Upcoming events –

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

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Journey Begins Today

It's actually months after the Olympic Trials for the 50km racewalk, but I need to get caught up to speed if I am going to do this blogging thing for real through the Olympic Games. So, let's all just close our eyes and imagine that it is February 8 (the day before the race) and we are in Miami, FL for the US Olympic Team Trials. (Fade to black with the squiggly lines and spooky music....)

Aaah, palm trees and sunny skies. Warm water lapping the sandy beaches of Key Biscayne and coconuts tumbling from the sky onto bright green Bermuda grass. Aaaah. Paradise. Or is it? Race time at 7AM and it's already 70 degrees and humid. Will there by a cool ocean breeze or just a sticky, sweaty south Florida haze to envelop the walkers who have traveled from all over the country to chase after their Olympic dreams? It's an endurance athlete's worst nightmare: Walk thousands of kilometers to prepare for one race, control all the little things that you can control, and then the weather is crummy. Drat.

I've been training for months now with the dual goals of winning the Olympic Trials and hitting the Olympic Games time standard. When the season started, I was gung-ho to chase after the 'A' time of 4:00:00 which I last hit in 2004. Then I tweaked my hamstring early in September and missed weeks and weeks of the kind of training I needed. By January, I was convinced that I was back on track but would have to settle for the 'B' standard. Will that be enough to send me to Beijing?

The vagaries of the U.S. Olympic Trials system wedded to the International Olympic Committee's minimum qualifications create a headache of qualifying possibilities. The basics are that if the U.S. hopes to send more than one athlete, we have to walk the 'A' standard. In 2000, four athletes had the 'A' going into the Trials, so the top three finishers automatically made the team: Curt Clausen, Andrew Hermann, and me. In 2004, Curt walked the 'A' at the Trials and I walked it five weeks later in Tijuana. This year, only Kevin Eastler has a 'B' standard coming into the Trials but he had hernia surgery a couple months ago and is a big question mark before the race. So, to make the Team I need to hit the 'B' time standard and win the race. Simple enough, except it's a 50km and anything can happen.

I'm in the unusual position of being the race favorite – at least that's what people are telling me. I have several challengers, but Kevin isn't the only walker hobbled by injury. John Nunn, who finished third (right behind me) at last year's National 50km, has opted out of the Trials race because of a recent hamstring injury. Tim Seaman, who was second in 2004 at the 50km Trials, had hip surgery months earlier and hasn't returned to full training. Curt Clausen, winner of the last two 50km Olympic Trials, isn't injured but he's a full-time lawyer and there's no way he's training at the same level as he did in the past.

Matt Boyles and Ray Sharp have emerged as my most likely challengers – an interesting mix of youth and experience. Matt, 25, will be racing in only his second 50km while Ray, 48, was on the US National Team in the early 1980s. Throw in Ben Shorey, Steve Quirke, Yariv Pomeranz and a few others and it's going to be an interesting race.

My friend and the first 50km racewalker I ever met, Chris Rael, is hanging out with me today, the day before the race. We got another look at the course yesterday and Chris took some video of Ray Sharp and me working out and being silly. It's good to stay loose before these races. The tension and stress of an Olympic Trials is incredible. It's a clichè, but it'll consume you if you let it. Joking around and having fun is a nice way to relieve the tension. I mean, really, it's just the Olympic Trials. What's the big deal, right?

Look for more after the race...

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