Upcoming events –

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Eating smog for breakfast

I was on the radio this morning. It's always weird to hear your own voice but especially odd when you're driving to practice and hear yourself on the radio. Friends from all over the place have called or emailed to say, "I heard you on the radio!" Cool!

When I did the interview, I spent a good 30 minutes talking to Howard Berkes and the clip they used makes me sound like some kind of tough guy. It wasn't exactly how I meant it to come out. But as my friend Patrick Stroupe heard it, "You were talking to NPR about how you eat smog for breakfast – they literally said you were having a cigarette with your pancakes to prepare for Beijing. That's why you're the US champ, always thinking ahead and preparing." Thanks, Patrick. Thanks.

Disclaimer: Smoking is bad. Second-hand smoke is bad. Breathing smog is bad. Eating it sounds really gross. Once I get to Beijing, I'll let you know what it tastes like. (Pancakes, though, are yummy.)

Interesting fact from National Geographic: 33 percent of the world's smokers are in China.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

27 days to #27

I was just thinking back to some of the 50kms I have done and realized that my Olympic 50km race will be #27. And I'm down to 27 days to go until race day. So, it's 27 days to #27. In memory of my first 26 50km races, I thought it would be fun to list the year, location and event of each one. So, here it goes:

1993 San Antonio, TX – US Olympic Festival
1998 Miami, FL – Pan American Racewalk Cup
1999 Sacramento, CA – US Nationals
1999 Mezidon, France – World Racewalk Cup
1999 Winnipeg, Canada – Pan American Games
2000 Sacramento, CA – US Olympic Trials
2000 Sydney, Australia – Olympic Games
2001 Manassas, VA – US Nationals
2001 Edmonton, Canada – World T&F Championships
2002 Chula Vista, CA – US Nationals
2002 Torino, Italy – World Racewalk Cup
2003 Tijuana, Mexico – Pan American Racewalk Cup
2003 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – Pan American Games
2004 Chula Vista, CA – US Olympic Trials
2004 Tijuana, Mexico – IAAF Grand Prix Challenge
2004 Athens, Greece – Olympic Games
2005 Clermont, FL – US Nationals
2005 Lima, Peru – Pan American Racewalk Cup
2005 Helsinki, Finland – World T&F Championships
2006 Clermont, FL – US Nationals
2006 La Coruña, Spain – World Racewalk Cup
2007 Chula Vista, CA – US Nationals
2007 Camboriu, Brazil – Pan American Racewalk Cup
2007 Rio de Janiero, Brazil – Pan American Games
2008 Miami, FL – US Olympic Trials
2008 Cheboksary, Russia – World Racewalk Cup

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Media Madness Begins

The phone is ringing off the hook. Journalists from all over the country are knocking down the door to hear my inspiring story of Olympic racewalk studliness. My agent has had to hire extra help answering all the emails. Or not.

I actually did have two interviews last week about big pre-Olympic news stories: politics and pollution. I would rather talk about walking and winning, but this is a good place to start. I feel a bit self-conscious talking about myself, so it's good to talk about 'real-world' issues.

The first interview with The Nation was about my involvement with Team Darfur. I think the reporter wanted me to say something inflammatory about how I was going to wear my 'Team Darfur' or 'Free Tibet' t-shirt into the Opening Ceremonies and shout anti-authoritarian slogans at the Chinese dignitaries. Not gonna happen. I'm not going to shy away from answering questions about politics if asked, but I'm not going to be confrontational, either.

Joey Cheeks, co-founder of Team Darfur and 2006 Winter Olympics gold medalist in speed skating, had some good advice: "Put your athletic achievement – and that of your teammates – above taking any risks while in Beijing." He cautioned Team Darfur members in Beijing to "avoid unnecessary trouble." Once I get to China, my main focus will be on best preparing for my race. Training, resting, and maximizing my time. Of course, there's a part of me that wants to see what would happen. (Don't worry, Mom. I'll be good!) With the eyes of the world on the Olympic athletes, are Chinese authorities really going to arrest someone for expressing his/her political views? And if they did, wouldn't that bring even more attention to the very message they are trying to suppress? As the Aussie sports fans would say, that's a sticky wicket for the Chinese. The reporter also asked about the IOC rule prohibiting athletes from talking about politics in the Olympic venues. The question reminded me of the Tank McNamara cartoon published a few months ago.

The other interview was with Howard Berkes from NPR. He's doing a story on pollution in Beijing and the effect that it could have on the performance of endurance athletes. USATF's media moguls were kind enough to share my name with him: the 50km racewalk is the longest event in track & field, after all. We had a nice chat, but again, I don't know that I was controversial enough to get much airtime. Had I said I was going to wear a respirator during my race, he might have been more intrigued. Do fears of pollution concern me? Yes, of course, but as far as I know, there isn't much that can be done to 'acclimatize' for pollution. I could move to LA for the next couple weeks, but that's only going to make me cough a lot and have some sluggish workouts. Adjusting to the time zone, heat, humidity, different food those I can prepare for. But smog? Every athlete is going to have to deal with it. It's not like one of us races in a bubble and doesn't notice it. If I had a pre-existing respiratory condition (asthma or allergies), I might be worried that I would be overly affected.

Howard and I ended up chatting about politics, too, and the other conditions that athletes face in a long competition: heat, humidity, road surface, etc. He seems like a nice guy. Berkes got his start in broadcasting in Eugene, OR and got his big national break covering the Mount St. Helens explosion in 1980. I remember seeing it from the hillside at Lewis & Clark College when I was just a kid. Awesome. And then it blew again, much smaller, on June 12, 1980 to celebrate my birthday.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Walking is Amazing

When did we start taking walking for granted? My son, Miles, is just learning to walk and it is simply amazing. It seems like moments ago that my wife and I were astounded when he rolled over. Now he's walking?! It's unbelievable.

Imagine for a moment that you don't know how to walk. Start over. Where do you begin? Learn to stand. Balance. Coordinate one foot's step with the shifting of your entire body weight to the other foot. Plop. Your butt hits the floor (ouch, it's way off the floor and isn't padded with a big diaper). So, you pull yourself up again and stand, balance, step with your arms flailing around, stumbling from one drunken foot to the other. One step, two steps, and plop. Repeat.

I suppose it isn't much different from what we do every day, whether we are racewalkers, fitness walkers, or just stumble-from-the- couch-to-the-fridge- to-the-couch walkers. Some days we walk effortlessly, smoothly and gracefully. Other days we stumble, struggle and stub our toes. He's got a long ways to go, but right now, Miles is the most amazing walker I have ever seen. Arms raised over his head, big smile on his face, a grace that belies his age even as he sways from side to side – a big bundle of energy charging at me, flopping on my belly with giggles and charm. Miles reminds me that walking is amazing.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fun graphics

It's been a week since the 2008 US Olympic Team Trials in Track & Field were held up in Eugene, OR. It was great to visit, I really miss the green of Oregon and forget just how beautiful it is until I get there. My friend Chris Rael, born and raised in Southern California, asked me right after he got off the plane, "How did you ever leave this place?" It's that wonderful.

I was impressed with some of the marketing materials that Eugene '08 put together (they were too cheap to pay the licensing fees to use the word "Olympic" in the header), so I patched together my own version of one of the posters.

Well, it's back to the usual grind, sorta, if you call getting ready for the Olympic Games anything close to 'usual.'

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"I did not make the Olympics ... and honestly, I think that's awesome."

That's what my friend Kathryn Bertine said after years of trying to make it to the Olympics. She's a cyclist and a triathlete who writes for ESPN. I mention her at the beginning of this post because for every athlete who qualifies to represent his/her country in the Games, there are so many who don't make it. And that's okay. Mom always said, "Life isn't fair," didn't she?

But let's start by celebrating the one who made it today:

Joanne Dow is going to the Olympics! Cars are burning in the streets of Manchester, New Hampshire tonight. Call the National Guard! Stop the riots! Catch all the action on the 5 o'clock news and don't miss the ticker-tape parade at the airport when the 44-year old mother of two returns victorious.

 1 Joanne Dow                    adidas                    1:35:11
2 Teresa Vaill Walk USA 1:36:35
3 Susan Armenta unattached 1:42:12
4 Sam Cohen Parkside A C 1:42:33
5 Jolene Moore New York A C 1:42:37
6 Stephanie Casey unattached 1:43:51
7 Solomiya Login S E Pa. A C 1:44:09

8 Maria Michta Walk USA 1:47:45
9 Carolyn Kealty unattached 1:48:40
10 Loretta Schuellein Walk USA 1:49:04
11 Susan Randall Miami Valley TC 1:49:15
12 Margaret Ditchburn unattached 1:51:31
13 Heidi Hauch unattached 2:12:01

-- Lauren Forgues Maine Racewalkers DNF
-- Sara Standley-Gonzalez unattached DQ
-- Kristen Furseth-Mullaney Pegasus AC DQ

Whoa-whoo! Okay, I've been watching the Olympic Trials all week and loving every minute of it from the exciting to the mundane: Abdi jumping in the steeplechase water pit after winning the 10000mt, classic! Lagat winning both the 1500mt and 5000mt.... yeah, and the sun came up again, too. He made it look so easy. I know a lot of these athletes personally from past teams or championship races but because it was the racewalk, I really got emotional watching Joanne win this morning's race. I know what it takes to train for years as a racewalker with hopes of making an Olympic team. But Joanne had trained for 14 years and come up short three times. Heartbreak, heartbreak, heartbreak... jubilation. This was her Trials.

I was working the aid station for Susan Armenta and Margaret Ditchburn, so I was there to see Joanne pull away from Teresa. Joanne's husband, Tim, was giving her drinks and it was hard not to choke up a bit watching Tim watch Joanne race. She was giving it everything she had and winning. She was dominating the field and Tim was so quiet. With 3km to go in the race, Joanne had it locked up and I had to go tell Tim, "Breath, just breath. She's gonna make it." He barely smiled. I don't think he believed it was actually happening. And I'm sure that Joanne felt the same way with a couple laps to go. It's the way I felt in Russia when I hit the Olympic time standard: "Is this real? Am I really going to make it to Beijing?" And then you have to hold yourself together and keep racing. And raise your arms in victory as you come across the line. "I'M GOING TO THE OLYMPICS!" Congratulations, Joanne.

Here are some articles about Joanne and her journey to the Olympics.

Pre-Trials NY Times article

Pre-Trials Foster's Daily Democrat article

Manchester's Union Leader article

Which makes me think of all the women who didn't make it today: Teresa Vaill, Susan Armenta, Sam Cohen, Jolene Moore, everyone else. Next time? Maybe, but don't forget how much you have accomplished to get this far. Cherish the memories of your own personal journey.

My friend Kathryn Bertine sums it up best in her lengthy ESPN series So you wanna be an Olympian? [part 1 ... part 13]

"I did not make the Olympics ... and honestly, I think that's awesome."

She tells of her journey of self-discovery in an effort to make the 2008 Olympic Team – the good, the bad and the really sweaty. You can start at the end, if you like, but it's an entertaining read from the beginning. I've spoiled the punchline, I'm afraid, but that's awesome, too.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Eastler Advances Easily

Okay, so it was 20km – which is a flat-out sprint for us 50km guys – but Kevin Eastler made it look pretty easy. And it has been anything but easy for him this year with an early season hernia surgery and several setbacks including more injuries. As long as he keeps the wheels on, Kevin has proven once again that he is the best 20km walker we've got in the US right now.


1 Kevin Eastler         U.S. Air Force     1:27:08
2 Matthew Boyles Miami Valley TC 1:28:20
3 Patrick Stroupe unattached 1:29:17
4 John Nunn U.S. Army 1:30:35
5 Tim Seaman New York A C 1:31:35
6 Allen James Bond Lake A.C. 1:32:13
7 Benjamin Shorey Wisconsin-Parkside 1:33:16
8 Philip Dunn New Balance 1:33:52
9 Charles Collier Athletics East 1:35:00
10 Steven Quirke Parkside A C 1:35:45
11 Michael Tarantino World Class Walk 1:38:02
12 Jared Swehosky unattached 1:39:14
13 Theron Kissinger C R W/N Balance 1:40:35
-- Christopher Tegtmeier Concordia/Neb. DQ

John Nunn took the early lead and pressed the pace for a few laps. He was soon caught by Kevin and then Matt. Kevin then pulled away for a comfortable win ahead of Matt's PR effort. Patrick Stroupe walked a steady race for his 20km PR and John held on for fourth place ahead of 2004 Olympic Trials 20km champion, Tim Seaman, who has had his share of injuries this year.

I train with John Nunn in San Diego and was really hoping to see him have a good day, but he had the double pressure of needing to win and hit the Olympic B standard (1:24:30) in order to make the Olympic Team. Kevin has the Olympic A standard (1:23:00) from last year's IAAF La Coruña race. The best time this year is still John's 1:26:22 from La Coruña in June, so unless Kevin has a speedier race in Beijing, John may end the year with the unfortunate distinction of being the fastest 20km walker in 2008.

"How did you do?" people asked me after the race. Well, this 20km was part of the bigger training picture as I prepare for the 50km in Beijing and it went exactly as I had thought it would. Beforehand, I told my brother that my plan was to walk 1:34:00 and see how comfortable I could get at that pace. I was 9 seconds fast in 1:33:51. If only I had said, "I'm going to walk 1:24:00...." Wouldn't it be nice to just pick your finishing time? Wow! "In Beijing, I think I will walk 3:38:00 for 50km." Now that would be awesome!

There was some interesting post-race media that is worth sharing.

1 The first is from YouTube and my friend Pete Banda: Philip Dunn - Local Eugene Hero. Actually, I have never met Pete and don't know if he is stalking me or what. Pete, what gives?

2 ESPN article Lack of respect? Race walking relegated to the parking lot.

3 Seattle Times photo blog – Disclaimer: the first photo is not my feet. I do wear the New Balance RC1001 but had different socks on. But racewalk is judged by the human eye not camera or slow motion video.

Now I'm looking forward to enjoying the rest of the this track meet. Especially the women's 20km tomorrow morning. Go team!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chasing Glory '08

My friend Chris Rael has put together a great tribute website to the women who will be racing in the 20km racewalk Olympic Trials next week. He asked me to write up a little something about what it means to race at the Olympic Trials from the insider's perspective. I think I took the project a little too seriously. But here is what I wrote for him and his many readers:

We talk about the Olympic Games as though it were the greatest show on earth. The Olympics are referred to as the “Big Dance” and athletes who compete at the Games are considered the best in their field – the living, breathing gods of sport.

Don’t believe the hype. The drama, agony and ecstasy are all happening this weekend in Eugene at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials. On Sunday, the 16 fastest women walkers in America will toe the line knowing that no one gets to Beijing without passing through Eugene. As a coach of mine liked to say, “In order to get to heaven, you have to walk through hell.”

The U.S. Olympic Trials are more stressful than the Olympics themselves. Curt Clausen and I used to talk about it all the time. If you don’t do well at the Trials, the Olympics don’t matter at all; you stay home. Before the race, athletes often sound like cancer patients waiting for their latest biopsy results, “I just want to get it over with. I just want to know one way or the other. It’s the waiting I can’t deal with.” In the press tent afterward the winner gushes: “Man, I’m so relieved. Now I can just relax and have a good race at the Olympics. I don’t have to worry about making the Team anymore.”

The Olympic Games don’t mean anything if you don’t make the Team. That’s what the Olympic Trials are all about, right, making the Team? Right?

Well, yes and no. It depends on who you talk to, how honest they are with you, and what their expectations are going into the race.

Yes, in the U.S., the Olympic Trials decide everything. Either you finish in the top three with the ‘A’ standard or you don’t. There is no fuzzy gray area about making the U.S. Olympic Team, and that’s the drama of the Trials. (Years ago, they called them the “Olympic Trials and Tribulations” but it didn’t fit on the t-shirts.) Win it and you punch your ticket to Beijing but lose it, and there’s no second shot. There are no mulligans in the U.S. Trials. Already in Eugene two Olympic gold medalists from 2004 failed to qualify for the 2008 team. We’ve seen Christian Smith, ranked 29th out of 30 starters, have the race of his life and finish third in the men’s 800mt to make the team. And Katie McGregor finished fourth in the women’s 10,000mt after finishing fourth in April’s marathon Olympic Trials – heartbreaking.

Which brings us to this Sunday’s race, the women’s 20km racewalk. Two women, Teresa Vaill and Joanne Dow, have the Olympic ‘B’ time standard making them the pre-race favorites. Vaill won the 2004 Trials, the only woman in the field with Olympic experience, and got the better of Dow earlier in the year on this same course. Dow has been close twice, achingly close: in 2000 and 2004 she was the first alternate. Fast on Dow and Vaill’s heels will be Sam Cohen, Susan Armenta and Jolene Moore with recent bests within a minute and a half of the ‘B’ standard. If any of them has a breakout race, they will be right in the thick of things.

It is likely that only the winner will make the Olympic Team. In order for more than one woman to qualify for Beijing, two must walk the ‘A’ standard on Sunday and no U.S. woman has walked the ‘A’ standard since Vaill in 2005 and that was by a slim two seconds. Once that gun goes off, it’s just a footrace to the finishing line. Whoever crosses the line in front continues her journey to Beijing. If I were a betting man, I would keep my mouth shut and not make a fool of myself. This could be anyone’s race.

I’ve spent most of this article talking about making the Olympic Team. It’s a big deal, of course, but most of the competitors don’t make the Team and maybe never expect to. For them, the Olympic Trials is the “Big Dance.” The Trials truly is the greatest show on earth. It is huge. Everyone who is anyone in U.S. Track & Field is in Eugene this week: athletes, coaches, fans and officials are all there. It’s as close as you get to the mysticism of sport, the elevated state of being, nirvana. Forget about all the hype, the logos and the slick sponsored Lycra. Just soak up the raw power, the grace and the beauty of these athletes. It only happens every four years.

The media and so many professional athletes today talk about legacy and reputation and respect. Athletes race for records and for championships and for glory. And these things are important. They are used to determine who is the fastest athlete, who will be remembered years from now in the record books. But what so many athletes forget to do is be an athlete. They neglect to live in the moment and embrace this incredible talent they are given. They preen and strut and imagine that they are bigger than life. Olympic athletes are ordinary people that do extraordinary things, nothing more and nothing less. An athlete is only complete when she finds that quiet place of perfection, when years of practice and discipline manifest themselves in one shining moment of grace. If she wins that’s good. If she is her best, her most graceful and powerful in Eugene on July 6, 2008: even better.