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Nike, Samsung, Vin Lanana and Tom Jordan put on another fantastic meet in Eugene yesterday, but it would be hard to tell that from the TV coverage – the ratings of which will be used to prop up the argument that nobody wants to watch track outside of the Olympics. While Hayward put on her best dress and brought all her friends as always, NBC once again showed that it has little feel for the sport aside from the sprints.

I want to say this up front: Ato Boldon, (@AtoBoldon) is one of the best track announcers for TV alive. He does credit to the sport – but I say that with the caveat that Ato’s strength lies in the sprints. Ato, love you man, but you just don’t know the distance events and it shows. (UPDATE: Ato and my intrepid commentor below point out that Ato doesn’t cover the distance events. They’re right, and that’s lazy work on my part. My apologies to Ato, and his willingness to engage on this is one of the reasons he’s…well, he’s Ato. Love the man.) Aside from Ato, however, NBC has a sad cast of characters out there. Dwight Stones, bless his heart, is just not good. He knows his jumps, but hearing him cover them just drains them of excitement (although being forced to cover every field event in two 20 second bursts could be the problem, more on that later). I, like many track fans, watch the Diamond League meets online at Universal Sports, and have been spoiled by the British announcers there – despite being a bit too prone to comments about the weight/appearance of the female athletes, these guys know the sport. They know the athletes, the tendencies, the tactics, the times. They’re the Monday Night Football crew of track.

But aside from that, the actual coverage – aside from the sprints and the Bowerman mile – is atrocious. The production decisions lack any sign that there is a familiarity with the sport. Let’s review:

  • Women’s 3000 – NBC covered the first 1600, when the pack is essentially jogging behind the pacers and nothing is really happening, then just as the racing started, cut to Dwight Stones doing a standalone about field events under the stands (with no clips of the action he was describing), then commercials. After commercials, we were treated to the last 200 meters of a Moroccan woman running by herself. Even I was bored by the action on the screen. You guys! The viewing public doesn’t understand pacers, and watching the crowd circle the track together isn’t good TV. Show us the start, do your field bit and commercials, then let us see the racing after the pacers drop out and have someone in the booth who understands distance racing to paint the picture. Like this guy. Watching a woman win all by her lonesome is bad TV. Watching her make moves and pull the pack apart makes that finish intriguing and exciting and contextual. AND IT TAKES THE SAME SCREEN TIME.
  • Field events – We saw three brief clips of high jumps (a Chaunte Lowe miss, Shkolina miss, and Chicherova’s winning jump), one bad Britney Reese jump, two clips from the shot, one hammer throw, one triple jump. All of these clips lacked any sort of context, and we saw one winning effort (Reese Hoffa in the shot). Women’s pole vault and discus, and men’s javelin just didn’t exist. And a lot of closeups of Dwight Stones talking. We got no visual showing us the final standings in field events. For this, Runnerspace was contractually forbidden from showing or discussing Friday night’s triple jump, discus and hammer throw? There were some really good stories in the field, and they were largely ignored – but hey, we got to see every possible pre- and post-race second of a rather pedestrian 200 meters, so I guess it’s okay.
  • The women’s steeplechase had a world leading time and a great race, and if all you did is watch the TV coverage, you’d have no idea there was even a steeplechase run. To reiterate: NBC spent well over a minute of airtime showing the blowout finish of the women’s 3000, but zero time even mentioning the world-class and thrilling steeplechase that had just happened.
  • I understand that NBC isn’t going to spend air time talking about A and B qualifying times, because that’s more complex than the average viewer really needs or probably wants to get. But as Ryan said, how can you not at least mention Olympic implications? For the millionth time, context is everything.

The shame of this is that the Pre Classic is a TV-ready event. It’s scheduled to work on TV, and NBC still blows it. Universal Sports covers these events, and manages to show all the events – granted, they don’t have the commercials to run that NBC does, but even that is workable – add 30 minutes, make it a 2 hour show, and use the last 30 to provide a good, rich recap of the events that weren’t live. Doing it the way NBC is doing it isn’t just robbing track fans, which I can imagine they wouldn’t worry about, but it’s robbing themselves of an opportunity to grow a new audience and expand their sports platform.

I know we’re supposed to be glad that NBC covers the sport at all, and I am glad of it. The frustration is not that I didn’t get to see every second of the men’s 5000 (by the way – NBC handled the 5000 very well, so credit where credit is due!), but that I watched 90 minutes of mostly missed opportunities. Partner up with Runnerspace and FloTrack – these guys know the venue and the sport intimately! Use their knowledge and let them pick up some knowledge on professional coverage. There’s talent in them there online streaming fellas – why not recruit and put a better product on screen? I get that you don’t want your Saturday coverage blown by Friday streaming, but did it actually serve any purpose to forbid them to cover the triple jump? Heck, put one of your producers in the Runnerspace booth and make a judgment call on site. Barring a world record or something equally shocking, it’s unlikely their stream is going to be picked up by CBS and spoil your scoop that Christian Taylor jumped 57’9”. So your guy says yeah, go ahead and cover the TJ, but don’t mention the American Record that just happened in the hammer throw – but you can tease it for TV, and here’s how. See how you just made your broadcast better? And it would take two hours of a producer’s time.

What are your thoughts? Ideas for improving TV coverage of the sport? Where am I wrong? These are just my observations and opinions, but I know I’m not the only one frustrated by what we see on American coverage.


Earlier this month, Lashinda Demus said what’s been on the minds of many track fans for a while – at least in the US, track is a dying sport. In the wake of that, the blogs saw a resurgence in the ongoing “how can we fix this” discussion – See here, here, here, here, and here for some of the good bits (and don’t forget the comments section – lots of useful nuggets in there). Here, in no particular order, are what seem to be the consensus good ideas (with a few others that weren’t so much consensus as just good ideas). It’s my blog, so I made some editorial decisions…:)

In-stadium fixes
* Beer/food
* Giveaways – tshirts, thunder sticks
* Music
* Mascots/entertainment
* Shorten the meet!
* Money – prize money, big bold and advertised
* Stats on the screens (if you have one) – a la DL stream – show WL/WR/AR/AL/whatever is relevant as the event is unfolding

Pre-meet/athlete fixes
* Marketing
* Marketing
* Promotion
* Sponsors
* Marketing
* Smaller/discipline specific meets (jumps/throws a la Europe, distance a la Oxy, sprints a la nobody)
* Money – prize money, big bold and advertised
* Marketing

Perhaps I should have mentioned marketing a bit more. This is sort of beating a dead horse, but the Oxy High Performance meet is a USATF meet – and it’s mentioned nowhere on their site! I looked around the site, and while they have a place for meet directors to report results, they specifically say the results will be put in a database but not online. WHY NOT??! I love Track and Field News, but USATF is exactly  where results should be available. And I haven’t even started talking about what the USATF isn’t doing off the website. Where are you guys? Do you listen? Do you exist? Jill Geer, the communications director for USATF, made a good point – that American interest in track spiked around the 1984 and 1996 Olympics, when the biggest meet of all happened on our soil. So her prescription for the sport? USOC – you guys make it happen.

Jill – don’t be so short-sighted! Your organization has a responsibility here, and you can’t just slough it off on the USOC. The silence from USATF during this discussion is not just worrying, it’s downright damn insulting to the fans. The USATF likes to say it’s all about the athletes, and to some degree that’s a good thing. But by ignoring the fans – and I don’t just mean not providing the best product, but actively ignoring a loud and growing cry for change from the fans – you’re choking off the very source of support that the athletes need. The USATF, when faced with any question about their way of doing things, sticks to the status quo as though it’s oxygen. Nick Symmonds and all the athletes clamoring for looser sponsorship regs can attest to this. Rather than listen, the USATF gets in their defensive posture and trots out spokespeople and surrogates to tell us that they’re staying with the status quo because the status quo is what we do.

Really, guys? Nike will pull sponsorship dollars if the sport’s visibility is increased? REALLY?

Okay, that’s my brief (and very edited) rant about the USATF – I think you can see that in my opinion, the biggest problem with the sport right now lies directly with them.

So, about fixing things. Let’s go over some of these ideas. As discussed, marketing is a big issue here. Flotrack, Runblogrun, etc., do a great job, but they only market to track nerds like me – it’s a closed audience. USATF putting events on their site (as any other large professional organization would sorry sorry I’ll stop…) would be a closed, but larger, audience. But what about newspapers, tv? We can’t just bitch that they don’t cover us – you have to ram the information down their throat. Press releases, PR events, emails, whatever works to get free media – and they will cover you! Hell, it’s a new age – every large city has an “ist” site now – LAist, Seattleist, etc., and they’d cover it in their own snarky way. The point is, you have to ask for attention repeatedly, and you will get it. There should be volunteers wandering after road races, handing out flyers for meets like Oxy – hey, it works for other road races, let’s get in the mix! Get volunteers at street fairs, even. Get local and get involved!

There are so many options for meets that would improve things – when I see people writing about them, there’s something of a silver-bullet search, but really there is no reason to pick just one option. Meets should be shorter, absolutely (but sometimes that doesn’t work, and that’s okay, says Penn Relays and every high school championship meet ever). Move them along, keep the fields a bit smaller and close the gaps between events. Let’s try duals again. Let’s try the discipline specific meets, like the jumps and throws meets they have in Europe (Drake Relays Vault in the Mall, KU Relays shot put already do this), distance events like Oxy, or speed-specific (sprints and hurdles) meets which, to my knowledge, no one is currently doing. Hell, follow Drake Relays and Manchester’s lead and run a normal meet but have an invitational 100 meters run inside a mall the day before to draw media attention.

Speaking of gimmicks, why not gimmick events during meets? There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Mt. SAC ran the Puma mile, with bonus money for sub-4 or sub 4:30 miles for the men and women, and last year at Mt. SAC they had a speed gun up and had sprinters running against each other to get the highest speed on the gun – people *loved* it. Some road races now do gender head starts – see Geb and Paula Radcliffe going head-to-head in a half-marathon earlier this year, she with a head-start and money on the line for first finisher. Why not let Wallace Spearmon race Allyson Felix with a similar setup over 200 meters? Put money on the line, winner take all – you think the crowd wouldn’t be dying to see who wins that?

Music between events (during events? – think about a thumping soundtrack to the 5000 meters we saw at Oxy last week), or during athlete introductions. And let’s ham it up – look at the nonsense the NBA does during introductions. It’s ridiculous, but people go crazy for it, it’s human nature. Beer! Let people have a damn beer. Have entertainment, a band, freaking mascots running around. Put important information up on a screen or announce it OFTEN. Let the crowd know what’s at stake. Have athletes throw t-shirts in the stands after their race (okay, they can have a minute to catch their breath). Hey, track professionals: It is not engaging to watch runners slowly work their way off the track and disappear after a race. I saw in comments somewhere, why don’t the athletes put their name on their singlet? It’s a great point – are these people shy? Your name is your brand, you’re a professional, put your name on your damn back so the people we drag to meets to introduce them to the sport can see, “Oh, there’s Nick Symmonds, got it” instead of trying to figure out which guy in the OTC singlet we’re pointing at. (Nick’s a bad example, because he’s easy to describe. Andrew Wheating is another bad example. Let’s think about getting our friends to locate Dan Huling during a race…)

I know, I’m putting some of the onus on the athletes. Well guess what, buttercup? You have to pitch in. Look at soccer – nobody leaves the pitch, win or lose, without applauding the crowd. WNBA does post-game interviews FOR the crowd. Athletes sometimes have to give a little more of themselves to help their sport (caveat: some athletes are already very giving of their time. As an example, Nick Symmonds, Andrew Wheating, Shannon Rowbury and David Torrence were amazing at Oxy about responding to shouted requests and all came over to sign autographs and take photos. The buzz in the stands afterward is *exactly* why more athletes should be doing this). Even those who are super fan-friendly should be open to some change in their meet routine to help the sport

As a side note, can we stop saying the drug issue is part of the problem? It’s bullshit. It’s an excuse. I don’t see empty baseball stadiums. I don’t see empty football stadiums. Both sports have drug problems miles worse than ours, and much better documented. The average fan might be outraged about it, but they still showed up to see Barry Bonds swing a bat. If Usain Bolt was suspected of doping, people would still show up to watch him run as long as he was running. Make the sport more engaging for the fans, and sprinters can be shooting up steroids at the starting line for all they care. (See: MMA, WWE)

So here’s where we get to the nitty-gritty. How does all this stuff happen? Obviously, as discussed, the USATF will be doing none of the things listed above. Unless…unless we force them. You know, they do have an annual meeting. Those of us who are involved, stakeholders like Runblogrun, heck, meet organizers who would like to pitch a better product – why not storm the castle? The sponsorship kerfuffle last year at least got on the agenda. Not a lot came of it, but they were forced to at least recognize it.

And here’s a really crazy idea: Why not do it ourselves? Putting on a track meet is an undertaking – more so than putting on a road race, for which there are now specialty consulting firms. But it can be done. Why not a Flotrack branded distance event? Why not an LA Times sprints meet? Why not why not why not…the options are really limitless, if we are willing to take the chance and do the work. It could fail, some of these ideas may turn out to be crap, but just maybe we show the USATF that you can draw a crowd to a meet with a new way of doing things.

In a way, we’re revisiting the battles our athletes fought with the AAU in the 1970’s, but we, the fans and track ecosystem, are in on the solution this time. Pre isn’t around to put on an international dual meet (Wait…there’s another idea!). What do you think; can we gather together and make a change without the institutional support? Or do we have to just wait for the USATF, and meanwhile watch the American track scene outside of Eugene, Des Moines and Philly wither up and die?

When I tell friends about going to track meets or getting up at ungodly hours to watch marathons online, I often get some variation of “But it’s so boring! They’re just going around and around/running for hours. How do you watch that?” I’m sure you’re all familiar with this phenomenon.  We all offer up the same “I dunno, it’s interesting to me, I guess” defense, in one way or another.

I’ve decided to take another tack lately, at least to open the door to an explanation. “Yeah, going to concerts is boring. They just do the same thing for hours.”

This is obviously stupid, of course. But think about the metaphor here. The drummer is just banging on drums for hours. The guitarist is just strumming along. The singer, just saying words in a musical way…for hours! Objectively, this is true. But anyone who enjoys concerts understands why you go. Every song has its own melody, its own nuance. Even within songs, there are twists and turns, new rhythms and chords, a solo here and there. The magic and the joy lies within those melodies, the beat, the changing rhythms, the mid-song key changes. Those words mean something different – a love song now, a revenge tale over here. Even when you’ve heard the song a hundred times before, each performance offers the possibility of a new insight, a new discovery, a new joy.

This is what running is. Every lap, every mile in a marathon, music is being made. There is art and science happening, right before our eyes. Runners adjusting to one another, forcing others to adjust, making decisions, revealing habits and fears and secrets about themselves with each surge or lead change. It’s a visual concert with a thousand possibilities every time you look at something new.

Today’s Boston Marathon is a wonderful example of this. New Zealand’s Kim Smith took an immediate lead and just poured it on from the start, stretching her lead out, mile by mile. One could say this was boring – just watching a skinny lady run by herself for over an hour. But every mile was a question. Will she continue to pull away? What is her plan? Is there a plan? Will the pack catch her – and if so, when? how? Will they speed up or will she slow down? On Twitter, there was discussion of her form; her arm motion is very ungainly, so it appears as though she’s flailing and suffering. But if you watched closely, you saw that it was an illusion; her shoulders and hips are perfectly still, the essence of good form. So it gave you something else to focus on…are her shoulders rising, is the set of her face changing?

Ultimately, she suffered some sort of calf injury that took her out of the race, but the degeneration as she struggled to fight through it – and the courage! – added even more drama. And then we were treated to a slugfest as Desi Davila and Caroline Kilel traded the lead, becoming more and more aggressive as the race wore on.

After two plus hours of watching women “just running”, we were treated to the answer to all the questions that had formed! The race came down to the last 200 meters, and at the end, neither woman had anything left to give, Kilel collapsing after winning the race and having to be taken to the medical tent. It was drama, love, passion, and pure guts at its most primal.

Of course, this isn’t for everyone. It’s like baseball, in that to truly get this, you have to start to understand the game before and within the game. Otherwise, a 0-0 pitching duel is boring – while someone who understands the subtexts realizes that every pitch is a story, every movement on the field contains a pathos revealing strength, weakness, opportunity. Without knowing those subtexts, it’s just guys throwing a ball at a stick and nobody scores.

Why draw all these comparisons? Because baseball is huge. People do understand the subtext. They do appreciate the pitching duel. And while a smartass comment and lengthy metaphor won’t convert the world, it serves to highlight the reality that to sell our sport to our friends and grow it, we need to teach the subtext. It can be done! Bit by bit, people do get it. Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay are our home-run hitters, and we can let them draw fans to the stadium…but we have to teach people, while they’re there, to appreciate every at-bat. We can build a new following for track, but we have to start thinking differently about how to explain it to those who aren’t already in the fold.


I spent three days this week at the Mt. SAC Relays, watching high school, college and pro races, field events, and just generally enjoying a gorgeous venue and world-class competition. (I mean – look at the photo to the left. That’s the entrance. Look at the character in that sign!) While I enjoyed seeing world-leading times, jumps, and vaults, I was really saddened at the crowds. I wound up spending a lot of my time thinking about the sad state of modern American track and field.

Look at the stands in the photo to the right. This is WP_000560during prime-time at a nationally renowned track meet with world-class athletes. The angle is taken across the field towards the finish line; the most packed part of the stadium. How can this be? Imagine the Bears playing the Vikings, but only 8,000 showed up to Soldier Field. In other sports, when you fail to draw crowds to this degree, you fold or move. This is why the Sonics left Seattle, and the Kings are leaving Sacramento. (btw, compare that crowd to the photo below, from the Pre Classic in 2008. This is before Pre became a Diamond League meet and moved into the stratosphere of world-class meets…Eugene does it right. More on that in a later post.) (I should add, I don’t mean to suggest Mt. SAC put on a bad meet – it was great, packed with strong fields, big performances, and very well run. There’s a community aspect that has to be overcome)

Pre08 149

Why is this happening? It’s been like this for decades now, and despite some improvement in the situation, American interest in the sport is virtually nil. There are a few exceptions – nearly any meet in Eugene, Drake Relays, Adidas Grand Prix in New York, etc., but for the most part, our athletes perform in front of teammates and family members from junior high on into the pros…unless they go abroad.

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Please bear with me – I moved from Blogger to a new home on WordPress, and need to do some visual updates (header, etc.)…meanwhile, I will do some writing and get more involved here. Welcome to my new home, please come back again!

Well, it’s that time of year again – the leaves will turn soon, and it’s time to leave the road and start running trails.  I’m lucky to live in, um, or near, Seattle so I can join one of the largest cross country teams in the country, Eastside Runners XC Team.  For those of you paying attention, yes, I was on the team last year, but only ran one meet and then the “incident” happened.  I suspect this year will be a bit more rewarding, what with 50 pounds less on the frame and a bit more speed in the legs.

Last night was our first team meeting, where we got to mingle a bit and cover the bases – team captains, who and how to pay, team uniforms, how to register for races, etc.  I am pumped!  I love track, but there’s something so unique in XC – the changing terrain, different challenges in every race, and given the time of year, you can deal with anything from heat to sub-zero temperatures.  It’s a sport for the hardy, with the added benefit that you tend to run in beautiful locations.  And entering a new age group, the 40-49 division, opens up some new competitive territory for me.  Let’s face it, the odds of me competing with 25 year old guys running sub-15:00 5Ks are slim.  But if I can get under 20:00 consistently, I should at least be able to help my age-group team score, and that’s what it’s all about.

Now, onto something a little more serious…

I’ve been following the World Championships in Berlin, and the women’s 800 meters has an unusual bit of intrigue – the gender of the gold medalist has been called into question.  Apparently, she improved her PR quite suddenly this July from 2:04 to 1:56, and when the IAAF saw photos of her, they asked South African officials to investigate her gender.  See why here or here.  I think, visually, there appears to be a legitimate question, and the rapid appearance of dominant ability in this person is at a minimum suspicious.

But here’s what concerns me.  This is an 18-year old kid, however the gender issue is resolved.  Why was this released to the press the day before the final?  Why not just keep the info behind the scenes until the IAAF has their answer, and then release it?  Does this person deserve no dignity?  Even the IAAF officials, from their statement, don’t believe this is a case of fraud, but rather of someone who may think of herself as a woman but not, biologically, be one.  And this 18 year old kid has had this played out on global television.

Watching her face prior to the final, filled with defiance, and the lack of any joy after winning a world title, just broke my heart.  Even at the medal ceremony, it was obviously bittersweet at best.  If she turns out to be clean of any doping issues and biologically female, what good has been done here?  We’ll have someone whose crowning achievement, what should be a moment of unsurpassed joy and pride, has been stripped by a public whipping that no one deserves.

Of course, if she has doped or is biologically a male, the question of fairness is moot – she doesn’t deserve the medal.  But that will still not change one salient, oh-so-important fact: this is an 18-year old kid, who will carry what’s happened this week the rest of her life.  Are there no adults in the IAAF or the media who could’ve thought better of this?

Where the hell have you been, Switzer, you say? Well, you’re right to wonder, but I don’t appreciate your tone. The truth is, it’s been…an odd year. Let’s see – where to start? Tell ya what, let’s make this a multi-parter. I’ll tell you where I’ve been, and later I’ll cover why I started this blog, and why I’m writing it now.

Okay, sooo…after I made my last post here almost a year ago, cross country season started. It did not go well. I was fat, out of shape, not nearly as ready as I thought and hoped I was, and it was all around humiliating. And the truth is, club teams say they welcome runners of all abilities, but the word ‘welcome’ is in the eye of the beholder. But that’s okay, I expected some humiliation along the way – you plow through and become stronger for it. What I did not expect was the photo.

I don’t have a link to this photo, as it seems to have disappeared from the intertubes. But I can describe it, because it lives on with crystal clarity in my mind. I went to the Sundodger Invitational to support my Eastside Runner teammates. I was not fast enough to run in this meet, which was okay with me. I love the sport, so I had a blast watching college athletes from NAIA Division II up to the eventual NCAA national champion UW Huskies run, and the club runners were right in the mix. Nobody on the team knew me, so I didn’t really chat with anyone, but again, no big deal. I was new on the team, I can be a little shy, and they were doing other things. What I found out later was that I had inadvertently stood in the shot while some photos were being taken. When a link to the club’s photos of the event went out, I happily looked through – hey, running photos are kinda awesome! I came across one that I glanced at, but didn’t look that closely. The caption said “I love the look on the not-so-fit guy’s face as he watches these Kenyans fly by!”. I looked up to see the poor fat guy being made fun of, and was horrified to realize that I was that fat guy.

Well, I will say this. I had never experienced such a deep blow. I don’t know why it hit me as hard as it did, but it did. I stopped blogging, stopped running, stopped everything. After a couple days, I decided to do something about this, and started looking into the 20/20 Lifestyles program at my gym – basically, you pay assloads of money to the club in exchange for six months of a dietician, doctor, personal trainer twice a week, and private and group therapy. My company pays most of the cost, but that still leaves a couple grand coming out of my pocket. I decided, to never feel like this again, to walk across my house without getting winded, to never feel ashamed of big clothes fitting snugly, to not fear the beating of my own heart – well, no price was too much. I perked up and was excited about this new direction in my life!

You can feel the other shoe about to drop, right? It did. I went through two physicals (to make sure I was unhealthy enough to qualify for this, but healthy enough to not die in the process), two blood tests, and all sorts of paperwork, only to find at the last minute that I had the wrong insurance. Suddenly, I was out in the dark again, and wouldn’t get the help I so obviously needed until I could change my insurance, in three months.

I’m sorry to say that this put me in a depression like I’ve never felt before and hope to never feel again. It lasted from October into January, and I was just destroyed. I hated being fat, and desperately wanted to go to the gym, but I was borderline qualified for the program, so couldn’t risk getting any healthier. I refused to take blood pressure medication, wouldn’t work out, and ate even more than before, which is saying something. I ate things I didn’t want, WHEN I didn’t want. Eventually I could see others looking a little embarrassed, so I began to eat normal meals and snuck out to McDonalds after they’d gone to sleep, and would eat in my car. There is no way to explain the shame and hurt of sitting in your car at 1am, eating a burger you don’t want.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Switzer was not cut out for supporting someone going through this type of trauma, and couldn’t be with someone she thought of as fat, lazy, unwilling to fix these things, and depressed, and found another Mr. to love – I finally moved out on January 29 of this year. So, to add to the shame and hurt of being Mr. Fat Guy, I had become Mr. Single Dumped By His Wife Guy. (I promise, this story cheers up) Prior to that date, however, I had started to make some changes on my own. I stumbled on these little tuna salad with cracker things – they’re $2 each, and all self-contained. I found little puddings. I forget what else I ate at this time, but the point was, while other things had gone out of my control, I found I could control one thing – what I ate. And while I felt weak in other aspects of my life, feeling hunger that I’d imposed on myself felt strong. So I started eating small portions, identical foods and amounts, at the same time every day. And weight started to come off.

In January, I started to run again, and this time enjoyed it. I actually kicked it off with a race on New Year’s Day (see the photo!) I was struggling to run two miles at 10:00 pace, but I was doing it, and it felt good. In February, I’ll admit that the stress compounded and I made some poor eating choices (essentially, I became obsessed with the weight loss and stopped eating), but I was running 4 or 5 times a week and added boxing to the regimen. By the end of February I’d dropped from 198 lbs (207 on January 1) to 182, and was able to run up to 4 miles at a 9:00 pace. In February, on the days I ate, I took in under 1000 calories.

In March, I got down to the low 170’s, and even peeked under 170, and rediscovered my ability to run on my toes and use a quicker stride. I signed up for races to give myself a target goal. Also, after an embarrassing fainting spell at boxing, I started eating enough food – and PROTEIN – to keep the machine going and suddenly found myself with abundant energy, and even managed to run 6 miles a couple times. I started eating closer to 1600 calories a day, and felt like I was gorging myself to do it!

In April, I got down to the low 160’s, made more tweaks in the diet, adding some calories back in and moving some protein around. I also started to accumulate miles, and got up to 10 miles for my long runs.

By May, I was ready to race. I locked in at 162 lbs, and was running consistent miles, long runs around 8:45 – 9:00 pace and shorter runs around 8:20 pace. I finally added an interval workout – 2 x 1600 in 7:45, with an 800 jog between. Well, I ran one at 6:37 and one at 6:45, and knew that things had really changed. I was ready for Bloomsday.

Bloomsday is a 12k in Spokane, with Doomsday Hill about halfway in – a hill I was terrified of, as I’ve struggled with hills for the last few years. When I registered, I predicted a 9:00 pace on the registration form, and thought that might be a little aggressive. Even though I’d improved faster than I thought I would, I was still expecting no better than an 8:30 pace if things went really well. As it turned out, I finished with a 7:50 pace

The more important moment in May, though, involved my Eastside Runners jersey. When I got it (size XL) for cross country season 8 months earlier, it was SNUG. Like, embarrassingly, here-are-my-man-boobs snug. I wore it, but I hated it. Well, during my moving around I found it and tried it on, just out of curiosity – and it was baggy on me. Hence, I wore that bastard at Bloomsday just to make a point to myself. And I wore it at the next 5k I ran (in 21:43), in the mile I ran at an all-comer’s (6:37), and in the half-marathon in late June (1:51), and the 5k on my birthday (21:49 on a longer/mis-measured course).

And I’m back. I have my confidence back. I have my assassin back – rather than just slogging through races because it’s what you do, I target people and pick them off for the fun of it. I’m beating people in my club. I’m top 10 in the 40-44 division in my last three races. I can love participating in this sport again, instead of just watching it. I feel, in short, like a runner again. I look like a runner again. I eat like a runner again, sleep like a runner again, think like a runner again. This is what I do. It’s been a weird and at times difficult year, but on the other side of it, I have me, and I’m happy about that. I missed me. I didn’t like being the guy who couldn’t tuck in a shirt or keep up on a walk to the cafe. I like this – I love watching this sport, and I love competing. I think it’s a shame that I had to start beating people before I was welcomed into my running club, and I hope I can use my experience to teach people about that.

Most of all, I’m happy. And I look forward to re-purposing this blog, to tell the story of a comeback, to talk about the sport I love, and to just generally…well, drop 2,000 words at a pop and make you all suffer through it!

>Well, that was an interesting week. Lots of ups and downs for the US track team, some trends continuing (Jamaica catching up – more like passing us – in the sprints, continued decline in the jumps, weak performances above 400 meters), some new things emerging, and clear indications that we need to get American track refocused, top to bottom.

I’ll get to that. But first, how did I do at my predictions? Let’s see:

My guess? Flanagan pushes the pace, not wanting to deal with the kick of a Dibaba or the other Africans. Hopefully she doesn’t go out too fast – if she can get in under 31:00, she’s got a medal. Due to my crush (*le sigh*), I kinda hope Goucher wins the whole thing, but I think she’s most likely to finish 5th or 6th.

Success! Flanagan finishes in 30:22 in a fast race and gets a bronze. Kara found herself running under 31:00 for the first time, but still 10th.

Americans will all make the final, but they’re going to get their asses kicked in the women’s 5,000. They just don’t have sub-14:30’s in them

Well, this one’s weird. No 14:30 needed, with the slowest world-class 5000 I’ve seen in…well, ever, but really they just ran tactically bad races. When you’re running 80-plus second laps at the Olympics with Dibaba in the race, you need to GO. You can’t leave it to a sprint. I love me some Kara Goucher, and her kick is fantastic, but she doesn’t have a Dibaba-type kick.

* Sorry, American men! Your Olympics are going to be difficult in the distance events. Predictions:

800: Symmonds makes the final, finishes around 8th. Wheating gets into the semis, Smith doesn’t survive the heats
1500: Hope! Lagat seems unbeatable, but it’s a different year. I’ll be a homer and say he wins it. Leo Manzano and Lopez Lomong might survive the semis, getting the whole team into the finals. Unlikely, though.
3000 Steeple: Um, seriously. Nobody’s making the finals.
5000: Lagat will make the final, and if the field plays into his hands with a slow, tactical race, could win or medal again. My money says we’ll get our first sub 13:00, and no American medals. Tegenkamp and Dobson, enjoy the experience and the semis.
10000: If the race is slower and tactical, Abdi could be in the running, but I think he’s most likely to finish around 5th or 6th. Rupp and Torres won’t be competitive.
Marathon: Hall could surprise and pull off a medal run, but I think it’s not his time yet – 4th is my prediction. In 2012, Hall’s going to blow the field up, though!

Well, let’s see. Symmonds didn’t make the final, but neither Smith nor Wheating survived the heats. So I was, like, 30% right. Lagat failed to survive the semis, running TACTICALLY STUPID RACES. I saw this in Eugene, it concerned me, and it bit him in the ass. Tendinitis or no, you can’t spend all your time boxed in in the back of the pack. So I was way wrong on that. Manzano and Lomong did as expected. Steeplechase – Famigliatti surprised me and made the finals (running a bizarre front-running semi and burning himself out in the process). In the 5, Lagat and Tegenkamp made the finals, but as I predicted, no medals AND the first Olympic sub 13:00. In the 10, Abdi was never really in it, nor was Rupp. Torres was REALLY out of it. But, the race was neither slow nor tactical, so that roughly fits what I predicted. Ryan Hall really shit the bed in the marathon, putting forth his worst effort yet, but it is early and he’s got talent galore. I still say 2012 is his time.

I called for one medal, but predicted we could easily get nothing, which is exactly what we got. Hrmph.

We could win as many as 7 medals at 800 and above for the women, but a minimum of 2:
800: Hazel Clark could go bronze, although I think the field’s just too deep – probably 6th or 7th
1500: Rowbury medals. Guaranteed.
Steeple: One medal. Barringer or Willard, can’t predict who pulls out the bronze.
5000: Sorry, guys, it just ain’t gonna happen.
10000: Flanagan medals, possibly Goucher.
Marathon: Kastor could surprise!

Oy. Nobody survived the semis in the 800; just a terrible performance. I apologize for guaranteeing a Rowbury medal – she was in it, but didn’t have the guns at the right time. She is absolutely good enough to run with those ladies, though. I clearly underestimated the steeple field – an American record apparently will only get you 9th place! 5000, well, I called it. 10, I called this too. In the marathon, whoopsie! Kastor breaks a foot, Lewy Boulet whacks her knee on a bus seat (WHAT??), and that was that.

So what’s up with the American team? Other than Tyson Gay, our sprinters are clearly in a down cycle, but Walter Dix is going to be gooood. Gay had a rough couple months – bad time to strain the hammy and miss some training! No matter, Usain Bolt wasn’t going to be beaten. Nice, gutsy sweep in the 400, and I admit I enjoy seeing Jeremy Wariner get beat, just because he’s such a pouter about it. Lolo Jones (hot hot heat – good lordy she’s smoking hot!) ran so well, the end of her race was excrutiating to watch. Same with Sanya Richards, although she kinda did herself in by going out too fast. Our distance runners continue to be outmatched and unprepared for these meets. Damn damn damn. And the relays! It’s to the point that I didn’t watch the 4 x 100 prelims because this has become a 50/50 chance with the U.S. teams. We’ve got to get our national teams focused on the team portion of the Olympics so this nonsense doesn’t happen – it’s embarrassing and inexcusable.

I think the next four years will be somewhat transformative – they have to be. Doug Logan’s clearly putting a lot of thought into getting the USATF straightened out, I think he’s going to look at our coaching (finally!) and the sprinters won’t let themselves continue to be humiliated like they were.

I don’t agree with the commenters here (idiots), and this guy’s just a douchebag. But, the reality is that our team looked unprepared and in many cases like they didn’t take this seriously enough.

When looking at the Kenyans and Ethiopians compared to our distance runners, the big gap appears to be in the depth of their bench. They have dozens of runners 18 – 21 years old running world-class times – an 18 year old won the women’s 800, 21 year old won the men’s marathon, the Ethiopians had an 18 year old in the men’s 5000 final. They have dozens of kids like this. We have four or five guys, spread around multiple events, all in their mid-to-late 20’s. This is not how you catch up. We have to stop babying our high school runners. The myth that they’ll burn out and won’t have a pro career is just that – a myth. These African runners are running world-class times by 15 or 16 years old, and training at a world-class level. When I hear that a talent like Jordan Hasay is running 30 or 40 miles a week during the season and LESS between seasons, I see an enormous opportunity wasted. I see a talent being wasted. And I only see one of her! It’s great that California had two girls running at a high level last year, but they are few and far between. And they get to college and are still not training at a world-class level, so four more years are wasted. How fast would Jenny Barringer be in the steeple if she trained like the Kenyans instead of getting babied at the college level (yes, I’m aware her training is hard – but it should be harder)? Why should Galen Rupp have to leave college for a year to train for world-class races? World-class training should be part of the college program, not saved for the post-collegiate athlete.

But what do I know? I’m just a guy seeing what’s plainly displayed on my TV screen every time our runners go up against the Africans.

Random musings

I’ve decided to make this an easy week, as my achilles’ have been hurting for a week and my hamstring cramped like a bastard this morning, so I’m taking tonight off. Instead, I’ll make you all suffer through whatever’s inside my head!

* I want these. I really, really want them.

* What’s with the Chinese women and their distance running program? In the mid ’90’s, they were breaking records – by mind-boggling margins – always in Beijing or Shanghai. Then they just disappeared. Look at the 3000-meter world record. See how far ahead of everyone else Junxia is? Just not possible by legal means, sorry. It’s WAY too fishy. Same with the 10,000 – a record set, again, by Junxia in Beijing, 5 days before she ran an impossibly fast 3000! I just don’t buy it, and it sounds like there were performance-enhancing drugs involved. Huh. Fancy that.

* I look forward to the women’s 10,000 at the Olympics sooooo much. Flanagan and Goucher pushing the Africans? Are you kidding me? It’d be nice to see two medals (especially a gold!) but I think only one is more likely. My guess? Flanagan pushes the pace, not wanting to deal with the kick of a Dibaba or the other Africans. Hopefully she doesn’t go out too fast – if she can get in under 31:00, she’s got a medal. Due to my crush (*le sigh*), I kinda hope Goucher wins the whole thing, but I think she’s most likely to finish 5th or 6th.

* Americans will all make the final, but they’re going to get their asses kicked in the women’s 5,000. They just don’t have sub-14:30’s in them, especially in that weather and after what should be a brutal 10,000. 2012, maybe.

* Speaking of Gouchers, Adam Goucher is going to be a monster in the half marathon and marathon (Kara might be, too, when/if she moves up). I’d love to see Hall and Goucher fighting out some 2:05 marathons for the next five years!

* Sorry, American men! Your Olympics are going to be difficult in the distance events. Predictions:

800: Symmonds makes the final, finishes around 8th. Wheating gets into the semis, Smith doesn’t survive the heats
1500: Hope! Lagat seems unbeatable, but it’s a different year. I’ll be a homer and say he wins it. Leo Manzano and Lopez Lomong might survive the semis, getting the whole team into the finals. Unlikely, though.
3000 Steeple: Um, seriously. Nobody’s making the finals.
5000: Lagat will make the final, and if the field plays into his hands with a slow, tactical race, could win or medal again. My money says we’ll get our first sub 13:00, and no American medals. Tegenkamp and Dobson, enjoy the experience and the semis.
10000: If the race is slower and tactical, Abdi could be in the running, but I think he’s most likely to finish around 5th or 6th. Rupp and Torres won’t be competitive.
Marathon: Hall could surprise and pull off a medal run, but I think it’s not his time yet – 4th is my prediction. In 2012, Hall’s going to blow the field up, though!

That’s one medal, for you kids counting at home. Five medals is the absolute most we could win (Symmonds, Lagat twice, Abdi and Hall) in the most optimistic viewing, and we could easily be left with no medals above the sprints – again. We’ve had worse showings, but still.

We could win as many as 7 medals at 800 and above for the women, but a minimum of 2:
800: Hazel Clark could go bronze, although I think the field’s just too deep – probably 6th or 7th
1500: Rowbury medals. Guaranteed.
Steeple: One medal. Barringer or Willard, can’t predict who pulls out the bronze.
5000: Sorry, guys, it just ain’t gonna happen.
10000: Flanagan medals, possibly Goucher.
Marathon: Kastor could surprise!

* Russia’s back! 800, Steeple, you name it they’ve got runners at the top of the lists. Japan could easily surprise and sweep the marathon, and it’s just as likely that Kenyans and Ethiopians could run the table at everything above 400m. This is gonna be fun to watch!

* I can’t WAIT for the freakin’ Olympics to start!

I’m a Pre-ophile, a group that was small when I was in high school but has grown immensely in the last 10 years.  My mother went to high school with Pre at Marshfield, and I remember the day he died – my mother’s reaction was visceral, and stuck with me.  Knowing most of the stories about the night of his death, this article was of great interest – and really shed some new light on the event.

I prefer another scenario: After Pre dropped off Frank Shorter on Skyline Loop, he was away from people — alone for the first time all day. Now he could reflect and be proud of his most recent accomplishment, the Finnish track tour.

Prefontaine was no different than the rest of us in that regard. He had hopes and dreams and conversations with himself. Perhaps he was having one of those conversations as he descended Skyline Boulevard. Reliving the recent past, planning for the future, daydreaming. He just wasn’t thinking about the here and now. It’s something all of us do every day.

Don’t blame Steve for that; don’t blame anybody. Blame the road, blame the car — but don’t blame Steve.

I’m sorry if this all seems too morbid, especially during what is such a celebratory mood in Eugene. But I present this because I believe that’s the way Steve would have wanted it: for all of us to forget how he died, and to just remember how he lived — how he did truly live.

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