Upcoming events –

Napa-Sonoma Half Marathon, July 20, 2014
Noble Canyon 50km Trail, September 20, 2014

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Closing Ceremonies, here I come!

August 29--Closing Ceremonies, here I come!

My kingdom for a nap! It's been a long two days since the race on Friday. I'm very pleased with how it went (I'm not sure I mentioned that in my last posting) and I'm also very glad that the race is over. Going into the race, I wasn't sure that my body would hold up under the rigors of 50km of racing. Even on the best day 50km is a grueling event and with the conditions in Athens we knew it would be tough. My knee held up better than I could have hoped and my conservative race plan worked out perfectly. I was able to walk each 10km as fast or faster than the previous one, accelerating bit by bit over the course of the race. It would have been nice to be fitter than I was for race day, but considering all the troubles I've had in the past four months, I'm elated.

Tonight is the Closing Ceremonies when we all walk in together, one big happy world family and we sing and dance and trade pins and hugs and smile and nod at each other a lot if we don't speak the same language. If it's anything like Sydney, it will be a lot of fun. After that, I'm going to take a little vacation and tour around Greece some. I got to see the Acropolis and Parthenon last night at sunset, spectacular! Today I slept in as long as I could and ate and read my book and ate some more. Tonight will be long but I'm looking forward to it.

I don't know if I'll be able to make another posting after tonight, so like the Olympic flame, this journal may be coming to an end shortly. Thank you to everyone who has shared in my adventures and enjoyed my insights. It's been good for me, too! Peace.

For a good article from the race, check out the Pioneer Press.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The race is over, let the party begin!

August 27--The race is over, let the party begin!

Another amazing Olympic experience to cherish, if only I could remember anything from the race. There are just a few flashes, glimpses, fleeting memories that linger in my mind: the rush of emotion as I stepped out onto the Olympic track under the glare of lights; the dim light of dawn in the stadium as we waited for the starter's pistol; the steady drum of my heartbeat as I settled into a rhythm on the road away from the track to the 2km circuit; the deafening whistles, bells and shouts of the exuberant Polish fans who cheered for every walker but especially their pride and joy, winner Robert Korzienowski; the shadows of trees, buildings, and clouds passing over the sun forming an unpredictable mosaic of light and dark on the road, across my line of sight; thinking of the shadows on the river Styx and wondering if I had my Greek mythology right and thinking, 'Why am I thinking this? Focus;' the steady dull ache of tired hamstrings and sharper, more acute pangs of blisters as they formed then popped late in the race to moisten shoes and socks; the brief emotional crisis late in the race as a well-meaning supporter yelled "Do it for Al!"; biting back the tears and focusing on my breathing, relaxing again; the surge of adrenaline as I passed one, two and more walkers who faded in the final kilometers; the long, climb back towards the Olympic stadium, breathless, fighting for control of my limbs; finally entering the stadium for the last time, eager to finish yet eager to extend this Olympic dream for as long as possible; and finally stumbling through the press zone to the showers to the bus to the Village to lunch and bed.

Now that I have recovered somewhat, I'm going into Athens to visit with my wonderful family who cheered me on for the entire race. I'll get some food, maybe go to the stadium for an exciting evening of track and field, and then collapse somewhere and sleep, if only my sore legs will allow it.

Thank you to all who have written emails of encouragement and congratulations. Thank you for following me along the incredible journey. It's not over yet, so expect a few more journal entries in the next day or two. Continue to enjoy the Olympics, the good parts of the Games where everyone plays fair and all the countries come together in peace and harmony. It's not a naive dream if we all share it together. "Can't we all just get along?" I see it here in the Village and out on the race course today: Americans congratulating Greeks, Chinese walkers shaking hands with French walkers, Poles hugging Aussies. It's all so wonderful.

You may be able to find some photos from the race soon at www.racewalk.com thanks to Jeff Salvage.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Night before the race

August 26--Night before the race

It's 9pm and I'm just back from my 'last supper' at the dining hall before the race. It's kind of funny how similar this pre-race time feels to an execution or a funeral or some similarly solemn event. Friends and family are nervous but not sure what to say, tentative, walking on egg-shells. They offer support and compassion and positive pep talks, but they feel a bit helpless. I am fairly sedate as I await the inevitable. I know that they won't physically go through the same torment that my body will experience, though emotionally, I suppose, it can be just as draining and exhausting for them as for me. Sometimes before a major race, I think I am more relaxed and calm than my wife.

Liz told me the funniest thing recently. She has seen me race 50km a few times, but usually it is under decent conditions. She said she has never really seen me in a super hard 50km when I needed to be hospitalized or put on IVs. The worst that she has seen may have been in Italy two years ago at the World Cup. I had a great race. I was very well prepared and finished in a personal best time, 13th overall. But afterward I was a wreck. I needed her help just to make it back to the hotel and I was useless for a couple days as we toured the sights in Northern Italy. The worst post-race experience I had was in 1998 after a 50km in Miami on a 1km loop course in blazing hot conditions. I puked during the race, again afterward, and was going in to some kind of dehydration shock when they decided to load me in the ambulance and rush me off to the local hospital for three IV bags of saline fluid. I nearly missed the awards ceremony. I've had a couple other hot weather races where I needed post-race IVs to rehydrate quickly. Not fun.

With that in mind, I am prepared for tomorrow's race. :) I know it will be hot; there's nothing I can do about that. I am as well prepared for the heat as I can be having trained in Crete for three weeks and practiced drinking the extra fluids I will need. I am a bit nervous about the race, of course, but I am also confident that I am as well prepared as I can be for this moment. Sure, I would love to have been healthy the past four months but I can't control that now. I can control my attitude, though. So, I enter this race with a positive attitude, a lot of heart, faith in myself and the knowledge that once I'm done, it won't hurt so much. That last part is a bit of a joke because once I cross the finish line, my legs will still ache, my feet will still be ready to explode, and I will be too tired to make it back to the Village without some help. But that's okay, I signed up for the 50km, not the 100 meter dash. I get to spend more time racing as an Olympian than any other track and field athlete. Not even the marathoners go as far for as long as we do in the 50km. How cool is that?

Off to bed soon. Cheer loudly, yell at the TV because it will make me go faster, and enjoy the Games!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Back in Athens for the big dance!

August 24--Back in Athens for the big dance!

The past week has just flown by and I'm now back in Athens after a short morning flight on Olympic Airlines. The Olympic Village is as lively and active as ever with less than half the athletes still waiting to compete and the majority staying up late, partying, sleeping in, and making a serious dent in the Big Mac inventory at the cafeteria's McDonalds. On my way through the security check point I did some celebrity watching and spotted Ian Thorpe from Australia (swimmer) and Haile Gabreselassie from Ethopia (distance runner). Like everyone else, they were walking around, talking to friends, getting some food or heading back to their apartments here in the Village.

I still have three more days until I race, but it was important to get back from Crete to settle in at the Village and get a few nights of good rest. Hopefully it won't be too loud. All the rowdy swimmers are staying in another set of apartment buildings, so it should be okay.

My parents and my wife get in to Athens this afternoon and check in to the house they are renting this evening. I'm not going to be able to meet them at the airport, but with any luck I will track them down later. Perhaps we'll all do lunch or dinner downtown tomorrow before I come back to the Village to get my pre-race rest. Usually during the week before a big 50km I spend a whole lot of time lying around doing nothing. Mostly I read, watch TV if there is one, or spend time with friends. If I don't have to walk somewhere, I won't. If I can sit instead of stand, I will. If I can take the elevator rather than a flight of stairs, I will. It makes me seem horribly lazy, but I figure I make up for it by walking 50 kilometers. The trouble is that after I have raced 50km, I still don't want to take the stairs, walk anywhere or even stand up if I don't have to. I'm just too tired. It takes a few days to start feeling normal again. I remember the day after the Pan Am Games 50km in Santo Domingo last fall wanting to go to the beach after breakfast. Well, right after breakfast, I decided I should probably get in a quick nap for some energy. I woke up 2 hours later and it was close to lunch time, and that seemed like a good idea, too. After lunch, I was full and felt like lying down... you get the idea. I never made it to the beach. Then we flew back to the U.S. at 1:30am that night. At least after this 50km I should have a couple days to relax before doing anything too strenuous.

That's all I have to report today. I'll probably just spend the rest of the day reading, surfing the internet, or chatting with new friends here in the Village. Enjoy the Games!

Sunday, August 22, 2004

IOC bans Olympic Journals, read on!

August 22--IOC bans Olympic Journals, read on!

In their infinite wisdom, the IOC has publicly denounced the practice of keeping Olympic Journals. I say, poo-poo on you, IOC, but thanks for throwing us this big party every four years. The IOC's argument has something to do with controlling broadcast rights that sponsors have paid millions to attain. Check out the article. One of the best parts of the Olympics is the camaraderie, the coming together of nations in a peaceful gathering. What's wrong about sharing that with friends, family, and even strangers back home? Wouldn't the fostering of the Olympic spirit through a personal website bring more attention and adulation to the movement as a whole? I say, pass this link on to as many people as you can so they call all share in the 'illegal' American practice of free press and democracy. I shall not be silenced! :)

I've always been troubled by the 'business' aspect of the Games, the commercialization of sport. When I was a kid, perhaps I was naive (and I still am, I fear), but I loved to run and kick a ball because it was fun. I didn't need someone to tell me that winning was important, I just wanted to run as fast as I could or score as many goals as I could or stop the other team from scoring them. Slowly, as I grew up and started competing at regional and then national competitions, I began to sense an underlying politic in sport. Some athletes were favored over others, some sports were considered better than others, it wasn't all about having fun. Winning became increasingly important. And now at the Olympic level, I think it's even worse. Don't get me wrong, winning is great. Like every athlete here, I love to win. But I love to have fun doing it, too.

In meetings with officials from the USOC (U.S. Olympic Committee) and USATF (USA Track and Field) athletes are reminded that we are a commodity and that our audience is a potential market. We are told that the only thing sponsors want is 'medals, medals, medals.' If we are in a sport that can't provide medals for the U.S. bank account, we won't receive any funding. It is as if we are employees of some corporation punching a time clock and not athletes pursuing our athletic dreams. I like being an athlete for the purity of the sport, first. If someone wants to pay me a bunch of money for doing something I love, great. But I'll do it for free, too.

When I began to serve on the USATF men's development committee a couple years ago, we were given a lecture about how every dollar spent had to directly contribute to an immediate medal success (ie. more sponsor dollars would follow). Only those events that consistently produced medals would get funding and those that couldn't win a medal would have to look elsewhere, events like the hammer throw, racewalk and javelin. One of the longest serving members stood up and spoke at length about the integrity of sports and the need for funding of developmental projects like youth athletics, high schools, juniors, and emerging elite athletes. He asked if that funding was being revoked. When told that it was, he resigned on the spot. I should have applauded his integrity, but it was my first meeting and I had no idea what had just happened until later. Shame on me.

So what's the lesson? Find something that you are good at, enjoy doing, and forget the rest. Run, walk, dance, dream, sing, whatever. Enjoy it.

And now I have to get back to watching the women's marathon. It started 50 minutes ago and they are approaching the 15km mark. The American record holder, and nicest person in the world, Deena Kastor is currently in 17th place trailing world record holder Paula Radcliffe from England. Gotta go. Enjoy the Games.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Track & Field beings with men's 20km walk

August 20--Track and field begins with 20km walk

By 9am, the temperature in the Olympic Stadium was already reaching into the low 80s and the 20km walk race had just started. An hour and a half later, the roads outside the stadium were baking and the full track and field schedule had heated up the track as well.

My three U.S. teammates, John Nunn, Kevin Eastler and Tim Seaman all toed the line with the other top 20km walkers in the world. All three of them ended up finishing very well, especially considering the conditions. John started out much more aggressively and gave himself a great shot at a top 15 finish, but he struggled in the last 5km. Tim and Kevin's conservative paid dividends as they passed many walkers in the final 5km. The only thing that didn't make sense to me was why Kevin didn't use his superior strength to distance himself from the speedier Tim in the middle of the race and avoid getting out-kicked by three seconds at the end.

In the lead pack it was last year's World Championships gold and silver medalists, Jefferson Perez from Ecuador and Francisco Fernandez from Spain, establishing a solid breakaway with Italian Ivano Brugnetti and Australian Nathan Deakes. The four walkers were constantly at the front of the lead pack with Brugnetti and Fernandez doing most of the pace setting. By 10km the field had been splintered into a line of walkers straggling after the Italian, Spanish and Australian trio. World record holder and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Perez was not having his day. In a remarkable recovery, though, Perez closed a twelve-second gap and rejoined the lead group by 15km. The recovery was short-lived when Brugnetti stepped up the tempo again only Deakes and Fernandez were able to respond. Deakes made a bid for the lead through the water station with just under 3km to go but was quickly swallowed up by the fast closing Brugnetti and Fernandez. The Italian star was only able to shed Fernandez in the last kilometer as the two walkers sprinted up the stadium access road. Deakes hung on for the bronze medal and Perez rounded out the top four spots. For full results, go to the IAAF website, though I doubt they'll have the best video shot of the day: Fernandez throwing up, repeatedly, after the finish. Racewalking is so tough! I love it!

It was a bit odd watching the race on TV. First, how often do you get to see a complete racewalking event televised on international TV? It was awesome. No commercial breaks and since the race came down to the last kilometer, I didn't have to get upset when they cut away to a meaningless sprint preliminary like they often do in the U.S. Second, the only broadcast station I could remotely understand was TVE direct from Spain (it was that, Greek, Italian or German). The race announcers were understandably excited by the performance of their Spanish star Francisco Fernandez, so the enthusiasm of the broadcast was infectious. Finally, I'm used to being in the race or at least at the race as a course-side spectator. When my friend Jefferson started to struggle, there was no way he could hear me yelling 'Si se puede! Vamos! Vamos!' at the TV. All of my neighbors here at the resort probably thought I was crazy, but like any sports nut I felt that if I yelled loud enough at the TV, I just might be able to influence the outcome of the race.

Now that I have seen one of the races on the walks course, I have a better idea of how to approach my own event. I've known all along that the heat and humidity were going to be a factor, but it was impressive that most people avoided a DQ or DNF. There were 48 walkers who started the 20km and seven of them didn't make it to the finish line. Fatigue and a loss of concentration can dramatically effect the legality of a walker's technique, and dehydration due to extreme heat and humidity can wreak havoc on a person's body, especially in the longer 50km race. It will definitely be an interesting race. I think there will be two drastically different strategies employed during the 50km. Some walkers will opt to start as quickly as possible to take advantage of the relatively cool temperatures at the 7am start time. They will hope to build a significant enough time cushion in order to fight off those walkers who start more conservatively. The less aggressive walker will rely on a steadier pace and a late rally to carry him past the majority of the field that wilts in the midmorning heat. Because my less-than-ideal fitness won't allow a fast start, I will be one those walkers who hopes to make up ground in the second half of the race.

After watching the 20km in the morning, I got out for an easy morning walk. Then I was able to take advantage of a full day of Olympics coverage by learning about team handball (great game, very wild and full of contact), badminton (insanely fast and incredibly talented athletes), and rowing (almost as tough as walking, but it doesn't last nearly as long as it should). In the evening, Curt and I knocked out our last tough speed workout: 5 x 2km repeats. They went well and I was able to walk as fast as I have in weeks, so that was good. Tonight the knee is a bit unhappy with me, though, so I'll have to be more careful. Before bedtime I was able to catch the men's 10,000mt race. Unbelievable. If you didn't get a chance to see it, find a copy somewhere. It was so awesome. The three Ethiopians, led by Haile Gebresselasie, were almost untouchable. With 3km to go, though, multiple-time world record holder Gebresselasie started to falter (he's been suffering an achilles tendon injury this season). His two Ethiopian teammates slowed the pace until he was able to rejoin the lead pack. When it became evident that he wasn't going to be able to manage a top three finish, the fitter Ethiopians, led by Bikele, jetted to the front again and destroyed the remaining challengers. With 400 meters to go, Bikele began his sprint finish blazing the last lap in 53 seconds! Most elite distance runners are happy to run a 53 second 400mt fresh, and he did it after running 24 laps. Unbelievable. More track and field coverage tomorrow. I can't wait!

Oh, I also got an email from one of my friends at Walk About Magazine and she sent me the link to the latest free on-line issue. It has the first installment of my Olympic journal, and it's a great magazine, too, so check it out at: www.walkaboutmag.com

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Irish walker crashes out of Olympics

August 18--Irish walker crashes out of Olympics

I'm a bit glum today having heard the tragic news of Ireland's top 50km walker getting into a car wreck a couple days ago. My friend and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, Jamie Costin, was returning from a workout with Poland's Robert Korzienowski outside Athens. He had just dropped Robert off and was driving along in his rental car when he was hit by a large petrol truck. The latest news is that he has suffered serious injuries to his back and legs but is alive and well otherwise. His Olympics are over and he is planning on heading back to Ireland in the next day or two.

It's really very sobering. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be here at all. Something outside my control, like a car accident or a freak injury, could suddenly and irreversibly change everything. I'm not a huge believer in destiny and all that, but it makes me stop and think. Why am I here in Greece? I had knee surgery last November only 12 weeks before the Olympic 50km racewalk Trials. I wasn't quite ready to walk the 'A' standard, but through a combination of factors, I was fortunate enough to finish in the top three. Five weeks later, despite laryngitis, a terribly sore throat, and plans to stop at 35km of the Tijuana 50km, I dipped under the four hour Olympic 'A' time standard and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team. Even now I'm struggling to regain the fitness that I lost after the World Racewalk Cup 20km when my knee started giving me more troubles.

I feel so lucky to be back here at the Olympics and yet I know there are others who are just as deserving. My good friend Sean Albert walked thousands of kilometers with me over the past six years. He switched to the 50km a couple years ago and was beginning to make good progress. He finished fourth at the 50km Trials and put in two valiant efforts in search of the time standard, one in Germany at the World Cup and the other in Ireland at the Dublin Grand Prix. He didn't get it. And of course there is Al Heppner. He killed himself just three days after the 50km Olympic Trials. He was in such good shape and wanted to make the Olympic Team so badly. Who knows if it was just the disappointment of missing out on the time standard or something far more complex that none of us understands. It's just so sad, because Al would be having such a good time here. There isn't a day that goes by when one of us doesn't say, "If Al were here, he would be .... talking to the NBA basketball players at Opening Ceremonies; trying to meet all the single women on the Team; playing beach volleyball when he should probably be resting; walking up and down the beach looking at the topless sunbathers; hounding Maurice Greene for a photo or an autograph..."

Somehow Jamie's car accident really hit me and put things in perspective. I'm continually reminded of the Olympic creed that Pierre de Coubertin coined years ago. The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part With my less-than-perfect fitness and my recent knee troubles, it has been on my mind a lot. I don't expect to win. I would be fooling myself if I thought a miraculous race would somehow deliver a gold medal performance. If you have ever done a 50km, you know that it can't be faked. I'm not being pessimistic, just realistic. There are times when you prepare yourself for a struggle. You search your very core for that which is most vital and pure, and you tap into that energy, somehow. just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. I know that during the race I will be thinking about the people who helped get me here, the people who have helped sustain me along the way, the people who I wish were walking along side me. They are my family, my friends, my coaches, my fellow walkers from all over the world. They will keep me company in ways they cannot know. Sean and Al will be walking with me as they have for thousands of kilometers. The fellahs from my Carleton cross-country days will run along side. My twin brother will give me his strength if I falter, he will pick me up if I fall. My parents, my wife, my mother-in-law, thankfully, will be at the race in person cheering me every step of the way. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

Yes, I'm being overly sentimental. It's just how I feel today. I feel like crying. I feel like screaming. I feel like laughing. I feel happy and sad and all mixed up. But deep deep down, I know that I am in the right place. I belong here and I will race with the conviction that years of training have developed in me. I will race knowing that I will finish. I will race knowing that I will keep moving no matter what obstacles are placed in front of me. It is so satisfying to know that the only thing I fear is humiliation, and how could I possible be embarrassed by being an Olympian? I'm very excited to get back to Athens now, start this race, endure, and finish.

Then I can go relax on a sandy beach on a Greek island I've never heard of and not think about racewalking at all.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Life at the Olympics

August 16--Life at the Olympics

The Games have begun and it doesn't even feel like it out here on Crete. Sun, sand, and five-star service make it hard to believe that just a short flight from here in Athens, the world's best athletes are struggling to acheive their dreams. I'm so glad that I went to the Opening Ceremonies and soaked up some of that Olympic spirit before coming back here to concentrate on two more weeks of training.

Sequestered out here on the island, I'm getting as much Olympics as anyone else in the world with a television. Admittedly, I'm also surrounded by some of the best track and field athletes in the world. Amy Acuff (high jump), Ian Waltz (discus), Jarred Rome (discus), John Nunn (20km racewalk) and I had a lively lunch-time conversation. Over dinner, Meb Keflezighi (marathon), Dan Browne (10,000mt and marathon), Breaux Greer (javelin), Deena Kastor (marathon), Jonathan Johnson (800mt), Daniel Lincoln (steeplechase), and I enjoyed authentic Greek dancers who, after dessert, led the athletes around the open-air patio in a spirited rendition of the Zorba the Greek song and dance. It has been great being able to meet and mingle with the big names of track and field in the US. I'm getting as many of the US team to sign my US Olympic flag as possible.

When I got up today, I was welcomed by the first stormy day we've had here in nearly two weeks of quiet surf and gentle breezes. Until now I had thought the Mediterranean was a big lazy puppy dog. I see how the weather might have convinced Homer to described it as a wine-dark sea and a tempest. The waves crashed relentlessly, pounding the sand, while the wind tore at the inadequate blue resort umbrellas. Rain fell off and on all day. A bright red flag warned that the beach was closed to swimming. Those of us who live on the West Coast wanted to go out into the first real surf we have seen and do some body-surfing. We were sent packing by the over-zealous lifeguards. Today's surf would have been described as one to two feet with poor form and most surfers wouldn't have bothered to load up their boards and head to the beach. Here it's a crisis.

Other than the unexpected treat of Greek dancing and the rain, it was just another day of training, therapy for my knee troubles before lunch, lunch, reading and resting in the afternoon, dinner, and an impromptu water-polo match in the evening before bedtime. John Nunn thought it would be fun to have what he called a 'pool party.' He even dressed for the occasion with a towels wrapped around his waist and shoulders as a toga and branches tucked behind his ears as a wreath of laurels. Hardly anyone showed, so we drew inspiration from the water polo we had seen earlier on TV and played in the resort's largest swimming pool. I won, 3-2, though I'm not giving up on racewalking yet.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Opening Ceremonies!

August 14-- Opening Ceremonies

I'm back from an exhilarating and exhausting Opening Ceremonies celebration. It was everything I had hoped and more with lots of fireworks, big entrances, and best of all, tons of friends with whom to share the experience.

I was able to walk in with my kayak and Olympic Training Center friends. Kathy Colin, who also competed in Sydney, was right next to me as we marched in to thunderous applause from the packed stadium. Nate Johnson, a canoer who missed out on the Sydney Games, was there, along with the rest of the OTC paddlers. I lost track of John Nunn, but when I found him on the infield, he was still glowing. Because the Greek alphabet is different than ours, the USA didn't come in right at the end with the 'U's as usual. We came in near the middle of the pack and were able to watch as tons of other countries came in after us.

The highlights were marching into the Athens Olympic Stadium for the first time with flashbulbs blinking and thousands of people cheering; waving like a little kid at a parade; feeling so very small amid the crush of humanity and yet feeling so proud of the work it took to get me here; meeting famous people like Tim Duncan and Martina Navratilova and meeting not-so-famous people who are just as nice and fun and friendly as your neighbors; seeing racewalking friends from Ecuador and Columbia; marching back out of the stadium with athletes from Sudan, Iraq, Mongolia, Russia, Italy, and laughing and talking as we waited for the busses; getting back to the Olympic Village and finding that at 1:30 in the morning the cafeteria was packed with people who were ready to dance and sing and stay up even later. I am so glad that I am here. I feel so blessed to be a part of these beautiful Games, this beautiful sport, this beautiful world. It must be getting late because I'm starting to get horribly sentimental. :) Look for me on the TV tonight. I'll be the guy dressed, as my Ecuadorian friend said, "like a baby rap musician in pajamas and a floppy hat."


Thursday, August 12, 2004

Travel to Athens for tomorrow's Opening Ceremonies

August 12--Travel to Athens for tomorrow's Opening Ceremonies

Another lazy day of training and rest this morning with a short flight to Athens scheduled this afternoon. Last night's festivities were memorable, though. The local track club that has been helping facilitate the US track team's transportation, security and facility use on Crete hosted a traditional Greek feast at a small local village restaurant.

Tucked into a grotto, surrounded by cascading waterfalls and set with starched white linens and gleaming silverware, the restaurant was a dream. As we rambled off the bus, all 80 athletes and officials 'oohed' and 'aahed.' Cameras that had been tucked away for anticipated post-dinner indiscretions courtesy of too much ouzo or wine were quickly pulled from pockets and bags. Flashbulbs blinked and bounced off myriad waterfalls and pools, strobe-lighting the athletes procession down the winding stone steps into the restaurant's grotto and caves. The food and drink only added to the atmosphere: tomato-rich Greek salad smothered in olive oil and vinegar, wild lamb, creamy rice, smooth red wine and water in large crystal vases gathered directly from one of the alcoves roiling with mountain spring water. To say we left full and happy would be an understatement. We were satiated by the Greek hospitality, cuisine and sense of atmosphere. On the winding bus ride home, we could see similarly happy diners sitting comfortably at street-side cafes sipping wine and commenting on the large police-escorted buses that drifted past in the night.

This morning I got in one more road workout on the 3km loop that skirts the beach on one side and the highway from Chania to Rethimno on the other. A session with one of the USATF chiropractors was followed by a short rest and a few pages from Seabiscuit. After another delicious lunch on the pool-side patio that looks out over the sea, I went back down to the sports medicine clinic for a 30 minutes sports massage. I know, it's a rough life here on the island. :) Seriously, though, I don't always look forward to the sports massages. I know that they help my muscles relax and recover from the week's training, but the massages can be quite painful when the trainer finds a particularly tight spot in my calf or ilio-tibial band.

During the hottest part of the afternoon, I finished up Seabiscuit and packed for tonight's trip. If i get a chance before my flight, I'll upload some photos from last night's dinner. Until then, have a wonderful day.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Smile, it's Media Day!

August 10--Smile, it's Media Day!

What would have been a fairly normal training day turned into something of a media frenzy this morning. In the middle of this morning's speed workout, a white rental van chased us down. John, Curt and I were all doing a slightly different session so we were spread out at intervals along the 3km loop we measured out when the van that a couple guys from CBS had rented began trailing us. It was like having paparazzi chasing after us with their big video cameras and microphones in your face.

Manuel Gallegus and his cameraman Bob are from the LA area and two of only three credentialed CBS reporters in Athens for the Games. NBC holds the broadcast rights, so there must be a limit on the number of other reporters who have access to the venues and athletes.

After their guerrilla filming tactics, Manuel and Bob turned out to be very nice guys who were interested in doing a story about the three of us racewalkers who have been training on Crete for almost a week now. The thing that startled them was how fast we were going. Manuel confessed that he had planned on kind of making fun of racewalking as a silly sport that anyone can do, but when he saw us walking he realized that angle wasn't going to work. Eventually he talked John into doing another short interval so that he could run along side him and give the viewer an idea of just how quickly John was moving. John is a 20km specialist and holds the American record in the outdoor mile at 5:48. His personal best for 20km, 1:22:31, averages close to 6:30/mile for 12.4 miles. It's no wonder that Manuel got out of breath running with him for 100 meters.

After walking an easy 2km cool down, jumping in the ice bath and showering, we had an appointment with NBC track and field correspondent Marty Liqouri. Some of you may know him from his days as one of America's great distance runners. When he's not commentating on track, he runs a Jazz Festival in Gainesville, Florida and plays the jazz guitar professionally.

As a group, we talked to Marty for half an hour or more about racewalking. He pretty much sat us down and said, "Guys, I'm going to be doing the NBC broadcast of the 20km for men and women and the 50km. That's a lot of air time and I need something to talk about. Tell me about racewalking. What should I say?" It was a great opportunity to have direct access to the guy who is going to be America's voice for racewalking. A few years ago, Bob Costas mangled his coverage of the walks and it would be nice if Liqouri redeems us somewhat. We told Liqouri about a typical training day, how we got into the sport, the challenges of being a racewalker, and all the technical stuff that goes into racewalking. My only concern is that he asked a lot of questions about judging and the problems that racewalking had in 2000 in Sydney. We explained it all pretty clearly, so hopefully he gets it right. If he totally bungles it, he gave me his business card so I'll put his phone number on my website and everyone can harass him. :) Just a joke, Marty, if you are reading this.

The CBS guys tracked us down again right before lunch and interviewed us. It sounds like they are going to do a nice little piece about our group and air it on the 19th or 20th before John's 20km race. We're not sure exactly when or on what stations, but Manuel said to keep an eye on the local CBS affiliate stations. He said there's also a chance that once it airs, someone else will pick it up, repackage it, and put it on another network. If only we are so lucky.

It seems like racewalking gets a lot of coverage every four years during the Olympics and then interest fades away. It's a shame, though, because racewalking really is a sport for everyone. No, not everyone is going to make it to the Olympic level, but everyone can learn the technique and benefit from the aerobic exercise. There I go, sounding like a TV infomercial. Maybe I was in front of the cameras for too long today.

This afternoon I got in a nice recovery workout in the ocean. Since my knee troubles, I have had to limit my afternoon workouts to some kind of cross training like biking or swimming. Today I took the aqua-jogging belt out into the ocean and 'ran' through the Mediterranean for half an hour. It was so much more interesting and invigorating than laps in the pool. You really can't beat treading water in the middle of the ocean with the sun setting on one side and a long sandy beach dotted with blue umbrellas and lawn chairs on the other. How will I ever go back to San Diego? Oh wait, there's a beach there too. :)

Tonight we have another team meeting after dinner. Nearly 50 more track athletes are coming in from either the US or places in Europe. Our contingent of over 100 athletes is the largest of all the US delegations. Last night I rubbed elbows with a few of the bigger names: Marion Jones (sprints and long jump), Stacy Dragila (pole vault), Kenta Bell (triple jump), Torri Edwards (sprints but under investigation for 'glucose' pills that contained some illegal substance) and a bunch of other people. They are all very nice and have been friendly to everyone which is refreshing to see. Well, off to dinner. More souvlaki and gyros and feta and cucumbers and pasta and fresh bread and olive oil from trees right here on the resort.

Sunday, August 8, 2004

Just another day of training

August 8--Just another day of training

It feels like I am finally getting into a routine here in Crete. My training has gotten back to a more regular time schedule and I'm able to start pushing myself a bit more without suffering too much in the heat. Coach Pena arrived last night so he was here to help with today's long workout, 26 kilometers. We've measured out a nice horseshoe loop right in front of the resort. The resort is split by a highway with frontage roads on either side. To get from one side to the other you have to either dodge cars like the game Frogger, or you can take the tunnel under the highway. Conveniently, there is a tunnel 1.5km further down on the frontage road, so we can make a good 3km loop from one resort entrance to the other using the tunnels. This morning Curt and I started at 8am before it got super hot and I managed to get in my longest workout yet. I'm still adjusting to the heat, so my heart rate was particularly high: 170-180 average for over two hours and 26 kilometers. I was also amazed by how much I was able to drink without getting uncomfortable. I was drinking nearly an entire 16 ounce bottle of Hydralyte every 3km. Add to that a PowerGel halfway through the workout, and I was able to maintain my energy and hydration levels pretty well.

As soon as I finished, I walked down to the poolside showers and just stood under the cold water for a minute or two. After some stretching, I took a nice long ice bath in the sports medicine area. The resort staff has been great about helping the US team here by setting up a couple large garbage cans that we can fill with cold water and bags of ice. It's one of the best ways to both recover from a hard workout and cool off from the intense heat.

The afternoon was spent napping, playing on the computer, and posting a few more photos from both Crete and Athens. I added a few shots from the hike on Friday (click here) and put together a virtual tour of the Olympic Racewalk course from the photos that I took when we were in Athens early in the week (click here). For those of you coming to Athens, it will be an early preview of the race course. For those who won't be able to make it, you can have an idea of where I'll be for four hours on the morning of the 27th.

Many of the other track and field athletes have started arriving here in Crete for the final weeks of training. The last few pre-Olympic track meets in Europe are over and people are focusing on the Games now. John Godina, Adam Nelson, Nicole Teeter, and others are now here. Tonight we'll have a big team meeting and I'll get to meet everyone else.

Friday, August 6, 2004

Samarian Gorge

August 6--Crete and Samarias Gorge with photos!

Having gotten comfortable with the five star resort near the town of Georgioupoli, I decided it was time to do some exploring today. But first, the highlights from yesterday.

The first day of real training after three days of traveling and transition can often be a bit tricky. Add a bit of heat and humidity, and it can be downright hard. In the morning I got in an easy 40 minutes at the track in nearby Rethimno. The most exciting thing about the workout was getting to and from the track. Security has been fairly tight since we arrived with a police escort from the airport. But the trip to the track was a bit much. We had the usual police escort of two motorcycles, two squad cars, and a jeep stopping traffic, running red lights and generally making a spectacle of ourselves (I always wonder whether discretion wouldn't be a wiser course of action), but then out of nowhere, we had a police helicopter following us along the winding coastal roads to Rethimno. It got totally out of hand when we didn't get on the bus at 11am to return to the resort (we were waiting for Sheila Burrell to finish her workout) and the helicopter landed on the infield of the track to make sure everything was okay. I'm just glad I wasn't doing laps out there!

In the afternoon, I was able to get in my first hot-weather speedwork with a pair of 3kms on the highway frontage road. It's flat and we had measured out a good 3km loop after the morning workout. The rest of the day was spent wading into the crystal clear waters of the Kritiko Sea on the north side of Crete. From the room that I share with John Nunn, I can see and hear the small waves washing over the sand. It's too bad I'm not here on my honeymoon; it would be perfect.

So that was yesterday. Today I got up early and met Curt Clausen for a long day of adventuring around the island. We started at 7am with a bus ride to Chania, a transfer to the small town of Omalos at the head of the Samarias Gorge, and then a steep descent into the longest ravine in Europe. At their highest, the sheer walls of Samarias reach over 2,000 feet up and at their narrowest, only 10 feet separate them. This time of year there is a small but steady stream of water at the base of the gorge. In the wet winter and spring months, the popular hiking trail is closed because of the dangers of high water and flash floods. The gorge has been inhabited for centuries with the remains of numerous chapels and homes dotting the trail. In 1962 the area was designated a National Park in order to protect the native kri-kri or Cretan wild goat.

Once we had hiked for a few hours and broken some park rules, like wading in the river, we found ourselves in the village of Agia Roumeli on the southern coast of Crete. Still hot and sticky, despite our river-wading, we jumped into the sea for a good saltwater rinse. Lunch was gyros and french fries, a delicious and greasy blend of Greek and American foods. The town of Agia Roumeli is so remote, the only way to reach it is by taking a ferry or hiking through the treacherous Samarias Gorge. We opted for the ferry on the way back. In Sfakia, a friendly English couple offered us a ride part way home, but we gambled with the twisty, turny, narrow, make-me-wanna-hurl-don't-look-now-but-the-front-wheels-aren't-on-the-road bus ride back to Vrisses and then to Georgioupoli and the resort.

It was nice being out and about all day, especially without the security detail following us around. Curt and I joked a few times, though, that if we had gotten into trouble on the hike, we could have called in the police helicopter for a daring mountain rescue.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Race Course and Travel to Crete

August 4--Race course and travel to Crete with virtual tour of race course

It's been another very busy day here in Greece. After a short walk in the morning and a simple breakfast at the Olympic Village's cafeteria, I went on a long adventure to visit the Olympic Stadium and the racewalking circuit nearby. Curt, John and the Olympic distance coach, Bob Larsen who used to coach at UCLA and now works with USA Running joined me on the lengthy bus ride, metro ride, and walk to the stadium. The taxi ride on the way back took less than 20 minutes, but we were sweating with the locals on the subway for nearly an hour and half getting there. The bus driver from the village to the metro station got lost twice and once backed up from a freeway off-ramp to continue driving down the freeway to the right exit. The drivers here are fearless and drive erratically, even on the sidewalks if someone has blocked the street.

Security at the stadium was alternately extremely tight and disturbingly loose. We all had Games credentials that get us in most places, but we don't have the special 'STA' that gets us into the stadium. So we were initially stopped and politely turned away at the first entrance we tried. Then we waltzed into the second and made it all the way down the ramp and through the tunnel into the stadium itself before we were told, again very politely, that we couldn't go any further. We had gotten far enough into the stadium to get a great view of the interior, the arching metal and glass roof and the spectacular torch that looks like a huge fulcrum hinge that once lit will swing up to an upright position. The track surface is currently covered with a thick black felt while they set up for the Opening Ceremonies in nine days.

Our goal in going to the stadium was to see the course, so after being ushered out of the tunnel leaving the track, we followed the course as it wound up out of the Olympic complex and onto a local residential street less than a mile away. The ramp was very gently sloped, a blessing after some of the steep ascents and descents we have faced in other stadium starts and finishes. We had been told to worry about the hills of Athens but the course has been greatly improved. There are a few spots with some gentle slopes, but the absurdly steep hills faced by walkers in the 1997 World Champs have been eliminated. There are even a few mature trees to cast some shade over the course and help alleviate that intensity of the Mediterranean sun.

After traveling all day yesterday, it would have been nice to just return to the Village and relax. Instead we quickly repacked our bags and bussed ourselves to the Athens airport for our evening flight to Crete. Now I am sitting upstairs of the hotel lobby here at the Pilot Beach Resort tapped into an ethernet line on my laptop. I haven't had time to download any of the photos I took today, but now that we are settled in one place for a week or two, I'll have more time.

Now it's off to rest up for tomorrow's adventures. Perhaps a dip in the ocean is in order first, to gaze up at the stars and sink my toes into the soft Cretian sand.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Olympic Village, Athens

August 3--Olympic Village, Athens

Oh my goodness, I made it! After a long two days of traveling from San Diego to Chicago to Frankfurt to Athens, I am in the Olympic Village. It's late on Tuesday evening and I'm ready to get some sleep. It may be difficult with all of the excitement of today, but I'm so tired that I'll probably fall asleep before I know it.

The best part of today was seeing all of my friends who have also made the US Olympic Team: Deena Kastor and Jen Rhines were on the same flights from Chicago to Athens; my training partners Curt Clausen and John Nunn met us in Frankfurt; the entire US women's soccer team, fresh off a 3-1 victory over China, was at Team Processing at the American College of Greece (so I got to chat with friends Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, Cindy Parlow and their coach April Heinrich); Abdi Abdirahman and Anthony Famiglietti were in the Village when we arrived. It was great!

Team Processing was a lengthy ordeal, lots of hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. But it was swag central with lots and lots of wonderful Olympic clothes from US sponsors Roots and adidas. I'm a bit disappointed with the Opening Ceremonies outfits this time. Usually we wear a nice blazer, khakis, and a panama hat. This time there is none of the dignity and ritual of the older uniforms. We're going to look like a bunch of sloppily dressed teenagers with hats on backwards, baggy sweat pants, and blue suede shoes. Yes, Elvis would be proud of the shoes, but he would be horrified by the rest of the ensemble.

Well, that's it for tonight. It's going to be another busy day with a trip to view the race course in the morning and then an afternoon flight to Crete. Enjoy a few photos from today's travels.

View of Athens from plane

Team Processing at American College of Greece

Me and my Opening Ceremonies friend

First view of the Olympic Village

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Leaving for Athens in the Morning

August 1--San Diego

I'm almost packed tonight and certain that I will be sitting on the plane before I realize that I forgot something important. Isn't that the way it always is when you're getting ready for a long trip? I'm very excited about the trip and the adventures that await. I'm a little anxious, but that's pretty normal, too. If all goes according to plan, I should be in the Frankfurt airport in 24 hour waiting for the US Olympic Team charter flight to Athens.

Tonight Liz took me out to dinner at the local 'Olympic Cafe' for some Greek cuisine. It seemed appropriate to end my training in San Diego with a bit of Greek flavor. Yeah, in a couple weeks I'll be wishing I had eaten a nice Mexican meal of taquitos with guacamole and chips, but the souvlaki platter got me in the mood.

My flight out in the morning is at 6:30am, connecting through Chicago on my way to the charter flight in Frankfurt. I'll be checking into Athens around 1pm local time and then the process begins. First I'll get my official Olympic accreditation badge with my photo ID and a barcode that tells the security at each and every checkpoint who I am, where I'm from and whether I am an athlete, coach, delegation member, medical staff, or some other member of the Olympic family. For the next four weeks, my accreditation badge will be my pass into the Olympic Village, into and out of the athletic venues, into the cafeteria, housing, Games transportation, everything. Without it, I'm up a creek. With it, I have access to all sorts of interesting places.

After accreditation, I will pick up my bags and go through Greek customs. My bags will then get taken to the Olympic Village, I'll board a bus with my US teammates and we'll all be on our way. The track and field coaches have said they are going to get us a tour of the racewalk course on Tuesday evening of Wednesday morning. It will be nice to take a look at the 2km circuit that I'll be walking. Mentally it helps to have a picture of what the course looks like, where the turns are, the hills (rumor has it there are some nasty hills on the course), and whether there is shade or not. On the afternoon of the 4th, all of the track and field team members and coaches will get on another charter flight for Crete. There, we check into the Pilot Beach Resort. Five big big big star resort. From the website, it looks incredible. It's a shame that we have to do all that training rather than sitting poolside or dipping our toes in the Mediterranean. It's rough getting ready for an Olympic 50km. :)

Well, time to rest up for the big trip in the morning. Wish me luck!