Saturday, May 5, 2012

Running Lately / Chapters 3 & 4

Over the last 7 days I ran a total of 43 miles. Included in that were two 5K's below 19 minutes (one at the Groton Road Race and the 2nd during the 5K lunch series at work), a long run of 18 miles, and one mile of barefoot running.   Needless to say my legs need a little bit of rest.  Next up are two races in New Gloucester, ME at the end of the month so the volume and speed work will be continuing. 

Below are Chapters 3 and 4 of my book: The Early Years and High School.  Enjoy.

Scot

Chapter 3: The Early Years

"An athlete is a normal person with the gift of an undying passion to be the best and achieve greatness." -- Amanda Ring

My first memory of playing a sport was in the fall of 1985, shortly after my fifth birthday.  My parents had signed me up to play in an under six soccer league.  I remember at first being really nervous, but it being quite fun after I got to know some of the other kids.  As it was an intramural league with a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds it wasn’t overly competitive or intense. 

Coaching Children:
One important thing that Amy and I learned while coaching children, is to coach to the age level: under six soccer really is not five vs. five, but really nine vs. one.  For example, when a child under the age of ten comes to play a sport, he / she have generally been in school all day being told repeatedly to share.  At soccer, he / she are not always ready to pass the ball, as there is no guarantee that it will come back.  For this reason, at the younger ages, lots of drills and games where everyone has a ball are much more effective.

I still have a vivid memory of one of my friends at the time getting scolded by his mother (quite harshly) for lying down in front of the goal in the middle of game while the ball was on the far side of the field.  I believe at one point he actually yelled, “Hey mom, look at me.” This didn’t help the matter much.  Memories of the adrenaline rush I got every time I scored a goal and complements I and pointers I got from my father following the games have stuck with me to today. 

Figure 1 - U6 Soccer, Fall 1986, I'm 3rd from the left, front row.

The following winter my parents signed me up for ski lessons at the Nashoba Valley [1] (we used to call it the Nashoba Bump as children as it was such a small ski area) in Westford, MA.  Similar to my first soccer game, I remember being really nervous at the time, but getting into it fairly quickly. 

At the time I first learned to ski, it was quite common for ski areas to have what was called a “Rope Tow” in their beginner area.  This contraption, which was probably underhandedly designed as a child torture device, had a moving rope that you would grab on and hold on to pull you up the hill.  Now it wasn’t meant to take you that far, but try and imagine 4-6 year old children, bundled up in winter clothing, who don’t really know how to ski, trying to grab onto this rope with one hand and hold their poles with another and stay in position that will actually let them get towed up the hill.  If the initial jerk of the rope didn’t pull your arm out of the socket, someone would fall and there would be a massive pileup on top of them. 

After a year of lessons, perfecting the snow plow, and getting all the way to the top of “the bump”, my parents decided it was time to take me some additional ski areas.  One of the first ones that I remember was Pleasant Mountain (now Shawnee Peak[2]) in Bridgton, ME.  I spent many years skiing at there as my parents bought a vacation home in an area called Knights Hill which was about one mile from the mountain and half a mile from a pond.  We would make it up to the house about ten times or so a year skiing in the winter and swimming, fishing, and canoeing in the summer.  This is where I was initiated to open water swimming (although it just consisted of swimming about 20 yards to a dock and back) and learned to dive.  My older sister (of 2 ½ years) was quite unimpressed that I learned dive before her and spent the next month or so learning to dive and ensuring I didn’t get to far ahead (Not much has changed since then as we both have completed through half iron distance triathlons and marathon or greater distance running).  Between skiing, soccer, fishing, hiking, and canoeing, I was starting to really get a taste of the sports out there and figuring out how to combine them into a single event.

One fall day, we decided to hike Tuckerman’s trail up the side of Mount Washington (location of the fastest wind speed ever recorded by man – 231mph[3]).  Tuckerman’s is a rocky trail (like most trails in the White Mountains) that goes for about 3 ½ miles before you reach a hut.  From the hut is about another 1 ½ miles to the summit, but with very technical grade as you are above the tree line (also where it starts to get really windy).  By the time we reached the hut, the trail had transformed into a wet / slushy / snowy area and my feet were entirely soaked.  After complaining for some extended period of time my mother decided to put my feet in sandwich bags and ditch the wet socks.  I am pretty sure I complained entirely during the decent back to the car.  Looking back this was my first experience with a survival event, an event where you reach the point where you have spent everything you have and you single goal becomes to getting to the finish (or the car in this case).  Amy and I revisited this trail on my 30th birthday making it to the summit, but I will never forget that hike as a child. 
Figure 2 - Mount Washington, August 11th, 2010

By the time I was 9, I branched out into Little League baseball like many other children of my age.  I’ll have to give it to my parents (and any other parents with kids involved in a bunch of sports) as I was going multiple directions about five days a week between soccer practice, soccer games, and baseball games. 

At this point in my life, I had already realized that I was a little bit faster then most kids and was finding ways to capitalize on it.  I was never much of a hitter in baseball, but if I could get on base, it generally only took me three pitches to make it back to home plate (stealing second on the first pitch, third on the second pitch, and home when the catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher after the third pitch).   

I played baseball for seven seasons split between four leagues: minors, majors, senior minors, and senior majors.  While I do have some good baseball memories, like making a crazy diving catch and receiving the game ball, the whole experience was overly political.  If I had a quarter each time I heard a coach say, “We are only required to play every kid 3 innings a game” (and generally the poor kid only playing three innings a game got stuck out in left or right field), I would have been a rich kid.  None the less I learned a lot from playing baseball and I still use my glove I got (actually found) when I was nine at company softball tournaments. 

It is always interesting to take a step back and reflect on experiences: Whether it is something that was a definitive moment that changed your life, or just the accumulation of experiences leading to something “just clicking” and resulting in a better or more profound understanding of a subject.  In soccer, this happened for me when I was fourteen years old, which also coincided with the first time I was selected to play with the “A Team” (top age group traveling team for my town’s youth soccer program).  A combination of some good soccer coaching (and someone really willing to ride our ass’s), playing with better athletes, and really having to push my self is probably what really made the difference.  I had also attended some week long soccer camps at the time: One up at Green Mountain College in Vermont and a second in Nashua that run by a coach that would later go on to become the goalie coach for the New England Revolution.  Anyways, I truly feel that once you find that “ah hah” moment (in soccer for me it was a solid understanding of what to do when you get the ball and where to be when you don’t have the ball), you get a much better appreciation for your sport. 

The Ah-Hah Moment: [4]
It may not appear in the shape of a light bulb above your head, but researchers say "Aha!" moments are marked by a surge of electrical activity in the brain.

A new study shows that solving a problem that requires creative insight prompts distinct changes in brain activity that don't occur under normal problem-solving conditions.

"For thousands of years people have said that insight feels different from more straightforward problem solving," says researcher Mark Jung-Beeman, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill. in a news release. "We believe this is the first research showing that distinct computational and neural mechanisms lead to these breakthrough moments."

Chapter 4: High School

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” --Ralph Waldo Emerson

In high school I played soccer for four years (two on the junior varsity team and two on the varsity team) and spent seven seasons on the track team (four indoors and three outdoors). 

Soccer

Having watched high school soccer before and having been forewarned for what to expect when I tried out for the team, I began a fairly intense (or at least intense at the time) training program the summer before I started high school.  This was the first time I really ever followed a structured training program and it was a pretty interesting experience.  The goal was to get up to running for 20 minutes without stopping before soccer season began.  I began this training program in June with a one mile run, which if I remember correctly took me somewhere in the vicinity of 8 minutes (This was both before the time of GPS watches as well as way before I could have afforded one).  The time might not sound that slow, but if you look at how I ran it (pretty close to all out), it wasn’t all the fast either.  At the one mile mark, I reached one of the 5 Dunkin Donuts our town had to offer and just stopped and sat down.  I used the next half mile to walk home before attempting again the next day. 

I ran this route, and eventually a slightly longer version of the route almost every day that summer.  Lucky enough for me, the varsity coach of the soccer team changed that year and the new coach wasn’t quite as much of a hard ass.  Still tryouts consisted of a full week of double sessions that began every morning with a two mile run, then followed it up with some drills and scrimmaging.  I remember by Wednesday of that first week, I was limping around and complaining that this would never end. 

Figure 3 - 2 Mile Run Loop from childhood home [5]

I made the junior varsity team that year and would continue on to play on that team for two seasons before moving up to the varsity.  The JV years were fun and I scored lots of goals and played all sorts of positions, primarily forward, but also dropped back to play stopper in order to get more playing time. 

Pre-Mapping Your Workouts
There are many tools out there that allow you to click away on a map and create a route before you go workout.  These are quite useful in planning in workouts as they will give you near exact distances, elevation estimates, and some will even generate the waypoint files to load directly onto a GPS device.  One of my favorites is Gmap Pedometer (http://gmap-pedometer.com/), a simple bare bonds mapping and elevation generating tool that allows you to create and save a route as a simple link. 

My junior year (first year on the varsity team) was a fast and highly competitive year.  Our team went on to win our conference that year and we had the “player of the year” and four other athlete’s that made the all conference team. So needless to say, I spent a lot of time cheering the team on from the sidelines.  I got in a few times here and there was able pop in a few goals.  

My senior year I was one of the starting forwards and began the season with two goals to in a 2-1 win over one of our archive rivals (Andover – Who was also the team that knocked us out of the of the state tournament the year before).  Of course no sports season can go without controversy, so after leading the team in scoring for the first half of the season my coach decided that I wasn’t doing enough and after some arguments I largely sat the middle third of the season.  After some more intense arguments I made my way back to a starting forward position with some commanding wins during the final third of the season. 

Our team ended up second the in conference that year but secured a birth in the state tournament.  Our first game was against our other archive rival, Chelsmford, and our coach was really looking for his first post-season win, something that had eluded him the previous two tries.  The game started off well with the good guys (us) striking first and stayed that way going into half.  Shortly after half, Chelmsford’s star player scored two goals pretty close together putting them up by one.  The scored stayed the same until about three minutes left in the game when we finally able to get the equalizer (mostly as a result of a head on collision between my self and the sweeper and my teammate Kevin picking up rebound and shoving it in the corner). 

The score was still tied at the end of regulation which only meant one thing: Sudden Death Overtime.  The next fifteen minutes would sum up the last thirteen years of soccer and take everything that I had learned over that time.  After a couple of missed opportunities on both sides, my time had come.  My teammate Drew, our center half back, got the ball and I made a break through the middle screaming at the top of my lungs.  He hit me perfectly with a through ball and it was just me and the goalie left.  As he started to come out I shot for the bottom left corner, just getting the ball past him, and ending the game and giving us our first post-season victory in the last four years.  I remember screaming, seeing the goalie lying face down like the world had ended, and then being at the bottom of a pile in front of the net (You know you have passionate coach when he was the third person into the pile).  All the fighting that we had from earlier in the season was forgotten.  To say that this was the best athletic accomplishment of my life would have been an understatement. 

I enjoyed the wave from the game for the next few days before we had to face our next opponent, Saint John’s Prep (we ended up losing 3-1 that game).  I went to our high school football game that night and I have never got more attention; high fives from the guys and hugs from the ladies.  It was a fun few days and the perfect way to sum up my high school soccer career.  

Track

My track career in high school was much different from my soccer days.  My freshman year I started with indoor track thinking there wasn’t possibly a way that any one could run faster then me.  My first 50 yard race showed me how far off I was and in an attempt to redeem myself, I decided to participate in the 4 X 400 meter relay later in the meet.  With minimal training (including all the 1-2 mile runs the summer before and soccer playing in the fall), I asked for recommendations on how to run a 400 and of course my teammates said, “just go all out.”  So without consulting a coach, I decided to just drop the hammer in the race.  At the 2 lap point I realized I may be in trouble (Lowell High School had a goofy 155 yard track, which would make the leg just under 3 laps.  400 meters ~ 440 yards).  My head was now pounding, I could barely breath, and my stride was about a third of its normal length.  I finally reached the 400 meter mark, handed off the baton and literally collapsed into the infield.  I think I was there for another 2-3 or minutes or what felt like eternity before finally getting up and taking some harassment.  I quickly learned that even a 400 would require some deal of pacing. 

After another season of running 300 and 400 races indoors, I decided that it was time to move up in distance during the spring track season.  I also decided it was time to incorporate a field event and decided that pole vaulting might be just crazy enough.  During my sophomore spring track season, I became quite accustomed with that pain that I felt during that initial 400.  I ran the 800 every meet that season and sometimes ran the 400 relay, which was often, quite comical, considering it was run about ten minutes after the 800. 

My first attempt at pole vault was also quite humorous.  Opening height was 8’ and on my first attempt I ran full speed down the run way, stutter stepped twice, and then jumped off the wrong foot, swinging my body wildly on the wrong side of pole, just making it over the bar, and doing two full 360s before hitting the mat.  I can still see my coach shaking his head at me and saying, “You are going to kill yourself if you keep this up.”

During my junior year I moved up to the 600 indoors (which funny enough was run in yards at duel meets and in meters at bigger meets).  This would soon become my race of choice.  It was roughly around this time that someone gave me that advice for running a 600, “Start fast, pick it up, and kick it in.”  I use this when jokingly telling my friends and athlete’s I coach on how to take on any race. 

Training for High School Track

Training for high school track primarily consisted of speed work on the track (anything from 4 X 400 to a ladder workout (increasing the distance of each interval to a max and then decreasing the distance back i.e. 200, 400, 800, 400, 200) to 10 X 400.  We also had lots of recovery days (one to two mile easy runs primarily due to the speed work and racing once or twice a week), and few mid-distance runs (roughly five miles, short by today’s workout perspective).  Indoors we trained in the basement of one of the town’s middle schools and outdoors we had the track surrounding the football field to ourselves.  Looking back, a little less speed work, and a little more volume probably would have made a world of difference (also some core and strength training would have helped immensely as well). 

My senior year it was time to shine and coming off a strong soccer season I was ready to do some damage on the track.  Having gotten my 800 meter time down to 2:07 the spring before, and having a three other teammates that could run the same or faster we set out to break our 4 X 800 relay team record, 8:21.2.   The first half of the season went fairly well and I was able to focus on running the 600.  During the first race I actually set a new personal record (4 seconds faster then the original relay leg I ran as a freshman and 2 seconds faster then the previous year) in the 400 meter on route to completing the 600 (I have always enjoyed when you are able to set a personal record on route to a new distance.  This generally happens when you haven’t competed at the distance in a while and it is complete validation that your hard work really has paid off. This has happened repeatedly to through out life both in road races and at swim meets).   

At the Bob McIntyre Elite relay meet, we got our first chance to go after 4 X 800 meter record.  We put in a strong showing, but came up a little short (about 2 seconds if I remember correctly).  The contingency play was to try it again at the Massachusetts State Class A meet two weeks later.  Unfortunately, the race was in the early March time frame and a couple of us were fighting chest colds within the week before.  We ended up finishing the race in 8:24 this time coming in ninth overall.  Completely devastated we went home thinking that was our last shot. 

At practice the following Monday our Coach gave us the good news that we got the last qualifying spot for the Massachusetts All-State meet the following weekend (Qualifying consisted of the top six from each class A, B, C, and D and the next three overall fastest times.  Coming in ninth in class A was good enough to get the third overall fastest time of teams who had not qualified based on placement). 

When we got back to the Reggie Lewis Track and Field Center the following Saturday we were all ready to do battle.   I had the second leg and knew that I better run a 2:06 and not fraction of a second slower.  To say my legs burned and I couldn’t breathe during the last lap (the Reggie Lewis Center is 200 meter track) would have been a gross understatement.  I struggled through the finish handing off the baton and narrowly making into the infield before hitting the deck (To put the race a little in perspective, my first 400 meters was 4 seconds faster then that original relay I ran as a freshman). 

Being totally oxygen deprived due to physical exertion is kind of interesting phenomenon.  I remember the whole world kind of rotating to one direction and then back and then the other direction.  By the time our third leg finished (just over two minutes later) I was back on my feet attempting to yell (while still attempting to catch my breath).  As our anchor leg took off, Scott (our first leg) and I just kept saying, “This is going to be close.”  At the half way point we looked to be on target and by the finish it was just to close to call. 

After what seemed like an eternity the final results went up on the scoreboard: 8:21.02.  We had broken the school record by 0.18 seconds! Four 16-18 year old guys running a half mile each as hard as they could and it all came down to 0.18 seconds!  Feeling like we just won a gold medal in the Olympics and we all relaxed into the stands to watch our teammates compete and the rest of the meet continue on. 

Figure 4 - Reggie Lewis Center, Massachusetts All-State Meet, Winter, 1999

About an hour or so later, the two mile came up (at this point in time I still couldn’t even fathom racing a two mile race).  The national champion in the mile was taking on the up-and-coming two mile star.  At the half mile mark in the race (the distance I had just run) they were at 2:08 (just 2 seconds slower them my all out 800 performance).  I am pretty sure I said out loud, “Are you f#*$ing kidding me?”  They were at 4:17 at the mile point and in an all out, no holds bar sprint to the finish, and they completed the race in 8:49 and 8:50 respectively.  I was totally breathless.  I had never seen anything like this.   All it did was make me want to train harder and take on more. 

The spring of my senior year I started to burn out pretty bad on the 800.  Whether it was too much speed work, no time off between seasons, my asthma problems, or just too much track in general, who knows?  While pole vaulting at practice one day I came up with the grand idea that I would do the decathlon.  This would be my first true multisport performance. 

Luckily my elementary school gym teacher was the field event coach for the team.  Learning from someone I already had a good repertoire with made it significantly easier. 

Starting about half way through the season I would attempt to work on one or two of my field events after my running workout (on the really hard running workout days I would skip out all together or do part of the workout before vanishing to the field events).  Javelin came fairly quickly to me (having played baseball for a number of years) as well as long jump (being a mid-distance runner / sprinter).  High jump wasn’t too bad either, but frankly I just wasn’t strong enough to really throw discuss or shot put that far (my not so great form didn’t help matters much either).  Most days I was the first one to practice and the last one to go home trying to cram as much as I could (a trait that would later serve me well went I entered the world of triathlon). 

After the regular season ended and we finished competing in the state meets (I had dropped down to the 400 meter during that spring) it was finally time to take on my first decathlon.  It took place on June 8th - 9th, 1999, just a few miles from my parent’s house in Burlington.  I learned somewhere around this point that instead of pole vaulting I would have to do triple jump (an event that I have still yet to fully comprehend). 

The meet started off pretty well with a 12 second flat 100 meter sprint, which would turn out to be my highest scoring event.  Next I completed the long jump, followed by a not so great shot put performance.  My last field event of the first day was the high jump, an event I had some faith I could get a couple of points in.  I was able to clear both the opening height (4’11’’) and next one up (5’1 ½’’), but that was it for the event (I had gotten 5’4’’ in practice the week before).  I capped off the first day with the 400 meter, the event I had been focusing on during the main portion of the season.  I ended up being about 2 seconds slower then my personal record, but still fast enough to get a good chunk of points.  I felt pretty confident leaving the track, making it through five events with four solid performances (shot put was what it was and not much more). 

The second day began with the 110 meter high hurdles, another event that I was not overly thrilled about.  I started the race off pretty well staying neck and neck with the other competitors, but then lost my mind about half way through.  I was thinking, I am much faster then these people, tried to take an extra step, and ran straight through the next hurdle.  I managed to re-gain my composure and finish the race, but not without some pain to the left knee (and losing about 3 seconds due to running over the hurdle).  It ended up taking me over eight seconds longer to finish a race just 10 meters longer then my sprint the day before and was my most pitiful performance of the meet. 

I re-grouped during the discuss throw before practically killing myself in the triple jump (man did I wish they had pole vault).  Feeling little down after three not so great performances, I knew I would be a little stronger in the final two events: javelin and the 1500 meter run. Javelin went well as I unveiled a 123’ throw getting me back over the 400 point barrier for the event.  I buckled down and knocked out the 1500 in 4:56 as my final event. 

I finished the two days with 4371 points, good enough for 42 / 67.  Considering I had never done seven of the ten events in a meet before I was pretty happy with the results.  I did notice I was quite fatigued over the next few days as not having been used to doing so many events.  Like any other events, the pains of competing fade at a much faster rate then the memories. 

Northern Area High School Decathlon [6]

100 Meter
0:12:00
605
Long Jump
18’2.25’’ (5.54m)
490
Shot Put
28'08.25 (8.74m)
410
High Jump
5'01.75  (1.57m)
441
400 Meter
0:55.40
577
110 Meter High Hurdles
0:20.60
286
Discuss Throw
79'05.00 (24.20m)
352
Triple Jump
31'11.25 (9.73m)
222
Javelin Throw
123'03.00 (37.58m)
407
1500 Meter
4:56.3
581
Total Points: 4371


[1] Nashoba Valley Ski Area: http://www.skinashoba.com/
[2] Shawnee Peak Ski Area: http://www.shawneepeak.com/
[3] Mount Washington: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Washington_%28New_Hampshire%29
[4] Web MD: http://men.webmd.com/news/20040413/scientists-explain-aha-moments
[5] Map created using Gmap Pedometer: http://gmap-pedometer.com/
[6] http://www.coolrunning.com/results/99/ma/Jun8_Northe_set1.html

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