Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Path to the Start Line (and the Finish Line, Too)

1. Journey - Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)

I walked a 5K last December, and it was my first one. I learned a lot of things on that day. First, cities that plow the side streets before the main streets are stupid cities. Second, 5 kilometers is a pretty fair distance to walk, especially if you haven't done a lot of training for it. Third, there are a looooot of people who like to run in the cold. And to be fair, I was a bit jealous. They have their 5K shirts on from their run in November, dressed in their tights and running gloves, their iPods strapped to their arms, setting a fast pace without even batting an eye. And I'm bundled in three layers of sweats trying to walk fast enough to heat up a little.
I thought to myself, Man, wouldn't it be fun to run this race next year?

2. MGMT - Time to Pretend (clean version)

Now, December was 12 months away, and the race cleared my memory. First, I had something more important to train for: Disney World. I was going in June with a friend, and I'd heard from people that you could walk for miles in just one day of touring the parks. I was not looking forward to wearing out early in my vacation, so I was determined to get my feet ready for the wear and tear.

So as soon as the snow melted and light jackets could be worn, I started walking. I walked around town, I walked in the gym, I walked to work, I walked to church, I walked just because! My podcasts were my friend - they made me look foolish as they told their jokes and I laughed - seemingly - at nothing as I strolled down the sidewalk. If people couldn't see my earphones, they must have thought I was nuts.

The walking continued through May and into June, when my trip took place. And even though my feet still hurt after two days at the World, my stamina was a little better than before.

At this time, I was getting word from my friends. They had begun to run regularly, and were really liking it. One by one, my friends succumbed to the racing bug. They entered their own 5Ks, bought the clothing, posted their times on DailyMile, and made their goals. It was a little infuriating and annoying, at the start. 

But then I was reminded, "Hey - remember that race in December?"

3. Taio Cruz - Dynamite

In June and July I walked two more 5Ks and inwardly tried to convince myself that 5K was way too long for me to try and run. This is a person who had to run upwards of 20 laps in basketball practice (for no real reason, if you think about basketball training) and that was the extent of running. Anything else would be suicide! I didn't go out for track my freshman year of high school because they ran one mile to the track EVERY PRACTICE. Torture! 

But I did keep walking. My routes got longer. My free lunches at work got taken away, and instead of buying something, I chose to split my large dinner into two smaller portions. I ate my fruits and veggies (the gross stuff) for one meal, and then a small entree the other meal.

I didn't realize anything was outwardly changing until I came for a meeting one night, and my coworker gave me a look and said, "Wow - you look really good!"

To which I replied, "Uh, thanks?"

And that wasn't the last compliment. Into August, the recognition continued. Friends, family, and even the occasional church member I didn't really talk to! Everyone was taking a notice of my weight loss, except me. I still was in denial, I suppose. Plus I had something on my radar: I finally set a date to start running: the day after Labor Day.

4. Lady Gaga - Poker Face (don't judge me)

If I had started a running journal on my first day of running, here is what day 1 would have read:

September 8, 2010
Ran: .5 miles.
OH MY GOODNESS! WHY IN THE WORLD DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!?!?!? THIS IS THE MOST HORRIBLE FEELING I HAVE EVER FELT!!!!!!!!!! THIS WAS SUCH A STUPID THING TO TRY! I AM NEVER RUNNING EVER AGAIN! I AM SOOOOOO TIIIIIIIIIIIRED! AND I'M SORE! AND I'M IN PAIN! HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE PAIN!!!!!

Apparently, the more you run, the better it gets. So the next day - I can't tell you what made me do it - I laced up my shoes again and went out. And it was the same feeling.

September 9, 2010
Ran: .4 miles.
WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY??????????? I AM SUCH AN IDIOT TO THINK I COULD RUN!!!!!!!

But I kept trudging along - and the distances got a little longer, and a little longer, and a little longer. Finally I came home, plugged in my route onto mapmyrun.com, and realized I'd just ran a mile, and it didn't feel too terrible! As a matter of fact, after the run, I felt pretty good! (Exhausted, but good.)

I remember wearing this great shirt to work one day. I just found a pair of pants that matched and wore it to complete the look. But when I got to work and started walking around, I realized that these pants, which I'd owned for over a year, were falling off! I had to actually get a piece of yarn and tie it through the loops so I'd stop freaking out about it! My belt loop holes went from the first one to the fifth one in mere months. It looked like I was trying to promote the baggy look because none of my clothes fit anymore! (On the plus side, clothes that I'd owned since the start of college fit me a lot better now!) 

5. Flo Rida - Club Can't Handle Me

I started setting goals for myself. I kept track of my minutes, miles, and pace. A pace of 13 minutes per mile was acceptable. Under 13 was extraordinary. Over 14 was horrible. Gradually I changed from shorts and a cutoff t-shirt to shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. Then I started running past a few leaves. Then bunches of leaves. Then I couldn't see the sidewalk because of all the leaves. They crunched for a few weeks, and then it rained and it was just gross. The trees went from green to yellow to orange and red to ugly brown to bare. I bought my first pair of running leggings, and let me tell you, that was quite the experience!

6. Tupac - California Love (feat. Dr. Dre)

I went to the Nike store and realized I could spend hundreds of dollars there and still not have everything I need. I managed to get out of there with only one item, but I could have had some shorts, a turtleneck undershirt, a fleece pullover, a jacket, a heavy winter coat, gloves, shoes, socks, more socks, a hat, and I think I could have found a treadmill if I'd looked harder! It was overwhelming. Do I really need all this stuff to run? I'd just spent three months running in my normal workout clothes - isn't that enough?

I still have only bought the leggings. But I'm looking into one jacket to purchase. We'll see if I step foot in that store again.

7. Owl City - Fireflies

I'd been jogging around, then plugging in my routes after my route. Too many times I would plug in my route and be thisclose to hitting the 5K mark. Rats! If I'd just did that last block... ran through my head.

But man, that first day I hit 5 kilometers was a momentous day. Not that I posted a fabulous time, but I finally knew that I could do it! And when that barrier has been overcome, the possibilities were limitless!

8. Cage the Elephant - Ain't No Rest for the Wicked

Eventually I'd just go out and run. I'd make myself stay out for a certain period of time, and then see I'd run over four miles. Wow - that was four miles?

Then it snowed. And that changed everything.

I knew that my race was in December, so I had to run in the snow - there was no way around it. I'd paid for the thing, registered under a 5K runner, and was ready to get the white bib instead of the yellow one. Snow was just part of the course.

My times dropped dramatically. I had to be extra careful around curbs and driveways for any ice that had formed. Some people don't shovel their sidewalks, apparently, till there's over 12 inches of snow on the ground. I found that wearing layers isn't the best thing if you're running. Guess what? When you run, you work up a sweat, and you warm up. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a hoodie, a hat, and gloves will cause you to overheat. The first time I came back from a run in all that gear, I had to peel all the layers off me. The leggings were nice, though - they have wicking power, so the sweat leaves the body. Where it goes, nobody knows...

9. Priestess - Talk to Her

The Thursday before the race, it was snowing pretty hard. And I had a meeting that ran a little late. Thanks to the sun going down insanely early, my running window was incredibly slim. But I needed to run that day. I didn't care about snow, I didn't care about the dark, I was going to run for 45 minutes and that was that.

I drove home, threw on my workout clothes, and got outside. Because it was still snowing, barely anyone had shoveled. When I would backtrack, I could see my footprints from when I'd gone the other way two minutes earlier. I didn't see another soul outside of their warm cars and houses. If people were eating their suppers and looked outside, they must have said, "Man, what an idiot for running in this weather."

But I kept going, and ran around in circles, and prayed that the snow would give me some traction over the ice from a few days earlier. The last thing I wanted to do was sprain something on my last training run. But when I got back to my place, I felt fantastic. I'd run in the elements, and I'd survived.

10. Muse - Knights of Cydonia

Race day dawned with cloudy skies and a threat of snow just to the west. I had a feeling we'd be fine. My friends who were running with me (remember the ones at the beginning of the story?) were predicting doom and gloom.

We got to the race in plenty of time. I bundled up (stupidly) and made sure my iPod was filled with only the best music. (Music, in case you haven't been paying attention, that has been listed in italics every so often on this post.) I knew my friends were faster than me, but I'd made my goal. I'd never broken 40 minutes for 5 kilometers. Today I was going to try and achieve it.

The gun sounded, and we were off.

11. Sum 41 - Fat Lip

I was near the middle of the pack, and I let my friends get a good pace ahead of me before my chip timer was activated. The first part of the route was flat, but then quickly turned into an incline as we left the park and went around the perimeter of a college. That first half-mile was trying to find my running buddies - people that would challenge me, but not get too far ahead of me. I passed a bunch of people, a bunch of people passed me, and I did my best not to be sad about that. If you let other people's runs get the best of you, you will never finish a race.

Finally we got to the top of the hill and into the city streets, which had been blocked off for the race. That's where I met my real competition: the walker-runners. You know the types - they run a burst of speed for a minute or two or three, and then walk when they get tired. When they get their energy back, they repeat. And when you're trying to run without walking at all, this can get annoying. Especially when it's people who look like they're in much better shape than you are.

The worst was this man who must have been in his 40s who would not let me pass! He'd walk, I'd get right up to pass him, and he'd start running. But he'd only run for about ten seconds before he would start walking again! I was determined to pass him and finish before he did.

12. Seether - Rise Above This

There were far more hills than I thought there would be. I thought that after that first climb it was all downhill from there. But there were at least two more hills in the city running that I didn't remember from before. Those were not pleasant. But I kept going. I saw the mile 1 marker, but when the mile 2 marker passed I must have been in my daze. The daze of "I am never going to finish this race. I am going to keel over and die and they will find my frozen body after it's too late."

The second wind came when I made it to the hospital. No, I didn't go in. I ran past it. But we'd been dropped off by the hospital and walked to the starting line, which meant I knew exactly how much I had left to run!

I continued at my slowish pace, but I kept going with a renewed sense of urgency. Especially because I had some of my new techno music pump in to get my blood flowing:

13. Tron: Legacy Soundtrack - Daft Punk -Recognizer

The sounds of Daft Punk got me moving a little faster, and before I knew it, I could see the finish line! It was still quite a distance away, but my feet moved a little faster. I was going to finish strong.

With about 100 yards left, I saw my friends, who had finished a bit earlier, cheering me on. I was in too much pain to actually recognize them, though my grimace of pain may have looked like a smile to them. I was just focused on getting past that giant steel thingy.

And finish I did! The large timer was showing the time for the 10K runners, who had started 15 minutes before us. But if that was the case, and that said 53 minutes on it, that meant...I'd broken 40! By a large margin!

14. Tron: Legacy Soundtrack - Daft Punk - Arena

It took me almost two minutes of walking with my hands on my head to catch my breath. But when I met up with my friends, I felt more than great. I felt fantastic! I had accomplished something that 12 months earlier had seemed like a dream. But I'd stuck with it, lost a bunch of weight along the way (around 30 pounds), and realized that distance running isn't so bad!

15. Tron: Legacy Soundtrack - Daft Punk - The Game Has Changed

So now what? My goal has been reached. What kind of new goal can I make for next December?

This race does have a 10K. That is in my sights now. If I can continue running in late winter and early spring, and continue through the summer, I think I can get my body to go over six miles. After that, who knows? Maybe I'll have all the experience needed to run one of those fancy half-marathon races!

Whatever the goal, I'll be sure to keep you posted.

16. The Ting Tings - Great DJ 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

To Fire or Not To Fire?

That is the question, isn't it? Or at least, that's the question that U-M Athletic Director David Brandon has to mull over in this next month or so. But each Michigan football fan has, in their own mind, made their own decision about head coach Rich Rodriguez. Most of the fans I know are ready to see him go, while a few are still hoping for "one more year" to prove himself.

Me? I am on the fence. I know you hate to hear me say that, but I am. I can see valid reasons from both sides, and it makes my choice hard. Luckily, I am not the Athletic Director, so this really doesn't mean anything besides arguing with acquaintances every once in a while. But here are some of the pros and cons about the whole situation. See it from my view: whatever happens is good for the school and the program.

Situation #1: Give him one more year.
After two years of nothing after Ohio State, Rodriguez got Michigan to a 7-5 record and a spot in the Gator Bowl on January 1. If nothing, this is a major jump. Now January 1 bowls are not as prestigious as they used to be, but it still has some clout. You are guaranteed a major audience of males who have the day off and are committed to watching whatever football game flies across their flatscreens at a particular time of the day. On January 2 people will be talking about those bowls. And nothing beats the GIANT patch they get to put on their uniforms, right? (I mean, seriously! I could take four of those patches and have four placemats for my dining room table!)

The Michigan team we saw had its weaknesses, sure, but those are defensive and special teams problems. The most logical solution would be to fire those coaches, Greg Robinson and Tony Gibson (who also doubles as the defensive backs coordinator - it's like two firings in one!) and bring in some incredibly talented defensive minds to take over.

In this season, you could say that Michigan beat every team it was supposed to beat (UConn, Purdue, Notre Dame, Indiana, etc.) and lost to teams that were better than them (OSU, MSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, etc.). The only game that does not fit into this mindset was the Penn State game, which was just plain horrible on every level. But that was really the only one.

Our offense has a solid foundation. Give quarterback Denard Robinson some receivers that consistently catch the ball, as well as one (one!) main running back, and the offense can put up the points. The defense and special teams need major overhauls, but anything next year would be better than this year for both areas, right?

The biggest problem for firing Rodriguez would be that the players are on his side. Like, majorly. If Brandon were to fire him and bring in a new coach with new ideas, and that trust between player and coach could disappear. Trust me, if these 18-23-year-old males are willing to hold hands and sway to "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban because their coach encouraged them to, these guys would do anything to keep him as the coach.

I remember losing some core players from Lloyd Carr's tenure after Rodriguez came on as head coach and thinking, "Man, what if those guys had stayed?" But this was no longer the team that they had signed to play on. It wasn't Carr's system anymore; it was Rich Rod's. And because of that, they took their talents elsewhere. I can't imagine what may happen to some of our core players if a firing were to occur and someone they didn't like took his place.

But still...

Situation #2: FIRE HIM NOW!
The old "traditions" held up in high esteem by the likes of Yost, Crisler, and Schembechler have all but disappeared. Rodriguez has insisted on starting new traditions which don't have the same Michigan luster. If a Michigan fan were to have gone into a coma in 2006 and then woken up before the Wisconsin game this season, he would barely recognize that football team on the field.

I don't care that they're going to a bowl; I don't feel like any progress has been made. It just feels like they've plateaued. They aren't getting any worse (I mean, could that defense get any worse?), but there isn't that spark to be better, to get an upset win, to pummel the little guys instead of letting them hang around.

We haven't beaten Ohio State in SEVEN YEARS. We need a coach that spends the entire season obsessing over that game! It almost seems like Rich Rod treats it like every other game. Newsflash, coach: IT'S NOT.

Our little brother, Michigan State, has pounded us the past three years. It has been embarassing! They give us the standard Dantonio approach, and we still look like scared deer out on that field.

I mentioned previously the lethargy that reigned at the end of last year. Well guess what? The lethargy returned during the Iowa game, and it never left. Do these players know the meaning of "getting psyched" for a game? Do the coaches instill any excitement on these players, or have they already given up before "The Victors" is even played?

RichRod was quoted as saying, "What do you want, me to go jump out there and hold hands with all the Buckeye fans and sing 'Kumbaya'?" And then he goes and holds hands and sways to "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban. I wonder what the Michigan State band is going to play when we march out onto the Spartan Stadium grass next year...


Wake me up when he actually recruits a decent kicker.


So What's an Athletic Director to do?
Does he use the Gator Bowl as the deciding factor? Or does he make the decision before that? Does he get down on his hands and knees and beg Jim Harbaugh to come back to his alma mater? Or does he just toss a coin? One thing is for sure:

Aren't you happy this isn't your decision?