Thursday, April 29, 2010

Silent Spring for Middle School Track

Fairbanks Brick Wall: Take 1

Okay, I'm fed up with some aspects of the local scene in Fairbanks. Starting with arrogant and turfy. I submitted this editorial to the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer the other week and they didn't even respond. It's not what you know here, it's who.

There's more too. Next up high school JV track.

Silent Spring for Middle School Track
As winter fades into memory with the promise of warm weather and endless days ahead, one sound of spring that won’t be heard in the Fairbanks area this year is the patter, leaps, and throws of middle school track and field athletes. Despite incredible enthusiasm from athletes, parents, and coaches last year, an administrative decision moved a promising spring track program to fall, thus silencing spring track.

For years Fairbanks had gone without a track program for middle schools, so when our son entered Randy Smith Middle School in 2007 we asked around, and found that there was some interest at the FNSB School District. I coached in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 we had about 30 on the team and more than 100 from all schools combined. Participation doubled in 2009.

Most would call this a resounding success. However, the support from the school administrators waned. The primary issues were weather and bus schedules. Spring 2009 was slow to arrive and snow persisted through April. We were forced to train in the parking lot at Randy Smith, rather than on the dirt track. The first meet was cold and blustery, but the season ended on a warm, sunny day at the North Pole High School track.

Within a week after the season—without any input from coaches or parents—the middle school administrators decided to scrap spring track and make it a fall sport. However, there are many more sports conflicts. The Fairbanks middle schools have tremendous participation in cross country, basketball, and soccer. Only volleyball conflicts with spring track.

Many parents and coaches objected to fall track because it was obvious participation would drop. We were advised to let kids compete in both cross country and track at the same time. As a running coach with more than 20 years of experience I do not recommend that kids run track races and a 3 kilometer cross country race during the same week. This approach sets up a greater risk of injury as well as asking for less than full performance level at both sports.

Although the weather was better, the fall track experiment did not work. Participation dropped, and few Randy Smith athletes trained and competed. Overall numbers at the meets were low. The cross country program was also adversely affected because some athletes chose to join track, and those that did both did not run up to their potential.

Track is a great sport. In an era with issues like childhood obesity, high drop out rates, and substance abuse, the community should fully support a wholesome after school activity—even if it’s snowy and muddy and not always convenient. One of the best things about track and field is that youngsters can find their own athletic niche and everyone gets to be a “starter.” Track and field also gives prospective varsity athletes from “major sports” an opportunity to keep in shape during the off season of their main sport, while expanding their skill base.

The Fairbanks community is very supportive of its high school athletes. A strong middle school track program would serve as a feeder program for the high schools.

Then there is Anchorage. Not only does Anchorage have warmer spring weather, it now boasts a fancy indoor track facility, and outdoor spring track for middle school. How can Fairbanks compete at the high school level with Anchorage when we lack facilities, have worse spring weather, AND no decent middle school track program to generate interest and initiate skill development?

Students, parents, and coaches are willing to participate. Track and field is an inexpensive sport, with minimal investment from the FNSB School District. We can work around the weather and bus schedules. There are options. We need to convince school administrators and the FNSB School District that spring track and field for middle school is good for the students and the community. Speak up. Make sure that administrators and the school district hear from you!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bagged 'em (my skis, not the tea)

Saturday's snow cover at Birch Hill was light and fast. Icy hard pack, with a few slushy spots, covered by maybe 2 mm of snow from the other day. That made for some fast, but easy skating. I did a hard effort at Level 4 with 3X Stadium start, and Tower Loop to the base of the last climb: 5:51, 5:51, 5:54, with a 2.5 min recovery. Probably should have taken a full 3 min.

I wasn't planning to ski on Sunday but decided for on more go because Saturday was so good. Did White Bear and Moilainen's (11K) at an easy effort but it only took 45 min, and that included taking off my skis a few times to traverse bare spots. Sonot Cutoff was a 100 m of hockey rink ice. All good fun. The Euro's are still racing; Where are the Alaskans!? Eh, they're cycling and running and doing other sports.

Speaking of which, went out for an hour run after Sunday's ski. Quads felt like stumps but the knee felt good.

Summer waxed the skis in the afternoon and called it a year. Up to 25 miles a week already, just 3 weeks post surgery. Wasn't much of a skier this year, and guess I'm a runner again.

Friday, April 09, 2010

One Month Behind Six Months Ahead

Usually I'm ramping up miles at this time of year, while recovering from a long ski season and a series of March ski marathons. Normally I'll take it easy for a week after the last marathon before returning to roads and trails, somewhat begrudgingly, as the snow melts away.

This time I am celebrating the waning days of winter with some skiing, along with a slow, enjoyable, return to some easy running. At this moment (Friday afternoon), I should still be on a plane, heading back to Fairbanks with my knee all wrapped up and no weight bearing activity for another six weeks, followed by another three to six months of rehab before even starting to jog again.

Today, I went out for 4.5 mile run in the cold April chill (21 F), and later this afternoon I'm taking my son out for some skiing at Birch Hill--hopefully they've groomed there a bit this week as we received a little snow and the temps have dropped.

Skiers in Fairbanks are so spoiled. The conditions now are considered marginal, and there is talk of moving on to rollerskiing. Hardly anyone is out there. Runners are starting to run on the ski trails with impunity. NO!

This is a great time of year to get out and see what much of the rest of the Nordic world would consider average. Every year I bring out the klister to work on waxing technique (need a lot of help there!) and to enjoy bomber kick on fast snow.

Skating is also fun--the snow is dirty and crusty, but it's fast and you are forced to keep your hips forward to maintain top balance and good glide. Otherwise you'll go skidding out.

This is the time of year that we should be having some multi-event fun races and relays. How about a 20K with 5K classic, 5K snowshoe run, 5K skate, and 5K road run?Skate, trail bike, snowshoe triathlon? One friend recently suggested a seven or eight stage 100 mile extravaganza that involves Nordic and alpine skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, ski-jouring, cycling, and running. Wouldn't that be something?

For now I'm just glad to be back running, slow as it may be. 4.5 miles today! Did I mention that?