Geek alert

Jeff ConineWe’re kind of into the whole endurance sport thing here at Finger Food World Headquarters in Lancaster, Pa., U.S.A. We’re big fans of all of it and follow it the way most people get into football or baseball. Truth is, we such big running geeks that we can recite training logs of some of the sports top athletes for the weeks leading up to a big race. Like how Alberto Salazar raced Henry Rono in a 10k match race days before winning the ’82 Boston in the famous “Duel in the Sun.” Or how Brian Sell ran 10 in 52 the day before finishing third in last November’s Olympic Trials.

There are many reasons for our geekdom. For one thing, running, cycling, swimming and those types of things are the most egalitarian of all the sports. If a person want to be good at one of those sports, all he has to do is put in the work. Over time, the people who are consistent in working hard will get good results.

Guaranteed.

What I also like about those sports is you don’t have to pass the ball. If a mistake is made, it’s your own damn fault. No one has to worry about fielding errors or those types of annoyances.

Sure, there are errors in a race. For instance, over a decade ago I was in a 10k and running in second place well off the lead. Actually, the leader was so far ahead that I couldn’t see him and there was no one within sight behind me either. I was in no-man’s land… literally. But here’s the thing – the leader had the local police leading the way with a pace car. All he had to do was follow the guide through the woods and hills of the course out in some nature preserve on the far northern edge of Lancaster County. Not only was the dude in the lead and winning easily, but also he had a tour guide.

Back in second place (or first loser) I’m grinding it out a hoping that every corner I turn is the last one. Finally, around 30 minutes into it I figure it’s time to put down the hammer and run it in hard. Out there by myself I didn’t know if anyone was gaining on me so I’m scared about losing second. But here’s the funny part – there was no one out there to show me the way to the finish line. So running hard with eyes bulging and froth flying from my mouth, I missed the final right turn. Actually, the course wasn’t marked so it wasn’t like I missed the turn – the turn didn’t exist.

About five minutes later I realized something was wrong, but I still worried that someone would catch me. So I kept hammering away and before I knew it I was somewhere in the woods of Lebanon County — just running around and trying to find the finish line. It took another 30 minutes for me to find my way back to the car. So yeah, an error in running can cost another person a race.

Anyway, as endurance freaks this is a fun time of year. London, the Olympic Trials and Boston were piled on top of each other in successive weeks. That’s like holding the conference championships and the Super Bowl without bye weeks with all the best athletes in the world in action.

Locally, the Penn Relays start today with the Olympic development 5 and 10 kilometer races set for tonight’s Distance Night. The big-timers preparing to win gold in Beijing like 400-meter man Jeremy Wariner and sprinter Tyson Gay are in town for Saturday’s marquee events.

Meanwhile, the road racing scene blasts into full gear, too. The always speedy Broad Street Run is next weekend, as well as a ton of smaller, local races. That goes for the multi-sport set, too. In fact, one-time Phillie Jeff Conine has joined our ranks as an endurance geek. After finally retiring from the Major Leagues, Conine has jumped into the triathlon and even got a special waiver to compete in October’s Hawaiian Ironman.

Frankly, I think he should qualify like a real athlete, but you know, Major Leaguers often have special entitlements.

Anyway, Conine’s new hobby was chronicled by The New York Times this week.

There is nothing like warming up for a marathon with a long swim and bike ride, huh?

Speaking of qualifying for big races, there was another story in The Times about the lengths people go to get into the Boston Marathon and why, as Gina Kolota writes, “Why is it so hard to enter?”

Here it is:

It isn’t hard to enter the Boston Marathon. The fact is the qualifying standards are a little too fair. Soft, actually. Boston is good because it’s supposedly difficult to get into. There should be standards sometimes.

Look, our sport is easy – if a person want to be good, all he has to do is put in the work. Over time, the people who are consistent in working hard will get good results. Even Jeff Conine.

Guaranteed.

End of the road

headWASHINGTON – So far this weekend’s trip to The District has been pretty eventful for everyone in the Phillies’ travelling party. A few of the players were given a private tour of the White House and were even granted an audience with the President in the Oval Office.

Another got to show off his superhero poses, while a few teammates were given the chance to show off a softer, more feminine side in formal evening wear.

But the best part of the last road trip of the season that ends tomorrow with the final Major League Baseball game at RFK Stadium hasn’t been the quiet time spent away from media mass at Citizens Bank Park, nor the special perks granted to the gentry athlete class.

Instead, the Phillies have simply taken pride in their work.

“Nothing beats winning,” manager Charlie Manuel.

That certainly has been the case for the Phillies, who enter Sunday’s game with an 8-1 record during the 10-game road trip. Actually, it has been on this trip that the Phillies went from sitting on the edge of oblivion, to a team with an incredibly legitimate chance at winning the division OR the wild card.

To think, when the Phillies left for New York after the victory over the Rockies on Sept. 13 they were a distant 6½ games behind the Mets in the NL East. But when the team returns home to host the Braves on Tuesday night, they very well could be tied for first place.

Then again, in a worst-case scenario, they could be four games back, too.

The District
As far as northeastern cities go, Washington, D.C. provides the perfect urban experience. The city has an extensive public transportation system, an incredible system of trails and parks for the recreationally and fitness inclined, every type of cuisine or entertainment offering imaginable, and of course, all of those free museums

Yes, Washington, D.C. has culture coming out the wazoo.

Need an example of how D.C. is unique? Check this out:

During Friday morning’s run I meandered through the Northwest quadrant of the city’s confusing grid, passing by such notable places as JFK’s last residence before he was elected president, Bob Woodward’s towering Q Street crib and, of course, the childhood home of the legendary iconoclast, Ian MacKaye, until I filtered back toward the Key Bridge and the C&O Canal Tow Path. This part of the run took nearly 30-minutes at a modest clip where I made sure I ran hard up the inclines on Q Street and Observation Place. After all, D.C. was built on top of a swamp, which (I assume) are relatively flat. So when one arrives at the base of a hill during a run, they should take it with some pace.

Anyway, I hit the tow path, which is the ultimate urban biking/running trail in these United States. Instead of a modest nine-mile loop around the Schuylkill River like Philly’s Kelly Drive, the C&O goes from the Key Bridge (just off Georgetown’s main thoroughfare) through the western edge of the city along the Potomac River, into the Maryland suburbs and onto the countryside for nearly 200 miles.

One runner, named Scott Douglas, ran the entire trail during a seven-day stretch.

ANYWAY, the towpath…

George HamiltonNeedless to say I wasn’t about to run the length of the entire path. After all, the weather in D.C. has been hot and sticky and the main reason I wanted to run on the riverside, tree-shrouded trail was to get out of the sun. Besides, if I bake beneath those ultraviolet rays any more than I already do, I’m going to have the complexion of George Hamilton.

C’mon, who wants to dress in a tuxedo all the time even if it does give Georgie’s epidermis the hue of rich, Corinthian leather?

The plan was to run for 13 miles, which takes about 86-to-90 minutes. Or, if I felt good I would run for an hour and then weave my way back through Georgetown. But I didn’t feel good because it was hot, and, truth be told, since the birth of our son, I have only been able to run about 70 to 80 miles per week. My fitness level is a little lacking these days, so 90 minutes in the heat and humidity would be fine enough.

And it was. On the way up the trail I enjoyed the shade, the sweeping river views into Northern Virginia and the quietness of the day where the only audible noise was the cadence of my feet pounding on the hard, packed dirt. I just couldn’t believe that I was in Washington, D.C.

But as the run progressed I really could not believe that I was in one of the biggest cities in the country.

At first glance I thought it was a dog…

After getting good and tired and deciding that approximately four miles on the trail was plenty, I made a u-turn and retraced my steps. I also decided to ease off a bit after doing half-mile intervals at lactate threshold pace. However, upon noticing some hikers and what I thought was some type of amber-colored dog, I figured I could put on the pace one more time before knocking off and cruising in to the finish.

It was hot, though. I was also thirsty and the combination of the heat and dehydration narrowed the focus of my vision causing me to weave ever-so slightly on the path as I attempted to run down the hikers.

That’s when I brushed up against what I originally thought was a dog… only it was a white-tailed deer.

Yeah, that’s right. A white-tailed deer. I rubbed shoulders — quite literally — with a freaking white-tailed deer a little more than a mile from M St. You know, where the Barnes & Noble, Banana Republic, Dean & Deluca and Starbucks are mixed in amongst all of those tourist-trap bars and restaurants. In Washington, D.C. …

A white-tailed freaking deer.

Needless to say, my brush with Bambi straightened me right the hell up. For the next half mile I ran as hard as the heat and my legs would allow for fear that I somehow angered the deer and he was hot on my rear in attempt to chase me down and give me a beating like that scene in Tommy Boy.

As if I could out-run a deer…

robo deerAnyway, I suppose robo-deer remained in the brush to munch on some leaves and shrubs while I settled down, finally eased up on the pace, and cruised on toward the end of the path. But there, again, in the last copse of woods before nature gave way to the giant cylinders of concrete that supported the bridge and menaced the landscape as cars sped to and from Northern Virginia, another white-tailed deer stood as it picked away at the brush from the left side of the trail. This one was even closer to all of the action of G’town, yet really didn’t seem to mind when the walkers, runners and bike riders passed by just inches away.

Perhaps this proved that political animals are not the only species that inhabit Washington.

Though the deer might be less frightening.

Anyway, that’s some of the highlights from the trip. We’ll have more from the equally deer-laden tranquility of The Lanc tomorrow.

Believing the hype

Deciphering the reports and the photos from last Saturday’s big race in Boulder, Alan Culpepper sat back and allowed pre-race favorites Adam Goucher and Dathan Ritzenhein do all the hard work through the first 10 kilometers. It was then that the race went from Goucher trying to stick with the next great American distance hope Ritzenhein, to the former champ Goucher attempting to keep Culpepper from dominating that final two kilometers.

It didn’t happen.

Culpepper, fully under control and surging toward to the tape, won Saturday’s cross-country championships in Boulder, Colo. by completing the muddy and snowy 12k course in 37:09 to Goucher’s 37:35 and Ritzenhein’s 37:47.

Interestingly, upon hearing the results by repeatedly refreshing hurriedly typed reports on a running message board, running geeks (like me) sounded a nationwide, “Wow! What a surprise… what got in to Culpepper?”

Here’s the thing about that – Culpepper, 34, has been to the Olympics twice in two different events, won two previous national cross-country titles, as well as a national title in the 5,000, 10,000 and marathon. In 2003 Culpepper ran a 2:09:41 at the Chicago Marathon and finished fifth in 2:11:02 after an aggressive effort at the 2006 Boston Marathon.

Yet with those outstanding credentials Culpepper’s victory on Saturday is an upset. Why? Was it the rough day he had at the New York City Marathon last November? Perhaps – after all, Culpepper had to drop out because he couldn’t stay hydrated despite drinking throughout the race. Couple that with what I wrote about Culpepper before the New York City race and it’s easy to understand why the running geeks (like me) believed Ritz, Goucher or Abdi Abdirahman were the runners to beat in the deep field. To wit:

And of course I’d like to write that American Alan Culpepper is going to let it all hang loose and be risky instead of his typically intelligent tactics. Culpepper is always consistently steady, which produces great times but it isn’t exactly inspiring. To steal a phrase from baseball players, Culpepper doesn’t like to “get dirty.”

Culpepper got dirty, literally, on Saturday. Better yet, those so-called “intelligent” tactics served him well. In the end, when the race was on the line, Culpepper ran the two kids into another muddy ditch. There’s definitely something inspiring about a tough race run well.

More: Daily Camera (Boulder) running section

Denver Post: “Boulder’s ‘Running Town’ Reputation Safe”

The results

  1. Alan Culpepper, Lafayette CO 37:09
  2. Adam Goucher, Portland OR 37:35
  3. Dathan Ritzenhein, Boulder CO 37:47
  4. Jorge Torres, Boulder CO 38:07
  5. Michael Spence, Ogden UT 38:15
  6. Zach Sabatino, Morgantown WV 38:16
  7. Fasil Bizuneh, Flagstaff AZ 38:24
  8. James Carney, Marina CA 38:25
  9. Jason Lehmkuhle, Minneapolis 38:26
  10. Edwardo Torres, Boulder CO 38:31

What happened?

Abdi Abdirahman, my choice to win the race, finished 21st in 39:07.

Hyped just right

Meanwhile, the press covering the event in The Running Republic of Boulder gave the race rave reviews. The town, the event, the course and the fans all lived up to the pre-race hype, which is saying something. In this distance running Super Bowl only the finishing times seemed lopsided with an estimated 10,000 fans lining the course two-to-three people deep to watch a cross-country race. According to the dispatches from Boulder, New York City has a high hurdle to leap for November’s marathon Olympic Trials.

We’ll definitely have to see that one first hand.

DOMINATION

While the men’s national championship was an upset with the old man knocking off the young bucks, the women’s race was a coronation. And it wasn’t just a new thing, as in Deena Kastor is the best American runner of her era. Nope, that’s not good enough.

On Saturday Deena Kastor proved that she is the best woman American runner ever.

Yeah, she’s even better than Joan Benoit Samuelson.

Nevermind that Kastor owns three of the top four marathon times in U.S. history, or that Samuleson won the Olympic gold in 1984, the Sullivan Award in 1985, and at 50, Joanie can still run an Olympic Trials-qualifying time for the marathon, what Kastor did to the field on Saturday is ridiculous.

Kastor won her eighth cross-country championship by covering the 8k course in 26:47. That’s 61 seconds better than second-place finisher Shalane Flanagan, which is almost unheard of in a national championship race. A five-second victory is significant, but 61 seconds is more than domination if there is such a thing.

Here’s the crazy part. Just two weeks ago Flanagan set the American indoor record in the 3,000 meters, and actually led the race after two kilometers. But according to the race recap from Letsrun.com, Flanagan said, “I think it was a little naïve to think that I could run with her.”

From Letsrun.com:

Kastor and Flanagan were well clear of the rest of the field not even 2k in, and in third was Kara Goucher who had a big gap over the rest of the field. Kastor however wasted no time in destroying the young upstart Flanagan. She pulled away from Flanagan and soon the lead was 10 seconds, 20 seconds, and then 30 seconds. Flanagan was not faltering, however, as she had 30 seconds up on the third place Goucher. Kastor was just putting on one of the most dominating performances in the history of American women’s distance running.

It’s going to be really interesting to see what Kastor does in Boston in April.

More: Watch the races and check out the entire day in Boulder on Flocast

Stacked fields

The Super Bowl is on Sunday, and we hear it’s a pretty big deal. There might even be a party or two where people get together to watch the game or something. More importantly, though, the next two weekends are kind of a big deal in the track and distance running world.

That’s right, the Millrose Games start today, which whets the appetite for next weekend’s national cross-country championships in Boulder. The cross-country championships in Boulder? That’s like having Mardi Gras, the Super Bowl, and New Year’s Eve on the same day… in Las Vegas.

It boggles the mind.

The Millrose Games, which are held in Madison Square Garden, are celebrating its 100th anniversary and are expected to draw a sell-out crowd for Friday’s marquee event, The Wanamaker Mile. That race, televised on ESPN2 at 7 p.m., will feature wunderkind Alan Webb, defending champ Bernard Lagat, and versatile Australian Craig Mottram. All three runners appear to be in good shape, which coupled with the amount of chatter and hype could result in some really fast times. The meet record is 3:52.87, but that could be gone by tonight.

Aside from being a New York City event, much like the Penn Relays have a Philadelphia flavor, the Millrose Games receive a lot of international scrutiny. Many of the world’s top track & field performers will be hitting the boards at the Garden for the next two days.

Here’s the interesting part: in a USA Today profile, meet director emeritus, Howard Schmertz, said:

“I remember when New York had nine newspapers, and every paper had a track writer. Every paper had a guy writing track every day of the week from mid-January to early March.”

Quick, who were the toughest athletes at your high school and college? Check the operative words in that sentence – tough and athlete. Unmistakably, it was the cross-country runners. No, they didn’t hit each other like in football or wrestling. Nor is it like basketball with the quick burst of speed and leaping, but in running it’s all about managing pain. Whoever can tolerate the most pain will likely win, because there are no huddles, substitutions or time outs.

If your school had crew, that wins.

Nevertheless, the big race in Boulder is especially compelling because of the all-American field in which all the top runners are fit, healthy and focused. And that’s not just with the men’s field, but also the women’s, too.

They are all coming…

When is the last time a big sporting event could boast the best of the best were fit, feisty and at the top of their game?

Getting his work in

Whenever the subject about workouts and running came up, Randy Wolf’s ears would always prick up. Why not? Like any competitive athlete, Wolf was always looking for an edge. If he could pick up a little something here or there and add it to his repertoire, it was even better.

I had the chance to talk about my running workouts with Wolf more than a few times over the years and it was easy to tell he was not only interested in long-distance running, but also had a passion for it. A nice, 10-miler was a routine run during the off-season, but mostly, though, he was interested in the volume that elite-level marathoners put in, as well as the types and workout schedules. Better yet, we both had a good chuckle when one writer was gushing over how “tough” Roger Clemens’ workout routine and couldn’t hide his smirk when I finally butt in with a, “Dude, that’s not very hard… ”

I have what I like to call bleephole tendencies. Hey, what are you going to do?

Anyway, I recall a conversation in August of last season where Wolf and I talked about interval sessions and the kind of stuff I did in preparing for a marathon. Like anything with Wolf, it was an informed and well-thought question and, frankly, the first time that a non-competitive runner asked specifically about something as intricate interval sessions.

As a marathoner, I said, I liked to do repeats of a mile to 5 kilometers with longer intervals when preparing for a race. At the time, longish tempo runs were what I was focusing on, which really isn’t a big help to a baseball player – it’s not a big deal for a pitcher to hit a 5k in 16:30 or a 10-miler in 58 flat. But for a marathoner, I explained, I emulated the surges that would occur in a race.

Wolf, though, wanted to know about quarters, which is something I really disliked doing. Oh I did them all right; it’s just that any workout on the track kind of scared the hell out of me. To me the track means speed, and speed kills hamstrings. Plus, stepping on a track wearing spikes meant business. There is no such thing as messing around on a track. It’s easy to go out and run for two hours without stopping where one can allow their thoughts and legs take them to wherever the mood takes them, but a track – that’s like stepping into a boxing ring.

Anyway, I told Wolf that I used to try to do 20 quarters in 70 to 75 seconds with a float around the track for the rest. Another one I “liked” to do was three miles of sprinting the straights and floating the curves. Rob de Castella, the badass Australian marathoner, used to do that one.

Wolf had to leave before we could get deep into the details of intervals sessions and exactly what he was looking for, but I think I figured it out after reading Jayson Stark’s great piece on ESPN.com where Wolf goes through his daily workout routine.

Even though we don’t know how fast he hits his quarters, it’s really a fascinating read and more fantastic work from the great Jayson Stark.

Here’s the quote I liked:

“I want to be in baseball shape,” he says. “I’m not going to run a marathon or be a decathlon athlete. I’m training to have 35 starts, hopefully more than that [if his team makes the playoffs]. That’s what I’m training to do. And I think there were times during the season where I lost my stamina because I didn’t listen to my body. I’d go too hard, too hard, too hard, and then I’d fade out. …

“Back when I was 22, 23, 24 years old, I was big into running and keeping in shape that way, and I wouldn’t change my routine. I was still into running five, six miles. And then all of a sudden, I’m in the sixth inning and my legs were dead, and I’d have no idea why. I realize now I was just working too hard the days I was not pitching.”

Truth be told, I could read about different workouts all day long. Not only is there a possibility of picking up something new, but also it’s really, really motivating.

The running though, is about all there is in common. Instead of the weights, I attempt yoga, which I sure is a treat to see. People like me make the Tin Man look limber. Wolf’s workout is for athletes and it appears as if the Dodgers have found themselves a good one.

One foot in front of the other

It’s pretty safe to assume that my updates on this page may directly correlate to how well my running has been going. So obviously, it hasn’t been so hot – relatively speaking, of course.

Actually, it hasn’t been as bad as that. I still get out nearly every day, it’s just that since the end of December I hit the proverbial wall. Just like that I went from running hard and turning in some of the best workouts I’ve ever had to simply not wanting to do it… well, it hasn’t been that bad, but I definitely have had my share of days off.

Not that it’s a bad thing. As someone who was once chewed up and spit out by the sport not so long ago, I know I was walking on a tightrope. That’s the good part – I can pinpoint my mistake and exactly where everything went wrong. That’s good. Now the trick is to figure out how to get back to the place I once was.

So what happened? Simple. I bit off more than I could chew. My eyes were bigger than my stomach. Instead of breaking down after the Harrisburg Marathon last November, I pushed the envelope and thought I could get away with it. I was a degenerate sitting at the roulette wheel who thought he had the game figured out only to wonder where all my money went when the number didn’t come up.

Need any more bad analogies?

Because I ran “just” 2:53 at Harrisburg, which was a good 8 to 12 minutes slower than I should have run because of the 20 to 30 mile-per-hour headwinds, I figured that my body didn’t take the pounding it would have if I had run 2:40.

Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

It’s not the time, it’s the effort and I really busted my ass during the last five miles even though when I finished I didn’t feel as though I was done running. I wanted another 40 yards to catch the dude that was paced through the race like he was Lance Armstrong in New York or some silliness like that.

In reality, the silliness came from the “smart” dude who turned in four straight 100-mile weeks just two weeks after running a marathon.

The point of all of it was to be ready to take a strong crack at 2:35 at the National Marathon on March 24 and then gear up for 2:30 at Steamtown in early October. National, of course, wasn’t the important one but it was gearing up to be with the way the workouts were going during those four 100-mile weeks. Not only was the distance there, but also there was plenty of quality sessions, too. In fact, I think I made up a workout that I called “knockdowns” where the plan was to run a minute faster for each five-mile segment of a 15 miler. For instance, I wanted to do one effort in 33, 32 and 31 minutes for each split, but instead ran 33:14; 30:57; and 29:08.

That one made me feel like a badass.

But a week later a 20-miler knocked me out. It was work and I don’t know how I was able to force myself through it. Afterwards I only ran 10 kilometers over the next two days, took a bunch of days off over the next few weeks and pretty much gave up on National being anything more than another marathon to add to the collection.

Steamtown is out, too. With my wife due to have our second child in mid August, training for a race and heading out of town for a few days to run it kind of found a spot on the back burner. August and September are going to be pretty busy.

So things have been rearranged a bit. Hey, things happen. There’s nothing wrong with some new ideas, right? Try this one for instance: a marathon a month through the summer before re-focusing for another run at Harrisburg. All of those marathons will be run at workout pace and will be great for base building before gearing up a serious marathon in mid-November. In reality it’s the same kind of plan I used before the 1998 Boston Marathon where I used a couple of local races for long runs where I got an age-group trophy at the end.

The George Washington Marathon is coming up on Feb. 18. Then I can run National on March 24, maybe (maybe) Boston on April 16, and Delaware on May 20.

Good idea, huh?

Meanwhile, I’m contemplating doing a run from my house in Lancaster to the ballpark in Philadelphia a la Terry Fox. It could be a fun and interesting way to break up some of the monotony of my commute and every day workouts, though the logistics could be a bit difficult. The distance is about 70 miles as the crow flies, which I figure should take no more than 10 hours. I’ll probably need a support group and maybe a handful of people to run segments with me, as well as a good route with little traffic. The running will be the easy part.

If I can get out the door.

Oh good… another self-indulgent running site

Here’s the deal:

I have received a lot of response regarding my training and the running posts on my “Finger Food” blog (trust me, I didn’t come up with the title), though it seemed as some of the posts are hard to find. In order to remedy this, I decided to move my training posts and some of my running writing this brand-new site.

This means I will update my progress and other running-related musings every day on this site. Oh sure, I’ll keep adding running stuff to the other “main” site, but this is where to come just for writing on running.

One more note: the weekly roundup format will be the same and will be posted on Sunday, but the rest is anything goes.

First in war, first in peace, last in the National League…

Based on a very informal poll of the scribes covering the ball club, Washington, D.C. is quickly becoming the most popular stop on the circuit. For anyone who has spent any time in our nation’s capital, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – there is tons of stuff to do in the District away from the museums and touristy-type places.

But throw all of that stuff into the mix and it’s quite a place.

I’m hardly a sentimental person (OK, others will disagree with that, but whatever), but it’s hard not to get a tingle from standing on the top steps of the Lincoln Memorial and looking out upon The Mall and wondering what Martin Luther King Jr. felt when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1964.

Or a walk through the Vietnam Memorial at night is downright chilling. Certainly I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic or saccharine sweet type of way. You really have to see it to feel it.

Oddly, the first name I focused on after scanning the list that seemed to stretch through the landscape all of the way to the Washington Monument was of a man named Sanford I. Finger. For years I was always interested in Sanford Finger’s story – who he was and what he liked to do. What was he interested in and what did he look like? And how did he end up in Vietnam where he met his untimely death in 1971.

Finally, after all of the years spent wondering and thinking about some guy who died before I was born who just so happens to share the same last name as me, I stumbled across this on the Internet.

Anyway, last night after the Phillies’ loss to the Nationals, I took some time to unwind by taking a midnight stroll past the White House, down to Constitution Ave. and back up 15th St. for a quick pit stop at The Old Ebbitt Grill.

This morning I loaded up the iPod with DC-type songs (late ‘70s and Dischord Records stuff) before heading out on a run to see if our old wiffle ball field was still entact (a big tree was planted where the pitchers mound was, but the paint we used to mark the home run fence was still visible on the bricks).

From there I circled The Mall on the way out to RFK Stadium and back for a spirit-reviving 13-miler.

I’m sure my mom is going to love hearing about the trip through our neighborhood and stomping grounds.

Sadly, though, RFK has seen better days. The clubhouse is a dungeon, and the dugout has a Veterans Stadium-type odor. Worse, the view from the press box is severely obstructed and any time a ball is hit out of the infield we have to watch the result on TV.

More than a few writers had trouble with the wireless Internet connection, which made it difficult to send their stories in to the office.

Still, it’s always a blast to make it back to D.C. and until something sways my point of view, I’ll say RFK is so bad that it’s charming.

No one can call Shea charming.

Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend

Another weekend, another big series for the Phillies. Actually, make that two big series in a row. The reason why the three games against the Brewers and Nationals are so important — aside from the obvious for a 24-22 club standing four games off the pace in the NL East at Memorial Day weekend — is that after this set of games ends, the Phillies hit the road for 11 games in a row.

Either way, I’m going to miss the series vs. the Brewers, but more on that later. For now, lets chat about Bobby Abreu’s defense during the series against the Mets. Or perhaps more appropriately, how about his lack of defense?

For years now, fans, commentators, and the press have been quite critical of Abreu’s defense. Actually, critical would be nice. But it’s not wrong.

Abreu mishandled two balls hit near the rightfield fence this week that proved to be costly to the Phillies. One play, a drive off Jon Lieber on Tuesday night, resulted in ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk to say on Daily News Live that someone on the team should confront Abreu.

Maybe that’s what “Gold Glover” Abreu needs when his defense appears as disinterested as it was this week. But to suggest that Abreu should “run into the wall” is just silly. It just isn’t going to happen (and who wants the best hitter on the team injured), just like Abreu hitting leadoff is not going to happen.

ed. note: Looks like it could happen based on the reports from Shea. Looks like I’m wrong and Bobby is ready to slide up the batting order.

Nevertheless, there was a time when Abreu played inspired defense. He ran down fly balls with reckless abandon and displayed a strong right arm that kept runners in check. But in July of 2000, Abreu went into the wall for a flyball at Yankee Stadium and came out of the play a little banged up. He didn’t miss any games from that crash landing, but he has shied away from all contact since.

But he can still hit.

As far as the leadoff stuff goes, there was a stretch of 19 games during the 2000 season (Aug. 20 to Sept. 9) when Terry Francona put Abreu at the top of the order and just let him go. The numbers from those 19 games?

AB – 71
R -12
H- 22
RBI – 11
2B – 4
3B – 1
HR – 5
SB – 4
BB – 18
K – 13
AVG – .310
OBP – .449

Those numbers look like someone who can handle the leadoff spot. Who knows, maybe Abreu was Rickey Henderson all along?

Yeah, but can it tie my shoes?
Nike and iPod announced that it has joined forces to create a new wireless system that allows your spefically desgned Nike running shoe to communicate with your iPod to give pertinent feedback such as distance travelled, pace and calories burned. Not only will it record the information on your iPod, but also it will speak to you and tell you exactly what you are doing.

More than that, later you can hook your iPod up to Nike’s web site to keep track of your workouts.

So much for the old running log or getting in the car to drive off your mileage.

The shoes ($100 to $129) and the wireless unit ($29) hit the market in July with the Nike Zoom Moire with more models to follow. There will also be other Nike+iPod accessories, too, such as spefically designed outer wear that will hold your devices and cords to keep your hands free.

Interestingly, according to business writer Darren Rovell, Nike’s stock jumped up two percent after the announcement of the new products.

Needless to say, I know people who will buy this, and it’s hard to deny the coolness factor of this gadget. In fact, I would hop on board if I didn’t have to wear the Nikes.

Now I have nothing against Nike (aside from the reported sweatshops, of course) and as a one-time competitive runner just out of retirement (or a five-year hiatus… that sounds better) I wear Nike clothes for workouts and dare anyone to find a finer marathon racer than the steady and austere Mariah. But as long as adidas continues to make the Ozweego trainer, Phil Knight and Steve Jobs won’t be able to send me any subliminal messages.

In July of 1996 I got my first pair of Ozweegos and haven’t worn anything else since. This weekend I’ll wear a pair of Ozweegos in the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vermont as I travel with friends John May and Luke Smith as they take their maiden voyage over 26.2 miles.

It will be No. 12 for me, but the first one since the 2001 Boston Marathon. So instead of Phillies vs. Brewers over a holiday weekend, we’re going for self-imposed discomfort.

Perhaps we’ll be able to check in at some point this weekend or at least provide all sorts of updates, if not, enjoy the weekend, the baseball, and the holiday.