Monday, June 28, 2010

Spruce Tree Classic

Finally, after six years of living here, I got to do the Spruce Tree Classic. The race was smoked out in 2004, and every year since we were on vacation or it conflicted with the Flint Hills Mile.

Almost didn't make it this year and I was undecided until Friday afternoon. My knee has been hurting since the 3000 on June 10 and the Midnight Sun Run the following week. I only ran twice in the week between MSR and Spruce Tree.

Conditions were good, if not a little humid on Saturday morning. What, with three other running races (all comer's track on Thursday, Bob Wheeler Memorial 5K and Granite Tors on Sunday) I had no idea what to expect for competition.

Good, we had a quorum. Devin McDowell (34:25 last week), Wayne Peppler (36:47), and high schooler Gavin DeWilde (37:15) were on hand as well as Melissa Lewis, a top ranked skier who has been running better and better in recent years. And a mystery guy, (late 20s-early 30s) who wore a store/club running outfit from the Lower 48, who looked fairly fit.

Like this past weekend's USATF (Track and Field) Championships that were in Des Moines, we took it out ridicuously slow. I didn't mind too much, because it gave some time for my knee to warm up. We chatted, told some stories, and talked about the local running scene and US Nationals. The new guy (Robert Finicum) asked if we always ran our fun runs at such a leisurely pace and if we finished together.

I said nope, we'd race when the time is right. At least that was my plan!

I took a drink at the half way aid station and announced outloud "now is the time to hurt," before speeding off to take a lead. Gavin had fallen of our pace by then but Devin, Wayne, and Robert jumped right in as I leaped over the roots and ruts, almost tripping once (good thing I still have rubber ankles because that thing could/should have popped).

They passed and pulled away by 30-40 m by the time we emerged from the UAF Arboretum, but I managed to reel them in with the better footing on the T-Field. But by the time we headed up the long grinding hill past the Smith Lake turn off, things slowed a bit and they started to talk again. I waited till we were about 1/3 up, and put the hammer down again, thinking there has got to be something wrong with this picture--when a 52 year old guy with a glass knee is surging and leading a bunch of healthy guys 15 to 30 years younger.

Of course this was a rash move, and I knew it wasn't sustainable, but I decided to push all the way to the top, by the Geophysical Institute. Oh man, did I ever pay a price. Wayne dropped off 20 or 30 sec, but Devin and Robert were now awakened and they pulled away with ease.

For the next mile I could feel the lactic acid build up in my legs and I slowed way down. Wayne caught me just as we hit the pavement on Kuskokwim Way and I figured that was it. Somehow I had another gear and once on Tanana Drive and down the steep descent to the SRC finshish line, I was able to put in a 6 or 7 sec gap.

The newspaper had the wrong results. Here's how it really went down

1. Devin 46:10
2. Robert 46:10 (apparently in a dead heat)
3. Me 47:06
4. Wayne 47:13

And the first woman was Lewis, who ran a very fast 50:03, well of ahead of PAC 10 all conference runner Maggie Callahan and Hannah Henson of University of Arizona who ran it as an easy workout in 59:03.

Mikko, my son, was 7th male in 53:38 and that's the longest he's ever raced.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Midnight Sun Run Age Grade Leaders (age 40 and up)

Here we go for the masters (40+) age graded lists from Saturday's Midnight Sun Run 10K. As I did following the Chena River Run, I'll try to set up lists for Flint Hills Series races this season using the World Masters Association age graded calculator:

For this run I've tried to find all runners who scored 70% or better. 70% is a solid local level performance, at any age. For example, a 70% is about 6:00 pace (37:30 10K) for an open male (age 19-30) runner and 7:00 pace (or 43:30 10K) for an open female (age 19-30) runner.

Go ahead and check the calculator for you and your runner friends. If I left you or anyone off the list let me know and I can fix it.


Roger Sayre.... [52] 37:01.5 (82.64)
Mark Lindberg.. [47] 36:08.4 (81.34)
Lincoln Murdoch [53] 39:26.5 (78.22)
Kevin Brinegar. [41] 35:56.9 (78.10)
Joe Trubacz.... [51] 39:31.3 (76.87)
Greg Finstad... [55] 41:19.7 (75.92)
Greg Wisenhant [51] 40:38.5 (74.68)
Geoffrey Ames.. [48] 40:05.5 (73.92)
Bill Hoople..... [59] 44:04.3 (73.66)
Bruce Gard..... [51] 41:19.1 (73.46)
Phil Salmon..... [57] 43:28.1 (73.40)
Dave Leonard... [55] 42:58.1 (73.01)
Edward Debevec [55] 43:00.2 (72.95)
Owen Hanley.... [67] 47:51.3 (72.88)
Bad Bob Baker.. [52] 42:07.3 (72.65)
Andy Holland... [54] 43:20.4 (71.79)
Ronald Stephens [45] 40:21.8 (71.72)
Robert Wheeden [48] 41:35.5 (71.24)
David Whitoff.. [53] 43:31.7 (70.89)

Dorli McWayne [57] 43:44.8 (86.15)
Jane Lanford [55] 44:56.3 (81.51)
Erika VanFlein [50] 44:39.7 (76.65 )
Karen Nanseth [55] 49:16.2 (74.35 )
Monte Jordan [66] 59:43.2 (72.54)
Janna Miller [42] 43:47.2 (71.96)
Deena Doublex [60] 55:31.2 (71.96)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Midnight Sun Wrap Up

I staggered around in a stupor all day yesterday, after sleeping only a few hours after getting home early Sunday morning. Crashed big time last night, and slept almost 9 hours.

Let's survey the damage here--how bad did I do with prognostication? Maybe it would help if I could see the startlists ahead of time...

Bryant Wright isn't exactly a ringer, as he grew up here as a youngster but went to high school in Oklahoma and college in Texas. Wright just graduated from Trinity University and according to the university track and field/cross country website (updated last September), he had PRs of 31:43 for 10K cross country and 4:01 for 1500 m on the track. Nice run Bryant. Hope he sticks around.

My predictions were not bad for 2nd and 3rd, as Jason Walker ran 33:33 (27 sec slower than predicted) and Andrey Ionashku was 34:11, 21 seconds off my guessed pace. Instead of Zach Ginn (who didn't run), another Lathrop grad Devin McDowell (MSR winner in 2004) was 4th with 34:24, just edging out Chris Eversman who ran 34:28. It's good to have a solid contingent of post college runners to carry the torch.

The top 3 forged ahead early, and crossed the mile in about 5:06 to 5:10 (hard to see when you're so far back!), with McDowell, Eversman and a few others already strung out in pursuit.

Former three time champ Kevin Brinegar was the fastest masters runner with a 35:56, and 8th overall.

As expected Maggie Callahan won the women's race(38:41), but she was pushed by a costumed Laura Brosius (who said last week that she wasn't planning on running MSR) who ran 38:49. West Valley alums/students were well represented, with Christina (Gillis) Turman taking 3rd (40:08) and Molly Callahan in 4th (40:22), followed closely by Jana Benedix (Monroe grad) in 40:28 with Melanie Nussbaumber of Fairbanks 6th in 40:52.

Dorli McWayne was the first woman over 40, and at 57 ran a fine 43:44 for 13th.

This was the first time all of us have entered. We picked up Mikko from all day refereeing at the Midnight Sun Soccer Tournament at about 8 PM, and hung out at the Pioneer Park for a bit while he refueld and changed. Took the bus from Carlson Center to UAF, along with a couple of Star Wars Storm Troopers and a dozen or more people in various costumes--MSR is always big on the costume theme, and it seemed like 20% or more had costumes this year.

Mikko is ready for a sub 40 min 10K (+/-) but he wanted to walk with his friends. Tristan wanted to run 7:00 pace, but we figured a 45 min would be a reasonable goal. Tamara planned on an hour but promised to walk if she got hot.

It was mildly muggy, but a reasonable 68 degrees at the start. My plan was to run with Kuba, and our goal was to go out easy and work into a good pace, 3 miles about 17:30 and push through from there, maybe to sub 36 (although I figured I wasn't ready for that).

We came through 3 miles at 17:40, but could only hold low 6:00s after that. Although the most of the effort felt more like a tempo run, I didn't have that gear either. (I'm convinced that you need two or three good hard 5K efforts within recent weeks to run a good 10K. Due to schedule and other things I didn't do that this year).

Finished in 37:01 in 16th place. My slowest and lowest placing MSR. Oh well, considering the events of last fall/winter I'm also just grateful to be out there running and it was fun to be a rabbit/pacer for Kuba (who ended up running 36:47, and 2nd for high school aged runners).

Tristan held on gamely with a 45:39, despite some stomach discomfort over the 2nd half of the race.

Tamara was the big surprise of the night: 50:50, in her first 10K in nearly 15 years. This turn around is almost miraculous. A year ago May she ran Chena River Run 5K in 33:48 (11:24/mile). This time on a decent, but on a borderline warm evening she averaged 8:10/mile pace for 10K! This is 20 years after experiencing her first MS symptoms. I only regret that I missed her finish because I thought she'd be on the course for another 10 minutes.

Mikko sauntered in with a couple friends, a few minutes after midnight, and we got home just a few minutes before sunset, at 12:40 AM.

I hope that we can repeat next year.

Next up: we'll age grade the masters results.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Like Tom Petty

Waiting is the hardest part of the Midnight Sun Run. I generally hate race day because you have all day to brood over the race. Two years ago it was refreshing to run Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage and then catch a flight back home to watch Midnight Sun.

Yesterday's prediction post as lame as it may be, had a little more insight than the Newsminer's today.

I mean how many times can you stay "standout" in one sentence? I wonder what it takes to be a standout masters runner? Or is that an oxymoron?

The latest, unless she's intent on being an Ironwoman, Ashley Feaver probably won't be on the podium tonight. I just saw her pushing a double baby jogger up a big hill this morning.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Take your picks for the Midnight Sun Run

This is my favorite local running event, although this year it's a little meh eh ehhh mehhhh because with so few races, and just one very early 5K (Chena River Run on May 1) I don't really know where I'll be. But more on that later.

Weather looks good, it will be in the 60s or even high 50s, partly cloudy, and not any appreciable wind.

There is always a good chance for a ringer--and I always like that--to sweep away a victory trophy at this race. I haven't heard of any.

For men Jasonn Walker has been the toast of the town. He won Beat Beethoven and Chena River Run 5K in convincing fashion this spring, the latter in just over 16 minutes on a slow course. But you can't count out West Valley Alum and 2 time winner Tony Tomsich, who recently graduated from Western Washington University. If Tomsich, who ran 14:36 for 5000 m this spring, is in town and healthy he should win easily in sub 32.

After that it's wide open for a podium spot, but to tell you the truth I think it's going to be one of the Interior Region's young high schoolers. Watch for Delta Junction sophomore Andrey Ionashku. He ran 9:44 for 3200 this spring. Sophomore Kyle Hanson from Lathrop ran a 4:31 1600, while West Valley Junior James Leder ran 10:08 in just his second 3200 at the state meet. These kids will push and pull veteran former champions, and masters favorites, Mike Kramer and Kevin Brinegar, with UAF grads Chris Eversman and Einar Often also in the mix. Lathrop grad Zach Ginn ran some good college times last spring (15:49 5000 m) and is a darkhorse who could be anywhere from 1st to 5th. UAF assitant coach Matt Dunlap has some impressive, relatively recent PRs for 5K and 10K.

1. Walker - 33:06 (adjust places if Tomsisch runs)
2. Ionashku - 33:50
3. Ginn - 34:05
Leder, Hanson, and Brinegar, Eversman, Kramer, Dunlap, and Often should all be in the 34s if they run.

One thing for sure, there will be a new women's winner. Crystal Pitney won five in a row from 2005 to 2009, after taking a surprise 2nd as a 13 yr old in 2004. Pitney has opted for a US Biathlon Team training camp in Anchorage this year.

Maggie Callahan will be tough to beat. Coming off of a great track season for the University of Arizona, where she ran a 16:38 5000 m and scitillating 10:16 for the 3000 m steeplechasae (and 2nd in the PAC 10 conference), Callahan has a good shot at an unprecedented top 10 finish. After that, the race will be wide open. The local high school girls, including Callahan's sister Molly, while talented probably do not have the seasoning and miles to run sub 40. Melanie Nussbaumer several top 5 finishes. Ashley Feaver has been running well lately and appears ready for a sub 40, while Charity Walker and Molly Yazwinski eked out sub 40s last year.

1. Maggie Callahan - 36:51 (but that could be 35:XX if she wants to push)
2. Ashley Feaver - 39:20
3. Charity Walker - 39:32

Nussbaumer is a a darkhorse for 2nd.

Final note about my fitness, or lack thereof. My base training from Nov through April was about 40% of normal and I'm feeling it. If I can hit mid-low 36s it will be a good day. Top 10 seems to be a long shot, and if last year's results are any indication, top 20 might be a fight.

Apologies to Melanie Nussbaumer of Fairbanks. I had her mixed up with Sarah Dillman of Santa Barbara California, who placed 2nd in 2007 and 4th and 2008. Thank you for the clarification Melanie.

Monday, June 14, 2010

That didn't last long

I enjoyed less than two days on the leader board for the US men's 50-54 age group for 3000 meters.

M50 3000 METER RUN Show Complete M50 3000 METER RUN List

All American Standard: 10:45

1 9:18.2h
SANTA BARBARA ,CA on 06/12/2010

That's a great time, more than 90% for the World Masters Association scoring system, and way better than the 10:12 I did the other night. Some notable runners will be turning 50 within the next few months to few years and the records and rankings will be that much tougher. I'd still like to break 10 this year and might have a shot at the AK Senior Games in August, but that will almost certainly have to be a solo effort.

Friday, June 11, 2010

All Comer's Meet #2; And a Nation Leading 3000 m!

Except for the high school level, which is thriving, track and field is nearly dead in Fairbanks. We’re trying to pump some life back into the middle school development scene and I actually think that’s going to take off—until the schools try to step in again so that they can muck it up. Just watch.

However, with no college program and barely a blip of interest in the open and masters level it’s surprising that we even have some meets on the schedule.

Thanks to masters runner Jim Loftus, track is alive here. We do our part to participate and help out. But considering that the running club has several training groups, and dozens of races, the level of participation is hmm, what’s the best way to say this, disappointing. The Flint Hills Mile, part of the Running Club North series is the exception, and there are usually 100 to 150 participants for that.

Fortunately, we had a quorum last night but for a while (like until 10
minutes before the meet was supposed to start) it looked like it would be just Jim and my family. The meet ended up with 8 or 9 participants, and it was a lot of fun.

Weather was perfect for a June track meet, about 69 F partly cloudy, with some swirling headwind (up to 6 or 8 mph) on the home stretch.

I hadn’t planned on the 3000 until about a day or two before, but what the heck. So I checked and what do you know, the lead outdoor time for the men’s 50-54 age group was only 10:16.5. My 1500 last week would indicate 10:20 to 10:30, but I felt that 3000 is my better event.

So I emailed local post-college runner Chris Eversman, hoping he’d have a chance to run and set a good pace. He wasn’t sure if he’d make it, but lo! At the last minute Chris jogged into the stadium. We stacked the 1500 and 3000, with two runners in the 1500 and four in the 3000. My plan was to run easy for two laps and then settle into 80-81sec/lap for 5 laps before sprinting for home (best case goal, sub 10:10)

Jim, an 800 specialist, and World Masters finalist in 2005 for 55-59 age group, was running the 1500 and took lap 1 in about 80, and I let him go. Chris was just off my shoulder. We came through in 85, crossed 800 in 2:46 and 1200 in 4:10.

We hit 1500 at 5:11, and 1600 in 5:31. Then Chris turned it up a notch with a 79 sec lap and we crossed 2K in 6:51.5. I actually felt good, but paid for that on the 6th lap. I fell back to 8:14 (83 sec). It looked like 10:20 would be tough to beat, but I thought, just break 2 minutes for that final 600.

Tamara called out 8:55 with a lap to go—cha ching!—my little calculator said a 75 will give 10:10. GO!

There wasn’t much GO to give, but I tried to accelerate with each 100 meters and gave it my all over the last 100. 10:12.87, just behind Chris who was a gracious rabbit.

Leading outdoor time in the US!
M50 3000 METER RUN Show Complete M50 3000 METER RUN List

All American Standard: 10:45

1 10:12.9h
FAIRBANKS,AK on 06/10/2010

2 10:16.51
COSTA MESA,CA on 05/01/2010

3 10:20.75
SANTA ANA,CA on 02/21/2010

4 10:49.48
COSTA MESA,CA on 05/01/2010

5 10:53.51
COSTA MESA,CA on 05/01/2010

6 10:53.77
SANTA ANA,CA on 02/21/2010

7 10:59.16
SANTA ANA,CA on 02/21/2010

8 11:02.16
SANTA ANA,CA on 02/21/2010

9 11:11.2h
CHAPEL HILL,NC on 06/09/2010

10 11:41.81
DELMAR,NY on 05/29/2010

11 11:52.13
SANTA ANA,CA on 02/21/2010

12 13:32.10
HONOLULU,HI on 01/22/2010

13 16:31.03
CHARLOTTE,NC on 04/10/2010

Now as a caveat and reality check—3000s are not common and 5:28/mile pace might get you a top 8 or 10 rating for 5000 by the end of the year (my 17:08 was just off that last year, for 11th or 12th), but this is the first time I’ve lead an age group for any period of time. I’ll savor it.

Thanks to Jim for rabbiting that first 800 and for keeping these little meets going, and for Chris for his pacing good humor and patience. And of course for Tamara’s cheering.

Every year I say this, next year we have to do it: get some sponsorship for an early June 5000/3000 and bring out the big boys and girls for a some fast track times in Fairbanks!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

More Local Schedule/Race Woes

I hope that no one is offended but this seems shaping up to be the year of the ho-hum drum & let's screw up the races around here.

Last week I complained a little about lack of quality local races in May. Now it's June and we're in full swing, but everything is out of whack.

On Saturday my son ran the Alaska Statehood 5.1K. 5.1? Cute, to celebrate each of Alaska's years with another 0.1K, but do we really need another odd distance race here? I should keep a tally of accurate to off distance races. Anyway, Mikko ran stellar and placed 2nd overall. I brought out the measuring wheel and his 5K split was 19:01.

We were all set to run the Mosquito Meander this coming weekend, despite the fact that it's yet another over-hyped and expensive fun run that allows rollerblades, bikes and other conveyances. However an ad in Sunday's paper mentioned that, because of some construction, the course would be 3.2 miles instead of 3.1. Again? What about moving the start/finish?

It's not a difficult thing to do.

Well, due to the inability of race organizers to think within a reasonable framework, and the fact that the last time I ran MM (2007) I was very flat for the Midnight Sun Run, I've decided to run 3000 m on the track on Thursday. has 10:16 as the fastest time for the 50-54 age group (I bet there are a dozen or more who can run a faster 3K split in a 5K). Hey, I might have a shot at 10:16. Maybe get a week or two with a nation-leading time and all the glory (hah hah!) that goes with it.

One more. They had the Moose Mountain Madness 4 mile yesterday, on a rugged hill climb and descent course, and I had thought about running but way too many thing going on with FAST and kids soccer. Good thing. The leaders ran off the course. Bummer for them, but Laura Brosius ran a women's course record with a 35:31.

One of these days I'll do that one.

Friday, June 04, 2010

1500/400 Shaking Off A Little Rust

Weird day. First the weather. After months of drought and recent weeks of smoke in the air from forest fires, we've had a few days with late afternoon convection storms. Huge nasty clouds build up over the hills north and west of town, followed by some rain and winds. Not sure if it will help the fire situation in the long term but maybe.

Anyway, big black cloud to the north was hanging. Meet scheduled at West Valley HS track for 6:30.

5:50 I got there but the infield was filled with about 40 (no exaggeration!) tents in preparation for Relay for Life this weekend. Not a trackster in sight.

6:05 walked into the track area and still no one but the Relay for Life people. Meanwhile, we were getting sprinkles and the wind was kicking up, so I took a long loop through the parking lot.

6:07 I split over to Lathrop HS, about 4-5 miles away, thinking that they moved the meet. No one there either.

6:21 head back to West Valley

6:33 All of 5 people jogging the infield: 2 lawyers, Jim and Dave; 2 recent college grads Einar and Chris; and Pat, an elderly fixture on the local running circuit--doing his first meet since high school!

6:42 After a quick 1 mile warm up with a couple of strides thrown in we line up for the 1500. Our biggest concern is a baby (<1 yr old) with a mohawk who kept crawling out onto the track on the far turn. Chris and Einar took it out fast over the first 100, and I settled into an uncomfortable 3rd. 75.1 (too fast) for the first lap, and 2:34 at 800 (2nd lap too slow). I was feeling it on the third 3:53 (also too slow) and measured an increasing stride rate over the last 300 to finish in 4:50.5 Not exactly earth shattering but as of this week it would 5th for at 1500 m and a surprise 84.6% for World Masters Association age grading.

Considering I wasn't even running 2.5 months ago. Okay, I'll take it.

Einar, Chris, Dave, Jim, and Pat duked it out in the 800 and I jumped into the 400 while Jim timed. This was my first 400 in 12 years. Yes I've slowed (55s as an open runner; 60 or 61 at 40), but my excuse is no speed work so far this year and I'll stick to it until next week! A blazing 65.6.

We wrapped up just when the rain came, with Einar, Chris, and Pat running all five events.

This is a decent start to get the speed to run sub 5 at Flint Hills Mile next month.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Never Gave Up

Twenty years ago this weekend, my wife Tamara ran her all time best 5K at Freihofer's Run for Women ( with a 16:57.99 to place 13th in the US road race championships for 5K.

I remember a cool wet morning in Albany and a star studded field, with Olympians Judi St. Hillaire, Leanne Warren, and Patti Sue Plummer fighting it out. Tamara moved through the second pack in the middle mile and then held on for he best ever finish at a race of that caliber.

Just a few weeks later she started to develop some odd symptoms which affected her running and health, but it took almost a decade to pin point the cause. She was diagnosed with MS in 1999. This is her story, which I wrote a year later, followed by a brief update.

Tamara does not usually ask me to go with her to the doctor’s office. But in spring 2000 a strange numbness in her legs and torso made its unwelcome return after a three year hiatus. My wife asked me to come along for her post-MRI screening.

Tamara also had an MRI in 1992. The possibility of multiple sclerosis had been a concern then, and we were relieved that the scan was negative. But the mystery remained unsolved for seven years. The doctor greeted us cordially before attaching Tamara’s MRI to the light fixture. And casually, he said “I’ve had a chance to look at your MRI, and it looks like you have a little MS here. A wave of shock roiled over me as I scanned the image of her spinal column. A LITTLE MS? A LITTLE? But the earlier tests were negative.

“ MRI’s pick up MS about 90% of the time, but it can be hard to diagnose in the early stages,” the doctor informed us as he pointed out the lesions where the myelin sheath around the spinal cord had been eaten away by her own immune cells.

“It’s not like it’s a death sentence,” the doctor tried to reassure us. Blood rushed out my head, and I quickly sat down on the bench. Last time I fainted in the doctors’ office, I ended up going for a very expensive ambulance ride to the hospital followed by an MRI of my own. Not this time! My job as husband and coach was to support her. I took a few deep breaths but remained seated through the rest of the consultation. Tamara remained composed and analytical.

An Ability to Focus
Focusing has always been one of her strong points. Just a few days before our doctor’s visit, Damien Koch, her college track and cross country coach at Colorado State University remarked to me that he always was so impressed with her ability to get the job done. “Boyfriends, classes, art projects, exams. She always had so much going on, and I could never tell what was going on in her head. But I always knew that Tammy would get in that 10 mile run.

A 1980 graduate of the now infamous Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Tamara played volleyball, basketball, and ran track. “In track I did everything but the high jump and shotput,” she likes to tell friends. Tamara was not recruited out of high school, and enrolled at Colorado State to study art and graphic design. During the fall of her freshman year a coach encouraged her to tryout for the track team after he saw her running the school’s antiquated cinder track.

Colorado State had some talented women’s teams back in the 1980s. Tamara ended up as solid runner on a team that boasted several All Americans, including Libbie Hickman who ran in the 2000 Olympic Games. By her senior year she had earned a full ride scholarship and All Conference honors at 1500 meters.

Prodigious running aside, Tamara is perhaps best remembered for adding a little levity on road trips. Once, when the team traveled by van to Arizona for a big spring invitational, she packed a couple of hand puppets. The dreaded “Wolf Cookie” made opportunistic forays at snack time and pillaged with impunity. The puppets were in her bag when the team arrived at the meet, but her track shoes were in Colorado. Almost 20 years later Koch recalled, “She has big feet. I had a heck of a time finding a pair of spikes in time for her race! But with those borrowed shoes she placed in the 800 meters, and had a great race.”

When the team went to Oregon for a fall cross country trip, they traveled to the coast beaches after the meet. While the other girls were sunning and relaxing, Tamara sprinted along the shoreline in her bikini screaming “I LOVE to run! I LOVE to run! I LOVE to run!

Her college career ended with illness, injury, and burnout and she did not even make the traveling team for her final conference track championships. During the final weeks of the season, she asked me to join her a last ditch workout to get her back into race shape. Although we had been running together for almost a year, this was our first real workout. It could have been the last. She became irritable when we did not hit the times exactly on the first couple of repetitions. I pointed out to her that she needed to relax a little and make running fun. Although I half expected her to tell me to get lost, she listened. Then she asked me to coach her after the season was over.

The Graduate
Tamara graduated in 1985 with a degree in Graphic Design. And over the years she has made her mark by illustrating scientific manuals, college textbooks, and children’s field guides. A born artist, who has been drawing since she was three years old, she is regarded by clients for her ability to capture life on paper. A natural.

Humans are natural endurance runners. Some are more natural than others. Tamara frequently lamented that her slightly built teammates in college were more efficient than her, with a 5' 11" frame. However, Tamara is built to run. Unlike most distance runners, she runs on her toes. Her long legs glide over the ground without wasted vertical or horizontal motion. Narrow shoulders and thin arms make her stride all the more efficient. In college she developed good habits in technique and worked assiduously to maintain her form. Her only idiosyncracy is the slight hitch in her arm carriage, when her right forearm wanders across the plane of her mid-section. After taking a much needed post-college break Tamara moved up from the middle distances and improved steadily at everything from 5k to the half marathon.

But a plethora of world class runners lived and trained in Colorado, and Tamara was frequently overshadowed by stars from the U.S. and places like Norway or New Zealand. In 1989 we moved from altitude to Ithaca, New York where she went on a spree of setting course records and top finishes at big races. The bigger the race, the tougher the competition and conditions, the better she would perform. During the summer of 1989 we decided to focus on the track, with the Empire State Games as the peak race.

The Empire Games are the oldest and largest of state games in the USA. However, not everybody gets to go to the Games. About five or six weeks before the Games, runners must qualify in an Olympic Trials like track meet. Only 12 in the whole state make it. The Central Region coach was awed when Tamara “came in from nowhere and blew away the competition by 40 seconds” in the 5,000 meters qualifier. After a series of excellent races and workouts, her performances had garnered considerable attention among the local running community. However, the Games arrived with stifling humidity and broiler heat that radiated off the astroturf infield, asphalt track, and cement stadium at Cornell University’s track venue.

The 5k is probably the most popular distance for road races. Joe or Jill six pack runner can easily manage a 5k, even if they only run once or twice a week. But there is nothing easy about racing the 5k or 5,000 meters. The race IS the measure of your maximum aerobic capacity, otherwise known as the V02 max. To find your aerobic capacity and run a fast 5k is to ask your body to hurt. There may be a million ways to run the distance of 5,000 meters, but no matter how you do it, you will have to endure several minutes of oxygen deprivation and burning legs. As Frank Shorter says in opening segment of the Steve Prefontaine movie, Without Limits, “this race is about pain.”

A savvy runner can use this pain to their advantage. A good rule of thumb is to hit your opponents at their weak points--when they let up. That was our plan for the Empire Games.

Tamara was to follow for the first four or five laps at about 82 seconds per circuit, and when her competitors began to ease off a little, drop the pace to 80. The leaders took off quickly on the first lap, and Tamara spotted them about 10 meters. The pack coalesced and settled into an even pace, averaging 82 seconds per 400 meters. Just as we expected, the pace slowed on the fifth lap and Tamara took the lead, and charged through consecutive laps of 78 and 79 seconds. The lead pack disintegrated. The gold was never in doubt as Tamara increased her lead by about second with each loop around the hot black oval. She ran a 17:08 to win by 12 seconds. We were hoping for a sub 17, but were not disappointed because she had raced to win. Tamara had executed the race perfectly, and ran with guts under

Her confidence buoyed with that win, and over the next year she went on a racing rampage. Two weeks later she placed in the top 20 at the U.S.A. 10k road racing championships in New Jersey. After a late summer break, she returned to form on a cold, wet, and blustery day to take third at the Northeast Regional 10k Road Championships with a PR of 35:01. The winner, a reserved New Englander, by the name of Lynn Jennings, told the press after the race “today was not a day to run for fast times.”

At the end of the 1989 season, we traveled from the hinterlands New York’s Finger Lakes to Rhode Island for the prestigious New England Cross Country Championships. On the soul of her left shoe Tamara painted a butterfly, on the right a bee. Like Muhammed Ali, she vowed to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” Over a gnarly 5k course at Bryant College, Tamara floated over the roots and large cobbles and stung a bevy of Chowdaheads to take an impressive third place. First place that day went to Gwyn Hardesty (nee Coogan), who would make the 1992 Olympic team. Second was Karen Smyers, who became the U.S.A’s top ranked triathlete a few years later. That day we heard a lot of “who’s that blond girl?”

Over the next spring and summer it seemed as if every race was a PR or a breakthrough. I couldn’t even remember the last time she had run a “bad” race. She ran a PR 16:58 at Friehoffers, good for 13th at the U.S. road 5k championships. Friehoffers is not known for it’s fast times. Said eight time champion Lynn Jennings after winning in 1998, “The race is held on a course that requires a strategic and intelligent race execution.” Tamara took top five at a string major road races, which included The Lilac 10k, Utica Boilermaker, and Buffalo Subaru 4 Mile Chase. At Utica she was the top New Yorker. Although the sub 17:00 5k, eluded her, in July she ran a PR 22:05 at the Buffalo Subaru 4-Mile. Her reputation was growing, and it seemed that it would be just a matter of time and the right conditions before she would nail a 5k in the 16:40's or faster.

To Defend the Gold
She would defend her 5,000 meter gold medal at The Empire Games during the last week of July. This time the race on a rubberized all weather track in Syracuse. The heat and humidity were absent. I felt that this would be her day. As we drove to the race, Tamara commented that she was not “into the Empire Games this year,” that the event was “kind of high schoolish.” I was a little surprised when she said “I want to take a year or so off from running and racing.” I figured that these were just those pre-race negative jitters that plague us all before a big competition.

The race plan was much the same as for the previous year. Let the others do the leading for the first mile or so, drop into 80 second per lap pace, and leave the field behind. After her performance at Buffalo, I did not think she would have any problem with the pace or any runners in the field. The first four or five laps went exactly as planned, and she took the lead with an 80 second lap. The pack broke up, and the race was shaping up just like the last year.

But this time, she had a shadow. Lori Hewig a swift runner from Albany tucked closely behind Tamara. I recognized Hewig from Freihofer’s that spring, but Tamara had beaten her there. Tamara knew how cope the contingencies after the breakaway: if someone sticks with her, then surge another lap; if they’re still there, drop back and let them lead until 1,000 meters to go, and then put the hammer down for a long drive to the finish. Tamara did not surge, and dropped back into 82's and 83's for the next few laps. Lori stuck close behind. She was about the same age as Tamara and obviously quite talented, but less experienced on the track. Tamara tried to shake her. “It was driving me nuts,” she has recounted many times since that day in the summer of 1990, “I tried to pick up the pace, but my legs just wouldn’t go any faster.

By 3000 meters I became concerned, and yelled for Tamara to either pick up the pace or let Lori lead. Tamara slowed to 83's and 84's but did not exchange the lead over the next three laps, and I grew a little annoyed when she did not seem to be sticking with the plan. Her race face, normally placid and in deep focus, took on a frown of frustration as she headed down the homestretch with two laps to go. Finally, Tamara stutter-stepped into a near jog as if to let Lori Pass. Lori hesitated momentarily, and then her coach yelled for her to go, and she took off with a strong kick. Tamara did not pursue, but held on for the silver in 17:21.

I Need a Break
I had never seen Tamara give up in a race. It seemed uncharacteristic for her to let it go without a good fight. On the way home we agreed that she needed to take a break. She decided to rest through most of August, train for a low-key fall cross country season, and then take a whole year off from competition. After a rest, she maintained her training at 40 miles a week, about eight or ten miles less than she had been used to. Although she won the Upstate New York Cross Country Series with ease, she was not the same. Within two months of the best races of her career, I noticed that her knee lift and turnover were lagging ever so slightly. We stayed away from the roads and did exercises to get the spring back into her stride. That fall and winter, the first of a series of strange symptoms began to appear. It started with an inexplicable irritable colon. A few months later she experienced a strange numbness and tingling in her feet, and legs. Sometimes the muscles around her eyes would twitch. She saw several medical specialists, but none were able to offer a diagnosis.

Cycle of Mystery
True to her promise, Tamara did not race during most of 1991. She returned only to run fall cross country. She defended her Upstate New York series title, but her stride did not improve even though we had worked on the knee lift and turnover.

By 1992 we had moved to the outback of North Dakota, and Tamara said she was ready to return to racing. After an easy buildup and some small races she lined up for a 3 mile race in Dickinson, ND against Becki Wells, who was the top high school distance runner in the country. “I had read about her and wanted to give her a challenge,” said Tamara. And challenge she did. They ran stride for stride for more than two and a half miles, but on the final hill Tamara recalls, “my legs just shut down.” She had to walk to the finish. A few weeks later, on a hot 14 mile run, she had to stop and walk after 11 miles. The next month the numbness returned with a vengeance. But rather than just tingling, her legs were hobbled. She could not run and barely could walk around the block. A series of tests to detect a cause, from tumors or pinched nerves to Lyme Disease or MS, all showed up negative. We and the doctors were baffled.

Over the next several years--which included the arrival of two healthy boys into our life--the pattern continued. She would build up her base, be on the cusp of good racing shape, but then the symptoms would return and she would have start over again. More visits to the doctors, and it seemed each had a different hypothesis. By the late 1990s we thought that the mysterious problem had passed. She had not had any symptoms in over three years, and had been working out regularly with running, weight lifting, swimming, and volleyball.

On May Day in 2000 she entered the 2 mile “Furry Scurry” a popular human-canine fun run in Denver. Tamara and Roxie, a border collie mix, glided through the course in under 13 minutes and made a top 10 overall finish look easy. I figured that with a buildup to 30 miles a week and some consistent speed work, she’d soon be able to run a 5k in under 20 minutes. A comeback was just around the corner. A week later the numbness returned to her legs, followed by a strange burning sensation on her torso. Was it stress? Overdoing the running, weightlifting, and volleyball. A pinched nerve in her spine? More doctors. More tests. Then the diagnosis: Tamara has recurring-remitting multiple sclerosis.

About MS
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that afflicts approximately 350,000 Americans. So far there is no definitive cause, although viruses are suspect. MS has no cure. What is known is that the body’s own immune cells work overtime and attack the myelin–the protective sheath that surrounds the spinal cord. Myelin is like the plastic coating on electric wire, and without it nerve conduction slows down. Multiple sclerosis is not passed on genetically, although there appears to be a small but significant familial predisposition. The disease affects women about twice as often as men. It is most common in mid or higher latitudes and among Caucasians. High altitude regions like Colorado often have the most frequent number of cases.

MS is not always a progressive degenerative disease. Many people may have a bout, and never know it. Some may have the recurring-remitting type for decades, but will live well into old age. Sometimes these attacks become more frequent and progressive. The course of the disease is very unpredictable. Just a generation ago MS patients, like Olympic skiing medalist Jimmy Huega, were told to stop their athletic activities. But pioneers like Huega fought the medical conventional wisdom, and continued to exercise. Now physicians recommend that MS patients should continue with a moderate exercise regime. In spite of all of the gaps in our knowledge about MS, many of the symptoms can be managed. Recent medical advances have brightened the outlook considerably. There are now medications available that can alleviate the symptoms, and reduce the frequency of attacks. Cutting edge medical research has shown that myelin in mice can be regenerated from embryonic tissue. Unfortunately the current political climate in the U.S. against any and all stem cell research. In a generation we have gone from the dark to the potential ability to restore damaged neural tissue.

Although possible breakthroughs appear to be promising, it is impossible to predict the future. We appear to be a long way from even pinpointing the cause of MS, and without that knowledge there is no cure. The disease itself is unpredictable; no two cases are the same. Tamara and her doctors do not know for sure if the current stiffness in her knee will go away, and no one knows when another attack of numbness will return or how long will it last. Our life and our outlook has changed forever. Now we know that a comeback is not likely. “It’s like being permanently injured,” says

I think of the Peter Gabriel-Kate Bush duet “Don’t Give Up.”
don’t give up
cause you have friends
don’t give up
you’re not beaten yet
don’t give up
I know you can make it good

Instead of planning and executing regular interval workouts, we learned to count the duration between recurring attacks. The nagging wonder whether some elite opponents at major races were taking performance enhancing drugs has been replaced by the knowledge that Tamara will need to take steroids from time to time. These are powerful drugs that affect her mood and ability to function through a busy day. However, we are grateful for their availability. My role as a coach 10 [now 20] years ago was to encourage her to push through pain barriers in the tough middle and late stages of a 5,000 meter race. Now at the end of the day I provide the support she needs to make an injection with Copaxone, a drug that reduces the frequency of attacks.

Tamara no longer writes things like “Sting Like a Bee,” on her shoes. But for an hour or two after the injection, she says that it feels just like a bee sting. As her coach, my biggest challenge was hold her back from pushing too hard. On a recovery days I would say an easy six or eight miles would be fine. But when I returned home she would say that she ran 85 minutes, “But it was such a pretty day.” I would just role my eyes and say “You’d better cool it, Girlie.” Now we know that moderation is imperative. Long or exhausting workouts, especially in the heat, can exacerbate the symptoms.

Much of coaching is psychological. Most anyone can look at book and write up a 10 week training program. A coach has to think about the long term. Coaches must convince their athletes that barriers can be broken. That anything is possible. The biggest challenge for most runners is to face the fear of the unknown, and to fight those mental barriers. To cope with MS is to face the fear of the unknown. We do not know what will happen the course of Tamara’s disease over the next five, ten, or twenty years. We do not know what advances will be made by medicine during the next few decades.

To ask why is natural. But better than to ask “Why me? Why us?” we need to wonder why do autoimmune diseases occur in the first place? Why is MS so prevalent in high elevation locales like Colorado? Why do four of Tamara’s teammates from Colorado State University--All Conference or All Americans from the 1982-84 era--have serious autoimmune disorders like MS, lupus, or fybromalagia?

don't give up
cause you have friends
don’t give up
you’re not the only one
don’t give up
no reason to be ashamed
don’t give up
you still have us
don’t give up now
we’re proud of who you are
don’t give up
you know it’s never been easy
don’t give up
cause I believe there’s a place
there’s a place where we belong

We have many reasons to be thankful. After a decade of a nomadism we had returned to or home of Colorado, close to friends and family. A place where we belong. We have two lively boys who keep us running from dawn to dusk. At times we wonder if it is not such a good idea for a couple of distance runners to have children. Our kids go non-stop. But they add sunshine to our lives. All the uncertainty and questions notwithstanding, we have a goal: When our children graduate from high school and college during the next 15 or 20 years, we will include a run together as part of the celebration. The boys will be welcome to join us.

Post Script 2005
This story was written in 2000, a year after Tamara’s diagnosis. The good news is that she continues to take medication, and her heath remains stable. She has moderated her activity level but still enjoys going out for a run or ski. We no longer live in Colorado because we felt that the summer weather was too hot for her condition and because the Front Range was becoming overgrown. In 2004 we moved to Alaska, which is neither hot nor overdeveloped .Tamara is coaching young school runners and volunteers at races.

Update 2010
I am happy to report that if anything, Tamara's health seems better than 5 years ago. She struggled with her running last year, but learned that she was anemic a few months ago. The turn-around has been remarkable, and last week she ran a 4.1 mile trail race at about 8:15 per mile.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Now can the season begin?

May and September usually have the best weather for racing here, perfect temperatures, consistent weather, usually not a lot of wind or rain, little or no smoke. Neverthless, the race pickings are slim in those months. We have the Chena River Run, which is competitive 5K on a slow course, on the first Saturday of May; and then the Murphy Dome Roam, more of a training fun run, on a hilly 8 mile course on the 2nd week. After that not much of anything--a couple of fund raisers on courses that aren't measured accurately.

June, July, and August are packed, often with two or three races a week. But in September, most everything is a giant genuflect to the Equinox Marathon gods. Meh, I'm getting bored with the local calendar, but will do my best to smile and enjoy.

Coming up in June (typically the best month for quality races):

June 3 - track mile (and probably 800), usually no one to run with but a good tune up; I don't have the chutzpah (base) this year to run a hard 5000 or 3000, as I've tried to rally up in past years (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009), with varying success.

June 12 - Mosquito Meander 5K, dumb course (at least it's flat) and expensive race, but I'll do it.

June 19 - Midnight Sun Run, no great expectations but would like to win AG again.

June 24 - maybe something on the track (800 m?)

June 26 - Spruce Tree Classic 7.2 mile trail run, I've always wanted to do this one on the UAF trails.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

FAST may be a four letter word

But we will buck the trend and forge ahead.


(1) We will do more with less.
(2) We can!
(3) It will kerfluffle some of those stuffy little control freaks up on the hill.