Sunday, August 12, 2018

Race Recap: Summerfest 5K

It's not often that you get to walk to the starting line of a race, but I was able to do so yesterday when I went to my hometown for their Summerfest 5K. As usual, I will recap the race while inserting the titles of music I listened to during the race.

The Proclaimers, "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"

My parents' driveway and the finish line!
My parents' home is smack in the middle of our small city, across the street from City Hall. As a result, I didn't have to worry about parking, didn't have to worry about waking up early, and didn't have to worry about where to put my car keys or wallet or stuff like that. I just woke up about 30 minutes before the race, threw on my normal running garb, and walked out to the starting line about half a block away.

Yuki Hayashi, "You Say Run"

I have been to large and small races, and this one was on the smaller side (though not the smallest I've ever ran). I'd say about 150-200 racers were present on a beautiful Saturday morning - there were not too many clouds in the sky and the humidity was low.

Over the summer I got back into running after taking almost a year off. Once I got out of graduate school I made it a habit of running four days a week. Each time I would shave time off my walking pace and add it to my running pace. (I'm a follower of the Galloway run-walk method.) By the time I got to the race, I was walking for 1:15 and running for 1:45.

KANA-BOON, "Silhouette"

The biggest challenge of this race was the start - as always. Unlike the races I've done in the past, I actually started my pacing at a walk instead of starting with a run. It was probably the best decision I made because I didn't have to deal with any congestion at the starting line; the runners all bolted ahead of me and the walkers stayed behind me. When it was time for me to start running, I had a wide-open lane.

Dust Follows, "Shikra"

The route of the race was clearly meant to imitate those big races but didn't require the city to close any major roads in the area. We started down a neighborhood street by City Hall and then cut into a nearby park. The park path (a former railroad track) took us to the local library and middle school, which connected to the school about 1/4 mile away from another school by a small road. After we circled that school, we traced our steps back to City Hall.

It was the second out-and-back course I'd done, and I liked it. Because we did the loop around the school, the majority of the runners that would have been passing me on their way back ended up heading back while I was still in the loop.

alt-J, "Left Hand Free"

There were runners that started out at the pace of the rest of that initial crowd, and then faded back as they slowed their pace. Those were my prey. I would pinpoint people that were starting to shuffle or walk, and made it a point to focus on passing them. Even though I was doing the run-walk, I didn't have a whole lot of back-and-forth with me passing, then them passing, then me, and so on. Instead, I would pass them and then ended up surprised when I didn't see them again!

Little Mix, "Salute"

I love road running, and there were a couple of times when neighbors drove their cars down the street as we were running. That was a bit frustrating, and I wish the road had been more clearly marked to show where the cars might be and where the runners should be. We runners had seen that the finish line was marked on the left side of the street, which was lucky, because the cars were driving down the right side. Chalk marks? Orange cones? Something? This is the second race where I've been running with cars, and I'm not a fan.

Zero Hero, "Twilight"

My fitness tracker might not be a huge judge of mileage, but when I punched my watch at the finish line, it actually said that I'd gone 3.2 miles instead of just 3.1. What really surprised me was my time! This past week I copied a swimmer's method and did "taper time" where I wasn't running at full pace after Monday. I didn't even go for a run after Tuesday! But the taper time was so helpful, because I PRed at 34:31. I'm not sure I've ever gone under 35 minutes before - my pace ended up being 10:48/mi! If I'm doing an 11-minute mile I'm thrilled; this was unbelievable!

Yasuharu Takanashi, "Junkyousha"

It helped that I actually had a cheering crew waiting for me at the finish line. I told my parents to expect me at the finish line about 35 minutes after the race began. Luckily, they got out there a little earlier and were joined by my neighbors across the street, who I had talked to the night before about doing the race. There were lots of supportive people along the route, but it was cool to see people I knew genuinely cheering for me.

John Williams, "Scherzo for X-Wings"

I did so well that I was very curious about my results compared to others in my age group (ages 31-35). I inched my way over to the announcements, and sure enough, I placed second in my age group! Unlike a year ago, when I was third out of three runners in my age group, I did spot a few ladies that were in their thirties this time. It might have only been five, but I still beat someone! (Unfortunately they didn't have the awards there, and they'll be mailed when they do arrive. I'm wondering if I will get a medal or not.)

Dwayne Johnson, "You're Welcome"

The race was nice, and it was fun to do it in my hometown. The city has been full of people all weekend who are wandering the streets on their way uptown, and it makes for a buzzy atmosphere. I love that!

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

The channel has a great series called "Training Under Fire" where it profiles athletes who compete in the Olympics even as their country erupts around them in war. One particular video was timed perfectly, and you'll know why in a few paragraphs. Here is the video:

Tokyo 2020 Prep

CoSport sent out an email to its contact list encouraging us to create an account as soon as possible because tickets for the Tokyo games were going to be in high demand. That led me to a Twitter conversation with Ken Hanscom, who also posted CoSport's memo on the social media platform. My question was concerning the CoSport packages and purchasing individual tickets. Here was his reply:

While Rio and PyeongChang did offer individual tickets on their websites, their tickets also were widely available even during the Games. Ugh. This process is so stressful!

Mini Blurbs
  • This week's Blurb Watch:
    • Swimming
    • Yeah, not much this week. There would have been more if the States had been able to air the European Championships. That would have been nice. 
  • However, the Olympic Channel did air the Pan Pacs Swimming Championships live, even though the finals started at 5:30 in the morning! 
  • It is interesting to see which countries come out for the Pan Pacs. The main three are Japan, Australia, and the United States. The championships also cover the Asian countries as well as South and North America. 
  • Caleb Dressel and Simone Manuel got some good competition from Australian rivals Cate Campbell and Kyle Chalmers, who beat them in the 100 freestyle. The Pan Pacs is a great tuneup event for things like the World Championships and Olympics, so this will be a good learning experience for both of them. 
  • I got to watch the mixed medley relay, won by Australia, the first night of competition. Both Australia and Japan chose to have their male swimmers do the first two legs - the backstroke and the butterfly - while the USA alternated between female and male swimmers. Now before you say that countries will only do this pattern from now on because those teams ended up going 1-2, remember that Team USA didn't send out their strongest swimmers in all four disciplines because of the medley relay taking place the same night as certain events. 
  • The best part of the Pan Pacs coverage on the Olympic Network is that the English-speaking announcer uses European pronunciations for American names, even though over time those names have been Americanized. Chase Kalisz ("Kay-lish" according to American announcers) became "Keh-leez" and Zane Grothe ("Groh-thee") became "Groe-te." And he didn't adjust over the days, so now I have no idea how to pronounce these names. Oh, and the same announcer thought that the 400m men's race was ended after 300 meters, but tried to hide his mistake instead of owning it. 
  • On Friday night I finally got the chance to see the ESPN Films documentary Rowdy, which profiled swimmer Rowdy Gaines. I'll be honest: I didn't know much about Rowdy other than his work in the NBC booth, but his swimming career was incredible. If you get the SEC Network, you should catch this doc. It was put together beautifully, too!
  • Last week Olympic Fever introduced its new book club book, which I mentioned last week is called Running For My Life by Lopez Lomong. On Wednesday, I spent the morning on the beach in Lake Michigan and thought I would get started on the book. Well, 36 hours later, I was finished! The book is incredibly interesting and I ate it up. I just wanted to keep reading about Lomong's life! Even if you don't listen to the Olympic Fever podcast, I still recommend you get this book and read it. (This is why I posted the video above about the Sudanese runner - Lomong is doing a lot of work to help those in South Sudan.)

Weekly Cauldron Check

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I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

What Beijing 2008 Meant to Me

Before 2008, I was simply a casual Olympic fan. I took notice that they were happening, watched a little bit of the Opening Ceremonies, and watched a couple of things here and there.

But in August of 2008 - ten years ago this month - several things came together that transformed me from a casual fan to a rabid fan.

The first was the fact that I myself was going to be traveling to China later that month to be a teacher in the middle of the country. Before heading there, I would have one day in Beijing itself. I knew that NBC enjoyed telling stories about the host country's life and culture, and would be very interested to hear more about China.

The second happened right here:

Like I mentioned before - I have seen Opening Ceremonies in the past, so I knew there was a cultural aspect, and then the parade of nations, and then the lighting of the cauldron. But as soon as those 2,008 drummers started yelling, I knew that this Opening Ceremony was going to be something to remember.

To this day, I don't believe that Opening Ceremony has been topped by the ones that followed. To their credit, the organizers of Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 knew they couldn't top it. The massive amount of people who all had to work as one cohesive unit in the Beijing production was seemingly insurmountable.

During the Olympics I was attending Chinese-teaching-prep seminars in Minnesota. These classes didn't really require a whole lot of homework, so my evenings were spent watching all the NBC primetime coverage (back when it was really the only way to watch some stuff). I got to watch men's and women's beach volleyball, men's volleyball, water polo, gymnastics, track and field, and all the swimming finals - remember, NBC requested that the swimming finals occur in the mornings so they could air live in the States.

I watched all of Michael Phelps' gold medal wins. To be honest, I almost turned off the TV in disgust during the men's 4x100m because the French were so far ahead at one point. But I didn't - and I was rewarded with Jason Lezak's astounding comeback and win.

There are so many storylines that I will never forget: Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin's clash in the women's all-around, Misty May and Kerri Walsh crushing the competition on the beach, Jonathan Horton leading the US men to an astounding bronze medal in the team gymnastics competition, two sweeps on the men's track in the 400m and 400m hurdles, and Dawn Harper's triumph in the 100m hurdles after no one on the NBC coverage gave her any airtime.

Honestly, Harper's gold medal was my favorite aside from the Phelps medals. All the coverage was given to her Team USA teammate Lolo Jones. Like, all of it. Harper was mentioned in passing as the athletes were announced, but that was it. And then Jones stumbled in the last two hurdles and Harper crossed the finish line first. And still NBC wouldn't acknowledge her, talking about Jones' heartbreaking stumble instead. It was like they were scrambling for information about Harper because they didn't bother to do any research beforehand! (I'm watching the DVD recap from 2008 that I own, and even in that recap they gave several highlights to Jones' failure and three seconds to Harper. Ridiculous.)

If you show me uniforms and medal ceremony attire for the United States, I can always tell you which ones were from 2008. The track and field team wore one of my favorite blue kits. The swimmers had stars and stripes on the famous "suits" that created so many world records. The medal ceremony attire was white with a blue V on the top. Liukin wore a pink leotard and Johnson wore red.

2008 was the first Olympics where I was recognizing names and still remembering them in the following years: Phelps. Coughlin. Lezak. Bolt. May. Walsh. Dalhauser. Harper. Richards. Felix. Williams. Liukin. Johnson. Cavic. Cseh. Horton. Adlington. Bernard. Torres. Wariner. Merritt. Bekele. And more!

After these Olympics, I stuck with these athletes. I became aware of World Championships (though it was still hard to find a place to watch them). I found track and field coverage here and there. When London 2012 rolled around, I rooted hard for those athletes that I knew from four years earlier and actively searched my DVR to make sure I watched more than the Big Three of gymnastics, swimming, and athletics.

As a matter of fact, thanks to that DVR and live-streaming that started with Sochi 2014, I found it all too easy to get sucked into the Olympics. But it wouldn't have happened without the spark of Beijing 2008.

Some visa issues postponed my arrival in Beijing until September, but it didn't postpone my Olympic enthusiasm - nor the enthusiasm of my students. One of the questions I got the most often from my Chinese students was "Do you know Michael Phelps?"

I wish, students. I wish.

Eventually as I left China after my work was done, I caught sight of the Bird's Nest and Water Cube from the taxi that was taking me to the airport. Nowadays I would have demanded a day trip to those sites. But at the time I simply marveled at the size and scope of those two venues, and giggle at the thought that I was seeing those buildings in person when I spent so much time watching them in August.

I am certainly not a "casual" Olympic fan anymore, and Beijing 2008 was the catalyst for my fandom. If it had to be any Olympics, I'm glad it was this one.

Tokyo 2020 Prep

Recently Japan has been hit with quite a heat wave, and it coincides with the same time of year when the Olympics are being held. I've learned many ways to beat the heat, but it's a lot easier to do so when there is free water and I have a refillable water bottle. How will it work when I'm in a different country?

Hopefully the Japanese organizers will make sure that something as important as water is available in the venues with little or no cost. I'd rather not resort to vending machines and strange carbonated products to try to quench my thirst!

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

Ever heard of Anthony Nesty? He swam for the Republic of Suriname and shocked the world in 1988!

Mini Blurbs

  • Unlike last week, there wasn't a whole lot going on in the Olympic world, event-wise. The swimming European Championships were taking place, but we can't watch them over in the US. I caught some fencing and archery, but not much else!
  • The Fencing World Championships were last week and I watched a few matches. Fencing is a curious sport. It's basically an explosion that the audience doesn't really follow until one of the athletes screams and stops fencing. The commentators on the World Championship feed even mentioned that coaches have to train fencers to not go berzerk. 
  • If you're looking for even more swimming between the National Championships and the Pan Pacs (which start Thursday!), watch the Deck Pass show that they had. They interview swimmers and talk about the National Championships each morning and evening of the competition. I found it to be a lot of fun! Plus one of the hosts is a childhood idol of mine, Amy Van Dyken!
  • In non-comptition news, Visa extended its sponsorship with the Olympics through 2032. Still waiting on Coca-Cola. Can you imagine if Coke didn't sponsor the Olympics and Pepsi swooped in? That would boggle my mind. 
  • There have been a lot of anniversaries happening the past few weeks, because a great many Olympics took place in late July and early August. That's only going to continue with the 50th anniversary of the Mexico 1968 games come October! (Yes, there was a Summer Olympics in October!) Follow Olympic Twitter to hear more (or follow me and I'll retweet them out!). 
  • If you didn't catch it during the week, the podcast episode of Olympic Fever that I was in came out on Thursday. We also picked our next book in the Olympic Fever Book Club: Running For My Life by Lopez Lomong. I'm going to start reading the book this week! 

Weekly Cauldron Check

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I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Scrutiny and Olympic Fame

Olympic fame is weird.

It's not like movie fame, or music fame, or even sports fame, if you can believe it!

Olympic fame is an explosion. No one knows who you are, then suddenly you're on the world's biggest stage. If you don't perform well, then you're just going to fade away. But if you do perform up to standards - and even win a gold medal - the spotlight shines brightly on you. You're only known for one thing, and you need to have the stamina and personality to handle all the media attention.

The USOC is always trekking out their top athletes for various events because they're hoping to raise the funds needed to support all their athletes. (Our government does not support Team USA with any funds, unlike many countries.) NBC will plaster an Olympian's face all over their advertising and stick a camera in their face when they compete in order to get more viewers. And sometimes, the spotlight can get pretty hot.

This week at the US Swimming National Championships, two women swam that have dealt with depression and anxiety after their Olympic performances. Allison Schmitt finished second in two races and is headed for the Pan Pacific Games after dealing with years of anxiety and depression. She has been outspoken about her illness. Missy Franklin, gold medalist in London, competed in the 100m and 200m backstroke, but only finished 17th and 19th. She has also been battling depression.

Simone Biles, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the gymnastics all-around, competed on Saturday night for the first time since the Olympics and won the competition in Columbus. But that doesn't mean the journey came easy for her. On Friday night she tweeted

It takes a lot of stamina for an Olympian to endure a quadrennial. Some make it look easy, but it is definitely a struggle that's easier to see nowadays.

I've been reading two books about past Olympics: The Games by David Goldblatt and Fire on the Track by Roseanne Montillo. The struggles with enduring popularity and media scrutiny have existed since the beginning of Olympic coverage. Women weren't even taken seriously as athletes until after World War II. Most female track athletes were declared "unfeminine" by the press while their teammates in swimming and diving were adored for their grace and beauty. Can you imagine working hard in your craft only to be dismissed by those that are supposed to promote you?

We as hardened Olympic fans can do more to help those athletes as they work hard between Olympics. We can go out and see them compete. We can watch their events if they're aired on television. If they do meet and greets we can show them our appreciation. If we follow on social media we don't demand that they do more for us. If negative reports surface by the regular media or social media, we can do our homework and see if those reports are telling the truth.

Getting angry and overly critical of our Olympians doesn't fix anything. If you're angry and overly critical of someone you love, they are probably going to have a negative reaction. Olympians are people - even though the USOC and NBC seemingly parade them out like dolls to get money and viewers. Don't forget that!

Tokyo 2020 Prep

Well I had some time to look at some reviews of CoSport...and they weren't great. I need to take online reviews with a grain of salt - positive experiences usually don't warrant a post on the Internet - but the reviews I read said a bit about CoSport's policy. Some families' event tickets weren't together. Tickets needed to be picked up in the host city and couldn't be mailed. There are quite a few posts on TripAdvisor simply titled "CoSport Sucks."

People's experiences with CoSport's customer service seems to be pretty negative, too, which is the part that grates on me the most. Companies that give customers the runaround are the absolute worst. (I speak as someone having major issues with Comcast/Xfinity right now.)

Fortunately, I did come across Ken Hanscom, a writer and pretty knowledgeable person when it comes to Olympic ticketing. I read his article about purchasing tickets for PyeongChang and learned quite a lot. I don't have to go through CoSport and can purchase directly through the organizers if I wanted - and I wouldn't get the upcharge! As a result, I'm leaning more towards the a la carte vacation plan.

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

One word: ski ballet.

Mini Blurbs

  • Even though I had faculty meetings and watched some tech webinars to get me ready for the school year, I still had time to watch a lot of sports. This week's BlurbWatch:
    • Track and Field
    • Fencing
    • Rugby
    • Swimming
    • Gymnastics
  • The Rugby World Cup Sevens took place last weekend in San Francisco, and I really, really need to watch more rugby. I enjoy it so much when I watch it!
  • The US Swimming National Championships not only determine who would attend the Pan Pacific Championships in two weeks, but also next year's World Championships. Not really sure why. 
  • Even though the TYR Pro Swim Series showcases a lot of the greatest swimmers in the US, it doesn't show all of them. Chase Kalisz and Zane Grothe looked like locks in their events, but Kalisz finished sixth in the 200m butterfly and Grothe finished third in the 1500m freestyle. Later in the meet each won a different event, but the talent pool in the US runs very deep, and you can't determine the elite athletes by one set of swim meets alone!
  • One thing you can count on: Katie Ledecky is going to win a bunch. She won three national championships this weekend. 
  • One of the major senior competitions in gymnastics took place in Columbus, Ohio at the US Classic, and Simone Biles took the win with almost two whole points separating her from the rest of the competitors, which included current world champion Morgan Hurd. Biles did a dismount several times that looks more like a tumbling roll than anything else, and it was pretty awesome!
  • By the way, you don't realize how hard the wolf turn is until you've seen it done badly. Which I did last night. 
  • Still trying to get into fencing. Still trying to understand it. I'm really trying, guys. 
  • Last Sunday was the second day of the Diamond League: London. We're nearing the end of the Diamond League, and it's clear that track and field athletes have ups and downs through the season, too. Katerina Stefanidi started her season of pole vault badly but has surged back as of late. Mutaz Barshim looked unbeatable in the high jump, but then got injured and now is out for the rest of the season after surgery. That's just the way of the season!
  • Katarina Johnson-Thompson is a British heptathlete, but she is very good at field events and actually competed in long jump and high jump in the Diamond League event over the weekend. She got fifth place in the long jump and ninth in the high jump. 
  • I adore when London hosts track and field; they have an awesome camera angle for track events because they put a cameraman on a four-wheeler and drive him in the outside lanes!
  • Something that might cause jumpers some consternation is the fact that London raised the platform for the long jump and triple jump. I'm sure athletes have to deal with various types of tracks, but it seemed very tight!

Weekly Cauldron Check

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I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!