Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Twin Cities Registration Opens Thursday

The event itself is some 250 days away, but registration for this year's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon will open on Thursday.

The field for the Sunday, October 7 event is limited to 12,000 runners.

Also opening on February 2 is registration for the TC 10K, TC 5K, and Medtronic TC Family Events, held the Saturday before the marathon.

Last year the MTCM filled to capacity in mid-June, marking the 24th-straight year the event has reached its entrant limit.

Lottery registration for the Medtronic TC 10 Mile, will take place from July 11 through July 20.

Find more registration information HERE.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Two Gopher Men Run Fast 800s in Iowa

Gophers Harun Abda and David Pachuta ran the fastest times in the 800 in the US at the Bill Bergan Invitational at Iowa State on Saturday. Both times were NCAA Automatic Qualifying times.  Abda won the race in 1:46.97 and Pachuta was second in 1:46.98. The times are the fastest indoor times ever by University of  Minnesota runners.

Stillwater Sub-4--Jake Watson

By Jim Ferstle

Being the younger sibling had its advantages and disadvantages for Jake Watson.  Being six years younger allowed him to watch his older brother Luke and sister Carly have stand out careers in endurance sports at Stillwater.  But being the youngest also meant that there were limited resources when it came to choosing what sports he could pursue.

Instead of being able to try ball sports or hockey, which didn't fit in with his parents or siblings' schedules and transport options, Jake did cross country, cross country skiing, and track.  So instead of being a future Minnesota Twin or Minnesota Wild player, Jake followed in his older siblings' footsteps and excelled in running and skiing.  He got further help in that direction by one of his junior high teachers who noticed that "I was too hyper, so he had me run laps in the morning before school to burn off energy," said Jake.

The discipline and structure of sports put Jake's energy to good use.  "(Sports) helped keep me on track," said Jake.  "It was a huge benefit, especially the team element."  And he was good at it.  He not only excelled at running, but was also All State in cross country skiing. His sister, Carly, was a standout skier at UW Green Bay, and Jake followed Luke to a successful track and cross country career at Notre Dame, but it was the high school experience under coach Scott Christensen that gave him the tools for success, he says.

"I trusted Scott's training," said Jake.  "I brought the techniques I learned with me to college and used them there."

Christensen excelled at providing a structure and motivation for his athletes, said Watson.  Scott gave the athletes booklets every year that contained statistics on the Stillwater athletes' performances from each meet.  He had each athlete keep a training log so they could see what they were doing, what was working, what wasn't.  What they needed to keep improving.  All this provided structure and motivation for the athletes, said Watson.

"(Christensen) was a very talented motivator,"  Jake added.  "He could get you amped up to commpete."  Many of the sayings Christensen used Jake still remembers, from "Our program owns the last mile," to T shirts stenciled with the letter S for Stillwater with "The Machine"  overlaid on the S.  Or Scott's admonition to his runners: "I don't want anybody out there feeling sorry for themselves."  Or "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."

Things didn't always go smoothly, Watson remembers, as in the early years of Jake's tenure on the team, the athletes were "a bunch of screw offs,"  immature and in need of discipline and direction.  Christensen didn't as much come down hard on their transgressions as admonishing them for "not realizing their potential."  Using reinforcement for positive behavior to extinguish the exesses of youth.

Christensen was able to transform "a bunch of jokers" to a team that, as seniors all PRed while finishing runner-up at the State Meet, said Watson.  "We weren't happy to finish second, but we were satisfied that we all did the best that we possibly could(on that day)," said Watson.  "(Christensen said) You guys are going to go on and do whatever you do in liife, but you're always going to remember what you did here today...He had a very good way of putting things in perspective."

"Trust in your training," was a motto Christensen used to bolster their confidence.  "Never worry about time.  Never put yourself against the clock."  Scott wanted them to race, not time trial.  And if they weren't responding, he would use other techniques to get them going.  "You're dealing with teenagers," said Watson.  "Sometimes you had to light a fire under their butts to get them to reach their potential."

For athletes with the ability who might be experiencing doubt, he knew how to light that fire, said Watson.  "That's how I ran my PR at 800 and I got the school record," said Watson, who was up against another talented half miler who was a 400/800 runner, lots of speed, but not the endurance that Watson had from his mile/2-mile background.

"I was having doubts," said Watson.  "I'm a miler and this guy's got great speed.  Scott came up to me and said: 'I want you to bury that guy.  I want you to run that guy into the ground because you're a distance runner, you can tolerate more pain than he can.'

"So that's what I did and all during the last 200, I'm in pain thinking, 'I can take more pain.'  It worked."

That focus on a tactic served Jake well when he broke 4 in the mile in June of 2007, he said.  He was running in the featured "pro" mile at the Music City Distance Carnival in Nashville.  He didn't go into it thinking sub-4.  He went into it to race.  But the race had been set up to enhance the runners chances to run fast with pacesetters who took them through on 4-minute pace. Luke was there at the track, as he was coaching Jake at the time, and Jake's mother and his aunt flew in for the race without telling Jake they were coming.

They came through 3/4 in 2:58/59, Jake remembers, and Luke was there beside the track with 200 to go yelling at Jake that all he had to do was finish it off.  Jake finished third and broke 4.  And he had his family there to celebrate.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dilling Fourth at US Open

Jim Dilling finished fourth in the high jump at the US Open track meet in New York Saturday night with a jump of 7" 2.5"(2.2m). US World champion Jesse Williams won the competition with a leap of 7' 6"(2.29m).

Stillwater Sub-4--Sean Graham

By Jim Ferstle
The 1997 Stillwater boys cross country team dubbed "The Magnificant Seven"  by a local sportswriter. Sean Graham, Luke Watson, Greg Wikelius, Chris Boldt, Jon Francis, Joel Solomonson, and Pete Prince won the school's third consecutive state cross country title and were voted the number one ranked team in the country in a USA Today/Harrier poll.

"The training group that we had," said Graham.  "To say second to none wasn't even close. There was Luke and myself and three to five guys that were right there as well. Then there was Scott (Christensen, the coach). I'd say 90 to 95 percent (of our success) was due to his ability to develop us...There was a training atmosphere, a culture.  We were out there to win.  The fun came along with that.  What Scott did to get us prepared.  He set us up for being successful. He knew how to get us ready. The group that we had had a lot of different personalities, but we clicked.  There was no ego, we all worked for the team."

Graham had been a "B level" soccer player in elementary school until he went to a meet to watch his older sister run.  She started running track in the 8th grade, said Graham. She won the race that Sean observed, and he was hooked.  "I can do that," Sean remembers thinking after her race.  "It encouraged me to come out (for track and cross country).  I enjoyed it and kept improving.  It's hard not to have fun when you're successful.

"When you're that young, you're looking for things to gravitate towards (that you can be successful at).  But at the beginning I was thinking that I could beat my sister."  As he recounts his career, All American rankings in high school and college, ranked as high as fifth in the 5K in the US, Olympic Trials finalist, Graham believes that not only was he successful in running, but the lessons he learned in how to attain that success helped him in all aspects of his life.

"I was talking to my boss the other day and I said that really most of the things I did were influenced by my running," said Graham.  "I chose my college because of the running program.  When I went back to school (to get an advanced degree), I chose a place where I could do coaching.  When you started off in that kind of atmosphere(that they had at Stillwater), it sets you up for things later in life. It was a remarkably rewarding experience."

Running a sub-four minute mile in May of 2007 was just icing on the cake for Graham.  "(Running sub-four) was certainly on the wish list,"  Graham said  "It was pretty remarkable to actually do it.  You have to run a sub-four now, just to qualify for the NCAA championships.  I think when I did it, I was the 292nd American to have broken four."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stillwater Sub 4--Luke Watson

By Jim Ferstle
"I owe everything I ever did in running to the foundation I got at Stillwater High School," said Luke Watson, the first of four Ponies to dip under the four-minute mark in 2003. "Scott (Christensen, the Stillwater coach) is one of the best coaches in the world at any level."

The year before Watson had "knocked on the door" of a sub-four, running 4:01 and 4:00+ outdoors and a 3:58 1,600 meter leg in a relay, but didn't get it. Then at the Meyo Mile, an indoor meet at Notre Dame, he won the race and broke four for the first time.

"At the time I think there were only five Minnesotans who had (run a sub four)," said Watson.  "You have to think of American distance running back in the '90s.  Back then a sub four minute mile was pretty rare.  I was thrilled (to have done it).  It still puts you in a little elite club.  When people ask you about running, they have three questions: 'How fast do you run a mile.  Have you run a marathon, and have you been in the Olympics.'"

Even people who are not sports fans can relate to the sub-four minute mile, says Watson.  He had thought about doing it one day, but in high school it was a far off goal.  Then a great time was anything around 4:10, but many of those 4:10 high schoolers from the state went on to break four in college or beyond, notes Watson.  "One of the neat things about Minnesota in general is it has produced a lot of sub four minute milers."

One of the reasons, he says, is the quality of the coaches in the state.  "When I was coaching at Edina that was one of the things that impressed me was the number of great coaches in the state."  The guy who set the standard for greatness for Watson was Christensen.  "(Stillwater) had a bunch of committed athletes who really bought into Scott's system.  He really prepared us well. When we went to the starting line we had so much confidence.  The more I learn about the sport, the more I've learned how importance confidence is.

"A lot of it was erasing those doubts (that most athletes often carry into a race) .  If you don't do that some of those doubts can be a big deal.  One of the things he did to boost are confidence was what we called the 'secret workout.'  It was a workout we would do, not before every race, but a couple times a year. We always came out of the secret workout feeling great. It always gave us confidence that we were prepared for the challenge."

"I can't tell you exactly what Scott did to get us peaking at the right time, but we just felt like we were the best team going into (a race).  Scott was a good manager of the emotional stability of the team.  He kept people on an even keel, not cocky, just the right amount of  confidence, self belief.  One of the things he used to say was that 'you had to immerse yourself in the present to get where you want in the future.'"

Focus. Concentrate on the task ahead. "Scott would individualize workouts right down to every person on the team.  He would have charts up on the wall on what you had to do if you wanted to reach a certain goal.  What pace you had to run in workouts.  It was very compartmentalized into what you can do today."

The quality of the competition around the state was also important, said Watson.  "We always went to the biggest meets.  Scott put the schedule together to compete against the best.  You always knew (that to be the best) you had to outperform those guys.  Our successes gave us confidence."

Christensen was also able to manage a team full of talented athletes so that the competition was against other teams, not teammates.  The rest of the guys, such as Sean Graham, another of the sub four club, were great training partners, said Watson, more than great rivals.  Individual success was not sought at the expense of the team, but as a contribution to the team's achievements.  Reflective of that is Watson's attitude toward the achievements of Stillwater's four-minute group.

Watson sees the teams' successes  not so much as their individual or collective accomplishments, but rather a reflection Christensen's program and what he taught them.  "When Ben (Blankenship, the most recent Pony alumni to break four) did it, we sent some e-mails around wondering about how it compared with other schools.  Scott did some research and found out that we had the most with Eugene South second with three.  We were proud of that mostly for Scott.  We like to see him succeed.  We're happy for his successes."

As a demonstration of that, they organized a reunion of Stillwater alumni in August last year.  Around 50 guys showed up, 30 ran in the 5K they held during the reunion.  "We had this alumni reunion for Scott.  All of the sub four guys showed up."

Not an insignificant effort as Watson is currently at Penn State University finishing up a five year program for a PhD in accounting, Graham is in Washington, DC, and Luke's younger brother Jake is working in LA.  But they all came home to honor the guy who made it all possible, Scott Christensen.
Photo by Gene Niemi
St. Thomas University senior Ben Sathre demonstrated last Saturday what his coach Pete Wareham already knew.  Sathre is a talent in the midst of a breakthrough year, having already won the NCAA Division III cross country title, Ben is now focused on track.  Below he talks about his start in the sport, the race at the Jack Johnson Classic, and the future.

Down the Backstretch: You didn’t start running until your junior year at Chaska. What were you doing prior to that? Why did you get into running?

Ben Sathre: I didn't do anything prior to running in high school. I played football until seventh grade, but didn't do much else. I got into running because my sister, Stephanie Sathre, was pulling me out. She was a pretty good runner for Chaska back in her day, and I guess everyone thought I would be good too. She tried unsuccessfully to get me out, but I really didn't want to. The idea of running to me did not sound like fun. Somehow she eventually got me out.

DTB: Now that you have a national championship “under your belt,” what are your goals for indoor and outdoor seasons?

BS: My goals have always been to see what I'm capable of and also to show others what I'm capable of. I want to see how high I can climb, and also want to show others that I deserve be there. This year, my goals are to stay healthy and learn to run more relaxed. I set goals of working on improvement, and  I'll see where that can take me. Last year I messed up my hamstring early and suffered most of indoor season before a stress fracture took me out for outdoors.  I don't want a repeat of last year. I guess if you were looking for more quantitative goals,  I'd like to be in the 3:45 range for 1500 and 13:50 range for 5000 meters.

DtB: You were low mileage in high school and have brought it up in college. How has that adjustment been as you only had two years of high school running to get your body used to the work?

BS: Surprisingly the adjustment from low mileage in high school to higher mileage in college has been quite easy. I just increased by about 15 miles per week each year and ended up around high 80's and Pete (Wareham)  keeps telling me I can't go higher than 90, so I leave it at that, but no problems adjusting really.

DtB: Your coach says that you are very tough mentally. It’s one of your strengths. Where does that positive, never-give-up attitude come from? The self confidence?

BS: The positive attitude is something I grew up with. I encountered a lot of obstacles as a kid, and life taught me that the only way to get anywhere in this world was to just pick yourself up and keep going. And Keep going. And Keep going.

If something doesn't work the first time, you just work a little harder and try again until it does work. Sometimes you don't have any other option. I've seen how much a difference it makes in life if you give that extra little effort. I try to surround myself with that idea and keep it in my head that way. If you surround yourself with positive role models who have fought hard for what they want, then you start to believe that you can do it to.

On race day, confidence comes from knowing you put in the work. Do what you are supposed to do and then do a little more. And then a little more. Last spring Pete was having me do workouts on a stationary bike when I couldn't run. We'd do a 15 minute all out or 60 minutes all out, and we had to burn a certain amount of calories in that time. I did that all summer too.

When I toed the line at nationals I knew I had put in the work and deserved the win. I set the St. Thomas record for most calories burned in one hour (1023) and 15 minutes (318) on the stationary bikes.

DtB: How do you approach a race like the 3K at the Jack Johnson meet? Do you have a specific time goal? A race strategy on how you think the race will go and what you need to do? Do you get intimidated by the competition or inspired to meet the challenge?

BS: My goal in the race was to hang with Mead as long as possible. I knew he would probably be around 8:00 to 8:05 and I felt confident that I could run that. I didn't have a time goal or anything and the 3000m isn't run in D III so I didn't have much riding on it. I just wanted to see what I could do.

It's tough to say. I wasn't really intimidated going into the race. I time trialed a 3000 on our track last fall after cross, and ran 8:16 in training flats all by myself and felt comfortable.  I knew I could go considerably faster, and so I had a lot of confidence. At the same time though, standing at the starting line I was a little shocked to be there next to Hassan Mead. I've followed his career for years, and I fully respect him and his abilities, and to be standing there and running with him was a little shocking to me.

DtB: How did the race play out for you? About like you thought it would go or did something surprise you?

BS: The race was about what I expected. I was thinking I'd be around 8:05 or so, but I was happy with the result. I didn't really prepare that much for the race. I didn't taper or rest up for it, so I wasn't expecting a perfect race and probably could have gotten a little bit more out of myself, but I was happy to start the season on a good note.

DtB: What did you learn from the race? Tactics? About yourself/ About what you have to do to improve,etc.?

BS: The thing I take away most from this race is that I feel like I can put myself on a different level. I felt like I was improving quite a bit, but to have that evidence is a boost to the confidence and allows me to think of my racing ability differently. To improve I think I have to stick my nose in there more than I did. My goal like I said was to sit there and run a quick time. I was more in a time trial mood than a race mood like I would be at nationals or conference.

DtB: You may be moving up in distance. How do you feel about the longer races, especially the 10K. Do you see them as your future?

BS: I'm not the fastest runner, and I don't have a huge kick so I would say that my future is in the longer distances. I don't understand Pete and his philosophy. Pete has never let me run 10K.  He always throws me in the 5000 and 3000 and 1500. He doesn't want me doing high mileage or long runs or anything that most other long distance runners do. I guess he is just trying to be careful with me since I don't have that high mileage background.

I don't know how I'll fare in 10,000 races, but I feel that I'll do even better than I do at 5000 and 1500 because I'm definitely better suited for longer distances, and I could see that in high school when I was running 9:36 for 3200 but couldn't break 4:30(for 1,600) or 2:04(for 800).

DtB: What are your plans for post-collegiate running? Try and get with a pro group?

BS: I would love to get with a pro training group. I love running and competing, and I feel like I have a lot more to offer to the sport. I don't know if it will happen though, because I don't have a proven record, and I havent done the kind of high mileage that most pros do. I'm thinking about running the half marathon at Grandma's in Duluth this summer to see if I can potentially make it as a distance runner post college. If it doesn't work out, I'll just move on with my life.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Little History

By Jim Ferstle
At the Jack Johnson Classic on Satruday I had a chance to visit with a lot of old friends, people I hadn't seen for awhile. One of them was Rick Recker. If you've been at many running or track events in Minnesota, you either know or have seen Rick. He's been a jack of all trades--a runner, race official, course measurer, officer for MDRA, USATF. Rick knows everybody and/or they know him.

During our brief conversation he asked: Did you know that four Stillwater High School guys had run sub-four minute miles? I didn't. Which, among other things, indicates that I don't know everything, and I don't read high school news releases or I would have dicovered this long ago. Just look HERE.

And, as Rick probably knew, this is one of those factoids that inspire articles from guys like me. So I began educating myself. I talked to Stillwater's coach, Scott Christensen, an anatomy and biology teacher at the school for "32 years," he says with a bit of pride and wonderment. He has been a coach at the school since 1981. Scott said that when now Gopher runner Ben Blankenship became the fourth Stillwater grad to run sub-four, the kids were curious where this accomplishment ranked among the other US high schools. Doing a little research, Christensen discovered that Stillwater was number one, ahead of another high school with a storied tradition in distance running, Eugene(OR) South that has three sub-four alumni.

I got in touch with the first Stillwater grad to break four in the mile, Luke Watson, who is now in the fourth of a five year PhD program in accounting at Penn State University. It was a conversation that stretched probably around an hour and at the end I noted that the telling of this Stillwater story was not going to fit in a short item. It's a lot like another story I did last year on a trio of guys from Hammond High School in Indiana who are still the only trio of high school runners to have run under 9 minutes for two miles in the same year in high school. Every time I talked to one of these guys there was another great piece of information, a rich history that accompanied the accomplishment that attracted attention.

During my conversation with Luke I recounted my own experience arriving in Minnesota in the summer of 1972 and being impressed by the Minnesota running community. The fact that it stretched from high school programs that taught the young to a Masters running community that not only gave back by work at races, but allowed older athletes to continue to enjoy the old ABC Wide World of Sports tag line: "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition." My first journalism job out of college was at the White Bear Press where I was the sports editor and darkroom technician.

There, among others, I met the track and cross country coaches at White Bear and Mariner High Schools--Ron Sass, Don Glover, Lyle Helke. Got to know that part of the Minnesota running community. Watched the Mariner girls win the State High School XC championship, but perhaps more memorably observed them singing and dancing, the radio blaring the music at full blast, in between events at track meets. I remember and still have photos of a young Mark Nenow, who ran for Anoka, winning the state cross country individual race. Mark went on to become the American recordholder for 10,000 meters on the track and now is a VP at the Columbia sportswear company in Oregon.

My first Minnesota track meet at the Macalester Track I met a seemingly crusty old guy named Pat Lanin and discovered over time how much the then high school coach at Hopkins contributed to the running community in his various volunteer jobs with the MDRA, USATF, and beyond. Became friends with Jeff Winter who directed most of the major road races in the area. Followed the example of the Masters guys, such as Paul Noreen, Bill Andberg, Alex Ratelle, Rick Kleyman, who demonstrated that running is a lifetime sport.

But what impressed me most was the generosity of the other runners in the area from Ron Daws, Steve Hoag, Garry Bjorklund, John Naslund, Chuck Burrows, Garret Tomczak, Don Timm, Bruce Mortenson, Doug Suker, Steve Benson, Dennis Barker, and others whose names I apologize for missing. They accepted a total stranger from Ohio with open arms and encouragement. All we had in common was running, but that was enough. And it wasn't just the men. There was Alex Boies, Pat Weisner, Judy Lutter, Jan Arenz, Emily Lanin, Mae Horns, Gloria Jansen, and, more recently, Pat Goodwin and Virginia Brophy Achman, who played huge roles in the development and advancement of the sport.

But those are other stories, and for the next few days, probably, I'll be telling the tale of the Ponies. It's a story of more than four guys, who happened to run fast, and their coach. I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yes/No: Jim Dilling over 7-3 at U.S. Open?

The USA Track and Field's Visa Championship Series returns in 2012 with the U.S. Open.  The meet will be held at the venerable Madison Square Garden and feature such luminaries as Bernard Lagat, David Oliver, Asafa Powell and Jenn Suhr.

Former Minnesota State-Mankato athlete Jim Dilling will kick off his indoor season by competing against Jesse Williams, Dusty Jonas and Jamie Nieto in the high jump.  Dilling, the 2007 USA Track and Field Champion is gearing up for a season which he hopes will culminate in a berth in the Olympic Games this summer.

Tell us what height Dilling will reach in New York...

Yes/No: Will Jim Dilling jump 7-3 or higher at the U.S. Open on January 28th?

Dilling has jumped 7-6 1/2 both indoors and outdoors in his career.  In 2011, he finished sixth in the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships with a jump of 7-5 3/4.  After graduating from Minnesota State - Mankato, Dilling trained at Kansas State University with his coach.  This year, Dilling returned to Mankato to pursue a master's degree and coach the Mavericks' high jumpers.

In case a slam dunk contest breaks out at the meet, smart money will be placed on Dilling to dominate.  If you don't believe us, check out this video HERE.

To play our game, simply type "yes" or "no" into the subject line of an e-mail and send it to us at DtBFantasy [AT] gmail [DOT] com before 6:00 P.M. CDT, Saturday, January 28th. Please put your answers in the subject line of the e-mail and make sure your full name appears somewhere in the e-mail. 

My answer: No

Last week's question was:  Will Chris Rombough and/or Hassan Mead break 8:10 in the 3000 meters at the Jack Johnson Invitational?  The answer was yes.  Both runners were comfortably under 8:10 in their first track races of the year.  Almost everyone answered this correctly and there are currently thirty-eight contestants tied for first place in the overall standings.

For all the results, please visit DtB Fantasy Corner, HERE.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Anatomy of a Race

By Jim Ferstle
At every meet, there is usually a marquee event, one that is selected from all the rest to be the most anticipated contest or having the potential for the best result. Such was the men's 3,000 meters at this year's Jack Johnson Classic at the University of Minnesota Fieldhouse on Saturday.

One aspect that made it special, noted one of the race officials, was that it was probably Hassan Mead's last indoor race at "the Barn," as the fieldhouse is affectionately known, as a Gopher. Mead has a special place in the hearts of Gopher track fans, not only for the talent he possesses, but also for the obstacles he has overcome. When Mead won a fast 5,000 meter race at Stanford several years ago, he appeared to be ready to contend with the best in the country, and/or a place on a future Olympic team, thus joining the luminous cast of University of Minnesota alumni who went on to make their mark in US distance running.

A seemingly ordinary leg injury that failed to heal threw a temporary wrench into Mead's rise, but just when he seemed to be ready to get back into the fray, he encountered a life threatening event, not your typical running injury setback, a collapsed lung. He battled back from those obstacles, and this year won the NCAA regional cross country individual title. He's built on that entering what will be his last season as a Gopher, hoping to regain his past form.

With the season still young, Mead was not in peak shape, but University men's track and cross country coach Steve Plasencia could see that he was, perhaps, ready to run fast last weekend. To increase the chance of that happening, Plasencia, a man who doesn't overlook the many small details that often go into creating outstanding performances, began to put the pieces together. He let it be known that Mead appeared to be in shape to run well this weekend.

He changed the schedule of events at the meet to put the 3K in a better spot on the program, so that the crowd would be there to witness and cheer the athletes, that they could become a part of the race by helping to will the runners to new heights. So, right after Goldy Gopher warmed up the crowd with a "sprint race" with kids. Goldy getting down on his stomach to crawl the final meters, while one of the kids who walked next to Goldie with a look of concern fearing that the oversized rodent was indeed in distress, but ultimately relieved as Goldy put up his paw for a high five with the child.

Meanwhile, Plasencia was moving around the track, talking to race officials making sure all was set for the 1 PM race start time. Plasencia brought former Gopher and US Olympic Trials marathon sixth place finisher, Andrew Carlson, onto the infield as Carlson was serving as the honorary starter for the 3K. The preparations finished, Plasencia stood anxiously at the top of the straightaway, a stopwatch in each hand, ready to monitor the action.

Sean Olson, a senior middle distance runner at the U from Menomonie, WI, was given the job of pacemaker. Chris Rombough, a former Gopher who now runs for Team USA Minnesota and holds the meet record for the event, and NCAA Division III XC champion, Ben Sathre of St. Thomas were in the field to challenge Mead.

Photo by Gene Niemi
The plan was to start by running 64 second quarters for as long as possible and take the race from there. Olson kept them on pace through 800 meters, but then the pace started to slide. They went through the mile in 4:20, ran 2:10 for the next half, and the race was on. Mead with his elegant, silky-smooth stride kept in control launching a final quarter of 60 seconds to leave Rombough nearly three seconds back, with Sathre a step behind Rombough, as Hassan moved around lapped runners and flashed past the finish in 8:03.84.

"We wanted to go through the mile in under 4:20 and take it from there," said Mead. "You really need two pacemakers to do (what they were trying to do)." Mead was given a bouquet of flowers and announced to the crowd as he did an abbreviated lap of honor after the race. The overflow crowd in the stands, which included area distance running luminaries, such as former Boston Marathon runner up Steve Hoag, 1976 US Olympic trials fourth place finisher Don Timm, NCAA steeplechase champion Bruce Mortenson, former U of M track and cross country coach Roy Griak, and 1988 Olympic marathon trials winner Rod DeHaven, who now coaches at South Dakota State, among others, gave him a round of applause.

The appreciative audience got what they came for and went away hoping for more thrills in the future from the 3K protagonists--Mead, Rombough, and Sathre--who will seek to build on their accomplishments on Saturday as they face the challenges of the Olympic year ahead.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Magic of the Mile

"The mile is magic," says Ryan Lamppa. "It's America's distance." Lamppa believes that this and other attributes make the mile an ideal vehicle for promoting the sport of running.

Last week the Bring Back the Mile Campaign was launched with an e-mail blast to the media and a website www.bringbackthemile,com. The seed that sprouted this idea came to Lamppa ten years ago when he was working out at the local track in his hometown of Santa Barbara, California. The track is right next to the ocean in a climate that is conducive to running any distance year round.

Lamppa is Running USA's media director and was one of the people behind the development of the Running USA teams that have transformed American distance running over the past decade(the idea was officially launched in the Fall of 2000). Initially his thought was to put on a mile race on the track in Santa Barbara. The more he thought about it, the more it became clear that a single event, no matter how successful, only had a sort of "the circus comes to town" impact in that the event is like a traveling circus that comes goes quickly through a community, only leaving a small footprint.

"I want something bigger," Lamppa thought. "I want it to have a 'spill over' effect." So a single mile race becomes a series of races. To broaden the campaign further there would also be an effort to return the mile to high school meets, which now run 1,600 meter races, a hybrid distance that is neither a mile nor a metric mile that is run in the Olympics. Lamppa knew he couldn't do this alone so he began talking to people inside and outside the sport about his idea. About what to call it, what elements would make it work, and how to get it done.

He was encouraged by the enthusiasm others expressed about the concept. "When I asked people: 'What do you think?' They would respond: 'How can I help? What can I do?'" He hired a marketing person to help him craft his message. He solicited support from some of the top names in the sport, past and present, two of whom have Minnesota ties.

Steve Holman, the former Minnesota state high school champ from Richfield High School, and Carrie Tollefson, the Minnesota Olympian, both jumped on board. And the list of supporters is not just runners, but agents, coaches, journalists, and a former US Congressman from Kansas, who was also a former World Recordholder in the mile and 1,500 meters, Jim Ryun.

Lamppa's pitch is simple, to elevate and celebrate the mile, the American event. Everybody knows what a mile is, says Lamppa, not just runners. It's short enough that anybody can participate in a mile event without a huge commitment to the training for the event. It's a TV friendly distance and the four-minute mile still has status, a universal cache that is recognized by those inside and outside the sport.

The timing for launching such a push is now, said Lamppa. Two US runners--Jenny Simpson, who won the women's metric mile, and Matt Centrowitz Jr., who was third in the men's race, at the IAAF World Championships last year. Morgan Uceny was ranked the number one female miler/1,500 meter runner for 2011 by Track & Field News. All of this illustrates that US middle distance runners are among the best in the world. 17 US high school boy milers ran under 4:10 in the mile last year, said Lamppa, the most ever to run that fast in a single season.

Add to that the fact that February 10 is the 50th anniversary of America's Jim Beatty becoming the first man to run under four minutes indoors and other similar historic milestones and you have messages that can not only generate media interest, but there is a chance to "get people excited about the mile again," says Lamppa. There are other tie ins, such as the First Lady, Michelle Obama's, program to attempt to reverse the obesity trend in children. What better way than to get them exercising using running a mile as an early goal in such a program? adds Lamppa.

All of these elements are the foundation of a broad platform that can be used to elevate and celebrate the mile, he says. Lamppa also envisions, in the near future, nationally televised mile races that generate interest, money, and the increase the popularity of the event, as well as the image of the sport.

These projects are focused on the US now, but can be extended to other countries with rich histories with the mile, such as England, Ireland, Scandinavia, New Zealand, and Australia.
New Balance, for example, just launched The British Miler Campaign with a preview screening of a documentary, the trailer for which can be viewed HERE. It is a promotion for the rich history for the event in the UK as well as UK New Balance athletes currently competing in the event.

Just as it took some time for the seed that was planted in Lamppa's mind ten years ago grow into the flower that is just beginning to bloom, this project will not transform things overnight, but over time. The 'building blocks" for this project are there, Lamppa believes, knowing that the race to make it happen is more of a marathon than a mile.

"I am the mile" is one of the themes. So if you see people holding up signs with that slogan, wearing T-shirts with it stenciled on the front, or the words up on billboards, you'll get the message. The mile is our distance, says Lamppa. It's time to reclaim it, and return it to its proper place in the sporting firmament.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Kampf Sets Meet Record in Mile; Mead Wins 3K

Two Gophers, one former and one current, were among the outstanding performers at the Jack Johnson Classic that finished its two day run at the University of Minnesota Field House on Saturday. In the 3K, Gopher Hassan Mead(8:03.84) outkicked former teammate, now Team USA Minnesota runner, Chris Rombough(8:06.70) and St. Thomas University's Divison III NCAA XC champ Ben Sathre, who finished third(8:07.02)

Former Gopher Heather Kampf, now running for Team USA Minnesota, set a new meet record in the mile with a time of 4:41.5. Other women's meet records fell to Olimpia Nowak of Northern Iowa in the 60m hurdles(8.44), while North Dakota State’s 4x400 relay team set a new Fieldhouse record with a time of 3:48.00. For the men, Nike's Derek Miles in the pole vault(18' 1.25"); and Gophers Harun Abda in the 600(1:16:38)and David Pachuta in the 800m(1:49.9) also set new Classic records.

In the team competition, Minnesota swept the men's and women's team titles. The Gopher women took the top three spots in the 60m dash and 800m run, to top the standings with 190 points. North Dakota State (120), South Dakota (105), Northern Iowa (85.5) and South Dakota State (52) rounded out the top five. For the men, Minnesota scored 202 points, followed by Northern Iowa(94), North Dakota State(79), South Dakota State(64), and South Dakota(59).

Chimerem Okoroji (7.52), Chidera Obasih (7.60) and Sasha Davis (7.64) took the top three spots the 60m, while Heather Brunn (2:14.07), Katie Hill (2:14.07) and Megan Smith (2:14.89) swept the 800m. In the women's 3K, Minnesota swept the top two spots with Rachel Drake (9:44.58) and Molly Kayfes (9:47.61). Stephanie Price(4:50.75) and Laura Docherty(4:55.65) placed second and third behind Kampf in the mile.

Gopher men's winners included: Cameron Boy in the 200m(21.92); Micah Hegerle in the Weight throw(20.356m/66' 9.75"), Trey Davis in the shot put(17.64m/57' 10.5"), Oladipo Fagbemi in the Triple Jump(15>03m/49' 3.75"), Kevin Bradley in the 400m(48.48), and the men's 4 by 400 relay(3:15.30).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jack Johnson Classic Underway

Day one of the Jack Johnson Classic results are HERE. Live results for tomorrow will be there as well. Heat sheets and more info for Saturday's races for the women are HERE, the men HERE.

Who Is Jack Johnson?

He has a race, an indoor meet, a scholarship fund named in his honor, but who was Jack Johnson? Why is this weekend's indoor track meet at the University of Minnesota named after him?

If you were a University of Minnesota athlete in the 30 years prior to 2006, that's probably an easy question to answer, but for the rest of us, it's not. Jack Johnson was a beloved person in the University athletic family. For three decades he worked as an equipment manager for the athletic department, starting off there as a student trainer and rising to the role of equipment manager for the women's teams at the University.

"He was a Mounds View high school guy," said Steve Plasencia, the men's track and cross country coach at the U. "Single, never married, the kids in the program here were his family. There's a great picture of Jack that I still see around the office. He's out on the cross country course, foot up on the oak tree(see photo)."

"He was a good friend of mine and my wife," said Garry Wilson, the women's cross country coach at the U. "Jack did everything he possibly could for the team."

That included, said Plasencia, action above and beyond the call of duty at events such as the 2000 NCAA Championship meet at Iowa State University in Ames. The temperatures were frigid with a strong wind that was in the runners' faces at the start of the race, said Plasencia. It was so bad that Plasencia had to take one of his runners into the shower room after the race and hold him up under the hot water until he thawed.

Near the end of the finish chutes Johnson was running around handing out parkas and hand warmers for the Gopher runners. For Jack it was just part of the job. It was the sort of selfless behavior that endeared him to the teams. "He didn't have any immediate family. The kids were his family," said Wilson. In his first year at the equipment job, he was asked if he wanted to go along with the Gopher football team to the Rose Bowl. Let somebody else go, Jack said, I'll go the next time, Wilson laughingly remembers the selfless gesture, noting that the Gophers have not returned to the Rose Bowl since then.

And Jack was an "adopted" member to the Wilson family as well. Wilson recalls one incident of many when the boat they were out in sprung a leak and sank.

Wilson's wife and Jack were on the boat as it was going down and Jack couldn't swim. Wilson got him into a life jacket and all three made it to shore, even though the boat did not survive. In September of 2005 when Jack was diagnosed with cancer, Wilson and his wife, brought Jack to their home. They took care of Jack as the illness progressed ultimately taking his life on February 15, 2006.

Wilson didn't stop there in taking care of his friend. While Jack was still alive a scholarship fund was set up in Jack's name at the University. Seven U of M athletes so far have benefited from that fund. It's partially funded through Jack's Run a cross country race named after Johnson. The funds from that race go to the scholarship, the Angel Foundation, and the Tesfa Foundation.

Then there is this weekend's meet. Becky Bohm, a former associate director of athletic communications at the University of Minnesota, says that Wilson has been particularly attentive to honoring individuals at the school, such as Jack or former U of M women's runner Rocky Racette, who was killed in a tragic car accident. Jack's Run, Rocky's Run are both things he championed that keep the memory alive of those who had an impact on the University programs.

Wilson even made sure that Jack got an M award, which meant a U of M letter jacket. Jack was particularly proud of that, said Bohm. In fact, she recalls, that Jack was buried wearing the jacket. Just the way Jack would have wanted it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jack Johnson Classic Meet Schedule

In case you've had trouble finding it, here is the schedule of events for the Jack Johnson Classic meet at the University of Minnesota Fieldhouse.

WOMEN’S LONG JUMP: 1 Flight—9 to Finals
5:00PM MEN’S LONG JUMP: 2 Flights-9 to Finals
6:00PM WOMEN’S 5,000m
6:30PM WOMEN’S 200M (7 HEATS)
6:55PM MEN’S 200M (7 HEATS)

MEN’S WEIGHT THROW—2 Flights-9 go to Finals--
WOMEN’S WEIGHT THROW—1 Flight-9 to Finals—Will start 30 Minutes after Men’s Weight
MEN’S SHOT PUT--1 Flight—9 to Finals—Will start 30 Minutes after Women’s Weight
WOMEN’S SHOT PUT—1 Flight-9 to Finals—Will start 30 Minutes after Men’s Shot
11:30AM MEN’S TRIPLE JUMP—1 Flight-9 to Finals
WOMEN’S TRIPLE JUMP: 2 Flights-9 to Finals
1:00PM MEN 3,000M (HEAT #1)
2:55PM WOMEN 600M (3 HEATS)
3:10PM MEN 600M (3 HEATS)
3:25PM WOMEN 400M (5 HEATS)
3:45PM MEN 400M (5 HEATS)
4:05PM WOMEN 800M (3 HEATS)
4:25PM MEN 800M (2 HEATS)
4:35PM WOMEN 3,000M (2 HEATS)
5:05PM MEN 3,000M (HEAT #2)
5:20PM MEN MILE (HEAT 2 & 3)
5:55PM MEN 4 X 400M RELAY (3 HEATS)

Peter Snell: Olympic Champion, Sports Scientist, Lydiard Coached

Many might not be aware that the Twin Cities has many ties to the legendary New Zealand distance running coach, Arthur Lydiard. Nobby Hashizume is a co-founder of the Lydiard Foundation along with Olympic medalist and former Twin Cities resident Lorraine Moller of New Zealand, an organization dedicated to keeping alive the legacy of Lydiard and spreading the message of his training principles. Their website www.lydiardfoundation.org is under reconstruction right now, but should be back up in a couple of weeks, says Hashizume. For now runners can access their training program site HERE.

To read more about the practical and scientific issues with Lydiard's program, a feature on Peter Snell, one of Lydiard's athletes who went on to a career in exercise physiology/sports science go HERE.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Yes/No: Rombough versus Mead at U of M

During this cold stretch in Minnesota, an indoor track is worth its weight in gold.  The University of Minnesota put theirs to good use in January with back-to-back weekends of meets at the Fieldhouse.  Last week, the Gophers dusted off their track spikes and hosted the Northwest Open.  They are following that up with the second meet of the year—the Jack Johnson Invitational.

The Team USA Minnesota crew has been in the news lately since so many of their athletes ran well in Houston last week for the Olympic Marathon Trials.  But this group has achieved success at shorter races as well—A trio of runners will open up their 2012 track campaign at Jack Johnson.

The three Team USA Minnesota runners are all former Gophers.  Heather Kampf will compete in the mile, while Jamie Cheever and Chris Rombough will run the 3000 meters.  A former teammate of Rombough, current Gopher Hassan Mead, will also contest the 3000 meters.

This week we'll keep an eye on two of the best 3000 meter athletes ever to run at the University of Minnesota (#2 and #3 to be precise) as they compete against each other in a rust-buster.  The first Yes/No question of 2012 is...

Yes/No: Will Chris Rombough and/or Hassan Mead break 8:10 in the 3000 meters at the Jack Johnson Invitational?

Chris Rombough has a personal best of 7:54:57 in the indoor 3000 from 2010.  He is currently training for the USA Cross Country Championships on February 11th.

Hassan Mead is an All-American and Big Ten Conference Champion many, many times over.  He has run 7:56:15 for 3000 meters and is the Gopher school record holder in the indoor 5000 meters (Rombough is second on that list).

Rombough and Mead are both competing in their first track races of the year.

To play our game, simply type "yes" or "no" into the subject line of an e-mail and send it to us at DtBFantasy [AT] gmail [DOT] com before 1:00 P.M. CDT, Saturday, January 21st. Please put your answers in the subject line of the e-mail and make sure your full name appears somewhere in the e-mail. 

My answer: Yes

Last week's Pick 10 game kicked off the 2012 season of fantasy contests on Down the Backstretch.  It was a close competition with twelve players finishing within five points of each other.  The Marathon Olympic Trials winners were Craig Yotter and Jon Lambert with 40 points.

For all the results, please visit DtB Fantasy Corner, HERE.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"American marathoning has really improved"

By Jim Ferstle
"American marathoning has really improved," said Team USA Minnesota coach Dennis Barker after observing the Olympic Trials races in Houston last Saturday. The US will be sending its best, a strong contingent of both men and women to the London 2012 Olympics. A team that has the potential to contend for medals against the African juggernaut, Kenya, that dominated the marathon competition in 2011 and at the 2011 IAAF World Championships.

Barker was impressed at how the two pre-race favorites, Ryan Hall in the men's race, and Desi Davilla in the women's, took control from the start and pushed the early pace. The end result being that both the men's and women's races did not deteriorate into slow, tactical battles, but became races of attrition where only those who could tolerate a pace fitting of an Olympic final were in the mix for the spots on the team. The pace not only prepared those who earned spots on the team for what the race is likely to be like in London, but more importantly, it forced "darkhorse contenders" for a spot on the team, such as Team USA Minnesota's Andrew Carlson, Jason Lehmkuhle, Matt Gabrielson, and Katie MacGregor, to run "right at the red line from the gun," said Barker.

"Matt was standing right behind Ryan Hall on the starting line," said Barker. "When the race began Hall took off. By the first turn Hall was already 40 yards ahead(of Gabrielson). Our guys weren't going into the race to run 2:12, 2:13. They were running for a spot on the team. To do that (because of Hall's rocket start where the lead group came through the half on 2:06 pace) they had to run often outside their comfort zone."

Carlson and Lehmkuhle were both on 2:09 pace through 20 miles and hoping to both survive and/or be able to pick up those in front of them if the early pace was too fast. "No great performance is without risk," said Barker. And Hall put them all at risk--the four in the lead pack(Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman, and Dathan Ritzenhein), but none of them broke completely under the strain. Gabrielson was on 2:11 pace in a grou behind the chase pack. He faced the unenviable and, as the race went on, unlikely task of having to catch both the chase pack and the lead pack for a team spot.Carlson and Lehmkuhle were in the chase pack about a minute and 40 seconds behind the frontrunners.

In the trials for the 2008 team in New York, Lehmkuhle was in a similar spot at the same point in the race. He, along with eventual third place finisher in that race, Brian Sell, were nearly the same distance behind a lead second group that included both Meb and Abdi. Sell was able to close the gap and make the team. Jason beat both Abdi and Meb to finish fifth. It didn't happen that way this time. The "wheels" came off for Lehmkuhle at around 22 miles, Barker said, and it was Carlson's drive to the finish that was most effective, landing the debutant marathoner in sixth place.

"At 20 miles Andrew said: 'I don't think I can make it.' (to Lehmkuhle)," said Barker. "His hamstrings were starting to tighten up on him. Jason told him to relax, and not panic. Two miles later coming out of a corner at around 22 miles, Jason(who had been feeling strong until then) suddenly felt 'Like I couldn't run anymore.'( Lemkuhle said). That's the way the marathon is when you're running on the red line."

It can change suddenly, without warning, for better or worse. Carlson felt better and was able to finish strong. Lemkuhle could not. Similar scenariio for MacGregor, Barker noted, as she was right on the red line for her with the lead pack cranking off 5:30 miles, but when they dropped them into the 5:20s it was too much for MacGregor. "I was really impressed with (Kara) Goucher," he said. "Before the race she didn't appear all that confident and said that she thought she could run 2:25/ 2:26." She hoped that is what it took to make the team.

Goucher's red line got crossed when the pace dropped into the low 5:22s, but Kara was able to hold on during those fast miles, sensing that eventual fourth place finisher Amy Hastings was also having trouble handling that speed. Goucher told herself to hang on, get a gap on Hastings, hoping that she could then slow down to 5:30 per mile pace and make it to the finish. It worked, and she made the team, but it illustrates just how fine a line one treads in these situations.

"The best runners were there(in the mix for the spots on the team), and they ran great," said Barker. "Most people expected the (men's) race to be like 2008 when they went out conservatively, running around 5 minute pace from the start. This year the best people were there, they were ready to race, and they ran great. It's a fearless team (that we're sending to London)."

For Team USA Minnesota the preparation went well. The three guys prepared as best they could, said Baker. He took pages from Buddly Edelen's training and Paul Tergat's. "They both set world records about 40 years apart, but their training was really pretty similar. Tergat rested more so he was able to train faster, but otherwise there wasn't much difference in what they did." The three guys came through it all injury free and gave it their best shot on race day.

Talking to the guys afterward, Barker noted that they all felt prepared. "We covered all the bases," he said. One had a great performance, the other two did not. A 33% success rate, but Barker notes: "Just once I'd like it to get it right for everybody."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Donovan Fellows Runs 2:17:30; Eric Loeffler 2:25:05 in Houston OT; Chris Erichsen article link

We missed a few more. Donovan Fellows, who also ran the US Olympic Marathon Trials in New York in 2007, finished 38th in Houston in 2:17:30. Eric Loeffler was 77th in 2:25:05. Also a link to an article on Chris Erichsen from the Spring Valley Tribune is HERE.

Recap of the Houston Races for Team USA Minnesota

“The men’s race was on the edge right from the gun,” said Dennis Barker, Team USA Minnesota coach. “The lead pack was running sub-2:07 pace for the first half of the race and the chase pack – which included Andrew(Carlson) and Jason(Lehmkuhle) – was running 2:09 pace. Anyone who wasn’t in one of those packs had little chance of making the Olympic team. Andrew and Jason really went for it and were only a minute and 40 seconds behind the leaders at 20 miles.

“But the guys up front stayed tough all the way to the end and no one from the chase pack was able to catch them. It was the first time four Americans have ever run under 2:10 in one race so the guys who made the team (Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman) really earned it. Andrew held on pretty well and ran the seventh fastest US marathon debut ever. Jason had a tougher time over the last few miles. I really have to hand it to both of them for giving everything to try to make the team.

“Matt (Gabrielson) felt a little off but was still running 2:11 pace through 15 miles. But in a race like this if you wake up and are 98 percent instead of 100 percent that day, it’s going to be rough. He battled as long as he could to stay in contention and gave what he had. If it had been another day, it easily could have been Matt leading the chase pack.

“Josh (Moen) got a hamstring problem about ten days out from the race. It had gotten better but not good enough to run a high level marathon. It started tightening up after just a couple miles and got worse from there.”

There were 294 runners who competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, which was a selection race for the marathon team that will represent the US in London this summer. It was the first time that the men’s and women’s marathon competitions were held on the same day at the same location. The first three men and the first three women were named to the team.

“In the women’s race, Katie (MacGregor) was doing fine in the lead pack when they were running miles in the 5:30s but when they started dropping them into the 5:20s, she wasn’t able to respond,” said Barker. “Meghan (Peyton) was running a pace that would have given her a finishing time in the low 2:30s, trying to stay as close as she could to the lead back in case it broke up.

“But the leaders ran strong all the way and Meghan struggled after 20 miles. Both Katie and Meghan did everything they could on that day to make the team, but there were some great runners in front of them who ran great races.” (Shalane Flanagan, Desi Davilla and Kara Goucher comprise the women’s Olympic marathon team.)

Gabrielson, Moen and Peyton did not finish the race. In the men’s field, there were 111 starters and 85 finishers. 183 women started the marathon and 152 finished.

Aramco Half Marathon – January 15
Jon Grey was fifth in a time of 1:02:25 and Matt Llano was seventh in 1:03:26. Both runners were making their debuts in the half marathon distance.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Katie MacGregor Interview

Flotrack post-race interview with Katie MacGregor is HERE.

Kara Goucher Interview

Flotrack day-after-the-Trials interview with Kara Goucher is HERE.

Chad Johnson Talks About His Knee Issues

Flotrack interview with Chad Johnson, who talks about how a knee injury caused him problems, future plans HERE.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Two Trials Finishers We Missed

Two sharp-eyed readers pointed out two runners we missed in the list of Minnesota finishers at the Olympic Trials. Malclom Richards was 51st in 2:20:15. An interview with Malcolm prior to the race is HERE. Nichole Porath finished 69th in 2:44:12. You can read more about Nichole HERE or from her blog HERE.

Carlson Sixth, MacGregor Eleventh at Olympic Trials

Team USA Minnesota and former Gopher Andrew Carlson made an impressive debut in the marathon taking sixth at the US Olympic Trials on Saturday with a time of 2:11:24. Team USA Minnesota teammate Jason Lehmkuhle was 18th in 2:14:35. Mike Reneau finished 20th in 2:14:37. Former Team USA Minnesota runner Patrick Smyth was 22nd in 2:15:00. Chris Erichsen placed 40th in 2:17:52. Former Stillwater High standout Luke Watson was 65th in 2:21:58. Chris Lundstrom came in 66th in 2:22:03. Justin Gruenwald was 74th in 2:24:16, and Chad Johnson placed 83rd in 2:36:48.

They all performed much better than USATF's results page, which didn't function during the race and still does not have a list of the female finishers, though we do know that Duluth's Kara Goucher made the team by finishing in third place with a time of 2:26:06. Team USA Minnesota's Katie MacGregor finished 11th in 2:34:01. We'll post the rest of the women's times when they are available.

Here are the rest of the Minnesota women finishers: 22. Michelle Frey 2:37:06; 47. Jennifer Houck 2:40:51; 55. Leah Thorvilson 2:42:09; 63. Jenna Boren 2:43:04; 80. Katherine Koski 2:45:27.

Finish times for both races are HERE.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jason Lehmkuhle Feature Story

Des Moines Register feature on Jason Lehmkuhle is HERE.

Matt Gabrielson Feature Story

The Des Moines Register feature on Matt Gabrielson is HERE.

Meghan Armstrong Peyton Feature Story

Des Moines Register feature on Meghan Armstrong Peyton is HERE.

Justin Grunewald Feature

Star Tribune feature on Justin Grunewald's trip to the Olympic Trials is HERE.

The Guys Behind the Marathon Road Video

The 12-minute documentary, Marathon Road, that chronicles the preparation of the four Team USA Minnesota runners for the 2012 Olympic Trials was made by a local company, Ideatap Studios. To find out how the video came together we asked the guys who produced it. Below is the answer:

"I started Ideatap with my friend Joe Tossey officially five years ago, but we had been working together in video since VHS," says company co-founder Paul Sanft. "We got connected with Team USA Minnesota after I ran track/XC at Augsburg College. Several of my teammates (Dan Vogel included) have been in regular contact with Dennis Barker ever since.

"I've covered various meets for the Auggies over the years and Dennis always liked the videos I made for his teams. So he suggested the idea of following the Team USA Minnesota during their training. I was happy just to be there to witness their impressive workouts, there was no way I could turn down the project.

"The biggest challenge by far was coordinating our shooting schedules with the runners' ever changing workout schedules. We ended up just shooting whatever we could during the rare times our schedules matched. As a result, we never actually came up with a purpose or goal for the video until December.

"At that point, it became a scramble to get final interviews and begin the process of sifting through all our footage for things that would create an inspirational feel. In fact, we didn't finish filming until this past Saturday morning. Knowing we wanted to capitalize on the excitement of the race and release it just a few days out, I had to sift through and edit 12 hours of footage down to the 12 minutes in just three days.

"I'm hoping to continue pursuing video within the running community as it's always been a passion of mine, and I think we're developing a knack for it."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kara Goucher after OT Press Conference

Flotrack interview with Kara Goucher after the Olympic Trials press conference is HERE.

"I'm Katie MacGregor and I'm Training to Become an Olympian"

Team USA Minnesota's Katie MacGregor talks to Flotrack about her near misses and her approach to the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials HERE.

Gabrielson, Carlson on the Long Shots List

Letsrun.com's "long shots list" for the men's Olympic Trials race lists both Matt Gabrielson and Andrew Carlson, calling Gabrielson "the safest bet for a high finish out of any of the guys on this list." Read it HERE.

North Country Women at the Trials

The Duluth NewsTribune's Kevin Pates gives updates on three women with roots in the North Country--Katie Koski, Kara Goucher, and Jennifer Houck--who are running the Olympic Trials HERE.

Dennis Barker Talks Trials

By Jim Ferstle
At one point during the Marathon Road documentary chronicling the journey of the "Four Musketeers" of Team USA Minnesota to the 2012 Olympic Trials, two of the runners, Jason Lehmkuhle and Matt Gabrielson talk about giving their all, leaving it all out on the course. "The key is to get to the finish line as fast as you can without dying," says Gabrielson.

With laughter echoing in the background, Lehmkuhle adds: "You can die directly on the finish line. But you have to make it there first."

The somewhat tongue-in-cheek banter illustrates the attitude, camaraderie, and commitment of the group and perhaps how they were able to hold up to the grueling training necessary to compete at the top level of the sport these days. Observing, orchestrating, and organizing the training for the foursome, Team USA Minnesota coach Dennis Barker has attempted to get the group to the starting line in Houston healthy and fit.

Barker has been impressed and thankful that the four have done all that was asked of them and gone through a cycle of marathon preparation "better than any we've ever had." Aside from an unexplained "knot" in Josh Moen's hamstring, which may or may not be an issue in Houston, the four go into the race healthy, fit, and prepared. The last obstacle to overcome being the uncertainty. How will they feel on race day? Will it all come together?

"The men's race is really wide open," says Barker. The two big favorites, defending Trials champion Ryan Hall and 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 NYC Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi, both ran Fall marathons. 2008 Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein is a question mark going in, having struggled recently with a series of injuries. After that are "a handful" of others who all have a shot at the team should any of the aforementioned trio of pre-race favorites falter.

Recovering from a marathon is more of an art form than a science, so Barker believes both Hall and Keflezighi are less likely to adopt a catch me if you can strategy and blow the race open early. So, a large pack of runners could well be together longer at a pace that the Musketeers have trained themselves to be comfortable running. Predicting what happens then gets more complicated. Gabrielson finished eighth in the 2008 5,000 meter track trials and demonstrated his ability to run with the best in a high profile, high pressure race, says Barker.

"Jason really enjoys being in a big race with good runners and being fit," said Barker. "That's what he likes about running." In other words, crank up the stakes, the pressure, and the better some people perform, some of those being several members of Team USA Minnesota, Barker says. The group had tests done to discover how the team's runners performed under high stress conditions--their mental fitness under pressure, said Barker. Lehmkuhle 's tests indicated that as the stress increased, so too did his ability to perform.

"Andrew (Carlson)is like that as well," says Barker. "He's very emotional--feeds off emotion more than the others. The more emotional it is, the better he seems to do. He can dig stuff out of himself that you never thought he could do." The key for any of the guys, however, they all acknowledge, is just being in "the hunt" late in the race, having a shot at a spot on the team with plenty of run left in the legs with a 10K to go.

Same for the women, notes Barker. While most give the top two spots tin the womens' Trials to Desiree Davila and Shalane Flanagan, the third spot is considered up for grabs with a lot of women in contention. Duluth's Kara Goucher said in a recent interview that she believes running 2:25 in Houston will be good enough to make the team. Katie MacGregor would have to have a big PR to make that time, but it's not an impossible jump to make.

Meghan Armstrong Peyton has been hitting training runs at around 2:30 marathon pace. Both go into the race with different goals. For MacGregor it is seeking that elusive Olympic team place that she has just missed in the past. For Peyton, it's to find out if the marathon is her event. About the only thing predictable about a marathon, though, whether you are a veteran like MacGregor or a "rookie," like Peyton, is that it is unpredictable.

Barker is in the preparation business, not predictions, so he'll watch like the rest of us as the drama unfolds in Houston. The preparation has been done, soon it will be time for the show to begin.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kara Goucher Gets Ready for the Trials

Writer Jon Gugala's take on Kara Goucher's preparation for the Olympic Trials is HERE.

Meghan Armstrong Peyton Interview

Sarah Barker's interview with Meghan Armstrong Peyton is HERE.

The "Four Musketeers of Minnesota" Get Ready for Houston

You've seen the trailer, here's the full 12 minute video of Minnesota's "Four Musketeers" giving their thoughts on the preparation for the Olympic Marathon Trials. Produced by local group, Ideatap Studios, the scenery gives one a lot of views of the guys out on the Mississippi River Parkway doing the work to prepare for Houston. Interviews with all four and Team USA Minnesota coach Dennis Barker gives glimpses into the process of getting ready for the big event.

Their blurb for the story: "Since 2001 Team USA Minnesota has had 17 US National Champions and 61 top three finishes in US Championship races. Jason Lehmkuhle has two Olympic Trials top ten finishes, including fifth in 2008. Andrew Carlson has won two US National Championships. Matt Gabrielson finished eighth in the 2008 Olympic Trials 5,000 meters. Josh Moen has run 46:38 for 10 miles. Enjoy the stories of these men as they train for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston on Saturday, January 14th.

Dan Vogel, Riley Conway, Paul Sanft, and Joe Tossey"

Marathon Road from Paul Sanft on Vimeo.

Pick Ten: Olympic Marathon Trials

We will kick things off for this year's Down the Backstretch fantasy contests with a big one - the Olympic Trials in the marathon.  By our count there are twenty-eight marathoners with Minnesota ties in the race, fourteen men and fourteen women.  This is a group that includes runners with legitimate Olympic dreams and others that just snuck under the Olympic trials qualifier time.  The race will be run in Houston, Texas on Saturday, January 14th at 8:00 A.M.

Pick Ten has a simple concept: predict the finish place for each of 10 Minnesota athletes at the Olympic Trials Marathon.  However, there is a bit of a twist.  You will choose places for Minnesota athletes among Minnesota athletes only. We will only score the fourteen Minnesota men and fourteen Minnesota women that we have indicated.  You will score points for each athlete that scores at or above the finish place you predict for them, following the 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring system.

For example: If you pick Katie McGregor to place first in the women's race, and she places first among Minnesota women, you get 10 points. If you pick McGregor to place first and she finishes second, you get zero points. If you pick McGregor to finish third in the race and she places first, second or third, you get 8 points, since that's the place you picked her for.

To play Pick Ten, cut and paste the list of names/events below into an e-mail and add your place predictions -- 1st or 2nd or 3rd...10th. Send your predictions by 8:00 A.M. CST on Saturday, January 14th to DtBFantasy [AT] gmail [DOT] com. Make sure your full name is in the e-mail. As with our Yes/No contests, we don't offer any prizes, so no one needs to fear running afoul of NCAA or other anti-gambling regulations.

We'll announce the winner of this week's contest and compile results of all of the year's Pick Ten contests to name a grand champion for 2012.

Pick 10 ... Olympic Marathon Trials:

Katie McGregor:
Kara Goucher:
Jenna Boren:
Meghan Peyton:
Leah Thorvilson:
Matt Gabrielson:
Josh Moen:
Chris Erichsen:
Luke Watson:
Michael Reneau:

Here are a few links to help you make your picks ...

USATF lists all the entries and their qualifying times.
Down the Backstretch lists the Minnesota athletes in the race.
An update on Josh Moen.
Runners World Olympic Trials Cheat Sheet.
- An article about Kara Goucher.
- Team USA Minnesota Press Release.

Good luck!

This is the first contest of the year so all standings will reset.  Last year, Bryan Tolcser won the Pick 10 contest and Mike Henderson topped the field for Yes/No.

For full standings of both contests, please visit DtB Fantasy Corner.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Feature on Michelle Frey

Feature story from the Des Moines Register on Michelle Frey and her preparation for the Olympic Trials Marathon is HERE.

Josh Moen Feature

An earlier piece from the Des Moines Register on Team USA Minnesota's Josh Moen is HERE.

Another Julie Maxwell End of the Streak Article

She ran every day for more than 33 years, but has gathered more attention for the end of her streak. Kasson's Julie Maxwell is featured in the Rochester Post Bulletin(with photo) HERE.

Minnesotans Have Rich History in Olympic Marathon Trials

By Jim Ferstle
The last time either the men's or women's Olympic Trials were in Houston, a Minnesotan won. Janis Klecker was the surprise victor in 1992 on a rainy day that featured drama, sportsmanship, and plenty of surprises.

Klecker had slipped and fallen at the 16-mile water stop, only to be helped up by the eventual runner-up, Cathy O'Brien, a 1988 Olympian in the marathon who made her second team. Klecker won in 2:30:12, a personal best, but the eyes of Texas were on a transplanted Californian who had spent the majority of her long career as a middle distance runner, US running legend and eventual third-place finisher Francie Larrieu, then 39, who was living in Dallas and made her fifth Olympic team by virtue of her third-place finish.

Larrieu was chosen to the the US flagbearer at the Barcelona Games. Klecker went on to become a dentist, and give birth to six children with husband Barney Klecker. In her running, Janis followed the example of her mother, Mae Horns, who was an outstanding Masters runner, and the mother/daughter twosome were familiar figures on the Minnesota running scene.

In the men's Olympic trials in 1992, another Minnesota doctor to be, Bob Kempainen, made his first Olympic team despite having limited training due to a stress fracture that minimized his training. In 1996, however, Kempainen matched Klecker's feat by winning the Olympic Trials in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2:12:45. Kempainen, who is now a pulmonologist and critical care physician, etched himself into Trials history, however, because of an upset stomach.

Just as Klecker had gotten up after a fall, Kempainen had to overcome "hurling" portions of his fluid replacement drinks several times on national television as he ran the final miles of the race. "This guy is the toughest human being on the face of the earth," said Keith Brantly, who finished third in 2:13:22. "I would have started crying and stopped."

In 1996 Minnesota barely missed having two representatives on the team as current University of Minnesota men's track and cross country coach, Steve Plasencia, finished just behind Brantley in 2:14:20. Plasencia was already a two-time Olympian at 10,000 meters on the track, having made the team in 1988 and '92. For Kempainen, the victory in the trials also helped with his medical school tuition, as first prize was $100,000, then the highest winners' purse in the sport.

The financial incentive was not there in 1968 when another Minnesota legend, Ron Daws, made the Olympic team in the marathon with a third place finish in the first time a US Olympic trials marathon where the team was solely selected by those who finished in the first three spots. Other years there were trials races, but the team was selected by a committee instead of by the finish of those running a trials race. Like both Klecker and Kempainen, Daws was not a clear favorite to win an Olympic berth, but he used his wits to win an Olympic spot by a mere four seconds.

"I didn't make as many mistakes," said Daws. He also had a little luck as a sciatic nerve condition forced him to rest ten days prior to the trials, rather than attempt to get in more training. "I was fit and rested," he said, rather than fit, but fatigued due to the stress of what was at stake and the natural tendency of most elite athletes to overtrain. The injury, he said "saved my life," or at least his place on the team.

Daws' mentor, another University of Minnesota product, Buddy Edelen, was arguably the best marathoner in the world in the mid 1960s. Edelen was the first man to run under 2:15 for the marathon, a world recordholder, who had won an Olympic trials race in 91 degree heat by 20 minutes in 1964. But Edelen overtrained, was injured, and could only finish sixth in the Tokyo Games in 1964. The Chicago Tribune's Olympic writer Phil Hersh recently ranked Edelen as the fourth best US marathoner ever. Edelen was a pioneer in the sport who refined training for the event and provided a road map for those who would follow him.

Perhaps the most physically gifted of all Minnesota male marathoners, however, missed his chance at Olympic glory at the distance for political, not athletic reasons. Then US President, Jimmy Carter issued an edict in 1980 that the US would not participate in the Summer Games that year because they were being held in the Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan. Thus, there was no team at the Games that summer, but the US still had trials.

The marathon trials were held in Buffalo, New York on May 24 and were won by Tony Sandoval in 2:10:19. Bjorklund was furious at Carter for the boycott and did not participate. Instead he went to a race he helped found, the Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, and, on June 21, ran Grandma's as a protest. Fueled by anger, Bjorklund ran solo the entire race, and broke the course record by more than four minutes in a time of 2:10:20.

Bjorklund had made his statement and helped launch Grandma's onto the national scene. But, although he had participated in the 1976 Games on the track at 10,000 meters, the Olympic flame had been extinguished for Bjorklund by the boycott.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Jon Grey Finishes Fourth; US Team Second in Team Race in Scotland

Team USA Minnesota's Jon Grey finished fourth overall in a time of 25:52 to help the US men's & women's teams to a second place finish at the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge at Holyrood Park in Scotland on Saturday. The Great Britain & Northern Ireland team won the overall team title with 144 points. The US was second, and the European Select team in third with 215 points.

The US teams finished third(in the men's and women's senior races), but edged the Europeans in the overall combined scores(that include both the senior and junior team scores). Grey won $1,750 in prize money in the men's 8K race. Brainerd and US Air Force Academy grad Justin Tyner was 22nd in in 27:15. University of Minnesota grad and Team USA Minnesota's Jamie Cheever finished 15th in the women's 6K in 22:59. Results of all the races are HERE.

Info for Coaches or Those Interested in the Track Coaches Clinic

January 15 is the deadline for the $90 registration for the Minnesota Track Coaches Association's annual Track and Field Clinic held January 26-28 at the Double Tree Hilton in Bloomington. Registrations received after that are $110.

Register Today at www.mshsca.org/track/

Clinic features over 60 Hours of Track & Field Instruction by some of the top International, National, and State Track & Field Coaches!

Some of the Coaches speaking include:
Boo Shexanayder- Olympic & LSU Jumps Coach
Don Babbitt- University of Georgia Throws Coach
Pat Tyson- Gonzaga Coach, One of Bill Bowerman's "Men of Oregon," Prefontaine's roommate
Dr. Donal Chu- Stanford University, plyometric training guru
Holly Kelly-Thompson- six time All-American High Jumper
Dr. Jack Ransone-Head Trainer for US Olympic Team
Will Freeman-Grinnell College, All-American Pole Vaulter
Jack Sands- Texas HS Coach for 37 years
Plus many outstanding area High School and College Coaches!

In addition to the great speakers, your clinic fee includes two free coaches' socials, a great banquet meal, thousands of dollars of prize drawings from our great vendors, and the opportunity to connect with coaches that share your passion for Track & Field!

You do not need to be a Coaches Association Member to attend!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Julie Maxwell Talks About the End to Her Streak

Kasson's Julie Maxwell tells the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Richard Chin about her 33 plus year running streak HERE.

Friday, January 06, 2012

News Round-Up: Road Races, Mathre, Trials

We found some interesting stories in the local and national media recently that we wanted to share ...

The first, HERE, in the StarTribune, notes the growing popularity of road racing events in the Twin Cities metro area and the pressure it puts on local municipalities and race organizers. As local governments limit the number of events at a given venue, race directors are looking further afield for race locales.

Also, the Northfield News, HERE, has a feature story on Northfield native Steve Mathre, the University of St. Thomas men's coach and the proprietor of Eagle Eye Digital Video. Mathre's company, which allows coaches and athletes to analyze technique, is set to provide the video review capabilities for the 2012 Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Finally, Runners World, HERE and HERE, recently listed their eleven men and ten women "to watch" at the Olympic Marathon Trials next weekend. Not surprisingly, there's a Minnesotan on each list.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Gearing Up for the Olympic Marathon Trials

The 2012 road racing season will kick off with a bang thanks to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials next weekend. Twenty-eight Minnesota men and women will toe the starting line in Houston in the races that will choose the country's marathon team for the London Games.

To ramp up to the event, we wanted to share two pieces of video related to Minnesotans in the race. The first is a trailer for a documentary film Dan Vogel, Riley Conway, and Paul Sanft are producing about the Team USA Minnesota runners competing at the Trials.

The second video, by Dustin Franta, features St. John's University alum Chris Erichsen talking about this training leading up the Trials.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

USATF-Minn. to Host Youth Clinic, Meet

Athletes aged 5 to 18-years-old have an opportunity to jump-start their 2012 track & field season with USATF Minnesota's Indoor Youth Track & Field Clinic & Meet set for Sunday, January 15 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the University of St. Thomas Indoor Track in St. Paul.

Coaches and elite athletes will be presenting techniques for starting, sprinting, hurdling, middle and long distance running, long jump, triple jump, high jump, pole vault, and shot put. Participants will be provided with opportunities to learn by doing and should come dressed ready to run, jump and throw. Following the clinic, a brief meet will be held.

Scheduled presenters include 2011 USA National Champion Triple Jumper Amanda Smock, a three-time NCAA Division II National Champion from North Dakota State University, 2009 USA National Champion Cross Country Runner Emily Brown of Team USA Minnesota, a four-time All-American at the University of Minnesota, former Mounds View High School throws coach Tim White, Hill-Murray High School head coach Chris Dallager, and other area coaches.

Cost for the clinic and meet is $10 for 2012 USATF Minnesota members; $20 for non-USATF members. More information, including a registration form, can be found at www.usatfmn.org in the Upcoming Events section.

Also on the Calendar ... Other beginning of the year events sponsored by USATF-Minnesota include:

-- Board Meeting, Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 6:30 PM at the Courage Center in Golden Valley

-- All-Comers Indoor Meet, Sunday, January 29, 2012 from 1:00 – 5:00 PM at the University of St. Thomas Indoor Track in St. Paul

-- Award Celebration, Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 6:00 PM at the Braemar Country Club in Edina

-- Indoor Track & Field Championships, Sunday, March 11, 2012 at the University of Minnesota Fieldhouse in Minneapolis

-- 8K State Championship, Sunday, March 18, 2012 hosted by The Human Race 8K in St. Paul