~The world is full of aspiring heroes, all striving to reach the summit of a mountain of dreams. Each second of every day is utilized and malleated to form the masterpiece that is their accomplishment, knowing full well a minor lapse in preparation is most likely catastrophic. These well tuned machines forge their minds, bodies, and souls to live, eat, sweat, and breathe their desire, becoming invincible. Defeat is not an option, rest is unneeded. Victory becomes their sustenance. The world has become their own...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The grass is always greener.

Every year on my birthday from my teenage years on, my dad would do two things. First, he'd ask how it felt to be (insert my age at the time here). Second, he'd tell me, "From now until you're 25 are the best days of your life. They're gonna go by fast, so try and enjoy them while you can."

For the first few birthdays, I took the advice as an impatient adolescent, focusing more on how much more awesome life would be when I finally turned 15... 16...18..., etc. The words seemed almost like a broken record from a nostalgic elder seeking to live vicariously through his son. Needless to say, they were scarcely heeded, and my idyllic pastime became wishing the days away until the next big change.

When I turned seventeen, the words took on a different meaning. The prior year had been spent playing every sport I could cram into my high school schedule. I played soccer on the JV and Varsity team, practicing every evening. On the weekends, I took to the 5k courses, racing on absolutely no training. When winter came around, I played basketball for the twelfth year of my life. The spring was then filled with cold rainy track meets until the sweatshop conditions of early May in Jefferson City. The summer after resembled an anachronistic version of the Lebron James' decision.

After a 4:22 mile off of 15 miles a week of training, my coach laid out the road map of my possible futures. Either I give up playing soccer and basketball, the sports I'd played and loved since I was able to walk, or stay on those teams and forfeit any chance of becoming an exceptional runner from the state of Missouri. Although in the following years there would be moments when I looked back on that day as the worst decision of my life, I truly can't say I made the wrong choice. It was the subsequent soccer-less fall that I first glimpsed the true weight of my dad's words. I miss the hell out of that sport.

As I turned nineteen, the words had fully sunk in. Even with a few full scholarship offers to D1 running programs, there was a distinct hole forming in my heart. A list was beginning to form around the things I'd never experience again. The fast-pace full court presses, the swivel hips into a cruyff... Even the long bus trips with the six guys I'd spent nearly the entire past two years training with were all just memories lost in the past. But, there was another direction to turn. Looking forward, the world seemed full of opportunities and promise, and the words were once again lost to the back of my mind.

At twenty-one, all the opportunities that once seemed so tangible were beyond unreachable. At this point in my life, the words became more of a cruel taunt than a memento mori, as I wanted nothing else than for the weeks and months to fly by to a time when I was healthy again. Countless times, I snapped at my dad when he reminded me how awesome it was that I had made it, and things would soon get better. Although his prediction eventually proved true, the stubborn, depressed young man I was refused to believe anything resembling optimism.

The year snapped past, and my plate of responsibilities piled high. At twenty-two I was tasked with two 18 hour semesters of high-level engineering classes coupled with unrelenting 80 mile weeks, all on top of mandatory twenty hour weeks working in a research lab on campus. As a senior in my last days of college, I'd finally reached the age where the words echoed in my head nearly every day. However, the nonstop workload constantly drove me to my breaking point. I found myself praying for the days where I no longer had to do so much work. Relaying that sentiment to my dad resulted in an incredulous response. He couldn't believe that someone who had such a gift would wish for the day he no longer had to use it. Yet from my perspective, he just couldn't fathom how much of a burden it seemed to carry. But still he'd persist, echoing the need to appreciate the time I had left.

Crossing the finish-line in Austin last May brought such a wave of relief over my tortured and tattered body. I'd be lying if I told you I ran more than 5 miles total in the next three months. And damn it felt good. As my friends continued to frequent the streets of Columbia, my fat ass ate cupcakes and played video games like my life depended on it. But now, nine months and twenty pounds after that race, I would give anything to go back and relive some of those days.

Nearly every day I fantasize about my past. The word "nostalgia" doesn't even begin to explain how I feel. And not just for running. I wish I could be on the field again with Coach Cooksey and the All Saints boys. I wish I could toe the line in that red FZS uniform and smile as I looked left and right at my competition. Hell, I even want to go back to being an actor in the Young Performer's Theater!! If given the chance, I'd slap some make-up on, pull up my bright green tights and sing higher than any man should if it gave me the chance to relive some of my past. "From now until you're 25 are the best days of your life." Where did those days go?

That was my mindset about two weeks ago, with my future undecided deep in the mid-Missouri winter blues. I missed my family and friends, and the fun I had before I became a sellout zombie staring at a computer screen 40+ hours a week. I was convinced that a weekend trip home was the best medication to get me through February, my aforementioned month of Mondays. Yet strangely, the ideal view of going back home was far from accurate. Ya, I had fun seeing a friend and hanging with my family, but it definitely wasn't the answer to my problems.

Now sitting with my former Mizzou teammates, bashing on the new crop of freshman and grilling up our weekly meal, I feel more at peace with the past being forever unattainable. The experiences I've had and the friends I've made don't have to be lost in my mind. And as Phil grows his army to take the crown with ten victory points in Nerds of Catan, I can't help but laugh as I tell them what I'm typing.

"Are you writing your thesis," says the Dicker-man.
"Haha good one. I'm actually blogging."
"You have a blog?? What do you write about?"
"Well, I used to write about running, and now I write about how much my life sucks without it."

I couldn't even finish that statement without laughing my ass off. It seems so ridiculous when I actually reflect on what I'm doing. So what started as a nostalgic day has turned into a retrospective look at why life will always be exciting. Although I'm knocking on the door of 25, officially ending the "best days of my life," there's no reason the coming years won't be full of great experiences and fun moments. For now I'll stick to being the wise old man on the team and expressing myself in blog form for any poor suckers who decide to read my word vomit. To all of you at my house tonight and everyone else reading this: take my dad's advice to heart. I can personally tell you that he's right; especially in the latter part of his chant.

"They're gonna go by fast, so try and enjoy them."
 

Monday, December 31, 2012

Once a runner

Those damn shoes. Six months old with barely any signs of wear. The logos on the sole still shine, brightly visible and mocking. Hell, I can even stand to leave them in my room without occasional wafts of noxious fumes. And look at the colors! Bright gold and white mesh gleam brightly with only flecks of dirt visible near the toes. They're more smug than those damn alpaca. Yet, oh how they beckon, in their miserable way. It took me 6 hours to work up the initiative to slip them on today, and only because it was the last time I could run in 2012.

I made a mistake today; I opened up the photo album from this past year. Joyous memories trapped in 5x7 moments from a lifetime ago make me smile as I deflate into sadness. Those were the days. Although only half a year since I donned my uniform for the last time, the abruptness with which my life changed still takes it's toll. One moment I'm out-kicking Big Twelve foes on the way to my first and only conference medal and the next I'm squeezing the fat rolls on my stomach as I shovel down some pizza. I still feel the sweat dripping off my elbows as I struggled down the home stretch in LA on the way to a top ten performance in the 1500 while I sit at my desk job staring at a computer screen. On each business trip as I board the plane, my mind wonders if I've packed my spikes and uniform. What a strange life I used to lead.

I leash my dog and head out the door into a slushy winter landscape of green and white patches occasionally blotted brown, each step ever more familiar. I truly couldn't say how many times I've run this trail. I'm pretty sure I was only ten the first time I ran back here, intent on beating my dad home after the three mile loop. But each step before carried me toward a goal and a dream. Where do today's steps lead? There's no more race at the end of the tunnel and no barriers to break. The ten year journey from casual jogger to elite runner has already ended on a 400 meter oval in Austin, Texas. Not even a GPS watch, P90x, and an Olympic weight set can instill the passion and dedication I once had. Strangely, the 80 mile weeks I once viewed as a burden now seem more of a shove in the right direction.

The mind of a washed-up runner is a formidable obstacle to overcome, but with a new year approaching, I can't help but be hopeful. A clean slate, a fresh running log, and a strong desire to get these damn shoes I'm wearing extra dirty may just save me from my melancholy world. So as I splash in the nastiest, muddy puddle and my dog stares at me in revulsion, I aim to write the next book in the series of my life at the turn of the year. May all my runner friends have the year they dream of in 2013.

     I've been slipping through the years / my old clothes don't fit like they once did / and now they hang like ghosts / of the people I've been.      -- Death Cab for Cutie

Friday, February 24, 2012

Race Day

The whole conference travel experience is surreal. Here I sit on the pull-out bed in the Comfort Suites - Aggieland waiting the entirety of this Friday for the start of my race. That fact alone doesn't seem too out of the ordinary, despite the fact that the DMR kicks off at 9pm; it's the fact that we left on Wedneday morning, staying in the same hotel four straight nights, that makes this experience so unique.

Yesterday, in the blur of excitement, we toured the exceptional facilities, ate a grand Italian dinner at Johnny Carino's, and finally played endless hands of Hearts to pass the time. Now sitting a mere 6 hours from my race, time seems to be speeding by. There's so many things going through my head that make me regret wasting all of yesterday with frivolous activities.

Fears and insecurities mix with eagerness and excitement in the vortex of thought, ebbing and flowing between a high and low confidence tide. Factors as small as lunch choice, previous workouts, and even earlier races work to simultaneously shake and strengthen my confidence. Someone should do an fMRI on the brain of an athlete on the verge of performing in a sport that he knows will hurt his body so bad. That said, there are a few things ingrained in my mind that allow my psychology to slowly weed out the unnecessary thoughts and focus on the even to be run.

No meet is a big meet.
Run fast for fifth.
The sport has no memories.

I'm focused, ready, and anxious to toe the line. Last indoor meet ever!

Monday, January 30, 2012

In a haze...

The past weekend went by in a blur. A choreographed maze of intricately woven events and participants that only the monstrous 300 meter oval of a coliseum in Ames can provide. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was merely being carted around, shuffling my feet in the appropriate direction elucidated by my coach.

To be fair, my nonchalance and indifference to the race this past Saturday had little to do with the path I was on, and everything to do with my sickness predicament. Apparently being in close quarters with a score of filthy, sweaty, sneezing, coughing runners doesn't exactly bode well for healthiness. Instead of an excited jaunt up Highway 63, I was confined to a bus seat, reduced to coughing and chills as I begged to see the Days Inn at the end of our road. That was bus ride number one from hell.

A night of more coughing than sleeping left me in a zombie-like state for the morning shakeout, and it took me a full thirty minutes to eat a bagel, allowing for regular interludes of hacking and wheezing fits. From the sound of it, I was going to make a lot more noise off the track than on it. But, as I learned from 5th grade musicals, the show must go on! Luckily, I had a fellow cougher in my race with which to commiserate. Seems like two of the three super-seniors tackling the 3k might not even make it to the starting line.

The warm-up was atrocious. The cold air sliced my already raspy throat, as i struggled to alternatively breathe through my sole functioning nostril and my mouth to reduce the stinging burn. It was almost comical to think that Phil and I were Division I athletes, as we slowly fell from the pack, dropping to a dismal 8 minute mile pace. The scraping rubber of my shuffling shoes announced my defeat, even before the race had started.

Rounding the curves, spikes on and sweats off, my throat was feeling no better. Despite having drank an entire 20 pack of bottled water by myself, I could do nothing to quench my throat and whet my lips. I remember thinking, "Damn, this is gonna be bad." Turns out I was wrong.

Rewind about three hours, and you'll find me seeking out a fellow distance runner, a freshman racing his first big indoor race. It was fun to look at his posture and demeanor, and reminisce about those days four years ago when I was in his shoes. Our worlds now look totally different. Like Mark Twain says, there's two ways of looking at a river.

I thought back to myself at that age, in that moment, and fought hard to determine the exact words I'd want to hear from the seniors. Simply put, I wanted to know what it would be like.

"Hey Cush-man. You ready for this?" I questioned, seeing the flutter of anxiety in his eyes.
"Yeah, man. Should be interesting," was his nondescript reply.
"Well I'll let you in on a little "Old-Man-Knowledge," I said, as I began debriefing him on the upcoming race. "It's going to go out fast, like really fast, and it's better for you to hang on and have a little kick at the end than get dropped early and make a miraculous kick on the last lap."
"Second, you have a lot of time. The mile is a lot longer than the 800, especially on an indoor track, and you'll have a lot of time to move around. Don't be afraid if your boxed on the rail in the beginning. The race will thin out and you'll be able to make your move. Just sit in there and be relaxed, you're window will come."
"Thanks, man," he said, as he jogged off down the backstretch to enter the competitive world of Indoor Track. I hope in four or five years he's giving the same advice to another terrified freshman lacing up for the first time inside a building. Dialogue aside, it was my turn to race. And as the gun went off, and the runners packed up, it was almost comical how much I needed my own advice.

Like I said, the weekend was a blur. I hardly remember the gunshot, or my first steps. All I remember is a playful condemnation of the former Missouri high school runners to my left, who indirectly mocked my age. I truth, I am quite old.

The first four laps were extremely mellow. I played it safe and dropped to the back of the mob quickly skirting around the 8-lane track. We moved in unison, steps and breath aligned to the point where each bound became a synchronized leap, leaving the heads in front of me bobbing in unison with my own. I hugged the rail and spread my arms, clearing my space on the rail and taking the race on lap at a time. I zoned out.

In front of me, the pack jostled for position. There were shoves, curses, bloody ankles and frustrated surges as everyone tried to find the perfect balance of pace and position. But that was all nonsense, and I resided out of the chaos, laying low until the break point.

Five laps in, the pack began to spread, leaving me slowly dropping behind the leaders. As we came around the back stretch I saw my window, and bolted to the outside. Now in lane three, I was covering more ground, but in the clear. I stayed on the shoulder of a few Iowa State runners until the lap was over, then slowly nudged back toward the rail. The move had its costs, though. Instead of a comfortable rhythm, I was now subjugated to an erratic pace, wasting precious energy dodging people cutting to the outside. I came across the line at lap six, finally losing my sense of pace, only to pass Phil as coach screamed, "We came here to run FAST! Now GO!"

On cue, I passed a struggling teammate and barreled into the final K. However, my late move had left me off the lead pack by a good thirty meters, and I floundered in no man's land for a lap or two. The race was so much different than my usual mile, as the pain was dull and drawn out. The race seemed to take forever, as a sludge slowly infiltrated my leg muscles, in contrast to the high-octane burning sensation normally felt in my legs and lungs when sprinting around a track at near-top speed for the mile. Therefore I was worried, waiting for the inevitable system shut down realized in every track race I've ever encountered. Here's where four years of experience racing the 3k would have been helpful.

Instead of pushing my pace and catching the runners just barely ahead of me, I settled into a pace and feared my sickness and fatigue would overcome me in a matter of minutes. It wasn't until the last lap did I realize how much energy I had left. Stuck in around 15th place, I heard the bell and moved. Effortlessly, I passed a drove of runners, lacking the foot-speed of a miler. I closed in 60 second quarter pace, passed all but 5 people, and ran the fastest 3k of the year for the Mizzou distance runners with an 8:26.37. Needless to say, I was excited. However, I wish I would have known what a 3k felt like, as I can't help but wonder if experience would have let me win my heat... but that's all conjecture.

Fellow super-senior Quigley went off in the following heat and ran the 4th fastest time in Mizzou history with an 8:11, and I smiled, ecstatic at the fact that I get to train with these guys every day. In fact, I don't think my teammates realize how much it means to me that I'm accepted as one of them in our daily lives of torture. After so many years of being the outcast, labeled as that guy who used to be good, it's nice to finally come to practice and be a part of the team. And after I battle this horrible cold, giving me chills and headaches as I sit here and "tutor," I'll be adamantly invested in training for the few races I have left. It's coming to the end, and each race that passes needs to be treated with respect. Instead of approaching the race with fear and anxiety, loathing the fact that I participate in this barbaric sport, I must embrace my chosen lifestyle. Deep down, I love every second of racing, despite the bumps, the pain, and the occasional unfortunate results. That's why when I line up next to my teammates, and the best runners in the nation, I'll crack a smile, as I'm perfectly sure that I'm in my own utopia.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

ret·ri·bu·tion-punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved.


I've waited four long years for a mindset like that. Damn it feels good to be a part of the team again. Like Quigley said, "It's little moments of brilliance like that race that keep you going for years." Through all the shit, the injuries and setbacks, the poor performances, the flat out despair, it's nice to know that persevering really can pay off. My advice to anyone injured or not performing well at the moment, just give it time. Yes, it's a bitch, and during most of the months cross training or sitting on the couch, or binging your life away you will inevitably come to hate yourself, your sport, and anyone who has the ability to do what you long to do so badly yourself. Yet if there are any two people that can tell you that running will come back and resurrect you from you life of misery, it's me and that long-haired hippie on the cover of that mindset. Don't give up.

So what is that picture of, non-Missouri runners may ask? That's the finish of the KU Dual Meet Men's Mile. But before I tell you how it got there, let's reconstruct the entire race. I'm pretty sure I'll want to relive this one sometime down the road.


Entering into the meet, the odds were stacked against us. On paper, KU was going to clean the floor with us and win possibly the final dual meet ever in this epic rivalry. But we all know what Coach Lynn does with paper every day...

The importance of the mile race could not be overemphasized. It was the first real track event, first distance event, and would inevitably set the tone for the races to follow. However, seeing the times from the KU runners in last weekends meet was a bit discouraging. More than 5 distance runners on their team broke 8:30 in the 3k, clearly indicating that their fitness level was not in question. Ours, on the other hand, was yet to be determined. With only 7 days of practice and two short speed workouts in the bag, it was looking like a 4:20 would be a solid performance. But you never know until you line up and race.
Heading up to the line I was nervous but excited. I hadn't raced in a Missouri uniform on an indoor track since my freshman year, and I almost believed that I forgot how to race. My legs were tired from the 14 miles I'd logged the day before, and my calves were still aching from the speed workout earlier in the week. All systems pointed to a mediocre race.
Slapping on my numbers for the first time in 4 years, I found my spot between the blue and red uniforms, as the started proceeded to make a fool of himself. "16 laps gentlemen," he said as he stepped off the track, causing me and Max to stare incredulously before smirks overtook our expressions. "Uh...that's a bit longer than I remembered this race being," chuckled Max, as the KU guys simply stared at the ground, apparently terrified of the upcoming race. "Well, it's 1600 meters from this line," said the starter as he pointed to the waterfall start line of the mile, 1609 meters from the eventual finish. "Yeah, that's still not totally right," I blurted, as Quigley, Max and I couldn't help but laugh. All the while the KU guys were not enjoying the starter's gaffe in the least, and that's where I realized we had the advantage.
So many races I'd had the same spooked expression, lost in thought and forced to dwell on the repercussions of the race about to start. Yet, this year has taught me more than once, that true focus doesn't mean you have to be consumed by fear. In fact, the frivolous nature of our pre-race antics consoled our nervous minds, and left us all the more aware that what we were about to do was just plain fun.
BANG. We're off. Quickly I drop to the back of the seven man pack, having no intention to lead. The eight laps in the Hearnes center would feel like an eternity, and the more relaxed I could remain in the first half of the race, the better my chances of performing would be.
One lap down and the time was slow. Coach screams to pick up the pace, as we lock into an uphill grind, leaning way over the rails as we gripped the turns.  A KU runner pushed the lead, as Quigley battled to break free of his box and trail the leader on the outside. A few strides behind, a second and third KU runner hugged the rails, as Max and I battled to stay within reach.
As the race passed the halfway point, my body began to complain. My legs ached, my stomach burned, and my mind began to lie to me, telling me I was too tired and that this wasn't my meet to run fast. Years of experience sequestered those thoughts and I pressed on to begin catching the leaders. As each lap zipped by, I began to move up. Lap 5 I passed up Max. Lap 6 I rolled past a KU guy on the backstretch and another on the home stretch, leaving me 20 meters behind the leading KU guy and Quigley. As we entered the 7th lap, Quigs took the lead, and began pressing hard. As we reached the backstretch I had caught up, and began resting on my laurels, waiting for the sweet sight of the bell lap.
The bell rang and coming around the turn and on the backstretch I made my move. As I swung wide to pass the lead pair, the KU guy mirrored my tactics, and forced me into lane four. Frustrated, I cut the tangent back into lane one and made a bold decision. In a vanishing premonition, I saw the future, and envisioned Dan moving wide to push the surging KU guy outside. It was time to make the risky pass on the inside.
Off the final turn I pushed hard, barreling down the final 50 meters to the finish. Fortunately, Quigley swung wide, forcing the KU guy into lane three. There was my window. I lurched forward and powered home, taking a massive shoulder blow from Quigley in the process; seems he thought I might be wearing a blue uniform. Yet the final kick from the two tigers was too much for the jayhawk to handle. We crossed the line shoulder to shoulder, both of us screaming in triumph (a.k.a. pain), into a frantic world of searing muscles, dripping sweat, nasty man-hugs, and gasping, one-word-at-a-time sentences.

"I'm sorry...I came by...on the inside... (gasp)... I knew you were gonna.... push that KU guy...(gasp)...outside!" I managed to sputter.
"No worries...that was awesome!" replied Quigley, and I reveled in the complete exuberance. After the longest journey imaginable, I'd finally found my home: arm and arm with a sweaty, hairy man in a Missouri singlet starving for oxygen, burning with lactic acid, and completely exhausted. It was truly a paradise, Utopian only to those who know the brutal road less traveled.

Like I said, life as a runner is good. The men beat the Jayhawks as the distance team dominated the meet, taking victories in the 800, 1000, and 3k in addition to the mile. The Kush man outkicked tow hawks in "joop-joop" fashion to take the 8, and Ricky and Blake took 1-2 in the thousand. Fellow super-senior Phil King dropped the hammer in the final quarter of the 3k to win in exciting fashion, sealing the victory. It's days like this that I'm extremely proud to be a tiger.

M-I-Z!

Last days of the 8Ks

The person typing these words is not the same person depicted in the previous posts. Years of dwelling in the past and investigating the reason behind my misfortune are foreign concepts, as unintelligible as the Biochemistry class I just had the "pleasure" of taking. The passionate pursuit of purpose has morphed into a passionate pursuit of the pursuit! It's taken me all of my 23 and a half years to finally comprehend the most simple concept: Life is not about the past, nor the future. It isn't dependent what others think. Its meaning is not built on what you've achieved or how you've failed. Life is about living, and I'm loving it right about now.

Personal paradigm aside, let's get back to running. Here I sit, two thousand plus miles and 5 pairs of shoes from the out-of-shape post-stress fracture me, craving nothing more than to get my ass up off the couch. Well, my ass has been off the couch, and has traveled quite a long way at remarkable speeds. I can honestly say that the past half year has been the most physically taxing portion of my running career. Averaging 71.9 miles per week with two-a-days, hill training, tempos, and numerous fartleks left me crawling up the stairs to my apartment more than once. So, in order to fully capture my grueling super-senior cross country season, I'll sum it up in a few brief paragraphs.

Skipping over November's post, in which I had the true desire to start blogging more often, I left you with the very beginning of cross season. Seems I told you I was completely exhausted after the first three days of practice...not much changed. Scope my running log if you don't believe me: Insanity.

So anyway, the season began with a nerve-racking 4k. It was around 150 degrees outside, only three weeks into the season, and I was terrified. The entire team made a poll to vote on who you thought would win the meet, which only served to amplify my terror. At this point I had no idea where my fitness level was, I hadn't raced in a year, and I felt the need to prove myself. The stress and the heat got the better of me. Despite coach making us shove ice cubes down our shorts, we failed to stay cool, and the 12 minutes and 48 seconds of running felt like a sauna. I ended up finishing around tenth overall, and 3rd on the team of six. I wasn't too happy with my performance, but it was just the first meet.

Fast forward only 8 short days and my toe was on the line at the Mizzou home meet. Everyone on the team was there as well, unattached or in uniform. Fleeting thoughts reminding me of my last home cross country meets did little to quell the anxiety welling up within. The terrible hill workout I'd had that past Tuesday did nothing to raise my confidence, as the home course is easily the most hilly cross country course ever striped.
The gun went off and KU sprinted to the front as I chose to hang back and not get in over my head. The 5k hill is most unforgiving to the bold and reckless. Using my years of experience and knowledge of the course, I began to significantly move up as I dug my spikes into half-mile hill, yet I became stagnant and complacent as I reached the heels of a KU runner unwilling to let me play through. The last mile felt like an eternity (most likely because our coach made the course 400 meters long), but the home stretch came and I kicked like a maniac, picking off three KU (only two officially as my huge back kick was timed horribly, leaving my chip a foot behind my chest) runners en route to a 7th place overall finish, only behind Max on my team. Although encouraging, I still felt that the end of the race could have been run harder, and I wasn't completely mentally invested just yet. However, being interviewed for the first time ever in a Missouri uniform assuaged my discontent for the moment.

Two long weeks of training passed unnoticed by the majority of my classmates. Next on the agenda was a trip to South Bend, Indiana to a tight, twisty, and overcrowded 8k on an otherwise beautiful campus. Although there are many stories of deafening bus movies, arguments over the aesthetics of the campus, or investigating the "talent" on the Grand Valley State team, the race was over quickly. The first mile went out in 4:40, causing a massive bottleneck around the pine trees and roping. The sloshing mud pits and freezing rain and bright sunshine did little to improve our focus, and we were out the back of the pack in a hurry. Although we managed to climb back up in the meet and limp away with a fairly decent team score, we were all disappointed. I, myself, felt a repeat of last year's Bradley meet, as I proceeded to hobble the last mile or so with a sore hip and a completely locked glute muscle. Luckily for me, a shower and bus trip gave my legs time to heal up, and I managed to escape any permanent injury. Back to the grind...

The beginning weeks of October were a nightmare. Extreme training coupled with multiple midterm exams and the frustrating last charge of researching in my lab left me completely desolate. The week before pre-nats I honestly only came home to sleep; the rest of the time was spent at practice, class, or working in my lab to piece together an acceptable set of results for my upcoming presentations. Then, the extended weekend of hell commenced.
I left Columbia on a Wednesday to fly to Hartford, Connecticut to present a poster at the Biomedical Engineering Society's annual meeting. After a day and a half in Connecticut I flew back to St. Louis and hopped on a van to Terre Haute, Indiana. After an atrocious performance I'd like to not even write about, I drove back home with my parents to St. Louis and flew to Minneapolis, Minnesota to give a talk on photoacoustics. After that talk, my buddy and fellow researcher drove us both back from the great white north to Columbia. It was an unbelievable amount of traveling and stress, and my body simply couldn't handle the race. So after getting nearly last, I was on the fence at making the Big Twelve meet that was two weeks away.

Fortunately, the rules changed for the conference race, allowing each team to take ten runners. In all my years as an athlete and member of a team, no trip was more hilarious and exciting than the trip down to College Station for the Big XII conference meet. The entire flight and bus ride (minus the part where Coach's car got robbed) was just plain fun. Jokes were flying, coach was trying to get us killed switching between 8 lanes at a time, and we all found out we might be gay by how quickly we could answer a game of 20 questions... moving on.
The late night drive to the hotel coincided with game 6 of the World Series, and with 3 Royals fans in the car, the volume level was way past eleven. As the van traveled in and out of service we kept hearing static at the most crucial moments, only to hear extremely loud cheering, as Mike Shannon could only gawk at the heroics of David Freese. After a night in a plush hotel, we ran the course and grabbed an awesome Italian dinner, and watched game 7 end in a Cardinals victory! Though the game ended late, it was well worth it to stay up and watch.
Race day finally came, and as I laced my spikes and slipped on my singlet I couldn't have been more excited to line up and race with my nine teammates. Our white jerseys were looking sexy as ever, and the Big XII was about to have a rude awakening, Mizzou style.
Starting out in the middle of the pack, I felt strong, and the gorgeous 70 degree day in Texas did nothing to abate my focus. So many thoughts ran through my head as I locked into a stride, pacing off a pair of Iowa State runners. Making my way around the lakes and sand traps I began to have flashbacks of races long past. The rolling hills of Griak, slopped in mud and icy cold put chills on my spine. Pain and success fluttered briefly in my mind, reminiscing about the racetrack of Bradley in Peoria. And the fear and anxiety of my first ever college race at Vanderbilt University came like a wave as I remembered running shoulder to shoulder with the great Larry Paul. The memories, though brief, gave me a surge of energy, as I had every intent to leave every ounce of sweat on the course. Each mile, ab session, morning run, hill workout, cross training session, rehab, and race flooded my senses, and I was no longer in control of the race.
As my eyes regained focus on the present, they locked on a trio of blue and white jerseys just steps ahead. I was not going to be beat by a Jayhawk. Slowly my gears shifted and began the long, 1000m drive around the final loop of the 8k course.


On the final turn I was nearly horizontal as my spikes dug deep and I dug deeper. I'm sorry, but that final stretch is mine. I rolled up around ten people in a last ditch effort to score for the team and finished in the upper half of the meet, 4th on the team. The best part about the entire race was the smile that wouldn't leave my face; I will leave cross country with no regrets.

Although the next two weeks were cut short by a minor Achilles pain, I was still excited for the regional race. However, my first 10K was anything but pretty, as the hilly and windy course left me gasping for air halfway through and finishing with a time I'm not willing to express. Yet the glory of Big XIIs was enough, and the team pictures and hugs at the end of the meet were bittersweet. It's hard to face the fact that you'll never be on a cross country team again...

But my final track season is in its infancy, leaving a monstrous window for more self-validation. And with a light semester and a mind focused on the task at hand, I'm expecting big things. I now dub this blog a true runner's blog, and will hereby be boring you with stats and times and the stories of all the races to come, as I'm sure I'll look back at these words in a few months or years and be thankful that my younger self had the foresight to pen the stories of the greatest experience anyone on this earth could possibly enjoy. Life as a runner is good.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My last post was August 18th,... needless to say a lot has happened since then to get me to where I am. But rather than try to sum it up in a quickly written paragraph or two, I'll just let you experience my NOW.

It took me four and a half long years to fully comprehend the meaning of "Live in your present." Coach McGuire reiterated that saying over and over, but it had eluded my comprehension until recently. So here is my present:

I just saw Quigley's ass. More importantly, I am chilling in a hotel room in Dekalb, IL waiting for the start of my first 10k ever in my first regional race. And yet I'm not terrified; I'm ecstatic. It's time to go out and explain via footsteps and seconds the ungodly amount of work that my teammates and I have logged this fall.

That's all for now. Look for a novella of a catch-up post to follow shortly. I want to get my season on paper as much as I want to see the results of this race. We're ready to turn some heads. Let's go TIGERS!!!!

I'm finally ready to toe the line...