Sunday, December 30, 2012

Another year older, another year... wiser?


Yesterday was my 27th birthday. Yup, I'm officially getting old. I celebrated the day, amidst the falling snow of the most recent storm, with mile repeats on the indoor track and a trip to the town dump.  And, instead of the traditional indulgence of lavish cakes or delectable sweets, I had baked oatmeal- replete with candles of course. So yes, I’m officially getting old. But never fear, I am still young at heart and recipient of one particularly amazing gift from my sister, which should surely awake my inner child- in all it's shrieking cries and pant wetting aspects.  The gift?  She somehow convinced (I have no idea how) someone that it would be a good idea to allow me, yes me, access to a NASCAR race car and unleash me full throttle at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.  My only fear is that after throwing myself at high speeds around the Magic Mile, I might just find the speeds of running to be inadequate and make a full-fledged attempt to start up my own car racing team at the Canaan Speedway (trust me, this isn't as far off as it might sound- plans to do so have been in the works for years).  Although, until such time, I have other things to focus on.  Most timely, a little race in Houston, TX which I will be running in a few weeks.  I will be competing in the Houston Half Marathon, a daunting task seeing as though it will be my first race over ten miles in length, but it should be a good test for the year to come; to see just where this old guy's fitness is going into 2013.  Now before everyone gets excited, I have no intention of moving up in distance, and no desire for the marathon for years to come.  I still believe that I have a lot to accomplish on the track in the 5k and 10k, and I am merely using this race as a stepping stone into the new year.  For this year I am ready to reach new heights, speeding my way around the track at dizzying speeds, lap after lap, on both spikes and Goodyears.  So hold on tight, as it is sure to be a very good year.

Until next time,

Ben

Sunday, December 16, 2012

American Skiers


After brushing off the snow and warming up from the day’s long run, I remembered a time when I longed for such snowy conditions.  Seems silly now.  For the past two hours I had been cursing the snow and cold.  But I remember, not long ago, when I lived for such conditions.  As a Nordic skier, I loved the snow, worshiped the snow, sought out the snow.  No longer.  Now I hide from it, avoid it, run from it (at least for the time being).  Every time I see the flakes fall from the sky, I still think of skiing.  And never has there been a better time!  For today marked the conclusion of the Canmore World Cup, one of the few times the Cross-Country World Cups comes to North American.  And have the Americans shown brightly.  Years ago, America was the joke of the Cross-Country world.  Finishing in the top 40 was seen as a success, and world cup points (finishing in the top 30 of a race) were rare.  This has all changed.  The Americans, led by Kikkan Randall, just off from last season’s breakout year winning the overall sprint crown, has taken the skiing world by storm.  Now, top 20s are beginning to seem mundane, medals are won, and the bar in American skiing has been raised beyond belief.  It has been incredible to see the meteoric rise.  Just this past week in the Canadian races, Americans have notched thirteen top fifteens, ten top tens, five top fives, and three medals- two of which were gold.  It has been amazing to watch as the athletes have gained confidence, realized that they can compete with the best, and began beating the once “unbeatable” Scandinavians.  It has been a tremendous transformation and I wish all the skiers the best.  They have finally arrived on the international stage.  It just goes to show you- that even though you might get beaten time and time again, if you have the confidence and the determination to be great and keep plugging away, improving year after year without giving up, you can rise to any level and take on the world.  It has been an inspiring sight and I can not wait to see what the future brings them.

Until next time,

Ben

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ahh... Wintertime in the UV


The carols are streaming on Pandora, snow is covering the ground and the Christmas lights are twinkling in our windows.  This can only mean two things: it’s wintertime in the UV and time to shed the extra layers and escape to the southwest for the warmth and the safety of iceless roads.  While my departure to sun will only be a momentary reprieve from the chill this time around, a longer escape will occur after the holidays.  My time bundling up for runs will hopefully be numbered and the careless injury of last year’s ice and the devilish indoor track eluded.  That is not to say I will be completely impervious from my clumsy self (e.g. my broken toe in the fall of 2010) or avoidable misfortunes.  The latest, and one which I am currently suffering from, stems from misguided (but well-intended) medical care.  It happened a few days ago, when stretching in the evening after finishing my secondary run, that I felt that I needed my back adjusted.  There is nothing like that satisfied feeling of needing your back cracked, and hearing those snaps, crackles and pops as it snaps back into alignment.  Well, unfortunately this time my back did not want to cooperate.  With reluctant (yet slightly... aggressive) aid from Sarah, things did not improve.  The following day my back began to tighten.  Nothing major, just typical tight muscles at the end of a long day.  I scheduled a massage to get it worked on and thought none the wiser.  Then, doomsday arrived.  I awoke the next morning groggy from the poor night’s sleep.  The back yelled the entire night at my every toss and turn.  The day’s workout was a long tempo run.  After a slow warm up, the back began to loosen and I was ready to run.  Things felt fine, the back compliant, and the legs began to move- right up until a minute in, I could feel my entire back spasm and lock up, knocking the wind out of me and jolting me to a halt.  I tried to walk.  Nope.  I waited, unsure of what just happened.  After a few minutes I was able to walk (although restricted).  Later still I was able to slowly jog (although with much pain).  I hobbled around, gritting my teeth, hoping the back would loosen up.  Nope.  I made it back to the car and drove home.  Changing out of my workout clothes was excruciating.  I immediately drove to my chiropractor, who luckily was able to see me on such short notice (thanks Hank!).  An adjustment and massage later, constant icing, and NSAIDs, the back is now livable.  I can even run again- although a process of heating, compression and balms are involved to loosen/numb the back enough to get me out the door.  But (hopefully) the incident has been resolved and further complications avoided.  So off to the warmth tomorrow, where I can stay away from ice and snow and only have to protect myself from... myself.


Until next time,

Ben

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Louisville

The NCAA Division 1 Cross-Country Championships were held yesterday in Louisville, Kentucky.  While my own participation in college sports has long since expired, it was fun to fly out with Saucony to watch the races and join Flotrack for race analysis and tailgating.  The races were moved from their long time home of Terre Haute, IN for a new venue spread throughout the Tom Sawyer park in Louisville.  The men’s 10k and women’s 6k courses were flat, firm and promised fast times.  After working with Flotrack  in their pre-race show and race analysis, I hung out with the Saucony crew grilling up burgers and handing out freebies for thousands of spectators.  Once the races began, my attention turned to cheering on the two Dartmouth affiliated athletes who were competing in the women’s race.  Abbey D’Agostino and Lexi Papas (a Dartmouth grad, now running for Oregon) were both highly ranked and promised great results- they did not disappoint.  Abbey finished 2nd, narrowly missing becoming the first Ivy League XC champion in history, and Lexi finished 8th, helping her new team, the University of Oregon, win the overall women’s team championships.  It was a great showing for the Dartmouth girls, although both came with much anxiety.  Abbey’s finish came down to a photo finish with third place, and Lexi’s Oregon Ducks were originally (but incorrectly) announced as finishing second (behind Providence), and only after many protests, review of finish line video and recalculating positions, was the error found and reversed.  The men’s race showed an impressive battle of the Kenyans up front, with multiple undefeated runners meeting for the first time.  Only after they crossed the finish line in a new course record- and fastest championship time in history- did the dust settle with Kennedy Kithuka declared the winner.  Being able to watch and cheer on such a talented group of runners was not only entertaining, but the excitement and camaraderie of the championship atmosphere only boosted my own love of the sport, sparking extra motivation into my own training and reassured time and time again that I have a wonderful job.

Until next time,

Ben

Pre-race filming with Saucony and Flotrack

Grilling for the hungry spectators with fellow Saucony athlete Ashley Higginson 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Last Minute Change


Yesterday I was suppose to toe the line against arguably the strongest 5k field ever assembled on US soil.  The race was the New York Road Runner’s Dash to the Finish, an exhibition race before the New York City Marathon to help showcase the sport and kickstart the running weekend.  After racing in the inaugural race last year, I was excited to make the trek back to the Big Apple and take part in the running festivities.  Unfortunately, the universe had different plans.  In the tragic wake of Hurricane Sandy and the complete destruction of New York, the Dash to the Finish was cancelled.  Luckily, I was notified before I boarded my flight and stayed in New Hampshire to watch as the NYRR frantically attempted to keep the marathon a possibility.  Then came the announcement on Friday afternoon of the marathon’s eventual cancellation.  While I fully understand and support NYRR’s decision not to hold the marathon in such a devastating time for the city, I can’t help but feel bad for those athletes who have worked so hard and have so much at stake in this race.  Personally, while the 5k was going to be a fun race to run, it was going to bring financial gains in forms of appearance fees and contractual bonuses, monies that will now be lost.  For those racing the marathon, these financial incentives were larger, representing half a year’s salary or more- not including the potential for further sponsorship deals and exposure.  Toppled by the months spent training for one race, with all the sacrifices made and missed opportunities, the marathon’s absence made a substantial impact on many.  Don’t get me wrong, the cancellation of the marathon in the wake of Sandy was the correct decision.  New York and the surrounding areas have been hit hard with lives lost and devastation beyond belief.  But the cancellation of the marathon has its own ramifications.  It must have been a difficult decision for all those involved.  I hope those athletes who were preparing to compete in today’s marathon are able to find another race to run so their training is for not, but in the mean time, the images of tens of thousands of would-be marathoners rolling up their selves and aiding those in need are heartwarming and depicts the essence of humanity.  Hopefully through the help of those around, everyone affected by the storm will be able to rise up and repair, stronger than before and greet next year’s race with warmth and excitement.  

Until next time,

Ben

Sunday, October 21, 2012

States


Yesterday was the New Hampshire middle school state meet.  Hundreds of kids in 5th-8th grade toed the line to race, slip, and slop their way around the muddy two mile course.  Indian River School had seven brave women and three men battle it out to great results.  With shoes soaked and weighing ten pounds, the kids were able to keep a smile on their faces and compete with the best in the state.  The race marked the end of this year’s fall cross-country season.  It was a great fall, with twenty eager kids meeting three days a week excited to run and compete.  For the first time kids were asking for hard workouts, excited for intervals and relishing in the ability to do sprints.  To be able to coach and work with such great kids actually gave me energy and made the second run of the day that much easier.  As for me, with the end of practice, my attention now returns to my own training.  It has finally become the time of the year to put the head down and slog through the miles, building strength and efficiency for the spring and summer ahead.  I have begun running more miles than I ever had before.  Its funny.  Back in high school running twenty to thirty miles a week I thought I worked hard.  Then when I went to college and began running hard workouts, I struggled to maintain fifty to sixty miles a week.  It seemed unfathomable to be able to run higher mileage while still incorporating intervals and hard efforts.  Today, I run twice that, completing workouts I never thought possible before- and yet, it now seems so normal.  It is amazing the adaptions and progression the human body can make.  I can only imagine what my training will be in another few years,  when I am ever stronger than I am today.  This ability to break through barriers, push the body and mind to new levels is what training is all about.  So through this fall and winter my head will be down, finding the limit I once thought insurmountable and making it mundane- the norm and continue to progress forward.

Until next time,

Ben

The Ladies on the starting line getting ready

Women are off!

Start of the guy's race (IRS are the ones in light blue)

IRS runner, Dakota, racing strong

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Back into the swing of things

Last weekend was my first race back after taking a few weeks off from training.  That first race back, the ever lovingly dubbed “rust buster” is always a mystery.  You never know for sure how the body will respond to such a hard effort without the calluses built up over a season of races and workouts.  I arrived in Providence, RI for the US 5k road Championships the returning champion, but with claims of a “deeper, more challenging field” I was anything but the favorite.  This was actually a relief, allowing me to take a laid back, nonchalant approach to the race.  The evening before the race I toured the newly minted course with a few eager high schoolers who bounced and fluttered about.  I had to tell them many times to slow down as they sped through the city dropping me at every corner.  It was fun having my own escort for a run.  Rarely do I get the pleasure of running with other people, and rarer still, my repetitive pleas for a slower pace.  But they were happy to oblige and trot beside me on my plodding shakeout.  The race the next day played out ever so nicely in my favor.  A slow early pace meant my early season “fitness” was still intact and I was able to vie for the win.  Crossing the finish and becoming only the second man to ever successfully defend his title, showed we are still on the right path.  The bad luck and hiccups of yesteryear are now in the past.  What happened happened, what is done is done, and taking things one step at a time, I will use the ashes to build the future and move forth.  And this year?  It was able to take a great first step.

Until next time,

Ben

A close battle to the end, but I was able to break the tape first
The podium: Andrew Bumbalough, Robert Cheseret and me

I don't know what to do with my hands




Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fall in New Hampshire


Autumn in New Hampshire is slowing creeping upon us.  Every night the temperature drops and every morning the crisp air threatens that this might be the day when the mercury refuses to rise and the jackets and hats are pulled out from storage.  This is my favorite time of the year for training.  Long easy miles in the cooler mornings, followed by the warmth of day, and perfect sleeping weather at night, evoking the memories of high school and college cross-country and the simple joys of running.  While no longer competing for a cross-country team myself, I yet again have the privilege to work with the kids of Indian River Middle School and coach them to another great season of running.  Beginning the last week of August, I have begun coaching twenty-three middle schoolers three days a week.  Being able to return to the program I helped start last year and see the familiar faces (now the old pros) help the timid beginners through form drills and practices has been great.  And not to start off slowly, we just completed our first race of the season- after only three practices.  Green, might be the word to describe many of the runners as they toed the line still not quite sure what they got themselves into, but they persevered nonetheless to great results.  With five more races throughout the fall, I only hope to see their confidence rise, their smiles widen, and their times drop each time out.  For fall is the time for cross-country, the time to fall in love with running, and the time to embrace the last remaining days of warmth.

Until next time,

Ben

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Other Olympic Experience


While my own Olympic dreams will have to be put on hold for a few more years, I was able to play support role in London for the superstar Sarah Groff.  After ending my whirlwind racing trip through Europe, I landed in Davos, Switzerland to help Sarah in her final preparations to the Olympic Games.  Life for me was fairly simple- I just had to help calm the mind and ensure confidence in an athlete about to start the biggest race of her life... so actually my job was quite difficult.  But as an athlete myself and knowing what evil games your mind likes to play, I had some idea on what I was getting into.  Once in London, it was game on.  Sarah raced incredibly and after being gapped by the leaders, fought back to the lead in the final few kilometers to finish a gallant fourth, just meters outside of the medals.  And to think only 18 months ago she couldn’t run because of a broken sacrum, it has been an amazing resurrection.  Watching the Olympics, however, was bittersweet.  To see the amazing performances by athletes across the world was spectacular, but to witness firsthand the race that has been my goal for years, and to be there in London as a spectator was heartbreaking.  But rising up from failure will only make me stronger; only make me work for it that much more.  Watching Sarah race, knowing the injuries and hardships she has faced over the past few years, as she ran back into contention for gold, shows that you can never give up, never let doubt overtake your mind, and always keep striving for your dreams.  It is a lesson I will not forget, and I hope to be able to race and train with the tenacity and strength she extrudes day in and day out.

Until next time,

Ben


Sunday, July 29, 2012

10 Days, 4 Countries, and 3 Races; My (ongoing) European Adventures


Day 1: Travel Day #1
After a few hours of trains and buses, I make my way from Teddington, England to Cardiff, Wales for my first race in Europe.  I am scheduled to race a 3k the following evening with reports of Ezekiel Kemboi (reigning World Champion in 3k Steeplechase) and a few of his fellow training partners on the starting list.  I am excited to be able to have a good fast opener.
Day 2: Race Day #1
After not seeing any Kenyans at the meet hotel, my weariness grows that this might not be everything that I was promised.  To make matters worse, it’s raining horizontally out.  Beautiful gusts of cold wet wind.  Lunch is served in the hotel at 1pm.  My race is at 8:40pm.  Not other options for food between.  I load up on as much food as possible, pack my pockets with rolls, but still know I will be starving on the starting line- as there are no stores in the area.  Once at the track, I realize that my fears have come true.  The 3k start list comprises of me and five local runners.  Great.  The pace setter asks what pace I want.  I mention running 63 seconds per lap and he claims he would be able to go for 4 laps.  Race starts- extremely windy.  The pacer goes through the first lap in 63.  Perfect I think.  Wrong.  He continues to slow lap by lap, dropping out after 3 laps after going 63-65-65.  I go to the front and decide I’ll run it as a workout, gradually increasing the pace lap by lap and finish in 7:52.  Winning by 22 seconds.  So much for fast times in Europe.  Onto Belgium.
Day 3: Travel Day #2
The entire day is spent traveling.  Bus back to London, sitting in London Heathrow for a few hours (6), then flying to Brussels.  Once I landed in Belgium, I was instructed to take a train to a certain station and the meet director would pick me up.  Well, I got myself to the correct station, arriving just before 11pm and the station is deserted.  Wait, wait.  Nothing.  Frantic phone calls and emails, and thirty minutes later a car pulls up in front of the station and flicks its high-beams at me.  Nothing else.  Is this for me?  A woman gets out of the passenger seat and, without looking at me, goes and opens the trunk.  Figuring I had nothing to loose, I cautiously approached the vehicle, still unsure if this was for me.  The lady didn’t object and I climbed into the car.  The driver turned around and in a quizzical voice muttered the only thing directed at me during the entire drive: “Ben?”  Good enough for me.  I finally made it to Ninove.
Day 4:
Two easy shakeouts and spent the rest of the day trying to find food.
Day 5: Race #2
Excited to be able to get another crack at the 5k, I was looking forward to this race.  Also knowing many of the other competitors in the race, I was (optimistically) planning on a fast time.  But things sort of went downhill from there.  It started with going to the track and being forced to pay to enter the meet.  Wait, I have to pay to enter the race?  But the race is paying for me to be here.  How does that work?  I pick up my bib number and no pins.  I ask how I am suppose to run with my bib- not their problem.  Great.  I go to the finish line and start bumming pins off runners who have already finished.  After a few minutes I am finally able to collect four.  Phew.  The meet is now 20 minutes delayed.  No big deal.  I just delay my warmup by 20 minutes and be fine.  While out warming up I happen to jog past the track to see in my horror all the 5k guys lined up and ready to race.  I sprint to my bag, rip off my warmups and trainers, lace up my spikes and hop the fence onto the track, racing up to the line while wrestling to get my uniform on.  I make it with seconds to spare (the false start greatly helped).  The race?  Another disappointment.  The pacer was suppose to take us through 3k in 8:00 (13:20 pace).  We slug through in 8:08.  While we are able to pick up the pace, I finish second in 13:20.5 (first was 13:20.4) and we just miss the Olympic/World standard by half a second.  Oh well.  After the race I was swept off to doping control, where the adventure continues.  Here, they “forgot” to provide water for the athletes, so while dehydrated and just finished a race, we were forced to provide urine samples without drinking any water.  After a few hours, I was finally able to produce a sample.  Goodbye Belgium, hello Ireland.
Day 6: Travel Day #3
Another day of train rides, buses, and sitting in the airport (9 hours total) as I make my way to Ireland
Day 7:
Made it to Ireland and able to relax a bit.  Went to the track for an easy workout.  Rest of the day was spent finding food.
Day 8:
Hung out with some fellow USA athletes, went to the movies, relaxed.  First day to really let the body recover.  Spent most of day trying to switch from the 3k to the Mile in tomorrow’s race.  No such luck.
Day 9: Race Day #3
Another 3k.  At least I knew the guys I would be racing (fellow Americans) and was intrigued that a fast time was possible.  Race went fairly undramatically with us three Americans pulling away after 2 laps.  Finished in 7:44 for the win.  Actually happy about this, as the race felt very controlled and easy, proving that I can run much faster in the right race.
Day #10: Travel Day #4
Spent the day in airports and train stations as I made my way from Ireland to Davos, Switzerland.  Originally planning to take some off time, I now may continue and race in Stockholm in mid-August, so just when I though the adventure was over, it begins again.
Until next time,
Ben

Sunday, July 15, 2012

European Adventure


Thursday I packed up my bags and headed to Europe.  My plan?  Up in the air.  I wanted to be able to get in a few track races before the Olympic break, so here I am in Twickenham, England.  I am currently staying in the dorms of St. Mary’s University and while the accommodations are sparse to say the least- for thirty pounds a night I’ve got a place to lay my head, a track just steps from my door, a huge park to run in, and all this within close proximity to London Heathrow.  The plan is to stay and train here for a few days before a whirlwind of travel and races.  Deciding to meet hop, I will travel over to Cardiff, Wales on the 17th to race a rust-buster 3k on the 18th.  From Wales, I will head to Ninove, Belgium (or Szczecin, Poland depending on which race looks best) to race a 5k on the 21st.  Taking no time to rest, I’ll head back west to Dublin, Ireland, for another race on the 25th (either a 3k or mile, to be determined), and lastly I’ll jet-set to Sweden for my final race of the adventure, a 5k in Uppsala on the 28th.  And all this, subject to change on a whim.  Once exhaustion sets in (and with this much travel and so many races within a short period of time, exhaustion is not a matter of if, but when) I will head to Davos, Switzerland to meet up with my superstar girlfriend and aid her in her final preparations towards the Olympics.
My time in Twickenham has so far been an interesting one.  While rumored to be summer, the weather has been rainy and cold since I’ve arrived.  Today the sun bursted through the clouds for the first time of my visit and I still had to be bundled up in pants and a sweatshirt.  The town itself, and it’s neighboring town of Teddington, are nice little villages of shops along the Thames.  Bushy Park in Teddington, only a few minute jog from my dorm, is a great place to run, filled with herds of deer that take no mention to you running past.  During yesterday’s shakeout, a herd of twenty found their way onto a cricket field as a match was in progress.  Play had to be suspended as the players attempted to persuade the ruminants to graze elsewhere.  Teddington and Twickenham are also on the Olympic cycling course.  Huge signs are posted everywhere about the impending race, warning that all cars must be removed from the designated streets for the three day period surrounding the cycling races.  Seems like there are mixed emotions regarding the Games in England.  After talking to a cab driver the other day, people have been asked not to go to work and remain at home for the entirety of the Games as to not populate the roadways and cause congestion.  He seemed to be rather against the government’s policy on the Games, muttering “if this was for the World Cup, that’d be one thing, but for sport?  Ridiculous.”
So, onwards and upwards for me from here.  Hopefully I will be able to find my way from meet to meet and not get lost along the way.  With a tightly packed two weeks, I am hoping to make it out alive and to get some redemption from my disappointing last few races.  I am now healthy and ready to run, so I just need to make my way to the starting line and good things will come.  I am excited to race again, and ready for the adventure.
Until next time,

Ben
The track at St. Mary's


The clouds break for the first time over the River Thames

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Another Four Years

Today I finally returned home from Eugene after a long and exhausting two weeks.  Over the course of seven days I raced a 10k and two 5ks, ending in severe disappointment.  Words are hard to come by to describe the emotions and feelings coursing through my mind.  The one thing I can articulate is my heart felt thanks to all those who believe in me and continue to believe.  Your support, encouragement, and love has been wonderful and makes me want to prove to you how great of a runner I can be.  The messages, calls, emails and support have been tremendous.  Unfortunately my body was not where it needed to be for the 10k.  Going into the race I knew I was coming off a few days of not running and over two weeks without working out due to illness.  I was wishfully hoping that I was finally completely healthy- and well rested.  But as soon as the gun went off and a mile raced, I knew it would take a miracle.  I put myself in position, hoping that I could trick myself into racing opposed to surviving, but knowing how my body was responding to the effort, it was not to be.  Demoralized I couldn’t compete in the one race I had focused my entire year on, I jogged across the line heart broken.  For the rest of the week I was in a fog.  I tried to pump myself up, knowing I still had a chance in the 5k and still had two more races to run- but all I wanted to do was flee from Eugene, head tucked low, tail between my legs.  In the first round of the 5k I tried to get my head back, tried to escape the fog and disappointment by going to the lead early, and lead the entire race.  The body responded well, the legs embraced the pace and hinted that my body might be returning to its normal self.  The mind, however, thought differently.  I could not outrun my own head.  Nothing changed.  The doubts, the disappointment, the shame- not shame in the failure to qualify for the Olympics- no, but a disgrace in not being able to compete.  By the time the 5k finals rolled around, there wasn’t much I could do.  I knew I was fit, I knew I could run with everyone in the field, but mentally I was already destroyed.  I raced, I hung on, I actually felt surprisingly good.  The drastic pace changes, elbowing, fighting for position, was easy.  I was relaxed.  I was calm.  When the pace quickened I was ready, was in position and responded.  A faint glimmer even arose in my head with a little over 400m to go, that yes I could do this.  But unfortunately, I could not.  I didn’t have the extra gear that I needed, and again, the fog overwhelmed my head.  Now back in Hanover, it is time to get myself healthy again, both physically and mentally.  There are more races to run.  I know I am fit, I know that I am ready to race, it’ll just be four years before I get another chance to live out a dream.
Until next time,
Ben

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The End of Spring XC

Today marked the end of this year’s running program at Indian River School.  With thirty-five kids on the roster and only two coaches, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that things did not always go as smoothly as possible.  While the inaugural fall program went by with flying colors, the spring was a bumpy ride.  Behavioral issues and refusal to run plagued the group, as well as administrative disconnect with the school office lead to great learning moments as I had to reevaluate how to conduct practice.  It seemed like every practice there were new problems and everyday I went home to rack my brain on how to solve the current ailment.  But even with the headaches, the steep learning curve, and having to explain why fist fighting is not allowed, the program was a lot of fun.  It was great to witness the kids deepen their love for running and continue to challenge and surprise themselves.  Watching the final race today, one particular girl was fighting tough, even panting: “I feel like I am going to die” as she neared the end of the four mile race.  Worried that I might have frightened her away with her longest race yet, I was stunned to receive an email from her mother later in the day stating how the girl’s next goal was to run a half marathon in the fall and wanted to know proper ways to train for such a long distance.  Being able to share my passion for running with the middle schoolers, while tough at times, has been extremely rewarding and fun.  With the first year of the program now complete- and many hurdles cleared- I look forward to next year to be able to continue my involvement with Indian River.  Thank you ITA and Amory for the ability and opportunity to share my passion of sport to others, it has been a great experience and look forward to the continued adventure.
Until next time,
Ben

Monday, June 4, 2012

What a Weekend


Finally, I get to take a break and relax.  The past few days have been nonstop travel and excitement, and it’s about time to sit back and begin to recover.  It all started on Thursday afternoon.  I had just finished running a workout on the Dartmouth track and about to jump into the shower when I received a phone call stating that a spot had just opened in the Prefontaine Classic 5km, an illustrious race with the fastest field ever assembled on U.S. soil, that was mine if I wanted it.  The catch?  The race was in less than 44 hours and on the other side of the country.  I quickly packed a carry-on, jumped into a car and drove the 130 miles to Boston to catch the last flight out to the west coast.  Exhausted, I landed in Portland, OR at 10:30pm and proceeded to hop on a shuttle and drive down to Eugene, finally laying my head down to rest at 2am PT.  The rest of Friday went by in a blur of jet-lag and the sense of “what just happened.”  I did manage to get in a short three mile jog and a few strides to help ease the legs, but it was mostly spent laying in bed and trying to conserve as much energy as possible.  The next day was game day.  In a field marked by numerous Olympic and World Championship medalists, I entered the race with the worse race credentials.  Trying not to let that damper my nerves, nor the fact that race was rumored to be paced for a 12:50 5k, I knew as long as I relaxed and settled in, I could run a very fast time.  

"participating" in the Pre Classic

Unfortunately, as soon as the gun went off, I realized my legs were left in Hanover.  After the first mile, I knew the rest of the race was going to be ugly.  I tried to hang as long as I could, but ended up fading to a 13:26 finish.  Disappointing would be an understatement, but I couldn’t hang my head for long.  The next morning I was awake at 4am to grab a flight back east so I could attend game 4 of the Celtic/Heat basketball game for my buddy’s bachelor party.  

Watching the show at the Garden
The game was a great experience and capped off an eventful few days.  Best part was that the Celtics were able to win in overtime to tie the series at two apiece.  The bad?  I didn’t get back to Hanover until after 2:30am.  Phew, late nights and long travels have left me exhausted.  Time to rest, recover and get ready for the next three weeks- which will be the hardest yet.  Despite the poor showing at Pre, I know that my fitness is there and I am ready to run fast.  The final three weeks of prep leading into the Trials are going to be good, and I guarantee that I will toe the line ready to run, and this time I won't be caught off guard.
Until next time,
Ben

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spring Running

For the past few weeks I have been driving to Canaan, NH three days a week to coach a group of middle school runners.  Stemming off the successful cross-country program that we commenced in the fall, this new spring running group has thirty-five energetic kids.  However, due to the lack of a nearby track facility, my middle school athletes forgo the typical spring track season and train for various local road races in the area.  Seen more has a conditioning program and an extension of cross-country, my middle schoolers train to be able to compete in three and four mile races.  Coaching the kids has been a lot of fun, and it is neat to be able to watch the transformation of athletes that I had in the fall.  Runners who used to be timid and unsure of themselves are now begging to be able to run one more hill repeat or an extra lap around the field.  To be able to watch them enjoy the sport that I love has been a great pleasure.  Last weekend we even saw our first race of the year.  Since the race was on Mother’s Day, only a few of the kids were able to make it, but the ones who did had fantastic results.  The race was a tough trail 5km through mud and over a roller-coaster of hills.  All the kids raced tough and many of them landed on various age group podiums and one of the older boys even ended up placing fourth overall.  The best story came from one of the younger boys, who was unsure of himself leading into the race, concerning that he wouldn’t be able to make it around the entire course.  I assured him that he would be fine and that he has been training well and would surprise himself.  After finishing, he was exhausted claiming that it was the hardest thing he had ever done and that he would never do it again.  But that all quickly changed when he learned that he had won his age-group and after collecting his award, he was already talking about the next race.  



The few who braved the first race of the year


Until next time,

Ben


Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Esperanza 5km


Last night I jumped in my car and drove up to Maine to take part in the Esperanza 5k and to support Safe Passage.  Safe Passage is an organization that works in Guatemala City to bring hope, education and opportunity to the children and families living in extreme poverty around the City’s garbage dump.  By giving children the tools and finances necessary to an garnish an education, Safe Passage provides a way for children to rise up from poverty.  The race, which was organized by a former high school teammate of mine, took part in my home town.  
Finish of the 5k on my high school track
It was great to be able to return to Greely High School and be the master of ceremonies for such a wonderful event.  While I didn’t partake in the 5k myself, I did lace up the shoes to run the in kid’s 300m fun run and somehow managed to mistime my final sprint and ended up finishing last.  

Lining up for the kid's fun run (I'm the tall one in the back)
The day's beautiful weather helped aid a large turnout for the race and an even more impressive thirteen thousand dollars for the charity.  Being able to return home and help an organization that gives so much to others was a treat.  I can only hope to be able to return next year and help raise more money and awareness for Safe Passage, all awhile spreading the joy of running throughout the community.

Where it all started: me and my high school coaches

Until next time,

Ben

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beantown Mania

Last weekend I ventured down to Boston to soak in the marathon festivities and to participate in my own race, the B.A.A. 5k.  It was great to be able to return to a race in attempts to defend my title from the previous year and to be apart of the marathon hype.  Running in front of the Boston crowd is always enjoyable, as there are always many familiar faces cheering me on. 

Race poster featuring yours 'truely'
This year brought a long list of elite athletes to the 5km with the formation of the Boston Athletic Association‘s new distance series.  The three race series, consisting of a 5km, 10km and half-marathon road races, provides a $100,000 grand prize to the runner with the lowest overall accumulative time.  With the weekend’s 5km serving as the first race in the series, many were ready to start their quest for the large prize with fast times.  Unfortunately for me the second race of the series, the10km, has been scheduled during the Olympic Trials at the end of June- thus eliminating me from contention to win the overall.  Never-the-less I was aiming to defend my title from last year and to use the race as a gauge of fitness.

Battling down Boylston St.
I was lucky enough to be able to pull away in the final finishing stretch of the race to win.  The race proves that my training is where it needs to be and that I am headed in the right direction for big things to happen later in the spring.

Breaking the tape
Being able to watch the marathon the following day, despite watching the runners suffer through the unusual heat, only reaffirmed my affection of the marathon and desire for my eventual debut to the event.
The rest of my week has been consumed by the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Bruins fighting strong in the first round against the Washington Capitals.  With the series tied at three, game seven on Wednesday is sure to be exciting.

What a bunch of Bruin fans
Until next time,
Ben




Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Spring Classics

It is during this time of the year, when you can find me glued to the television watching the renowned cycling Spring Classics, that I wish my sport offered the same grueling misery that only sheer toughness and guts can tame.  Sure, running has its cross country courses, its brutal hills, nagging miles, wind and weather.  But do we have anything that compares to the wretchedness that is Paris-Roubaix?  While the World Cross Country Championships add logs throughout the course to heighten the difficulty, do logs compare to miles of cobblestones?  Do manicured courses under the bright sun garnish the same mental and physical strength to conquer as the wind and rain of the Belgium spring?  Watching the riders suffer throughout the Tour of Flanders and the Paris-Roubaix something inside of me became jealous.  We need this rawness in our sport.  This insurmountable toughness that only can be tamed by the strongest of wills.
(2011 IAAF World Cross-Country course in Spain)
Is this a manicured lawn or a XC course?
(Paris-Roubaix)
This is what XC should be
While slightly masochistic, there is something rewarding in success through misery.  Being able to tap into your inner self and find strength you never knew you had.  To fight through the harshest of elements.  To test every aspect of your body and mind- that is when you can really see what you are made of.  Or maybe it is just because I like mud.  Either way, watching the major cycling Classics has made me envious and wishful for a new level of toughness in cross-country, one that challenges all aspects of our bodies and minds.


Until next time,

Ben

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Back in the USA

My travels to the land down under finally came to an end and I made the long trek back to the Upper Valley last week.  It feels good to be back in familiar training grounds and with the help of a bizarre early spring heat wave, all the trails are open and dry.  The grill has already been fired up and the bocce set has been dusted off and put to good use- there is nothing better than a little recreating to enjoy the transition to spring.
Now that I am healthy and injury free, it is time to put the nose back to the grindstone and begin my prep for my next major race- my second attempt at the 10k on the track.  Last year, in my debut, things did not go well.  A combination of illness, inadequate rest, and the strange conundrum of being “too fit” for my own stubborn good (resulting in unknowingly overreaching in workouts) culminated in a disappointing finish and an eventual visit to the hospital.  This year, I hope to learn from my mistakes and toe the line ready to run the race I know that I can.  The race is a little over a month away at Stanford University, giving me plenty of time to recoup what I lost due to my strained soleus.
With the sun out, trails open and calf healed, I am beginning to itch to be able to get the season underway.  This is a year with a lot on the line and every day I become more and more excited to see where I stack up.  It's going to be a good year.
Until next time,
Ben

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rust Buster

Last weekend I began my 2012 racing season.  After being sidelined by injury and having to scratch from my two previously scheduled meets, I was excited yet timid toeing the line.  The first race of the year is always a tough one.  The body likes to forget the pain and discomfort associated with racing causing the first race back to be a rather rude awakening.  Adding to that, and the fact that due to my strained calf I had only completed a handful of workouts consisting of anything more than easy jogs in over a month, well, I was skeptical.  But, I am a competitor and this is my job- so despite what ill-fate reason should have me thinking, I tried best as I could to pump myself and keep a positive mind going into the race.
Having been staying in Canberra for the last few weeks, I took a quick and easy flight to Melbourne for the Melbourne Track Classic, an event that would serve as Australia’s Olympic Trials.  The day of the race arrived to gloomy skies threatening rain- and they did not disappoint.  Luckily for me, Canberra had been suffering from flash flooding and days of heavy rain, so I was well prepared and the night’s drizzle was a welcomed relief from the torrential downpours I had been training in.
The race went off with only a slight hitch- the field false started and we were called back to the line- and it felt good to finally be able to open the legs up and get into race mode.  Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that this was my first race of the season (and first time running with others) as even though I was one of the larger fellas in the race, I was pushed around and couldn’t seem to be able to hold my position in the pack.  Finding myself further back than I desired, I tried to keep my head about me, and slowly worked myself up lap after lap as runners began to fade and gaps began to form.  I felt surprisingly good and relaxed and was enjoying myself immensely throughout the race.  I did make one grave tactical error, that of not immediately covering the eventual winner Craig Mottram and second place finisher Collis Birmingham’s move with 2km to go, but overall I was happy with my third place finish and time of 13:26.  While this time was not what I wanted going into the race (I am still looking for the Olympic “A” of 13:20), given the circumstances, recent setbacks, and how the race played out, it was a decent opener.
After the race it was fun to see the throngs of little kids that mobbed us runners, demanding autographs and trying to rip off your hip numbers and name bibs to keep as souvenirs.  The crowd support at the meet was fantastic, and it was great to be able to take part in the festivities.  From here, I will return to the Upper Valley next week to continue my preparations for this year’s Olympic Trials.  It has been great to get in some warm weather training, get my injury under control and to get the body used to racing again.  This first race reaffirms that I am on the right path, but I still have a long way to go.  So let the journey begin.
Until next time,
Ben

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Eating Kanga and Hanging with Roo

Well, I survived the 36 hours of travel (barely) and have been enjoying the sunshine and running in Australia’s capital city.  Located amongst hundreds of miles of wide dirt trails, the running in Canberra has been amazing.  Combine that with the warm weather and my calf being on the mend, things are going pretty well.  My only complaint has to be about Canberra’s lack of tracks.  While virtually every school and playing field has cages for the discus, rings for shot put, runways for the javelin, and pits for long and triple jump- there is only one track in all of Canberra, located at the Australian Institute of Sport, and it is open to the public for a few limited hours each day.  Oh well, at least the immaculate cross-country course and thousands of trails more than make up for it.

It has been amazing to be able to see all of the little critters that make Australia famous.  My runs are inundated with mobs of wild kangaroos hip-pity-hopping from place to place.  And while I have yet to see any emus- kookaburras are constantly laughing at me, the crimson rosella parrots are stunning, magpies are everywhere and the horrid screech of the sulphur-crested cockatoo is deafening.  While all these critters are great to be able to see in the wild, usually they are even better in my belly, and as such, I have been on a quest to eat as many of them as possible.  Wild rabbit, prawns and kangaroo have already been consumed, and emu and crocodile are next.
The training has also been going well.  I have now put in two solid weeks of running only (wow!) and the legs are starting to come around.  I look forward to traveling down to Melbourne in a few days for my first race of the year.  I just hope that there isn’t too much rust on the old engine.  The race in Melbourne should be fun, it serves as the Australian Olympic Trials and will take place on a brand new track complex.  I look forward to toeing the line, and I am ready to get the racing year started!


Until next time,
Ben

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Departing for OZ

As I sit here in the United terminal at JFK waiting for my flight to Australia (and dreading the thirty-six hour travel ahead) I can finally reflect on the last few days.  Things have been progressing rapidly with regards to my injured soleus- however, not quick enough for me to partake in any indoor races and I had to heartbreakingly watch the 5km at the Millrose Games from the sideline.  But all is not lost, as I have recently been able to do a few workouts without much problems and I am hoping the warm weather of OZ-land will cure any lingering ailment.
The bright side of my current affliction (if one could spin a positive light on torment) was that due to my cleared racing schedule, I had the pleasure to be able to help coach the local high school track team through their State meet.  Being able to work with the kids for a few hours each day allowed me to glean assuagement from my lack of running and watch as the kids improved, culminating in having Hanoverians win the girl’s 4x400 relay and 600m.  I look forward to my return from Australia to continue my coaching and working with the program I helped start in Canaan this fall, brining a new running initiative to the middle schoolers of Indian River.
And lastly, any speak of the last few days would be remiss without report of my hair-raising encounter of a high speed car chase.  Yes, not just in the movies, but they actually do happen on the bustling highway of I-89 in New Hampshire.  It occurred when I was traveling to Maine to drop my pup off with my parents while I am traveling abroad.  Cruising along I first noticed a cop parked on one of the police pull outs.  I quickly glanced down at my speedometer, making sure I wouldn’t be subject to be pulled over and continued on my way, thinking it was nothing more than a routine speed check.  However, no more than a mile further up the road, as I had increased speed thinking that I had just past the one and only cop on duty for the day, I noticed a second police car lurking on the side of the road.  At this point I knew I was speeding, as I was in the lefthand lane and in the process of passing a chain of slower moving cars.  I immediately started to break with a gut-wrenching feeling that I was about to be pulled over.  Yet, as I got closer, I noticed that the policeman was standing in front of his car holding a large object.  Confused, I stared at the policeman in attempts to figure out what he was doing, and while doing so, saw out of the corner of my eye a green blur.  Before I knew what happened, a pickup truck barrels past me like I was standing still.  I watch as the truck squeezes itself between me in the lefthand lane (remember, I’m currently passing a chain of cars) and the guard rail.  An inch separates us as we speed three-wide down the two-lane interstate.  Just as the truck passes me, we reach the policeman who throws out a spike-mat in attempts to slow the perpetrator.  Seeing what was happening, I swerve hard to the right narrowly missing the mat myself- and the other cars around me.  The truck swerves as well, rocking back and forth as it continues in its attempt to flee.  I try to breathe.  What just happened?  As I slow, trying to figure out what I just witnessed and to comprehend how I didn’t just wreck, a hoard of police cars fly past in pursuit, lights flashing and sirens wailing.  A few miles up the road I notice deep cuts in the pavement and before long sits the pickup swarmed by a dozen police cars.  The truck’s tires were missing, having run on its rims for the past mile, and smoke billowed from its hood.  Driving past I could only be thankful that I was able to avoid an accident myself.  Luckily, the rest of the drive was quite uneventful, and I can now say that I have been apart of a high speed car chase and lived to tell about it.  I just hope that the rest of my travels are a bit less exciting.
Until next time,
Ben

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What a Great Day

Today was a great day.  Why might you ask?  Well, today I was able to don my running shoes and run.  Yes, I, a runner by profession, did what I am paid to do.  So why was this such a great day?  Because today was the first time in six weeks that I was able to run pain free.  It all began six weeks ago when after a rather banal jog, I laced up my spikes to run a few 200m strides around the indoor track at Dartmouth.  Lap after lap my left calf began to tightening up.  By the end of the sixth 200, I could barely walk.  Limping back to my car I figured it was just a knotted muscle victim of the tight turns of the indoor track.  After a massage and multiple icings, the pain in my calf lingered and continued to linger day after day for weeks.  The pain would fade away into the background, only calling out during hard intervals or when I misplaced my foot on the trails of Hanover.  But it would not go away and eventually, it crawled into the forefront, screaming out during every step I took.  I did everything that I could (minus the obvious avoidance of running) to allow the calf to heal.  I went to multiple doctors, trainers, masseurs, and chiropractors.  There was nothing that I could do except icing, stim, stretching and time.  And then two week ago, during 1200m repeats, things went from bad to worse.  On my third interval I felt a slight twinge.  I kept running, but 100m later my calf seized up like a rock.  I lifted my leg trying to keep running, a tear formed in my eye.  I put the leg back down, it could not support my body.  I picked it up again, replaced it, again, it could not hold my weight.  I hopped to a stop and sat down on the track, head in hands, my leg throbbing.  From then, I could barely walk for a few days, limping everywhere and struggling to climb the stairs.  I jumped onto my stationary bike and rode for hours each day.  Slowly the leg began to heal and I was able to start running on an Alter-G (a treadmill that is encapsulated in a bubble that allows you to run at various percentages of your body weight).  Next, I was allowed to do ten sets of jogging for one minute, followed by one minute of walking.  Two days of that, I graduated to two minutes jogging for one minute walking, then three.  Along with the slow integration back to 'real running,' I slowly increased the percentage of body weight I ran at on the Alter-G.  And then finally, finally, I was able to do a complete run at full weight.  It was glorious.  The calf is still not perfect.  While pain free, the soleus is still quite swollen, but progress is coming and there is an enormous grin plastered across my face.  It will be a few more days before I try any intensity on the leg, but the improvement over the last few days has lifted my spirits and reignited the belief that I will be able to toe the line in a few weeks at the Millrose Games and begin my 2012 season.  It has been a long and tough last few weeks, but the sun is beginning to rise and things are starting to look good.  I am excited to get back to quality training and to run some fast races.

Until next time,

Ben