Sunday, June 5, 2011

European track adventures

Saturday's column:
When people find out I'm a professional runner, they often ask what kind of races I do. They are usually surprised to learn there is a series of national championship races in the United States ranging from the mile to the marathon. Most elite runners plan their year with the Outdoor Track and Field Championships in mind and then make a mass exodus to Europe at the beginning of July.
Hopping a plane and heading to Europe for the summer track circuit is the highlight of the year for many and the reward for all the hard work put in earlier. It’s the fun part, where you get to travel, race against some of the best in the world, in some of the most spectacular venues in the world. Unlike track meets in the U.S., meets in Europe really draw in the crowds. There is an energy that's hard to recreate in this country — although the crowd gets very fired up at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., site of this year's national championships on June 23-26. As a track athlete on tour in Europe you feel like a rock star — watch out Charlie Sheen.
Bob Sevene, my coach, is a veteran of the European summer track circuit and has quite a storehouse of 'wild west' type stories from there, many which I'm sure have been embellished for entertainment purposes. Some of my favorites include the financial adventures of a certain world record holder. Apparently there was a time when meet directors would pay the prize money or appearance fees in cash under the table. This particular world record holder had a habit of carrying his cash in a paper bag. No surprise, he once lost $30,000 when someone lifted the paper bag. That same runner, or so Sev tells it, once deposited $50,000 in a Paris bank and then couldn't remember where he had opened the account. Great runner, not so great thinker.
Sev also has stories of athletes coming back to their hotels after disappointing performances only to find they were no longer welcome there.
I have always wanted to go race in Europe for the summer. I worked for years to get fast enough to make it worthwhile competing on that circuit. Unfortunately, once I did reach an elite level my work schedule or an injury would keep me in the good ol' USA.
I have thought about trying to get in a few track races this summer in preparation for the January's Olympic Marathon Trials, but the thought of leaving Quin for over a month is too daunting. I even kicked around the idea of bringing both Quin and Sev along, but I think that might be too much to ask of my coach. Handling Quin has been quite a challenge lately. I was hoping the terrible 2 syndrome was just a myth.
Though Europe is not in the cards this year, I plan on doing some road races this summer as preparation for the marathon trials. They may not be as exciting as running in a huge stadium packed with fans, but I am looking forward to toeing the line again.

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