Sunday, December 28, 2008

Seen and Heard on the Trails

Neon is Making a Comeback
Check with the teens in your house or neighborhood. Bright neon colors are making their way back into the hip clothing and running attire. Look for some wild colors to emerge in 2009. We test marketed some NEON tees this fall and both girl and boy cross country runners snatched them up!

High School Girls Injured
Saw too many injuries among high school girls this fall in cross country. Why? There is not one single factor for girls running injuries. What is true is the the quality of girls running distance now has jumped in the past 10 years. Girls training has started to reach the level only previously seen with boys. When athletes train harder, more injuries will occur. What you will see is more attention to nutrition in girls and more attention to weight. Girls go through significant body changes in the high school years and these changes affect performance. Too often we see young girls fighting the inevitable weight gain with puberty. The result can be seen in stress fractures, anemia and fatigue. More on this subject in the next issue.

The Fastest Boy Distance Runner in the U.S.
The 30th Footlocker National Championships took place on December 13th in San Diego. The Footlocker series has been the crown jewel in high school cross country post-season competition. Nike's Cross Nationals could be a threat to this long-standing national competiton that crowns the fastest boy and girl in the nation over the 5K course in Balboa Park. For now, Footlocker has not suffered in a dilution of the qualifying field. We had the privelege of watching the incredible undefeated run of Solomon Haile (left). Haile has been running in the United States for almost a year. This fall was his first cross country season. (He attends Sherwood High School, which is within 40 minutes of ARA's office.) Haile not only won every cross country meet he ran, he broke the course record in every meet. The two most notable course records he shattered were the 2.5 mile course in Van Cortland Park at the Manhattan College Invitational in mid-October and the 5K course in the same park in late November. Haile also stirred up issues of his age, as the birth records and calendar are quite different in Ethiopia than the U.S. Nonetheless, Solomon Haile set the local cross country scene ablaze with his long fluid stride and determined will to win.

Pure Fun and XC-eptional Racing at NXN 08

(Week of December 10, 2008)
Portland, OR.
They call it pure. They say you have guts. Today, 44 teams and 90 individuals tested themselves to see who had more will, guts and drive to be the best cross country team or runner in the U.S. Four years ago, Nike launched its Team Nationals now called simply Nike Cross Nationals. It may have taken five years for John Truax and Josh Rowe’s dream of a NCAA-style national championship for high school cross country to come to fruition. In this fifth year, 90 individual qualifiers joined the 44 teams, 22 boys and 22 girls’ squads to do battle on the twisting and stomach churning 5K circuit inside the track at Portland Meadows. For the first time in these five years, the weather was not an element racing strategy. It was cold at the start of the Open 5K races, but there were clear sunny skies and no wind.

We wondered if anyone could stay with the Kenyan National Champion high school teams in the Open 5K races. The Kenyans came to show their incredible ability in more of a demonstration than a race. Teams or clubs who paid their way to race in the Open race came to prove to themselves that they may deserve a spot in the invitational 5K field. Some also came to celebrate their own team’s success this fall. The young Kenyan high schoolers just raced with smiles and glided to the finish with ease. This was their celebration. Winning the Kenyan National Championship earned them the all expenses paid trip to the U.S.

Today, we also wondered how the Seeded 5K races would unfold with the addition of top individuals who qualified without their in-season teammates. Some of the individual qualifiers opted to forgo the longstanding Footlocker Cross Country Nationals. Some made it when their teams fell short at the Regional qualifying races. Yet we did wonder if the added speed would make the races a bumpy ride on the tight turning course at Portland Meadows. Winners were also crowned today. As expected, the individual qualifiers had a major impact on the races up front. Take the top 25 finishers in each of the championship 5K races. In the girls race, 14 of the top 25 finishers were individuals not on teams. The boys race had a similar split: 13 of the top 25 were non-team individuals.

The big team winner creating all the buzz came through with a three-peat: Manlius XC Club (Fayetteville-Manlius HS from the upstate power region of New York. We spotted the Manlius XC girls walking on the lake trail on the Nike Campus on Friday. They repeated their bold start strategy of past big meets and quickly had the team lead in the first 1K. The NY girls team win was never in doubt after the strong start.

Chelsey Sveinsson of Addison Texas wins the Girls Crown

The boys team winner was still in doubt even after the live results were shown. North Spokane Washington’s club and the Elmhurst XC team were trading the lead right up until the final 400m. A late surge by the North Spokane XC club was the final effort to bring home the Championship crown to a West Coast team for the first time in Nike Cross Nationals history.

Today was a day to relish a pure and gritty effort by 394 boys and girls in a sport they call cross country. They all traveled across the country to compete. Up and down the humps but smiling all the way.

Cutting the Meat, Not the Fat: The Wrong Approach

(October 2008)
Promoting running for youth is at the tip of the spear in the ARA campaign to improve the physical activity levels of America’s Youth. The sport of Cross Country is one of our platforms to showcase how running can make you more fit, a better student and help you set lofty goals. So when I read that another college administrator could be sharpening the budget axe to let it fall on the men’s’ cross country and track & field programs, it makes me fume. I’m not an alumnus at Delaware. I am not an alumnus of James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg VA. I was just as perturbed and dumbfounded two years ago, when the Board of Regents at JMU decided to drop 7 men’s sports, notables being men’s’ cross country , track & field, and swimming. These are life sports. That’s what we call running and swimming. They stay with you for life and can form a basis of vigorous exercise well into your senior years.

Do you know what it costs to operate cross country and track & field year-round at a mid-major university? Would you be surprised to know that the figure at Delaware is less than $100K? When administrators explain their budgetary reasons behind a sports program’s cut, the convenient excuse or punching bag is Title IX. The landmark 70s education guidelines have had their positive effect on the growth of women’s sports. Those of us who competed at the earliest stages of Title IX would agree that it has greatly expanded sports participations for girls in high school and women in college. Unfortunately, Title IX is the fall guy when it comes to collegiate athletic department cuts. Why does Title IX even get brought into the discussion when a college or university wants to adjust, cut or move around budgeted monies in an athletic department?

Football is often the answer. If a college or university wants to expand its program and lure more alumni donations, increased spending is inevitable. If the decision is made to upgrade the football program and there is no endowed fund to cover the non-revenue sports, then out comes Title IX to assist the Athletic Department in making the necessary budget adjustments.

As advocates for running for both boys and girls, men and women, American Running is firmly in favor of equal opportunities to run. Cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. Nothing is more pure with such a wide open door for participants. Let’s not let the non-runners dictate points of access for the boys, girls, men and women who want to compete in a sport that is a life sport.

Put away your axe Delaware. Find ways to raise funds to keep the cross country and track programs going. That’s the way to keep a sport alive.

Newton’s Laws

(October 2008)
Have you heard of the POSE method of running? Picture yourself leaning forward and lifting your legs with your quads versus your hamstrings. Try to shorten your stride and plant your feet flat. Now that may be an oversimplification of the POSE method but it is part of the reason for the emergence of a specialty running shoe that incorporates the POSE method in its sole. NEWTON running shoes are moving beyond their Boulder Colorado beginnings and have landed in some smaller retail establishments. I caught up with the co-founder Jerry Lee at his booth at the NYC Marathon. I have to admit, an old guy runner like me is not the target market. The colors of the shoes are vibrant and the structure and engineering are solid. They also have a few elite athlete endorsers now. In the booth that day was Josh Cox. He talked about the initial awkwardness of running in the Newtons. We also talked about training barefoot and how the way we run barefoot is exactly how you would run in the Newtons. It makes sense. The one area that may hurt Newtons is the price of entry. Shoes range from $140 to $175. Word has it that the Newtons sold well at running event Expos. Upon my return to Bethesda MD, I happened to check out the new City Sports retail store. It did not take long to spot the Newtons on the shelves with their bright vibrant colors. I also heard that Newton execs tried for years to sell their concept to the few large running shoe companies and got the polite no thanks. Now that some elite runners are wearing Newtons and winning in these shoes (check out the shoes on this fall’s IRONMAN race winner), more shoe industry experts may take notice.

Expanded Partnerships at American Running

(October 2008)
Youth Runner (YR) and American Running (ARA) are gearing up to share more stories and information as both entities move into more web-based offerings. Youth Runners’ Dan Kesterson has beefed up this magazine with a slick, attractive e-Youth Runner magazine. His company’s website has moved to a more powerful web platform that will greatly add more features to pages for youth teams and groups. ARA will post content and share sports medicine information while Youth Runner will provide pages for clubs, teams and school groups. ARA’s Walk-Run training programs will be made available plus the free sports medicine information. YR and ARA will promote the 2nd year of “National RUN A MILE Day” in May.

Wave Starts

(October 2008)
It started in Boston and now it is reaching the NYC Marathon: The Wave. It’s not quite like the “wave” in baseball or football stadiums. The basic wave start concept is to split the race field into two halves. The first half is the faster of the two halves. The second wave will typically start 30 minutes after the first wave. If you have run a marathon with a wave start, it’s no big deal given the commonplace use of the timing chips or RFID (radio frequency ID) timing devices. The one downside is the continued desire by some race directors to increase the field size of their marathons. Why? The simple answer is to satisfy the demand. Well, what would happen if you keep the race field capped and still incorporate the Wave start? Don’t you think your runners would be happier, medical personnel would be less stressed and sponsors still happy? It’s time to stop growing the already mega-sized marathons. The wave works> Just don’t let it be the reason to allow more runners to fill your crowded streets.