some time to kill as the half IM-ers didn't go off for an hour or so after the full IM-ers. I caught a quick little nap in the car and then we went down to the start where I snapped a shot of Beth with the coasters and rides in the background.

Beth's wave starts and there's so much to do--start the watch so I can keep track of her time throughout the day, snap a shot on the good digital camera, and snap a shot on the cell phone camera to upload to Facebook of course. This picture is from Kim's husband, Kyle, who was standing on the other side of the start from me. Gee, can you find the guy with the bright yellow jacket and a camera in both hands?

Beth comes in from the swim and I counted her as 5th or so.

She leaves for the bike and I've got a couple of hours to kill. Our hotel, the EconoLodge (awesome hotel and super-friendly manager who let us come back and shower at 2:30pm after we had already checked out!!) had a waffle maker with their breakfast and it obviously wasn't available at 4:30am. So, I worked my way back over to the hotel and had a yummie waffle and OJ.

After checking some stuff on the internet and letting the waffle digest, I went and drove into position on the run course around Mile 4 because I knew I'd be able to see Beth a bunch of times as the course zig-zagged back and forth on the streets of Sandusky.

My plan was then to sneak in a long run. The weather was perfect (cool) for a long run and I was excited to have mile markers. So, I figured I'd try to run a decent tempo for 10 miles. Definitely decent enough for me as I ended up sub-7:00 pace. The legs are coming back just in time for the Great Race in a few weekends! I cooled down for a mile, grabbed some Gatorade and Powerbar from the car, and positioned myself to see the half IM-ers stroll past. The top men come past and then here comes Beth leading the way for the women. Kim was then just a couple minutes behind her.

So, with the layout of the course, I was able to see the two of them something like 5 or 6 times between miles 4 and 9. Pretty fun and lots of good photo ops.

Beth held on and won and had the cool opportunity to 'break the tape.'

Afterwards, lots of hugs for Beth and Kim with Kyle in the background.

We got home a bit late Sunday night after picking up the dog, and then it was back at it Monday for school. I did a track workout this morning with a fellow teacher who's also training for the Great Race. It was a 400's day. He did a great job with his workout from Coach Shutt and I think he's in a great position to PR. For me, the legs bounced back from Sunday for another solid workout. I ended up doing 12x400 with 60 seconds rest in the pattern 90-90-88-88-86-86...-82-80-80. The last two I was feeling pretty good and even went a little low with a 76 and 72 with my last two. I'm hoping I can capture some of this for race day. We shall see.

No dual meets this week, but another invitational on Saturday up at Coopers Lake, the site of our district championship.
Congrats to all who raced this past weekend at Cedar Point, IM Wisconsin, our former high schoolers now running in college at the Spiked Shoe Invite at PSU, local road races, and the high-schoolers at Schenley. It's fun to check out all of the results.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


To keep with the start of football, I figured I'd give this post a football theme and present the past few days in the over-under format.

The first week of school went smoothly. The beginning of the week was crazy playing catchup from last weekend, however I started hitting my stride by Wednesday and by Friday had made all the copies and had next week all planned out.

I'm not a big fan of Pitt being a Penn State guy, but I tolerate them since it's the local university. However, sometimes it just really gets under my skin how big of a head their fans get. The last few weeks all that is heard on the local radio is how Pitt has 4 or 5 potential all-americans and how Dion Lewis is in the running for the Heisman and how the team is in a good position to make a run at a national title. That game in Utah sure didn't go too well for them and I hope that it calms the fervor of the Panthers. They've still got 4 games before the Big East Schedule (New Hampshire, Miami, Florida International, and Notre Dame). I'm saying take the under.

With the HUGE disclaimer that it was all done against 1-AA Youngstown State, true Freshman Rob Bolden sure looks like the real deal. Solid passing and good pocket presence. He didn't even really get a chance to use his legs.

It will be a whole new world next week...

Yes, it may get ugly next weekend in Tuscaloosa (photos from our trip down there for USAT Nationals last year), but I think JoePa and company realize that they've got a pretty nice talent in Bolden and he's going to make every start this year, barring injury. Take the under.

Beth and I are really into the group Hillsong and their live praise music. Beth is REALLY into their song 'None But Jesus' and it's Spanish counterpart 'Solo Cristo' right now. I was driving down to the church (approx 30-35 min) and she was in charge of the IPod. Total times played--7 or 8?? Take the over.

Sunday night, Beth and I made the trek to the Olive Garden to utilize a birthday card from my sister (thanks, Daph & T). This is our favorite time of year at the OG because of the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl where you mix and match combinations of pasta and sauces. They give you smaller servings so you can enjoy more varieties.

Beth and I got our money's worth tonight! She was coming off a 23-mile run this morning (plus a crazy week of training) and I am just getting back into the training and logged 8.5 this morning. Our waitress underestimated us, I think, and didn't even come back for a while after bowl #1. However, the final toll was 8 bowls (5 for O, 3 for B), 7 breadsticks, 1 salad bowl, and 5 water glasses.

Take the over.

For the past FOURTEEN years me and a couple of guys from my dorm floor way back in my freshman year at Etown, we have done a fantasy baseball league. However, things were not quite the same the last few years and people were not as committed to it. This year, the commish decided not to have the league. It was kind of sad to see the streak end.

However, no fear, a few days after the decision was made to suspend the league, Beth's cousin asked me to join his league. And, as luck would have it, I ended up having a pretty good summer and ended up 1st place in the regular season with a double-digit game lead on 2nd. The top 4 make the playoffs and they start next week. It's a new season and I just hope my luck and the players stats can hold up for two more weeks. We shall see. I'll be confident and take the under and hope that I'll at least make it to the final 2.

The same cousin also invited me to join his fantasy football league, too. My NFL knowledge is very much lacking compared to MLB. You've never seen the Steelers depth chart analysis in this blog at any time. But, I figured what the heck, why not. The draft was Monday night and it's done online. The nice thing about the Yahoo drafts is that it will automatically will select players for you if you are not present for the draft. So, I figure this is a good strategy for me.

I logon a couple of hours after the draft started and it's in the final round. My turn comes up, I look over the list, and take a flyer on Josh Cribbs hoping that he'll not only get some receiving yds and TD's but maybe have some contributions in the return game and perhaps a few passes out of the wildcat formation. At least that's what always seems to happen when he plays the Steelers.

The highlights of my computer-generated team are Drew Brees, Andre Johnson, and Jason Witten. However, I have to admit, my automated draft picked up three guys I had never heard of before - TE John Carlson (SEA) and WR's Johnny Knox (CHI) and Julian Edelman (NE). Last place here I come! Take the OVER to the bank ASAP.

So that's it for now. Off to enjoy a nice Labor Day (although Beth's least it's time and a half) and then a 4-day week at school. Next weekend is the first big HS XC invitational and Beth has her last tuneup for Kona. She's 'just' doing a 70.3 out at Cedar Point. She's heading out Friday and I'm going to meet her out there after the invitational on Saturday.