Upcoming events –

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

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Back in the U.S.A.

I'm home and it's so nice. China was great. Olympics were great, but it feels so good to sleep in your own bed for the first time in weeks. And I slept nearly 12 hours straight through the night. I can't remember the last time I slept so well. Love it!

The return trip was long long long and I extended it even further by volunteering to get bumped out of San Francisco which gave me more time to drool on my backpack on a quiet bench in the corner of concourse B before my flight. Sleep has got to be one of the most underrated activities ever. The night after my 50km race, my legs were so achy I could hardly sleep at all. On the plane ride home, there were people yakking in the seat behind me. But find me a quiet place and I'm out.

The day before we left Beijing, my family and I hit the Great Wall head-on. We didn't mess around with the over-crowded, touristy hot spot of Badaling. We went for the remote, challenging hike from one end of the wall to the other: 16,000 kilometers. Well, it seemed like we hiked up and over every hill in northern China, but there were a few more sections of wall and a few more towers on the horizon that we didn't get to. The Great Wall at Jingshanling to Simatai. Maybe we only covered 10km but it was really hilly and when you've got a 30 lb toddler on your back, it seems longer than it is. He got down a couple times, but Miles was pretty content to just lounge around in his backpack and offer the occasional word of encouragement "BAH!" It's his multi-purpose 'B' word for just about everything: bus, ball, bird, bike, um-brella, basket, backpack, bus! another bus!

The quickest way to get to Jingshanling from Beijing is by taxi. It's a 2+ hour drive but Liz was able to find someone who lives right near Simatai and knew the shortcuts. He did a great job of getting us there and then drove around to Simatai to meet us four hours later at the end of our hike. As an added bonus, we stopped twice on the way home to visit the taxi drivers uncle and his brother. We were invited in for tea and when Dad asked about the small field of corn out in front of the house, we were sent home with a week's supply of corn. There's only so much corn you can eat the night before a flight back to the States, so we shared with the grandmothers that meet every evening by the front entry of the apartment building with the grandkids.

There are some places that are spoken of in hyperbole: "unforgettable" or "awe-inspiring." Recent visitors to Paris will say, "Oh, you absolutely have to see Notre Dame Cathedral." The Great Wall of China is one of those places. Before my first trip to China in 1995 for the World Racewalk Cup, I remember thinking that my expectations for the Great Wall were too high. "There is no way it will live up to the hype," I thought, "it can't be that impressive." It blew me away. Its scale is just so amazingly huge. As far as you can see, there it is, snaking across mountains and dropping into ravines at impossible angles. Its presence is just overwhelming. I had no idea that it would feel that big in person. It felt bigger than I could have imagined, and then to think that it's been there for hundreds of years and took thousands upon thousands of people to build. It truly is one of the wonders of the world. Wow.

And now I'm back at home in the living room of my little house in San Diego. Makes me grateful that I've been able to see so much of the world. It's such a big place.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Checking out, Going Native

I’ve been stuck in the Olympic system since I arrived in China nearly three weeks ago. Everywhere I turn, I flash my Olympic credential and sashay through all the security checks, jump on a free shuttle bus or have a Team USA representative hand me a bottle of cold water. I’ve gotten so accustomed to being treated like a VIP, it was a shock today when I left the Olympic Village for good. No one offered to carry my luggage for me. I got all sweaty and no one was there to wipe my brow and hand me a cold beverage. I went in to the store and had to buy the food. This could take some getting used to. Paris Hilton never had it this bad.

When I got up this morning, I finished packing and looked around my suite and saw tons of stuff strewn around the common area: clothes, shoes, bags and random packaged food containers, mostly unopened. I had to assume Tyson Gay hadn’t checked out yet; there was so much miscellaneous stuff and everyone else had left. I mentioned it to one of the USATF staff and was told that he had already left. Anything in the room was trash that he didn’t want. So, if anyone wants Tyson’s underwear, I’m starting the bidding at $10. Just kidding. I should be able to get at least $50, right? Do I hear $60?

I was amazed, though, to see in other suites how much stuff people left behind, and we’re talking nice stuff like Closing Ceremonies shirts and shoes, the Nike Team USA t-shirts and pants. I hope that the volunteers who have worked so hard to put on these Games get to take some of the stuff home. With all the security checks on the way in and out, though, they might be asked where all the loot came from. “Really, Tyson gave it to me, I swear!”

On my way out the doors of the Village, there were tons of volunteers swapping gear with athletes and each other. When they saw that I had a few USA t-shirts to trade, they went crazy. I had 15 different people crowded around, passing my shirts back and forth, making offers of this or that shirt, pants or hat. I ended up with a complete volunteer outfit as well as a few shirts from other countries.

Once I was out the exit, I marched up to the apartment where my family is staying. I said I was done with this whole walking thing, but I lied. I enjoy walking to get from place to place. It’s already been four days since my race, so my legs are feeling almost normal again. The only time I really feel the fatigue from the 50km is when I try to jog a few steps or really hurry up a flight of stairs. Give me another week, and I’ll be raring to go.

A couple days ago, I met the family down at the Temple of Heaven. Today our plan was to hit the Forbidden City and tour until we dropped. Well, getting going around here is a bit tricky sometimes. I dallied in my departure from the Village, and then Miles needed a nap, and when we finally had lunch and rode the bus to downtown Beijing, the Forbidden City was only open for another hour, hardly enough time to see it all. We wandered through the hutongs just north of the Forbidden City and into Jingshan Park. Wow!

View of Forbidden City from Jingshan Park

In the middle of Jingshan Park is a large hill, topped by a temple and crowded with tourists, that looks out over the entire city down onto the golden-tiled roofs of the Forbidden City and out over the glistening skyscrapers of modern Beijing. It’s quite a contrast to simply turn your head and watch 600 years of history spin past. There are places in Beijing where time has stopped; there are no cars, no high-rises, only one-story buildings and cobbled streets. But most of the city is teeming with traffic, neon signs, and fancy shops or apartment buildings that reach for the sky. To see it all laid out below from atop Jingshan Park is a marvel.

Descending the backside of the hill brought us through a wooded pathway and onto what would normally be a quiet, secluded path adjoining a small, open pavilion. But through the trees we could hear a riotous banging of bamboo sticks, crazy percussive sounds and odd singing. When we finally got down the trail to the pavilion, it was filled with a group of musicians practicing on their ‘bamboo clackers.’ Liz tried to get a better translation of what the instruments were called but that’s as good as we got – bamboo clackers that sound like horses galloping over cobblestones or large wooden knockers on thick, oak doors. And it was crazy, banging, music. I’ll try to post a sound bite from what I recorded.

Liz and Miles trying out the bamboo clackers

The rest of the afternoon and evening was much less dramatic, with the exception of the weird crazy food stands that we found east of Tianenmen. In the heart of a very modern shopping district, they were selling all sorta of mouth-watering treats on skewers like silk worm cocoons, river snakes, scorpions, sea horses and tripe. Hmm, can't get enough of those crunchy snake heads!

Snakes, squid, and cuttle fish ready for frying

What now?

Standing on the infield of the Olympic Stadium I realized, I don't want this to end. Not just this evening, which has been amazing, but this lifestyle. I've been going to the Olympics as an athlete for the last three Olympics. I want to feel like an Olympian every day, forever. Watching the Olympic flame go out and realizing that it was all coming to an end, I felt like Cinderella at the end of the ball knowing that I had to go home. No more dancing. No more music. No more bright lights.

There are some things that you never want to end: a good book, a favorite TV sitcom (The Simpsons, of course) and the Closing Ceremonies. Okay, maybe for you folks at home after watching too many hours of Michael Phelps and gymnastics drama (is she really 16?!), you were ready to tune out the Olympics and get some fresh air. But being in the middle of it, breathing in the Olympics in the Village, the stadium and sharing memories with other Olympians, I wasn't so sure I wanted it to be over.

It's time to move on, of course, and I suppose that's the hardest part. What's next? Getting to the Olympics takes incredible discipline, perseverance and passion. I'm told that these are transferable career skills: anybody hiring? :) Seriously. I need a job.

My friend Kathy Colin competed in the Olympics in the sport of kayaking in 2000 & 2004. She and I marched into the Olympic Stadium together in Athens and I talked to her a few times before leaving for Beijing about what it's like to not be going to the Olympics. She wasn't sure how she was going to feel watching the Opening Ceremonies from her couch instead of being there. She said she might not want to watch and be so far removed from that lifestyle. She works more-than-full-time now and doesn't paddle nearly as often as in the past. She enjoys the freedom of not training every day but misses the competitions, the traveling, and the camaraderie and friendships that go along with being an athlete. It's just not the same at work.

I've told many friends that this was my last Olympics and they say, "Keep going! Train for London. Don't get a real job. You've got plenty of time to work 40 hours a week like the rest of us stiffs." My mom doesn't let me talk to those friends anymore. Hah! Seriously, though, I talked to Curt Clausen (three-time Olympic racewalker) and he said he doesn't miss the training but he misses the lifestyle. I can relate to that. I love the traveling, the racing, and the more flexible daily schedule. But my body is starting to wonder how much more 50km training it can take.

I'm sure I could ramble on more and more about what's next, but I'll focus a few more entries on what I'm doing here in Beijing before heading home. When I get home, then I'll start banging down some doors trying to find a job. References available upon request.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Race day reflections

It's been a few days now since I raced, but let me take you back to the morning of the 22nd and recreate what I was thinking and doing as I prepared for the race and walked my Olympic 50km.

Normally I have a rough time sleeping through the night before a big event and the Olympics is as big as it gets. Surprisingly, I slept fairly well. I only woke up three times to check that my alarm was set and turned on, another couple times because I was well-hydrated, and the few odd times to toss and turn and realize "Tomorrow is race day. Wow, it's almost here!" That may sound bad, but I've had much worse pre-race insomnia.

At 5:15, I was up and trying to open up my PowerBar Harvest bar as [CRUNCH] quietly as I [CRACKLE] possibly could. Washed it down with some water and chased it with a banana while double checking that I had all my gear packed and my race shorts on. Coach Joe Vigil and I walked over to the stadium shuttle bus at 5:45am. He's great but he wanted to spend the whole ride over to the Bird's Nest talking about developing racewalking in America. "Yes, yes, we gotta get more walkers and put the racewalk in high schools and colleges but I'm trying to focus on today. Big day today." By the time we got to the warmup track, I thought we had moved on but Tracy Sundlun was there and we got started again on solving America's racewalk problems. Anyone who knows racewalking knows that this conversation could easily last longer than any 50km race, so I went off to start my warmup at 6:30am.

At most track meets, there is a clerk-of-course where each athlete checks in, shows his number and gets assigned a lane or timing chip. The Olympics are no different, but the system of controls, double-checking and micromanaging everything you do is incredible. 40 minutes before the start of your race, you have to check in with the clerk and then you are sequestered for 25 minutes with little opportunity to warm-up. There's a short 50 meter patch of track that 60 guys are pacing on back and forth like restless tigers at the zoo. There's a bathroom, and a line. And volunteers that come by every few minutes to triple-check that you tied the timing chip onto your shoe properly. The best thing to do is get in your warmup out on the track, relax for 25 minutes in the call room, do some light stretching, practice some deep breathing, and lube the armpits to avoid chafing. Suddenly, the volunteers are frantic again and round everyone up into a line to head out the door, through the tunnel and on to the track.

The OLYMPIC STADIUM track and it's race day! It's hard not to think about how hard it was to get here, how many hours of training and nursing injuries, and getting up early and the list goes on.... And it's here, and I am here in the Olympic stadium and I'm getting goose bumps and have to remind myself to just breath and relax and focus. We walk half a lap around the track in a long line with our gear and wave to the couple thousand people who have already gathered in the stands. My brother is on the rail by the starting line so I go over to talk to him, find comfort in a familiar face and pose for some pictures. It's so nice to have him here practically at my side as I start this incredible race.

We are called to the line in no particular order. Fast starters position themselves on the front line. I find a spot in the middle in lane three or four. People are already sweating with the heat. It smells like a locker room. People mutter "Good luck" to each other in several languages, some to their countrymen, others to athletes from the same region. We're all in this together.

Bang! And we're off. Three-and-a-half laps around the stadium. Each lap is a little faster than the previous one until I'm hanging on to the back of the pack with a couple Lithuanians behind me and I'm already walking faster than my planned race pace. But I don't want to be the last one out of the stadium. Not this time. The field has already separated into several bunches and we head into the tunnel, echoing cheers from other athletes and volunteers bounce around and follow us out into the bright sunshine of the Olympic Green. "24 laps to go," says the sign as we hit the 2,000mt loop course. There is a white, steel barrier surrounding the course that keeps the spectators back 15 feet. At 7:30am, there are already thousands lining the fence. By the time we leave and head back to the stadium, there are several places where fans line the fence four and five people deep.

"Jia yo! Jia yo!" is what the Chinese scream at their athletes. "Go, go!" Soon, the locals are screaming it at everyone. "Jia yo! Jia yo!" The night after the race, I could hardly sleep because "Jia yo!" was echoing around my brain ad nauseum. It was like that feeling you get after having been on a boat all day and you close your eyes at night and feel the whole world rocking back and forth. "Jia yo! Jia yo!"

By 8km, I had caught up to Roman Bilek from the Czech Republic. I've probably raced against him before, but I don't really know him. He doesn't speak much English and my Czech is a bit rusty. But we formed an informal alliance and walked together for the next 20km. We took turns handing each other sponges and water depending on who was closest to the aid station. We walked shoulder to shoulder and the only thing we really said to each other was, "Water?" or "Sponge?" He pronounced "sponge" with a hard 'e' at the end so it sounded like "spongy," but we were communicating. It's easier sometimes to walk with someone than to walk alone and it was nice to have the company. There were a few times when I thought, "This is just like a training walk with John Nunn... except this guy doesn't talk very much or tell good stories." It made me kinda sad for a moment because John and I had talked a lot about how we would both be walking at these Olympics.

Shortly before 30km, my new friend Roman started to falter and I maintained my steady sub 5:00/km pace pulling away from him. He ended up ten minutes back at the finish.

People sometimes ask "What do you think about for four hours?" When I'm racing, I try not to think about too much. I spend a lot of time focusing on my technique, reminding myself to stay relaxed, and I repeat a lot of positive affirmations to myself. In the weeks leading up to an event, I might find something that helps keep me motivated in training and so I invariably come back to that during the race. "Get your foot under you quickly" was one of the things that I was thinking in recent speed workouts, so I thought of that a few times if I felt myself slowing up or feeling a little less-than-smooth. I often will get very short snippets of songs stuck in my head and they will just get stuck on a replay loop. I have no idea where it came from, but at some point in the race the lyrics "... disappear into the groove..." popped into my head. I'm not even sure if it's a real song, but it was stuck in my head, in a good way, for several laps. I did a race in Spain a couple years ago where they had a sound system playing throughout the entire 50km. At first, I was worried that it would be a distraction, but I ended up enjoying it. Whoever the DJ was did a nice job, too. For the first hour, we were grooving to some really mellow songs like "Dust in the wind," which was perfect for the first section of a 50km when you really want to keep your emotions in check and stay relaxed. Later, the DJ started to crank it up a bit with some disco tunes. By the end, we were in a euro-discoteque rave party with some thumping beats that helped get me pumped up for the last 10km.

Here in Beijing, the conditions didn't play as big a factor as people had feared. The air was fairly clear after the heavy rains the day before. The temperature rose throughout the morning while the humidity (97% at the start) dropped. It was hot, yes, but not so bad that everyone in the race suffered. The winner, Alex Schwazer, managed to break the 20 year-old Olympic record, so it couldn't have been too bad. The granite surface was covered with 4mm of Mondo, as promised, so our legs got a slight break (though they still took a beating - it's a 50km race!) The heat would have been a much bigger factor if there hadn't been aid stations set up on either end of the course. There was no shade on the course at all, so a regular dousing with ice water or a sponge made a huge difference. On nearly each lap, Tracy handed me a hat filled with ice as I came through the personal aid station and I handed him the hat I had been wearing. By the last few laps, I was taking a sponge at one end of the course, a bottle of water at the other end and my Vitalyte electrolyte drink in the middle. I was so wet, my shoes were squishy with water when I took them off after the race.

Before every big race, I make a series of goals. Most of them relate to how I want to feel before, during and after the race. I also make specific performance-related goals. Obviously the number one goal is always to finish. Training had gone well but not perfectly, so I wanted to walk at 5:00/km pace and finish at 4:10:00. I also had hoped to finish better than my previous Olympics, but the problem with a goal that focuses on a place finish is that you don't have any control over what your competition does. Yes, I would like to win every race I enter, but that's not alway realistic - especially at the Olympics (unless your name is Phelps). I was able to meet nearly all of my goals: I finished (yay!), walked faster than I though I would (4:08:32) and felt strong and in control the entire way. I didn't improve on my best Olympic finish, but I would have had to walk eight minutes faster to do that.

Back to the race. At 25km, my legs started to feel very heavy and fatigued. My first reaction was "Uh-oh, this is not good." But I quickly turned it around and said, "Okay, it's a 50km, you're supposed to be tired, just work through it." It helped, I think, that my friend Roman was clearly hurting more than I was and I was able to feed off of him as he slowed. It reminded me briefly of the Prefontaine quote, "Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it." That's always a good pick-me-up in the middle of a race. I continued to plug away at a steady pace and by the last 15km, I was passing people who had lapped me and catching up to people who had been as much as five minutes ahead of me earlier in the race. My strategy of walking even splits was paying off. In the final 10km, only 16 guys walked faster than I did. With just 2km to go, I was gaining quickly on Tim Berrett from Canada and a Greek walker. I tried to accelerate but couldn't manage anything quicker than my 5:00/km pace. Tim told me later that I would have caught him if he hadn't been trying to catch the Greek walker in front of him. He ended up 14 seconds ahead of me.

Coming into the stadium for the finish was an unreal feeling. The place was packed and cheering wildly for each of the walkers as we came out of the tunnel. I would have liked to soak it in a bit longer but desperately wanted to finish as quickly as I could. After I crossed the line, I stopped and looked around for awhile realizing that in all likelihood it was the last time I would be standing at the finish line inside an Olympic stadium. How lucky am I to have had this incredible experience? I probably took longer than most, but I just didn't want to leave. It would have been silly to do a lap around the track, but if my legs had allowed it I might have tried.

One of the more agonizing inventions of the Olympic media moguls is the post-race mixed zone. After having walked for over four hours, stumbled across the finish line, in some cases collapsed in a heap, they expect every walker to go through the mixed zone. Stairs. They make you climb up a flight of stairs so they can get the best angle for a post-race interview. Oh, it's agonizing. At least they have the good sense to put hand rails all the way up and back down again. So I pulled myself up to the second level, talked to a nice reporter from NBC (don't know if any of that got aired or not), and then stumbled back down the stairs on the other side. Print media from all over the world were waiting down there. The Italian champion who had finished well ahead of me was still talking to some Italian newspapers as I went past and talked to someone from an Oregon newspaper and the USATF media representative.

Out of the mixed zone and into the post-race recovery room where there were lumps of athletes scattered around on the floor, draped over chairs, or moaning in the corner. Some were changing into dry clothes, some were just staring into space. I chatted with Tim Berrett for a bit and then walked, slowly, out to meet the USATF coaches and medical staff that were waiting for me. Coach Vigil had my phone, so I was able to call Liz and the rest of the family and arrange to meet them in the stands. Thankfully, there was an elevator up into the stadium seating. Stairs and I were not going to get along for awhile.

Okay, it's late here in the Village and I need to pack up my bags. I'm moving out tomorrow and then spending a few more days here in Beijing touring around with my family. I'll try to blog some more, but it may not be until I get back to San Diego at the end of the week. Check back if you like. Peace.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Please Don't Close the Games

Hey blogging fans!

I'm literally frantic! I'm heading to the Bird's Nest for the Closing Ceremonies in just a few minutes. I've got my swank duds on and I'm trying to figure out how to make this belt keep my baggy pants up. I'll get it, don't worry.

Here are a few interesting post-race articles and one that makes me think I should move to Washington D.C. for my bid to make the 2012 London Olympics. Sorry for the dearth of blog entries of late but I'm trying to pack in all the sight-seeing, fun and late-night stuff that I missed before the race. Please forgive me. I'll try to get some more blogs rolling off the press post-Closing Ceremonies.


Portland Tribune article

Carleton College article

D.C. tries to get into the Olympics

.... back from the Closing Ceremonies. Thank you Beijing. Off to bed. Hopefully I'll have more energy to write some in the morning (morning in Beijing). I've gotten clobbered by a head cold that snuck up on me slowly since the race so I may be sleeping in. Nearly all of my suitemates had it, too, so I shouldn't be surprised. Ciao.

Photo Page....

At PowerBar hospitality house with Peter Vanderkay (swimming gold & bronze) and my PowerBar peeps

Action shot, midway through the 50km walk

In front of the Bird's Nest while walking with my Czech friend, Roman

Finishing in the stadium – what an awesome feeling!

Family visit to the Olympic Village

Miles, mobbed by the paparazzi

For more photos from my 50km race, please go to www.racewalk.com

For complete results and splits from the 50km race, go to the official Olympic page

Friday, August 22, 2008

Among the best

I have to start by saying thank you. Thank you to all of you for sending messages of support and encouragement. Thank you for following along on this incredible journey of mine. In a way, I hope it has become your journey, too.

Thank you to my wife, Liz, without whom I could not do this whole racewalking thing. She is more patient, loving and supportive than I could ever ask her to be. Thank you.

Thank you to my family who came all the way to Beijing to stand in the blazing hot sun and cheer me on for four hours. Thank you to my son, Miles, who stayed awake for almost the entire race, saw me at one point and said, “Mama” (he calls both Liz and me ‘mama’) though he nodded off there at the end (I would have taken a nap, too, if I could have).

The race went as well as I could have hoped given the conditions and the fact that this was my third 50km of the year. I came in hoping to walk under 4:10 and I walked 4:08:32. My first 25km was 2:04:08 and the second was 2:04:24, pretty even splits on a day when lots of people struggled at the end. I finished 39th today against the best walkers in the world. I wasn’t the best, but I was among the best.

I’ll write more later, but I’m exhausted and need to meet up with the family again this evening.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Radio time...

National Public Radio is going to run another story that has little old me talking about big old racewalking. The NPR piece talks about the 2km loop course outside the Bird's Nest stadium. It's great publicity for the sport and I'm psyched that we're getting some coverage. We'll work on getting the next storyline to read, "US racewalker wins Olympic gold."

This morning, I was up early for my last real training session before the race. My plan had been to go over to BNU and get a more precise track workout in, but there were some complications. Last night I was called and told to appear for a morning blood draw with the IAAF blood doping crew. So, training was shifted up and I stayed in the Village. There's a 900 meter course in back of the cafeteria where I did my 3km/3km/2km walk. While I was out there, Kenenisa Bekele and some of his Ethiopian compatriots were running an 'easy' morning warm-up. Bekele won the men's 10,000mt a couple nights ago. Yes, he was 'jogging' faster than I was racewalking. Surprise. This evening, Bekele ran just behind newly-minted American Bernard Lagat to qualify for the men's 5000mt final.

At 8:15am, one of the USOC team doctors walked Joanne Dow and me over to the polyclinic for our IAAF blood draw. The purpose, supposedly, is not to catch dopers but to establish a baseline for future doping controls. Joanne was joking that it was a big waste of time to test her the day before her last competitive race.

Sometimes I get a bit queasy around needles and today was no different. After the blood draw was over, I decided I should lie down. The Chinese nurses and doctors panicked, ran about in a frenzy and even rushed in a gurney for me. The USOC doc and I were laughing about their efficiency. I was fine, but it made for an exciting morning, that's for sure. It's funny how a little thing like a needle can get to me but I go out and walk a 50km the next day.

At 11am we had a team photo with all of the tracksters. When I get a chance to download the photos, I'll post some shots of me with some of my fast new friends.

I ate lunch in the Village and then took a short walk up to meet Liz and Miles who were out and about from the apartment. Miles has been very patient with all of the traveling, but it's really difficult for Liz without me around as much to help out. Traveling with a toddler is never easy and being in a foreign country makes it even tougher. As I've posted earlier, the Chinese are fascinated with Miles and love to touch him, grab at his cheeks or legs, and take his photo. He's put up with it pretty well, but I'm sure he'll enjoy being back home, too.

After spending a nice, mellow afternoon with the family and getting to hear Miles giggle and see him play in the apartment, I walked over to the field hockey pitch to watch the women's game between Germany vs. China. The local Chinese were so excited when China came from behind to win, but they were also supportive of the German team. The US women had played earlier in the morning against Spain and lost 3-2 to finish in 8th place. The Chinese go on to play in the gold medal game.

Kevin and I had a nice dinner in the cafeteria and then chilled out in the USATF lounge and watched Lagat and Matt Tegenkamp qualify in the 5000mt and Symmonds in the 800. All three of them won their heats and looked good doing it. All in all, it was a nice day but I definitely feel like I’m counting the hours now with my race just around the corner.

Rain, rain go away

(It's Thursday morning here in Beijing)

I'm just leaving the Village now for the women's 20km racewalk competition and it is raining hard. The Village green out my window is usually swarming with athletes, but today there are colorful umbrellas scurrying around like bright beetles. People are rushing from their dorms directly to the buses or to the cafeteria. No delay, hurry hurry hurry.

Joanne Dow, the lone American in the women's race, is going to get soaked. She's overcome so many obstacles to get here that a little rain won't dampen her Olympic spirit, though. After 14 years of racing, she finally made her first Olympic team at the age of 44. Her oldest daughter, Hanna, is starting at Penn this fall. Some of Joanne's fellow Olympians still in high school!

Okay, go USA Racewalking! I'm off to the Bird's Nest.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Three days to go

Yesterday felt like a long day, so I slept in until 8:30am this morning. My timing was perfect, though, as I was able to join a couple others walkers who were out putting in some laps around the Village. I started my 10km workout with Tim Berrett, 5-time Olympian from Canada. We've known each other for years, raced against each other at World Cups, Pan Am Games, Olympics.... We were joined after 15 minutes by Jared Tallent from Australia. Jared was the 23-year old who finished third in the 20km race last Saturday. And now he's preparing for the 50km on Friday. It will only be his third 50km race, but he's optimistic he can bounce back quickly. He's having quite the month because shortly after his 50km race, he returns to Australia to marry his fiance, Claire Woods, who is racing Thursday in the women's 20km.

The US team has a nice set-up for our medical staff here in the Village. After my morning walk, I got some help stretching out and then got some chiropractic adjustments from Portland, OR based Ted Forcum. Thanks Ted!

When I got back to my suite, the door was locked. Usually we leave it open, but I had my key handy and let myself in. Tyson Gay, my suitemate, was standing right there and looked so happy to see me. "I've been locked in for an hour," he said. "Thank you!" Housecleaning must have locked up after themselves and the latch on the inside of the door broke when Tyson tried to let himself out.

I spent the afternoon relaxing, lunching with Joanne Dow in the cafeteria, and catching up on my blogging.

One of my sponsors, PowerBar, invited me to come to an event at their hospitality house tonight with other athletes. They were kind enough to pick me up and my whole family and take us over to their house. They had a nice dinner prepared and gave us all some PowerBar gifts. There were several photographers and journalists who took photos. Not surprisingly, they took lots of pictures of Miles. It was a nice place to get together with my family and meet a few other PowerBar-sponsored athletes. The women's marathon bronze medalist from China, Zhou Chunxiu showed up (slight language barrier but she was very happy to be there) and US swimmer Peter Vanderkay told some good stories about post-competition celebrations. He was on his way to another exclusive party in downtown Beijing.

Two other vendor/sponsors showcased their events at the PowerBar house including Suunto, who makes high-end heart rate monitors, and an innovative vibration training company called Galileo. The Suunto rep set me up with a free watch – oh, it's nice to know the right people! Thanks John!

Everyone was pretty tired by the time I got dropped off at the west gate of the Olympic Village. Miles had fallen asleep in Liz's arms and the rest of us were ready to nod off, too. I'm up for a bit watching the last of the track meet and listening to my Team USA teammates cheer and yell at the TV.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Out and About

For the first time, I went over to Beijing Normal University (BNU) to use the practice track and see the facilities that are set up for Team USA. Reports have been going around that the Americans brought all their own food and aren’t eating in the Village because they’re afraid of being dosed with steroid-injected beef and chicken by the Chinese. Well, BNU is where all the “safe American food” is being served to Team USA athletes. It’s also where many of the US coaches who don’t have credentialed-access to the Olympic Village are staying and where their athletes are meeting them for training every day. I didn’t take the time to eat a meal at BNU, but I did get in a good track session with a few other US athletes.

Joanne Dow and I met Tracy Sundlun at the track and he gave us splits and encouragement. I’m so used to training on my own that when Tracy asked if I needed anything from him, I couldn’t think of anything at first. Then I said, “Just tell me that I look great.” His response: “Well, I’ve had to lie before, I can do it again.” Hah! Also on the track were the modern pentathletes and open-water swimmers. The swimmers were doing a short, cross-training workout while the pentathletes were running 200 meter intervals. The two women competing in the modern pentathlon have strikingly different stories. Shelia Taormina is competing in her fourth Olympics in her third different sport. Amazing. She first raced on the US swim team. Then she competed for Team USA in the triathlon. Now she is 39 years old and contesting the five events of the modern pentathlon: fencing, shooting, equestrian, running and swimming. Her teammate is Margaux Isaksen and only 16 years old! Wow.

The week of a big 50km race, I like to do a short speed workout of 5 x 1km. They are always faster than race pace but not super fast. Before the World Cup in Russia in May, I did this same workout on the track in Gothenburg, Sweden and today’s was very similar. It would be great if I could replicate my performance in Russia, though the conditions here are likely to be warmer and more humid. Today I started out at 4:28 for the first 1km. Joanne had done several 200s before she jumped in and walked the first 1km with me. With a two-minute break between each 1km, I walked 4:24, 4:22, 4:18 and 4:15 to close out the series. It wasn’t as easy and relaxed as I would have liked, but it also wasn’t that hard. It’s nice to finish any workout and know that, if you had to, you could do it again tomorrow.

I headed back to the Village for shower, lunch and a wee bit of lying down to recover. My family is staying with a family friend who works at one of the local Beijing universities. He had asked if I could come speak to one of the classes about my Olympic experiences and I jumped at the chance. Like this blog, speaking to groups is one way that I share my story and help people understand what it’s like to be an Olympian.

Han Bing had arranged for an athlete from the Chilean Olympic Team to come and speak to the class, too, so Pablo McCandless and I spent over an hour talking to the students about the Olympics, what it’s like to be an athlete, and then answered their questions. Pablo is a slalom kayaker who practically stumbled into the Olympics. He was born in the US to a Chilean mother and American father, so he has dual citizenship. After doing a few races in slalom kayaking and competing at some World Cup events, the Chilean Olympic Committee asked him to train for the Olympics. Maybe he was being humble, but he made it sound so easy. Perhaps we should all move to Chile!

The students at Han Bing’s university are all American college kids studying Chinese language and culture and they are nearly done with their summer semester. A couple of them asked some very specific questions about politics in the Games and pollution in Beijing and how it has affected athletes. They told me later that they are writing final term papers or doing projects on those topics and wanted some good, first-hand information. All of the students were really enthusiastic and had some great questions. Some of them were impressed by the fact that all the athletes treat each other as equals. For example, Pablo is the only Chilean slalom kayaker and he talked about receiving help from other countries who have more resources given to their athletes. If he needs a ride from one competition to another, there’s almost always an extra seat in another country’s van. As I tell people, we are all Olympians. Five rings are five rings, no matter who wears them. At the same time, the more famous athletes are not immune from the standard hero-worship just because they are surrounded by other Olympic athletes. Walking to the cafeteria today, I saw Ronaldinho, the Brazilian soccer superstar. He was flanked by his Brazilian teammates on all sides, but athletes were still crowding up to him asking for pictures and autographs. At Opening Ceremonies, many US athletes were ebullient after getting a photo with Kobe Bryant. I guess meeting someone famous is universally exciting.

After speaking to Han Bing’s students, I meant to go directly to the Hometown Hopefuls house to meet up with my family. Normally that means climbing into a taxi, pointing at my laminated information card that has the address written out in Chinese, and resting my head back on the seat until we arrive. Today, I thought it would be fun to go native. I jumped on a bus. Ooops. The first mistake I made was to ask for help from eager teenagers at the Beijing Information kiosk in front of the university. They debated for awhile about which route would be best, finally settled on one, wrote it down on a piece of paper, and walked me over the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the street and had me get on bus # 392 going north. When I showed my piece of paper to the driver he shook his head violently, shooed me off his bus and pointed the other direction, south. On my second attempt, I rode 30 minutes south until the driver told me to get off with a friendly passenger who would direct me to the next bus I needed. He was very helpful and I was on my way again, east, towards the Worker’s Stadium. All of this ‘communicating’ was done in sign language and really bad Chinese (me) or English (them). On bus #118, I met a nice local who spoke passable English. He was happy to help me get off at the stop I needed and I arrived with a greater appreciation for bilingualism, good public transportation maps, and well-cushioned shoes.

As always, it was wonderful to see the family and hear all of the stories of their day’s adventures. Miles has been a super-trooper. His little blond curls have won over all the Chinese. My dad insists that Miles has had his picture taken as many times as Michael Phelps. And I believe it. The waitresses at the Hometown Hopefuls have ooohed and aaahed over Miles every time we visit. It’s like having baby sitters follow you around: Miles gets picked up, carried around, walked all over place while we sit back and enjoy the delicious food and drink.

I returned to the Olympic Village in record time. The cab driver knew the quickest, most direct way that avoided police barricades and traffic slow spots. I was back in time to watch the USA sweep the men’s 400 mt hurdles.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Relaxing in the Village

View out my window in the athlete's Village towards the cafeteria and "international zone"

Walking this morning with Joanne Dow the day after the men’s 20km race was nice. We followed a flat, paved loop around and through the athlete’s village. There is some bus traffic and lots of pedestrians along one of the long straightaway, but it’s a good 2.6+km around. It’s fun to walk past athletes who are headed to the cafeteria or back to their dorm rooms and feel encouraged and welcome.

Entrance to the Olympic Village, security tent

Since my race is less than a week away, I’m not doing that much mileage. I only walked 10km this morning and will do a short speed workout tomorrow. I’m really starting to feel much better about my race and my fitness, but I wonder how much of it is the extra rest, good food, and light training load I am getting now.

Kevin Eastler and I spent the midmorning and lunch talking about his future plans. He’s getting out of the Air Force and into General Electric’s former officer’s career program in upstate New York. He’ll be mentoring for a career in renewable energy projects like wind and solar for GE. He is fortunate to be able to step seamlessly from his athletic career into a full-time occupation. Kevin is also very interested in sustainable technologies and lifestyles. He and his wife plan to build a ‘green’ house that uses solar and wind to generate their energy needs, something I would be love to do some day (if I knew enough about it).

Laundry pick-up and drop-off in Olympic Village

After lunch, the US Racewalk team went to watch water polo. The USOC gives out tickets to athletes every day to a variety of events. There were extra water polo tickets, so we watched the Australian women battle it out with the Chinese in the pool. The hometown crowd was rewarded with an extremely aggressive and competitive game, but the highly rated Australian team was too much for the Chinese.

Pathway in Village with solar powered lighting

The rest of the day was pretty low-key for me. I read a little, talked to friends, had dinner in the village cafeteria, and watched some of the athletics events. None of the dorm rooms have TVs in them, so some of the USATF coaches went out and bought a TV and set up a common room for us to watch the track events without having to trek over to another building. It’s pretty fun to watch Olympic track events with a bunch of Olympic tracksters. Everyone knows everyone on TV and is yelling at them as if they can hear us from the Village. And the NBC commentators would learn a lot about the different events if they could listen in to what people were saying tonight. Some of the athletes in the TV lounge train with or compete against the athletes who were in the stadium tonight, so there were a lot of insights, positive and negative, about why someone raced well or poorly.

After having watched for half an hour, one of the throwers returned from the Village cafeteria with a huge McDonalds bag full of French fries, chicken McNuggets and burgers. Yes, the athletes eat McDonalds, though I’m not sure why. Kevin felt bad all morning after eating two Egg McMuffins for breakfast. I suppose if you eat junk food regularly, your body gets used to it. But it makes me wonder how much better these guys could be if they ate more healthily.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Winner or Champion?

A few years ago I heard Janet Evans speak about her Olympic swimming experiences. She talked about her first Olympics where she was a young, outrageously talented teenager who came in, won a bunch of medals, but didn’t really understand the significance of her performance. She said, “I was a winner. I crossed the line first, that’s it.” It wasn’t until she came back years later to compete in her second Olympics that she appreciated the dedication, perseverance and courage that it takes to make it to the Games. What she realized was that she could give her very best effort, be completely committed to her goal, and still not win. By living in the moment, appreciating her gift and giving it her best, she was a champion. It didn’t matter whether she was a winner or not. When she did win the gold in the relay, it was that much more special.

Which brings us to today’s 20km racewalk for men. Pre-race favorite Jefferson Perez is a winner by any definition: winner of the Olympics, World Championships, Pan American Games, World Racewalk Cup, etc, etc. However, he is also a champion. He wins with grace, humility and integrity. Today he finished second and won the silver medal. The ‘winner’ was Russian Valeriy Borchin who pulled away from Jefferson in the final five kilometers. Borchin served a one-year doping ban in 2005-06. He trains with the three Russian racewalkers who were banned weeks ago from these Olympics for EPO doping violations. His name was initially listed as one of those caught for doping but then his federation removed his name. Borchin is a drug cheat. He is not a champion. In my book, he’s not even a winner. It disgusts and infuriates me that he is allowed to race at all or that his coach is allowed to work with any athletes, especially kids and juniors who are just starting in the sport. Aaaagh, I get so mad.

America’s only 20km walker Kevin Eastler raced today for the last time (so he says). He announced days ago that he was very excited to be retiring from the sport immediately after his race. And since I am his roommate here in the Olympic Village, he has reminded me a thousand times since the race that he is retired. Tonight as I was heading to bed and he was heading out, he said, “Man, I’m so glad I don’t have to get up and racewalk tomorrow.” Thanks, roomie. Thanks a lot.

It was nice to get up early this morning to accompany Kevin to the National Stadium, take a short course walk-through (out the tunnel, around the 2km loop, and back) with US assistant manager, Tracy Sundlun, and see the procedure for the pre-race check-in. I walked with Kevin while he did a short warm-up and then headed into the stadium to catch the start. From the gun, Jefferson and some of the other pre-race favorites set a brisk pace. Kevin started conservatively and found himself in the back of the pack as they headed out of the stadium. Slowly, he began to catch the stragglers and moved up into 43rd place. His time was only a minute slower than his winning Olympic Trials race and the conditions were much tougher here. Given all the injuries Kevin has dealt with over the past year, he raced well.

I was rooting for Jefferson to repeat his gold medal performance from the 1996 Olympics, but he wasn’t able to match the surge that the convicted drug user from Russia set at the end of the race. To explain a little of the doping controversy, check out this article. I’m trying not to be too cynical about the drug use that seems to be pervasive in sports, but it's difficult. I’m optimistic that some day the testers will be one step ahead of the dopers and sports will be clean. I just don’t know how an athlete that cheats can feel any sense of pride or accomplishment at winning the gold. Or how someone can sleep at night knowing that he/she is a fraud. Sigh. Enough of that.

For some great photos and a summary of the race, check out Jeff Salvage’s excellent photo story.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the Village, listening to Kevin talk about the joys of retirement (shut up already!), and visiting with my family. Kevin and I took a taxi to the US Hometown Hopefuls hospitality. It was my first time there. The sponsor this year, Bank of America, found a really nice location with three stories, outdoor seating and a spot near the Worker’s Stadium – soccer and boxing events. The Hometown Hopefuls house is great because each US athlete can invite up to four friends and family to hang out, eat free food, watch video feeds of all the Olympic events, and check email.

My folks, Liz, Miles and Malcolm were all there and we stocked up on some good food, watched a few other sports on the live video feeds, and mostly tried to keep up with Miles as he was running around. Miles loved walking up and down the stairs with me. He doesn’t realize that I’m not supposed to be doing too much extra stuff like stair climbing or touristy stuff. But he got tired eventually, took a short nap, and we headed home.

The taxi ride home was an adventure of sorts. When Beijing was first awarded the Olympic bid in 2001, Chinese authorities assured the world that all the taxi drivers would be able to speak English by the time the world came to Beijing. Not so much. Liz helped me get on my way back to the Village by explaining, in Chinese, where I needed to go. The cabbie said, “Yeah, sure, I got it,” or the equivalent and we were off. We had driven 15 minutes and he started asking me, in sign language, whether we should turn or go straight. “I don’t know where we are!” We did make it, obviously, but if it wasn’t for the laminated card that says “Olympic Village” in Chinese that I showed to a few cops that stopped us at controlled intersections, I’m not sure we would have made it. Wheh.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Return to the Village

It's been a couple days since I was able to post. Now that I'm back at the Olympic Village, there is so much going on. I was able to see my family (YAY!) for the first time here in China on Friday and now that I'm in Beijing I'm feeling very Olympic!

Let's go back to Friday, my last day in Dalian. I got in a short morning training session around the resort, just enough to stretch the legs before the flight over to Beijing. Our trip to the Dalian airport was eventful only because there was no police escort. It felt bizarre to be in normal Chinese traffic with buses and motorcycles and taxis zooming in and out. There were pedestrians and bicycles and mule-drawn carts. After all the heavy security, it was unnerving.

We were met at the airport by China Northern representatives and I assumed it would all go smoothly. Nope. Ian Dobson, Jen Rhines and I were the only three athletes returning to the Village, but for some reason Ian and I weren't in the system. Eventually they sorted it out, got everyone tickets, and took us to the VIP lounge. Ian was stressing out at first because he had never been into a First Class VIP lounge and with all the delays he was worried we weren't going to have time to enjoy it. Well, we ended up getting spoiled in the VIP lounge. We were the VIPs of the VIP. No kidding, they sat us down, got us drinks and then a few minutes later open of the attendants came over and said, "You are very lucky customers, lucky customers." Ian and I were thinking, "Yeah, we're in VIP, we feel lucky all right."

Jen, Ian and I were brought to the front of the VIP lounge, introduced to the vice president of China Northern Airlines, and told to pose for photos. Then they rolled out a huge cake with a big "2" on it and champagne glasses. The VP cut the cake, then they insisted that Jen cut a slice while posing for more photos. Ian was next, then I had to smile, cut a slice of cake, and raise a glass of champagne to the second anniversary of the China Northern Airlines VIP lounge. It was all very surreal.

On arrival into Beijing, we were sitting in the Olympic Village shuttle bus when a couple Irish officials came and sat down across the aisle. The guy looked very familiar but I couldn't quite place him at first. Then I realized it was Patrick Ryan! Patrick and I met in 1992 when I was on an Irish Literature study abroad program with Carleton College. I found out that there was a track meet with a 10,000mt racewalk and I jumped in. Patrick and I walked the whole thing together and finished in a tie: Irish Under-23 National Champions. We hung out together a few more times, I had a great time visiting with his family at his hometown, and we made a promise that we would see each other at the Olympics some day. Well, he's here as the Irish National racewalk coach and I'm competing. Today we kept saying, "16 years ago...."

After getting back to the Village and settling in, I was able to track down Liz, Miles, Mom, Dad and Malcolm. We all got together and hung out at the apartment. It was so wonderful to see everyone for the first time since back home. Then we all went over to the Bird's Nest to watch the track and field competition. The highlight was the women's 10,000 meters. USA's Shalane Flanagan, who had been sick and throwing up just three days earlier, came from behind for a stunning bronze medal. It was an incredibly courageous race (and she just came by the TV room where I am typing up this blog... brush with fame!).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blue collar marathoner

My new favorite US marathoner showed up in Dalian yesterday. Brian Sell. I had seen him run in 2005 at the World Track & Field Championships in Helsinki and he seemed like a good, hardworking runner. He finished ninth against a bunch of really talented runners. He doesn't really finesse his way through the distance, he plows. He's a work horse. At the 2008 Olympic Trials in NYC, he moved his way through the field with a steady, relentless pace and finished third behind wunderkinder Ryan Hall (25) and Dathan Ritzenhein (24). I like his style. His Harley-Davidson mustache gives him a good tough guy look, too.

2008 US Olympic Marathon Team – Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein, Brian Sell

Talking to Sell at lunch today after watching him run an 18 miler, I realized that he is a blue collar marathoner. He just flat out runs. He logs between 140-160 miles a week. Most elite marathoners are over 100 miles a week, but 160? That's more than 22 miles a day! No wonder he just keeps going and going. He's not as quick as some of the other marathoners out there, but he's still run a 10km in 28:36. Not too shabby. He also works 20 hours a week as part of the Home Depot Olympic Job Opportunity Program. He had some great stories about working in the lawn and garden area: stolen merchandise, tools stuffed into bags of mulch, etc.

Brian Sell at 2005 World T&F Champs Marathon, 9th place

This morning was my last longish walk before the race. I would have waited until Saturday, but that's the morning of the men's 20km walk and I don't want to miss it. (Go Jefferson! Go Kevin!) Also, I travel tomorrow morning back to Beijing and I don't know how the training venues are set up there for a 20km training walk. I'm glad I didn't wait because today was quite the adventure.

Knowing that I would be walking long, I asked our USATF staff if I could do the first part of the 20km on the roads getting to the horse track. Rather than walk a bunch of 1300mt laps, I figured I could get in 5km before I even got over there. Well, anything different from the ordinary schedule tends to throw the Chinese security into a tizzy. Of course they are concerned about our safety, but I think they just want to avoid an incident on their watch. I've traveled all over the world and done workouts in pretty sketchy places. The people here seem extremely friendly (how often do you get people clapping for you when you go out for a workout in your hometown?) and though there is a lot of traffic, it hasn't been insane. I'm much more nervous walking through a rough neighborhood back in the States, or on a quiet rural road with who knows what kind of loose dogs or drunks driving rusty pickup trucks (nothing against drunks, really, just don't throw your beer cans at me).

So it was a bit of a surprise when the Chinese security agreed to let Brian Sell and me head out from the resort over to the horse track at 8am. It's downhill to get out of here, so I ran with Sell for the first few minutes until it flattened out and was safer for racewalking. When he pulled away from me, so did a police escort car. It trailed right along side him the rest of the way, three miles of blanket security. While Brian was quickly becoming a dot in the distance, I realized I had a black, tinted-window cruiser pacing me, too. For two miles, he followed right along side me as I walked down the right-hand side of the road, under a tunnel and up to the busy intersection where I turned left. I'm used to walking on the left shoulder facing traffic back in the States and I knew that I would be taking another left into the horse track, so I went left on the busy road and settled into the bike lane facing traffic. And so did my escort car! He drove head-on into traffic for five minutes of my walk forcing cars and bikes off to my right so that I had an unimpeded route. I could get used to that!

Once I got to the horse track, I finished up the last 15km without incident. Brian cruised through his 18 miles and we caught a ride back with the others who had come over on the shuttle bus – not nearly as exciting as getting a solo police escort into opposing traffic.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dallying in Dalian

"China Best Tourist City"

"The Capital of Romance"

Since I haven't been able to get out of the compound except for training at the local horse track, I've been reading the tourist literature provided in each room at the Golden Pebble Beach Resort. I'm becoming drunk on the many splendors of Dalian.

View of Golden Pebble Beach Resort with worker's garden in foreground - squash, peppers, strawberries, eggplant

It is most famous for its "sinuous coast line" and "numerous squares that can be compared to inlaid pearls." The squares or plazas are what captivate this particularly effusive writer (and translator): "The manliness of Xinghai Square, the elegance of Zhongshan Square and the meaningfulness of Renmin Square, all present a galaxy of pleasure to one's eyes, intoxicate one's heart and crystallize into dulcet memories." Perhaps I can sneak out tomorrow and crystallize some dulcet memories on the streets of Dalian.

Dalian is widely regarded as one of the most pleasant cities in China to visit. If you tell someone in Beijing that you are headed to Dalian their eyes will get misty and they will sigh and say, "Ah, the most beautiful city in China." I suppose if you are up to your ears in Beijing traffic, smog and summer humidity, you might feel that way. The tourist book again chimes in noting that a common saying here is "Come to Dalian, open mouth widely, and breath deeply."

We've literally taken over the entire Golden Pebble Beach Resort. The only guests are members of the US Track & Field team, coaches or staff. There are, however, at least two or three times as many Chinese employees, security or volunteers sharing the compound with us. Wherever you turn, there is a guard, a resort uniform, or a maintenance worker. There is an office for the USATF staff to coordinate all the transportation to training venues and to/from the airport. The sports medicine staff have their own dedicated area near the sauna, pool, and small fitness center. I mentioned in a previous post that I had been using the ice tub. Ice is a commodity in China and not easily found. In order to get enough ice to keep the ice baths cold, the resort planned ahead. During the winter, they chipped out huge chunks of ice from a nearby lake and stored it in a refrigeration unit. At first we wondered why the ice bath had a slightly funky aroma to it. Now we know.

But it is beautiful and green and right near the coast. The geological formations along the coast are remarkable, earning the Golden Pebble Beach several names: “The Solidified Animal World," “The Natural Geological Museum” and “The Magic Sculpture Park." Looking out my window, I can see fishing boats bobbing in the water surrounded by nets and buoys. This morning I went looking for Ping the duck, but I think he lives in a different part of China on the Yangtze River.

I did find a work crew grooming the golf course. There were 10 guys mowing the fairways. They had one lawn mower and a truck. One guy was mowing the lawn and the other nine were raking the cut grass into little piles, stuffing the grass into bags and loading it on to the truck. Then they were driving the truck somewhere, unloading the grass, and returning to do the next fairway. For the hillier sections that the mower couldn't reach, they had two options: one guy with a weed-whacker or a pair of goats. Seriously, I only took the picture of the guys working with the mower, but the goats were very cute. Combine the goats with the vegetable gardens that ringed the area around the worker's quarters and you've got some good sustainable living going on. Throw in a few fish and sea cucumbers from the ocean, and you've got a meal.

Ten guys mowing the golf course (one is at the truck out of view)

Check older postings for some photos that I added recently.

Maya Angelou Waxes Olympic

One of the many gifts we received at Team Processing was a DVD of Maya Angelou reading her poem "Amazement Awaits." The DVD shows scenes from previous Olympic Games, athletes from all over the world competing in numerous sports.

Depending on whom you believe, the poem was an inspired, unsolicited contribution from Angelou to the Olympic movement or a commissioned piece in the tradition of many past literary masters, Shakespeare included. Either way, I think the poem captures the spirit of the Games in both metaphor and reality.


by Maya Angelou

Sheer amazement awaits
Amazement luxuriant in promise
Abundant in wonder

Our beautiful children arrive at this Universal stadium
They have bathed in the waters of the world
And carry the soft silt of the Amazon, the Nile,
The Danube, the Rhine, the Yangtze and the Mississippi
In the palms of their right hands.
A wild tiger nestles in each armpit
And a meadowlark perches on each shoulder.

We, the world audience, stand, arms akimbo,
Longing for the passion of the animal
And the melody of the lark
The tigers passion attend the opening bells,
The birds sing of the amazement which awaits.

The miracle of joy that comes out of the gathering of our best, bringing their best,
Displaying the splendor of their bodies and the radiance of their agile minds to the cosmos.
Encouragement to those other youth caught in the maws of poverty,
Crippled by the terror of ignorance.

They say Brothers and Sisters, Yes, try. Then try harder.
Lunge forward, press eagerly for release.
The amazement which awaits is for you.
We are here at the portal of the world we had wished for
At the lintel of the world we most need.
We are here roaring and singing.
We prove that we can not only make peace, we can bring it with us.

With respect for the world and its people,
We can compete passionately without hatred.
With respect for the world and its people,
We can take pride in the achievement of strangers.
With respect for the world and its people,
We can share openly in the success of friends.
Here then is the Amazement
Against the odds of impending war

In the mouth of bloody greed
Human grace and human spirit can still conquer.
Ah … We discover, we ourselves
Are the Amazement which awaits
We are ourselves Amazement.

Artwork by Cristóbal Gabarrón titled "Amazement Awaits"

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Track and Field Fantasy Camp, part II

It isn't enough that all the best distance runners in America are here in Dalian, so are their coaches. It's a who's who of elite coaches milling about with their athletes: Joe Vigil, Frank Gagliano, Alberto Salazar, Terrence Mahon, Steve Jones, and several others whose names I don't remember.

I was eating dinner tonight with Deena and Andrew Kastor. Deena won the bronze medal in the marathon four years ago in Athens. She didn't realize that she was in third place until they announced "And winning the bronze medal from the United States, Deena Kastor" as she came down the final straight away to the finish. One of her competitors had dropped out in front of her at mile 21 and she passed two or three other runners in the last couple miles. It was awesome! She is racing the marathon on the 17th.

At dinner tonight, Deena told the story of Steve Jones' world record in the marathon in 1985. He had dropped out of the Chicago Marathon at mile 16 the year before after a blazing fast start. The next year, again in Chicago, he passed the designated pace setters at mile two and ran the first half under 1:02 which remains the fastest first half of a marathon. Jones slowed in the second half but still ran a stunning 2:08:05 in his first complete marathon.

It reminded me of when Malcolm (my twin brother) and I were kids and getting serious about running. We had a poster in our room of three of the best runners of the day – Steve Jones, Arturo Barrios and Ed Eyestone – gliding down the road in the pouring rain. It said something motivational like "When the going gets tough, the tough keep going." It's pretty cool that years later, I have met each of them at some point: Steve Jones here in Dalian, China and at the Rock 'N Roll Marathon in San Diego a couple years ago; Arturo Barrios at the Arturo Barrios 5km/10km that used to be held in Chula Vista; and Ed Eyestone at another Rock N' Roll event. Eyestone will also be one of the announcers of the Olympic 50km in Beijing next week. If only I had that poster and got them each to sign it for me....

One more track fantasy camp story.

I went to the Dalian horse track this morning where many of the distance runners and all of the racewalkers (all three of us) have been doing our morning workouts. On the inside of a one mile dirt horse track, there is a paved road. It measures 1350 meters and Terrence Mahon has marked every 200 meters around up to 3km. After the rains yesterday, the place had a horsey smell to it. I always feel very equestrian when I'm training there, or is the word I'm looking for "pedestrian"?

After a long warmup, I was doing some fartlek or speed play repeats on the paved loop. I don't normally go faster than 4:20/km in practice, but these were pretty short intervals so I was cruising at 4:10/km pace. The pace was quick but I was finally feeling better. My legs have felt good since I arrived, but my perceived rate of exertion has been high. My breathing and heart rate are stressed. Today, I felt fast and quick.

Then Deena went blazing past me. She was running mile repeats and cruising. Then Ryan Hall went by me like I was standing still. His stride is so long and smooth, effortless. When you see someone who has mastered his or her sport, it is such a beautiful thing. It's definitely humbling to think that I'm on the same team as these guys and competing in the same Olympics. Amazing awaits!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Heat Adaptation, or water water everywhere

One reason for coming over to China two weeks before my race is to adapt to the heat and humidity that I will face in Beijing during four hours of intense racewalking. San Diego gets warm but the humidity here makes it much more difficult for me to regulate my body temperature just by sweating. I have to train myself to take in enough fluids during the race to replace the fluids that I lose to sweat, evaporation and respiration. If I don't replenish the fluids, it can be disastrous. Even a fluid loss of 2% of my body weight can have a huge negative effect on my race.

The first step, then, is to determine how much fluid I lose during a typical hour of intense training. Thankfully, the resort has scales in the bathrooms. Right before leaving for yesterday's two hour workout, I weighed myself: 55.1 kg When I got back, I weighed only 54 kg. That's a difference of 1.1 kg or 2.4 lbs. But I also drank 4 1/2 20 ounces bottles of Vitalyte and water during the workout, which is another 5.6 lbs that I lost and replaced. 2.4 + 5.6 and I lost a total of 8.0 pounds during a two hour workout. At a rate of 4 lbs per hour, I need to drink 256 ounces of fluid over the course of a four hour 50km race. That's two gallons or 12.8 of my 20 ounce bottles. A lot of liquid.

Celebrity Camp in Dalian

Going to the Olympics is a dream that so many athletes share. Competing with the best in the world, walking into the Opening Ceremonies, wearing the red, white and blue of Team USA.... Well, there are other perks.

Let's go to training camp, Olympic-style.

Day one: You are met at the airport in Dalian by USA Track & Field officials, receive a short briefing while your luggage is loaded into a truck for you and you walk to an air-conditioned shuttle bus. You're thirsty, so there is water handed to you as you get on the bus. Sit down, notice that no one else is in this section of the airport parking lot except for Chinese security and police personnel. Two police cars escort your bus as it pulls out of the airport on to a road that is completely empty of cars, buses or trucks. All traffic in both directions has been stopped. You are driving down the main street of a city of five million people and there is no traffic. You don't stop at stoplights. You don't slow at intersections. You simply drive. You feel like the president.

Check in to your resort. You have your own room, queen-size bed, cable TV (though the BBC station is a bit fuzzy), and a view out over the Yellow Sea. Life is good. You wander down to the dining room of the hotel and are greeted by the chef. He is an American chef who teaches at a culinary institute in Colorado, caters for professional athletes, and knows that what you want right now more than anything is a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. And it's hot. And melty.

Day two: Eat a light breakfast in your room, stretch out a bit, and then take a short ride from the resort down the hill to the public beach access road. You are planning to walk two loops of the 11km road course that has been closed for you today. You've never been here before, but that's okay because you will be given a police escort for the entire workout. If you come to an intersection and don't know which way to go, a police office standing at the corner will direct you right or left. Every 100 or 200 meters, there will be a plainclothes security guard keeping watch over you. There is also a police escort that consists of three cars. One follows Ryan Hall as he begins his 17 mile tempo workout in preparation for the Olympic Marathon. The other moves between a group of Dathan Ritzhenheim, Deena Kastor and Jen Rhines. The third positions itself behind the racewalkers as you head down the road. There's a view of the beach and the Yellow Sea to the right, hotels and restaurants to the left. No cars. No bikes. When pedestrians step out into the road, security guards holler at them to get back on the sidewalk until after you have passed. At a few intersections, there are cars backed up waiting to cross. People out for a stroll crowd around the corner and cheer for you as you walk by. In English they yell, "Go go go!" Your USATF coach jumps out of the van every 20 minutes to hand you water or give you a fresh bottle of Vitalyte or a PowerGel.

You finish your workout, stretch out, get a ride back up the hill to the resort, shower, and then go to the training room. Your athletic trainer stretches you out, hands you a towel, and then you go sit in the ice bath for 15 minutes with Ryan and Dathan. You chat about Ryan's race at the London Marathon where he ran the second fastest time ever by an American. Dathan tells a funny story about a trip to Europe.

At lunch, you get more delicious food piled on to your plate and sit down with Ryan, Bernard Lagat, Jorge Torres and Ian Dobson. Someone asks Lagat what his workout is for the day and he says he's headed to the track in the afternoon to do a 1,000 meter time trial. His plan is to run 2:20. You do the math and realize, that's awfully fast. No wonder he won the World Championships last year in the 1500mt and 5000mt.

In the afternoon, you can take a nap, go for a swim in the pool, stroll over to the temple looking out over the ocean, or sign up for a massage. It's training camp, so you can also go out and do a workout. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

More Opening Ceremonies Insights

The Opening Ceremonies were HOT. And I'm not talking about the fireworks. I'm talking about sweaty, steamy, dress-shirt-stuck-to-my-back, wearing-a-plastic-bag-in-the-sauna HOT. But we looked so good, I didn't care. The outfits Polo Ralph Lauren gave us – blue blazer, white dress shirt, khaki pants, dock shoes, and what they call an "estate driving hat"– were really classy. The were so sharp, I almost cut myself!

Unfortunately, it was a hot, sticky night in the stadium. Some countries were dressed in tan blazers and they were actually soaked through with big sweat marks all over the armpits, shoulders, and back. The ride back to the Village in the bus was nice, kinda like a rolling locker room.

We left the Olympic Village as a team, all of the US athletes together in several buses, almost three hours before the Ceremonies started. Many of the athletes competing in the first couple days of the Games didn't walk: swimmers, cyclists, volleyballers. There were still a few hundred of us that rode to the fencing venue for a photo op with Presidents Bush Jr & Sr. Rather than individual photos, they tried to separate us into groups. While we milled about waiting for things to happen, most of the athletes chatted or got photos with some of the NBA stars that were there: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Tayshuan Prince. I was put in the group with the hurdlers, but check out the sign they had for us. Ooops. Looks like they gave me a 10km discount.

I don't watch enough basketball to care, so I talked with Anthony Famiglietti and some of the other distance runners. Fam is funny. He's got a good perspective on things. We talked politics for awhile, especially about the selection of the US flagbearer, Lopez Lomong. Fam was the one that suggested Lopez run in the 'election' for flagbearer. Each sport nominates one athlete and Lopez was the clear winner of the track & field delegation. In the second round of general voting, he won the honor of carrying the red, white and blue into the stadium.

Lopez is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. He escaped to Kenya at the age of six with several other boys, lived in refugee camps for 10 years, and immigrated to the US to live in a foster home. Bio on Lopez's home page (with quote from yours truly!) Good article in the LA Times. On the athletic side, one of the most remarkable things about Lopez is that his Olympic 1500mt race will be his first international race. He's never raced in anything but collegiate or domestic U.S. races... and now he's in the Olympics!

After I passed on the Bush photo op (like the NBA stars, I didn't care for a photo with him), we all walked over to the National Indoor Stadium where the gymnastics competitions are being held. All 204 countries were seated by country in the stands. It was quite the patchwork quilt of colors. Each delegation wore a different outfit: bright reds and yellows of China, silver blues of Australia, white robes and turbans of Saudi Arabia, blues and reds of Russia, green jackets of Pakistan....

When the Games officially began at 8:08pm local time, the US team was seated in the upper deck, sweating already, drinking water and eating from snack bags that had been passed out. While the drama of the Opening Ceremonies was unfolding next door in the Bird's Nest, the athletes were being gathered to begin the parade of athletes. Greece is always the first country to enter the stadium, an honor given to the country that hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896. We were number 140 out of 204. The countries were lined up in alphabetical order in the Chinese alphabet. As it was explained to me, the number of strokes in the Chinese character for the country's name determined the placement. So, in Chinese, "United States of America" isn't at the end of the alphabet, it's in the last third or so.

To organize things, the large video monitors were used to list the next country. Occasionally they would cut to the actual Opening Ceremonies for a few minutes and we would "Oooh and aaah" with the rest of the world watching at home on TV. Then they would cut to "Number 117, British Virgin Islands" and everyone in the stands would "Boooo!" Nothing personal, we just wanted to watch the ceremonies. Once we were called down, there was a huge backlog of countries and we shuffled and waited, shuffled and waited for a long time before we dropped down the ramp into the tunnel (it's the same tunnel that I will walk out of and back into for the finish of the 50km). I tried to line up near the right side where the cameras would be and I stayed near the women's softball team hoping that NBC focused on Jenny Finch and her teammates. So far, no one claims to have seen me, but Joanne Dow's husband saw her and we were close. We'll have to review the tape.

At my first Olympics in Sydney, I walked into the Opening Ceremonies expecting a huge emotional rush but it didn't happen. I was too nervous about my race or not in the moment. This time, I really let it sink in and thought of all the work it took to get here. I choked up a little bit waving at people in the stands. Shouting, smiling, screaming their lungs out, all the people in the stadium reminded me of all of you back home who have cheered for me or encouraged me along my journey. At one point, I took a real short break and just soaked it in. And then I kept walking, because that's what I do.

The rest of the Opening Ceremonies, standing and sweating (did I mention the sweating?), the lighting of the flame, the walk back out the tunnel to the buses and the ride to the Village is a bit of a blur. What sticks in my mind right now is that lap around the track. I'm looking forward to getting back onto that track for my race. Just twelve more days! Whoa!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I'm okay, I'm in Dalian

There's been some bad news here in China. Two American tourists were attacked at a popular Beijing tourist site early this afternoon. One of them died on the scene and the other is in critical condition. The attacker jumped to his death immediately after the attack.

I don't know if the local Chinese news stations are covering the story or not, but I'm sure it will be on in the US in the morning. Full story at Yahoo.

The USOC has asked us to tell everyone we are okay. "It was an isolated incident, a crazy person, not politically motivated, etc, etc." So, please, no worrying. This morning, I flew from Beijing to Dalian and am staying at a maximum security compound. No, wait, it's actually a fancy beach resort for the US Track & Field training camp, however the security here, even before today's incident in Beijing, has been very very tight. Even within the hotel, I was stopped and forced to go back to my room because I forgot my credentials when I went to lunch. And we are the only people staying in the hotel. The only other people here are hotel staff and Chinese security personnel. The hotel is 40 minutes from the Dalian airport and we had a police escort the entire way. Traffic ahead of us was forced off the road and at intersections, all cross traffic was stopped and backed up for blocks. Our manager said that we were being given the same kind of security details as a visiting head of state would receive.

In order to get in a long workout, I have to leave the compound (it really is a 'compound' with fencing and a security perimeter). There is a practice track 10 minutes from here by bus. Tomorrow, they are closing 7.5 miles of roadway along the waterfront for all of the distance athletes to use as a training site. I have to sign up for the shuttle to any training venues two days in advance which is going to be hard for me because I often decide what my workout will be the day before.

I'm going to write more about the Opening Ceremonies in a future post (and sneak in some photos), but for now I need to get some rest. It's been another busy day. I'm looking forward to a nice easy 22km workout tomorrow, a dip in the hotel pool, and a nap. Training camp: gotta love it!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Opening Ceremonies


I'm just getting back to the Olympic Village after an amazing Opening Ceremonies. It was a rush to walk into the National Stadium or Bird's Nest in front of over 90,000 spectators who roared when Team USA came out of the tunnel and onto the track. It was only louder when the Chinese delegation came out much later.

I thought it was appropriate that I walked in with the other two US racewalkers: Kevin Eastler and Joanne Dow. We didn't racewalk because we would have been going too fast for the NBC cameras to get good shots of us waving to all of our fans at home. In fact, it was the only time I've been in a stadium and had volunteers telling me to "Speed up already, you're slowing everything down."

If you want to see me on the telecast (which was broadcast live all over the world, except in the US thanks to NBC), look for Lindsey Davenport (I was right after the tennis players) and Jenny Finch (I was right before the women's softball team.) And I was on the side closest to the stands.

I won't spoil the secret of the lighting of the Olympic flame, but it was pretty awesome. Cathy Freeman lighting the flame in Sydney was more dramatic, but this was pretty creative, too.

It's almost 2am here in Beijing and I leave tomorrow morning at 8:15am from the village to the airport for Dalian. Off to bed. (I would post photos from the Opening Ceremonies but the IOC and USOC are being super-duper strict about what can be posted. If I follow the rules to the letter, I won't be able to post any photos from the Olympic Village, any Olympic venues, or of any athletes... so look for some rules to be broken shortly.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Team Processing

I'm just going to automatically insert "Another busy day..." at the beginning of each of my posts. Yesterday I was able to get through the US Olympic Team processing here at San Jose State University. They had advised us that we would be getting a LOT of gear, clothes, etc. They were not kidding. Oh... my... goodness....!

Grab a Home Depot shopping cart and join the fun.

Team USA article

Here is Joanna Dow checking out the t-shirts, polo shirts, tank tops, shorts......
Like every one else, Joanne and I were overwhelmed. We lost track of how many different items we were given. It's like Christmas!

And if the clothes didn't quite fit, there were professional tailors on-site to do alterations. They were especially concerned that the Polo Ralph Lauren outfits to be worn during Opening and Closing Ceremonies were fitting just right.

Four years ago, Roots was the sponsor and they gave us what looked like baggy pajamas to wear. It was embarassing. This time, we look sharp, dignified. We may be warm with our jackets and ties on, but we're gonna look good! And now when I go yachting in San Diego, I'll be dressed for it.

Me and my Olympic mannequin friends

Today, I was joined in my morning workout by Tyler and Nicolette Sorensen. They are awesome. I've been reading these great times from both of them this year and was really excited to see them walk and see what kind of potential they've got. They looked good. I was doing 2000mt repeats on a local track and they jumped in for a lap or two at a time and were cruising. In fact, I think they were going easy on me because I'm headed off to the Olympics and they didn't want to make me feel bad if they beat me. Until the last lap, when Nicolette went sprinting past me. I tell ya, kids these days don't respect their elders like they used to. :)

Tomorrow I'm off to Beijing. Time to drop off my luggage and ship some stuff home that I won't be taking with me to China. Dinner and then relax. Tomorrow is going to be another busy day. I'm going to the Olympics!