Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Highs and Lows

So it's been a while....like the whole year. But might as well return with the annual highs and lows post. It's been a busy year!

HIGHS

Boston Marathon - #1 by far was the opportunity to take part in the US "super bowl" of marathons. 


Crossing the line in Boston - MAGICAL!

On top of that, to race in it the year after the finish line bombings. In a sense, it was my tiny contribution to stand up for freedom and stand up against terrorism. On top of that, I PR'ed. On top of that, I FINALLY cracked three hours for the first time (2:59:13). It wasn't easy - this winter may have been the most brutal ever. Sub-zero temperatures (and even colder wind chills) and nuisance snows that left the roads covered with an inch or two several times a week. But, it was all worth it!
My #1 supporter!

Head Coach - Another amazing opportunity that I began this summer was taking over the girls running programs from legendary coaches in cross country and track at the high school where I teach at. It was an amazing journey this summer and fall and I'm looking forward to what is in store this winter and spring and the years ahead. If you're interested, we chronicled it on our new team website. The girls worked so hard and I was left with such a great group to lead. The parents were amazing and so supportive, too!

Some of the highlights included finishing runner-up in our district and #5 in the state.
Lots of talented and amazing girls made up our team

Hershey Bars for the team heading to Hershey for the State Championship!

One of our girls had an phenomenal fall and finished individually 3rd in the district and 5th in the state. Now that she's a junior, we discussed her competing in post-state competitions this year and that turned out to be a very positive experience. First, she finished 8th in the Foot Locker Northeast Cross Country Regional. The top 10 in each region qualify for the national championships in San Diego. 

So, I had the opportunity to return to Balboa Park (I accompanied one of our HS boys to the race 5 years ago). At FLCCC, she ran such a smart race and worked her way up from 31st the whole way up to 17th in the final mile.
17th in the country!

A big smile to end the journey that started in June

Happy Valley -  One of the most satisfying, planned-last-minute days occurred in November. Penn State was hosting the NCAA cross country regionals. I originally wasn't planning on going, but things came together so I ended up making the trip up to Penn State. It was an awesome day! 

First, I returned to the Leonhard Building (which happens to be adjacent to the golf course where the XC race was), where I spent many hours as an undergrad and then graduate Industrial Engineering student. On the off-chance he was around, I stopped by to visit the professor I did my Masters Thesis with - Dr. Andris Freivalds. 
Dr. Freivalds in the labcoat contributing to the show "Going Deep with David Rees"
For those of you who watched the National Geographic Channel this summer, you may know him better at "Dr. Shovel." It turned out he was there so we had a chance to catch up and he even came out to watch the cross country race on his lunch break run.

In the actual races, we had three Mt. Lebanon alumni competing - a freshman girl for Penn State, a sophomore boy for George Washington, and a fifth-year senior at St. Joseph's. The St. Joseph's runner was coming off an Atlantic 10 conference victory and he had a shot at qualifying for nationals. Things didn't work out in the last mile and he didn't finish high enough. Still a super career by such a solid young man. On the women's side, our alum only a few months after graduation finished 12th in the race and earned the 4th and final individual at-large spot to punch her ticket to the NCAA National Championship race! What a surprise and an amazing accomplishment!
Continuing on the Mt. Lebanon running tradition in college

The NCAA National Qualifier in the middle surrounded by Mt. Lebanon ladies

After the races, I went over to the Bookstore to buy some PSU gear and stopped by the HUB to grab some food. A really fun day!


Road Trip with Dad - Last year, Beth and I took a non-running/triathlon trip to Tampa to see my 2nd favorite baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rays. It was such a fun trip, I talked my dad into joining me this year. It was one of those father-son bonding excursions. We began by seeing a morning game in Bradenton with the Pirates' High-A affiliate (Bradenton Marauders). One of the top pitchers in the entire minor leagues, Tyler Glasnow, was on the mound for the Marauders. After the game, we went over to Pirate City to check out the Pirates' spring training facilities. 
Game 1 in Bradenton

Then, that night and the next afternoon we saw the Pirates play against Tampa Bay in Tropicana Field. After baking at the game in Bradenton, we were seeing the benefits to an indoor baseball stadium - genius! 3 games in 28 hours was a blast!


Game 2 in St. Petersburg - notice the same shirts - 2 games in one day!

Beth in Kona - I would be remiss to not include Beth's accomplishments as a professional triathlete as one of my highs. She has improved each year in the sport and I'm so proud of her. This year had some in-season highs & lows as she dealt with a hip issue in April and May that set back the middle of her season and the chance to qualify for Kona. However, after some solid half ironman showings in Syracuse and Muncie, she had an amazing race at Ironman Mont Tremblant to finish 3rd overall and earn enough points to qualify for Kona! At Kona (aka the Ironman World Championships) she finished 27th among all of the professional females. 27th in the WORLD!!!
Beth's mom made the trip with her...
...while I set up command central at home. (Didn't go due to my new coaching responsibilities)

Undefeated year in "The Heights" - Now, the town we live in will never, ever be mistaken for a running hotbed. In fact, other than Beth and I, we maybe only see another 5 or so people ever out on the roads in the neighborhoods. And to see two different people on the same run? Almost unheard of. With that being said, I ran in two hometown 5k's and won both of them. 
Nothing like a police escort to the finish line of the race!

Each was run on a very flat course and I ended up going pretty fast on both, including an unexpected new 5k PR in the latter. While my official time was 16:27, I figured it was short. I ran it twice the next day with my GPS and concluded it was around 3.03-3.05 miles so add a few seconds and it's still a 16:40-ish 5k. I'll take it!


LOWS

Blog Ignored - Last winter I just didn't get around to it. After Boston, I wrote a blog in my head a handful of times but never sat down to type it out. Over the summer, I was busy getting things ready for cross country, and the fall just flew by. Hopefully next year, I'll do a better job of keeping up with writing. In writing this post, I did realize that I used social media like Facebook and Twitter to log the events of the year at least. One other place that I created and maintained through the fall was my high school's cross country website that detailed the journey of our team from the first day of summer, through the state championship, and the Foot Locker race in San Diego.

Harrisburg Marathon - All summer, I had trouble coming off of the "Boston Marathon High." I trained, but I didn't have the same passion that I needed to in order to set a new PR nor did I commit sufficient mid-week mileage and time due to the increased coaching responsibilities. Despite this, I went in to the race in November with a "Go Big or Go Home" attitude and averaged 6:45/mi pace through about mile 21. Then it got hard. So, I ran out of gas and shuffled in the finish. But, at least I didn't walk, I didn't have hamstring seizures, and I didn't throw up. I still ended up 3:03:51, just over 7:00/mi pace.

Reaction to WPIALs - While my rookie year of coaching went really well, I also learned a few lessons along the way. Our team was coming off of two consecutive district titles. At the district meet, we came up 5 points short of winning #3 in a row. While I'm normally a "glass half full" kind of guy, I felt like I let the team down and let the program down by not continuing the tradition. I was a little mopey instead of focusing on the fact that we were the 2nd best team in all of our district. It's definitely something I will try to do better next year. The silver lining is that, despite of me, the girls used the 2nd place as motivation and finished 5th in the state the next week. Did I mention that they're a great group of girls?

So, as can be seen, the lows were somewhat minor and the highs were most certainly amazing. Another great year in the books. I am very blessed and most definitely living the dream! Here's to 2015!

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