Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

First of all, thank you so much for the incoming donations and comments already for the Running for Laptops charity! If you'd like to donate, you can do it here.

We have reached that time of the year.....some may say the most WONDERFUL time of the year!

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE summer. I LOVE baseball, trips to Altoona Curve games, road trips to distant places for Beth's triathlons, afternoon naps, 15+ hours of daylight each day, running in shorts and a t-shirt, not having to bundle up before & after pool workouts, and everything else associated with summer.

But, at the same time, I do start to feel guilty about only having 2-4 hour workdays for the two months from mid-June to mid-August. It's time to start earning that paycheck again with 10+ hour days of teaching and coaching. Seriously, I always get excited for the fresh start of a school year - new students to begin molding and also seeing how our cross country season unfolds.

Before getting to the fall, one other item to tie up from the summer - the alumni XC meet at Hempfield. It rained pretty hard on Friday.
In fact, it rained so hard and quickly, a stretch of road by the zoo actually had about 6 ft or so of water and 4 people died. It was very sad. This made part of what was already a tough trail run through the woods even tougher in spots.

My cousin K ran and her parents (my aunt & uncle) and my dad came out to watch. I can't believe he still had it, but dad was representing Hempfield XC with a hat from back when I was in high school. Pretty funny.

I did have the XC spikes borrowed from one of the runners where I teach at, but it still didn't help me as I bit it on the first twisty downhill in the woods. I was left with a nice cat-scratch-like souvenir from it, but since it was in the first half mile, I had enough energy to pop right back up and continue on.

I was in 3rd position - an alumni from '05 that was a solid D2 steeplechaser was leading, a high schooler that ran around a 4:30 mile last year was about 5-10 seconds behind him, and I was 5-10 seconds behind the high schooler. And, after a bunch of twists and turns (and several other near falls), this is essentially how the rest of the race stayed. The winning time was in the low 19's, and I ended up hitting my goal of sub-20 with a 19:39. Not speedy, pretty ugly, but got the job done. Here are some of the alumni.

Then, there was the post-race lunch with a bunch of these guys who graduated back in the mid-80's. All you have to do it sit back, eat some pizza, and listen to their stories.

And, boy did they have stories. I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard on two or three occasions. Pretty much none of the stories are acceptable to be published here. In fact, after many of the stories, the phrase "we would probably be arrested if we did that today" was thrown out there. Funny stuff, but it makes me wonder now, as a coach, what are our kids doing on their long runs?

Two other notes from the day:

First, remember the
tornado that hit the high school back in March?

Well, it caused the home track meets to be cancelled for Hempfield. This is unfortunate because the cross country parents use the concession stand at the track meets as their main fundraiser. So, with that (and all the budget cuts across the state/country in education), they're a little behind in their account. Fortunately, a lot of those goofy guys from back in the 80's are also now leaders at many of their jobs and they are organizing a collection to help out. Those guys are great in so many ways!

Second, Terrelle Pryor stopped by Hempfield for the alumni cross country meet. Well, he got there after we finished and was down on the track (he must have missed the memo about the start time and the location of the new course up by the water tower above the stadium).

Either that,
or he was just there for his pro day workout. The Jeanette grad was selected by the Raiders and good luck to him. I hope it works out. I was obviously rooting against him when he was at Ohio State, but now that he's no longer a rival for the Nittany Lions, you pull for the local guy to do well. Beth and I saw the Raiders/A's stadium out in Oakland. Let's just say it made Three Rivers Stadium and the area surrounding it look nice.

So, time to dig out the dress shoes (not really sure where those are still), set out the pants, shirt, & tie and get ready for a new schoolyear!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Running for Laptops!


How many hours a day are you on your laptop, desktop computer, or web-enabled phone?

After such a successful experience made possible by all of the generous donations for the Alzheimer's Association as I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon (at least the first 20 miles of it), I found another awesome charity to get involved with as I prepare for the Great Race 10k at the end of September.

I am looking forward to helping to support the group RUNNING FOR LAPTOPS that is associated with Family Services of Western Pennsylvania. Obviously, the group is fundraising for laptops (a vital thing in today's technology-laden world). But, what caught my attention about this was WHO it was for. According to their website, it is for this group:

The vast majority of our (Family Services of Western PA) students are either aging out of the foster care system or the mental health system. Our students are studying to be nurses, auto mechanics, artists and even social workers. They are a special group of young adults who have not let their misfortunes keep them from being successful.

This is a type of group that gets support for a while while they're "in the system." But, once they get too old or complete the support, they are left to fend for themselves. The idea of equipping these young adults who have come from not the best backgrounds with a laptop seems like such an awesome thing to do. I know I use my (two) laptops (home & school) for many hours each day. AND if you throw in my phone (which is like a mini-laptop), I am constantly using it and am connected to it.

The goal for each individual fundraiser is $100. I figure after all of the great support from the Alzheimer's campaign, this is very reachable and hopefully I can exceed it (as of this post I'm already 30% of the way there--you do the math on how much that is!). If you did donate on my behalf for the Alzheimer's Association, thank you so much! I would love it if you had another $5 to give to another great cause. If you didn't get around to donating for me back with the Pittsburgh marathon, I'd love to have you on board this time.

$1 or $5 or whatever you can give in these tough times. Thank you so much!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

XC & Pirates’ "Success"

The last week or so has been more of the same - clicking off the mileage on the running, cross country practice, getting stuff done around the house, and following the buccos.

Our two-a-days started for XC. The practices are at 8am and 3pm which presents for me a dilemma. Do I go home between practices with my 45-minute commute each way? It takes time and uses up gas. So, I pack a lunch and get my classroom set up early (less to worry about next week). The team has their first scrimmage next Wednesday and I'm excited to see everybody out on the course and how their summer training has paid off.

My next race is this Saturday. It's a "scrimmage" for my old high school (that I graduated from) where they compete against alumni willing to go back and subject themselves to the torture that is the Hempfield Cross Country course. Over the summer, I've been in the 17's with my 5k's. This race, my goal is to go sub-20 for the first time. It's a HARD trail course (here's
last year's race report). After not being able to crack 20 the last few years, I have acquired/borrowed a pair of XC spikes from a kid on the team (where I coach) to try to give me a little better footing this year (there's no truth to the rumor that I offered any grade assistance in Calculus this year in exchange for said spikes).

As always, my main goal is to "make varsity" meaning that I finish among the top 7 high schoolers. We'll see how it goes. Also, I get excused from my coaching duties for practice that Saturday morning with the justification that I'm out "scouting" a competitor team for later in the season.

The Pirates made some great strides forward this week. Yes, they got swept in Milwaukee last weekend, eliminating any shred of hope that may have been left to sneak back into the division playoff race. However, two of the games were 1-run games. Then, they came home to take 2 of 3 against the Cardinals, who always give them trouble. Can we get .500 by the end of the year!?!?!?

The most pivotal action the Pirates made this week was signing their 2nd round draft pick, high school outfielder Josh Bell. To give you a background, Bell was consider a mid-first round talent (among the top 10-20 range overall) and considered to be the 2nd best high school bat. Prior to the draft, he sent out a letter to all 30 MLB teams telling them not to draft him because he was going to honor his scholarship to the University of Texas. The letter stated about how his mother was a college professor and she wanted him to go to school.

Meanwhile, he enlisted the assistance of super-agent Scott Boras to be his "advisor" (it's funny how that works to allow the players to remain amateur). If he REALLY didn't want to be drafted, why did he find the most tenacious sports agent out there? Well, the Pirates called his bluff and drafted him in the 2nd round (after every other team had passed at least one chance to draft him). As the evening moved on Monday night to the midnight deadline, I read about how the Pirates threw some big money at a mid-round high school pitcher and assumed that meant they were no longer pursuing Bell. But, to my surprise when I woke up Tuesday morning, the Pirates committed not only the $8 million to their first round pick Garret Cole, but another $5 million to Josh Bell, and additional bonuses to rank first in the MLB in doling out $17 million total for their draft.

While this is great, it has to be kept in perspective. Cole won't become a major league factor until probably 2013. If Bell follow's Andrew McCutchen's path (drafted in 2005), he won't be up and making significant contributions until 2016 or 2017. But, it's just knowing that the commitment is there to build a winner through developing minor league talent. In the last calendar year, the Pirates have acquired FOUR pitchers regarded by national publications as potentially being "Ace" #1 pitchers in the majors (Tallion, Allie, Heredia, and Cole). Not all players will work out, but it's how teams not named the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox have to do it.

While Beth was wrapping up her epic training weekend on Sunday, I got the crazy idea to take a trip up to Altoona to see the Curve (the Pirates' AA team) on Sunday night before the schedule got busier with two-a-days and school then starting. I was going back and forth all afternoon about whether or not to go because there was rain in the forecast. After Beth got home, I checked it one more time and the hour-by-hour precipitation chance dropped from 50%-60% down to 20-30%. It was 4:30 pm and I needed to get going for the 6pm game if I was going to go.

I end up going, but as I roll out of Ebensburg (about 20 minutes West of the stadium) I run into a monsoon. I turn on the radio and the pre-game show is not mentioning a thing about the rain. In fact, I'm running a few minutes late (literally slowed down to 35 mph on a 4-lane highway because of how hard the rain was coming down) and the game starts. I'm thinking, "how is it not raining there?"

By the time I pull into the parking lot, they are starting the second inning. Then the rains come. Drat! Did I make the 90-minute trip up to Altoona for nothing? Fortunately, after a 25-minute rain delay, the game resumes and I head in to watch the game.

One of the reasons I was interested in coming was that Tim Alderson was starting for the Curve. He was acquire straight up from San Francisco two years ago for Freddy Sanchez. Alderson has gone backwards to the point that he was demoted to High-A. But, this season he's been pitching out of the bullpen with great results and the Curve needed a starter so they put him in there.

The result - not too impressive. Sure, he got some people out, but he didn't have good control (hit two batters) and his fastball was sitting around 85 mph. His curveball (his best pitch) was sharp and had a lot of bite to it, at least.

His lack of control also caused his ejection one batter into the 4th inning. It was kind of odd. In the second inning, he hit one of the players near the bottom of the order. Fortunately, that runner got picked off of 2nd base later in the inning to cause no damage on the scoreboard. But, then the pitcher was up, and Alderson hit the pitcher. You don't hit a pitcher on purpose, he's an easy out!

The next inning, Alderson came up to the plate and, after two inside pitches, got plunked on a 2-0 fastball right in the middle of the back. Baseball's way of policing itself, I guess. The umpires (as they should have) warned both benches, meaning that any future intentional hit batters would cause ejections.

So, I went behind home plate to see his curveball better and snap a few shots in the 4th inning, but only saw two pitches from that vantage point due to the ejection. It's been misting this whole time, so not the best of traction and footing. Alderson is facing that same player he hit in the 2nd to lead off the inning.
The first pitch was inside. The 1-0 pitch went over the batter's head, making it look like Alderson was head-hunting. The umpire perceived it as intentionally throwing at the hitter and automatically ejected him. The manager came out to plead his case that it wasn't intentional, but to no avail. Oh well. Not that Alderson pitched that great anyway. Good thing I snapped a shot on the first pitch of the 4th inning, I guess!

In other events, outfielder Andrew Lambo (acquired in the Dotel deal last year) is finally coming around in AA after being demoted down from AAA, where he struggled mightily for the first three months of the year. Lambo blasted a 3-run homer over the right field wall to give the Curve the lead early in the game. The picture is a celebration of the players heading back to the dugout after scoring on the home run.

The other player I wanted to see was catcher Tony Sanchez. He didn't play (night off) when Beth and I went up in June. Sanchez, the Pirates' first round pick from 2009 out of Boston College, hasn't been hitting well either this year. I was hoping to see something from him but he had some groundouts and a flyout. In the 12th inning (I had left after 9 because I was getting up at 4:45am to do a run before the first day of XC practice), I heard on the radio he allowed a ball to get past him on a 3rd strike and compounded the problem by sailing his throw to first base out into right field. This allowed the winning run to score. I hope he can get back on track next year.

The surprise of the night was Duke Welker coming out of the bullpen in the 7th. Welker, a 2nd round college pick from Dave Littlefield's last draft in 2007 had been scuttling along the past four years in low-A and high-A, never really putting it together. Well, this year I think he may be putting it together (and about time for a college pitcher picked in the 2nd round!!!). He went 3-up and 3-down, striking out two of them with a 95 and 96 mph fastball and a devastating mid 80's slider. He should be up in AAA Indianapolis to start next year and may make it up to the Pirates next summer if he continues to deal like he did on Sunday.

So, that's my report from Altoona. Thank you to the rain for cooperating and for Beth not missing me for an evening!

Monday, August 8, 2011

St. Barnabas 5k, Pirates Sabbatical, Fall Schedule

Over the weekend, I did the St. Barnabas 5k. When I was mapping out my summer races, this one came on to my radar. After checking out previous years' results, seeing some fast times and tough competition, and getting positive reviews on the course and event, I decided to go for it.

On top of this, St. Barnabas is an amazing place. I really didn't know what it was. However, after perusing their website and hearing people talk about it before and after the race, they do great things there. According to the race site...Proceeds from the St. Barnabas Medical Center 5K Run/Walk benefit the St. Barnabas Free Care Fund. The fund supports the poor and low-income patients of St. Barnabas Nursing Home, Valencia Woods at St. Barnabas and The Arbors at St. Barnabas. Since its founding in 1900, it has been St. Barnabas' mission to never turn a patient away because of their inability to pay. In 2010 alone, St. Barnabas provided more than $4.7 million in free care. Impressive.

Overall going in to the race I felt okay. I put in a lot of volume for the week, but didn't do any speed work because I wasn't sure how the body would react to back-to-back weekends of 5k's. On top of that, my shins were a little tender after last Sunday's race (but this was probably me just being wimpy). This got me thinking about how exactly back in high school we were able to do some weeks in cross country of three 5ks (dual meets Tue and Thu, Invitational Saturday)?

I thought, well surely this was because I didn't take them as intensely in high school. Now that I'm a more competitive runner I put more into it and need more time to physically and mentally recover. But, Kari put it all into perspective by noting to my post on FB that it's simply "cause we are OLD!" So true, so true.

Unlike the last two races where I had thoughts of being in the mix to possibly finish at or near the top, I didn't have to worry about that in this race. The winner from last year went sub-15 and there were about 10 runners sub-17. So, I went into the race trying to employ a more conservative strategy in the first mile (like not going out in sub 5:20 like last weekend).

I did start out in about 20th or so place, however, that still put me through mile 1 at 5:27. I was around two guys I was with last weekend (and the 4th of July 5k) so I figured I would just tuck in there until the turnaround. The course was an out and back on a rolling road called Meridian between Bakerstown Road and Route 910 in Gibsonia. The start was about a half mile up from the finish, so the turnaround was just before the 2 mile mark.

We get to the turnaround and I split an 11:12 (5:45 for mile 2) and figure I'm hopefully in better shape to pick people off than I was last weekend. Sure enough, the two guys I was around from last week started to fall back from me on a little uphill and I make my way up to a pack of three more runners. Things continue to go well and I put a little gap on them and move up to the next group of two young runners. One of the two falls back but the other one is still with me.

It's another little uphill as we approach the 3 mile mark and I'm able to put a little gap on the high-schooler beside me. Mile 3 splits in 16:53 (5:41) and I know I've got a fight on my hands to hold off this young'in. We turn the corner for about a 150 meter stone path to the finish. I'm kicking with everything I've got, but the youthful runner blows past me like I was standing still. No fair. Where have my base-stealing wheels gone? My get-up-and-go got-up-and-went.

I finish through the line holding off another charging youth to run around a 17:28-ish. I say "around" because something happened with the timing mat and they missed about 6 or 7 of us going across the line at this point. And, just my luck, the one race where I go to stop my watch I whiff on hitting the button and notice it's still running as I get a bottle of water. The results on say I was 12th and ran 17:25, beating the 15-year-old, but I know he's the one that outkicked me, so let's go with 13th place and 17:28. Good enough to be first in my age group (and the first person across the line older than 29...another sign of being old!!).

Great course, humid day (fortunately lots of cold Gatorade, fresh-sliced fruit, and superdonuts at the finish line!!!), and well-organized race. I'll definitely be going back there in the future.

On Sunday, Beth brought out her sprinting shoes and won (and set a new course record!) at the North Park Sprint Triathlon (it also had a little cash prize with it!!!). It was also fun to see one of the students on the XC team at my school compete and finish 4th. He's only going in to 9th grade. Very impressive.

In other news, the economy's not doing too well. Not to take political sides, but the bottom line to all of this lengthy debate has to be to make sure our country is not spending more than we take in. Simple budgeting, right? That's the first thing that needs to happen in my opinion.

On to the diamond, I am going on a short-term sabbatical for watching the Pirates games on TV or listening on the radio. They are in the midst of a 10-game losing streak and it was just getting too frustrating. I'm still reading about them in the paper the next day and following the minor league teams, but I just needed a break (and maybe it'll help change their luck).

My sabbatical started on Friday (we watched a movie), continued Saturday and Sunday yet they still lost. I figure the next three days it'll be easy because they're out in San Francisco and the games won't start until after 10pm. I'm just hoping I wake up in the morning to find out they win one of these days.

So many reasons why this happened. First and foremost, the scrappy Pirates were playing way above their heads for the first four months of the season. Their pitching was some of the best in all of baseball yet not having a true "#1" or heck even a "#2" starter. It caught up to them. As the starters wore down, the relievers had to pitch more (plus all those innings from the 19-inning affair), and they were less effective. Throw in the season-long underachieving hitters and you've got a 10-game losing streak.

The "playoff run" and trade-deadline tracking was fun while it lasted, but now the goal is to get to .500 or above and break that streak of consecutive seasons below .500. It was last year around this time that I went down to PNC Park and witnessed history being made when they clinched losing season #18.


Finally, I just wanted to throw out the fall racing schedule that is culminating with the Harrisburg Marathon in November:

Aug 20 - Hempfield Alumni Meet (why do I subject myself to the torture of that course against more youngins? To try to make Varsity--top 7--of course)
Sep 11 - Harrisburg Half Marathon (To scout out the course before the marathon and, why not since Beth is going to be out in Vegas for the weekend racing the 70.3 world championships)
Sep 25 - The Great Race (hoping to feed off of my summer 5k's and PR in the 10k)
Oct 15 - Buffalo Creek Half Marathon (fun downhill course close to home)
Nov 13 - Harrisburg Marathon (with the goal going in to run a 3:10 so that I am CONSERVATIVE and complete a marathon without having to walk or cramp up)

I'm hoping this plan lays out a solid base to then get rolling again in January to hopefully run Pittsburgh next may and hit that elusive sub-3:00 marathon.

Uh-oh. It's 10pm. Better wrap this up and get to bed before I'm tempted to watch the Pirate game....