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....