Thursday, November 14, 2013

TNHSXC 2013 Recap

Year two began with high expectations.  Following our Class 1A debut as a newly opened high school in 2012 (boys team qualified for State as well as one female - Sadie M.) the stage was set. All of our student-athletes were returning as we had no senior class last year, and we were moving up to Class 2A and south to Bowling Green's Region 2 following a KHSAA region realignment.  Our team had grown in numbers and would peak by season's end at 32.  Most of the fastest core boys were the same, but the back half of our varsity girls squad was made up of many new smiling faces.
What happens when I leave my phone in the office - thirty or so random photos.
Our course was shaping up. 
The season began early with summer practices firing up in early June.  Attendance was outstanding, and I was already anxious for season to start (maybe not the school year, but the season).  The training plan was laid out, base miles were accumulating daily, and I was spending countless hours on the Cub Cadet after practice (often between my runs) mowing the XC course.  By the time our mandatory "dead period" came around, we had set goals, and I was feeling confident in our kids' abilities to carry on toward them.

We enjoyed free tickets to a L'ville Bats game thanks to my friend (head groundsman) Tom Nielsen.
School starts early 'round here, first week of August usually, which made for a long month of after school training sessions before our first contest on Labor Day weekend.  The new Region alignment had us competing at Ephram White Park in Bowling Green for our Regional Championships, and the only chance we would have all year to run on that course was August 31st.  Not really what I was looking for when scheduling the first meet of the year, but we loaded up and headed south.  The course is primarily gravel, which the kids did not like, but they ran pretty well despite the oppressive heat and humidity.  Hope S. made history as the first TNHSXC runner to ride in an ambulance as her body went into complete shut down due to her strong effort.  By 3:00 a.m. I was home in my bed.

Labor Day itself was the second running of the NDurance 5k here in Bardstown put on by my friend (who I coached under for six years) Dan Bradley.  My guys ran really well, especially Jarrett who ran right off my shoulder until we hit the track with 300m to go.  I managed to out kick the sophomore (he did race two days prior), and the effort was enough to get us across the line in 16:55 and 16:56 respectively - Jarrett's first trip under 17.  Things were shaping up.

The start of the first Popsicle Race four years ago.
Pictured are numerous TNHS and NCHS runners that now drive to practice! 
We hosted a number of events throughout the XC season.  Our three race series named the Weeknight Warfare XC Series and the fourth year for the Popsicle Races Youth Series would keep us hopping.  The first night of Popsicle Races saw 86 of Nelson County's youngsters brave 1, 2 and 3k courses on a quest for popsicles.  The series has ballooned to five races and has been the introduction to running for hundreds of kids.  Check out  The Weeknight Warfare Series saw great competition on three Tuesday nights.  The first one saw a lightning delay cancel the boys varsity race, but the second two came off without a hitch.  Tremendous school and parent support led to stellar events at a venue that I am very proud of.  Our kids took home a lot of hardware including team trophies despite the increasingly strong competition.  The third race, our Senior Night, saw eight full varsity teams toe the line.

Very proud and sad to see them go.  
Our harriers continued posting great results all season long, times were dropping consistently, and the Regional rankings held steady.  Boys were 4th in Region 2 2A and girls were hovering around 8th. From the night race at Run for the Gold in E'town, to the huge Trinity/Valkyrie Invite, to Hillbilly Run (best local finishers in boys and girls!), to the new races (for us) at Gatorland and Fast Cats (both were pretty bad beatings), our team battled through tough training weeks often racing on tired legs.   It was time for us to hit the key races, rested and ready to best the PR's that we had already bettered.

The MKAC All-Conference Team members - Jarrett and Tyler.
A cool Tuesday evening in October at the Hillbilly course was the setting for our Mid-Kentucky Athletic Conference Championships.  Our boys team minus two key soccer players (playing in their Regional tourney) lined up ready to throw down in what would be a tight battle for the runner-up spot.   Missing our usual number 3, we placed third only missing the Runner-up trophy by four points (we eventually forgave Nathan).  Varsity girls were a solid 5th and the middle school boys (future looks bright!) were fourth.  Two middle schoolers earned All-Conference honors and two high school boys also ran their way onto the All-conference team.  All that was left was one last race at the Central KY Meet of Champs (tune up for a few Region team members and last race for middle school).   Most of our Region team was resting that weekend awaiting the next weekend's Regional Championships - our most critical race of the year. 

Here's some of the Region crew.  Boys did it again - back to STATE!
While we would love to assume our spot at the State meet is guaranteed and to be able to place all of our emphasis on tapering for State, we had to qualify out of a competitive region (and against bigger schools than last year).  So, for the second year in our two year legacy, we honed our training on Region with a goal of qualifying for the State meet.  And, for the second year in a row, we did.  The boys qualified out of Region 2 2A by nabbing the 4th place team spot (top five teams qualify).  The girls ran a solid meet, and while we had hopes of running a few individuals into the five slots for non-team qualifiers, we narrowly missed.  Their season came to an end, but the boys would march on to Lexington with one more week to prepare.

It's an honor to get to go to the State Championships in any event, and our distance runners were the only ones to reach that pinnacle in any sports in 2012-13 (Boys XC team, one XC girl, two 1600m individuals in track).  Once again they proved to be the best student athletes at their respective sport at all of Thomas Nelson High School.  They represented TNHS well as they placed 19th out of 26 teams.  Our seed was 15th, and our goal was 10th.  So, we went four spots in the wrong direction.  I'm chalking it up to another growing opportunity and a fantastic season with new runners, new PR's and loftier goals for next year. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bourbon Chase 2013

The Bourbon Chase is a 200 mile overnight relay that follows Kentucky's historic bourbon trail, and it is hands-down the most fun event that I do all year.  The camaraderie, the hype, the trash talking, the not wanting to let your crazy-fast team down, all plays into making me amped to perform my best for this race.  The event starts on Friday morning with the teams seeded as those to take the longest departing Jim Beam first.  My team, who I joke (but not so jokingly) about being so good that the addition of one or two more fast runners will leave me invited only as a driver or waterboy, was one of the three teams starting in the last wave at 7:00 pm.

Ready to roll.
The Speakeasies had won the first four installments of this annual throw down - I joined the team last year after racing against them the three previous years.  This year, however, there were two more threatening teams - and the Old Timers.  We knew most of Draftmag's top guys, and Michael Eaton (very good elite) we expected to be the biggest ringer.  The excitement amongst our crew elevated daily as we shaved down into our absurd mustaches made final preparations.

A little early for No Shave November.
Wound up looking like the Butcher from Gangs of New York.

After much begging, I got my legs of choice, the number two slot.  I wanted it so badly because the first segment (Leg 2) ran right past the school that I teach and coach at.  I actually spent numerous afternoons running the route backward and forward, getting more geeked up all the time.

It's hard to run easy past these.
Our lead guy, Danny (superb 1500m runner who has paced countless sub 4 minute miles) put a little gap on his guy once he kicked in the afterburners after a fairly easy start (Danny had to get coach's permission to run and wasn't killing himself until his last leg).  It was already dark when I started, and I did my best not to blow up starting too hard.  I knew the route, knew we needed every second and wanted to throw down my best effort.  The pace felt fast but doable, and I noticed that I could no longer see my guy's light behind me.  Once out on Hwy 245, I took a few recovery breaths and got on the gas.  The cheers from my XC guys that came out to cheer me on gave me that last push that I needed.  Wound up running under my 10k PR (which isn't very good) on a 6.4 mile leg.  Put two minutes on the Drafmag guy and worried a little if I'd be able to go that hard again. 

Leg 2 - 6.4 miles - 35:57 (5:37/mi.)
Seeing this race unfold is one of the coolest parts of the relay format.  We knew we'd be better in some spots and knew we'd give time back in others.  Our third, King, guy gave up some time to a very good post-collegiate Kenyan, Breeden (ultra running super-stud) was pretty even with his guy, Danner was overtaken but held strong, and Burtel kept the deficit to about 1:30 as we passed off to van 2.  Draftmag's 7th runner was Eaton and he stretched out the gap on one of our fastest guys, Mike.  After that, we weren't getting any more updates and kinda figured we were getting hammered on.  Our van rested at the exchange at leg 13 and awaited van 2's arrival.  Little did we know, Drafmag's number 8 guy, their captain Kevin, had gotten lost.  Despite being down 4 minutes at last check, we were now up about 6.  We knew this was not safe distance as they had already been taking time back.
My second leg, number 14 was a 5 mile open highway drag into Danville.  I felt pretty good about putting more time on my man and tried to put in my best time trial.  Set my second PR of the night:

Leg 14 - 5 miles - 28:30 (5:42/mi.)
The only time I got to see Eaton run was when we drove past him on Hwy 127 - what Mike had close behind him was a 6'2"ish guy with unbelievable turnover gunning him down.  I think Mike held him off, but the only update that we got from van 2 while we waited at Four Roses Distillery to start our third rotation was "we're getting our asses kicked!"  Super-fast guys on our team running the hardest legs were losing time.  By the time van 1 started again and Danny started leg 25, we were over 10 minutes down.  Ouch.

Maintaining that XC, never say die mentality, I went out crazy hard for my last leg.  Not even 10 minutes in I heard the worst imaginable sound - a train whistle.  I was running about 200m away from the railroad crossing when I saw the gates go down.  Our competition was on the other side of those tracks and I had to wait over 4 agonizing minutes.  Even though I had no illusions of catching those guys, I went all out for the remainder of my leg - the kind of running that leaves you feeling like you're about to burst a blood vessel in your head.  It was torture, but after about 25 minutes on the road, my Bourbon Chase was done.

Leg 26 - 3.9 miles - 25:00ish - (???/mi. - stopped by train for 4 minutes!)
The end result was a second place finish.  I don't think we were ever credited the time for the train, but it wouldn't have mattered.  The gap was over a half hour.  Regardless, the Speakeasies are a great bunch of friends who hang and run together all the time.  We were outgunned by a team of stellar runners and my hat's off to those guys.  Our journey was an incredible one, and I'm forever proud to have run with the Speakeasies.  The talk is already swirling about running in the Ultra format next year (twice the distance for half the runners) which is much more my style.  Hope I get the invite.
An amazing bunch of guys.
The photographer is actually taking a pic of the bib number, but the caption should be so much better.