I finally got around to putting together some of the footage I got in Flagstaff. Most of the video was taken in the first week when I was running a bit less, and had more time to film the other guys. As the weeks went on, fatigue increased as ambition decreased, which is usually how those camps go.
As for my running, I’m still dealing with some chronic achilles tendonitis, and am only now returning to full track workouts. I was really hoping to be able to race at Payton Jordan, but I just wan’t ready. I hope to be ready in time for the meet in Windsor on the 21st of May.
(Preface: Thank you to Maxine Gravina for sparking a conversation among athletes currently training in Flagstaff. We’re three weeks into this camp, and at this point we’re so sick of each other we’re looking for every reason to argue. The NCAA vs CIS debate has been the topic of conversation in our house for much of the past two days, and I’d like to summarize some of those thoughts. Of the six Speed River males (Genest, Proudfoot, Dulhanty, Britt, Winter, and myself), three of us studied in Canada, the other three in the US. Collectively, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what both systems can offer.)
In Maxine’s video (LINK), titled “CIS vs. NCAA”, she interviews several Canadian athletes who had varying levels of experience with the NCAA system. While the conclusion of the video was good (athletes should make individual decisions based on personalities and desires), you would never have imagined that would have been the conclusion from the first 90% of the video. In it, the interviewees list many negative aspects of the NCAA system, many of which are based on opinion, or which can equally be applied to Canadian schools. As someone who spent five years at an NCAA school (Notre Dame), and now trains with a group that is closely associated with a CIS school (Guelph), I feel I have a pretty good perspective of what both systems can offer a high school athlete. Some of the concerns mentioned in the video aren’t wrong either. Many of the problems that these athletes encountered at NCAA schools can also be found within Canadian programs. Prospective student athletes need to be critical when assessing their choices regardless of where you decide to study beyond high school. Below, I will summarize the relevant points made by each speaker in the video, and hopefully offer a more a balanced perspective.
(Before I continue, a few assumptions need to be made. Comparing the experience of a walk-on athlete at a CIS school to that of a scholarship-athlete at an NCAA school is not comparing apples to apples. This analysis will be geared more towards the level of high school athlete that is good enough to earn a scholarship to a US school, who’s looking to place an equal amount of emphasis on both athletics and academic pursuits.)
Connor Darlington (athlete, McMaster): Was concerned about “limited recovery time” and “pressure” that’s placed on NCAA athletes.
- Never actually competed or went to school in the NCAA. While he’s a good athlete whose opinion should be respected, his knowledge of the NCAA system is limited to what he’s heard or been told by friends or coaches.
- I never found the pressure to perform in the NCAA any different than I see from the athletes at Guelph or other competitive schools in the CIS. The reality is that coaches are given performance expectations by their athletic directors, and if coaches do not meet these expectations, their jobs are at stake. A more fair assessment is that if you choose to compete for a competitive Canadian program, you will be expected to operate at a high level just the same as if you were to attend a top level NCAA school.
- Recovery time is also not a problem unique to the NCAA system. The demands of a full academic course load can be rigorous at any school. Training room experiences can also vary greatly depending on where you go to school, and what kind of budget the program has. When you’re choosing a school, ask about how they help athletes balance their athletic and academics. If you’re currently receiving a certain type of treatment like chiropractic care or osteopathy, ask if that will be available to you.
Paula Schnurr (coach, McMaster): Concerns about the NCAA include: “teammates spending too much time together, eating and studying. Needs to be more balance.” Also claims that the 2-season system of the CIS (no outdoor track in the CIS) is more conducive to having summer track seasons.
- Time spent with teammates is actually the thing I miss most about my five years at Notre Dame. Some of my most favorite memories are from the countless hours we spent together in the locker room, at the dining hall, or the (not-so-productive) studying we’d do together. Claiming that this type of behavior is limited to NCAA athletes is also pretty unfair. I’m fairly certain the cross-country runners at McMaster live together and spend time with each other outside of practice time.
- The conduciveness of the 2-season system to having a more successful summer track season is also not backed by any type of research. I never found I had a problem coming back to Canada in the summer and competing when I wanted to. I made two Canadian national teams in the summers after having full NCAA seasons. It’s also very dependent on the school that you attend. Mississippi State allowed Brandon McBride to have a limited indoor season this year so that he could focus on having a successful summer season. While this type of leniency is not the norm at every NCAA school, it’s an extreme generalization to assume all CIS programs allow athletes to peak for outdoors, while assuming NCAA schools do not.
Amanda Truelove (athlete, Western University): Claims that a healthier balance exists in the CIS between athletics and academics, and athletes in the US are stretched too thin. Also prefers racing amongst friends within the Canadian system, as opposed to racing people you don’t know in the US.
- While Amanda has some criticisms about the NCAA, she speaks mostly favorably about her experience at Duke. She also makes some good points about not taking a scholarship purely for the idea of being a scholarship athlete, and that every athlete should consider both systems equally.
- Her point that a healthier balance exists within the CIS is surely very dependent on what schools you attend. Amanda studied at Duke, which is an elite academic school that will naturally have a more difficult course load than an average state school. It’s also extremely dependent on what program you choose, as work load varies greatly by major. I studied political science at Notre Dame (which is, I’ll admit, one of the easier majors), and never had a problem balancing my athletic and academic loads. Meanwhile, my engineering teammates struggled with that balance a bit more. I imagine the same can be said for Canadian universities.
- I also think there’s a point to be made about time management skills. I often found that my teammates who complained about lack of sleep or recovery issues were those who could be found wasting time throughout the day. Regardless of where you study, allocating your time effectively will be critical to your success as an athlete and student.
- Her point about competing among friends is a fair, but personal opinion. As an athlete, you need to decide what’s important for you. I know that I was able to make many friends in the NCAA, many of whom I continue to race against to this day. Ross and Alex have pointed out a few times over the past few weeks that I seem to know everyone we run into in Flagstaff, much of which can be attributed to my experiences racing in the NCAA.
Dave Mills (Coach, Western University): “Many athletes that I have coached have gone on to the NCAA system- some had great experiences, some had negative experiences, but I’ve seen that in the CIS too. So I don’t know if it’s a CIS vs NCAA thing, or just the individuals that you’re dealing with at certain institutions. It’s such an individual thing. What works for one kid might not work for another.”
- Dave offers extremely balanced and reasonable opinions when comparing the two systems.
- The above quote is bang on, and should have been used as both the introduction and conclusion of the video.
Gabriela Stafford (Athlete, University of Toronto): “Competing in Canada has just as much depth as competing in the US.
- What Gabriela was alluding to is that there are 7 girls in Canada fighting for a spot on the Olympic team in the 1500m. While it’s great we’ve got depth in Canadian female middle distance runners, these girls are not all in university, and therefore it’s an unfair comparison. While the CIS is becoming better and better, its overall depth is still much shallower than its NCAA counterpart.
- Gabriela made some excellent points when comparing the two systems. She talked about there being a big discrepancy in terms of quality academic institutions in the US. When young athletes are considering US schools, they should consider how well their degree will transfer back to Canada.
- Gabriela is also in an extremely unique position, in that she’s good enough to be nationally carded. This allows her to actually make money while going to school, which is a big advantage compared to the NCAA.
- In her position, I would have made the same decision. She’s been a member of the Toronto track club since high school, and her coaches have handled her progression well. As the saying goes, “don’t fix what ain’t broke,” especially in an Olympic year.
The conclusion of Maxine’s video actually sums it up pretty well. Deciding between the CIS and NCAA comes down to individual personalities and desires. When I was in high school, I’ll admit that I hardly ever considered staying in Canada for school. Year after year I watched as the best high school runners went down south, and I blindly assumed that was best for my own development. Do I regret going to Notre Dame? Definitely not. However, I wish I would have given Canadian schools some more serious consideration.
The CIS has also come a long way over the last 10 years. My times as a senior in high school would have automatically made me one of the fastest university athletes in Canada. I thought that in order to improve, I should surround myself and compete against better athletes. Since that time however, the CIS has gotten deeper and deeper, and has produced athletes like CPT and Ross who would have more than challenged me in my collegiate career.
The other thing that’s changed over the past decade is the amount of quality options there are for Canadian schools that balance athletics and academics at a high level. When I was in high school, looking at CIS results would have given the impression that Guelph was the only school worth attending if I wanted to push myself athletically. Now, we’re seeing schools like Toronto, Windsor, McMaster, Victoria, and many others who have become competitive at the CIS level in both cross-country and track, which gives high schoolers many great options if they’d like to stay in Canada.
What it comes down to is that you shouldn’t let the opinions of others shape your decision. I remember being told continuously in high school that athletes in the NCAA are often expected to triple at conference meets, and they become worn out. The truth is that competing at conference meets was actually one of my favorite parts about my NCAA career- I would actually ask my coach to run more events just so I could help the team any way I could. The thrill of competing for a team title is unlike any other experience you’ll have as a track athlete, since we mostly compete as individuals. Doubling and tripling at conference meets is also not unique to the NCAA. Look at how Ullman and Bellemore, or Smart and Stafford, or Ayers and Watts were utilized at OUA’s this year.
The bottom line is that you should explore every option thats given to you, regardless of what system the school is in. Take visits, ask questions (not only to the coach, but more importantly ask the guys on the team about things that concern you), and be thorough in your comparisons. Make a spreadsheet, and score each school after every visit based on factors you find important to you. Also remember that while choosing a school is an important decision, it is by no means final. Plenty of athletes have transferred schools and have gone on to great professional careers (athletically and academically).
Below you will find an attachment to a word document put together by Trent Stellingwerf called “High School Scholarship Guide”. It was a tool I relied on greatly when I was making my decision, and while some of it might now be outdated, the majority of it still applies. All high school athletes should read through it before making their decisions. If any high school athlete has questions, needs advice, or would like me to expand on any points made, please feel free to reach out as I’d me more than willing to help.
(Preface: I wrote this blog a week ago after I was involved in a Twitter discussion regarding the potential popularity of the beer mile. I was frustrated, had lots of thoughts that I needed to get off my chest, but in the end decided not to post it. Today, I changed my mind when, after not hearing the word “beer mile” for three days, my boss (who has no knowledge of running or track and field) asked me if I was considering becoming a beer miler. Here are my two cents:)
For those who have managed to live under a rock for the past two weeks (I’m jealous), I’ll catch you up to speed. Over the past few months, this niche activity called the Beer Mile (which consists of running four laps and drinking four beers as quickly as possible) has been everywhere. Its gone from a non-competitive social activity and has turned into a professional event, with sponsors, world championships, and plenty of media attention. Within the last two years, the world record went from a relatively unchallenged 5:07 down to a very competitive 4:47. After setting the record, Lewis Kent signed a contract with Brooks, was interviewed by most major sports news sites likes ESPN & Sports Illustrated, and made an appearance on Ellen.
All this didn’t bother me too much. I met Kent this year, he’s a good guy. I’ve also spectated a bunch of beer miles, and they’re a ton of fun. I tuned into this years and last years FloTrack coverage of the beer mile world championships, and thought they did a really great job with it. I’d also like to preface my upcoming rant by saying that drinking four beers + running four laps in less than 5 minutes is very very impressive. It’s something that obviously took a lot of training, and I’m glad to see Kent getting lots attention for it.
Here’s what did irritate me: “media & marketing experts” like ESPN’s Darren Rovell saying that the beer mile will one day become bigger than track and field. He made the claim that beer milers can be more marketable than regular track athletes, and that popularity of beer miles will surpass that of regular miles.
Darren, I respect you, but you’re wrong. Beer miles and athletics cannot (and should not) be compared. They are two separate entities, one with a long, rich history that dates back to the ancient olympic games, the other a bastardization of the worlds most prehistoric sport.
Here’s why the current rise in beer mile popularity does not signify the END OF TRACK AND FIELD as we know it:
- The beer mile is currently going through a perfect storm of media attention, which led to Lewis appearing on Ellen. While he was able to benefit massively by being the best at the right time, there is no staying power. It’s not like every world record holder from now on will appear on a talk show. The beer mile went from being a niche activity to a viral sensation, and will now go back to being a niche activity.
- The beer mile is not a new event. People have been doing them since at least the 80’s, and the idea of combining racing and drinking isn’t a new one. My dad took part is a few 2-mile beer runs in Buffalo, NY in the early 80’s that involved running through the streets of downtown drinking beer every 400m. Why did these types of races die out? The answer to that question might help predict the future of the beer mile.
- Runners aren’t the first to combine their sport with drinking. Introducing the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships (http://sscxwc.com), an extremely popular event that puts a fun spin on traditional cyclocross. Billed as the “wildest, most devil-may-care spirit of cyclocross”, competitors traverse challenging courses while stopping at various stations to chug beer and take shots of liquor. While the event has become increasingly popular amongst a niche crowd, ssxcwc hasn’t come near the popularity of traditional cyclocross (Video of this years cyclocross IS however worth a watch ).
- There’s a stigma that comes with associating drinking and professional sports. As impressive as it is to combine a near four minute mile with incredibly quick beer drinking, people won’t ever consider it a real sport if it involves drinking. It’s something that gains the publics interest due to novelty, they’ll watch it one time, be awed by it, and move on.
- Saying that beer milers have more marketing potential than regular milers is an especially ludicrous claim given that we’re going into an Olympic year. Over half the worlds population will tune into the Olympic games in Rio this summer, and there will be billions of dollars made in total revenue. Given that athletics is one of (if not THE) the main event(s) of the summer Olympics, track and field is about to benefit tremendously in 2016. Elite athletes that qualify for the games this summer will have the opportunity to provide their sponsors more international exposure than any elite beer miler could ever possibly imagine. I’m upset with myself for even having to address this issue.
There are however, several lessons to be learned from beer miles recent popularity. In my opinion, the fact that the event was able to become a viral sensation in the first place is a good sign for track and field. In the end, it means that people do have a general understanding of what a good mile time is (most people associate 4 minutes= good). They appreciate how difficult it is to combine four beers and still break five minutes. It also shows that “beer” is a sexy word that, when associated with (less sexy) words like “running”, it attracts attention.
I think this proves that there needs to be continued emphasis placed on mile races in North America. While the 1500m is the Olympic distance, people can’t relate to it. The general public didn’t run the 1500m in their high school gym class. People don’t know what an elite 1500 time is, but they could probably tell you who was the first to run a sub 4 minute mile. Substituting the mile for the 1500 in more and more events will be one big key to increasing interest in the general population. (EDIT 12/19/15: In light of the NCAA’s recent decision to change the 1500m to the mile at the outdoor national championships, let me make my position on the matter more clear. Yes, the mile is great, and yes it’s got public appeal. However, the 1500m should still be the chosen distance in championship events to reflect whats being done at the international level (Worlds, Olympics). My other major concern with this decision is that meets like Payton Jordan and Mt Sac might now switch to the mile. Since these collegiate meets are popular among elites for achieving qualifying times, I’m okay with the switch so long as championship meets like the trials, Worlds, and the Olympics accept the mile as a qualifying time.)
The beer mile also helps prove that making track and field more of an “event” helps increase popularity. Meets in Europe are fun (and better attended) because there’s food trucks, beer is served, music is playing, and it’s generally more geared towards the spectator. Meets in North America need to innovate, and serving beer trackside is a must.
With all this being said, I must admit that i’ll be ending my down week on Saturday by running my first ever beer mile. After all the hype the past few weeks, our groups decided that we’ve got to take a crack at it. Then, I’ll go back to being a serious athlete again, with my sights set squarely on the main event (RIORIORIO).
At first glance, the qualification criteria set out by the IAAF for the World championships was very similar to years prior. Hit the time standard (1500m in 3:36.20) before the deadline (August 10th), and you’re eligible. Each federation then chooses to either adopt the IAAF criteria as is, or add stipulations. Back in the fall, Athletics Canada announced that in order for Canadians to qualify, they would have to not only hit the standard, but they would have to do so much earlier than the deadline set out by the IAAF (AC deadline was July 5th, more than a month early). You would also have to place in the top 3 at the national championships in order to be eligible. While we knew that an earlier deadline would mean fewer opportunities to qualify, we (seemingly) accepted the criteria, and adjusted our schedules to best set us up to hit the standard in time. All fine and dandy.
Skip forward a month or two, and the IAAF then releases an amendment to the qualification criteria. It was announced that on August 10th, if not enough athletes had hit the IAAF standard, and they still had room in the field (ex. Size of the field for the 1500m is set at 45 athletes), they would offer invitations to the next fastest athletes on the list without standard. When we saw this new rule, one of my teammates spoke to an official at Athletics Canada, and was told that AC would NOT be honoring the IAAF invitations unless you achieved a fast enough time before the AC deadline of July 5th. Again, all fine and dandy, so long as we know that these are the rules.
Skip forward a few more months. We’re out in Edmonton at the national championships on July 5th, and NOBODY in the 1500m has hit the IAAF standard on time (nor has anybody run fast enough to even get an IAAF invitation). As far as we’re concerned, there’s very little at stake in the race, since nobody’s going to World’s anyway. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all trying to win for the sake of winning a national title, but coming 2nd and 3rd did not offer the consolation of being eligible for worlds. I can’t speak for everyone in the field, but personally, my mindset was “race for the title, but once it’s over, it’s time to shift your focus to next summer and Rio.”
A week later, I flew to Belgium, and got into the fastest race of my life. I placed fifth in 3:36.85, a pretty big personal best, and a time that’s less than a second away from the Olympic qualifier. I wasn’t the only Canadian to run fast that day, as Chuck PT and Nate Brannen ran 3:34 and 3:35, both achieving the world and Olympic standard.
Here’s where it gets interesting. In (what I assume was a) response to the public reaction, AC issues a statement saying that they changed their minds, and WILL ACCEPT IAAF INVITATIONS. However, they will only accept them if AC believes the invited athlete has a chance of making the final at worlds. The metric they decided to use to determine who could make the final was to be in the top half of the entries (ie. for the 1500m, that would mean you’d have to be ranked 23 or higher).
2. The Current Situation
Here’s a breakdown of the Canadians who did not initially qualify for Worlds, but will be receiving an invitation from the IAAF. The number on the left denotes the athletes world rank*. An “X” denotes top half of the field, and therefore within AC’s new (ability to make the final) criteria:
(information based on this website: (http://toplist.leichtathletik-mehrkampf.de)
*This ranking is not a true world ranking. Each country can only be represented on this list a max of 3 times per event.*
This means that 11 Canadians will receive an invitation to compete at Worlds (myself included), but AC will not honor it because they do not see the value in sending someone to worlds unless they’re capable of making the final.
Before I air my thoughts on why AC’s decision is wrong and short-sighted, I’ll say that I’m obviously incredibly biased. A completely open-qualification process would mean that I could be competing at the World championships at the end of the month. However, I’m not advocating to personally be on the team. I’m tired, I’ve had a long season, and I’m ready for a break. Because of the initial criteria, I was forced to try and chase standard early and often in the season, so it’s now August and I’m spent. I’m actually just writing this post to air my thoughts and hope for change with future criteria. I guess I’m bitter because maybe, had we known earlier that AC WOULD end up honoring the IAAF invitations, more emphasis would have been placed on running fast in July as opposed to chasing times in May and June. I was honestly a little surprised to run 3:36 given how long I had been tapering for.
But how can only taking athletes “with a shot at making the final” be a good decision? Aside from a lack of resources (which, if that is in fact the case, then I am much more okay with the situation), there’s no reason to NOT field a full team.
- The experience an athlete gains by competing at a World championship is invaluable, especially leading into an Olympic year. How are you supposed to make the final at the Olympics next year without first having experienced a major games? I’d love to see the data of the amount of 1500m runners who have made the final in their first world or olympic championships. I bet the number is very small.
- Bigger teams= better for the sport. Every athlete comes from a different background, from different schools, and part of track clubs with younger athletes who look up to and keep up with the athletes who qualify for Worlds. Sending more athletes can only help grow the sport in this country.
- Somewhat similar to point 1, but some of the athletes getting an invitation are young, and very very likely to qualify for the olympics next year. Take Gabriela Stafford for example. Judging by her improvement curve, she’ll probably be in Rio next year without any major games experience.
In the end, I’m happy that Athletics Canada at the very least decided to expand the team to accommodate a few more people. Even though I’d (of course) love to be at Worlds with the team, I’m still beyond excited to watch friends and teammates race in Beijing at the end of the month. I’m also very satisfied with my own season, having run PB’s in the 800 and 1500, and am already pretty freaking psyched about the coming year.
To end my rant, here’s a tweet by Steve Magness that sums up my thoughts pretty good:
When someone asks you how you did at last weekends Stanford invitational, you tell them your time. Placing is unimportant.
When someone asks you how you did at last weekends National championship, you tell them your place. Time is unimportant.
Two different kinds of racing.
I was going to write a blog post about the wild tactics at play at nationals last weekend, but then came across a lenghty discussion about it on the Trackie.com message boards. So to sum it up, here’s both sides of the argument, and my short opinion on the matter. (Incase you missed it, context: The 1500m was won in 4:06 after crawling through the first 800m in 2:28. The winner, Thomas Riva, ran his last 400m in 52.0. I finished in 4th less than 1 second behind.)
Side 1: “Getting hung up on the time is like watching a chess match and getting worked up about how many moves it took to achieve checkmate”- ahutch.
I respect anything written by ahutch (Alex Hutchinson), appreciate whenever he takes the time to contribute to the forums, and completely agree with the analogy used here. When a championship title is on the line, the time is completely irrelevant. The difference in running 3:46, 3:56, or 4:06 is largely unimportant.
Side 2: “Seriously, what good does it do any of our guys trying to run a fast last lap off that slow of a pace? What race are you trying to prepare for with an effort like that?”- mattnormington
Matt, I appreciate and understand where you’re coming from with this mentality. Running fast times and improving on personal bests is, in essence, any track athletes main ambition. However, setting personal records, and championship racing are often mutually exclusive events, especially when you’re competing at a high level. In a championship race, my sole concern is running a tactically sound race to achieve the highest placing possible. Based on how I’m trained, what my strengths are, and the quality of the competition, I decided there was no benefit to me leading on that day.
What makes the 1500m so interesting is that, in general, the runner with the fastest PB will win the race, regardless of the finishing time. While there’s no way to prove this, I’d be willing to bet that with a few exceptions, the finishing order would have been extremely similar had the race been a fast one. While you might think that a race that tactical in nature might favor those with the fastest flat out 200m or 400m speeds, the results were essentially very similar to if you had just listed the competitors by season’s best time. Below are the athletes listed by season’s best, followed by how many spots different they were in the championship final.
1. Brannen 3:37.6 +4
2. Chuck 3:38.3 0
3. Levins(i) 3:38 +3
4. Riva 3:39.4 -3
5. Rae 3:39.9 -1
6. Kent 3:41.0 +1
7. Gorman 3:41.95 -4
8. Darlington 3:42.53 -2
9. Falk 3:42.62 0
10. Wilkie 3:44.28 +1
11. Morin 3:45.40 -2
12. Lapointe 3:46.50 0
To me, this shows that the extreme tactical nature of the race might have only had an effect on 4/12 athletes in the field. Brannen and Levins suffered from the slow pace, while Riva and Gorman used it to their advantage. However, the greatest deviation was still only 4 spots, which to me doesn’t signify a huge anomaly in the results based on the slow overall time. In my opinion, positioning going into the bell lap has the greatest influence on outcome, regardless of low long it took the athletes to get to that point (Riva and Gorman were in an excellent position with 400m to go, Brannen was not. That leaves Levins as the only athlete who, in my opinion, was truly influenced by the slow start).
Anyways, I’m not too upset with the outcome. My goal was to sneak into the top 3, and I knew that to do so would require me beating someone very good in the likes of Brannen, CPT, or Levins (honestly, I hadn’t even considered Riva as a threat until we were still jogging at the 800m mark. At that point, I knew that someone who’s just as fast as me over 1500m, even faster over 800m, and in a better position with 400m to go, was going to have an advantage). Therefore, the end result (4th) was what I would call a “good but not great finish” on my part.
I’m still hungry and excited about what lies ahead this season. While in past years I would get to June and July exhausted after a lengthy NCAA season, I feel like I’m getting sharper and faster every week. I’m writing this while I’m on the train from Amsterdam to Leuven, Belgium, where i’ll be based for the next 4 weeks as I chase fast times.
My rough schedule for the next 4 weeks is as follows:
Kortrich 1500m July 11th
Liege 800m (maybe) July 15th
Heusden 1500m July 18th
Morton 3000m/mile July 24th
Ninove 1500m August 1st
Amidst all the recent scandals in sport (FIFA and the World cup selection process being the first that comes to mind), Track and Field was hit recently with a damning article by David Epstein. In it, he makes doping allegations against one of our sports biggest and most successful groups, the Nike Oregon Project. He interviews athletes and coaches formerly associated with the NOP, and even includes photo evidence that some of their athletes have taken banned substances in the past.
Sadly, none of this is really surprising news to those who have been following the sport the past couple years. As with any sport, meteoric rises and rapid improvements in performance will always be met with skepticism. When Mo Farah and Galen Rupp sprinted to gold and silver in the 10,000m at the last olympics, the casual fans of the sport watched in amazement. Others however (myself included), shook their heads in disbelief, wondering how these two (admittedly very talented) runners went from mid-pack at worlds to Olympic champions.
While the BBC exposé and Epstein article did not include a real smoking gun proving the guilt of those associated with the Salazar group, it did show that they’re not afraid to push the limits and really take advantage of the rules (or lack thereof). Allegations were made that those in the group are encouraged to get diagnosed for thyroid deficiencies, exercise induced asthma, severe allergies, and illnesses that would (under the rules of the IAAF and WADA) allow you to take the otherwise illegal medication that might have performance benefits. To clarify, this is not technically cheating. However, in my opinion, it really calls for some reform in the TUE (therapeutic use exemption) process. At this time, all that’s required is for an athlete to find a doctor willing to sign off on a need for medication with potential physiological benefits (ie. thyroid medication, inhalers), and you’ve got yourself an advantage over those who aren’t taking the medication. While the performance benefits of all this medication might only add up to a fraction of a percentage, at the world class level, even the smallest advantage makes an enormous difference.
We don’t know the full story of what’s going on in Salazar group, and we might never know. Yes, they could be engaging in more serious violations of the rules. However, there’s been no real evidence of that, so if tampering with the TUE system is all they’re guilty of, then morality is needed to decide if what they’re doing is wrong. Personally, I find nothing wrong with exploring possible performance enhancers, so long as it’s not explicitly breaking the laws. Track and Field at the professional level is extremely cutthroat, especially when you realize that there’s a real income inequality in the sport (huge financial incentives for world champions, not much for anyone below that). I understand the pressure, and sympathize for who are trying to maximize their potential. Again, in no way do I encourage or support cheating. However, if you’re good enough to have the best resources at your disposal, including doctors and training aids like altitude houses and other leading technology, I see no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of it.
The second reason I sympathize with them is that, in the end, I’m a huge fan of the sport, and I try my best to assume that the stars are simply a product of hard work and dedication. If I became a cynic and made assumptions about the cleanliness of all world class runners, I’d have little ambition to continue pursuing this career myself. I’ve looked up to Centro ever since he was in high school, and even when I eventually became good enough to race against him every so often, I was inspired by his tactical awareness and confidence in races. The other reason I continue to have hope is that the allegations implicate Cam Levins, a stand-up Canadian who I’ve only heard positive things about. I’ve totally bought into the humble, hard-working, high mileage persona he’s got going, and it’d be unfair to not hold him to the same standards as the rest of the group.
With all this being said, this feels remarkably similar to how I felt towards all the Lance Armstrong allegations in the late 2000’s. Even when the evidence became insurmountable, and teammate after teammate testified against him, I maintained a state of denial until Lance finally threw up the white flag on Oprah in 2012. While I do believe that if there’s smoke there’s fire, I’m trying my best to avoid denouncing or discrediting their achievements until we’re presented with more concrete evidence.
In unrelated news, I’m writing this while on the flight out to British Columbia where I’ll be racing in Vancouver and Victoria on Monday and Wednesday. The first race presents my last real good shot at qualifying for the Pan Am games, so I’m really excited for it. Two years ago, I ran my PB of 3:38.2. Last year, I flew out here and then spent 7 days in the hospital with brain swelling. An experience more similar to the former would be very much appreciated!
I’ve raced twice since my last blog entry. A 1500 in Windsor in 3:41.2, and then a 1500 at home in Guelph in 3:40.5. While I would have been happy with those times in University, I’m now trying to do this professionally, and always have that World and Olympic standard of 3:36 firmly in my sights. Anything short of that time will always leave me dissatisfied. Here’s hoping I can cut closer to that mark in the coming few days!
My blog today will be split into three parts: 1. Boring, science stuff, 2. Slightly less boring, workout stuff, and 3. A video.
Science behind altitude training + blood tests.
I spent the month of April in Flagstaff, Arizona with a few of my Speed River teammates. Training at altitude was a completely new experience for me, and I was excited to learn about the adaptations that take place within the body when at altitude. Bear with me as I attempt to regurgitate some of the information I learned.
For those unfamiliar, the concept of training at altitude has been around since the Mexico City Olympics, when athletes noticed an increase in aerobic power while training at altitude to acclimatize for the ’68 games.
The idea is that when you travel to higher altitudes, your body is forced to adapt to the lower barometric pressure of oxygen in the air, and your body (ideally) begins producing more red blood cells, and your hemoglobin mass increases. Not only are there adaptations in the blood, but scientists are now discovering benefits that occur within the muscles themselves when athletes are exposed to altitude for an extended period of time.
The downside to being at altitude is that training becomes more difficult when oxygen is scarce, and workouts need to be adjusted accordingly. While tempo run pace for me might be 5:00min/miles in Guelph, I might only be able to handle 5:20min/miles in Flag at the same effort level. For this reason, we travelled down to Sedona, which is at a lower elevation, once or twice a week, to perform higher quality workouts. Therefore, Flagstaff is situated in an ideal location, where you can live high, and within an hours drive, train low.
Training at altitude and learning about the science behind it all was a completely new experience for me, and I was extremely excited to see how I’d respond and my body would adapt to the new stimulus. On day 2 of the trip, we visited a lab that measured our hemoglobin mass, and we then returned at the end of the trip to perform the same test and see how our blood values changed.
Bad news: Today, I received the results of those tests, and while everybody else in the group saw jumps of between 4-8% in their hemoglobin mass, mine went unchanged. While hemoglobin is only one metric amongst several, it was still a little upsetting to not see some tangible results from those tests. I’ve since been assured that while my hemoglobin mass didn’t change, there are still plenty of other adaptations that could have happened. I was also told that my hemoglobin is naturally on the high end, even for elite athletes, and people with naturally high hemoglobin are sometimes non-responders to altitude exposure.
Test results aside, I still feel like my trip to Flag was a huge success. I had some great workouts in Flag and down in Sedona, and think my time there will set me up for a good track season.
A couple of the sessions I was most happy with:
At 7000ft: 12×400 w/1min rest. Averaged around 64-65. Ran my last one in 56.
At 7000ft: AM: 11miles with 2mile tempo+ 4min,3min,2min,1min tempo with 2mins rest at Buffalo park. Then later in the day, did 5×300 with 2min rest at 43.7, 43.4, 43.7, 42.2, 39.6.
Aside from Speed River, there were plenty of other Canadian groups living in Flagstaff as well. We often went to the track around the same times, and it was cool getting to see the different training approaches and workouts that the others were doing (it was especially insightful seeing how my competition trains. Looking at you, Chuck!). CPT joined us for a tempo the second week we were there, which offered an interesting dynamic to the group. Tempo pace quickly turned into VO2 max pace as everybody felt a little threatened by the presence of our temporary training partner (me as the groups 1500 guy, Chris as the groups aerobic power guy, and Alex as the groups token French guy). Nonetheless, it was great having a few different faces in workouts, and helped break up the monotony of training with the same guys over and over.
I left Flagstaff the fittest I’ve felt since joining Speed River (which admittedly isn’t a huge statement), and anxious to get the racing season underway.
As is becoming tradition, I’ve put together a video with random clips from the trip. As is also becoming tradition, I had to make fun of Barry a bit. It’s just too easy.
Nobody likes reading paragraph after paragraph, so here’s some photos that describe how my first week at altitude has been. I’m in the process of shooting video clips, and hope to have a video completed by next week.
Since I never updated my blog after the Meyo mile, I’ll give a brief summary of what happened. I went into it pretty excited, came up with a race plan to put myself in a position to win, and arranged to have a former Notre Dame teammate take us through 1000m on pace. Unfortunately, things don’t always happen the way you plan. I had a bad start, found myself in last place at 1000m (which we hit in a pretty pedestrian 2:33), and had to kick hard just to run 4:01 (for third place).
With the season not going how I had initially planned, we decided to shut it down early, and start getting ready for the outdoor meets. I travelled to Spire with the Guelph crew the following weekend, paced Ross through a mile of his 3k (he ran 7:53), then took a down week. To clarify, I don’t think I was racing poorly or anything. I just didn’t feel like there was any need to race any more indoors, and figured the earlier I could take this down week, the earlier I could start training for the summer season.
Video of the Race:
In more recent news, it was announced today that Qatar’s middle distance stud, Hamza Driouch, was recently given a two-year ban for irregularities in his biological passport. While this seems to be just another day in athletics (every day it seems like a new high-profile Russian athlete gets caught), Hamza’s ban hits a little closer to home. Back in 2010, I met Hamza and a few of his training partners at World Juniors, we spent some time discussing training, and traded gear at the end of the week. I wrote a blog post (more like a diary entry since it was never posted anywhere) when I got home from Moncton that summer, and now that the news is out about Hamza, I figured it’s an appropriate time to share what I had to say.
Post-World Junior Championships Blog Entry (July, 2010)
Spending 10 days at the World Junior Championships and being a part of team Canada was some of the best days of my life. The highlight of the trip however came on the last night of the trip when JP (Malette), Mohammed (Ahmed), Anthony (Romaniw) and I spent time in Mohamed Al-Garni’s and Hamza Driouch’s(Qatar) room, picking his brain about training, racing, and competitions. The conversations brought many emotions out of me that I feel compelled to write down so that I may read this later and be reminded of the positive energy that I gained from the talk.
Throughout the week we had been talking to Al-Garni about the races, we became friends, and he promised to trade us some of his Qatar gear for Canada stuff. I knew him from before the championships because he had added me on Facebook and we had talked previously. I also knew he had run 3:36 and 1:46, so I was obviously interested in talking to this kid as much as possible. After the banquet, the four of us went to down to him and Hamza’s room. We asked him what he thought of his week, and he told us he was disappointed about coming 3rd in the 15 and 7th in the 800. He started telling us about some great workouts he had been doing that indicated he was in great shape coming in to the championships. This is where it got interesting. He pulled out his training log and was showing us some of the workouts that him, Hamza, and his training partner Abubaker Kaki ( a 1:42 guy) do together. They were UNREAL! Some that I remember off the top of my head: 6 500’s in 64 with 2min rest. Another one was 12 Hill repeats followed by an all out 800 in 1:47. And the craziest one of all was 1500, 1000, 800, 600, 400, 200 with 7min rest. He ran 3:37, 2:24, 1:48, 1:20, 52, and 25. Incredible! And it was the consistency of these hard workouts that blew our minds. I didn’t want to ask but multiple times I had to control myself not to ask where he gets his drugs from. We talked about what he does on his off days and it’s mostly easy runs at 3:50-4:10 pace which is reasonable and he generally hits 52-60 miles a week. So in general, he hammers on the track 2-3 times a week, and the rest is easy running of up to 1 hour. Anyways, after reading his logs and seeing all these ridiculous times he was running in practice, and hearing his coach (Jama Aden), who had walked into the room during one of our conversations, say that Al-Garni was at one point in 3:33 shape, it made all my accomplishments in track feel so insignificant.
The next thing Jama Aden said was that many of the Kenyans on this years team were far older than 19. He said he had spoken to the Kenyan manager who admitted that the guy that won the 1500 is 28 years old. He also said the top 3 in the 10000 were probably all too old, which is really unfortunate for Mohammed (Ahmed) who would have won without these overage cheaters. Hamza also said most of the Moroccans are doping, and both French athletes were from Morocco.
Lastly, I found Aden to be so knowledgable. He walked into the room and went “you’re the 3:42 guy, you’re the 28:57 guy, you’re the 3:45 guy and you’re the 1:49.2 guy”. He knew so much about the competition and even about US schools since he went to Farleigh Dickinson. He was listing off good Canadian distance runners from the 80’s and 90’s that I had really never even heard of. This guy seemed like such a knowledgeable and good coach. He invited us all out to Europe to train with his group for a couple weeks next summer. How Awesome would that be?!? As long as we’re running the same times or faster he said he’d be able to get us into some great meets. What an incredible experience that would be. (edit: Jesus, I was so naive)
Anyway, this all got me really excited for track to start up again, and already got me thinking about goals for next season. I now see more clearly what it takes to run at a World class level, and will do everything I can to get there. Hopefully I’ll be able to read this a couple months from now and re-ignite the fire before track starts up again!
Those who knows me and have asked my opinion about the amount of doping that happens within track and field know that I’m skeptical of the cleanliness of many of the world’s best athletes. Why? I guess it has something to do with my childhood hero stringing me along for 7 inspirational years, onto then go onto Oprah a few years later and publicly admit that he had been a doper all along. Nonetheless, it’s one thing to assume that someones taking drugs, but it’s something else entirely when they actually test positive. While I had my suspicions back in 2010 that Hamza, Mo Al-Garni, and the rest of his crew were doing something illegal, I still had a bit of hope all along that the amazing performances by that crew were a product of talent and hard work. Hamza’s 1500m win at World Juniors in 2012 was one of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen, and when people started calling him the next El-Guerrouj, I believed it ( I tried looking for a video, but couldn’t find one. If any of you know where I can re-watch it, let me know. EDIT: Thanks Jack for finding it VIDEO). While it’s satisfying to see cheating athletes get caught, its a shame that an athlete as talented as Hamza had to go down that road.
The doping news led to an interesting conversation on my run today with Reid. When I told him that I’m often skeptical of many of the worlds best athletes, he advised me against it. He argued that if you go into a race against someone who you assume is doping, you’re mentally handicapping yourself since you’re admitting that they’ve got an advantage over you. It was an interesting perspective that I had never thought about, and one that makes sense for him given that he’s an elite marathoner, possibly racing dirty athletes in every major marathon.
The news of Hamza testing positive carries greater implications as he’s recently been photographed training with the defending Olympic 5k and 10k champ in Ethiopia. However, I won’t go any further with my accusations, seeing as how that kind of thing can get you in trouble these days (ahem, Andy Vernon).
To lighten the mood, here’s a fun photo I took of me running down the frozen Speed River last week. Getting a little tired of all the snow. It’s March next week, which means that spring’s just around the corner, right? Right?