As I sit here in my cushy hotel room in Philly, listening to the soothing tones of hotel room doors slamming and kids running back and forth between rooms, I can’t help but reminisce on some good Penn memories I have (and some bad ones, too) since I started coaching in 1999. Here, on the eve of the eve of my last trip to Penn with the Ironmen, are some of my thoughts on the Penn experience…
My first trip(s) to Penn with the NV/OT girls, including rainy races, come-from-behind medals, parking tickets, almost missing check-in because of underestimating the length of the security lines, sleeping in the astro van one night because the hotel lost my reservation and only had rooms for the girls, my first trip to Tony Luke’s (thanks, Mare for introducing me to those delicacies!) and hijacking the van on the way home to swing through Rider and visit my old dorm – where some scholars I knew back in the day STILL HADN’T GRADUATED! Annie, Mare, Wentzler, Cat, Cerbie, Zoe, Stacy…we had some good memories!
As I made the move to the Prep, the memories continued…Phillies games, midnight cheesesteak runs with B.Toal, finding Mikey Ray lobster and steak the night before his race because “he always has seafood before a big race” and watching him turn green when he ate the surf and turf at a South Philly diner, Madden tournaments with the guys, staples in Marvin’s chinese food, hotel lobby feel-good old fashioned cry-fests, a huge DMR (but not fast enough to keep Belg’s legs hairy), literally giving the shirt off my back and the socks off my feet to keep the 4×8 guys warm on a freezing cold and rainy April morning (and still being blamed for their poor race), racing across parking lots, down city streets, and through crowded parks because Coach Gibbs took off on us (last man does pushups!), going for a run from the hotel through lovely Cherry Hill and not-so-lovely Camden, where a friendly campus police offer kindly directed me to “head back where I came from” because school was going to be out soon, and “I [wasn't] from around there” (obviously), leaving the kids in the hotel with Drew while I went to get my gall bladder checked at a hospital and being sent home with my mommy and daddy from Philly, Wex going sub 50 to get us a medal, accidentally finding the Rocky steps on a nice little run one year, and getting yelled at for running up them (who knew?), Greg falling not ONCE, but TWICE as our leadoff leg, Tyler freezing like a deer in the headlights on a handoff, Baker stealing sodas from a Holiday Inn conference room and so many other memories and stories that I couldn’t possibly list them here…
Things have been good and bad, happy and sad, successful and abysmal and though I won’t be here in Maroon and White next year, if I can and do come, I’ll be sitting in our usual spot, reflecting on 11 years…there’s something about Penn that changes a team; marks a turning point in a season, and builds bonds that last…hoping for a few more good memories before we cross the finish line tomorrow!
Today is a tough day, and it is every year but this year in particular feels like the worst one so far. 10 years ago, I watched one of the people I cared the most about in this world laid to rest, and it is a memory I will always carry with me. For the 9 months or so prior to his passing, I struggled with accepting his illness – turning one of the truest friendships I ever had into a fair-weather one, where I ran and hid when he was sick and came around on his good days; so afraid to see someone so strong suffering that I could only bear to spend time with him when he was on the upswing. I can’t recall how many times I went to the city to visit him at the hospital, or walked across the street during a meet at the Armory only to chicken out and head back inside. I was only able to see Eddie a handful of times during those last few months, and none of them were ever enough.
For the past 10 years, all I have wanted was a way to tell Eddie how much I miss him. I’ve written him letters; I’ve asked others who passed on to tell him I am sorry; I’ve stopped by the cemetery on runs and bike rides just to say “hello” and I think about him at least once every day. For the past 10 years, all I have wanted is one more day to hang out with Eddie – to do the things we used to do…head up to Ramapo Reservation, take a ride in the ‘Bird, hang by the pool, hit the beach, play some stickball…anything. I miss those days. Watching HEAT or TOMBSTONE in his TV room, playing Thumper, listening to Floyd, talking about life. For the past 10 years, all I’ve wanted is even an hour, or a minute to actually say goodbye because I never got to do that and it breaks my freaking heart every time I think about it.
Eddie was a better friend to me than I ever deserved. He brought me into his circle when I was an outsider; a B-lister hoping for a glimpse at how the other half lived. The artsy kid who got to hang out with the rock star. The underachiever learning from the overachiever. The state college slacker and the ivy-league lawyer. The rocket man and the karate kid. The the sprinter and the thrower. Two kids from opposite sides sides of town with nothing in common, yet two kids who found a connection and built a friendship. Since Eddie left us, things haven’t been the same. He was the core of our group and the reason we all spent so much time together. We were never a stronger group of friends than we were before Eddie got sick and I know we haven’t ever been the same.
Personally, I owe Eddie everything. Eddie forgave me for things I did to him that he’d never do to anyone, stupid, childish hurtful things that should have ruined our friendship but instead made it stronger. He let me back in every time I ran away. He pulled when I pushed and he put his arm around my shoulder when he should have broken mine. He talked things through when he should have screamed. He used reason when there was every reason not to. He was a man at 15 and a better man at 25 than I am at 36. He is everything a father could want in a son and everything a man should want to be.
I wanted Eddie to see me get married; to be there when I finally found happiness because he saw me go through such difficulty in my life. By the time I found what I wanted in my life – got a job, met someone, moved out of my house, settled down and started growing up – Eddie’s life was drawing to a close. He never got to experience the things he should have…working for that big law firm, moving to the city, winning his first case, getting married, making partner, buying a big house in the suburbs, having kids, and retiring earlier than any of us ever could. I wanted to share my life with Eddie; to be friends to the end, which we are in a way but not the way we could have been.
I hope that some day I figure out what life is all about and what it all means and I can live in such a way that I get to see him again. I know where he is, or I like to think I do, and I don’t know if thats where I am going to end up…but I know that’s where he belongs because he was a saint amongst all of the sinners – in spirit, and at heart – and not a damned day goes by that I don’t wish for one last second just to say goodbye – not the kind of goodbye that hurts because it is too late and you are already gone but the kind of goodbye that doesn’t hurt because you know that the person leaving understands that it is time to go and the person who has to stay knows that it is for the best. Your name is tattooed on my back and your friendship is etched on my soul. I miss you, man. I love you like a brother and I’ll never stop thinking about how much you mean to me. Everyone should know a man as good as you and everyone should have a friend like you…if they do, they should cherish it forever.
Well, it’s been a good run. Over a decade of success at the Prep, thanks to good coaches, great kids, a solid program built for success, supportive parents and an overall desire for greatness.
When I first came to DBP in the summer of 2002, I was lucky enough to be offered a teaching job – with no experience – thanks to the recommendation of my good friend Nepo and the trust and faith Fr. John Serio showed in me by hiring me to teach senior English. Then, right around November, Nepo asked me if I’d be interested in coaching track, which I jumped at – thinking I’d be an assistant, joining his staff to help the program however I could. Then, he told me me wanted to step away from coaching track, serving as an assistant for a bit – and wanted me to take over as head coach. Though I’d had some experience as a head coach, serving as the head indoor coach at Old Tappan for three seasons prior, stepping up to the plate as the head coach of a program like the one at Bosco was a daunting challenge. This challenge would consume most of my free time, energy and attention for the better part of the next 10 years or so.
Along the way, we had our share of successes and failures – both personally and professionally, and I was also lucky enough to learn from people like Kevin Kilduff as HIS assistant during XC season from 2005-2012. However, I’ve found that things have changed lately. There are moments when I wonder if I’m doing the best job possible; there are times when I don’t have the same passion I once had; there are times when I think I could do this for the rest of my life; there are times when I just want to walk away. When this journey started in 2002, I told myself that within 5 years I’d know if this was it for me – a five year plan not for success or to win a title, but a five year span within which I could evaluate things from a certain perspective. We won a state title within those first 5 years (2006) and lost a heartbreaker in 2007 – which made me think that I needed more time, despite some voices of dissension that didn’t think I was the right man for the job. I almost left after that, but kept coming back – partly for the kids, partly for the program, partly for the Prep, partly for my friends and partly for myself. We struggled a bit again in ’08, but then hit our stride in 2009, winning the 1st of 3 straight State titles, through 2011 which culminated in a trip to Oregon for the Nike Team National Championships, and an 8th place finish against the best track programs in the country. 2012, year 10 of the 5 year plan, should have been the best year ever, with a host of returning talent and some promising newcomers but we struggled again, failing to capture a major title indoors or outdoors in 2012 and again so far in 2013.
Something’s not working and I’m not sure how to fix it. So, for the sake of the program we are giving it one last go to try to return to our former glory. Then, just like when the baton was handed to me back in 2002, I’ll try to put this team in the best position to win when I walk off the track and I’ll be watching to see where this team goes next. Until then, let’s work together for the next 12 weeks with our eyes focused on the goal and our heads held high; shoulders prepared to carry to burden of the challenge and our hearts and spirits prepared to accept all that God puts in front of us!
So, for some reason – maybe I’m a glutton for punishment; maybe I don’t know when to quit; maybe I’m a little bit stupid/crazy/naive – I am gonna give training one more go. I haven’t run well in a few years – time, injury, focus, dedication, coaching, work, and myriad other issues have hindered my progress. I haven’t run a real PR (like for a distance I’ve run more than once) since the previous decade. I haven’t put in serious consistent mileage since about 2008. Enough is enough. So about a week ago, I just said “forget it” (I didn’t actually say “forget it”) and decided to go out and hammer a run as hard as I could. And keep hammering. And finish as fast as possible. Then I signed up for a 4 Mile race on Super Bowl Sunday and PRd, even after pacing Meghan through the first 3 miles…and it was a 30 second PR (but I only ran one other 4 miler ever so this only kind of counts). Then, since some friends and teammates and athletes were racing last night, I hopped in the mile at the Armory in NYC and ran far from a PR – actually, like 18 seconds from my PR – but here’s what the McMillan Running Calculator told me:
Mile – 5:09.2 (PR is 4:52.7)
5K Proj – 17:53 (PR is 17:36)
10K Proj – 37:08 (PR is 38:10)
1/2 Proj – 1:22:46 (PR is 1:22:54)
So, what this reads as is that I am not as fast as I used to be – that 17:36 was a LONG time ago…but…I am pretty fit (surprisingly) and given the proper training I could realistically PR by summer or fall again if things go well. So now it is time to plan ahead…here’s what I’m looking at if anyone wants to join me on my quest to be a good runner again:
3/2 – Lucky Stag 5K, Fairfield CT
3/10 – Miles for Music 20K, Johnson Park
3/16 – Run O’ The Mill 5K, Clinton
4/7 – Indian Trails 15K, Nevesink
5/2 – Ironman Invitational Open Mile
5/5 – Long Branch Half Marathon
5/27 – Ridgewood 10K
6/17 – Presidents Cup 5K
Then, we shall see!
Well, we’ve been through pretty much everything that can happen to a team this season…tough losses, key injuries, illnesses, strategic mistakes, roster/personnel issues, coaching mistakes, etc. We’ve shown that we have improving to do, but at the same time we’ve done some pretty good things. We’ve got top-notch individuals trying to carry the team and we’ve got up-and-comers doing what they can to fill in the gaps on relays. We’ve got coaches bringing their best to help the team improve and we’ve got athletes laying it on the line to succeed. But one thing is clear – even if we’re doing our best, we have to keep doing better!
What I tried to say last night was hopefully understood – there are places we can all get better. I’ve emailed the coaching staff with my suggestions on how we can do a better job of preparing you but I also asked you all to think about where and how you can improve. If I was right in my assessment of the team last night, then you need to find something about your “game” that you can fix before your next competition. If I was wrong and you think you are doing everything you can (and doing it perfectly) then prove it! Prove me wrong! Honestly, nothing would make me happier than if I was wrong and we are better than we’ve shown this year!
However – keep this in mind: time is fleeting! The indoor season effectively ends in about 3 weeks. Make the adjustments now. Big picture, the spring season ends in 4.5 months. Not a lot of time, but I train people to run a marathon in less time than that – you’ve gotta be able to improve at what you are training for! Everyone can improve – that’s why even when a world record is set, they don’t stop contesting that event – people set their goals higher! Be it an inch, a second, a foot – small changes can yield big results in both the short term and the long term!
Rise to the challenge!
“4:30 AM is when champions are made” – This is a paraphrasing of a tweet Chris sent to Matt this AM when he got up to make his egg whites and get ready for the drive from Monroe to Bosco. A Saturday AM, 6 AM departure from Ramsey didn’t deter these guys from being on time, ready to go, game faces on as the sole representatives for the Ironmen at the NJSIAA Non-Public “A” Relays this morning.
“Don’t Stop Believing” – Coach Krutchick wrote this song while we were sitting in the bleachers today. I’m pretty sure he knows it was already a song but the intent was clear: these guys just had to believe in themselves and they could achieve great things today…and they did!
“Arrive. Win. Leave” – A totally harmless but pretty apropos slogan we came up with for the mercenary-like way in which we left Ramsey under cover of darkness this morning, made the 90 minute drive, did our jobs and left before anyone even knew what happened. If only…IF ONLY we could adopt this slogan for our entire team…starting Monday?
“Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime” – This USED to be our motto…when we used to go to meets all over NY & NJ and seek out the best possible competition. We created our own invitational to invite the best of the best to our backyard to see who had the right stuff. We brought 20-something kids to Nationals in NC a few years ago to test the statement that we were the best ever. We got invited to Oregon to test our mettle against the top track teams in the country. We flew to Stanford to run in one of the top XC invites around. LET’S START GETTING THAT FEELING BACK – THAT WE CAN TAKE ON THE WORLD!!!
In the big, broad, sweeping, epic two-year training cycle we’ve recently embarked on, one of the more scrutinized aspects of the plan is my stance on “off days.” The way I wrote the plan is that there is only one day off scheduled between now and the end of macrocycle 1 but this is for a reason: days off “happen” anyway. If the schedule called for an off day every week, for example, that would be over FIFTY days off per year…over 100 days off between now and when the megacycle concludes in December 2014! That’s too much time away from training…
So…do we just kill ourselves until we break down and then we are forced to take an off day? Of course not. What we try to do instead is replace running days with cross-training (quality, heart-pumping, sweat-inducing, muscle-burning cardio) and replace off-days with supplemental fitness. So, say you did a Wednesday workout, a Friday fartlek, and easy run Saturday and a long run Sunday. What do you do on Thursday and Monday? If your legs will fall off if you you run 5 days in a row, you’ve gotta do SOMETHING to break up the training. So…you get on the stationary bike. You get in the pool. You go to boot camp or cross fit or do something other than running to help you recover but nothing so easy that you have to start over again the next day…
So, in conclusion there is a difference between an off day and a non-running day. We all need non-running days every once in a while – every 5 days or so is probably average. We all need off days, too. Probably not as often – once every few weeks; once a month, etc. But don’t take them when you don’t need them and use them wisely!!!