1500m Gold, With the Bonus Plan…

Well, Saturday was a whirlwind day with the 1500m final, a parting gift from World Masters Athletics, and an evening train to Vienna. It’s now been over 3 days since taking the track for the 1500m final, and while it was great to have won another world championship race, the “after party” definitely put a little damper on the occasion. No worries though (well, not “no” worries), the trip to Budapest was a wonderful one, and it’ll be an experience that we will all remember for a long time. Now, as for the race….

While running the 1500m semi-final heat on Friday my right achilles took a turn for the worse. This is a problem that I am not unfamiliar with, but usually it sets in sometime in July or August after a long year. I think since I have been so busy racing this month this low-grade nagging sensation started earlier in the year than normal, but while running the semi on Friday I could feel my foot burning in my shoe throughout the race – it definitely got more serious. Afterwards it was sore to walk – I went to the USA trainer, who sent me to the local medics who apparently were the keepers of the ice – a precious commodity in Hungary. I was “issued” about 5 pieces of ice in a sandwich bag – when I asked for more I got the customary “yeeeeeys” from him and he threw in another piece. Jackpot. Iced it while stretching, then toured the city on our last day “limp-style”, babying it as best I could. I hit up the hotel bartender that night for another bag of ice, got a couple of cycles out of it. Popped some ibuprofen (important) before hitting the rack…

I knew that despite how the trials went, and how we all “self-seeded” ourselves going in, that I was just as good as everyone in the field. Having spent most of the indoor season racing Mark Williams, Peter Brady, Chris Blondin, Scott Weeks, and others (all M40 studs), moving up an age group to M45 things were not going to get any more difficult than I was accustomed to. I think 4:30 is an above average time for M45 milers, and I felt confident despite the lack of workouts (probably 1 in the last month) and excessive amount of recent racing (10 times) I could still count on my ability to hit that mark. That put me with the leaders no matter what. What I didn’t know was what kind of shape David Cowlishaw was in (self seeded in 4:04 (~4:22)), how fresh he would be having skipped the 800m, and where I would find myself in the race (lead vs sit-n-kick). All this, plus I had the achilles problem to deal with, which nobody else knew about. I popped a couple more ibuprofen in the morning, and got to the track a little early to get my warmup done in time to visit the trainer again. I skipped most of the drills I usually do that involve running in order to avoid beating up the foot too much – it felt a little better when I woke up than it did when I went to bed so I didn’t want to make it any worse. Stuck to easy jogging, lots of leg swings, and a handful of sets of the different leg kicks I’ve been using this year. Stretched the left side but laid off the right. Got to see our (USA) trainer just before having to check in, and he massaged my calf and lower leg and did some sort of bladed voodoo trick on it that he said might help break some adhesions up. If nothing else the balm made me smell fast…

Everyone checked in, which meant 12 guys on the “B” track – aka “Rollerdome”. This was the 4-lane track, as opposed to the big “A” track (where we ran the 800m – a very nice oval) that was being used that day for the sprints. The sprints definitely needed the big track more than we did, but 12 guys on this steeply banked thing was definitely going to cause some problems. Once again, I locked in my strategy by watching the M45 women – just seeing 12 runners line up was enough for me. Eight people on the first waterfall, the last person (#8) barely fit on the track. Numbers 9-12 were up on the second waterfall – just seeing this cluster made you want to place even money on someone not getting a fair shake off the line. We were eventually lined up, I was #5 coming off the trials so I was smack dab in the middle of the lineup. Plan was to get the hell out of dodge, even if it meant staying out in lane 2-3 and running a crazy-fast first lap. From there I would see how they wanted to play it – if they let me lead I was planning on shooting for a 4:30 pace, because I felt confident I could out-kick anyone who wanted to try to sit on me if we hit that pace. If someone else wanted to take things up a notch I was all for that as well, because as I said earlier I felt that mano-y-mano I would take my chances with anyone in the field and “may the best guy win”.

I got out at the gun, which seems to be a required survival tactic here in Europe. I heard some demolition derby action behind me which made me glad I had chosen to go the route that I did. For me the 1500m indoors is very confusing – just having that half of a lap difference makes everything seem off – especially when there are no splits given at the start line. The only the clock on track “b” was at the finish, not in your line of sight, and served very little purpose. I knew I wanted to run 67 sec quarters, or about 33-34 second laps, but having to add 17 seconds to the wall clock was all but impossible to keep track of – to be honest, without the guy at the line flipping the “x laps to go” counter I probably not have ever known how much we had left. In the mile what lap you are on is never a problem – in the 1500m, for me, not so much….

I essentially had no idea what pace I was running. I know I ran the first 300m pretty quick, then felt like I got settled in and started waiting. After about 3 or 4 laps I heard some guy yell something as he came up behind me – it was Cowlishaw, and I thought the race was about to get interesting. He pulled up alongside me and maybe just ahead of me down the back stretch, then kind of stalled there. I would have let him go initially, but as we neared the turn I thought I’d make him work for it a little bit so I sped up and kept him in lane 2 through the turn. Out of the turn he fell back a bit, then it was quiet up front again. My spotter (9-year old daughter Kate) was instructed to tell me (if I was leading) every lap “a little” or “a lot”, depending on the size of my lead. As the lap counting guy started flipping over 3 then 2 then 1, she finally started yelling “a lot”. A quick peek here and there confirmed I had opened up a 10-15 meter lead. I still felt fine going into the last 250m so I picked it up a little bit to ensure nobody got any life breathed into them. Didn’t even see the clock at the finish so I had no idea what I had run…

1500m finish - photo by Shaggy

1500m finish – photo by Shaggy

It turned out David Cowlishaw got tangled up on the start (he “won” lane 1 in the semi’s by being the top finisher – the inside lane on that track is no “reward” at all!) and was forced off the track. Score one for my strategy to avoid that mess. He apparently lost his shoe as well, so he put his shoe back on then joined the field when they came back around in an effort to help one of his country mates run a faster time. I guess (from other’s accounts) that when he came up on me and was yelling that he was trying to tell me he was out of the race and just there to help. How was I supposed to know that?!?! In any case, he unfortunately was DQ’ed and never a factor, which stinks for him as he probably had a good shot to be up there at the end, now we’ll never know….

We took the customary group picture at the finish (Thanks Shaggy!), then I was immediately met by a young volunteer lad from WMA Doping Control – winner winner, chicken dinner. Would I please come with him. (no question mark on purpose). No sweat, swapped out shoes, grabbed my warmup, off we went. We went up to the office clearly marked “Dopping Office” (must have lost something in translation), where the Swedish M50 1500m winner was running around in circles with a big bottle of water. Having been randomly “whiz quizzed” countless times at the Naval Academy, in the fleet, and even by the FAA while with FedEx, I had been through this before. I’d never had to do it right after running a race though, and had flashbacks to I-Day (Indoctrination Day – first day of plebe summer) at USNA where we all stood in line for hours, scared to death, praying to God we could muster a pee before our superiors choked us to death for taking so long. Adding pressure to everything except the bladder does not produce results, trust me…

I couldn’t blame the Swede for taking so long once he got taken into the office. 30 minutes passed as I did the same as he did, killing a 1.5L bottle of water while attempting to stretch and cool down in the hall. I told my escort that at 3:25 I was going down to my medal ceremony and to see my family whether he liked it or not, he said no problem he just had to come with me. 30 minutes passed, no Swede, so we went down to rejoin the gang. It was the first I had seen anyone since the race – family, fellow competitors, and Mark Williams, who looked like the cat who had just swallowed the canary after bagging a bronze in the M40 race. High fives all around, congratulations to everyone, medal presentation went off on time and was just as special as the first time around. I saw the WMA drug czar growl at my escort for letting me get a little to far away, felt bad for the kid. It kind of pissed me off though that this was taking away from the whole experience – from the time I got done running to now I had about 10 minutes with everyone, then back up to the hall. Problem #2 was now developing though – I ran at 2:45pm, sat in the office until 3:25pm, got my medal at 3:40pm, and had a train to catch to Vienna at 5:10pm. My wife and I had said ahead of time that we needed to be walking out of the center NLT 4:15pm to catch the track subway to the Eurorail Station, with enough time to spare to figure out the Hungarian station and maybe grab a bite to eat on the train. When I left my family I told them that if they didn’t see me by 4:15 to go without me, I’d catch up. Fast forward to “Dopping Office” – the fun was just beginning….

We got back up to the “Dopping Office” at 3:45pm, so I had about 30 minutes to “get it done”. I’d been sipping water non-stop since he grabbed me, but I still had no urge to pee. When he took me up the first time we made a detour to my luggage so I could get my medicines – I had saved the prescription bottle that had contained some antibiotics that I had just finished that morning “just in case”, as well as the wrapper off the back of one of the foil wrappers of the Mucinex D Extra-Strength I had been taking along with the prescription drugs (at the suggestion of my doc). I had started getting a sinus infection the Tuesday before leaving for Hungary – I was on a FedEx trip, sleeping very poorly, and started to get run down when the nasal drip and sore throat began to raise its ugly head. This is something that I unfortunately seem to develop a time or two a year so I know the symptoms very well. I got with my doc as soon as the symptoms started, and he got me on the Mucinex while I was still in Los Angeles (over the counter) then the Cefuroxime when I got home the next afternoon. When I filled out the initial paperwork with the Doping volunteer there was no mention of writing down any drugs you were taking, so when I saw my family and we re-shuffled my bags I left my medicine sack with them. My second visit “upstairs” got me into the actual WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) office, where the second round of paperwork had the dreaded question – what medication/drugs have you taken in the past 10 days. Oh shit. When I realized that I didn’t have my meds anymore I immediately busted out the international phone I had rented for the trip and texted my doc – “Getting drug tested, need name of antibiotics!!!”. Phone paid for itself 100-fold as he immediately texted me back “Cefuroxime”. Whew. Then I shot him back “Need ingredients of Mucinex!!!”, he lobs me another priceless text “pseudoephedrine + guarfenesin”. Whew 2. I proceed to fill out the forms – name, address, drivers license number, blah blah blah as the two officials very curtly/officially lead me through in their best Hungarenglish. I write down “Cefuroxime”, “Mucinex D – pseudoephedrine + guarfenesin “, and “NyQuil – sleeping” in the “medication” box. I’m not worried at this point (ignorance is bliss), but I start to realize that this whole thing is not good – best case, everything comes back good and I am right where I was in the first place, worst case there is something I haven’t thought out very well/something gets screwed up/I am getting led down a path I don’t want to be on. This is all on top of the fact that this whole thing has certainly put a damper on my afternoon, and is starting to threaten my personal plans, which I realize Olga and Igor could care less about. When I finally finish the paperwork I still don’t have to pee, and it is after 4pm. Not good….

“Not good” became “really strange not good” pretty quickly. Igor understood I was in a hurry, so as Olga was finalizing my paperwork he suggested I take off one of my two shirts to make things go faster once we went to “get urine”. Huh? Take my shirt off? Like I said, I had done this probably 20 times before, and in the Navy if the guy actually leered over the urinal partition to watch the flow you felt a little creeped out. Shirt off though? What was he talking about? She gave us the thumbs up, so Igor told me to “pick a bottle” out of the box of sealed bottles in bags. I picked one, then he said to follow him into the toilet. No biggie, at this point I could almost feel a twitch in my bladder which might just save my train ride. I hadn’t decided if push came to shove on making my train if I had the balls to just split and save our vacation, knowing the WMA/WADA would not like that at all (automatic failure). I was dreaming about it though – giving the WMA boss the big “New Yorker #1” sign on my way out the door. I pressed on though to hopefully fill my bottle. Once in the bathroom, he told me to undress. O, K…. “Everything?” I asked – “No, you can keep your socks on”, he replied. Not exactly what I was asking, but I guess I got my answer. Boot camp style, down to my socks, there I stood in all my glory, just him and me. Silly me for thinking that things had gotten as weird as they would get – “Turn, spread buttocks”, he then said, giving me the vague clothed demo. Is he kidding? Am I getting punked? I knew better from his tone though, so San Quentin style I let him confirm that I hadn’t just won the 1500m race with a bag of apple juice shoved up my butt. “Now you turn back around, lift penis”. Sure, why not. I can see where shoving it in your butt was so “last year”, and taping it to the underside of your nuts was definitely the “new black”. I let him check the junk out, low and behold there was nothing squirreled away under there either. Now he said it was time to pee, and that I needed to get to the 110ml line on the cup to have it count. I took the cup, stared at it like Luke Skywalker, and commanded flow to fill up the cup to the magic line. The tickle became a trickle which started to fill ‘er up. Was going strong for a second, then the flow started to wane, when all was said and done I think I had 111ml maybe, but Igor was satisfied. Back out to the desk, the two of them had me verify all the digits, then systematically pour the collection cup into a couple of glass bottles (A Sample and B Sample, made famous by the likes of Lance Armstrong…) with steel locks on them that could have been used by the NRC to store nuclear material. It started dawning on me that this is exactly what the Olympic guys go through all the time, but it seemed a little excessive for guys “playing track” to be put through the same thing – kind of the feeling you get when you see 90-year-old ladies getting patted down at the airport, I can only imagine some 87-year-old guy who had manned some foxhole in Bastogne in his previous life standing in the bathroom and being told to spread his butt cheeks for some guy to verify he isn’t about to cheat on his masters track drug test. Crazy…

Anyway, after I seal the glass container I check all her paperwork and sign the thing at 4:20pm. I grab my copies (which they told me to keep for 8-years?!?) and split at full speed. My family had left as I had instructed them to do, and I eventually caught up with them at the station where we made our train with a couple of minutes to spare. Got to Vienna and enjoyed a great day visiting a 600 year old castle-estate which included the oldest zoo in the world (giant pandas with no line to wait in – score), and a trip to the park to ride the tallest swing ride on the planet – kid “bucket-list” kinds of things. Have since hit Venice, and am now sitting in Rome. Will be bringing a “body by gelato” back to the states, but I think the rest will have done me good and the Italian souvenir I’ll have around my waist will hopefully melt away like it has always done in the past.

Is the drug test thing over? I have no idea. The postscript to this story is that upon further review (a.k.a. review that should probably have been done beforehand), pseudoephedrine is on the 2014 WADA “Prohibited List” if detected in certain quantities during competition, and on their “Monitoring Program List” in lesser quantities. I was taking the Maximum Strength version of Mucinex D which contained 120mg of pseudoephedrine, but did not take them in the days leading up to my race because I had started taking Advil for some soreness and thought that you couldn’t take them together – turns out I was (luckily) confusing Mucinex’s acetaminophen warning with the ibuprofen I was taking. Remind me never to moonlight as a pharmacist…

Part of "The List".  Some easy reading....

Part of “The List”. Some easy reading….


My advice to anyone reading this who cares to listen is cold meds seem to be the “gotcha”, specifically pseudoepherine. Most of the rules and prohibited items are hard-core stuff like “steroids” (think Schwartzenegger), masking agents (like Zoro and the Lone Ranger), manipulating blood components (of course), and hormone modulators (huh?) that are the sort of things that I am assuming most guys would never dream of doing. The stimulant things (including caffeine, which I have played with) are on that previously mentioned “watch list”, so I will indeed “watch” that to see if anything changes on that. I’ve perused the entire list, but without being a dual licensed M.D. and trial lawyer I can’t say that I understand most of it (ever hear of “methylenedioxymethamphetamine or dehydrochlormethyltestosterone”? They’re banned). I don’t know what other over the counter meds contain pseudoepherine, but in roaming the internet that seems to be the one that has bitten “olympic” level guys and gals the most in the past. If my number didn’t get called there’s no way I would hesitate to fight a common malady for me with the same course of prescribed medication that I’ve been doing for the past couple years, because it has worked. Is ignorance an excuse? No. Do I regret doing it? Of course, although its easy to regret something that’s in the past. Will I do it again? No, because I’m sure there are some other medications out there that don’t have that ingredient. Why was Mucinex good for me? As a pilot, it’s non-drowsy, which is a requirement when dealing with “heavy machinery”. Kind of a catch-22, because I’m guessing the reason it’s “non-drowsy” is the very reason it’s banned is certain levels. Hopefully (fingers and toes crossed) you have to be a serial pill-popper to get to the banned levels and I am losing sleep for no reason. I asked every doc I know back home this question, and the consensus was that with the listed half-life of the drug and the history of my usage it should have been almost completely gone from my system at the time, let alone under the allowed level. All I can say is from the time the doping guy snagged me to the time I am showing him the underside of my junk to the time I spent tossing and turning in bed over this it has not been a fun experience, and I do this to have fun. If I was ever going to end a blog with “stay tuned” this would be the one – more on “MucinexGate” as I delve deeper and deeper into the shady underworld of ugly green mucus monsters…..


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Into the Final Final



Quick update – 4:20.2 today in my 1500m semi-final heat, think I finished 5th.  Led the heat through 1450m at a pace we knew would get us through, got passed by two guys at the end.  When they made their move I had a hunch that turned out to be true – the medals are awarded after tomorrow’s race, not todays.  Those two will be seeded ahead of me tomorrow afternoon, but we’ll all start on the same line and I will not be in the same “giving mood” when it comes time to hammer the finish.

Like all the guys who are 800/1500 doubling, I am starting to feel the effects of all this racing.  This will be my 8th race in 16 days, the fifth final.  Even though some of them were trials, they are still pretty hard efforts in spikes on legs and joints that are not 18 anymore.  We’ll be hitting Austria and Italy after the meet for another week, I don’t see the running shoes seeing the light of day other than to help out the feet on long walks.  A break is definitely in order, and I think the timing for it will be pretty good.  I’m confident the old body will be able to answer the bell one more time though, so hopefully I can muster an effort tomorrow afternoon that will put me in contention at the end.  The field will be pretty strong I think (the top seed skipped the 800m to run this), so it’s gonna take a good race – the trials are done, and I can see the light at the end of the Budapest tunnel, so I’ll be “all in” on this one.  I’ll be sorry to leave this place when all’s said and done, but I know one way to put some icing on an awesome Hungarian cake – more hardware!

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WMA 800m Gold

Star Spangled Anthem, complete with HD1080p flag!

Star Spangled Anthem, complete with HD1080p flag!

Quick update on the results from today’s 800m final.  Victory!  (in case the title and picture didn’t spoil the surprise)  Was able to avoid trouble, got in a groove, dictated the pace a bit and finished strong – worked out just like I had hoped it would, I knew a time for the ages was not going to happen so winning was the only thing.  Check.

We hit the town pretty hard yesterday in my only day off with the family, spent some time in one of Budapest’s famous “spas” – hot spring baths that are a cross between a throwback to the Roman times and your basic public pool.  Even saw the world’s earliest HydroWorx prototype – each pool had a different temperature and accompanying “purpose”, one of the cooler pools was oval shaped with folks “jogging” around it like a track.  Aqua running!  Kids did a lap or two, don’t know if the locals thought two American kids playing in the middle of their workout was cool or not, but I think if they had a problem with it they’d get over it.  Afterwards we saw the sights on a Segway tour, very fun.  Don’t know how much it saved the legs since you were standing and working the device the whole time, but everyone had a blast and the local guide was great.  Lots of history, thought it would be a little weird for him to discuss the Iron Curtain and the 45 years of Soviet “rule” with the two Russian girls in our group, but he did a great job “telling it like it was”.  Pointed out the first McDonald’s, which arrived in 1988 while the Soviet influence was still in strong – said he remembered when it arrived nobody went because they all thought it was a “trick/trap” to lure people in to the western restaurant, which they all thought would then mean “trouble”.   Things you don’t think about in Enola PA….

Dinner at Fictiv’s Pub as usual, Budapest tradition still in tact (6 for 6).  Ready to go this morning for the 4:30 start.  Was the top seed after Wednesday’s semifinal, which put me in lane 1.  While warming up on the infield just prior to our race I got to watch the W45 race being held just before ours.  Bernadine Pritchett (the Brit who hosted me on the way over) got into a scrap with about 3 other women trying to get out of an early box – short of pulling hair and eye gouging I think every other means were used by her to escape or one of the other ladies to prevent her from doing so.  She eventually got to the front only to lose at the wire, can’t believe that her tussle didn’t effect her ability to defend her lead at the end.  Her loss was my gain, however, I decided then and there that I would lead….


Start of 800m

Start of 800m

Easier said then done, however.  I don’t know why, but these European fields are chock full of guys who take “getting out” to a whole new level.  It took waaaay more effort than it should have to get to the second turn in the lead, through the first lap in about 27 flat.  Wasn’t sweating it too much because I had been here several times before this year already, plus I had to figure that if it came back to haunt me I would definitely kill those guys who had already bitten off more than they could chew.  Once in the lead, however, I settled in and didn’t get any challenges.  Through the half in 58-59, right where I wanted to be.  1:29.xx at 600, could still hear them behind me but was very relaxed and had a good feeling at this point.  Took things up a notch on the last lap, glanced behind briefly and saw someone a couple yards behind, never let up though and never got challenged.  Think the final time was 1:59.36, great feeling to have the “W” in the bag.  There’s a different type of pressure when you are the favorite, almost like you can only screw it up – don’t get me wrong, I’d way rather be the favorite than not, but I knew nobody was going to roll over and just hand it to me.  I guess instead of being 100% jubilation, it’s more like 95% jubilation and 5% relief.  Either way it was a fun win, and like most wins being world champion again never gets old.

Leading the pack, wire to wire

Leading the pack, wire to wire

Unlike Kamloops where the medal ceremony was a cluster and we just took our hardware and split, this one was scheduled and was nice.  Got the modified version of the Star Spangled Banner, played it right up to the point where I guess they decided everyone had heard enough and the DJ just pressed the audio version of “fade to black”.  No worries though, we all got the picture – gold for Team USA and Team Berra.

Sid Howard (M75 Silver), Kate, and yours truly

Sid Howard (M75 Silver), Kate, and yours truly

1500m trials tomorrow, no rest for the weary.  Fully expect this to be another tactical jaunt, if it works out that way it’ll be fine with me.  With the 800m done and mission accomplished, this one will be much less stressful so I am really looking forward to it.  More to follow from #awesomeBudapest – have I said lately that I love this place?!?

2014 WMA M45 800m Finals


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To the Final

Two down, one to go.  After yesterday’s strange advancement rules (by straight time), today’s more traditional format made things much more predictable.  Top two in each heat advanced, along with the next 5 fastest times.  Being placed in the early heat once again, I didn’t feel like messing around and playing the “time” game like yesterday.  I got out with the leaders and lingered around 3rd or 4th through the quarter, then when things started getting a little crazy and the European arms started swinging I felt like getting boxed in (or knocked unconscious) were the biggest threats to my chances of advancing.  I moved outside with about 3oom to go, stayed with the top two as they started breaking away, then passed them both off the final turn to finish slightly ahead of the other two in 2:03.98.  We were 4 seconds faster then the rest of the 14 semi-finalists, but such is life.  Given a crystal ball would it have been better to run slower and save something for down the road?  Maybe, although running 2:08 and 2:04 shouldn’t break the bank.  Today’s effort was smooth, and when it came time to accelerate it came without much problem.  Friday will be a whole different story.  Don’t know how the race will start out, but that will probably dictate how I run it.  I feel like I have the legs and the conditioning to run it fast or slow, so I don’t want to script anything that might not be the best strategy at the time.  Either way the day of rest will level the playing field so Friday’s final should be a good race for all the marbles…

The family made it in to town this afternoon, and despite their long trip over they hit the ground running.  All over Budapest via foot, trains, trolleys, and boats, topped off by the evening right of passage – Fictiv Pub.  It didn’t disappoint (as usual), kids already booking it for tomorrow.  Twist my arm…

Danube River Cruise - Hungarian Parliament Building by night (photo by Lindsay...)

Danube River Cruise – Hungarian Parliament Building by night (photo by Lindsay…)


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Into the Semis…

Semi,  American style...

Semis, American style…

Not much to report, what should have been a formality was.  Was third in my heat, which turned out to be third overall, in 2:08.  Advancing was done strictly on time, not the usual top 2/3 from each heat plus the next 6-8 fastest, so you never really knew what it would take to move on.  I drew the second of 5 heats, so when I ran I didn’t really know what time it would take to advance – couple of guys from my heat got after it early (don’t know why), so I patiently let them go but got nervous when my attempt to run 2:06 turned into 2:08.  Turned out that my anxiety was needless, as all the other heats ran tactical races which eliminated those that didn’t run under 2:13 or so.  Not super impressive, but what you ran didn’t really matter as long as you advanced so you could argue that the 18th and final guy to move on was the real “winner” – easing into the semis…

Tomorrow will be a little tougher, but at least the top guys in each heat will automatically advance, meaning that you can control your own destiny to a point.  That, plus we’ll have a day off before the finals, so if I have to take things up a notch or two it won’t be such a bad thing.  Late night tonight after running at 7:30, dinner at 9:30pm isn’t ideal but the local Fictiv Pub has served me well the past two nights so i figured no use messing with a good thing.  Did throw my waiter a curveball tonite though, going with the goulash instead of the borscht – pretty much like Chunky beef and vegetable soup, with the only difference being it was good and it didn’t involve Donovan McNabb’s mother.  Hopefully it will give me some Eastern European strength though, for I feel the days of 2:08 getting it done are probably over……

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Let the Trials Begin…


Budapest, Hungary!

Budapest, Hungary!

Tonight begins the final push of what has become a marathon month.  Tomorrow will mark one month since I turned 45, and since then every weekend has been brought significant travel and hard racing.  Boston for the 4×800 record, New York City for the open 800 record, back to Boston for the nationals triple, and now 5 races (hopefully) in 6 days with the world championships on the line.  I can’t say that it was the best way to do business as it has taken longer and longer between events to “feel right”, but then again I wouldn’t have done it any different.  I have been blessed in that every week everything has gone right – no significant illnesses or injuries, no scheduling conflicts or travel issues, no freak accidents or incidents on the tracks, and tons of help along the way from family, friends, and competitors.  For some reason this weekend, which at one time was marked down as the “main event”, does not have me nervous or anxious at all.  I think that I realize that whatever happens it’s been a great run, exceeding all expectations.  This one will be the icing on the cake if I can “get it done” – don’t get me wrong, when I’m sitting in the little room about to be led out to the track the heart will definitely be racing, but this will be a “cut it loose and see what happens” week rather than a pressure-filled one.

The past 48 hours here in Budapest have been really fun.  The city is great – very scenic, easy to get around, very clean, and it actually has some pretty good chow.  The family arrives tomorrow and I know we have some stuff planned, so hopefully we can mix “business” and pleasure throughout the week to see and experience as much as possible in this neat city.  800m quarterfinals tonight, semi-finals tomorrow afternoon, then Thursday off before a Friday afternoon final.  1500m trials begin Saturday with a Sunday final.  I got over to check in and see the track last night.  They are using two tracks – we got to warm up in the smaller of the two venues, Track ‘B’.  I think they got the track from Madison Square Garden when they stopped having the Millrose Games there – super tight, with each panel in the curve having a different firmness.  Luckily that is the track we’ll be running the 1500m on – Track ‘A’ is in a big convention hall and looked sweet, we’ll be testing that one out this evening as the 800m kicks things off….

Updates to follow, hopefully nothing crazy happens tonight as they pare the field down from 38 to 18.  Think I am one of only 2 or 3 Americans entered, so it’ll definitely be a new crew of opponents.  Not sweating it – as my dad used to always say “they all put their pants on one leg at a time” – gonna do my thing, take care of my business, and hope for the best….

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Borscht – Food of Champions

Going all Eastern-Bloc for this one...

Going all Eastern-Bloc for this one…

Not to get ahead of myself, but after arriving in Hungary this evening I settled in for a bowl of borscht to begin the acclimation process.  I know a bit about Mihály Iglói, old school Hungarian distance coach, and while most people think he was one of the founders of interval training, it is a lesser known fact that he also invented borscht.  No joke.  So I figured if it worked for Mihály there’s no reason to believe it won’t work for me.  Not only does it make you faster, but it tasted pretty damn good too…

Mini-recap of Trackation ’14 Part I – Boston.  Indoor nationals last weekend, was entered for the 4/mile/8 triple.  Was favored in the 800 and mile, but was the 5th seed in the 400m.  I was fine with that, and was actually more excited for that race than the others – I hadn’t run what I would consider a complete quarter yet, and was savoring my underdog role.  My previous two efforts (Bucknell, Millrose) were both way to comfortable, and I really thought I had some time to drop if I ran a full, hard 400.  With a stacked heat (5th seed with 53.17) I knew I would be chasing guys from the gun, which was my plan – stay close, then hope to finish hard as they were tying up.  Who knows, maybe I could pull an upset…

Well, I got the “chasing from the gun” part right at least.  Turns out there’s a big difference between sprinters and milers – more than just them using blocks and me just standing on the line.  I was right were I wanted to be (according to my plan) at the 200m and 300m marks, I had just underestimated the amount of effort it took me to be there.  I was almost all-out from the start just to keep up with them, and when they started petering out off the last turn I was cooked as well.  We all survived to the line, I passed one and got passed by one, but could never close on leader Andrew Junas, who won in a strong 51.97.  I finished 3rd in 52.37 – not a bad time, but in hindsight I think my plan took me away from what I do best, and played right into the hands of the rest of the field.  I don’t know if I could have gone faster, or placed any higher, but I would have loved to have a mulligan and tried it a different way.  I would have run my kind of race – instead of blindly chasing them regardless of the pace, I would have pushed the first 200m just a little more than in Bucknell/NYC, remaining in control, then hopefully have been in a position to close at the end instead of just holding my ground along with the rest of the field.  Maybe if I had smelled blood in the water (and not mine) I could have found another gear.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda.  Another day I suppose…

Saturday’s race was the 1500m, and while I was worried that I would be feeling the effects of the previous day’s sprint I actually didn’t feel too bad warming up.  I had no intentions of trying to run any sort of spectacular time, but was aware of a couple of quality guys that would capable of taking advantage of any slip up I might make.  I took the lead from the beginning but didn’t fool around – about 2:16 through 800m, which opened up about a 10m lead.  Stuck with that pace, and although Landon Summay and Kristian Blaich closed a bit dueling for second I held on for the victory in 4:34.03.  I was happy to get one in the win column and to live to fight another day…

Sunday was the 800m, and again I knew that I would be the favorite.  I still felt pretty good despite the two previous races, so there were no excuses.  Plan was about the same as in the 1500m – set a decent pace to avoid anything crazy happening, then hopefully be able to answer any challenges that would come from anyone who could handle the pace.  First 3 laps right at about 30+ seconds, felt very comfortable.  I could sense someone was still hanging on (Summay), so I aired it out a little bit on the last lap, finishing strong in 1:59.26 and winning another gold.  Two golds out of three, can’t complain at all…

Track meet aside, another great visit to Boston with the whoooooole family.  My mother couldn’t handle not being listed as a “supporter” after my record-breaking run, so she had her “support” in high gear the whole weekend to show me a thing or two – great work mom, can still hear you down on the “field” just like the old days.  Parents, wife, kids – the whole Berra clan made the trip and had a fun time together.  Always great to have them accompany me, even if the highlight of my youngest’s weekend was inventing new texting abbreviations – KIB (Kate is bored), KIH (Kate is hungry), WITMEGTBO (when is this meet ever going to be over)….

Weights and a pool run on Monday, and another lift and 5 easy on the roads on Tuesday.  Don’t know if it was a delayed-onset soreness from the meet, or the legs not appreciating the weight-work after all the racing, but got a little sore as the week progressed.  Took Wednesday off completely, then easy on Thursday and Friday.  Jumped on the FedEx flight out of Harrisburg Friday night, flew Harrisburg-Memphis-London overnight and into the next day to start Trackation ’14 Part II – Budapest.  Upon arriving in the UK I took English masters ace Bernadine Pritchett up on her January (Hartshorne) offer to put me up for the night at her place in Chingford, so I had a nice visit with her Saturday evening, then a cool run through “the forest” with her before she got me on the Tube to head down to Heathrow this morning for the last leg of my Hungarian journey.  London-Budapest this afternoon, got here without any issues.  Checked in to the hotel, grabbed some borscht, and now to bed to try to catch up to the time zone changes before the quarterfinal heats of the 800m Tuesday evening.  Will hopefully check out the venue tomorrow and get a feel for what this week will hold in store – five races in six days, I will probably be one of the favorites again so I’ll have to figure out how the trials will work and how to get the most “bang” for my energy “buck”.  Looking forward to racing a whole new crew of guys though, and who knows, if all the stars line up in my favor maybe I can redeem myself from my last international race.  Waiter – more borscht please!!!

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Vacationing, Track Style

After punching the two world record tickets on my first two tries, a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  With the US Indoor Nationals this weekend, then the WMA Indoor World Championships in late March, there is still a lot of indoor racing to be had but the goals will shift from performance-based results to medal-based, which makes a big difference.  All I want to do from this point forward is win, or at least give it my all in the quest to do so.  Times become secondary as the races can and probably will become tactical at some point – there will surely be races chock full of “strategery”, where sometimes the smartest runner will win instead of the most fit.  I am ready for the challenge, but also ready to kick back and enjoy the ride a little bit, something that I don’t think I was really able to do much the past month…

I leave for Boston and the Reggie Lewis Center on Thursday, for what I anticipate will be my first meet “triple” since the PIAA State Championships in 1987.  Like I talked about last post, I have become fascinated by my new event, the 400m.  I originally considered running the 400 because it was on the first day of the meet (Friday), allowing me to come back fairly fresh on Sunday in the 800m.  The more I thought about it the more excited I became to run it.  Even after I decided to add the mile on Saturday I did not cancel my plans to run on Friday as well.  I ended up entering all three – I will play things by ear and see how I feel but as long as I hold up I hope to run them all.  While all three will present different sorts of challenges, I anticipate the 400m will be my toughest event.  The competition in that event is particularly stiff, with a herd of talented sprinters creating a very solid field – as, if not more than, the M40 age group.  When I ran my race at Bucknell and entered my time I thought I would be among the race favorites – when the gun goes off I will feel fortunate to even be in the fast heat!  There are worse things than being the underdog though, so I plan on letting it rip and see how an 800/miler can stack up against the guys in blocks (I will be easy to spot – I’ll be the one standing at the start….).

The mile is on Saturday and if I am still kicking on Sunday I’ll jump in the 800 that morning.  Should be a fun time, sure I will meet some new folks in both my new event as well as my new age group.  M45-49 will be my first age-group move since starting masters – I’ve seen and heard a lot about it but it’s not something that happens very often (actually, every 5 years, give or take a leap day or two).  The whoooole gang is coming up for this one, just like Boston in 2010 – parents and kids along with the wife and I – so it should be a good getaway around hopefully a good meet.

5 days after returning from Boston I am jumping in the back of a FedEx flight bound for London to start the quest for some world championship hardware.  The WMA Indoor World Championships are being contested in Budapest, Hungary March 25th-30th.  I have been looking forward to this experience for the better part of a year – the location was very alluring, and the timing of my 45th didn’t hurt my chances at reaching the podium.  Just my family is going on this one – the school principals were surprisingly cooperative regarding yanking the kids out of school for 8 days (they probably didn’t anticipate the 79 snow days it seems like we’ve had this winter), both administrators recognizing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the girls have to get some “real life social studies” experience.  I’ve entered both the 800m and the 1500m in this one, contested over 6 days.  We’re tacking on a little 5 day excursion to Italy after the games, figured once you’re over there you might as well live it up a little.  That, and once I’m done I think I’ll deserve a couple pizza/pasta benders in the cradle of carbohydrates…

So, an easy week is on tap to recover from Saturday night while at the same time preparing for Fri/Sat/Sun in Boston.  I ran 60 minutes easy in the HydroWorx pool on Sunday to get the blood flowing in my sore legs, then just a touch of quality yesterday to avoid a full week of shuffling.  10 x one-minute intervals in the pool instead of my usual 20, will start easing it back down today to hopefully be fresh for Friday afternoon’s flat-out 400.  What a difference 13-months make – after Hartshorne 2013 I was headed to the land of 12-25 lap races at mind numbingly slow paces.  Now I own spikes purchased from the sprinting page of Eastbay, and am planning on cutting loose like I never though I would ever do again.  Age is just a number, and strength/mobility cannot be understated. No wonder Mark Gomes didn’t release his book until after he retired – he was sitting on the secret codes!  Win, lose, or draw the next three weeks should be a blast, it’s been a while since I was this excited to just get out there like a schoolboy and just run.  “Race you to the swings….!”

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Look What I Found… (times 2)

Re-reading this title one could be led to believe I was referring to this blog.  I actually wasn’t, but I guess it could serve as a double entendre.  (I’m not going to admit how many tries it took for spell check to accept my massacre of that word – trying to somehow think of a way to blame this on my dad, the english major….).  Keep reading and eventually it will all make sense…

I’m going to pretend that this little gap in blog entries was 5 days and not 5 months, and therefore I am just going to forego all the excuses and apologies.  Following Fifth Avenue Mile last fall I took a long break, then started up slowly but steadily.  I never really stopped workout out at Elite Athletic Performance though, continuing to lift and stretch, but taking a step back from running for a handful of weeks helped my knee, achilles, and hips to finally start feeling a little better.  Eventually it was back in the HydroWorx pool, with an occasional track session as the Polar Vortexes allowed…

Once we started back up again, I knew that my 45th birthday would fall towards the end of the indoor season.  Ever since my open 800m last June in Des Moines (and the comment on the FloTrack site that led me to check what the M45 world record was), I had set breaking the indoor 800m world record as my primary goal.  I looked for meets to get some races under my legs, then meets at good tracks after my birthday (2/26) to take the shot at the record.  From that point on it just became a matter of executing the “grand plan”…

January took me up to Penn State for another one of the Nittany Valley Running Club’s open mile races.  They put on another great show, and I was able to run 4:27, placing second behind a Penn State club runner.  It wasn’t particularly easy, but not extremely taxing either.  It was a good prep for the 2014 Hartshorne Mile which I had committed to 2 weeks later, and a good way to kick off the season.

The Hartshorne Mile was another event that lived up to its great reputation.  Tom Hartshorne and Charlie Fay put together the strongest field I have ever seen up there in my 4 years of participating in the event – besides me, he had Scott Weeks (2013 Champ), Peter Brady, Mark Williams, and Chris Blondin, among others.  All five of us were legitimate sub-4:30 milers, so I had no idea who to key off of or how this would go down. After last season’s breakthrough and my decent tune-up at PSU I felt confident that I could run in the mid-4:20’s, but was not sure I could challenge Weeks if he delivered a low 4:20’s performance like the previous year.  The first 7 laps of the race were essentially Groundhog Day, with Scott following the rabbit about 20 meters ahead of the pack, and me, Mark, and Peter following the lead of Chris Blondin (must have drawn the short straw).  With about 250m to go I was able to sneak by Chris on the rail into second, and through the bell I was surprised to see the gap between Weeks and myself had shrunk to less than 10 meters.  I pulled up behind him with 150 meters to go and was settling in to plot my finishing strategy when Mark Williams blew past us both on the outside.  Completely surprised I fortunately was able to pull off another inside pass, this time slipping by Scott, and matched Mark stride for stride down the backstretch.  I eventually was able to out kick him to the line, winning in 4:25 (and closing in 30 secs).  It was a great race, and like 2013 Fifth Ave Mile an unexpected repeat win after several years of coming up short.  Like I said then, you appreciate victories like this more and more when you expect them less and less…

2014 Hartshorne Mile – full race video

Following Hartshorne, I jumped in a meet at Bucknell University to run an open 400m.  Since the strength and conditioning program at Elite had rebuilt my fragile hamstrings, I no longer feared this distance and was curious to see what I could do.  Getting a time in this event served two purposes for me – 1) it would serve as a qualifying time for indoor nationals if I decided to run that event on the Friday before the Sunday 800, and 2) if I could run a time that put me in the top 4 in my Greater Philadelphia club team I would become eligible to run on our 4×400 relay at the Millrose Games.  Not really knowing what was going on (it had been years since my last open 400), I think I ran pretty hard on their flat track and bagged a 53.17 – exceeding my expectations.  My success got my competitive sprinting juices flowing, and I went ahead and entered the 400 at nationals, along with the mile and 800m – possible visions of the triple crown.  I also qualified for our Millrose relay, where I ran another 53.xx split on our second place team several weeks later in what is always a fun event.

This took me to mid-February, where I started buckling down for some big races.  At the Hartshorne Mile a bunch of us started hatching a plan to take a shot at the 4×800 world record that had been set last year by among others Scott Weeks and Mark Gomes.   I had previously held this record with my GPTC teammates, so “getting it back” held a slightly more personal meaning for me than the others.  Scott elected to sit out instead of trying to displace his record holding teammates, and Peter Brady was recruited to run with his club in an effort to break the M35 WR.  That left me, Mark Williams, and Chris Blondin looking for a fourth.  I gave a shout out to 400m ace Ed Winslow, who had started dabbling in the half mile last year.  He was excited to join us, and we all met in Boston at the Boston University Last Chance Meet on 3/2.  The world record was 7:58, meaning we would have to average a little under 2:00 per man – right about where we all were.  On a great track everyone showed up big time – Ed led off with a 1:59.91 and more than held up his end of the deal, and Chris followed that with a 1:59 leg of his own.  Mark got shot out of a cannon, running a crazy 1:55.75 leaving me with very little pressure or obligation.  I must operate best under those sort of conditions, because I too made the most of BU’s lightning fast track and ran a 1:54.93 split.  Everyone nailed it, and we shattered the record to say the least, running 7:49.90.  Beers and burgers followed!

Winslow, Blondin, Williams, Berra M45 4x800 WR

Winslow, Blondin, Williams, Berra
M45 4×800 WR

With that mark out of the way, I had 6 days before my next world record attempt.  This one was the one I have had circled on the calendar for the past 6 months – the M45 800m indoor world record, held by masters legend Anselm LeBourne.  The mark was 1:56.29, almost exactly the same time I ran in Des Moines in my breakout race last summer.  This would be indoors though, and I would be 9 months older.  With the way things had been going at EAP, however, I felt like despite being almost a year older I was getting stronger at a faster rate.  The relay leg at BU was a huge confidence builder – I ran totally alone the whole way, and just banged out 4 smooth laps with very little stress.  As the event (Columbia Final Qualifier at the NYC Armory) drew near, I almost felt like it would be a “choke job” if I didn’t break the mark – I really felt like there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to run that time.  I wasn’t born yesterday though, and knew 1:56 times do not grow on trees and nobody was going to hand it to me – I had to go out there and do it and it was not going to be easy….

Pete Brady stepped up for me in a huge way by volunteering to help set the pace for me.  He was nursing a bum achilles and has a baby due any day so he was prepared to shut things down after his M35 4×800 WR, but living in the NYC area and knowing what I was going to be trying to accomplish he made like Cosmo Kramer and “did me a solid”.  Mark Williams also entered along with Jonevan Hornsby from CPTC.  Having four known quantities (and good buds) alongside me at the starting line knowing they all had my best interest in mind was a huge plus for me.  We were seeded with two slower college runners, so the track was ours from the gun (well, almost – it wouldn’t be a college race without the obligatory collegiate runner biting off way more than he could chew early on – luckily for me the “victim” was Mark Williams – kids never learn…).  Pete hit the pace I had asked for to the tenth of a second, taking me through the quarter-mile in about 57 flat then giving me the track at about the 500m mark.  The announcer knew what was at stake and had the crowd behind my effort the whole way.  I felt strong after taking over from Pete and did my best to control myself as I passed through 600 in 1:26.3.  I made it to the home stretch before starting to tie up but knew I had it when I crossed the line.  The scoreboard flashed almost immediately – 1:56.10 – mission accomplished.  Sharing it with my dad and wife who came up to watch, as well as my masters buds who played a big part in the race made it all the more special….

On the line for the record attempt.  L-R Williams, Hornsby, ?, ?, Brady, Berra

On the line for the record attempt. L-R Williams, Hornsby, ?, ?, Brady, Berra

Pete Brady doing the dirty work

Pete Brady doing the dirty work

Peeking at the clock and sensing I had it....

Peeking at the clock and sensing I had it….


I’ve always felt that national and world titles are largely dependent on who is healthy, able to travel, and in your age group at the time.  Some wins are more satisfying than others depending on the challenges that you face achieving the title.  My biggest regret in the five years that I have been running masters track was in the last race I had circled on the calendar for months ahead of time –  Sacramento, 2011 WMA outdoor championships.  The 800m field was loaded, but for whatever reason (I’ve since come to figure out what probably happened, a lot of good it does me now) I laid an egg.  I felt at the time that you are remembered by how you compare against the best, and on that day I did not show up.  The beauty of this mark is I feel like I have essentially held my own against every M45 800m runner who has ever laced them up on the indoor track – my generation of runners as well as the guys older than me who have all passed through this age group.  Holding my own against them and now being able to associate myself with guys who I hold in high esteem is a very good feeling.  I won’t name all the names, but the previous record holder, Anselm LeBourne, is a perfect example of the type guy I only used to dream of being compared to.  I feel like I’ve just been inducted into some world record hall…

The other bonus to getting this goal accomplished is now I can go out for the rest of the indoor season and have some fun in my new age group.  This post is way too long already, but there’s a lot of racing still to come on the miniature oval.  For now I hope I don’t lock the blog back up and throw away the key again, because I have missed venting over the keys every now and then.  I didn’t want to jinx my WR plans leading up the races, but being a part of two world records in a week was as good a reason as any to revive the blog.  Some say its better to be lucky than good, but I’ll take both any day of the week….

Posted in 5th Avenue Mile, Aquatic Fitness, Competitive Races, Hartshorne Mile, Hydrotherapy, Masters Running, Masters Track, Millrose Games, Running, Uncategorized, Underwater Treadmill | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Order Restored

Somewhere near 70th and 5th Avenue, with John Henwood, Me, Peter Brady, and Gerry O'Hara

Somewhere near 70th St and 5th Avenue, with John Henwood, Me, Mark WIlliams, Peter Brady, and Gerry O’Hara

Well, all’s well that ends well.  I am happy to report that after receiving requests to review the matter from both me and Peter Brady, New York Road Runners shot us an email this evening that said that they would adjust the results to reflect what took place at the finish line.  Reasonable-man theory prevailed in the end, and now I not only won the race but I am also the first place finisher.  Our times were also adjusted to what we thought we ran, putting both at 4:29 from 4:31.  I’m not even going to touch all the questions about chip times and scoring procedures because, like I said before, “all’s well that ends well”.  Thanks again to Peter for all his sportsmanship and assistance, and to the folks at NYRR for promptly addressing the matter…

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 11.30.25 PM

Men 40-45 results

Nothing like a little confusion/controversy to drive up ratings.  The unusual procedures implemented by NYRR yesterday and ensuing interest in the results led to the most hits on this blog ever, shattering the previous high set following another “memorable” running event back in 2011 (Eugene 1500m Berra/Gomes tangle).  I would love to say that this huge total was some sort of viral number like 2.57 million hits, but that just isn’t the case – if you moved the decimal point a couple handful of places to the right maybe.  Even had a hit from India – “FinishGate” had gone world-wide.   Note to self – add more drama to my racing if I ever want to land that guest blogger role at Running Times….

Plan going forward is to press on through the aches and pains and try to crash-course train for the USATF 5k Nationals in Syracuse, NY in two weeks.  This will be the third time I have run this race with the Greater Philly team – every year I think this will be the year I break 16:00 and every time I fail.  Year one was in a freezing monsoon though, and last year I was so beat up I was sore before we even started (and even more sore by the end, to say the least).  This year could be better going in, but it could be worse, so maybe I can finally crack the code (and the 16:00 barrier).  At least I can rest easy knowing there will be no finish line controversy involving me in Syracuse…

60:00 on the HydroWorx treadmill this afternoon – good to get the residual junk out of my legs and get the recovery/preparation effort off to a good start.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 9.50.30 PM

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