Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014--Transition Time

By Jim Ferstle
2013 was a memorable year for Minnesota running with several national championships earned and outstanding performances.   2014 is set to begin at Midnight, and it's a time of transition for Down the Backstretch.  Charlie Mahler, who founded this site along with Pete Miller and Chris Marshall  in 2007 has moved on to greener pastures.  As many of you already know he is still working within the running industry as Media and Communications Manager for Twin Cities in Motion.

For about a year I've been doing the editorial coverage for DtB, so the shift will be pretty seamless.  We all owe Charlie a debt of gratitude for his commitment to the Minnesota running community and his work bringing  DtB to this point.   Another person who will be missed is Doug Cowles, the fantasy contests director whose encyclopedic knowledge of the sport has been invaluable.  The problem for those competing in the fantasy contests is that he can now play the game instead of gather the information for it, and he will be a formidable opponent.

Thanks to DtB's two main sponsors--Adam Lindahl and TC Running Company and the Board of Directors of USATF Minnesota.  Their support has been the financial foundation that allowed the site to operate since 2007.  Lifetime Fitness, Twin Cities in Motion, Carrie Tollefson, The Thunder Bay Marathon, The Grandma's Marathon, the Minnesota Mile, Hopkins Raspberry Run, Autism 5K, City of Lakes 25K, Victory Races, Randy's Run, Brian Kraft 5K, Sisu 200, MDRA, Flotrack and any of the past advertisers I might have missed. Thanks for your support.

Gene Niemi has captured photos of many memorable events this year.  Kraig Lungstrom showed us the magic moments of the Wayazata girls' national championship run at NXN and other high school photos. Bill Miles, Tim Miles, and Kevin Moorhead gave us the high school lists.  Dave Emmans, Jamie Kirkpatrick, and Howie Cook provided the high school cross country rankings.  Kevin Holubar gave us reports on Maggie Ewens' exploits in the throws ring.

Despite the cold weather and the snow, things will not slow down in January.  On the 18th in Washington, DC, Richfield grad Steve Holman will be inducted into the Georgetown Athletic Hall of Fame.  More will happen on and off the track and the roads.  The Minnesotans who entertained and inspired you with their performances in 2013 will try for an encore.  Enjoy the show, and enjoy Down the Backstretch. Send your comments and suggestions to downthebackstretch@gmail.com and we'll do our best to keep you informed about what's happening.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Dome Running Photo Album

The final run at the Metrodome was December 26 and photographer Wayne Kryduba was there to capture the event.  His photo album for MDRA is HERE.

Leer and Bates Ranked Among Running Times Top US Runners for 2013

Minnesotans Will Leer and Emma Bates are both ranked ninth by Ken Young in the Running Times 2013 Rankings for US runners HERE.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

It's the time of year when many take stock of things and make plans for the hours, days, months, year ahead.  The tale that follows this introduction is something you should think about.  It's Dave McGillivray's story of his recent encounter with health issues we all hope to avoid.  Who is McGillivray and why should we care?

If you've run the Boston Marathon, you've encountered his work.  Dave is the race's director, the guy who puts together all the parts that allow the race to be held every Patriot's Day in Boston.  If you run at all in races around the country, you may have encountered his work at other races.  When 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Samuelson wanted to put on a race in her hometown in Maine, the guy she asked to run the show is Dave McGillivray.  He's the Usain Bolt of race directors in the US, but that's not all.

He doesn't just direct events, he's a prolific runner as well.  Has run across the US and every year, when the Boston Marathon finishes, he goes back to the starting line and runs the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston.  So a  year and a half ago when he started encountering warning signals from his body, it took him a long time to get an answer to why he was having trouble.

How could somebody so seemingly fit have health issues?  I encountered the same questions a decade or so ago when I went out for routine training runs.  Since my daily exercise routine involves long walks with the dog, 50 miles a week of running, and about 3/4 of a mile of swimming, the medical profession was as perplexed as I was of what was not right with my body.

More than 20 years ago 1968 Olympian, Minnesota running legend, and mentor and friend to many of the state's distance runners Ron Daws was having similar symptoms to Dave and myself.  Shortness of breath during runs, inability to do what we could normally do easily.  Ron died in his sleep of a massive stroke.  For whatever reason, Dave and I survived.

That's why what Dave has to say matters.  It gives another meaning to the often used coaching mantra of "listen to your body."  Listening in this case means a lot more than finishing a race or what time you can run.

Staying Alive (Healthy vs. Fit)

By Dave McGillivray

First, this is a “good story” with a happy ending…so far.

For the better part of my entire life, I thought I was as close to invincible as was humanly possible.   With all the running I have done, I thought no physical challenge was insurmountable.  It took 59 years, but, recently that all changed in a “heartbeat.”

Dave McGillivray in 1978
running over the Rocky
Mountains during the Run
Across America
For over a year now, I’ve been experiencing difficulty breathing as soon as I start my run workout.  For the first 10-15 minutes, I’ve had to run and then walk just to be able to catch my breath.  This has been embarrassing to say the least.  It felt like I was running at altitude.  It seemed like angina-type symptoms.  After about one to two miles, the discomfort seemed to either go away or at least became less painful.  I seldom ran with others choosing rather to run alone because I didn’t want anyone else to know “my little secret”.

Like most people, I know my own body very well and knew something wasn’t right, that something was very wrong.  I proceeded to have all the normal tests done – pulmonary, heart, EKG, inhalers, echo tests, stress tests and on and on.  The good news, nothing was detected.  The bad news, nothing was detected.  In fact, although my fitness level isn’t close to what it used to be when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I am much fitter now than most folks my age walking the planet or any age for that matter and as such the stress test showed nothing out of the ordinary.  Then, what the heck was causing this nagging, non-stop breathing issue?

Unfortunately, I do come from a family that has a history of heart disease, in particular, a higher than normal cholesterol level.  It is simply in the gene pool. I only realized this about ten years ago and started taking a cholesterol lowering statin for it.  However, I had a bad reaction to the statin (mainly muscle cramping) and as such got frustrated and  stopped taking it for quite some time.  I eventually experimented with different ones until I came up with the one that worked best.

Through a methodical process of elimination, I tried valiantly to determine what the cause of my condition was but I kept coming up with no answers.  Was it hot weather or cold weather, running up hills, running after eating or drinking something?  What is causing this?   I even went on a run with my cardiologist, Dr. Aaron Baggish, but, of course, I could not replicate the problem right then and there for him to diagnose first hand.

After a year and a half of this, I had had enough and Dr. Baggish ordered a CAT scan.  The result, in his words, “severe blockage and chronic ischemic heart disease.”  The word that jumped out at me more than any other one was “severe”.  Really?  Severe?  I was devastated and really scared.  How can this be me?  I’ve run across the darn country averaging 45-miles a day, run hundreds of marathons, run over 140,000 miles, done the Ironman in Hawaii numerous times and just ran 59 miles on my 59th birthday.  Really, severe?

Dr. Baggish immediately scheduled me for an angiogram at Mass General Hospital on October 9th.  I thought, okay, go in, maybe get one stent, leave and start running again the next day…all fixed up.  Problem solved.  Not so fast.   As I lay on the operating table, I nervously looked up at the monitor and saw the image of my arteries looking like the twisted branches of an oak tree.  My jaw dropped as the doctor pointed out “all” the blockages and narrowing in many of the arteries…no, not just one.  I started counting them on one hand and then stopped when I ran out of fingers.  The doctors determined it would be more risky to operate than not to and wheeled me out of the operating room.  As I was leaving, I was thinking to myself, how much more time do I have?  Is this possibly…terminal?  I usually don’t get emotional but I broke down uncontrollably.  So much for being Superman anymore.

After some “heart-to-heart” discussions with my doctors, it was decided that since I probably put myself in this position, it would be up to me to get myself out of it.   Have I followed the best nutrition plan all my life?  Hardly.  A few of my mottos have been, “anything and everything but in moderation” and “sleep is over rated.”   

I realized for the first time in my life that these just might be flawed statements.  I always rationalized that whatever I ate, I burnt off.  However, it’s like putting a bad grade of gas in your car.  The car will still run, but your engine will “gunk up” in no time.  And, I always thought I’d sleep enough when I’m dead.  There is even a song that says so.   And, I’ve been told that stress can be a factor, too.  I guess you could say this past year in Boston has been a little stressful for many of us.  There seemed to be a confluence of factors coming into play here.

I can personally name a half dozen friends who were really good athletes who in the past 10-15 years went for out for a run from their home and never came back.  I thought that could have happened to me but how lucky am I that I am now getting a second chance.  I never believed that I would “drop, you know what” on a run, but now I wonder if I actually could have.   People often use the expression, “at least he died doing what he loved to do.”  Well, I’m sorry, but I do not want to die doing what I love to do and that is while out for a run.  Dying in my sleep when I am 110 seems like a better option to me. 

Only a few weeks ago a 52-year-old man dropped to the ground in my Thanksgiving Day race and lucky for him our medical people saved his life.  He later found out he had 100% blockage in a major artery and he didn’t even know it.  If he went down in his back yard shoveling snow, he probably wouldn’t be with us today.

The biggest lesson I have learned from all of this is that being fit does not necessarily mean being healthy.  Seems like a simple statement -- because it is.  I’ve spent my entire life focused on being fit but not really focused on being healthy because I thought one meant the other.  Well, that’s all changed now.  I only need one warning.   Interestingly, being fit saved my life as my other arteries were healthy and developed enough to overcompensate for the blocked arteries but my fitness also seemed to “mask” my underlying problem, something all “fit” people should take notice of.

It’s been two months since my “rude awakening”.  I’ve done a complete 180 degrees in my lifestyle.   I totally changed my diet (no meat, no fat, no soda, no beer, no anything that is bad for you) and have lost 21 lbs in these short two months.  I’ve started swimming again and lifting weights and hooked up with a personal trainer and a nutritionist and have been taking dietary supplements.  My cholesterol level has dropped 65 points from 212 to 147.  When my doctor gave me these results all he said to me was “you over achiever.”  Hey, this has nothing to do with over achieving, I just want to stay alive a little longer – I got the message loud and clear! 

And, guess what?  I now no longer have the breathing issue! Yahoo! My running has felt the best it has felt in the past 15 years!  However, I do take my cell phone with me every time I go for a run now.  And, I am thinking of doing another Ironman triathlon which I haven’t done in 25 years and something which has been the furthest thing from my mind…until now.  And, today I actually passed someone out jogging while I was out running myself, first time in a long time.  He was probably 90 years old but you got to take what you can get.

At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone this story…no one.   Why?  Because I was embarrassed about it and I also didn’t want to burden anyone with it.  And I’m not good with sympathy and all that stuff.  However, after now processing it all and after talking to some close friends about it, I’ve realized a few things.  First, I needed a support group myself…of family and friends who care.  They actually “rescued” me.   My wife, Katie, has been my biggest supporter…what would I do without her?  A number of others have helped “educate” me on all of this…that has made a huge difference.

I’ve also realized that there are many people out there just like me who are in the same boat as me, some who have caught this just in time and others who don’t even have a clue that they are currently in big trouble.  They deserve a second chance, too, but they need to take action right away.  Maybe my story can help bring some awareness to this.  Could this be you? 

That is the second lesson here, that is, for everyone to get checked, now, no matter how fit you think you are, before it is too late.   Truth be told, we are not invincible.  Even though I am no Superman, even Superman went down when he came up against his weakness -- kryptonite.  

I have a beautiful wife and five children with the youngest being 4-years-old.  I want to be around when she graduates from college and has her own family (although, I may be so old by then that I will be in an assistant living facility by then but we’ll leave that for another day).  Frankly, I’m still praying that I haven’t missed the “health bus” myself, but I am grateful that my destiny is now in my own hands not in anyone else’s…right where it should be.

After I finished my cross country run in 1978, my brother put a slide show together which included the Bee Gees hit, “Staying Alive”.  I loved that song.   I love it even more now.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays

An outdoor Nativity scene recently hosted a certain poor Shepherd of the canine persuasion.  The homeless animal was subsequently adopted and is no doubt enjoying a Christmas dinner in a new home.  Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays.  This is normally a down time at Down the Backstretch where we recharge the batteries and plan for next year.

We've posted a few things this week, and will probably continue to irregularly have items up until we resume a regular schedule at the beginning of 2014.  Until then, enjoy the snow, the family and friends at various holiday celebrations, and the memories of the past year.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Obsa Ali to Run for the Gophers

Semi-formal announcement that Richfield's Obsa Ali will run for the Gophers is HERE.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Life Well Lived--Warner Wirta

Two articles on Warner Wirta, who died last Thursday after 80 well lived years.  Duluth News Tribune obit is  HERE, story HERE.  USATF Minnesota article by Jess Koski is HERE.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Wayzata Boys Back on Top in Minnesota and Learn Some Lessons Along the Way

After the individual and team medals were draped around the runners' and coaches' necks at the awards ceremony of the MSHSL XC Championships, Wayzata's Bill Miles drifted back among the team, who were beginning to line up for team pictures.  He took the medal from around his neck and awarded it to one of the team's alternates, a runner who didn't get a medal at the formal ceremonies.  It was Miles' way of acknowledging all the members of the team, not just those in the spotlight.

The Wayzata boy's and girl's MSHSL XC Championsip teams.
Photo by Kraig Lungstrom
It was a banner year in cross country for Wayzata as they won both the boy's and girl's State Championships.  Both teams went to Nike Nationals with the girls winning the team title.  More importantly, perhaps, the boy's team learned some lessons along the way.  As the season began, the projections were that the 2013 team championship race would probably come down to a battle between defending champion Stillwater, Wayzata, and Edina.  In the early season meets, Wayzata delivered dominating performances.  Both top runner Connor Olson and the team showed their heels to all opposition.

After being beaten by Stillwater last year, the team wanted to prove to themselves that they were the top team this year, said Miles.  As they discovered, however, there is a cost to early full-on efforts, both individually and collectively.  "It got a little long," said Miles of the season that stretched through the NXN Regions and Championships in December.  "They were just shot," said club coach Kraig Lungstrom, a 2:16 marathoner and unofficial team photographer, who takes over the team for post-season competitions.

The team was having trouble handling workouts that they had done easily in September, he noted.  During the four weeks between the MSHSL Championships and NXN, where the runners might normally take a day or two off, some Wayzata runners took off seven or eight days, said Lungstrom.

It wasn't injuries, just fatigue.  Mark Popp, Wayzata's sprint coach had suggested an exercise program that he used with the his runners to help improve overall fitness and flexibility.  At first Miles resisted, says Lungstrom.  "Bill is old school," Lungstrom said. Miles isn't one to quickly adopt something new, but he tried the program this season.

"This was the first year where we were relatively injury free," said Lungstrom.  It's too early to tell if the new program will become a permanent addition, but for this year at least, it helped keep the team healthy.  That and the desire to prove their worth led to the extra efforts early in the season, but by the time the NXN races rolled around, fatigue hit them and they couldn't reproduce the form that won them the early meets and the State Championship.

"It's good that that happened," said Miles.  "They learned the lesson.  (Next year) You'll see more controlled racing from (Olson and the rest of the team)."

Olson(right) and Obsa Ali(left) dual for the title at the MSHSL XC
Championships.  Photo by Kraig Lungstrom
It wasn't all bad that the team wasn't at its best at NXN this year, said Lungstrom, as it allowed them to approach the competition differently.  Olson, who had run NXN as an individual in 2012, wanted the team experience this year.  He said after the State Meet that his goal in post season was to help the team do well, not how high he might be able to place in the NXN races.

With fading sharpness, this year's NXN became something of a recon mission.  A chance to soak up the pageantry of the Nike experience and learn what it takes to do well.  Learn and use those lessons to do better next time.  "It's best to get them out (to compete in NXN) one time when they are underclassmen,"  said Lungstrom, who has been taking Wayzata teams since 2007 to the Regions and Nationals.  "The second time, you race it...Next year is our year."

The first quarter at NXN usually goes out hard, around 62-63 seconds, said Lungstrom.  So, he had the Wayzata team do that in practice leading up to the race.  When the gun went off in Portland Wayzata's boys went out hard, too hard for their level of fatigue going into the race, Lungstrom acknowledged.  "They went into oxygen debt pretty early," he said.  They paid the price later in the race and, as a result only managed 15th place.  Another lesson learned.

The planning for next XC season will start in May, as it usually does, when the team sits down with the coaches and begins to outline "competitive goals" and "process goals," i.e the desired result and what it will take to get there, says Miles.  The goal setting comes from the runners, he says, and they are "usually pretty realisitic in what they have the ability to achieve."  In August they have another session, perhaps adjusting those goals or the process.

"All we can control is how good we are," says Miles, and that becomes the yardstick by which they measure themselves, how close they can get to their bests or how much they surpass their previous bests.  Yes, they usually focus on the State Meet and Nike Nationals, but their success is measured not in titles, but in individual improvement.  "All of our year-end awards are for most improved," says Miles.  It's a way to recognize everyone's development, not just the varsity or the top runners.

"Lot's of our kids who have never run a varsity race(in high school) have gone on to do well in college," says Miles.  Those alumni, as they do in other schools, visit often.  They run with the current team and pass on, says Miles, "the wisdom of the elders."  One bit of wisdom came from Wayzata grad Josh Thorson, who now runs for the Gophers and is the only male runner to have run four NXN meets, says Lungstrom.

Thorson talked with Olson and said: "I'd give up my state title(Thorson won the 2011 MSHSL XC title and the 3200 in track in 2012)" for a chance to have a run at the podium at NXN with the team. Lungstrom has told the team that next year will be his last trip as their coach for NXN.

"You need to get me there next year," he said.  "Next year I want you to be on the podium."

Friday, December 20, 2013

News Bits-Metrodome "Last Lap"

Metrodome running, which has been a Minnesota winter refuge for over three decades will, hopefully, just be taking a break during the construction of the new facility.  The "Last Lap" will be held at 7:55 PM on the day after Christmas at the Dome.  One last chance this winter to run on dry pavement this Winter.  Rick Recker, USATF president and administrator of the Metrodome running program since its inception, reports that talks are being held to continue the runs in the Dome when the new facility is built.  Stay tuned.

Three time Grandma's Marathon champion and 2006 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon champ Mary Akor banned for positive test for clenbuterol is HERE.  TC Running's Jenna Boren, who was second in the March 2 Woodlands Marathon, gains the title vacated by Akor's ban.

Sun Sailor article on Wayzata girls win at NXN is HERE.

MIAC Student Athlete Spotlight on Bethel's Alex Hintz is HERE, on St. Mary's Shauna Stephens is HERE.  MIAC feature on Macalester's Gretchen Greene's "cross training" via log rolling is HERE  NCAA feature on St. Thomas alum and former coach Mark Dienhart is HERE.

NSIC indoor track has begun, first weekly review is HERE.  NSIC coaches polls are HERE.

Gopher men's throws coach Lynden Reder's presentation at the USTFCCCA convention is HERE.

UMAC Indoor Track Athletes of the Week are HERE.

Boise State College newspaper story on Emma Bates is HERE.

Fitger's 5K Run & Walk registration opens HERE.

Dyestat final boy's HS individual rankings HERE. Girl's rankings HERE.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Edina Rises to the Challenge

"Nike Nationals(NXN) has changed everything, at least for the top level" said Edina coach Jamie Kirkpatrick.  It prolongs the potential length of the cross country season and, Kirpatrick says, has widened the gap between the top teams and the rest of the field.

The Hornet pack led by David Ellenberger(259) at NXN. Photo by Kraig Lungstrom
It requires more careful management of a team's efforts, their resources.  This year Edina's boys managed the end of season  better than anyone else.  They came up short by a mere 13 points at the MSHSL XC Championships, but had more left for the NXN Region Meet and the NXN Championships, winning the Region competition and placing tenth at the Nationals, the top Minnesota boy's team finish.

Going into the 2013 cross country season, the best guess of what would transpire was that three boys teams would vie for the titles--defending champion Stillwater, Wayzata, and Edina.  At the end of the season it all came down to the not uncommon scenario of whose third, fourth, and fifth team scorers performed the best on the day.  All three teams had strong front runners, but as cross country is a true team sport the end result is usually decided by one or all of the core group that packs in after them.

For Edina the key runner was their third man, David Ellenberger.  A freak injury from a fall during the 2012 XC season and a case of  anemia during the 2013 track season stopped Ellenberger from showing his true potential in his junior year.  Going into his senior season, Ellenberger got rid of both those impediments. "(Ellenberger) ran more this summer than any of our runners," said Kirkpatrick.  As the season progressed that work began to pay off.

Like most teams with ambition of extending their season to December and NXN, the practice is not to run hard or too often at 5K, or with the full varsity contingent early in the season.  You want to gradually build to a double peak of sorts where the end of season Conference, Sectionals, and State meets finish the "regular season" with a peak, but with enough left to peak again for NXN.  While Stillwater struggled with an injury to Eli Krahn early in the season and getting everybody running their best at the same time during the championship season, Wayzata stamped themselves as the team to beat.

After Wayzata won the team title at the Griak Invitational in September, coach Bill Miles realized that Edina was the team building momentum for State.  Ellenberger, he noted, was coming into his own and bringing his teammates with him.

"(Ellenberger's) big breakthrough came in Sections," said Kirpatrick.  He was with a pack of runners who had outrun him in the past at the two mile mark when he realized: "I can run with these guys," said Kirkpatrick.  He not only ran with them, he ran past them and, just as important, his teammates came with him.

"Henry (Jessen) and Jon (Shirley) ran every workout with (Ellenberger)," said Kirkpatrick.  So, they had the same epiphany as Ellenberger when they saw their training partner ripping through the field.  The result was a steadily improving team.  At State, Edina almost turned the tables on Wayzata as the teams were tied through the first three finishers and only two points separated the top four.  By NXN Regions, the Hornets ran past Wayzata for the first time all season.

The Edina team in their tent at NXN.
"It's all about patience, managing your effort," said Kirkpatrick of the race tactics his runners employed throughout the season.  The team was given "pretty specific race plans" that followed what they had been running in practice so that once in the race they "didn't have to do anything they hadn't done."  They were in a comfort zone of sorts where the races mirrored their training and where it allowed Ellenberger and the others to go beyond what they had done before, to build on their success and carry it on to the next practice, the next meet.

The last six weeks of the season was not a time for substantial change, just improvement doing the things they had practiced and performed throughout the year, Kirkpatrick said.  Combined with the positive feedback of steady improvement, it took Edina to new heights.  "It only works if you already have success,' said Kirkpatrick.  "You don't change overnight."  It's a gradual process.  The drive to get better, to break down barriers, he says, comes from the kids.  "I'm not big on external motivation," he says.  "I don't think it works.  It doesn't create and environment that's fun."

Motivational speeches, "pep talks," are often at least perceived as from an external source, not an outgrowth of their own ambitions, abilities, and internal motivation.  It's why Kirkpatrick has escewed goal setting or talking in specific terms at the beginning of the season or as the season goes on about winning this meet or that title.  Athletes with the talent naturally gravitate toward the higher challenges, he says, they want to win State, go to NXN.  A coach doesn't need to place those achievements on a pedestal or overemphasize their importance.

The Edina "lockers" at NXN
"I'd hate to think that if they perform at their best, but come in second that they would see that as a failure," says Kirkpatrick. Failure isn't a term that is approopriate for any of the teams this year.  As is often said, one learns more from one's setbacks than from the victories.  As there is only one winner of each competition, that leaves a lot of "teachable moments"  for the next effort.  The challenge now is to take those lessons and adapt for the next challenge, the next season.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ping Sisters Lead Way At USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country Nationals

By Tobin Johnson
Grace and Lauren Ping of Winona earned medals  this past weekend at the USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country Nationals in San Antonio to lead the Minnesota contingent. Grace placed fifth out of 308 runners in the 9-10 girls 3K race.in 11:22.93, 22 seconds out of first.  Lauren placed tenth out of 194 runners in the 7-8 girls 2K race. She improved by 15 seconds from the USATF Minnesota Championships to finish 8:16.07.

Max Johnson of Plymouth finished just outside the medals, placing 33rd out of 205 runners in the 7-8 boys 2K. He also improved upon his PR from the state meet. Kurt TeBeest of Montevideo placed 149th out of 444 runners in the 13-14 boys 4K race with a time of 14:26.83. Ben Levin of the Park Flyers ran the same event as Kurt and finished 443rd. His 20:32.01 was a nearly two-minute improvement from the state meet.

One of the highlights for the kids was getting to meet US Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano. Manzano’s London medal was the first medal earned in that event by a US male in 44 years. Full results of  the USATF  Junior Olympic Nationals are HERE

Monday, December 16, 2013

Feedback--Share Your Thoughts

This isn't like a PBS pledge drive, it's an attempt to get feedback on what we're doing, what you might like to see here, and what we can do to make the site better.  We've had some good ideas and suggestions, and you can continue to send them.

What is your opinion on the Yes/No feature?  The Pick 10?  The Photo ID?  Do you read them regularly?  Should they be weekly, biweekly/  More frequent?  Less?

What sort of coverage is important?  News Bit clips?  Event coverage?  Event previews? Athlete profiles?  Photo ID stories?  Post event stories?  Features on events?  Features on athletes/coaches/teams?

Is it important to have photos with stories?  Are the photo galleries, photos from events things you want to see more of?  Done too much?  Do you like illustrations with stories or doesn't it matter? Let us know what you think.

Send your comments to dtbfeedback@gmail.com

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Results from USATF Club Cross Nationals

Twin Cities Track Club's Joe Moore and Kelly Brinkman were the top local team finishers at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon on Saturday.  Moore finished 11th in 31:30 and Brinkman was 15th in 22:29.  Former Team USA Minnesota runner, Jamie Cheever, ran for her second consecutive women's championship team as she finished 18th in the race in 22:33, the team champion Brooks Beast's fifth finisher.  2013 Medtronic Twin Cities Mile third place finisher, Macklin Chaffee finished 29th 32:10 and was the fourth finisher for the men's team champion Champions League Athletic Performance A squad. 2013 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon winner Nick Arciniaga placed 19th in 31:57 in the men's race.

In the men's Masters, Run N Fun finished fourth, led by Kelly Mortenson, who finished in 35:39 in 12th. In the women's team competition, TCTC was eighth, the Run N Fun women were 13th.  In the men's team race Run N Fun was 16th and TCTC 17th.

Women's individual results are HERE, men HERE. Women's team scores are HERE, men's HERE. Masters men team results are HERE.

Footlocker results are up, even though there were no Minnesotans in the race this year.  Boy's results are HERE. Girl's are HERE.

Friday, December 13, 2013

USATF Club XC Championships This Weekend

While Team USA Minnesota won't be there to defend their women's title, Twin Cities Track Club and Run N Fun both have teams in the USATF  Club XC Championships on Saturday in Bend, Oregon.  The listings of entrants for the women's 6K is HERE, men's 10K is HERE.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

East Ridge Rising

East Ridge's girls cross country team has not risen to Wayzata's level yet, but the school, started in 2009, has steadily moved from a beginning eighth place finish at the MSHSL XC Championships to seventh, fifth, and now second in 2013.  Add to that a 19th place finish last weekend at Nike Cross Nationals(NXN) and you have an impressive progression in a short time.

It's not surprising from a demographics perspective as East Ridge was created to deal with the population expansion in Woodbury, who already has two schools--Woodbury and Park-- that have produced signficant athletic talent over the years. East Ridge is adding to that legacy.

"We just wanted to get on the podium," was how Lloyd Ness, one of the co-coaches of the East Ridge combined girls and boys teams, described the goal of the girls team going into this year's State Meet.  Ness knew that the team had the talent for a top three finish, but talent alone doesn't produce results.  Wayzata, Edina, and East Ridge all ranked high throughout the season, but Ness had learned two years ago that rankings are nice to talk about, but have no impact on results.

Emily Betz coming down the homestretch at the
MSHSL Championships. Photo by Gene Niemi
The team had been ranked as high as third two years ago, but finished fifth, Ness noted  This year, Edina had a bad race at Sectionals and didn't qualify for the State Meet.  For East Ridge, Ness said, the formula for success was simple.  First, his two top runners, Emily Betz and his daughter Bailey Ness, "had to run well for us to run well," said Lloyd Ness.  And, about 30 seconds back of the lead two, East Ridge's pack of four--Brenley Goertze, Sandra Gramer, Olivia Hummel, and Megan Schiferl had to do their part in minimizing the team score.

"We have a very motivated group," said Ness.  "They worked hard in practices.  Some of them, if they thought they weren't doing enough went out and ran more. mileage.  They never missed a Saturday workout.  They were all 'mean as snakes,' hanging on to each other for dear life. Over the season our third runner was pretty consistently our third finisher, but the four, five, and six runners would move around from race to race."

If one had a bad race, another stepped up to fill the gap. "We never looked ahead," said Ness.  "I tried not to race my girls too much...The season now is so long.  We start earlier and it can go on two or three weeks later(for the various national meets), so I had to make sure we didn't burn the girls out."

The meet before their conference meet, Ness gave  instructions to everyone that nobody would run faster than their seventh runner.  They would all run with her.  The only impact running less than their capabilities would be on their rankings, Ness said, and he already knew that the ranking didn' t mean anything regarding how you'd place from there on out. "My obligation is to get us to run well at the end of the season," Ness said.  "70% of success comes from blood(genetics), 25% from the work put in, and 5% is us(the coaches) not screwing them up."

They got the forumla right this year as they rose to second in the State, and finished runner up in the NXN Heartland Region meet to qualify for NXN Nationals.  Like the other schools, East Ridge's team members were already into their second sports--four were on the cross country ski team and one plays hockey--but they kept as sharp at they could for the national meet.

Athletes lockers at NXN
"Wisconsin's coach said: 'don't think that's the way it is,'" Ness said about the NXN experience.  "'No one else does it (like Nike).'"  Each team had it's own locker complete with uniforms.  The girls got to tour the Nike campus, meet Nike athletes.  "It was a very unique experience," the girls told Ness.  Many parents went with their kids to the meet, but stayed in different lodgings, rarely seeing their children during the weekend.

Baily Ness(52) early in the NXN race.
Photo by Kraig Lungstrom
Like Wayzata in 2012, the East Ridge girls have now done their first NXN experience. Five of the seven team members return in 2014.  They know what it took to get there this year.  Is this an experience they want again?  Can they top what they did this year?  We'll know about this time next year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

News Bits

Sun Sailor column on Paul Noreen is HERE.

Runnerspace post race interrview with Edina team is HERE.

16 Gopher women earn Big Ten All Academic Team honors HERE.

Gopher press release for freshman Nicolle Murphy, who won HS All American honors is HERE.

Sites set for NCAA XC and  track listed HERE.

Twin Cities Track Club article on Melissa Agnew is HERE.

Kara Goucher's latest blog post on moving back to Boulder is HERE. Running Times interview with Goucher is HERE.

Scott Keenan given 2013 USATF Women's LDR Marja Bakker Award HERE.

Running Times final HS girls team rankings HERE, boys HERE.

Running Times interview with St Olaf's Grant Wintheiser is HERE.

Wayzata Ranks First Among Girls, Coach Dave Emmans Selected as Coach of the Year

The National High School Coaches Association power rankings have Wayzata ranked as the number one DI HS girls team for 2013.  Wayzata girls coach Dave Emmans was also named as the NHSCA DI girls National Coach of the Year.  East Ridge HS is ranked 24th.  For the boys, Edina is ranked tenth,  Wayzata 15th, and Stillwater 25th.  Perham's boys team is also ranked number one in the NHSCA HS DII, giving Minnesota two of the four top teams in the US this year.  Details are HERE.  Fox 9 report on Wayzata win is HERE.

Registration Open For TCM Race Series

Twin Cities In Motion (TCM), the organizer of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon and a host of year-round running events in Minneapolis and St. Paul, opened registration for five TC Challenge race series set for 2014, four of them new to the TCM line-up.

TCM launched its first race series, the TC Loony Challenge, earlier this year.  The event groups three marathon weekend events – the Saturday TC 10K, TC 5K and Sunday Medtronic TC 10 Mile.  The TC Loony Challenge returns in 2014 along with four new options: The TC 5K Challenge, which includes three 5Ks scheduled throughout 2014;  The TC Ultra Loony Challenge, which includes the TC 10K, TC 5K, and Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, all on Oct. 4-5, 2014; The TC Summit Challenge, which includes four races throughout 2014, culminating in the Medtronic TC 10 mile; and The TC Ultra Summit Challenge, which includes four races throughout 2014, culminating in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.

“We did focus groups and research studies last year and heard loud and clear that our runners want race series,” Twin Cities In Motion Executive Director Virginia Brophy Achman said.  “Runners are always looking for new ways to challenge themselves, and our series offer them an opportunity to push their fitness to a new level. Race series make sense for us as an organization – in maximizing our current race calendar – and make sense for our runners, as they provide value and convenience.”

The series launches came as the organization opened registration for its winter events – the TC Kids Fieldhouse Fun Run on Feb. 1, the Valentine’s Day TC 5K Run/Walk, presented by Marathon Sports, on Feb. 8, and the 100% Irish for a Day TC 5K and TC 10 Mile, presented by Marathon Sports, on March 8.

TCM, in partnership with Grandma’s Marathon and the American Birkebeiner, also organizes the Upper Midwest Endurance Challenge which groups those events and the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon into a running and skiing series.

For more information on TCM and its race series and individual events, visit tcmevents.org.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dreams Do Come True

Dreams do come true.  The Wayzata girls team made that giddy discovery on Saturday as their nocturnal visions became reality on the Portland Meadows race track at Nike Cross Nationals(NXN).  "It still hasn't really sunk in yet," said Dave Emmans, their coach, on Monday night.

Wayzata team poses with Kara Goucher at the finish
of the NXN.
Photo by Kraig Lungstrom
In a year Emmans, who has been coaching for 30 years, has seen his team go from 2012 Minnesota State XC Champions to seventh in last year's NXN, to a magical 2013 cross country season where they produced multiple jaw-dropping performances capped by winning the national team championship. In the press room at this year's MSHSL XC Championships several veteran officials talked about the season and a prominent topic was the Wayzata girl's team.  "I've never seen anything like it," said one veteran official of the team's conference, sectional, and State Meet performances.  His thoughts mirrored Emmans assessment of his team: "I'll never see this again in my lifetime."

It has been a team that rose to every challenge, accomplished what they set out to do and more, and enjoyed the journey.  Granted it seems counterintuitive that successful teams don't enjoy their accomplishments, but it is not unusual to have successful teams that thrive on conflict and seeming chaos, where the coach's job is to keep them from self destructing, rather than achieving.  That is not the situation at Wayzata.

Sure the girls are competitive, high achievers, but they don't succeed by climbing over one another, but rather by pushing and supporting one another.  During his three decades of coaching, Emmans has come to the realization that his style of coaching should not be as a goal setter, task master, or field general who attempts to push his "troops" to new levels of performance.  After years of doing it other ways, he's discovered that more can be achieved through a more "organic" approach.  Less can produce more.

"We don't like to set goals," says Emmans.  "But we like to know where we're going."  While the seventh place finish at last year's NXN opened their eyes to what was possible, it didn't become an obsession.  Yes, there was the necessity of training, scheduling races, and planning for a longer season that pointed toward a return to Portland.  But there wasn't constant talk of a national championship or what was on the horizon, but rather a day-by-day evaluation of progress, obstacles, training, and priorities.  What began to emerge from that was a picture that, when and if the team made it to NXN, the end result of their efforts could be something special.

The champions  Photo by Kraig Lungstrom 
The summer training that the team does has always focused on building an endurance base, says Emmans.  It wasn't done because NXN is a 5K race, not 4K like nearly every other race they ran during the season.  And it wasn't simply pounding the roads or trails, putting in miles.  Several of the girls on the team are also members of the cross country ski team, so they would mix their summer running with roller skiing.

There was no need to be racing sharp for early season meets. No need for doing much more than staying fit and building an endurance base for the upcoming season.  As with most top runners, the key is not how much volume you can do, but rather how much is necessary to allow you to improve and not get injured.  So careful monitoring of volume and intensity were key components, not only of summer training, but in season training as well, says Emmans.

Racing during the season was kept to a minimum, the aim was not to win every race, but to be ready to win the races that counted at the end of the season.  Each week was not filled with hard workouts, Emmans said.  They would do one hard session most weeks with the others a mixture of recovery and preparation for what came next.  Instead of focusing on specific goals, running certain times, etc. the atmosphere focused on "Just enjoying what we're doing," said Emmans.  "If you have the talent, the results will come."

Limiting the really hard training to one day a week in a way simulates racing and it has the added benefit, says Emmans of "not beating them up physically or making them psychologically afraid" of an upcoming workout or series of workouts.  "You race how you train," said Emmans.  "No amount of strategy will work if you haven't trained (to execute that strategy)."

But that hard work doesn't have to beat you up, it works better if it builds you up instead.  To accomplish that involves taking the hard physical and psychological challenge of training for top level performance and making it less stressful and as rewarding and enjoyable as possible. By doing that, Emmans says, they "get way more development out of the girls."  Two or three years ago, many of these girls couldn't run under 15 minutes for 4K.  This year at State, all seven of them ran under 14:42.

Add to that the "luck factor," no significant injuries, just "a few niggles," said Emmans, and you have the recipe for success.  Senior Anna French was sick going into the State Meet and another runner had a stress reaction in one of her legs prior to NXN.  Neither setback made any huge difference in the outcome, rather it taught the girls how to overcome adversity.

If there was an overriding characteristic of the 2013 team, Emmons said, it was the strength of the group.  Not just the top five scorers, but all seven of the girls pushed and pulled each other through workouts and races.  "We didn't tell them to run as a pack in workouts,"  said Emmans.  "It just happened.  And how you train, influences how you race."

So, all year long what everybody saw on the course was a stream of Wayzata girls in yellow and blue packed together at the front of the race.  On Saturday that pack was there again, only in red and black.  French stepped up and ran like she did nearly all season, leading the red and black parade and finishing eighth overall.  Freshman Annika Lerdall rose to the challenge and led the chase pack, but seven-time defending champion Fayetteville-Manlius had inserted their top three runners before Wayzata's Mary Franke and it was up to Wayzata's final four to make up ground during the final one kilometer of the race.

The pack: Annika Halverson(153), McKenna Evans(151)
and Alayana Sonnesyn(155). Photo by Kraig
"They needed every bit of that last kilometer," said Emmans.  And they used their summer endurance training to pull them through.  Michaela Keller-Miller and Alayana Sonnesyn made the crucial move to gain 24 points on Manlius, and McKenna Evans and Annika Halverson were close behind pushing them to the finish.  That foresome finished within eight seconds of one another and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

"Talk about gaining energy from those around you," said Emmans.  The Wazayta pack worked its magic one last time.  But any illusions of basking in the glow of the accomplishment soon went out the window as others started asking: "Can you do it again?"  Four of this year's team are seniors, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility that they could return as a team at NXN next year, but winning a national championship is a tall order for any team at any time, says Emmans.

This year's team has set the bar high for future Minnesota teams attempting to replicate Wayzata's feat, but they've broken whatever psychological barrier there may have been to having a team from the frozen tundra take the title.  The Wayzata girls are not only champions, they're trailblazers.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Photos from NXN

Photo album for the NXN girls's race is HERE.  Boy's HERE.

Photo ID: Steve Plasencia

Steve Plasencia being congratulated by
John Swain after winning the Swain
Invitational in Duluth.  Photo from the collection
of Gene Niemi
"I won Swain twice," says current University of Minnesota director of track and field/cross country Steve Plasencia.  "(After one of the wins) I was in Faces in the Crowd in Sports Illustrated."  A nice honor for a Cooper HS kid, but as he would later learn, he was not only one inspired.

Don Clary, who grew up in Alaska, but would later train with Plasencia when both were running post collegiately in Eugene, Oregon, saw the photo, checked out what sort of times "Plas," as his friends call him, was running and thought: "I wonder if I could do that too." Not run the times, but get his picture in SI.

Plasencia "grew up in a neighborhood where we were out the door at 8 AM with the whole day centered around outdoor play," Plasencia said.  "Just out being physical.  I never knew I was a runner."  His introduction to running was through recess "races" with another kid during fifth and sixth grade.  They would run back and forth to the fence on the playground getting ready for the 600 yard dash that was part of the President's Physical Fitness program that was at all the schools at that time.

They spent the whole recess doing the fence racing, but it wasn't the only sport Plasencia played.  All the "ball sports," as well hockey made up the PE "curriculum" for the kids in his neighborhood, and Plasencia  had another sport, playing on the hockey team in high school.  "As you can tell from the picture, I was kind of a long-haired punk," says Plasencia of his early years in high school.  "I was a good kid and a good student, but I had another side.  I had to cultivate the party boy out."

By his junior year, Plasencia had finished second in the state in cross country and was aiming to move up a notch his senior year, but an Achilles injury cut short his senior XC season and prompted Plasencia to devote all his energy toward track.  He stopped playing hockey and won the MSHSL Track Championship in the mile in 4:12.  "I loved sports and I loved to compete," said Plasencia.  "When I was a kid, when I lost I cried. I still take my losses hard, whether it's in recruiting or on the field.  I was always trying to figure out what I had to do to be the best I could be."

Don Hurley, a teammate of Plasencia's at the University of Minnesota, says the thing he noticed about Steve was that he was pushing the envelope, willing to try things that weren't even being considered by others.  For example, when Plasencia was training for the marathon, he felt he needed more volume, more miles, endurance work, but also knew that his body didn't handle that well.  So, he went back to his hockey days and substituted roller blading for running to get in extra "miles," sometimes flying along at sub four minute mile pace.

Earlier when he had to substitute running in the pool to get in "mileage" when he was injured, Plasencia took it one step further by wearing a vest that wasn't filled with air for buoyancy, but with sand, so he had to work harder to keep his head above water during his aqua aerobics.  His coaches, Jim Fischer and Milan Mader in high school, Roy Griak in college, Dick Quax and Rob Lyden post collegiately, were advisers, people he sought for information.  "I coached myself," is how Plasencia describes it, with the help of whoever he could find.

He sought out advice from other Olympic runners: Garry Bjoklund, Frank Shorter. When Shorter came to the Twin Cities to do promotions for Dayton's when they were a sponsor for the Get in Gear 10K, Plasencia followed him around.  "I was so keen to learn, ask him questions," Plasencia remembers, "Finally he said: 'Quit following me around.'"

Now the tables are turned.  People come to him for advice.  Plasencia has to pass on his knowledge to others, so the learning process continues.  Instead of motivating himself, Plasencia has to learn what motivates others.  Instead of training himself, he has to find out what works for others.  "Over time," Plasencia says.  "An athlete finds what's right for them."  And it's his job to assist in that process.

Part of it has nothing to do with race tactics or training protocols.  With only a set number of spots available for each year's NCAA Cross Country Championships, a process has been developed for selecting the teams who will get to compete in the Championships each year.  The first part of that process is simple, the top two teams in each Region get automatic qualifying berths.  Where it gets complicated is selecting the "at large" qualifiers who fill in the remaining spots.

For Division I teams that process involves a point system where teams earn points during a portion of the season by how they perform at meets leading up to the NCAA Regional meets.  Each team selects their schedule in an effort to gain as many points as possible so that if they are in a loaded Region with a lot of top teams, they can be one of the teams that still merits selection to "the Big Dance," to use the promo name given to the NCAA Basketball Championships.

This year the Gopher men came within one point of qualifying for the NCAA Championships.  They had purposely run the Griak Invitational and the Adidas Invitational back-to-back in an attempt because it offered the best opportunity to gain points.  By doing well there they were in a position where if they had tied Oklahoma for fourth place in their Region, they would have been the team that went to the NCAA Finals based on having accumulated more points leading into the Regional Meet.

Minnesota tied with Kansas with 157 points, but was one point back from Oklahoma.  That one point kept the Gophers out of fourth and at home for the NCAA Championships.  So close, but yet so far.  They had executed the first part of the strategy by accumulating the necessary points, but fell a point short of being able to use them.

Now the challenge becomes to avoid that result again.  Sport offers a series of teachable moments with the goal being to use those opportunities to your advantage next time.  Plasencia was able to teach himself how to do it.  Now he has to pass those skills on to his team.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Wayzata's "Women of Steel" Win Nationals

Last year the Wayzata girls cross country team learned that they were more than just the MSHSL Champions.  They learned that they had the potential to go a lot higher.  On Saturday they proved it.

Running on the grounds of a horse track in Portland, Oregon, the self named "Women of Steel," outran the competition to become NXN Champions, the defacto champions of high school cross country in the US.  They defeated seven time champion Fayetteville-Manlius of New York by following the strategy that kept them undefeated in all competition in 2013:  run hard, run strong, push and support each other, and live in the moment.

It sounds so simple, but as anyone who has gone through high school knows, nothing is simple in the teen years.  There are injuries, illnesses, personal issues, and just life in general that can conspire against you or merely act as another of life's "hurdles."  The Wayzata team had begun aiming for success at NXN in June.  They planned, adjusted, and finally executed that plan on the frozen tundra in Oregon.  The plan wasn't necessarily to win, just to produce their best efforts when they were needed.  The proverbial mantra to run your best.

When Duluth native Kara Goucher informed them at the end of the race that she thought they might have finished second, they were momentarily happy with that.  When they discovered they'd won, there was giddy laughter, joy, and a communal hug to celebrate.  As Anna French, the team leader for most of the season and again at NXN, said, they were satisified that they had done their best, being the champions was just icing on the cake.

The communal hug. Photo courtesy of Runnerspace
Everything is kind of larger than life in Nikeland, as the sporting goods company does it's best to treat the horde of high schoolers who are invited for VIP treatment at Nike's campus in Beaverton like visiting royalty.  They tried on shoes, they met with Nike personnel who showed them what went on in the development of the company's products.  They were interviewed by various media on the upcoming event.  It was like Super Bowl week, only this featured high school cross country runners.

The Women of Steel
 The Wayzata girls had dinner on Thursday night with Nike's resident Minnesota athlete, Kara Goucher.  Noting the weather forcast of freezing temperatures, Goucher told them that they "should feel empowered" by the conditions, not challenged, as the weather in Minnesota was much worse.  The Wayzata team was ready.  They had used the requirement that each team entered in the race to send a team photo to have a bit of fun.  The Wayata girls donned Clark Kent glasses and the blue shirt with the big red S under their letter jackets and called themselves the Women of Steel.

On Saturday they proved it.  Behind in the scoring through four kilometers of the 5K race, the girls made a final push in the last kilometer to snatch victory from defeat.  Behind in the points tally after the first three runners on each team crossed the finish line, Wayzata's fourth and fifth girls outran Manlius' by 24 points.  If they had scored all seven finishers on each team, Wayzata's 12 point winning margin would have increased significantly.  It was a true team triumph.

When they get back to school on Monday, there will no doubt be some sort of recognition of their accomplishment, but most of the girls will already be moving on to their next goals in the classroom, for the basketball team, or the cross country ski team, and in Spring on the track.  Fame is fleeting, but the feeling of accomplishment from their triumph this weekend will last.  The shared experience, the bond that they have with the team and the coaches will last even longer.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Wayzata Girls Win NXN Team Title

With a big finish in the last kilometer Wayzata upset seven time defending champions Fayetteville–Manlius of New York to take the NXN team title.  As they have done all season Wayzata ran in a tight pack that moved up through the race, outscoring Manlius with runners four and five by 24 points to seal the win.  Wayzata had 108 points, Manlius 120, and Davis of Utah 157.

Kara Goucher, who had dinner with the Wayzata team on Thursday night before the race, said:  "The Wayzata girls rocked it today." East Ridge finished 19th in the team competition with 430 points.  In the invididual race, Alexandria's Bethany Hasz finished 13th in 17:54.  Her twin sister, Meghan Hasz, was 53rd in 18:29.7.  In the boy's race Richfield's Obsa Ali was tenth in 15:15.  For the boy's teams, Edina finished tenth with 263 points, Wayzata was 15th with 322.  Full results are HERE.

Video replay of girl's race is HERE, boy's HERE  Flotrack highlight video of the girl's race is HERE. MileSplit post race interview with the team is HERE, and reaction to being informed they won HERE, interview with Kara Goucher HERE.  Running Times story on Wayzata is HERE. DyeStat article on the team is HERE. NSAF interview with Wayzata coach Dave Emmans from October is HERE.  WCCO video on the "Women of Steel" is HERE.

Friday's NXN Run Through

By Eric Jahn

On Friday all the runners got a chance to go over the course, check out the conditions, and adjust their race plans for tomorrow's NXN Nationals.
The Wayzata girls tour the Portland Meadows course.
Photo by Eric Jahn

Anything that had been soft or liquid yesterday has turned solid.  Puddles were ice, mud was frozen, and stretches of long grass were crunchy with lumpy ground underfoot.  NXN veterans commented on the conditions they found:
Minnesota champ Obsa Ali said "There is nothing I saw that would suck your spikes off like last year."  He said that the cold he had at State last month is gone, and he hopes to contend for the title.
Connor Olson, MSHSL runner-up, said "Anything is better than last year.  But the ground is hard and uneven, and it won't race fast.  We will probably go with a medium-length spike."
Heartland champion Addison DeHaven of Brookings was much more optimistic.  "I think the course record will go down tomorrow.  There could be several guys under 15 minutes.  I plan to be in position at two miles, and be ready to go when someone makes the move."
Wayzata head coach Dave Emmans, who came out to Portland to cheer on his team, said that conditions today "looked like we were back in Minnesota.  Kind of reminded me of the Ice Bowl in 1967 between Green Bay and Dallas when the wind chill was -40.  There are many teams who will show up tomorrow and just tank."
The Wayzata girls were encouraged by developments.  They surprised last year by a seventh place finish in the slop, and they feel that the arctic conditions plays to their strength.  Anna French said "We have already been running in the snow this month.  Our race strategy won't change.  We will put ourselves in position early and move up through the field."  

Edina's Jonathan Shirley models the uniform
for today's race.  Might want to
consider an extra layer under
that singlet.

Also on the squad this year is Alayna Sonnesyn, an elite national-class Nordic skier.  She feels that the skiing background that she, French, and Michaela Keller-Miller have will pay off on the slick and icy course at Portland Meadows.  Jenna Truedson of Bemidji agrees.  "We just got 14 inches of snow in Bemidji.  The more like skiing tomorrow, the better."

Friday, December 06, 2013

Ice and Mud Await the Runners at NXN

East Ridge girls team visits Nike campus prior to NXN Nationals. Photo courtesty
of Toni Reavis
By Eric Jahn

Eric Jahn will, once again, be providing information from the NXN Nationals in Portland.  Today's installment talks about the course, which was rather muddy last year.  After criticism of the conditions, the organizers said they would be working this year to avoid the wet conditions of 2012.

We visited the course at Portland Meadows as soon as we arrived today.  Several of us who had been here before walked the course, and we discussed conditions compared to other years as we went.

First off, there is standing water on some of the runner's paths, and more on the infield.  Much less than last year, but clearly not dry.  In '08, '09, and'11, there were no puddles at all.  Maybe some soft spots, but no water in those years.

The reports of "driest year yet" are bogus.

In addition, there was ice in every puddle.  We were there in the heat of the day (33 degrees).  It won't get above freezing on Friday, and Saturday it will be around 25 degrees at race time.  Good chance for some mud and lots of frozen ruts from the run-through on Friday.

I think that a meet record is out of the question, and not a lot of boys will break 16 minutes.  I will talk tomorrow to the Minnesotans that ran here last year - Connor Olson and the Wayzata girls.

Preview of the meet by Toni Reavis is HERE.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Remembering Paul Noreen

It was perhaps the "Golden Age" of Minnesota Masters running back in the 1970s and '80s.  Men, such as Alex Ratelle, Bill Andberg, and Paul Noreen, were setting records, some of which are still on the books today, and not only outrunning the other Masters, but many of the young bucks who made the mistake of underestimating the talent and determination of older folks who were supposed to be planning for their retirement, rather than out running people half their age.

Paul Noreen(with the 2 on his shorts on the far
right in this photo of the Hopkins Raspberry Run)
Photo by Jim Ferstle
Youngest in this crowd was Paul Noreen, who had been a Minnesota High School cross country champion in his youth.  Deprived of competition because of rules that banned coaches from competing as they were not "amateurs"(the meager wages they earned from coaching violated the IOC rules against making money from a sport), Noreen kept fit "banditing" in road races and by running with the high school kids he coached.

Thankfully the antiquated amateur rules were discarded and people, such as Noreen, were finally freed to compete again, and they took full advantage of the opportunity.  In 1981, for example, Noreen set two US records that still stand, running 51:12 for the 15K on the track on his way to another record of 53:53 for the 10-Mile. At that same meet Ratelle and Andberg set age group American records at those distances too.  They were role models, not only for the rest of the Masters athletes, but the younger runners as well.

Last week, the day before Thanksgiving, Noreen's big heart stopped working.  He will be missed, but the legacy he and his compatriots left behind will live on.  More info on Noreen is available in the following links HERE and HERE.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Hasz and Ali November USATF Minnesota Athletes of the Month

The Minnesota Association of USA Track & Field selected Bethany Hasz and Obsa Ali as USATF Minnesota’s Athletes of the Month for November 2013.

Bethany Hasz
Photo by
Gene Niemi
Hasz, a sophomore at Alexandria High School, won the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) AA cross-country title November 2 at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Her time in the 4K race was 13:53.1, 20 seconds ahead of the runner-up and the fastest time overall from both the AA and A races. Hasz then won the Nike Cross-Country Nationals (NXN) Heartland Regional race is Sioux Falls, South Dakota, clocking a 5K time of 17:17.5. She was followed by her twin sister Megan, who finished second at both races.

Shoeless Obsa
Photo by
Gene Niemi
Ali, a senior at Richfield High School, won the MSHSL AA cross-country title November 2, running 15:15.2 for 5K. He finished  two seconds ahead of runner-up Connor Olson of Wayzata despite losing his shoe partway through the race. Ali then placed second at the NXN Heartland Regional November 10, finishing in 15:11.  Both will be participating in the NXN Nationals this weekend in Portland, OR.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

News Bits

Bismark Tribune story on Jennifer Agnew is HERE.

Saucony Elite girls HS individual rankings HERE, boys HERE.

Long training runs for Team USA Minnesota runners Gabe Grunewald, who won the Cayman Half HERE, and Heather Kampf, who ran the Moustache Run  HERE.

Grunewald also was selected as the Daily Relay Athlete of the Year for Minnesota HERE.

Running Times NXN preview is HERE.

MileSplit NXN boys race preview is HERE, girls is HERE. Team previews are HERE.