Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Track Heroes: In Lane 8...

Usain St. Leo Bolt! Bolt has quickly made his way onto the lists of favorite track athletes or track heroes of hundreds of thousands of track fans around the world in recent years. For good reason this man who is at the pinnacle of sprinting competitors has become one of the most exciting spectacles to see in the sport of Track & Field. Although many may look at Bolt and say they see a man with a cocky, “I’m-the-best-and-I-know-it”, attitude, or an athlete who does not take his sport seriously, I, for one, cannot agree with them.

Usain Bolt might be a little cocky, but hey, he can back it up. Sure Bolt goes out onto the track before his races and showboats and clowns around with the audience for a bit, but track & field events around the globe are sold out simply by Bolt being present there. He is a man that works hard at what he does, but also loves, and has fun, doing it.

Bolt is an incredibly fun and exciting runner to watch. Not only does he give you a show before and after races, but seeing him tear up the track as he barrels toward the finish line, is a very fun spectacle to witness. Standing at about 6 feet 5 inches, and a weighing in at a little over 200 pounds, Bolt is a big man on the track. His stride is insane! And the power in his movements as he gallops down the track, seemingly leaving his competitors in the dust, is incredible. Not only is he just fun to watch run, his races are the most exciting to watch because a lot of the time you will catch him setting records or winning championships.

Setting seven world records, three of which were in the 100 meter, two in the 200 meter, and two in th 4x100 meter relay, Bolt is a superstar among the track community. He also holds a world record in the 150 meter at 14.35 seconds, and a second fastest time behind Michael Johnson in the 300 meter at 30.97 seconds. Bolt’s 100 meter record currently stands at 9.58 seconds, 200 meter record at 19.19 seconds, and the 4x100 meter relay record at 37.04 seconds. Usain won gold medals in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He also won first place medals in those three events at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany. In 2011, Bolt took first place in the 200 meter and 4x100 meter relay at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. An unfortunate false start caused Bolt to be disqualified in the 100 meter at the 2011 World Championships, but he brushed it off and went out and won the 200m later in the competition. Despite this unfortunate incident, Bolt’s career has picked up speed and gained momentum and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.

Bolt is currently one of my top 8 track heroes because of the accomplishments that he has made, the fact that he is so charismatic and exciting to watch at meets where he competes, and that he has brought so much more media and mainstream attention to my favorite sport. Keep doing what you’re doing Bolt. I’d like to see a few more WRs at this year’s Olympics in London.

Join me next week where I will introduce my track heroes in lanes 7 and 6 and profile a couple more of my favorite athletes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My Sport Is Your Sport's Punishment

"My sport is your sport's punishment" is a common slogan among Track & Field and Cross Country athletes alike. If you drop a pass at football practice what does your coach make you do? Run. If a player on your basketball team has a bad attitude to your coach what does the coach make that player do? Run. If a baseball team plays a game and loses because they clearly didn't give their best effort what does the coach make them do? Run. 
Clearly running is used as a punishment or conditioning technique in most other sports out there. Having to run is seen as a terrible, cruel thing that one must be forced to do when they screw up in different sports. Then there are the too few of us out there that are crazy enough to enjoy that punishment. Friends ask us why we insist on going to practice every day just to go run our bodies down to the point of complete muscle breakdown and exhaustion. But us "crazy" running people are the most passionate athletes I can say I have ever met. Why do we bring such pain and torment upon ourselves and yet love the sport that causes it to the ends of the earth and back? I have a few theories.
As the slogan goes, "My sport is your sport's punishment". It is certain that a passion for running can be built by the more ego driven side of us. When you can tell your friends that you went to practice that day and completed such drills as running sixteen 400 meter sprints, or running 16 miles at 5 minute and 30 second mile pace, or did 400 meters of lunges, and your friend looks at you in disbelief, let's be honest, that boosts your ego and adds a little pride to yourself. 
Camaraderie. There is a strong sense of camaraderie amongst Track & Field and Cross Country teammates that can be hard to find anywhere else. The friendships and relationships that can develop by being part of either type of team can and do last a lifetime. Many of my best memories in life involve the sport of Track & Field, my teammates, or at least began with something that happened at a track meet or practice. Though mush of both sports are individual-based, the team aspect makes teammates of these sports even closer because any member of a Track & Field or Cross Country team finds themselves genuinely caring about how each and every other member of their team does in their own events. Completely different people whom you may never see with each other off of the track might be the closest of friends during the track season because it is a common interest and passion that draws them together.
Track & Field and Cross Country are the most basic forms of competitions. You don't have to catch a ball, wear protective padding or gear, swing an object to hit another object. No, in our sport you stand on a track with seven other individuals and you run as fast as you can to show you are the fastest one there. No gimics, nothing else is needed other than you, your competitive spirit, and your legs. You throw a weight, a javelin, a disc, to show your strength. You jump farther, higher, and run as far as you can as fast as you can manage. There are no other sports out there that boil you down to your pure athleticism. As I have heard it put, "Once you have started your race, tunnel vision kicks in and you unleash your primal nature and just will your body as fast as it can go". 
Running is one of the oldest forms of competition. Before neat little balls, pucks, bats, rackets, athletic fields were all created, people were running. The Olympic games first began some time around 776 B.C. From that time to around 724 B.C. the only event in the games was a 200 yard dash, known as a stadium. In 708 B.C., the pentathlon was added to the games. This pentathlon consisted of runnning, leaping, wrestling, and throwing the discus and javelin. People have been competing in Track & Field for nearly 3 millennia. The sports of Track & Field and Cross Country are ingrained into the history of human beings. 
Unfortunately, the only time these sports are majorly covered in mainstream media is during the Olympic games, and those only take place every four years. I believe that can change and that Track & Field and Cross Country can become far more popular. If people could take the time to experience the thrill, camaraderie, competitive spirit, and history of these two amazing sports, it can one day be among the top rated sporting events in the world.

Monday, February 13, 2012

When Lanes 1-8 Are Filled, Run Down Memory Lane

           Rays from the hot summer sun shined down on the track that scorching day on May 17, 2008. The thermostat on the atmosphere seemingly decided to turn itself up just to make a challenging day of races that much more difficult. “It was 110 in the shade,” as the song goes. Today was the second, and championship, day of our high school’s conference races in Bend, Oregon. Shane, Garrett, JJ, and I sat on the high school football field performing our prerace stretches and warm ups as we awaited the 4x400 meter relay to be announced.

            From the moment the meet had begun to now, my three running-mates and I had seen the rise and fall of other teammates of ours. We, ourselves, had suffered some losses, but had also gained great victory; none of that seemed as important as what now lay before us. I could feel it, and I could see it in the eyes of my teammates, it was once again time for another 4x4 race. The 4x4 has always been the last event held at any high school meet I have been to. Our teammates, various fans, and the teammates of our opposition lined the track to watch the representatives of their designated school’s run as one for the one mile relay race. Whether one is in the competition, or merely a spectator at the event, there is clearly an electric atmosphere that runs alongside this particular race and starts anyone’s adrenaline flowing. Our race though, this race that had my team’s nerves jumping, was no ordinary 4x4.

            The four of us were seniors in high school now, all destined to go our separate ways after graduation, and it had been several years since our school had been represented by a 4x400 meter relay team at the Oregon State Championships in Eugene. The upcoming minutes meant so much to all of us, our whole team, and our school. The top two teams to cross the finish line at the conference meet are the two teams that go on to the state championship and we wanted it.

            Stepping up to the starting line, we all knew getting to Eugene would be no easy task. Our conference was home to four of the top ten ranked 4x4 teams in the 5A state division, but only two of us get to move on. The starter gave the directions for the race and the last three legs of the relay for each team stepped off the track as the first leg of each team got into position to begin what would seem like the longest relay race of my life. The gun went off and Shane began our team’s race with a quick start. 360 meters to go for Shane and Garrett would receive our golden baton. Those 360 meters did not pass by as fast as my teammates and I would have liked as we screamed and cheered for Shane down the last stretch. Five other teams were ahead at this point. Worry and nerves seemed to boil within JJ and I as Shane handed the baton along to Garrett. Our second leg began his race the way he always began his 400 meter races… very slowly. I stepped onto the track, lined behind five other teams as Garrett held sixth place. On the back 200 meters of Garrett’s race though, he put his legs into gear and came flying down that last 100 meters toward me. All my nerves and worries sprung out of me as I began my race and felt my grip tighten around the baton as my leg of the relay began. My eye was on the prize and would settle for nothing less. I rounded the corner of the first 100 meters, tearing up track trying to gain better position. Fifth place, my mind told me as I passed one opposing runner. Down the back 100 meter stretch, I settled into a comfortable near-sprint as I slowly gained ground on the four runners ahead of me. Starting to turn the corner of the last 200 meters I imagined myself contracting like a coiled spring that would soon have to release. Passing the 250 meter mark, I began to pass the team in fourth. Being very unsportsmanlike, the fourth place runner kept cutting me off and spiking my leg as I attempted to pass him in an outside lane. A flash of anger crossed my mind with 130 meters to go and it was time for this spring to be sprung. I felt myself dig into the track and tore passed the fourth place runner and into the last 100 meter straight away. Three to go, my mind said and suddenly those three did not seem so far ahead. As I came back across the starting line and handed the baton to JJ, the gap between him and the first place racer had lessened from nearly 25 meters to 12 meters. As I stepped off the track, finishing the fastest 4x400 meter leg I had ever ran, I let out one loud, “RUN JJ!!!” and collapsed to the ground in exhaustion and released bits of my lunch from their intestinal prison. I silently rested on hands and knees with my eyes closed in the grass and prayed for JJ to make a miracle happen. Suddenly the crowd went crazy. Above all the noise, I could hear my sprint coach shouting, “GO JJ! GOOOOOO!!!!!” and I rose from the ground to see my friend coming down the last 100 meters of the entire race running 6 meters ahead of the next three teams. JJ crossed the finish line and raised his two index fingers to the sky and Shane, Garrett, and I instantly found ourselves embracing him as we all screamed in celebration and the rest of our track team sprinted onto the track and engulfed us like a giant amoeba.

            We had made it to state, with the fastest time our team had yet run, but even better, we did it in seemingly miraculous fashion. Video of that race still gives me goose-bumps and makes me so proud to this day. It is fun to take a trip down memory lane every now and then, especially when you have memories like this that can put a smile on your face for the rest of the day.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Passing the Adrenaline-Fueled Torch

You know that rush you get when all eyes are on you? That feeling in your core that tingles when you will be going head to head in competition with the people standing beside you? That Track & Field and Cross Country sort of feeling? Well this is the exact feeling any adrenaline junky could thrive on. 

Heading into the 2011 Track & Field season, it had been nearly two years since I had felt that feeling. Two years deprived of the races, the competition, the adrenaline that causes so many to fall in love with a sport that other sports use as punishment. You step up to the line, nerves racing, trying to foresee the coming race in your mind as the Starter begins that oh-so familiar sequence of words that will soon set you sprinting for victory. For two years, the thrill of the race and standing at that starting line vacated itself from my life and I could feel a void within myself that refused to be filled. Intramural flag football teams, pick up basketball and soccer games, lifting weights and running time trials; these activities are a condensed list of the many things that attempted to reignite that Track & Field adrenaline-fueled fire once again, but to no avail. For a while I did not know if I could ever find something that would let me feel  the adrenaline of T&F racing again. 

2008: Hermiston Twilight 4x100m Relay
Then, the 2011 Track & Field season rolls around. As I was working at the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis, playing with kids and running educational programs, I overheard the athletic directors saying something about the Track & Field program needing a coach for the upcoming season. I thought, "This could be a great opportunity to get back into the sport." Maybe it was just the edge for which I was looking. Soon enough, I found myself conducting the first practice of the season for the 2nd to 5th grade mini-athletes that had joined my team.

Practices ran for two weeks and already we were upon our first track meet. As the events began, my first little runner stepped up to the starting line for the 50 meter dash. A second grade boy who, throughout our first six practices, had proven he was nearly as fast or faster than many of the older members of our team. Then, there it was, like the dim embers of a slowly lit campfire amidst a dark cloudy night, the spark of adrenaline was making its way back into my long deprived nervous system. The gun went off and the little second grade trackstar zipped his way to first place in the first ever track race of his young life. As the meet progressed and more of my athletes ran, jumped, and threw, the embers began to spread and logs were thrown onto the fire of that old feeling I used to get when I competed. The members of my team took firsts, seconds, thirds, and some never placed, but at the end of the day I was equallyproud of every single one of them and I realized I found what I had been looking for. If I was no longer going to be a part of an organized track team, experiencing the rush and the thrill of competition as an athlete, I would do so by coaching these young kids and teaching them the thrills of Track & Field that I had know since I was there age. 

2011: BGCC Team Photo

In that 2011 track season, the athlete in me passed on the adrenaline-fueled torch to the now coach in me and I have to say, there is no better feeling.