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.

Monday night rewind

CheruiyotMonday was one of those epic days in sports where everything kind of fell into place the way everyone expected.

Robert Cheruiyot dominated the Boston Marathon… again.

The Flyers went from a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series to a do-or-die Game 7… again.

And Chase Utley hit a home run and made some clutch plays to lead the Phillies to a victory… again.

You know – no big whoop.

Anyway, Cheruiyot won his fourth Boston against a weaker field than in past years. One reason for that is because the top American runners either ran in the Olympic Trials last November (or London two weeks ago) or will run in the track Trials in July. So unlike the past handful of years where the elite Americans showed up and ran with Cheruiyot for a little bit, this year there were other things going on.

Additionally, guys like Ryan Hall and the fastest runners in the world went to London where the course is much more forgiving, the competition fierce and fast times are inevitable. Boston’s course beats the hell out the quads and calves with the undulating terrain. No, Boston isn’t exactly a slow course – there is a net downhill, after all. There are parts of the route from Hopkinton to Boston where runners actually have to hold back to avoid going too fast.

In contrast, the uphill climbs in Newton come at a point where a runner’s glycogen stores are just about gone. They don’t call them Heartbreak Hill for nothing. Hell, I recall doing workouts through the Newton hills and attacked the famed (infamous?) Heartbreak Hill fresh and it gave me a little kick in the ass. Imagine spending miles 16 to 21 of a marathon trying to get over those hills.

Lance ArmstrongLance Armstrong, who mastered Alpe d’Huez (among others) during his seven Tour de France victories, ran his first Boston yesterday. From the sound of it, Armstrong got a little boot to the rear in Newton though it should be noted that he ran negative splits for a respectable 2:50:58.

According to the Associated Press:

Armstrong said there’s no comparison between running a marathon and cycling, either physically or mentally.

“You can’t compare the pounding or running with the efficiency of a bicycle,” he said. “Nothing even comes close to comparing the pain, especially it seems like this course, with a significant amount of downhills … that really take their toll on the muscles.”

But Boston is not exactly a world-record course, either. Cheruiyot was on course-record pace yesterday, casually ripping through miles 3 to 19 in 4:53 or faster. That includes a 4:37 at mile 19 that obliterated the rest of the field. However, Cheruiyot “slowed” over the final 10k to finish in 2:07:43, well off his record 2:07:14 he set in 2006. Interestingly, Cheruiyot’s fourth victory in Boston was only the fifth winning time under 2:08 in the 112 years of the race.

Compare that to the London Marathon this year where the top six in the 2008 race ran under 2:07 and it’s easy to see why the best runners don’t show up to Boston (or New York) any more. Why go get beat up when Chicago, London and Berlin have (relative) cakewalk courses?

Nevertheless, Boston and its sponsors might have to dig into the coffers to lure the big guns away from London in the spring. The fact that Haile Gebrselasie, Paul Tergat, Martin Lel, Khalid Khannouchi – and worse – Ryan Hall, have not lined up on Patriot’s Day in Hopkinton proves that Boston is missing something.

Sure, runners like London because of the speedy course and the chance for fast times. But more than anything else runners go where the best competition is. That hasn’t been Boston for a long time.

***
Elsewhere, it’s Game 7 night in Washington where most folks seem to have a bad feeling about the fate of the Flyers.

There. That’s the depth of my hockey analysis.

***
Chase UtleyHad Chase Utley not broken his hand last season, Jimmy Rollins probably wouldn’t have won the MVP Award. Chances are Utley would have been in the top three with Prince Fielder and Matt Holliday. So noting that it was Utley’s injury that pushed Rollins into the MVP discussion in 2007, it’s kind of ironic that Rollins’ injury has the spotlight on Utley.

Then again, six homers in five straight games kind of gets a ballplayer noticed…

Plus, it’s only April 22, too. There is a lot of baseball to go.

Nevertheless, Utley is off to one of those stop-what-your-doing-when-he-comes-up starts. So far he has reached base in all but one of the Phillies’ 20 games, has posted gaudy numbers in categories that all the stat geeks love, and seems to have his hand in the outcome of every game.

Things happen whenever Utley is on the field. But then again that’s not new.

Remember when Ryan Howard used to be that way?

Anyway, during his pre-game powwow with the writers prior to last night’s game at Coors Field, the Wilmington News Journal’s Scott Lauber reports this quote from manager Charlie Manuel:

“Chase Utley is a very, very, very tough player. I’ve been in the game a long time, and he’s as tough as any player I’ve seen. I’m talking about old throwback players, guys like Pete Rose and Kirby Puckett. You could put Utley in that category. He could play with any of them.”

So there’s that… which is nice.

Who doesn’t love those hacky ‘Where are they now’ pieces?

Ed. note: I forgot to add on the Lance Armstrong part on Friday night… it was added Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m.

SlashWith the news that ex-Phillie Jon Lieber signed a one-year deal to pitch for the Cubs in 2008, it seemed like it would be a fun exercise to see what a few other former Phillies were up to these days.

But in the way of saying adios, muchacho to big Jon, it might be fair to add that his monster truck will probably go over just as well in Chicago as it did in Philadelphia. It should also be mentioned that when Lieber ruptured a tendon in his ankle while jogging off the mound that day in Cleveland last season, gravy poured out and soaked into his sock.

I’m not saying anything, I’m just sayin’.

Nevertheless, all-time favorite Doug Glanville took a break from his real-estate development business near Chicago to write an op-ed piece for The New York Times about why some ballplayers decide to use performance-enhancing drugs. Glanville, obviously, was not a PED user so he can only guess as to why players do what they do. But as an involved member of the players’ union, Glanville didn’t offer much in the way for solutions to the problem. That’s not to say it wasn’t a thoughtful story by Glanville, it’s just that I think we’re way past wondering why players decide to cheat. Perhaps it’s time to accept the fact that with some guys if they are given an inch, they’ll take a yard.

Still, it’s a shame Doug isn’t around anymore. I figured him for a front-office type, but maybe he’s on to bigger work.

***
Elsewhere, Scott Rolen made his introductions to the Toronto baseball writers this week and from all the reports it sounded like it went over as well a Slappy White show – maybe even better than that.

According to reports Rolen joked, joshed and cajoled. Basically, he was the way he always was without the misunderstandings from certain media elements. Oh yeah, neither Larry Bowa nor Tony La Russa showed up, either. That means everyone was in a good mood.

“Hmmn, I didn’t think it was going to come up. That’s surprising,” Rolen answered when asked about his old manager.

Better yet, when given more openings to get in his digs at La Russa, who gave a rambling and bizarre soliloquy on the affair during the Winter Meetings in Nashville last month, Rolen again took the high road.

“I’m not sure if that’s healthy,” he said. “I want to go back to playing baseball, I want to focus all my attention and my competition on the field. Too many times the last year, year and a half, I think that some of the competition, some of the focus was off the field, not on the field where it should stay.”

Buzz & WoodyAside from that, Rolen explained how his three-year old daughter selected his uniform No. 33 for him. It’s kind of a cute story… on another note, my three-year old son has chosen a new name for me — from now on I’m Buzz Daddy Lightyear Finger. I’m going to the courthouse to have it changed next week.

***
How about this for the best story involving a former Phillie… Newly signed San Diego Padre Randy Wolf bought Slash’s house in the Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills.

Yeah, that Slash.

From what I know about both guys, Randy’s parties might be a little wildier. During my days on the road with Slash all we ever did was visit the local libraries and modern museums of art — If you’ve seen one impressionist, you’ve seen them all.

Again, I’m not sayin’ anything, I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, apparently the joint cost just under $6 million and is approximately 5,500-square feet. There is a pool, a gym, a chef’s kitchen and if I’m not mistaken by looking at the photos, there is a lot wood… Me? I’m an oak man myself.

***
Finally, speaking of guys who know how to party, Lancasterian turned San Diego suburbanite, Floyd Landis, has a full season of racing lined up regardless of the outcome of his appeal to the CAS. According to a published report, Landis will race in the eight-race National Ultra-Endurance Series. Locally, a race is scheduled for July in State College, Pa. in a series that is described as, “old-school mountain biking.”

Yeah.

Meanwhile, Floyd gave a rather revealing interview to the Velo News on Friday where the proverbial gloves came off. Then again, what else is new?

***
Lance & Matt Speaking of cyclists and racing, Lance Armstrong is supposedly running the Boston Marathon in April. Lance qualified with a 2:59 and 2:46 in the past two New York City Marathons, which would likely put him in the starting corral as me — not that Lance is going to have to get up super early to board a bus at the Boston Common for the long ride out to Hopkinton just so he can sit on the cold, wet grass in the Athlete’s Village. Or, Lance can join the multitudes in a long wait in line for one of the port-a-potties that turn the otherwise bucolic setting into into a veritable sea of domed-lidded huts of human waste… complete with that fresh, urinal cake scent.

I wonder if Lance will take a wide-mouthed Gatorade bottle to the starting corral with him, too… you know, just in case.

Yep, that’s marathoning — there are no fa├žades in our sport.

Anyway, it’s cool that Lance is headed to Boston. Perhaps I’ll re-evaluate my spring racing plans and show up, too, if I can find a place to stay… seems as if all the inns and motels are sold out that weekend.