Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Finale; Hi's & Lo's

As the minutes wind down in 2012, I figured I might as well sneak in one more entry...

The Christmas break has been great (other than the snow!). I was able to get in some runs with Beth, we saw a few movies together, and I even fixed our ever-persistent leaking sink in the bathroom. One of the themes at church going into Christmas was to "Awaken." One specific message that hit home with me was to not stop at thinking of Christmas as Jesus coming to earth. It's like you're not finishing the sentence. Rather, we should think Christmas is when Jesus came to become the sacrifice for us so we can spend eternity with God.

On to the highs and lows for the year....

1. Beth's grandfather passing away. He will be missed.
2. The many tragedies (Colorado, Connecticut, etc.) and the continued fallout from the terrible things Jerry Sandusky did.
3. Such a small one in relative comparison, but falling apart yet again in May at the Pittsburgh Marathon.
4. The Pirates with another 2nd-half collapse. Perhaps 2013 will be the year.

1. Hitting 3:00 (...and 46 seconds) at the Columbus Marathon
2. Watching Beth and her success in her rookie professional triathlon season.
3. Seeing our cross country girls team win the WPIAL (district) Championship in convincing fashion
4. Another fun summer of baseball, going to games in Altoona and Pittsburgh.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Now I Know Bo Better...and other commercials

ESPN has a great series called 30 for 30 where they document athletes and their lives. I mentioned back in September about the powerful feature on Vlade Divac and the Serb-Croat war. Well, I got hooked on another one Saturday night about Bo Jackson.

His prime athletic years were from '86-'92, which put me in the 9-15 year-old range. Old enough to follow sports, but too young to appreciate the big picture and have perspective. Did "You Don't Know Bo" sure open my eyes to the amazing athlete and humble man he was. My impression of him was from this commercial and the campaign surrounding it.

I saw this and saw him breaking bats over his leg and thought he was a showy me-first type guy.

Wow, was I wrong. It turns out he was just an amazing athlete and was very humble. What he did as a high school track athlete was amazing. Seeing highlights of him playing football at Auburn he looked like a man among boys (makes sense since he won a Heisman). Hearing his college baseball coach talk about him. Hearing how he became ineligible for baseball his senior season because of a trip to Tampa Bay (where the Buccaneers officials told him it was within NCAA rules) and how he took it. Reliving the beginning of his baseball career culminating in the "HEY!" from President Reagan in the 1989 All-Star game (3:17 into the video).

Seeing him outrun the fastest players in the NFL and run over others. Going into football halfway through the season (without training camp) and not showing rust.....I could go on. Such a shame how his career got cut short. What could have been with his career.

What I was also impressed with was Jackson's interviews in the 30 for 30 episode. He came across as very articulate and having a good head on his shoulders. Great episode and I heartily recommend it.

Reliving the Nike "Bo Knows" commercial was fun. It was amazing how many big time athletes there were in that one 60-second spot.

It also made me think of what other commercials I've really enjoyed. Two come to mind right away:

My two favorite lines are the "....zzzzz. Out." and then him saying "Grandma." at the end.

I love the guy's resigned waving of the hand before pushing the button and just the little elf's point at the guys before doing the circle.

So, that's about it for today. Be sure to catch the "You Don't Know Bo" 30-for-30 episode if you're stuck inside working out this winter!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Execute a Plan

John McKay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers football coach from the '70s, was asked what he thought of his team's "execution." He replied, "I'm all for it." They weren't all that good as the expansion team went 2-26 in their first two seasons....

Well, I had a plan for my final race of the 2012 season, the Jingle Bell 5k, and hoped to execute it as well. This was my first race since the Columbus Marathon. I've enjoyed the down time....perhaps a bit two much according to the scale in our bathroom. But, over the past few weeks I got my mileage up into the mid-20's and also did a 6 x 400m workout each of the last two weeks to remember what it was like to run fast (and not embarrass myself).

The plan for this flat, fast course was to be conservative in the first half of it and negative split. Where would that get me? Under 18 maybe? Who knows.

Where's the snow? It's December!

I met up with Chad and Eric A on the North Shore and we ran the course together as a warmup on a beautiful high 40s/ low 50's, partly sunny December morning (normally it would be snowing). As we ran, I showed them where I thought the turnaround was based on the online map and directions, right by the Heinz Plant. We finish stretching and get to the line for the start of the race.

The female starter from a local TV or radio station yells a "ready" command in a big, loud voice. But, then she nearly whispers a "go" and caught nearly everybody off-guard. Chad, was on it and went out like he was in the PIAA XC state championship (he mentioned after the race, his first mile was 5:10). I went for the more conservative approach and settled in around the top 12 or so and came through the first mile in 5:26.

Chad's WAY up in front after his start
We go down along River Road and I see ahead of the police motorcycle escort a police barricade across the road WAY too early from what I saw on the map. But, I figured since everybody in front of me was turning I needed to turn, too. From the turnaround to the "2" mile marker, I was starting to work my way up....10th place.....8th place....7th place....then beside two other runners for 4th-5th-6th. I split my watch at the marker and saw that my "2nd mile" was 4:25. Ha, ha. My theory about turning too early had been confirmed. But, knowing that everybody was doing the same course and also recognizing that I was going to race even a shorter distance, I put on a surge to get ahead of the other two runners into 4th.

We go up a short hill to get back up to the main road, do a 180-degree turn at a switchback and head for home. I took a TERRIBLE line coming off the path and swung WAY wide, but recovered enough and kicked to hold off the runners behind me.

It took me 3 lanes of the road to make the turn. Oops!
The winner was WAY ahead, then it was Eric J (another triathlete) 2nd and Chad 3rd. I came across 11 seconds later for 4th AND A FINISHING TIME PR OF 14:10!!!!!! US Olympic Trials here I come!!! Okay, so it maybe was 2.58 miles.

I'll take that and file it under the "race executed as planned" category. Picking off 7 or 8 places in the last 1+ mile was rewarding and suited my fitness.

The scary thing is that I probably would've been right around my 5k PR of 17:06, in spite of it being the "off-season." Here's the calculations (I am a math teacher):

According to this, it would have projected to a 17:01 or 17:02, but should you add a second or two since it's a longer distance by a half mile? Could I have found a little burst to get my first every sub-17? I guess we'll never know. However, it probably could have at least PR'ed.

Big thanks to Beth who, after biking 27 miles down to the start from home that morning, was cheerer, coach, and photographer extraordinaire! It was also fun seeing a lot of fellow teachers out. They all did great jobs and I'm excited to see how they do leading up to the marathon/half marathon weekend here in Pittsburgh in May.

All in all, a good finish to a satisfying season of racing. Most importantly, I FINALLY hit the 3:00 mark in the marathon. However, also looking back, I noticed that, if you take out the two marathons and the 8,000-person Great Race (finished 54th and 3rd in my age group), all of my other races I managed to finish in single digits: 9th Spring Thaw 15 mi, 2nd Freeport Flash 5k, 9th Man Up 5k, 3rd Hampton 4th of July 5k, 4th (Saturday).

The plans are coming into shape for next season so I'll have to post about them soon, too.

Monday, December 3, 2012

2012 BCS Playoff Proposal

Note: for the 2013 proposal, follow this link.

For the fifth consecutive year, I am going to offer my two cents to the NCAA about establishing a playoff in the NCAA Division 1-A (aka FBS) level.

1. To provide EVERY team in August the legitimate chance of earning the national championship (see Northern Illinois, Boise State, Utah State, Arkansas State, Tulsa, ...)

2. To make as many teams' final game as possible a meaningful game. In other words, not a pointless exhibition....I mean bowl game. (See Pitt playing in their 3rd straight BBVA Compass Bowl, Louisville vs. Florida, N. Illinois vs. Florida State, ...)

**Note: This is NOT an NCAA basketball bracket where you could have a tourney pick'em. Rather each round gets re-seeded much like the NFL and other leagues do

Here is the proposals from the past four years:

Here's what I originally devised by taking last year's template:

Original 2012 BCS Playoff Proposal.
Conference champions/championships in yellow. At-large in green (top 2) and blue (3-5).

However, here's what I ended up with:

Final Proposal for 2012 BCS Playoff Bracket. Conference champions/championships in yellow. At-large in blue (top 5) and green (6-7).

Below will be all the details, but ultimately it didn't sit well with me that in the original bracket it seemed that Florida had an easier path than the two teams in the SEC Championship (Alabama and Georgia). So, because of this (and the fact that last year I ignored the fact that the Big 12 didn't have a conference championship game), I expanded the at-large teams from 4 to 7. The teams with the first round "bye" were ONLY teams that won a BCS conference (Big 12 and Big East) or were playing in their conference championship).

So, here goes year five as if it happened this year (and plan on scrolling back to the playoff bracket multiple times--I've also placed it at the bottom of the proposal also)...

September 1: Labor Day weekend and beginning weekend of college football season

Saturday, November 17: Completion of regular season the weekend before Thanksgiving (12 weeks) – Non-BCS conferences can decide to complete their regular season in week 11 and hold a conference championship on 11/17 or they can determine their conference champion by record. That allows for a 10 or 11 game schedule leading into the playoff.

Sunday, November 18: BCS Playoff Pairings Announcement 

BCS Conference Championships (Nov 29-Dec 1):

ACC: Florida State vs Georgia Tech
Big Ten: Wisconsin vs Nebraska
Pac-12: Stanford vs UCLA
SEC: Alabama vs Florida

Louisville (Big East) and Kansas State (Big 12) also advance to December 1 weekend because of winning their respective conference championship.

Five non-BCS conference champions (in order of ranking from BCS or computer rankings)
A - Northern Illinois (MAC)
B - Boise State (MWC)
C - Utah State (WAC)
D - Arkansas State (Sun Belt)
E - Tulsa (Conference USA)

Seven at large teams that were not conference champions (as determined from BCS rankings before conference championships)
1. Notre Dame (1)
2. Florida (4)
3. Oregon (5)
4. LSU (7)
5. Texas A&M (9)
6. South Carolina (10)
7. Oklahoma (11)

Matchups would be 1-E, 2-D, 3-C, 4-B, 5-A, and 7-6 with the conference champions as the home team (6-7 either at the site of at-large 6 or a neutral site)

November 22-24 (Thanksgiving weekend) - Opening round (with conference championships and second round to be the next weekend)

According to 2012 data, it would be:

Notre Dame (AL1) at Tulane (CUSA)
Florida (AL2) at Arkansas State (Sun Belt)
Oregon (AL3) at Utah State (WAC)
LSU (AL4) at Boise State (MWC)
Texas A&M (AL5) at Northern Illinois (MAC)
Oklahoma (AL7) vs. South Carolina (AL6)

The winners of this round would advance to the second round (which is also the weekend of the conference championships). Teams would be re-seeded so the highest-ranked (at-large/non-BCS conference) team left, according to BCS rankings prior to the conference championships, would play the lowest seeded, etc.

November 29-December 1 - Conference Championship Games and Second Round of At-Large/Non-BCS Conference Games.

In addition to the previously mentioned four conference championship games on November 29-Dec 1 (as they were this year), 

ACC: Florida State vs Georgia Tech
Big Ten: Wisconsin vs Nebraska
Pac-12: Stanford vs UCLA
SEC: Alabama vs Florida

the following games would be played (if seeds held):

Notre Dame (AL1; #1 BCS) at Big East Champion Louisville (Not in BCS rankings but #52 in Sagarin rankings)
LSU (AL4; #7 BCS) at Big 12 Champion Kansas State (#6 BCS)
Texas A&M (AL5; #9 BCS) vs Oregon (AL3; #5 BCS)
South Carolina (AL6; #10 BCS) vs Florida (AL2; #4 BCS)

Conference champions, Louisville and Kansas State, earn home games. Additionally, if Northern Illinois, Boise State, Utah State, etc. would win the first round game, they would earn a second round home game.

December 8 - Quarterfinals
The winners would advance to a round of 8 the weekend of December 8, with the seeds being lined up 1-8, 4-5, 3-6, 2-7. Conference champions would get home-field advantage over an at-large team. If seeds held, it would be:

1 Notre Dame at 8 Wisconsin
4 Oregon at 5 Kansas State
3 Florida at 6 Stanford
7 Florida State at 2 Alabama

The semi-finals could be around Christmas or New Years and the Championship the week after. The semi-final round would be like the AFC-NFC Championship Sunday. 

Then, around New Year's Day or the week after, a TRUE championship game could be held where no team could claim they didn't have a shot at winning a championship.

Final Proposal for 2012 BCS Playoff Bracket. Conference champions/championships in yellow. At-large in blue (top 5) and blue (6-7).

The more I think about what this would do to bowl games, the more I feel that it wouldn't affect them. In this model as of December 1, only 8 teams remain in the playoff, so all the bowls could be filled. Also, perhaps there could be automatic tie-ins with bowls for the 4 losers of the December 8 quarterfinal games.


The Fighting Irish...
First of all, Notre Dame's resurgence threw a wrench into my previous years' brackets. In the past, I just threw them in with the Big East, not expecting Notre Dame to bolt from the Big East for being partially affiliated with the ACC. Additionally, I wasn't expecting the Big East to become more of a joke (Tulane and East Carolina, really?). Finally, I was not anticipating Notre Dame to get good again so quickly. So, that was a major reason to revise the overall template of the bracket. 

...the Big 12, Big East, the future
Also, along with the Big East, since the Big 12 was not having a conference championship in the near future plus more conference realignment on the horizon (see Maryland, Rutgers, Louisville, etc.) there needed to be more flexibility in the bracket.

Expansion to more at-large teams
While it might have been fair to give the Fighting Irish a bye to the "2nd round" in the bracket since they are rated #1 in the country, I couldn't justify giving Florida an easier path for NOT being in their conference championship (see original bracket). So, began the "expansion" of my bracket to seven at-large teams, and 22 overall. 

Was this too many? Well, I checked the other divisions that DO have actual playoffs--I-AA (FCS), II, and III--and here's what I found:

In Division I-AA, there are currently 20 teams with 10 receiving automatic berths from winning a conference championship and the other 10 receiving at-large bids as determined by a "committee." In 2013, it is going to expand to 11 automatic berths from conference championships and 13 at large for a total of 24 teams. The top 8 teams will receive first round byes. The playoff lasts from November 24th to a semifinal December 15th with a championship on January 5th.

In Division II, there are 24 teams with 8 in a first-round play-in on November 17th with the finals on December 15th.

In Division III, there are 32 teams with the first round on November 17th and the championship on December 14th.

My playoff bracket proposal for Division I-A (FCS) seems in line with the dates and amount of teams as the "other" divisions who are (allegedly) more concerned about the student-athlete with their academics and not missing classes.

Home game for the "little-guy"
While it's intrigued me in the past, I think the first round match-ups this year are even more intriguing than in previous years' brackets. Notre Dame at Tulsa (who just hosted a Conference USA Championship), LSU going to the Smurf Turf at Boise State, Oregon having to go to a fellow western school (Utah State - is that at elevation?), Texas A&M maybe being the underdog at Northern Illinois(?). And, if a non-BCS conference champ would win their first-round game, they would receive another home game in the second round (and the same for moving on to the quarterfinal). Imagine the money that would bring in for their athletic department to have one, two, or three additional nationally-televised home games.

Would these schools be able to put on a home game in that short of notice? It happens in all of the other divisions so I don't see why not.

One question still out there for me is what to do if/when two at-large teams meet up in the 2nd or 3rd rounds. Play it at the site of the higher-ranked team? Play it at a neutral site? I'm all for giving the highest incentive to play in your conference championship game (unlike in the NCAA basketball tournament)

Little Guy's Last Game
One other note, would Utah State rather finish against Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl or try their best against #4 Oregon? 

Boise State - versus Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl or hosting #8 LSU? 

Arkansas State - facing Kent State in the bowl or trying to knock off #3 Florida at home? 

Northern Illinois being questioned for being in a BCS Bowl game or showing whether or not they belong in a home game against Texas A&M? 

Would Tulsa rather play Iowa State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl or have a shot at taking down the undefeated, #1 team in the country on their home field?

Easy answers.

Northern game for southern team?
It didn't play out yet again in this year's bracket model either, but I'd love to see the SEC powerhouses have to play on the road in a northern stadium in the snow in December.

The SEC is too good?
The SEC is having a great year. Like 6 of the top 10 (and 7 of 14) in the final BCS rankings great type of year. However, BCS rules state that a conference cannot have three teams in BCS bowl games. So, Georgia (who was the #3 team in the country before losing the SEC Championship game) is relegated to the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska. What a let down. 

The playoff bracket would solve that. While 4 of the 7 at-large teams were from the SEC, maybe they deserved it. If the SEC teams were THAT good, they could command 4 of the 8 quarterfinal spots and 3 of the 4 semi-final spots in my proposed bracket. Let the games, not opinions, determine how good they are.

Time-space continuum
The one obstacle I have in creating the bracket is I'm taking 2012 data from three separate time periods - before the conference championship games (for at-large seeding), after the conference championship games (for non-BCS champion berths and seeding plus BCS conference championship results), and how the results affect the computers and pollsters at these points both before AND after. So, don't get too tied up on where a team is in the bracket, it's more of the process.

So that's my suggestion to send along to NCAA President Emmert (...still need to get around to voicing my displeasure to Mr. Emmert about the severity of the Penn State sanctions, but I'll save that for a future date).

All constructive feedback and dialogue is certainly welcome (please withhold all name-calling and negative, destructive comments for the next presidential election).


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Updated Standings

Number of wins since September 6th

1. Penn State - 8 wins (with the season over)...hard-fought win and a fitting end to the season

2. Pirates - 7 wins and the season over without finishing over least it's been a fun post-season to watch with all the close games 

3. Steelers - 6 wins (with 5 games to go)...not looking good with Big Ben out

4. Pitt - 5 wins (with 1 game to go at South Florida)...still looking for Bowl eligibility 

5. Penguins - 0 wins (still in a lockout with no end in sight)

The Nittany Lions are the leader in the clubhouse. Will the Steelers surpass them?

I created my first draft of my 2012 BCS Playoff Proposal. More details to come in the next week. Here's the original from 2008.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Whirlwind Ending in Thanks

So much fun in the last month since the marathon (and still probably haven't come off the 3-hour high)

It started with the XC teams competing in the WPIAL (district) championships. The girls were the favorite coming in and they didn't disappoint. With a 3-4-6-7 top four they won by a 49-97 margin. The boys came into the race hacking, coughing, sniffling, and sneezing yet managed to weather the unseasonably hot temperatures and secure the third and final spot to move on to the state meet. For me, four days removed from the marathon, did my best to hobble around and cheer on the teams.

The following weekend was the state meet. We had perfect temps and footing for the day (in spite of some mid-week rain from Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy). The girls had a good day ending up ending up 5th (but missing 4th by 2 points) and two girls finished in the top 20. The boys were still getting healthy and finished 13th.

Speaking of "Sandy" it was such a shame to see the New York Marathon cancelled for all of the people who trained so hard and so long for it. Ultimately, the safety, recovery, and welfare of the residents affected need to be the first priority. However, I feel that it was unfortunate that the media and many on social sites had such outrage over it and dismissed the marathon as if it was some local 5k and they could just find one the next week. At the same time, the Giants could host a football game (against the Steelers) the same night as the marathon would've been with ambulances and EMT's available and the stadium lights blazing among homes without power in New York and New Jersey? Double standard....

Another big event of November was the election. The people we voted for didn't do all that well. The results are the results and we have to move forward. Our pastor mentioned how the results could be negative in that several Supreme Court appointments could be made with a President who supports abortion. Also, we'll see how the economy works out. One other aspect was with how Catholic Churches were forced to provide aspects of healthcare that goes against their beliefs. Where does the line of religious freedom get drawn? Ultimately, we need to pray for our leaders and respect our authority (Romans 13).

The next adventure was Beth's Ironman in Tempe, AZ. Beth got out there on Wednesday and I met her and Mom & Dad B on Friday night after school. Beth had her first sub-10 hour race and had a great day. I spent the day hanging out with said parents and also Kim's husband Kyle and also Cary. It was a very spectator-friendly course as we saw her 5 times on the bike and 7 or 8 times on the bike. We got our exercise in!

After we ate dinner and Beth cleaned up we went back to see the final finishers before the midnight deadline. Very energetic and inspiring! We got back to the room and to bed...and it hit me that I would be getting up to go to work in PA in 27 hours. So, Monday was the return flight and I got home around 1am. Got up and survived Tuesday, picked up Beth after work, then picked up the dog in Greensburg and got home around 9pm. We went to bed, I went to work, then came home for us to start our journey southward for Thanksgiving.

We stayed overnight at a "pet-friendly" hotel in Beckley, WV. Roxy did not do well with the surroundings. Every time someone went down our hallway Roxy ran to the door and started barking. So, not much sleep. But Turkey in Durham, NC at Beth's sister's place was amazing and now we're just laying around, playing games of Settlers of Catan, and catching up on sleep.

Finally so many thanks:

-Thankful to Beth for being the most awesome wife and an inspiration to me with all of her athletic achievements
-Thankful to my parents for all of the support in so many big ways and other much appreciated ways like watching the dog on all of our trips.
-Thankful for the chance to coach and support amazing runners at my high school
-Thankful to have an amazing church that's alive, has amazing music, and inspiring messages from the pastor
-Thankful for Beth's rookie season as a pro triathlete
-Thankful to everybody with their support and congratulations with Beth's races and especially my marathon. One funny story about that...

After the IMAZ awards and getting lunch, Beth and I were going back to the car to pack me up and go off to the airport. On the sidewalk we happened to run into Meredith Kessler (2nd pro at IMAZ) and her husband. I knew that Beth has talked with her and gotten some great advice through her rookie pro year. Meredith goes to me, "You must be Oscar. Congratulations on your three-hour marathon."

A) she recognized me as Beth's husband and knew my name before Beth could introduce me
B) she takes the time to follow Beth via blog, Facebook, or twitter
C) she remembered that I had run a PR marathon
D) the morning after her amazing 2nd place finish at IMAZ she was just as concerned about me essentially finishing 200th or so in a marathon a month before

So, let me amend my thankful list:
-Thankful for the amazing and selfless triathlon community!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Breakthrough

Things finally came together Sunday in Columbus!

Prior to this my quest for a sub-3 hour marathon went something like this:

Philadelphia Marathon 2009 - went out way too fast (6:18 pace for first 10 miles!!!) because I got overconfident from running a downhill 1:16:32 half marathon the previous month and crashed & burned in the 2nd half with some cramping around mile 23. 3:15:21

Pittsburgh Marathon 2011 - Much more consistent pacing (1:29 at the half) but things got hard around mile 19, I had to back off a lot then my hamstrings seized up around mile 24. 3:22:38

Harrisburg Marathon 2011 - Went in with the goal of 3:10, was at 1:33 at the half, but the stomach (and then legs) didn't cooperate over the final four miles and more crashing & burning to a 3:22:02

Pittsburgh Marathon 2012 - Thought I had worked out all of the kinks, went through the half at 1:31:25 with the goal of negative splitting, but I got greedy around mile 17-18, it got hot & humid, and I crashed & burned again down the stretch with some hamstring cramping at 25.5. 3:14:07

Columbus Marathon 2012 -
...Well, to back up a few days I had a good week leading up to the race. I stayed off my feet as much as possible, aimed to increase my hydration, did an ART appointment on Monday, and didn't run around like a mad man at our Thursday cross country invitational.

Saturday morning, we headed west to C-bus after dropping off the dog at my parents' house. Beth kicked off her sterling spectathlete weekend by driving most of the way out (and not even getting sleepy!!). We got to Columbus and picked up the packet at the expo. After mapping out Beth's race day cheering/workout strategy downtown, we went over to our home for the weekend with Michelle & Robert and family. We stayed with them back in July when Beth did the Columbus Triathlon.They were yet again great hosts. They treated us to a super pasta dinner and watched The Lorax on their fancy 3D TV.

Race morning arrived and it was a perfect cool low 40's. We parked at the convention center and I warmed up and stretched inside. We went down to the start around 7am (they said you had to be at the corral 30 minutes before the start - kind of crazy). Once I saw that they weren't going to close off the corrals and prevent you from racing at 7:01, I took one more pit stop, gave my warmup clothes to Beth and waited with 20,000 of my closest friends as the sun rose.

The gun finally went off and I tried to work my way through the crowds and find the balloons of the 3:00 pace guy. Found them - nope that was 3:15, so keep going. 3:10, 3:05, ... and in the process I hit the first mile in 6:34. Oops! A little ahead of 6:53 pace. I found fellow Pittsburgher Billy Hughes, who I ran part of the Great Race with, and we ran together up to mile 2. However, when we came through at 13:04 (a 6:30 for me), I told him I need to execute my plan and back off and just settle in near the 3:00 pace guy. We said our good lucks and he was on his way.

When I settled in behind the pace guy (along with 50 or so other people), I turned off my brain and let the pace guy do the work. And boy was he good - 6:52.5, 6:52.8, 6:52.4, 6:53.0, 6:54 over miles 3 through 7. I don't really remember much of this other than our "pack" was pretty quiet and rather business-like. I guess we were all on that mission to hit that sub-3:00 marathon. The other thing I remember is Pittsburgh legend Tammy Slusser came up beside me around mile 3 and was around me through about mile 6, but she got really upset at a runner while near a water station because she felt he slowed down too much and messed up her stride. I saw it coming and was in the middle of the road, but she got a little trapped. After that I didn't see her the rest of the way (she ended up running a very impressive 3:10).

At mile 8, we travelled southward with splits of 6:47, 6:48, 6:54, and 6:50 up through mile 11 as we then headed north up High Street. Error on the pace guy as we did an "uphill" mile with a split of 6:42 for mile 12 but he was so good through the first part of the race, I had no the way he didn't take a water or gel the ENTIRE RACE! How does anybody do 26.2 without any aids?

For the second marathon in a row, I miss the mile 13 split, so at 13.1 I hit my watch and was at 1:29:03. The half people split off at this point and then there was Beth right on cue to see me. I told her things were going well and I had about a minute in the bank.

We proceed the rest of the way up High Street around the edge of Ohio State's campus and made a left until we got to Ohio Stadium. The splits were 6:50, 6:47, and 6:46 up through mile 16. I was right with the pace guy and, maybe he was making a correction, maybe the mile markers were off, but mile 17 was 6:58 and mile 18 was 7:23? Head scratcher.

During mile 18 was perhaps one of the coolest/nastiest parts of the race was that we entered Ohio Stadium (home of the Buckeyes) through a gate, ran right behind the end zone, and then back out.

Very cool atmosphere - fans cheering the endzone stands, the band playing, being within feet of the grass of a major division 1 stadium, but..... getting there involved a 90-degree turn, a quick, sharp downhill slope to get down to the field and a quick sharp uphill to get back out (there were even warning signs about the steep hill). Oh boy was I fearing for my hamstrings cramping. But, they held up.

And, from there the next few miles went well and I started doing math to pass the miles. Mile 19 was 6:46. The math went like this: 7.2 to go (7x7 = 49 + 1 = 50, so I should be there under 2:10) and I was there in 2:09:50. There was a "little" uphill around 20 and 21 so I just focused on staying on the pace guy - 6:47 and 6:44 for mile 20 and 21. 5.2 to go (5x7 + 1 = 36, so be there in 2:24), and I was there in 2:23:20.

The 3:00 "pack" had disintegrated over the 2nd half and it was a scattered group either ahead or behind the pace guy. I was keeping my distance behind him and passing people along the way who were hitting the wall. At this point, it was either flat or a little down hill. Miles 22 and 23 were 6:50 and 6:55 (3x7 +1.5 = 22.5, so be there in 2:37:30) for a total of 2:37:05.

I remember from my trial run of the 2nd half of the course, mile 24 had some up to it. It wasn't as bad as I remembered but the hamstrings were starting to let me know they were there, much like at the Great Race. I didn't feel like they were going to go, but I wasn't about to take any chances so I backed off just a little bit. 7:18 for mile 24, 2:44:23 overall and, holy crap, I only have 2.2 miles to go and still a legitimate shot of cracking 3 hours. While the legs were tugging a little more, I urged the body on and just kept saying in my head "just give yourself a shot with the last 0.2" and "you're still in this game!" Mile 25 was a 7:19 and 2:51:43 overall. Just over 8 minutes to do 1.2.

Maybe, just maybe.

There were a couple of 90-degree turns and I swung as wide as possible through those to avoid any leg cramping from sharp turns as in years past. I was getting close to a course banner/marker when I heard a girl cheering from the side saying "only a half mile to go!" I was thinking, "Silly girl, this is the 26 mile banner and 0.2 is less than a QUARTER mile, not a HALF mile." But, sure enough, it was a "1/2 mile to go" marker. Bummer. I didn't look at my watch. Just kept pressing on.

I get to mile 26 and peek at my watch, just looking at the overall time - 2:59:16. Bummer. Well, I knew I wasn't going to drop a 44-second nearly 400m so my new outlook was, "Let's get a 3:00:xx!" and "Get there before 3:01." So, with the help of a downhill, the leave-it-all-out-there-and-so-what-if-the-hammies-go attitude, I did a 1:30 for the last 0.2 and crossed the line at 3:00:46. Whew! I'll take it!

No walking the entire race. No cramping (at least until I went to the post-race massage area...sorry to my PT massage guy!). I mostly kept my pace up until those last three miles. A good effort to be very satisfied because it was 3 years in the making, but at the same time keeping me hungry to know I can hit that 2:5X:XX in the future.

A huge thanks to Beth for being such as great supporter and inspiration. It's tough for one to whine and complain with training about getting up early for workouts or having a "long" day when your significant other consistently gets up at 4am during the week and puts in 8-hour training days on the weekend. What an amazing role model that has pushed me from "used to be happy to crack 20 minutes in a 5k" to low-17's 5ks and a 3-hour marathon.

It was also great seeing Billy Hughes crack 3 hours (2:57:44) after coming so close last year at Columbus.

Big thanks to Michelle, Robert, and family for being great hosts and congrats to Robert for walking his first ever half marathon in 3:27:01.

Another big thanks is to our pastor at Cornerstone (and God's timing) for the perfect message the previous weekend about three P's when dealing with life's storms - Patience, Positive Attitude, and Praise. There was definitely patience involved with not only Sunday getting through the first 20 miles and to the end but more the patience of failures in Philly, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh (again) leading up to this race. I was really trying to work on the positive attitude when things got rough and just work through the tugging hamstrings and that seemed to work. Most of all, I had my "mental music playbook" going in my head including "Forever Reign" by Hillsong (they did it was part of the worship music set last weekend) when things were getting tough as well.

One final thanks to all those out on the internet with all of the encouragement for not only this race but for the highs and (a lot of) lows over the past few years of racing, especially the marathons. I know that I have been inspired by many other people's journeys and I hope that I can reciprocate, even a little, some positive encouragement to others in their lives.

....After Beth got some laps in at the local YMCA, we grabbed what is now becoming our traditional post-race meal at Five Guys Burgers & Fries. Then, we got some Timbits from Tim Horton's for the ride home.

Now it's rest and recovery time for me as Beth has two more races to go - this weekend in Austin and November in Phoenix (which I'm going to be at!). Also, our XC team has their district championships Thursday so more fun there.

Good luck to everybody out there and may you have your breakthrough experience while being patient, positive, and praising!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Columbus Week

(Not to be confused with Columbus Day last Monday)

Six days out until the Columbus Marathon. Taper time! Things went well with the training cycle (other than an ankle delaying the start of training in July and a second ankle that showed up at the end of September). So, we'll see what happens after about mile 15 or 18 or so and see if I can hold on to that 6:53 pace the entire way this year. There is a 3:00 pace group and you better believe I'm going to let the pack do all the thinking and all the work and hope it puts me in a happy place for the last 10k.

Cross country is winding down. We have an invitational this Thursday, WPIALs (the district meet) next Thursday, and then the state meet the following Saturday (11/3). Both the boys and girls are continuing their strong season and maintaining a top-10 ranking in the state. My goal this Thursday is to not run around like a mad man and save the legs for Sunday.

To go back and update a previous post, I thought it would be interesting to track which local team would accrue the most wins from September 6th until the end of the year. Here's the updated standings on number of wins:

1. Pirates - 7 wins and the season over without finishing over least it's been a fun post-season to watch with all the close games
2. Penn State - 4 wins (with 6 games to go)...a tough string of Big Ten games ahead

3. Pitt - 2 wins (with 6 games to go)...still looking for their first conference win
t3. Steelers - 2 wins (with 11 games to go)...not having the season they want so far
5. Penguins - 0 wins (still in a lockout with no end in sight)

The Pirates just may hold on!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Great Weekend

If you're looking for an awesome race report from an amazing athlete, check out Beth's entry from her 3rd place pro finish at the Poconos 70.3.

If you want to hear about a ho-hum mediocre Great Race, continue reading...

Well, let me back up a bit. Beth left for the Poconos on Friday. We said our good-byes before I left for work on Friday morning. We chatted on my way home from practice and it seemed like she was having a good trip without her primary navigation officer. She got her packet at the expo and did a few other things, however when entering the host family's address to the GPS, it directed her to a location about 30 minutes in the opposite direction. I don't blame her because, when she called me in a panic, it gave me that same location when I typed it in to google maps. But, we figured out the issue and I talked her to getting to the house in the dark and the fog.

The rest of my Friday night was spent catching up on some on-demand evening shows from the week (Big Bang Theory, Hawaii 5-0) and then I saw that the ESPN 30-for-30 series were all available on demand. They're all great, but the one I've seen parts of but never the whole thing is called "Once Brothers." It is the story of Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, and others from the Yugoslavian national basketball team of the late 80's and early 90's. They were an amazing group, but then civil war between the Serbs and Croats fractured not only the team but also the friendships. I had to imagine it would be like some sort of US National team from the 1860's that was then divided by our civil war. That would be so hard.

One of the key moments was when, after winning the World Championships, Divac took one of the Croatian flags from a person storming the court. He did it, not because he was a Serb, but because he wanted to celebrate as a unified Yugoslavian team and not from fractured divisions. Well, like many things do with the media and zealous people, it got twisted and blown out of proportion and Divac became an enemy to the Croatians and a hero to the Serbs. More importantly, Petrovic (a Croatian) couldn't view Divac (a Serb) the same even though they had grown to become such close friends to that point. The line I won't forget from Divac's narration was that "how one single moment can destroy years of friendship."

Perhaps the even more unfortunate part is that Petrovic died in a car accident before ever having a chance to reconcile with Divac. The script of the entire episode is Divac reliving the experience of the basketball and then meeting with Petrovic's mother and brother to get some closure. Very moving film. One other thing that I didn't realize was how good that Yugoslav team was. Not just what they accomplished, but seeing video of how they dominated many teams. Petrovic was a great ball handler and so good from beyond the arc. It pales in comparison to the story, but it was a shame that Petrovic passed away just as he was becoming a key part of the New Jersey Nets team.

Okay, that took a little longer than I had intended. Sorry for the tangent.

On to Saturday, I went to XC practice and picked up my packet for the Great Race. Oh yeah, did I mention I still had some questions about my ankle? Well I ran 4 miles on the South Side after picking up my packet and was able to do it in a little under 7:30 pace, so I figured (as long as it didn't swell up on me overnight) that I would give it a go for race morning.

Saturday afternoon consisted of watching the rest of the PSU game (way to go dominating the team that tried to send coaches onto Penn State's campus to "poach" players away), giving the dog a bath, and about a 2-week overdue cutting of my hair. Even though Beth wasn't around, I still went down to Noodles in Oakland (yeah I was that guy sitting there eating by myself) and then off to Cornerstone for Church.

There was a special treat at church as Phil Stacey (he of season 6 American Idol fame) was there to help lead the music. I did a quick check up on his background via wikipedia during the announcements and found out he's a pretty cool dude with a neat background in the church. I'm going to have to check out some of his music via Itunes.

So that brings us to Saturday night and, oh yeah, finally getting around to the actual race report. Maybe this is my subconscious way of avoiding the race report by rambling on about many insignificant things during the weekend.

Sunday morning comes around and the ankle feels decent albeit a little stiff. I take Roxy out for a walk, eat my bagel & peanut butter, and get on my way down to near Frick Park and the start of the race. Last year, I was the first car there, so I aimed to get there about an hour before race time. Next year I'll have to split the difference because I ended having to park a little further away than I wanted but still only 2 blocks or so from the start.

I go to warm up and the ankle is a little stiff in the 40-degree temps. But, after about a 20 minute warmup it was feeling loose and ready to go. I do my final preparations and see a lot of people while I'm waiting in line for the toilets. That line took forever and I probably should have stretch more.

Okay, on to the race, but first the annual elevation chart disclaimer:

So the gun goes off and I settle in for a first mile in 5:44. Surprisingly around where I wanted even though I thought it felt faster. Mile 2 is really down hill and I was by the top 3 females in the race. We split a 5:30 for mile 2 and 11:14 overall. Mile 3 I started to lose focus going down 5th avenue in Oakland, a gap formed between me and the top 3 female runners and I came through mile 3at 5:56 pace for 17:11 overall, leading to a 17:30's 5k. My one hamstring tugged a little at me after mile 3, but I got it to calm down. At the same time, I realized that I hadn't thought about my ankle since the race started. Also, somewhere in the mile 3 range, I met up with triathlete extraordinaire Billy Hughes and ran with him for the next few miles. Mile 4 was a 5:45, putting me at 22:55.

We were at the base of the Boulevard of the Allies and I said to Billy, "let's go get some people on this hill." He obliged and I think he was right behind me. Also at this time, I was around my "arch nemesis" (see tongue-in-cheek blog post from a few years back.) Going up towards Duquesne, I was able to pass a few people and put a little ground on the arch nemesis. However, the feeling of moving fast didn't translate to the clock as I split a 6:07 and was at 29:02. I think this may have been the tipping point of my "competitive racing" for the day. I'm not sure why but seeing a split above 6:00 and doing the math that I wasn't going to go sub-35 (or even low 35) took the wind out of my sails.

Thanks to it being a downhill last mile, I still split a final 5:38 but my heart wasn't in it. I was passed by a good 10 people in the last mile. I put a little surge on at the 6 mile mark when I saw the 6 mile clock say 34:41 and thought I still had a shot at salvaging a sub-36 race. Yet again, my hamstring tugged at me a little and I yelled at it to "stay in there!" I entered Point State Park and I coasted towards the line. Turns out, my arch-nemesis ended up catching me right at the line and (despite having the same time), his chip (and body for that matter) edged me out in the results.1:14 in the last 0.2 miles, 35:54 overall, 53rd place, 48th male,  and 2nd in the 35-39 age group (I'm getting old)

So, I get passed a lot near the end, and then the skies open up after I cross the line as it starts pouring. (Insert phrase of "when it rains, it pours"). I chatted with a couple of guys from school, the Ballou Skies triathlon starts of Billy and Joe V, and a couple of other runners. It was still pouring and I was getting cold. I was planning on doing about 7 or so miles as an extended cool down to get 16-17 miles for the day so I got that going. The ankle cooperated (albeit a little stiff to start out on the cool down) and I rehashed my "soft" finish to the race as I ran back to the start area.

After a day to reflect, all in all, it was a decent day. I wasn't near my 35:07 PR, but need to remember that my ankle did mess up my week of training, still wasn't 100% for the race, and also need to keep in mind the big picture of preparing for the Columbus Marathon in 3 weeks. So, after some quad soreness today, time to get back on track and get ready for the final weeks of training.

In other news, the Pirates sure had a bang-up weekend on their way to loss #82 and a 20th consecutive losing season. Loss #81 was at the hands of a Homer Bailey no-hitter on Friday. Loss #82 was the Pirates' first loss when leading after 8 innings. A blown save. In a season of peaks and valleys, there were many peaks throughout June and July, but this past weekend sure were two extremely deep valleys. Well, there's always next year...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ankled Again!

It sure seemed innocent enough. As our girls' XC race was nearing its conclusion, I was jogging/shuffling back to near the finish line. Somehow, I caught a patch of terrain that was like a "gutter" and my ankle flexed much like your wrist would when it's bent back too far. I kept on shuffling and it seemed a little sore, but seemed fine.

I wake up this morning and it was REALLY sore and stiff. Not another ankle! This time the right ankle. I tried it out for my run today, which was supposed to be 2 x 5 miles at marathon pace. Yeah. That didn't happen. After my first few strides, I thought about just turning around and going home. But, I hobbled on it up to my favorite place when I have sore body parts - the turf at our local high school's track/football stadium. I hobbled up a 9+ minute mile to the track then decided to try to break up and do some 1-mile intervals on the turf to see what the ankle could do.

Here's what it looked like as I wore a path in around the football field. According to the GPS, Coach A was right - 5 laps do equal just over a mile.

First one...7:29. Still kind of stiff on the ankle, but better than that 9:00 pace

Second one...7:25. Felt like I couldn't possible go any faster, but determined to try to pick it up on the next one

Third one...6:25. Finally started to feel a smoother stride. Decided to go for 6:00 on the next one...

Fourth one...5:39. Okay. The only thing limiting me was more muscle and lung fatigue.

The ankle's healed, right? Wrong. I go to jog home from the track and just the difference in the turf and the road made it agitated and I hobbled home in 9:25 pace. So, some icing, compression, and manipulating of the ankle in hopes of it being ready for Sunday's Great Race. This one doesn't seem as bad, though, considering it was more of a "jam" instead of a "roll" or "twist." We shall see over the next few days I suppose.

Cross Country is going well again. Both our boys and girls teams are ranked in the top 10 in the state. They need to keep up the great work and stay strong over the final 5 weeks.

In other news, the Pirates had an EPIC collapse over the last 6 weeks. I thought it may be entertaining to see, as of Friday, September 7th, which local sports team will accrue the most number of wins in the rest of 2012. Here's the current Standings:

1. Pirates - 4 wins (with 8 games to go)
2. Pitt - 2 wins (with 8 games to go)
t2. Penn State - 2 wins (with 8 games to go)...assuming no more wins get vacated
4. Steelers - 1 win (with 13 games to go)
5. Penguins - 0 wins (with what was SUPPOSED to be 38 games to go in 2012...but there's that whole lockout thing)

Can the Pirates hold off the other teams...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Raise the....

...White Flag on the Pirates' season (I wish I was saying Raise the Jolly Roger instead). I conceded the year after Sunday's defeat against the Cubs. They have gone on and lost four more in a row for good measure. The funny part is that they are still only 3 games out of a wild card spot. A little win streak would be them right back in it but that would be hard to believe at this point.

In other news, amazing athlete and all-around good guy Ben completed his first Ironman distance race in sub-10 hours. He was drafting it yesterday so it may be getting posted soon. Kim also had a great day there!

Cross country is off to a great start. In the first big invitational of the year, we racked up a couple of runner-up spots on the boys and girls. It's just a matter of keeping the effort and hard work as we work towards making it to the state meet. We did have some crazy horizontal rain just before the girls' JV race started. The winds were so fierce that it snapped our tents.

My training has been moving along. The ankle issue seems to have gone away. My mileage is back up in the 60's with last week hitting 72. I had a real good 25+ mile run on the Pittsburgh marathon course last Sunday. My pace was right around my "PR" of 3:14. It's amazing what a little cooler weather can do. The Great Race is coming up in a few weekend and then October 21st I'll be in Columbus.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

We Went to Chick-Fil-A

So the other week there was this big controversy over quotes concerning the definition marriage by the President of Chick-Fil-A.

Many people got very upset about this and hurled many negative, hurtful, threatening, and hostile remarks about Mr. Cathy and the Chick-Fil-A restaurants. Unfortunately, many of the remarks were ill-informed. The biggest thing I wish in any disagreement is that people come to the debate well-informed, ready to address the issue and not reduce it to a mud-slinging, name-calling affair.

Here is the quote from the President of Chick-Fil-A:

"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that."

Somehow, it got turned into the equivalent of a 1950's segregation stance. Nowhere in his quote did he say "we don't want homosexuals in our restaurant" or "we don't want business from those kind of people." However, the feedback of comments seen on twitter and facebook sure made it seem that way. Mr. Cathy is living out his values and our lives should reflect what we believe. If you hadn't noticed, Chick-Fil-A isn't open on Sundays because of this.

The one thing that I will completely respect from the dissenters is their choice to not support Chick-Fil-A through a boycott and to voice this dissension. However, I completely disagree with the negativity aimed at Mr. Cathy and the restaurant because they are simply stating what they believe. How would you feel if someone belittled you for what you believe? And, as was seen, the response to the declared boycott brought many people out in support of Chick-Fil-A. I guess it can work both ways.

I'm all for debates and arguments. But let's stick to the facts and be sure to attack the issue and not the person.


Oh yeah, where this was all going was that Beth and I ended up going to Chick-Fil-A on the conservative talk show established "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day." (Note, it was not established by the restaurant but rather by citizens). We were on our way down to California University of Pennsylvania for a great talk that featured TWO big-time runners, Chris Solinsky and Amy Rudolph, at their high school cross country camp. Rudolph was a two-time Olympian and Solinsky broke the American 10k record and would have probably been in London for the Olympics if it wasn't for an injury. How did those two end up at the same cross country camp in rural southwestern PA during the olympics? Great motivation and inspiration from two people at the top of the sport.

Anyway, Beth and I needed to grab dinner and we have a calendar of coupons that we got back in January for "The Chick" because we really like their food. So, we used our August coupon and waited in some really long lines but it felt worth it to show our support for a company that we believe in their morals and where we also really like their food.

Again, all I ask of the many facebook and twitter and bloggers and whoever out there: feel free to disagree--that's an American value and right. However, make sure to hold debate and discord in a well-informed way that addresses the issue and does not attack the individual.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Not Welcome at PNC

Well, that one hurt for the Pirates. Up 7-1, they manage to lose 9-8 (even after retaking the lead 8-7). Chase Headley sure would've looked nice in a Pirate uniform tonight. He couldn't be stopped. James McDonald was not able to capitalize on the leads he was given, not the sign of an elite pitcher that he looked like earlier in the year.

They are now 1-2 (.333 average) when I've gone this year. Keep in mind they have the BEST HOME RECORD IN ALL OF BASEBALL!!! They are 34-17 (.667 average...twice as good) at home when I don't go. Sorry everybody. I even tried the inside-out rally cap in the 9th to no avail.

On a brighter note, apparently it turns out that when you pour a Heinz Ketchup Bottle, an Andrew McCutchen comes out.

Of course, can't make a post about going to a Pirate game without giving a shot of the magnificent downtown skyline.