Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rant: sub-.500 playoff teams

A lot of commentators have called for the NFL playoffs to revamp it seeding procedures in which the winner of a weak division is guaranteed a home playoff game despite having an inferior record against a top wild card. This season is an even greater anomaly. It is possible that the 12-4 New Orleans Saints will begin their quest for another Super Bowl on the road against the Seattle Seahawks, who could win their pathetic division with a 7-9 record. What the _____?
Most have suggested that the top 2 division champs should get 1st round byes then seeding for teams 3-6 should be based on record rather than place in the division. For example, an 11-5 team that finishes 2nd in its division would be seeded higher than a divison champ that finished 9-7 or 10-6. I would agree with this change but propose going even farther than that with the reforms. My plan calls for any team with a non-winning record to be declared ineligible for the playoffs even if they finish with the best (least bad) record in their division. A team must be at least 9-7 or I suppose 8-7-1 to qualify for the playoffs as a division champ. If such a team wins a division at 8-8 or worse, a more deserving 3rd wild card gets in provided that their record is better. The current playoff format has produced unfair anomolies in the past.
1985- Cleveland won their division at 8-8 and got in while John Elway and the Broncos were left home at 11-5, the same record as the eventual conference champs.
2008- New England got left at home at 11-5 while San Diego (8-8) hosted Indy (12-4) and won.
Let's take a look at other sports. I don't follow hockey and basketball very much but each league usually allows a couple of sub-.500 playoff teams every year. Most lose the first round but a few have gotten hot when it mattered. The worst example came in the 1990-91 NHL playoffs in which the Minnesota North Stars made the playoffs with a record of 27-39-14 then proceeded to upset 3 consecutive opponents before being beaten by Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup finals 4 games to 2. The NHL saw a team with a winning percentage barely above .400 come within just 2 games of a world championship. That would be like a 6-9-1 team that had no business in the playoffs at all playing in the Super Bowl and keeping the game competitive until the 4th quarter. Eventually, the league expanded and kept the number of playoff teams at 16 so we are unlikely to see a team that bad making the playoffs again. I don't know of any basketball team that made such an improbable playoff run. In football, we've seen two 10-6 Super Bowl champs, two 9-7 Super Bowl participants but no 8-8 team has advanced to a conference championship game. Baseball has had its problems with the playoff format as well. Prior to 1994, only 1 team per division qualified for the playoffs and we often saw 100-62 teams sitting at home while 88-74 teams would win the weaker division.
The worst World Series team remains the '73 Mets at 82-79 who took it to a 7th game before losing to Baltimore. Thus far, there have been no sub-.500 playoff teams in baseball but we've had other close calls. San Diego got in at 82-80 in '05 and the 2 worst World Series champs have been the '87 Twins at 85-77 (only 5th best in the AL) and the '06 Cardinals (83-78). It is entirely possible that we could see a sub-.500 playoff team in the future. Most likely, it would come from the 4 team AL West where in 1994, before the strike, Texas led the division at 52-62. On pace for a record of 74-88, they certainly could have gotten hot in October and won the whole thing. I'd hate to tell a 95 win 3rd place team in the AL East that they have to sit at home because a 79 win team won the AL West. Again, I propose that any non-winning team be disqualified from post-season play in favor of another wild card. I may even set the bar at 86 wins (10 over .500).
Bottom line, I can understand expanding the playoffs because more games mean more revenue and more entertainment for the fans but we need fairer systems that prevent mediocre teams from getting in while leaving good ones at home. Feel free to comment.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Training 12/20-31

12/20- Modest improvement over yesterday's debacle. Started at a relaxed 8:00 pace then the effort increased while the pace steadily slowed. Each additional mile was almost exactly 10 seconds slower than the previous one. Finished at 5 miles in 41:42 (8:20 avg pace). Nasty reaction to 2nd pill in the afternoon. I think I'll try for 2.25 pills per day. This year can't end soon enough.
Grade:C-/1 credit/distance=5.0

12/21- Another modest improvement. Same workout as yesterday with nearly the same result. This time, I managed to hold the pace for 2 miles and my slow down was not as steep. Time was 40:50 (8:10 pace). I'm planning to order a blood test for my thyroid hormones. As a last resort, I may have to temporarily go on Synthroid to compensate for the Lithium that I have, and I mean have to take to avert feelings of over stimulation.
Grade:C/1 credit/distance=5.0

12/22- Pretty weak tempo. 3 miles at Vestavia in 20:57 (6:59 pace). Splits were 6:45-7:00-7:12 so it was the usual steady decline. Not very long ago, I could do 10 miles at this pace. I have fallen very far since September but once again, it was a modest improvement.
Grade:C+/2 credits/distance=3.0

12/23-Planned rest day. Maybe a few days off will do me some good. I think I know the problem now. My blood sugar supplement contains an amino acid that I can't tolerate.

12/24-27- 4 more rest days and the rest did nothing for the abnormal soreness. I was probably worse on the 27th than the 23rd.

12/28- 2 miles in 14:45. Horrible performance. Added some new thyroid supplements to my formula and simply took too many. There is some hope that this stuff can work but I may have to tweak the formula. Again, started off pretty well with a 95 1st quarter then slowed with each step. Splits were 6:49-7:56 and had severe soreness in the calf and shins along with shortness of breath. 1 mile cooldown at glacial pace.
Grade:F+/1 credit/distance=3.0

12/29-1 mile at tempo effort but the Gamin malfunctioned again. Felt much better however despite some stubborn calf soreness.
Grade:C+/1 credit/distance=1.0

12/30- Junk run with Nick in Charlotte through downtown. Felt decent.
Grade:NG/0 credit/distance=2.0

12/31- Meineke Car Care Bowl. Morning workout on the 'mill and it was a horrible performance. 1.5 miles into in, the severe calf soreness began so I stopped, popped a pill then ran a half mile under 3. It would be nice to get off the thyroid supplements permanently but my hopes are not real high. Thankfully, this year is over.
Grade:D/1 credit/distance=2.0

Weekly summary:
The year is over. Enough said.
Distance= 21.0/ GPA= 1.70

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Closing time for 2010. Bring on the new year.

With the marathon recovery this week and being out of town the next 2 weekends, there's not much more that I can accomplish this year. I will edit this on 12/31 but my total miles were 1669 and my average weekly GPA was 2.53. By comparison, I ran 1993 miles last year and finished with a 2.95 GPA. It goes without saying that I took a bit of a step backward after 3 straight years of dramatic improvement.
Here are the monthly highlights:
January: unofficial marathon PR

February: prolotherapy

March: ING half in a respectable 1:38:18 on a tough Atlanta course.

April: Unofficially under 70 for 10 miles but could not get it done on race day. Nightmare in Nashville lasted 1:42:28.

May: Won my first race ever and finished 5th in another despite slow times.

June: Returned to the track for a race for the first time since '99

July: Peachtree 10K in 42:27, a solid performance on that course, 2nd in AG at Twilight Retro.

August: Age group victory in a 5K, 3rd straight sub-20.

September: First and likely only 70 mile week, near miss at 5K PR.

October- best half mary of the year (1:34:47), injured knee in the process

November- comeback and buildup for Huntsville

December- Official marathon PR of 3:43:18 in Huntsville.

Overall, I was hampered by 2 injuries and of course chemical imbalances and instability. I am no longer dependent on taurine but the issue with Lithium is worse than ever. I fully expect an improvement on my next medical report but the question is: How much will my numbers improve with the new supplements?

3 PRs in 6 distances, 1 was unofficial and there were 2 near misses.
Here's the breakdown:
Sprints: Near miss in the 400 with a best of 61.8. Scored a 2 second PR in the mile (5:20). I don't race either distance so that's as close as I'll get to an official time. I was held back by a respiratory infection and extreme summer heat.

Mid-distance: Raced the 5K distance 5 times and scored 3 sub-20s with a best of 19:42. Unfortunately, chances for PRs were sabotaged by very warm and humid conditions. By my next attempt in late September, my health was in decline and had a near miss at 19:31.
I only raced one 10K, a decent effort at Peachtree, but set a strong unofficial PR of 41:14. My injury prevented me from competing in my goal race at this distance.

Long distance: Big disappointments here. The half marathon wasn't even close to last year's PR(short by almost 2 minutes at 1:34:47) but I was hampered by a knee injury in the last 5K. If not for that, it would have been much closer if not a baby PR. I scored an official PR in the Rocket City marathon (3:43:18) and an unofficial PR in a not even all out training run (3:35:32).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Training 12/13-19

12/13- 4 miles easy in 29:13 (7:18 pace) indoors with temps in the 20s. I only needed one day of rest after the marathon and I am pretty much back to my normal training routine. That's hard to believe. I'm still high from the race. The slight disappointment is gone now. When I get into my speed mode, the "new easy" will be 7:30 pace or under.
Grade:A/1 credit/distance=4.0

12/14- Johnny's workout in sub-freezing conditions. Not very much fun but my fastest training since the injury. 4x600 in about 2:12 followed by a 2:55 800 for an overall pace per mile near 5:50. Felt a bit hyper on the lower dosage.
Grade:C+/2 credits/distance=3.0

12/15- Solid MLR run. A bit sluggish but overall, pretty strong. 8 miles in 62:03 (7:45 pace). Even splits (30:54-31:09). I know that tyrosine is not the answer. I'm hoping that maybe iodine or choline/inositol will stabilize my system. I'll send in my hair test after the 1st of the year, which will be 2 months on the new stuff. I should have a good idea by that point.
Grade:B+/1 credit/distance=8.0

12/16- It looks like I will be able to reduce my ADHS down to 2 by adding choline/inositol. Today's workout was a hard 6 miler on only one pill. Another half would have made a difference but the fact that I was able to run well today is encouraging. Time was 41:54 (6:59 pace). Goal of 40 flat was too ambitious. Splits were 6:33-6:54-7:10-7:09-7:15-6:53. I showed a lot of heart in that 6th mile. I still need to tweak things a bit but it looks like choline/inositol is a good call right now. I just want to be more stable. In Huntsville, 2 wasn't enough and 3 was too much. I CANNOT AND WILL NOT LIVE LIKE THAT! No doubt that it hurt my performance as well. I've got about 2 1/2 weeks until I send in my hair sample.
Grade:B/2 credit/distance=6.0

12/17- Easy 4 in 31:08 (7:47 pace). A bit too fast for an easy run but I'll take it.
Grade:B/1 credit/distance-4.0

12/18- 12 miles in sleet and icy drizzle. I lived up to my name just by being out there today. I did pretty much what I planned but it was a struggle. Time was 1:40:54 (average pace was 8:25). Pretty decent through Mile 9 then the wheels came off and I trudged the last 2 in over 9 minutes each. Almost quit after 10 but kept slogging because I was so close. I need more pills. AARRGH! It looks like iodine may be more effective than choline. If I remain this unstable, there will be no PRs in 2011.
Grade:C+/2 credits/distance-12.0

12/19- Attempted Trak Shak 8 and finished only 3 with a pedestrian time of 26:11. Nothing more to say that is not already obvious.
Grade:F/1 credit/distance=3.0

Weekly summary:
I will call the doctor tomorrow and see if he has any other ideas. I can't wait for this year to be over. This is the first time since 2005 that I feel worse off than I was 12 months ago. If I don't get into balance in 2011, I'm afraid I never will.
Distance=40.0/ GPA= 25.5/10=2.55

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rocket City marathon report

Imagine being an NFL coach leading a team that opened the season with playoff aspirations then proceeded to fall on its face with a 2-8 start. 4 wins in the final 6 can restore some pride but it's hard to feel good about a 6-10 finish. That's just about how it felt. I began my training cycle with slim hopes of a BQ (3:10:59). After a great September, I started downhill with symptoms of burnout followed by a disappointing half marathon effort (1:34:47). I injured my knee in the process and then received my worst medical report since recovering from adrenal fatigue. My doctor started me on a new plan, which has been successful but not exactly a smooth process. All this came after I had previously believed myself to be healed. After recovering from the knee injury, I began a gradual buildup that would leave no room for a taper. Here's my weekly mileage since October: (20-26-0-0-0-11-31-37-30-47)= That's an average of just 20 miles per week over a 10 week period. You'd have to be pretty talented to run a respectable marathon under those circumstances.

I took the entire day off work on Friday with the plan to arrive in Huntsville early in the afternoon. On the way up, I decided to take the backroads up AL-79 and US-231, which led directly into Huntsville rather than take I-65 then pick up 565. I stopped at a country diner for lunch, which was a basic meat and 3. I arrived just after 1 PM at the Holiday Inn, the host hotel, right on the starting line. The expo was small but had pretty much everything you would want. I scored a great deal on new running shorts for just $10. Dinner was a porterhouse steak at Longhorn's then my buddy Nick and I went back to hotel and just relaxed until 10 PM. The weather looked a bit iffy with a chance of a few showers during the race with temps in the 40s and windy. In the end, it got nasty the following day but the race itself was fairly comfortable. Mostly cloudy skies, low 40s at the start and near 50 at the finish. I went with a black long sleeve tech shirt, a cap and shorts.

If anything, I was actually a bit too warm in the later stages but the wind was a bit of a nuisance. If/when I break 3:30 (sub-8 pace), I plan to retire from marathons and focus on the shorter distances. Johnny says that he wonders why speed guys even bother with marathons at all. I am clearly out of my element at this distance even when I'm in great shape but I'd wager that I have more raw 400 meter speed (61.2 s) than many sub-3 hour marathoners. I've proven that I can handle the distance in a one-time effort but when it comes to training properly, I am too vulnerable to injuries. Sub 3:30 would not happen today.

A goal: 3:35 PR/ B goal: 3:43:22 (Fargo '09 time) /C goal: sub-4/ D goal: FINISH

Race day:
Powerbar, banana and some Gatorade after waking up at 6 AM. I actually slept fairly well. I did have a morning SNAFU when I turned on my Garmin and found to my horror that it cut off immediately. It's either broken (again) or I turned it on accidently the previous day. Fortunately, there were timers calling out splits at every mile marker so I wasn't completely blind but it always helps mentally to know exactly how close you are to the Mile markers at all times.
Gently rolling throughout. It had a mix of a few flat area and plenty of mild ups and downs. Fortunately, none of the climbs were severe and only a few would even be described as moderate. Good course for a fast time.
I lined up according to my expected time and just followed the group. I felt pretty good warming up but when I started, of course it felt easy but not effortless as I had hoped. The first mile was very crowded and the timer called out my first split at 8:33 (gun time). The next Mile was 8:04. Too fast. Slow down fool. I've heard that for every second you're out too fast in the first half, you can expect to lose at least 2 on the back half. From here, I would try to settle into an 8:15 pace, which would bring me home near 3:35. It was still too early to tell what kind of day it would be but I often know within 3 miles if it's going to be a disaster. Today would not be a disaster. If it still feels easy at Mile 16, then I know that it's my day. At 5 miles, I had settled into a steady pace and resolved not to keep up with others on the course but run my own race. I was around 41 minutes for 5 miles. Roughly miles 8-13 are my favorite part of the marathon. You've settled into your groove but it's still early enough in the race that it still feels fairly easy. We turned out of a residential area on onto a highway with relatively flat terrain but a mountain view in the distance. The pace still felt easy but again it was not the effortless feeling of having my "A" stuff. The PR was slipping away but my splits were about on par with what I ran at Fargo last May. I wanted to be at Mile 10 at 82:30 and got there at 82:55 (clock time) so I figure that I was right around 8:15 pace. Miles 11-14 were quite enjoyable despite the wind and I chatted a bit with a female going for a BQ. My clock time at the half was 1:48:15 so figure that I was just under 1:48 and would need a slight negative split for a PR. Unlikely but I might have a shot at a 3:40 and at least beat my Fargo time. Just after Mile 14, which I passed in 1:55:xx, I began to feel my first bit of discomfort, 2 miles ahead of schedule. I would have to back off now if I was to finish respectably. Doubts began to creep in and by Mile 16, I was pretty much in my "I don't care anymore. Just finish." mode. Not looking good but to my credit, I ran smartly in the next 4 miles. I was able to do some basic math in my head. Barring a disaster, which I defined as 10:00 pace, I would still finish under 4. Soon, the "barring disaster" time fell below 3:50 but more importantly, finishing was now a reasonable goal. The 3:40 group passed me just before Mile 19 but I was able to keep them in sight for at least another mile. In Fargo, I was not passed until Mile 22 but the group was blowing by me a full minute per mile faster. The dreaded 20 Mile marker came at 2:47 and change. At this point, I was hurting of course but I still had a little something left. Based on how I felt, I estimated my finish time to be somewhere between 3:41 and 3:47. Could I beat the Fargo time? It's going to be close. Show some heart here. I turned it up a notch and would pass about 5 runners in the next half mile but as I rounded the next corner, I felt the wall. I still managed to keep the pace respectable at least through Mile 22. When they called out the splits at each Mile marker, it seemed as if my "B" goal was well within my reach. I passed many runners between 20-22 but from 22 to the end, I was merely keeping up with others who were running. I was still gaining places because many people were either walking or trudging so slowly that they'd almost be better off walking. For the third time in as many marathons, I would run the entire way except for water stops. I do not know my splits for Mile 24 and 25 but I'm sure that it was ugly. I was in survival mode here but still had just a tiny bit left in the tank to let it loose in the last 1.2. One mile to go and the clock time was an even 3:35. I was almost a full mile slower than my time trial on the first of the year. I needed a 3:43:22 to beat my Fargo time and figured that it took about 30 seconds to cross the starting line so all I needed was an 8:50 and that seemed well within my reach. Clearly my pace had increased but with no Garmin, I didn't know how fast I was going. There was no split time at Mile 26 and I rounded the final corner to the homestretch. I was not close enough to catch my nearest competitor so believing that I had it in the bag, I posted a respectable finishing kick but I did not go nuts in the last 200 yards. My gun time was 3:43:35 so I would have to wait until the results were posted to confirm that I had done it. The margin was closer than I expected but I made it with 4 seconds to spare. Final time was 3:43:18!
Note: That 3:35 that I mentioned earlier carries an asterisk because it was a training run and the time does not include water stops so I guess you can say that I scored an official PR. It was by a mere 4 seconds but an official PR nonetheless.
I got my medal, finishers hat and space blanket. An official asked me if I was okay whether or not I could walk back. I assured him that I was okay and asked if I looked bad to him. He responded that considering what I had just done, I didn't look too bad to him. Good. This was probably the most comfortable that I felt after my 3 marathons. I limped up to my room. Man, I was sure glad that I had a room nearby because I have a tendency to get chilly and shiver from cold especially after long distances. I hit the bed just for a minute and it was only then that the real pain took over. Cramps in the calf and IT bands were severe and I could barely move a few feet to grab my recovery drink. I was limping badly for the rest of the day but by the next morning, I was feeling much better.

Congrats to Nick on finishing his first marathon in 4:23:30. Way to go buddy!

For the future:
As much as it hurts, it is the right thing to give up the dream of a BQ. It would literally take an act of God for me to achieve that type of fitness while staying injury free. As planned, I will retire from marathons once I break 3:30, which I believe that I could have done last Fall when I ran the 1:32:57 half. My next marathon possibility is the Snickers Energy Bar in Albany, GA and I will run only if I feel that I have a better than 50/50 chance of breaking 3:30. I may run a local 10 Miler in January but my next race will likely be the Mercedes half here in B'ham. Once the weather warms this Spring, I will hit the speed work HARD!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

training 12/6-12/12 (marathon race week)

12/6- Planned rest day

12/7- Cut my dosage to 2.5 with tremendous results. 5 miles at BQ pace (36:14), 7:15 average, which felt easy so I ran another half mile at a hard but measured effort and turned in a 3:02 for an overall time of 39:16 for 5.5 miles. I'm still not sold on this yet. I had an afternoon low just before my 2nd pill and the good feeling is beginning to slip away as I write this. I'm sticking with 2.5 but I may have to time when I take the pills almost perfectly in order to run my best race on Saturday.
Grade:A-/1 credit/distance=6.0

12/8- Planned to run 6@7:30 pace but I started too fast and cut it short rather than risk pushing too hard on a meaningless training run 3 days before race day. Finished with 5 miles in 36:32 (7:19 pace). 1st 2 miles were 7:15 then hung on for about 7:20 the last 3. It did not feel easy like yesterday but still a decent performance. Interestingly, there was no early afternoon low and if anything, I was a tad sluggish, not overstimulated. If I have to cut it to 2 ADHS, that would be okay but I definitely need at least that much. PLEASE stay stable through race day!
Grade:B/1 credit/distance=5.0

12/9- Planned rest day

12/10- Hotel strides
Grade:NG/0 credit/distance=0.5

12/11- Rocket City Marathon in 3:43:18.
Grade:B-/4 credits/distance=26.5

12/12- Planned rest day

Weekly summary:
Performed in line with expectations and can't be too upset given the circumstances.
Distance=38.0/ GPA= 17.5/6= 2.92

Monday, December 6, 2010

2011 race plans

Dec 11- Huntsville full
Dec 18- free
Dec 25- out of town for Christmas with my parents
Jan 1- in Charlotte, NC for Clemson's bowl game.
2011 preliminary race schedule:
Much less upbeat heading into this year than 12 months ago but I've still got some interesting options. The First Light half in Mobile on 1/8 is out. That's just too much travel. If I am to race that weekend, it will be local. I'll be in semi-marathon mode this winter but will keep it sensible. I hope to average about 50 MPW with easy runs around 8:00. Of course, as my medical report goes, so goes my running. I'll send in the sample in mid-January and should know by the first of February. Each race will be a PR attempt if I run.
1/8- Red Nose Run 10 Mile in Birmingham- questionable
1/30- 3M half in Austin, TX- doubtful
2/13- Mercedes half- Birmingham- in barring injury
2/26- Scenic city half- Chattanooga, TN- one or the other
3/5- Snickers Energy Bar full- Albany, GA-one or the other
After this time, I will cut the mileage to 40 and hit the speed work HARD. I want that 59.9/5:15 now and the window is closing as I get older.
3/12- Silver Comet 10K- Atlanta, GA- out if I run the full, probable if not
4/3- Talladega half- Talladega, AL- doubtful
4/17- Chickamauga Chase near Chattanooga or Statue 2 Statue in Birmingham- both are 15K
4/23- Crescent City 10K in New Orleans- if I don't PR at Silver Comet, this is probable.
5/28- Couer d'Alene half in Idaho- In but that's just for fun.
Again, once I break 3:30 in the full, I will retire from that distance. Whether or not I run Snickers depends on the shape I am in and my medical condition.
I welcome comments from anyone who has run these events before.