"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Friday, September 21, 2012

The tragic folly of the Richmond athletic department

I started out the day reeling from the pain of sleeping off the painkillers prescribed after my wisdom tooth extraction yesterday. I was staying at Nadir's in Falls Church to watch his cat while he was out of town. I did an easy 13 miles on the New Virginia Manor loop, one of my favorites, and headed off to work, feeling pretty good. Shortly after noon, that changed, when I heard that the Richmond athletic department was planning to cut men's indoor and outdoor track. Soccer, too. I waited a few hours to hear that it was confirmed, and lost my afternoon in a combination of anger, grief and frustration.

It would be less painful if they cut a pound of my flesh. 

Times-Dispatch story
Collegian story

I loved my experience at the University of Richmond, I thought the faculty and the overall quality of life at the school were great on their own merits. The journalism department helped me figure out my calling in a  fundamental way. But what made my Richmond experience -- what motivates me to tell anyone about the school who will listen -- was my involvement with the track team. I'm written before about how important it was to me to make the team, but I'll put it even more bluntly: were it not for the Richmond track team, I would likely not care enough about the school to come back every few months, to speak of it as highly as I do, or to go to the lengths I do to communicate the regard I hold the school.  I wouldn't try to recruit every promising young person I meet, regardless of their interest in running.

On a macro level, without its track team, Richmond will have likely never enjoyed the presence of some wonderful contributors to the student body who are excelling outside of athletics- Garret Graham, Seann Mulcahy, Tim Caramore, Jon Lauder, Dan Petty, Dave Blanchard, many others. Men who made their mark on the track but made the school a better place. They would have chosen another school to continue their education.

This is to say nothing of runners like Andrew Benford and Matt Llano, both recent All Americans, who are pursuing professional running careers. Sos Bitok and Hillary Tuwei, who ran in the Olympics (No emphasis is necessary). Jon Molz and Pete Jennings, who are active and involved track coaches...

So many of these guys had the best grades among not just athletes, but the entire school. Track and field attracts introspective, cerebral students who not only act rationally, but their very discipline lends itself to thought and reflection. They are personable and engaging. Track men represent the university well in every sphere in which they are involved, and they are a credit to the entire student body. It's a short-sighted decision, and I don't think the board of trustees thought through its impact on general student recruitment.
I can't not touch on the notoriety of other schools' lacrosse teams in the region, but I will leave it with that allusion.

Now, the University of Richmond will no longer have this attractive option to offer to high school students. They'll go elsewhere, and who can blame them? An athletic department that doesn't offer basic athletics, and track and field is as basic as you can get, is laughable. It's shameful. How can I cheer for the 3-8 football team? Are those roster spots going to make the difference and stop the football team from being so terrible? Will we become a lacrosse powerhouse now?

At risk of sound like a conspiracy theorist, it also smacks of a disregard for women.. Cutting two men's sports for the sake of another might be what the state teachers college does, but Richmond is incredibly secure, financially. Why not create another women's sport? Rowing? Softball? Volleyball? Water polo? We already have a successful crew club.I also see a bit of class division. Running and soccer are about the cheapest sports to fund and play. Lacrosse isn't exactly hockey or crew, but there are more barriers to entry for youth participation.

We've been through this before, in 2000. The programs survived and improved drastically with the hiring of Steve and Lori Taylor, coaches who mean everything to me athletically and personally -- they're like an aunt and uncle -- and I know I'm not the only Spider to feel this way. I want to look at this crisis as an opportunity, if the alumni can express themselves in a constructive way that illustrates the collective character of the men who have run those laps with the name Richmond on their chests.

It may accomplish nothing, for all of track's qualities, it remains undervalued for all but two weeks every four years by the general public. Then again, people said the cross country team (which was thankfully left untouched this time) would never win anything without scholarships. We know how that turned out.

Back to self-absorption:

Sept. 11 - After days of 18, 15 and 20 miles, I took it easy on Tuesday before my meeting and ran with Dolla Billzzz from Clarendon. I was dragging for a while, but woke up about halfway through. I bid Billzzz adieu after six miles then did a few more on some flat neighborhood streets.

Sept 12 - BCC's track was in use, so practice was at American, so I jogged over with Dix, Diddy and a slew of others to use that track, which now featured a pothole and cone in lane one, 75 meters in. I got a 2:36 warmup 800, then joined Dix and Fridge for the half marathon workout- 2:34 and 2:32. Most of everyone else joined in for 2:30, 2:28, 2;24, 2:24, 2:22 and 2:18. I felt great throughout, despite some uneven pacing resulting from the wind on the stretches. We headed back to the house and Stefan and I got a few more miles in on our cooldown for 13 total.

Sept 13- I ran to work, coming down the CCT from Kenwood and then along the mall. I was a little tired after sleeping poorly, and was not really into running 13 miles that early. My five-mile afternoon run around AU Park was a drag. My nips hurt, thanks to running my whole workout in the GRC t-shirts from 2010. I think they're made of sandpaper.

Sept 14- I pretty much never feel like waking up early to run on Fridays, certainly not after running 18 the day before, so I slept in and delayed my workout to the evening. I ran a long warmup to the 11 mile mark for the Marine Corps Marathon and planned to do 5-6 miles starting at 5:50 and getting 10 seconds faster each mile. I was using the Nike+ thing I bought during my short stint at the Chevy Chase Running Company, with hopes of getting a somewhat accurate evaluation of my pace. It was a bit off, though, I came throuhg a mile in 5:45, the second in 5:40, third in 5:35 and fourth in 5:30. After that, I was wiped out, and my gastrointestinal ills were too much to ignore. I struggled back to my office, took a shower, went upstairs to get my stuff, but ended up just sitting at my desk for at least a half hour before dragging myself home.

Sept 15- After an early morning trip down to Hains Point to watch the GRC debut new uniforms and hit some great times at the Run, Geek, Run 8k and a trip to Elyse's pool to sit in the sun, I drove down to Lake Accotink to check the route I had planned for the Running Report's Nov/Dec edition, and to get away from the city. I dropped off some gatorade at the 4/16 mile mark and headed back to route 50 to start my run. I was cruising a little too fast, come through 6 miles in 38 minutes. The temperature dropped when I got to the lake and I looked around for a good photo for the article, but noticed my favorite view was obstructed by the lush vegetation. Lots of talkative people were taking walks that afternoon and plenty of friendly, passive dogs. Two laps were over in a hurry and I was headed back to the car. As usual, I felt pretty wrecked on the way back, which happens at the same place, whether I'm running 16 or 20 miles. I made it back in 2:11 for 20 miles, and was rather pleased with that. On the way back, I got to listen to the CSPAN broadcast of Arnold Palmer's Congressional Gold Medal ceremony.

Sunday morning I watched the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon and took a nap before some football. The Steelers played the late game, so I waited until that was done for my 13 mile run. I did a Nellie Custis that went quite well. Almost all of it was at dusk or darker, but it felt great. The weather was perfect and I was relaxed. I saw Texas Paul driving in Georgetown and chased him for a block. Using the wedding weekend mileage accrual system, I switched Saturday and Sunday's runs, so even though I had run 107 miles the week before, I counted it as 100 and gave Sunday credit for my long run.

Since I finished running at 9 pm Sunday, I took Monday morning off and set out that evening for American's track to do some 400s. While running along Nebraska with Witty, who was out for his own run, I heard some mocking from a young fellow in a car. Unfortunately for him, he was about to hit a long red light, giving me plenty of time to catch up, ask him to repeat what he said, then decry his lack of courage to be able to say to my face what he yelled so easily a minute before. I had been feeling a little flat before that, but the adrenaline pumped me up for my quarters. I changed into my flats and hit some 400s- four in 68. After that, though, the adrenaline wore off and I was tired again. I jogged home and called it a day at five miles.

Tuesday morning I woke up and sleepwalked through 8.25 miles on the CT-MA route, apparently waving to Drea without noticing who she was. I fell asleep on the metro on my ride home and woke up not looking forward to the 10 miles I had waiting for me. Witty joined me for six miles or so. I was not eager to climb Albemarle. I was delighted, however, to learn I will be able to return to Albemarle County in October for the Charlottesville Fall Classic Half. I had a really good feeling about the timing and location of this race, and I'm excited to take my shot at the half marathon there this fall.

Wednesday morning saw little interest in a morning run, but I made up for it with a solid workout. a 2:30 800 to warm up, then a 6:15 2k, 3:02, 3:01, 2:58 and 2:54 1ks.

Thursday (Sept. 20) morning I did an eight mile loop down Nebraska and back up Western to 47th and Van Ness. Then I had my wisdom teeth pulled. Yeesh.


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