A Letter to Gags–Post 2014 Season

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The end of the season is always an enjoyable time for a runner as it is an opportunity to become ‘just’ a person for a short period of time. Tomorrow [Monday] I am flying to Hawaii/New Zealand for a 2+ week long vacation with a buddy, to visit our college roommate who now lives and works down under. But in addition to being able to do some stuff that I don’t normally get the chance to, I can now take a moment to peer back into the season that was and find some lessons that can be used moving forward into the next year of training and racing. I wrote an email to Coach Gags today with some of those ideas, many of which we have previously talked about. I figure the best way to recap this past season is to do so from the perspective of looking ahead. It was a great year and I owe all the thanks in the world to Gags, the entire NJ*NY TC and my sponsor, Hoka One One. Couldn’t be more excited to see what happens next!

“Gags—I wanted to put down to paper some of the thoughts I have had about this year now that the season is over and I had some time to analyze what worked really well, and where I can improve. First off, I am obviously incredibly excited with this season and year in total. I have full confidence in you, the team and the system. Not only was it a great year of racing, but also it was extremely enjoyable work to do day in and day out. I find that I am finishing up my season in the ideal state of mind; happy but not content. This is the first season that I have finished on healthy legs since my sophomore year of college [I stepped on glass a month later though].

In reflection, I think I did a lot of things really well that were instrumental in having a successful year. The thing that stands out is that I got my consistency back. Minus the hiccup in November, and the 6 weeks injured after indoors, I only had a few occasions of missing days. My running log is covered in 70-75 mile weeks, and that showed itself in consistent racing. I was also able to keep my mileage up and training going through race weeks. Making the switch from pre-meet workouts to keeping the tempo on Wednesdays was helpful for maintaining strength until September. I responded well and felt fresh still despite not having any major tapers.

I think the single thing I am most proud of this year has been my management of pre-race anxiety. I was able to stay calm in high-pressure situations, which wasn’t always a strength of mine, but it’s made racing significantly less stressful and overall more enjoyable. Knowing what the next couple years have to come, I find this to be of upmost importance.

On to the things I need to work on! As we discussed, I think a small bump in mileage will go a long way. But in addition to that, I need to be better about my long run being legitimately long. I had relatively few runs over 15 miles this spring, and I should probably be aiming to hit 17-18 more often. I also need to get better about doing strides more regularly after easy runs, and staying on top of the drills and dynamic stretching immediately before and after. I also missed a lot of the hill work this year, so next year I need to be less of a coward because I think that’ll be great for speed development and gaining some power.

I definitely need to be better about weightlifting and establishing a better routine in the gym. I’ll open a discussion with Eric/Rich about this. I slacked big time once the racing really started and my body weight dropped pretty significantly because of it. Eating and sleep were good throughout the year, but there is always room to do a little bit better.

I found the workouts to be perfect throughout the year, and I had multiple moments where I was shocked at how fast I was able to run. Although, I am hoping to improve my tempo pace a bit next year, as I sort of stagnated at 5:00/mile and I am confident there is a lot of room to grow there. Figure if you want me to run the occasional 3k/5k next year that I should get that down.

Finally, I am hoping to get away a few times during the winter next year just for a week or two here or there to get out of the cold and break things up. After my last indoor race, I’d love to go somewhere for a few weeks and get a small block of base in.

Those are my thoughts! I am interested to hear yours. Very excited for this vacation, and I’ll do a little running when I see something pretty that looks like it needs to be run on. Should have some Internet so I’ll let you know how things are going. See you in a couple weeks and thanks for a great year!

Kyle”

My New Sponsor: Hoka One One!!!!

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For our 6th grade yearbook, they asked each of us students what we wanted to be when we grew up. And amongst the many friends and classmates saying that they wanted to be lawyers, doctors, baseball players and astronauts there was me, but no one else shared my dream job; to be a professional runner.

Now, thanks to the support of Hoka One One, those wishes have come true and I can proudly represent a company that I truly believe in. Since the inception of the brand just a few years ago, it has revolutionized the industry and challenged the status quo of what a running shoe can provide in terms of cushion, comfort and a great ride.

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When Hoka One One first debuted their shoes, this ‘maximalist’ concept created a lot of doubters and at first, most runners were skeptical. I know I could be included in that category of people who find change scary. But I finally tried them, and I was shocked, ‘How could a shoe with so much cushioning be so light?’ And as more and more people have taken the small risk of slipping them onto their feet, the scale has tipped and now those who were previously questioning the shoes are now the biggest advocates.

This season I gambled on myself because I thought I was ready to run fast. I purchased myself a ticket to head to Europe to try and come away with a couple new personal bests. When I returned from the trip, which included a couple new PR’s in the mile and some other strong races and wins, I began talking with Hoka One One about the possibility of beginning a relationship together. What intrigued me most about Hoka One One was the opportunity to work with a young and quickly growing company that was very much by runners and for runners.

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There was a passion and excitement in our conversations about what Hoka One One was going to do next, and how they were going to continue to build and raise the entire sport of track and field. It began with a sponsorship of my NJ*NY teammate Mike Rutt, and led to the addition of other great athletes who were also now racing on the track in a Hoka uniform. Hoka was also the one company that stood up and was willing to lend their support to the USA’s Olympic 1500 silver medalist, Leo Manzano. And they were eager to do the same for me.

If you are a fan of track and field that hopes to see the sport grow, then there are a lot of reasons to be encouraged by a shoe company that sees the value of investing in sponsorships of athletes and in meets. Competition is good for the consumer. The more shoe companies vying for your affection as a runner, the better. And if you can appreciate a company like Hoka for making a splash into the track world, then the best way to show your support is to try the product. Because if Hoka’s investment in guys like Mike, Leo, myself and others proves to be a good one, then there will be a lot more to come for the sport as a whole.

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Before I was willing to take our conversations any further, I communicated to Hoka that I needed to try the shoes because I wasn’t willing to promote a shoe that I didn’t love. So I was handed a pair of the new Clifton. I took a few quick steps in them and immediately said, ‘I’m sold!’ They only weigh 7.7oz and have a 4mm drop, and there were just recently announced as the winner of the Runner’s World Editors Choice Award. The other shoe that I would have to recommend for first time Hoka wearers is the Huaka, which weigh in at 8.9 oz and has a 2mm drop. I’ve loved this shoe for its smooth and efficient ride that is perfect for the days when I want to get rolling at a steady pace.

The current trend of shoe companies and training groups pairing up is good in many ways. It creates a brand identity for the companies, and gives good support to the athletes. However, that situation is not perfect for every individual and can make it very difficult to gain sponsorship for those who seek out other options. I am lucky enough to be a part of a very special group at the New Jersey*New York TC, where we have an incredible leader in Coach Gagliano who is very welcoming to athletes regardless of their sponsorship affiliation. To have Hoka’s support in my decision to remain in an environment that I am most comfortable and happiest is something I am extremely thankful for.

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I am very proud to be representing Hoka One One and to have such an amazing shoe company to support me in my athletic endeavors as I continue to pursue my goals. And if you are at all excited, or curious by these incredibly comfortable and efficient shoes, then I hope you’ll give them a try for your next run.

A Labor of Love

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My apologies in advance, but I want to talk philosophy. Not about the historically well-endowed Socrates, but instead of one bearded old German guy whose ramblings did justice to the feelings I share but have failed to articulate so profoundly. When I say his name, I expect the hypothetical room to go silent, ready? Karl Marx. I know. Unfortunately, as history would have it, most people think he just went on and on about communism and inspired everyone that America has ever hated [for some people, that’s our own President]. But I don’t want to turn this into a McCarthy-esque witch-hunt, and hope that I will not be misinterpreted as someone who thinks poor people deserve medical care too, because that’s just asinine! To the surprise of many, he had some good ideas and one in particular encapsulates everything I love about running, and that’s his theory of alienation.

“And this life activity [the worker] sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. … He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labor itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another.” -Karl Marx

Individuals used to be independent. Within the nuclei of our family, we would roam the land eating berries, stealing nuts from squirrels, and maybe even killing the occasional woolly mammoth. But at a certain point in time we discovered the benefits of not doing that, because that sounds hard. So we learned that if we settled within the comfort of a village, threw up some walls, and distributed the necessary tasks of survival, we’d have more time to play the newest video game consoles. This is specialization, and it was among the greatest achievements until sliced bread. But there is a nasty side effect of living in a socially stratified society [besides tax breaks for the rich], and that is because the estrangement of labor is real.

Inspired by the meatpacking district of Chicago in the mid-19th century, Henry Ford popularized the assembly line technique for the completion of the Model-T. Workers would stand next to the conveyor belt, focusing solely on one task, and upon its completion, would pass it along, and repeat the mind-numbing job. Between the first punch in and the last punch out, factory men remain unchallenged and replaceable while on the clock. There is a distance that exists between the worker and the product. His monotonous labor lacks any form of stimulation and he fails to see how his specific role contributes to the final result. An entire day is spent putting two pieces together, but never seeing the finished puzzle. That disconnect between the subject and the object is neglectful to the human spirit’s need to feel purposeful. This is why people are miserable.

For Marx, this problem could be solved by communism. But good luck enjoying your job when America hears you like sharing. Instead, I believe in an input-output model. When my passion for running began, it was addicting. Thinking back to the exhaustion from those first runs at the dawn of my career, it’s amazing I ever fell in love with the sport. I remember stopping to walk for a few minutes with a couple teammates when coach wasn’t looking. But as the miles passed by, I experienced small bouts of success daily. There was no more walking. A two-mile run felt about as hard as one-mile once was. And before long, I was running three and four daily. My paces were getting faster, and my personal bests were being lowered. I wanted more. And it was so simple; if I worked hard and smart, then I would run faster than before. For a confused kid wandering the labyrinth of a middle school’s hallways, I cherished the straightforwardness that came after the final bell. The correlation was direct, and the results were tangible. Motivation stemmed intrinsically, and I prided myself in what I was doing. And many miles and minutes of running later, the same phenomenon still exists. The more I put in, the more I get out.

In running, your labor is not replaceable. You cannot run a mile for a friend, or skip a day and make it up. But you can say that the times you run, and the races you win are all yours. That is because, in the end, your work is the final product.

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The past two weeks I have been on the road a bit as I spent a week working at 5 Star Cross-Country Camp, and then a week staying at a cabin in Maine. Déjà vu. I came home inspired, and hungry. Additionally, I had the chance to do a motivational talk of my own at Westwood XC Camp. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a few different camps, and it is always a fun way to get some kids excited about running. Those weeks away were motivating and fortunately, I have returned a bit more fit than when I left.

I have written before [on this blog] about the ‘Juice Theory,’ which values the added benefits of the gradual build up, so I will stay true to that, as I believe it has done me a lot of good so far during this summer. Under the guidance of Gags, I have been made patient, and in my 10th week, hit 60 miles in 6 runs. I will continue to climb a bit higher the next month, and I will slowly integrate some [very] easy workouts into the routine.

Additionally, I have been experiencing what I call the ‘Balloon Theory,’ which in short states: Fitness is like a balloon. It is much harder to blow up the balloon as it expands to a point that it has never been before. But once the air is let out, and an attempt to blow up the balloon again is made, it is much easier to achieve levels of expansion previously reached.

Now that I am home I have to figure out my apartment situation, and finding a job that is content to let me come in late everyday and have the freedom of traveling regularly. Ideally it’s not on an assembly line.

(I am currently in the midst of a competition with my brother to see who can get published by the popular website, ‘McSweeney’s,’ first. The entries are that are successfully posted are normally short and funny blurbs. And I am expecting many more rejections.)

Dear Passenger Sitting in Seat 14C,

Why did you do this to me? To us? Things were going so well. I know we had our differences about the rights to the armrest and the allocation of elbowroom. But after dancing around your passive aggressive moans, and seeing you bang your funny bone, I gave in. It is all yours, and I am ok with that. Am I shocked you disregarded the universal law of airplanes that would forfeit the rights to me, the middle seat? Yes. And when you first sat down and complimented my choice of literature, I thought to myself, ‘Now this is a guy who I can have a conversation with!’ I am an arms crossed kind of guy anyway.

But you put your headphones in. It was a little loud, but you’re lucky I am a sucker for spoiled 16-year-old pop icons with a mastery of the auto-tune. I actually kind of enjoyed it. I respected your refusal to oblige by the flight attendants incessant warnings to shut off all electronics. How stealthy you were! I know wearing that hoodie today was not a coincidence. That’s the type of craftiness I would expect from you, and you had never failed to disappointment me.

I drank too much lemonade from that pretzel stand. I knew the risks going in, and I accepted the potential consequences. On a three-hour flight, I could be pardoned one bathroom break, yet we were only 30 minutes in when the rush came. I did not want to excuse myself so early, and burden you with the task of moving for me. And what if I had to go again? How embarrassing that would be. You looked so peaceful as your eyes flickered to fight off the stream of cool air blowing from the vent. But I could only hold it in for so long. The time had come. I had contemplated all possible escape routes. The climb over, the squeeze by, even the sneak under. However, the fear of you waking up with a grown man’s ass in your face scared me straight. So I nudged. And you complied considerately, without any hesitation.

As you unbuckled your seatbelt, and stood up I could feel the bladder relief just moments away. But then you curiously began to walk to the back of the plane. I was struck by awe, shocked by such actions. And when you walked into the bathroom, and stole that seat from me, I cursed you in anger. I looked ahead; there was a vacant lavatory at the front! I rushed forward. And my pace quickened. But the flight attendant stopped my momentum, and shut me out with the pull of those pretentious shades. ‘First class passengers only,’ she smirked. I hate her.

So I spun around, and once again returned to the rear. The light was off. You were done. How unforgivable you were to steal that spot before me. If it weren’t for me, you’d still be asleep with a belly full of pee. Though at last, it was over. I turned the knob, anticipating my victory. And there you were. Starring back at me, with your jaw dropped in disgust, and your hand held behind you wrapped in a protective glove of tissue paper. You yelled in anger, “Shut the door!” As if I were the one at fault.

And now we sit here, for two more hours. A vision of the worst half of your naked body plagues my memory. This could have been prevented. If only you had been more responsible. So now I put my headphones in as well, and shut my eyes. I can’t even look at you! We shall never speak of this, and I will try to fall asleep. But I can’t. I still have to pee. Damn lemonade.

Sincerely,

Passenger 14B

The Summer Running Convention

Before the close of my sophomore year of high school, my coach approached me at practice with a brochure. On the printed cover there was an eclectic group of boys and girls, strategically picked to mirror the diversity of the United Nations, running down a trail. I was skeptical. He opened up the pamphlet and pointed at one of the pictures, “Look! This camp brings you to where this year’s state meet is going to be. Go.” I did not have the fortune to matriculate into a high school powerhouse. Instead I came into a program of sprinters, and under the guidance of a soccer coach. But despite having limited experience with distance running, he was smart and willing to learn. So together through my high school years we read books, talked to other coaches and athletes, and developed a program that would work. For what he lacked in knowledge of lactate thresholds he made up in wisdom. And sending me to cross-country camp was one of his best moves.

 

There was no way I was going to camp alone though. I was a social butterfly of prodigious standards, but I wasn’t going to show up without a backup plan. I convinced my teammate Leroy to tag along, who was more a wrestler than he was a runner, but he was always down to make new friends. We pulled up to the campgrounds, and we were baffled. Cross-country camp was nothing like we had imagined. Everyone was having a good time playing basketball, but the kids were a bit bigger than we imagined. I looked at Leroy who sat beside me in the back seat to see if he was equally confused. His initial concern about camp had been resolved, “It looks like I’m not going to be the only black kid.” We rolled up in our car and spoke to one of the counselors. It turned out that the cross-country camp was a bit further down the dirt road. We followed the path and crested the hill only to see dozens of shirtless kids tossing a Frisbee across the field. That’s more like it, I thought.

 

Coming from a high school without a real running tradition, I was regularly mocked for sporting short-shorts to practice. In the most stereotypical fashion, the football players would call out and whistle as I ran around their field. This was flattering. But at camp, I was no longer the lone soldier. Within a couple hours of being there, and before even heading out for a run, I had been accepted solely by the condition of being a fellow runner. In that one week of camp, I listened and absorbed the lessons from such runners as Dick Beardsley, John Gregorek, Henry Rono and others like my running group counselor who was a former Footlocker National champion. I left camp with a new sense of pride to be a runner. As an athlete who was participating in one of the less popular sports in school, it was comforting to see that I was not alone. Somewhere out there were running nerds, just like me. But I didn’t find them until I went to camp.

 

Eight years later and I am headed back to camp again, yet now I return in a different role. Now it’s my turn to motivate some kids, share some wisdom, and make them laugh on the longest runs of their lives. However, at the end of the week when I am exhausted from waking up for early morning runs, playing Frisbee, putting on skits, swimming in the lake, and teaching clinics, I will come away with a spark of inspiration myself. As I am doing my best to eclipse my personal bests, and make a splash on the elite scene in the upcoming year, it is easy to be consumed by the business-like side of racing. But spending a week with kids who enjoy running for its purity is a refreshing look back to where I started, and to appreciate where I have ended up, so far.

 

Since cross-country runners have more camp pride than a wizard and their Hogwarts house, I’ll plug and say next week I will be up in Rockhill, NY at 5 Star XC Camp (www.5starxc.com). There’s still time to sign up and drink the ambiguously flavored red drank.

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