Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Running - Make it an Event

When it comes to running, I have to admit I'm a fair-weather fan. Give me a 60-degree, low-humidity day and I'll gladly agree to trot 10-plus miles with you. However, once the temperatures start to dip drastically and the snow starts to fly, it's easy for me to seek shelter in the warm hibernation spot of my bed.

Some people don't notice much of a drop off when winter time rolls around because they just switch gears and attack their treadmill with a vengeance. I, on the other hand, have trouble feeling comfortable on the treadmill due in large part to the fact that I'm 6-foot-6 and either hit my knees on the front or fall off the back. So, the treadmill is not really the answer to my winter running needs.

I have found that as long as the temperatures stay above zero including the windchill that proper layering makes running outside still bearable. The only thing that has been a concern for me is adequate footing, so I base my daily runs now on whether or not I can find a somewhat clear path to trod.

Two other things that really help me follow through on continuing my runs during the winter have been getting together with friends to do them and making them into events whenever possible. The accountability that you find when telling someone that you'll meet them at 6 a.m. for a 5K is a strong motivator when the warm covers on my bed try to pull me back into them when the alarm goes off. And, the bond that you form with fellow runners who are working hard and braving the frigid elements with you is one that develops into strong friendships.

As for making runs into events, sometimes you have to be creative or, as my wife likes to say, a little loony. Take this morning for example. A lunar eclipse was slated to take place on the same day as the winter solstice for the first time in 300-plus years. The fact that it happened between 2:30-4:00 a.m. didn't stop me from trying to organize a middle-of-the-night 5K. I met my friend, Chad Sims, at his house at 3:00 a.m. and we started our run. At the midway point, we stopped to see our friends, Crystal and Eric Browning, who had offered to make us hot chocolate and fresh cookies. Even though the early morning sky was pretty overcast, we did manage to see the moon a couple of times while enjoying the warm treats. After a little bit, Chad and I said good-bye to the Brownings and finished off our 5K before I headed for home for a few more hours of sleep. (You can see a picture of the limited edition shirt I designed to commemorate the event above - 'cause we all know that any race worth running has a race shirt.)

While Chad and I didn't set any personal bests and Crystal and Eric sacrificed some sleep, I think we would all four agree that it was fun and something we would do again if given the choice. I also think from the interest I've seen on my Facebook page after posting about the 2010 Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse 5K that next time we plan a fun event that more people will take part in it. Special thanks to WBNS 10TV for the shout out about the run this morning and also to COSI for checking in with us. You never know who is watching and following your progress!

(Note: I would love to hear your ideas for running in Central Ohio's winter wonderland.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lowe's and Behold...Christmas and Social Media

Like most people out there, I love a good giveaway or contest. Thanks to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, there are lots of opportunities these days for fans and followers of companies or organizations to grab some great swag.

The latest social media marketing frenzy began on Friday at 10 a.m. ET when Lowe's began their three-day Gift-A-Thon through their Facebook fan page with roughly 380,000 followers at the time. I 'liked' their page and RSVP'd for the event in order to be eligible if I happened to be one of the lucky ones to be fast enough each time they gave away coupons for 90 percent off some great items.

There was an initial glitch when the first item posted as the response was so great with so many people logging into the site that it shut down the contest server. After a little while, Lowe's got things back up and running and despite a hiccup here and there things have been pretty much smooth sailing ever since. I've managed to get through on a couple of the items, but haven't been fast enough to get one of the coveted 90 percent off coupons. However, the only thing I really need is 90 percent off a new stove since our oven went kaput on Friday night. Oh well, it's probably keeping me from gaining weight since it's kept my wife from making Christmas cookies.

As someone who is intrigued by the dynamics of social media, I've been interested to watch several different aspects. First, there are two types of followers on Lowe's page. There are the complainers who don't win, the ones who think the contest is bogus and that the winners don't really exist, and the ones who get mad at Lowe's when there are technical difficulties. I feel sorry for them. It's not like we are entitled to anything from Lowe's. They are being generous by giving us the opportunity to get some amazing deals. Sure, it's a marketing strategy, but that doesn't mean we deserve anything other than a chance to try. We are the ones who have chosen to spend our time trying to win.

The second group of followers is the one that I've enjoyed. The people who are grateful to participate and the people who have used this as their own personal stand-up comedy audition. I have to admit that I've been one of the latter. When the first item went up and the problems happened, I took that opportunity to try my hand at humor. I was pleasantly surprised to see the 'likes' from total strangers start pouring in. I then went back and started reading other comments and was cracking up. I ended up sending a tweet to Conan O'Brien - well, we do have a history - and telling him to check out the site for some good laughs.

I didn't really think any more about it because I know that Conan probably gets thousands of tweets mentioning him each day. What was funny was that all of a sudden I ended up in a conversation with the Lowe's Twitter account. They retweeted my Conan tweet and then followed up with several other tweets. It sparked one of my friends, Nate Okuley, to tweet about this and Lowe's quickly responded. The was the start of about five or six messages back and forth with Lowe's despite the fact that the manager of that account was probably in the midst of one of the busiest days of his or her job. Since then, we've exchanged a couple of other tweets and I'm hoping that the mystery person shoots me a message from their personal account once the promotion is all over. I'm amazed at the way they have handled what could have been a stressful situation with just as much humor as Conan and his team of writers. (Yep, I just threw down the gauntlet, Conan.)

On a serious note, one of the reasons that I like social media and especially Twitter is the ability to connect with a brand on a more personal level. As people who follow me on Twitter or Facebook can attest, I am always quick to incorporate brands into my tweets and I believe in acknowledging the ones that I like. What is important to me, though, is feeling some kind of interaction with those brands and it is amazing how much a simple tweet back from one of them can have on customer loyalty. Along those regards, I have to give Subway and Staples a shoutout, too, as I've heard back from both of them this week as well.

As for measuring Lowe's success for this weekend's promotion, it doesn't take a genius to realize that their marketing department was on to something by initiating this. Their Facebook fan page has been bombarded with visitors and over 100,000 people have 'liked' it since I did on Friday morning. A quick glance at the comments, likes, and links posted on the page shows that there have been well over 1,000,000 interactions on the site this weekend. Even though all of it hasn't been positive thanks to the first group I mentioned above, it HAS been a success. And, I take my hat off to the person (or persons) managing the social media accounts and all of those messages. Wow, talk about getting some overtime! However, as you can see from this recent tweet to me from Lowe's about the promotion, they love what's happening.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rock of Ages

Hi, my name is Dave and I'm an 80's hair band music addict. Yes, that's right, buried beneath the exterior of this guy who typically spends his days doing stats, press releases, and website updates for the successful sports teams of a small private college is a love affair with all the big hair, loud drums, and steely metal sounds associated with 80's rock.

I also really enjoy taking in the different Broadway Across America shows that come to Columbus each year. My wife and I have seen such shows as Mama Mia, Wicked, and Legally Blonde, the Musical and really had a good time enjoying the talented casts, great songs, and vivid sets that go with them.

So with that stage set, you can just guess my anticipation level for Rock of Ages, the acclaimed musical, to come to Columbus. I had tried several times to plan a trip for my wife and I to go to New York to see the show on Broadway. Then, I found out that the show would be coming to Columbus. I've had the dates circled on my calendar for at least six months and the time finally arrived this week.

Late last week, I saw a post on the Columbus Association of Performing Arts (CAPA) Facebook page offering a free ticket in exchange for blogging or tweeting about the show on opening night. I thought...why not? Sure, enough, they sent me an e-mail and said my ticket would be waiting at will call. They gave me another one for a friend and my buddy, George Hartz, went with me.

When we arrived at the Palace Theater, we had a little time to kill and enjoyed listening to all the 80's songs that were being played before the show started. It really helped set the mood for what we were about to watch. There were plenty of members of the crowd who were singing along and, yes, I was among them. George and I were highly entertained by the group of people in the row behind us who only had one volume for their conversation - loud. However, while it could have been annoying it was pretty hilarious and actually made the night more fun. As we were approaching the time for the show to start, one member of that group got a text that the final couple who was supposed to join them wasn't going to make it because they supposedly had a flat tire. Well, that set the group off and they kept talking about how that couple really didn't want to come to the show. More on this later.

The show got under way and it was just as billed and then some. The music was awesome! The live band did a great job all night and all the vocals were outstanding. From the pure standpoint of treating it as a concert, it would have been a success as a top of the line cover band concert. However, what really took it to the next level was the hilarious story that wove all those 80's songs into the framework of Rock of Ages. Whether it was making mash-ups to have two story lines going at once, slowing things down to make it more of a love song, or totally changing the rhythm to fit the comedic element, the music made the show a tremendously funny story-telling experience.

Constantine Maroulis was outstanding in his role as Drew, a rock-n-roll wannabe from Detroit who came to the Sunset Strip to chase his dream. He came off as a low-key, shy guy in conversations, but as soon as he got the microphone in his hand to sing he belted out songs with reckless abandon and passion. It was really a great mix that made his character a down-to-earth one that everyone would root for. (George and I also got to meet him afterwards thanks to CAPA and he was exactly that way in person which was very refreshing.) After watching his performance, it was easy to see why he was nominated for a Tony Award and also had the success that he did on American Idol.

The rest of the cast all played their roles brilliantly as well. There was plenty of comedy to go around and the cast all had great timing to pull it off perfectly. There were even a few impromptu lines that added to the experience.

Thanks again to CAPA for hooking George and I up with tickets to the show and the opportunity to meet the cast afterwards. Central Ohio really is blessed to have this organization bringing amazing shows to Columbus on a regular basis and I encourage you to check out their website for the complete schedule and to order tickets for not only Rock of Ages but the other shows that will be coming soon.

As for the group of people who sat behind us last night, the one guy summed up his thoughts on the couple who didn't come because they supposedly got a flat tire but ended up missing out on a great evening of fun like this: "Game on, flat tire, game on!" Yes, those people will not live down missing this one.

Well, I can hear the strumming of guitars and the start of another song from last night starting to fill my head. If you like 80's rock, this show is definitely for you. I will be headed back to see it again on Friday night with my wife this time since that was when we had planned to go before CAPA gave me a chance to see it twice. I'm looking forward to seeing what I missed the first time. Rock on!

Getting Caught Up...

Wow, where did the fall go? I just pulled up my blog and realized that I never checked in with the results from the Columbus Half Marathon that I did and have basically taken about a two-month hiatus from posting anything. The job of a small college sports information director has a way of taking over one's life.

After months of training, the Columbus Half Marathon took place on a perfect morning for a race and I started out great. At the 10K mark, I was running at a 7:21 pace which was faster than I had planned to go. That soon caught up to me and I had to basically grind out the final four miles to the finish including what seemed like an endless hill before the turn to the finish. However, I was able to sprint (at least it felt like a sprint to me) to the finish line and finished in 1:45.36, which was an 8:04 pace. Not shabby at all for my first-ever half marathon and considering that I had issues with shin splints over the final month leading up to the race. I was really proud of my friends, too. They all posted great times and within a few days were already talking about the next race we were going to run. Oh, and I did get my Krispy Kremes at the finish line. (See photo above of me and Chad Sims)

The next race for me took place on my 39th birthday - November 13th - when I ran in the Mount Vernon Nazarene University Homecoming 5K with my wife, Carla, and my daughters, Ashley and Kylie. My mom also agreed to do the race and was responsible for walking with Kylie. This was the first race ever for my two girls and we had them run the course three times in preparation for the race so they would know what to expect.

The race was great! I turned in a 21:14 (6:50 pace) to finish 11th out of 149 people. It was my best 5K time to date and I really couldn't have done it without being constantly pushed by my buddy, Donald Cobb, who finished eighth overall in 20:26 (6:35 pace). Carla ran a really good time and Ashley ended up beating 50 runners with a time 31:39 (10:12 pace) as the second-youngest runner in the field at 9 years old. And Kylie, who at 5, was by far the youngest participant, did a great job of finishing the 5K with my mom. (Note: My mom, who is 63, has since started running so that next year she can run the race.) All in all, what a great way to spend my birthday - running in a race with my entire family.

Well, now that the cold weather has hit, it's getting tougher and tougher to stay motivated to get outside and keep running. I am within 25 miles of my goal of running 500 miles in 2010, so that should help me a little. I need a couple of nicer days so that I can get that knocked out because I am not much of a treadmill runner.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ready to Run

Well, the time has almost come to put my feet to the ground and get this half marathon started. A little less than five months ago, I started out trying to somehow breathe while running two miles continuously without being chased and now here I am 20 pounds lighter and over 300 miles later less than 10 hours away from attempting 13.1 miles in the 31st annual Nationwide Columbus Half Marathon on Sunday.

To say that the past five months and 300 miles has been a journey would be an understatement. I had always felt that running was boring and not near as much fun as getting exercise while playing team sports such as basketball or softball. However, after cheering my wife, Carla, on and watching her complete the Capital City Half Marathon each of the past two springs and being sidelined from basketball due to a wrist injury this past spring, I decided that I would start running as a way to keep in shape.

What I have found is that running can be every bit as much fun as the team sports that I loved to play. I have discovered that the dedication and determination required to run can really have a positive effect on some healthy lifestyle changes. Also, the friendships that I have cultivated through this journey are ones that I would not trade for anything. Most importantly, I cannot thank my family enough for allowing me to do this. Without my wife backing me all the way, I would not have been able to do it.

While I'm not looking forward to a 4:45 a.m. wake-up in the morning, I am looking forward to giving it my best for 13.1 miles and trying to enjoy the culmination of this journey. Thanks to everyone who has supported me along the way with your comments on Facebook and Twitter. Along with my family and running mates, you have helped to keep me accountable on days when I didn't really want to roll out of bed and run. To all of you, I'll eat a Krispy Kreme in your honor after I cross the finish line. :)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Race Day...There's Nothing Like It!

Those of you who have been following my blog know that back in May I took up running with a goal of running in the 31st Nationwide Columbus Half Marathon on October 17th thanks to the inspiration of my wife, Carla, who has completed two half marathons over the past two years. The training started slowly, but gradually it has become a part of my routine and something that I actually look forward to. (I know...I'm running and no one is chasing me...that seems like a strange concept to some of my friends.)

Last Saturday, I participated in my first race since running the mile in eighth grade track over two decades ago. I signed up for the first annual Knox Community Hospital Gift for the Heart 4-Mile Race here in Mount Vernon. A nice turnout of nearly 150 runners and walkers showed up to help raise money for a great cause and the race went off without a hitch and was very well organized for a first-time event.

I had forgotten how much energy was involved with a race. Being a local race, I knew a lot of the people who were participating either as runners or walkers and it was a lot of fun socializing with people before, during, and after the event. It really was a great way to start the day and the four miles flew by as I was spurred on to run a new personal best time in that distance and managed to finish second in my age group and 21st overall out of 135 finishers. (Click here for the official results.) I especially felt good about that finish considering that 11 of the people ahead of me were current members of the Mount Vernon Nazarene University men's or women's cross country teams.

It was fun to run the race with several of my friends and watch them also achieve their time goals and set new personal bests. Probably the two most impressive feats were my friend, Donald Cobb, who showed up and finished the four miles in 28:53 (7:14 pace) despite not running much recently prior to the race and my friend, Chad Sims, who didn't train at all and cranked out a 40:37 (10:10 pace). I went to college with both of those guys and it was fun to see them do so well. George Hartz and Brad Whitaker also turned in stellar performances, and we also need to give a big shoutout to my family, the Whitakers, the Sims, and the Cobbs for making up most of the cheering section at the finish line and for also bringing donuts, which I know was mine and Chad's motivation to cross the finish line.

Well, after the thrill of race day, it was a real downer the next day when I set off on my eight-mile training run as part of my half marathon training program. Not only was I a little sore from running the race the previous day so hard, but I only crossed paths with about 10 people over the course of my hour-plus on the trail. It reminded me that race day is really a reward for runners for all the hard work that they do in training when no one is watching them.

I guess George, Brad, and Chad all felt the same way that I did after Saturday's race, so it was really neat to see them coordinate efforts so that we could do a couple of early morning (and I mean well before the sun came up) training runs this past week. Running with other people really helps with your accountability and adds to the excitement that you need to drag yourself out of bed. Even though we all run at different paces, we find a way to make it work for all of us and the bond of running just adds to our friendship. It really is a great way to start the day off on the right foot, too.

I was excited late last week to learn that Donald had decided to sign up to run the inaugural Dublin Emerald City Quarter Marathon that took place yesterday. I was signed up to run in it in order to secure a corral start time for the Columbus Half Marathon since I hadn't raced before and didn't really want to have to navigate all the walkers at the start if at all possible. I knew that Donald and I had a pretty similar pace in the four-mile race and that it might help both of us knock out the 6.55 miles at a fairly quick clip.

As we approached race day, Donald and I talked about our strategy to approaching the race. He really wanted to get a sub-50:00 time so that he could qualify for Corral #1 at Columbus. I knew that time would be pushing it for me as my best time in that distance in training was right around 53 minutes. However, I also knew that the energy of the race and running with someone would help me at least make a go of it. As part of my preparation leading up to the event, I ran three miles on Friday as fast as I could because our plan was to try to keep a 7:15 pace for as long as possible. I accomplished step one on Friday with a personal best 21:11 in the three miles.

After taking Saturday off to make sure that I was well-rested, I headed out at 5:15 a.m. on Sunday to meet Donald for the drive to the race. We got to the designated parking area - Krogers - and found the lot already filling up with cars despite the fact that the race was still half an hour away and the sun wouldn't come up until after the starting horn was sounded. We made our final preparations and headed for the starting line.

When the horn sounded, we took off and were a little ahead of our pace for the first quarter of a mile which is pretty typical for the start of any race. We made a conscious effort to back things off and really settled into the pace that we wanted as we clicked off one mile, then two, and then three. The pack of runners began to spread out pretty good at that point as the half marathoners branched off to the right while the quarter marathoners began their trek through a local bike/running path to the left. The trickiest obstacle along the way turned out to be a wooden zig-zag bridge that was still very damp with dew which made it a little treacherous to cross.

As we reached the five-mile mark, I knew that I was really starting to fade so I made sure that Donald knew to just take off and finish as strong as he could and that we would meet up at the end. I hung pretty close to him until almost the six-mile mark and he began to slowly pull away. We both finished as strong as we could and were excited about the fact that we met our goal of a sub-50:00 finish with more than two minutes to spare. (You're never quite sure of your official time when the race ends as your chip is scanned at both the start and finish and you have to wait for the official results to be posted later.)

After cheering for our friends Tricia and Brad Pokosh as they came in with Tricia also posting a sub-50:00 time, we grabbed some of the post-race food and headed back home. Later in the afternoon, we found out that Donald finished 11th out of 729 runners and first in our age group in 47:22 (7:18 pace), while I was 13th and second respectively in 47:47 (7:22 pace). (Click here for the official results.)

I really appreciate all the people in addition to my family who have been supporting me in these running endeavors through their comments and encouragement especially on Facebook and Twitter. That support spurs me on to want to do even better the next time and also gets me through a tough mile or two when I'm running by myself. Encouragement is probably one of the best parts of taking up running. That is why if you ever run with me you'll hear me thanking the people along the road during a race for coming out even though they aren't necessarily there for me or telling other runners or walkers "good job" or "keep it up" whether we are passing in a race or on a training run on the trail. To me, that's what it's all about...everyone finishing the race.

Well, I'm excited to see what this week holds. Yes, I have aching knees and jello-like legs after yesterday's race in Dublin. However, reading messages from friends and trying to figure out when we can organize our next group training run has me ready to head out the door when the sun rises tomorrow.

Monday, August 9, 2010

48 Hours in Boston - Fenway Park

For those who know me, you know that one of my favorite summer activities is going to Major League Baseball games. My wife, Carla, shares this love with me and throughout our dating and married years we've been to more than 100 games together.

With our 14th anniversary approaching (actually it's today - Aug. 10th), I thought it would be fun for us to travel to Boston for a couple of games at Fenway Park and to also see the sights of one of the oldest and most historic cities in this great country. (Heading into the trip, Boston and Miami remained as the only two cities we hadn't seen an MLB game in and when Fenway was crossed off our list it marked the 34th MLB ballpark we have seen a game in.)

We left our daughters with my parents and headed out early last Wednesday to Columbus where we hopped on a Southwest Air flight. A couple of hours later, we had arrived at Logan International Airport and soon our hotel, Courtyard by Marriott.

After dropping off our stuff at the hotel, we set out for Fenway Park via the Boston subway system - the T. We climbed out of the terminal right into the middle of the city like ants from a colony. Quite a crowd had already gathered two hours before game time and it was very festive as we approached the park after grabbing a couple of hot dogs from a street vendor on Lansdowne Street.

When we first walked in the ballpark, I was surprised with how big the stadium seemed to me. For whatever reason (maybe it's the home run dimensions down the lines), I always thought that Fenway seemed smaller than most ballparks when watching games on TV. However, while you do have an intimate feel sitting in the crowded seats, the park seems larger than life when you are there in person.

After surveying the ballpark from left center with the visiting Cleveland Indians taking batting practice, I quickly maneuvered my way down to the front row at field level about 20 feet inside the Pesky pole in fair territory. Within about five minutes, I was using all 6-foot-6 of my wingspan to snag a ball off the warning track. Of the 30 or so balls that I've gotten at games over the years, this one may go down as my favorite since it's got a little Fenway dirt on it, too. I had a shot at a couple of other balls, but I didn't pursue them too hard since I already had one and there were plenty of kids who hadn't gotten any.

When batting practice ended, I made my way to the Indians' bullpen so that I could say hello to Tim Belcher, the Indians' pitching coach who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1983 draft out of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. He noticed me and came over and talked for a few minutes. He's always been really good about keeping connected with MVNU.

From there, we moved to our seats and got to chat with Hillary Haynes, a fellow sports information director I've met through Twitter who was also at the game with her fiancee, Dan. I always enjoy meeting people in person who I've come to know through social media. She joined us as some of the few Indians' fans at the game.

Well, the game unfolded and the Indians put together a solid 9-1 win over the hometown Red Sox. This score was good for us because a lot of the Boston fans started leaving in the eighth inning, which allowed us to move closer and closer to the field. By the end of the game, we were sitting a few rows up from the Indians' dugout and I was able to quickly talk to Tim Belcher again when the game ended before we headed back to the hotel on the T.

Thursday was a full day of sight-seeing (which is a story for another blog) before we came back to Fenway for a second game. I got on to the Green Monster for an inning during this game and tried to get pictures from all across the park. The Red Sox won 6-2 this time.

Throughout the course of the two games at Fenway Park, I thought about all the baseball history that had happened in its 98 years of existence and also about the stories of the people who had come to the over 7,000 games that have been played since it opened. Just days after the Titanic sunk, the ballpark opened with the Red Sox beating the New York Highlanders (who would go on to become the Yankees) 7-6 in 11 innings on April 20, 1912. Those two teams have been bitter rivals ever since.

Over the years, players such as Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, and Carl Yastrzemski have all called Fenway home. Even though the ballpark doesn't have all the amenities and fancy seating sections that the modern parks have, Fenway has an aura about it that exudes baseball tradition from a different era where it was played for the love of the game. Even with its cramped seats, long aisles, and occasional obstructed views, I, for one, hope that they never tear it down as it along with Chicago's Wrigley Field remain as significant living memorials to the history of our great national pastime.

(Note: To see all my pictures from Fenway, you can check them out on my Facebook page by clicking here. I would also like to thank Sports Travel and Tours and specifically Mike McGarry for helping us secure good tickets to both games.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Running in a Busy Life

Well, today is the day that it really all begins for me and my goal of running the Columbus Half Marathon on October 17th. I’ve been running for two months now and have logged just over 100 miles, but today is when it gets serious. I’ve paid my entry fee just ahead of the early bird deadline of July 31 and now the real work starts as I began Hal Higdon’s 12-week training program this morning with the first day of actual running.

When I returned from a good run this morning that took place in perfect weather conditions, I received a tweet asking about writing a blog post about five tips for scheduling training for busy people. Well, with this being my first half marathon along with the fact that my training has just started, I’m not sure that I am an expert on this subject. However, just writing this blog will be one more accountability step in my busy life in making sure that I reach my goal of crossing the finish line on October 17th with 14,999 other dedicated and determined people.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I am the sports information director at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, a private faith-based college located in Mount Vernon. My job responsibilities revolve around promoting our institution’s 10 sports teams, student-athletes, and coaches in all their endeavors on and off the court or field. This is a lot of fun, but during the sports seasons it means that I am working about 80 hours a week including the weekends.

After my wife, Carla (above with me), completed her second Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus this past spring, I strongly began considering the possibility of running this upcoming race. I knew that I would have some time to begin training in the summer when I wasn’t quite as busy at work since we didn’t have any games going on. However, I still continued to doubt whether or not I could really put the time into it.

Tip #1: Find an accountability partner. Whether or not this person runs the race or not, you have to find someone who is going to be right there with you (even from a distance) and help keep you on track. For me, this is my friend, Jay Stancil. Like me, Jay is a sports information director at Union College in Kentucky. Like me, Jay is married with two kids. Like me, Jay is going to turn 39 in November. Like me, Jay has never run a half marathon. I kind of jokingly suggested to Jay several months ago that he should come up to Columbus and run the half marathon in October. Well, he jumped on the idea and started training right away. I was a little more reticent about getting started, but Jay’s updates and encouragement through Twitter helped nudge me to the Kokosing Gap Trail to finally begin this process. It is also nice if you can find someone to run with you at least occasionally as you train. It’s a great help for making sure you show up for a scheduled run even on a day when you might not feel like going.

Tip #2: Find a time to train and stick to it. Once I got over the first hurdle of just getting off the couch and starting to run, I knew that I needed to make this a routine or basically a lifestyle change. Especially in the summer, it would be easy for me to sleep in just a little since the kids don’t need to get off to school and my wife is off work. However, I found that by getting up early that I have time to run and I can beat the summer heat at the same time. For me, the morning runs were a great way to start my day and give me energy (despite weary legs at times). By making it a habit, it becomes easier and easier to get up and go for that morning run. Now, I find that I really miss my runs when I take a day off, the weather doesn’t cooperate or I have a conflict that keeps me from going. It is also fine to adjust occasionally due to your schedule, but I’ve found that it is best to make it a daily routine as much as possible.

Tip #3: Document your runs. This has been a big thing in helping me stick with my training. I started a spreadsheet with the date, distance, and time of each run. Since I deal with numbers, stats, and records for my job with our teams, I wanted to track everything I was doing. This is a great way to keep you accountable. It’s also a rewarding and encouraging way to track progress as you see the miles pile up. For those of us who are not elite runners (and that’s probably 99.9% of the people reading this), it really is not about your time in the half marathon on race day. It’s about the journey to get to that point, the dedication to put in the required training, and the support of your family and friends.

Tip #4: Make the most of your busy life. One thing that keeps some busy people from ever training is the fact that their work takes them on the road a lot. Why not use this to your advantage and break up the monotony of running the same route? My family and I were in San Francisco for eight days earlier this summer for the annual NAIA-SIDA and CoSIDA Workshop. I figured that I really wouldn’t have time to run or a place to run as I’m not a big fan of running on the treadmill (although this is necessary at times due to schedule or consistent bad weather). I ended up going on runs three different days that included running the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise (see photo below), running through deserted Chinatown and up Lombard Street, and running around picturesque AT&T Park – home of the San Francisco Giants. Not only was it great to continue the running momentum that I had started, it was also a great way to see the city and to connect in a new way with some of my fellow sports information directors from around the country.

Tip #5: Make sure your family is on board. Training for a half marathon requires a serious time commitment. As a husband and father of two girls ages 8 and 5 (photo below), I know that when I go for a run it is taking time out of my day that I can’t spend with my family. That’s why I’ve chosen to run in the morning before they wake up. However, by exercising, I also feel like I’m doing something that in the long run benefits my family because I am healthier. My wife has been a great support and encouragement in this process and again the inspiration of knowing that she successfully trained for and completed two half marathons while working full-time and being a great mom helps to push me to do my best. People do ask why we aren’t both training to run together in October and we just think it would be too hard to pull off that much training with two young kids. So, we’ll switch places again in the spring and she’ll train for her third half marathon.

Again, I don’t claim to be an expert by any means. In fact, I’m a newbie to all of this and would welcome any feedback. You also want to make sure to take care of yourself and rest on the days that your training program tells you to rest. My biggest fear in this process is an injury rearing its ugly head and wrecking all of my hard work.

Monday, July 12, 2010

San Francisco

Each summer, I pack up the family and take them with me to my annual sports information directors' national workshop (CoSIDA). The workshop moves around to different big cities and it's always a nice way for us to combine both work with a little bit of vacation. (I'll write more on the workshop aspect of my trip in another blog.)

This year's workshop was held in San Francisco and my wife and I were both really excited to return to a city that we first discovered and enjoyed 10 years ago before the kids started to arrive on the scene. With some familiarity for the city, it really helped us to zero in on what we wanted to see again or have our kids experience for the first time, and it also helped us with our packing since the average temperatures were going to be about 64 degrees while it was 95 degrees back in Ohio.

After two smooth Southwest Air flights to get us there, we immediately began to get settled into our hotel and the nearby surroundings. The next morning we picked up our CityPass (which I HIGHLY recommend for anyone who will be in town for a stay of a week or more). This allowed us unlimited access to the cable cars, the street cars, and the buses. It also included an hour-long boat ride under the Golden Gate Bridge and right up to Alcatraz. In addition, there were tickets to the aquarium and several other museums and art galleries. It was a great deal and allowed us to just spend money one time.

Over the course of the week, the four of us were able to see all the sights that we wanted to see. Carla and the girls took in a free circus in one of the parks one day while I was in meetings. They also enjoyed playing in another park near the hotel and riding on a carousel. We made several trips to Fisherman's Wharf that included visiting the sea lions on Pier 39 and also exploring the aquarium. We watched the fireworks on the 4th of July where our view included the Golden Gate Bridge to the left of us, the Bay Bridge to the right of us, and Alcatraz right in front of us. It's funny to look back at our pictures and see us all bundled up with coats due to the windy, cold temperatures on the bay. (The only other time I can remember being cold on the 4th of July was in 1997 when Carla and I went to Detroit to watch the Tigers play a doubleheader against Cal Ripken and the Orioles.)

Our week also included a trip to Oakland on the BART (subway) to watch the A's play the Yankees. I have to send a big thank you shoutout to Debbie Gallas in the A's PR department because she hooked us up with great seats. We got to see four web gem defensive plays that night as the Yankees won 3-1.

We finished our week with a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a great trip with so many great memories, especially for my girls. They were real troopers and probably walked 20 miles each over the course of the week and never complained. They are growing up.

One other fun part of the trip for me was being able to get in three different runs around the city. Along with my SID friends, Kelcey, Cindy, Jay, and Eric, we headed out at 6:00 a.m. one morning and took the bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is 1.7 miles across and it was really foggy the morning that we ran it - you couldn't see more than about 25 feet in front of you. It was really cool to run all the way across and back.

Eric and I also did another 4.5-mile run through Chinatown and UP Lombard Street on a different morning. It really was a great way to see the city. Then, I finished up the week with a run to AT&T Park (home of the Giants) and back by myself and then did it again with Kelcey and Cindy. It's one of my favorite baseball stadiums and I was disappointed that the Giants weren't in town the whole time we were there. Fortunately, Carla and I had seen a couple of games there on our previous trip.

I have to say that the Marriott Marquis, where we stayed, was probably the perfect hotel for us on this trip. The location was great with easy access to all the different modes of public transportation and also for the runs that I was able to do. However, even better than the location was the great staff that they had. It was really one big family working together to make sure that their guests had the best possible stay that they could have. I enjoyed watching Dan at the concierge desk energetically and professionally give the best directions and recommendations to visitors to help them have a great visit. Loren, the doorman, gave us great running directions and then I came to find out that he grew up across town in Gambier, Ohio. The food service staff was also outstanding and we had great conversations with Lisa and Richard as they served our meals and talked about how much they love their jobs. When you can find businesses with employees that like coming to work, you know they are doing things right. I made sure to share my compliments with Greg Nickelson, one of the night managers, before I left, but if you are in San Francisco for a stay I would recommend this hotel.

Well, it's really hard to condense one amazing week into one blog entry, but I've tried my best to do so. I didn't even get into all the amazing food we had, which I know is a shocker to those of you who know my passion for eating. I will say, though, that if you visit Pier 39 on Fisherman's Wharf you have to get a bag (or in my case a bucket) of Trish's fresh donuts. Wow! They were a perfect companion to watching the 4th of July fireworks. Just ask the 12 people who helped me devour them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Off and Running

Over the past four weeks, I have taken up running. With school out and all of our sporting events done for the summer, I don't have late-night reporting to worry about with my job as a sports information director for a few months. My initial thought was what better way to get my day off to a good start than by going for a run every now and then.

My wife, Carla (at left), has been the biggest inspiration for me when it comes to taking up running. Over the past two years, she has trained and run the past two Capital City Half Marathons (13.1 miles) all while working full-time and being the primary caretaker for our two girls since my hours are pretty crazy most of the time. She sacrificed a lot of what little free time she had with late night runs on the treadmill and early Saturday morning runs at the Kokosing Gap Trail.

Fortunately, my schedule has worked out both times on race day and I've been able to watch her run the Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus each of the past two springs. It's a big event with around 10,000 people taking part. If you have never gone to watch a half marathon, I encourage you to do it. It's inspiring to watch people of all ages and sizes push themselves to be better and to finish the race. For most of them, the race is just the culmination of a personal journey of much training and perseverance that has brought them to the starting line. Cheered on by a great crowd, they are able to reach their goal of crossing that finish line 13.1 miles later and for most the time is not even relevant. They did what they set out to do and what probably a lot of people thought they couldn't do.

After witnessing this twice and being so proud of Carla for doing it (especially the second time when it would have been easy to just say 'well, I did it once and that's that'), I am now contemplating running in the Columbus Half Marathon on October 17th. Since I have all summer to train without the pressure of games going on and since the race is on a Sunday and we don't have sporting events, there is really no good excuse for why I shouldn't do this.

So, on May 26th, I headed to the Kokosing Gap Trail for my first two-mile run. I didn't take an iPod and I really had no idea how to set a pace and just took off thinking that it would be no problem. By the time I got to the one-mile mark and was turning around to head back, I was thinking to myself 'what in the world have I gotten myself into'? I was able to finish and headed for home, but it definitely wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.

The next day, I came back to attempt two miles again. Once again, I was fine for the first mile. However, as I approached the half mile mark on the way back, I was ready to just walk the final 800 meters. I passed an older lady who was walking and said 'I think you've got the right idea'. She came back with 'well, you sure seemed to have a lot more energy yesterday.' Well, that was the kick in the pants that I needed to get back into a jog and finish the two miles without walking.

I only ran a total of three miles over the next two weeks as I debated whether this was something I really wanted to commit to doing or not. During this time, I came up with lots of excuses of why I was too busy or didn't need to do it. However, every time I voiced one to my good friend, Jay Stancil (who is the SID at Union College in Kentucky), he would tell me how busy he was, but that he still put in the time to run even if it meant getting up at 5:00 a.m. (He wants to come to Columbus to run in the half marathon in October as well as an early birthday present to himself.)

So, after two weeks of coming up with excuses only to have Jay shoot them all down, I headed back to the trail on June 12th with a new frame of mind. I also took my iPod along this time. I went into my run that day planning to do two miles, but kept pushing myself and ended up running to the two-mile mark instead. Before I knew it, I had run two miles out and two miles back and had four miles under my belt in a time that I was pretty pleased with. I went back the next day and ran three more miles before heading off to Cleveland to watch the Indians face rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals. It felt really good to have done seven miles in the span of two days.

I also have to say that running with an iPod really took my mind off the run and also helped me get into a better pace. My friend, Aaron Conrad (who is a distance running expert now after doing four half marathons in the span of four weeks earlier this spring), always puts together great playlists for his runs that help him do a lot of thinking while he's passing the time. Choosing the right songs for your runs can really help you get through it.

You never really know what songs will help motivate you or give you things to think about as you listen to the words during your run. After taking Monday off, I headed out on Tuesday planning to do two or three miles. The run didn't start very well as my iPod got stuck on the first song that came on - "When I See You Smile" by Bad English. (Yes, I enjoy hair bands from the '80s.) Well, while I like that song, I really didn't want to listen to it over and over again, so I started messing with the iPod while I was running. I also didn't want to stop because once I start it's a race with myself to see how fast I can finish.

Before I knew it, I had messed with the iPod for half a mile and still couldn't get it off the song. However, my legs were feeling great so I decided to really push myself and just bite the bullet and become really familiar with that one song. As I listened to the words over and over again, I realized that they applied to me as a husband and father. Besides my faith, there is nothing more important to me than my wife and girls (Ashley and Kylie). They are what gets me through tough times and their love and smiles are something that genuinely warms my heart and lifts my spirits.

Taking up running has been something that I'm doing to not only get into better shape, but also to become more disciplined in what I do with my free time. For the first time in over 20 years, I'm not playing church softball this summer. While that didn't take up tons of my time (except for all the field maintenance that I would do), it did keep us from planning some family things in the summer when I had games. We've already been able to do some things like our recent trip to D.C. because I'm not playing softball. Getting up to run early in the morning is also a great way for me to get my day started instead of just laying in bed until I feel like I should finally drag myself out and do something productive.

The running bug has biten me pretty good now. After taking the morning off yesterday because I knew that I would need to spend an hour and a half push mowing my yard after work, I went and ran a mile on the trail before getting cleaned up just because it was too nice of a day to miss out on. (I will say that I like the morning runs better, though, because there are a lot less people on the trail then to have to manuever around.)

I got another five-mile run in this morning without incident from the iPod. It was a great morning and got my day off to a great start. I was feeling so good that I was even able to sprint the final quarter of a mile to finish as strong as I have since I started this process.

Well, I'm still a long ways from both 13.1 miles and the October 17th race, but I'm getting closer with each stride. Through the encouragement of my family, friends like Jay and Aaron, and the regulars on the Kokosing Gap Trail around 7:00 a.m. each morning, I'll get there. I also need to put my money where my mouth is and sign up for the race because then it will be official. I plan to do that after a family vacation in July.

If you have any running tips or want to mutually encourage each other with an upcoming race, I would look forward to hearing from you. It's a journey and it's more fun with more people on it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

48 Hours in D.C.

Last weekend, my family and I decided to spontaneously take a trip to Washington D.C. for the weekend and Twitter played a big part in making it happen. Here's how this memorable whirlwind experience all came to be.

A month or so back, I jokingly mentioned to one of my Twitter friends, Niki Murray, who works in season ticket sales for the Washington Nationals, that she should hook me up with some tickets for a game at Nationals Park when the Cincinnati Reds made the trip to our nation's capital the first weekend in June. She had responded at the time and encouraged me to make plans to do just that.

Well, early last week, I decided to see if that ticket offer was still good. I figured that if I got free or inexpensive tickets to a pair of games that it would be worth my time to make the trip, knock off one of the three remaining cities where Carla and I haven't seen a baseball game over the past 14 years, and give my girls their first opportunity to see all the monuments and other sights in D.C.

Niki assured me that she would have tickets waiting for me at will call when we arrived for the game on Saturday night. Then, I cashed in most of my Marriott Reward points by booking a free two-night stay in a very nice Courtyard by Marriott that was located in Navy Yard, about two blocks away from the baseball stadium.

So, we packed up the car and made what turned out to be about a seven-hour drive to D.C. as soon as our oldest daughter, Ashley, got out of school on Friday. A line of storms followed us to the north most of the trip, but we had pretty smooth sailing with just one stop. We rolled into D.C. around midnight. I had joked with my wife, Carla, that we should just go see all the monuments that night since the weather was questionable for Saturday. Well, after missing one of our turns, we ended up seeing all the monuments as we got stuck in the loop much like in National Lampoon's European Vacation before we were finally able to get our bearings and find the hotel. We quickly got checked in and situated and went to sleep so that we could be ready for the next day.

Saturday morning rolled around and everyone got up eager with anticipation to do some exploring in downtown D.C. before going to the baseball game that night. Our hotel was conveniently located about half a block from a Metro station and we quickly purchased an all-day pass for unlimited access to the great D.C. subway. (Quick note: The D.C. Metro is awesome and definitely the way to get around town!) Two stops later, we popped up right in the middle of downtown and we were ready to start walking. We were on Pennsylvania Avenue, so we decided that our first stop might as well be the White House so away we went.

After walking between the White House and the Washington Monument, we headed back to the subway with a quick stop for lunch at one of our new favorite places, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, along the way. It was a welcome break to sit down in the air conditioning for a short break on the hot day.

With our bellies full, we headed off to find the Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln is Ashley's favorite president and she was looking forward to this stop. We spent quite awhile there and then walked around the reflection pond to the Washington Monument where we also saw the Jefferson Memorial from a distance. From there, we walked past the Smithsonian and then boarded the Metro for the ride back to the hotel. A nice swim in the hotel pool later and we were all refreshed and ready to head to Nationals Park for some baseball.

Heading into the weekend, Washington D.C. was one of only three cities (along with Boston and Miami) that Carla and I had not seen a Major League Baseball game in, so we were really excited to see the ballpark. Add in the fact that the Reds were in town and we couldn't wait for the first pitch to be thrown. My friend, Niki, took great care of us with field level seats just up from first base and we got set to watch a good pitchers' duel between Reds' Rookie of the Year front runner Mike Leake (5-0) and Luis Atilano (5-2) with Leake coming out on top and collecting two hits as well as the Reds won 5-1. We also saw a home plate collision, two ejections, and I caught a ball in batting practice for Ashley. All in all, a very good day.

On Sunday, we woke up and took advantage of the very good extensive all-you-can eat breakfast bar at the Courtyard by Marriott that was a great deal for the price. After packing up the car, we headed to the ballpark again. The girls each got a batting helmet which they then got signed by Jamie Burke, one of the Nationals' players. There was no batting practice due to an on-the-field event, but I was still able to talk to Drew Storen, a first round pick of the Nationals in 2009, for a few minutes for the second straight day and later he would throw me a ball up from the bullpen. Two games, two balls...not too shabby. Drew's a good guy just starting his career and you can follow him on Twitter at @DrewStoren. I would also like to say a big thanks to my friend, Elizabeth McGraw, for helping to get us together.

The Reds rallied to win the game on Sunday 5-4 in 10 innings thanks in part to a pinch-hit, two-run homer by Scott Rolen in the 9th inning that landed a section away from me as we watched the ninth inning from leftfield so we could get on the road as soon as the game ended. So, with two wins and lots of memories from the whirlwind trip, we headed for home.

On the way home, we made a slight detour to see one of my high school friends, April Boulton Amberman, and her family in Olney, Md. We had a great visit with her family and then journeyed the rest of the way home. We were able to make it all the way on one stop as the girls were great. The only real problem on the way home came when we were just 27 miles from home and had to wait for 40 minutes on a train to go back and forth and back and forth and.....well, you get the picture. We finally got back to Mount Vernon at 2:00 a.m.

D.C. is a great place to visit and Nationals Park was a fun place to watch a game. There is really not a bad seat in the place, and with friendly people like Niki making the visit fun it's a must-see for every baseball fan. I can't wait to see what adventure we decide to embark on next time. If you've got a suggestion, let me know and you might be part of the next adventure, too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Visit to the Tribe Social Deck

In the continuing saga of how Twitter and Facebook has provided me with some interesting experiences, the latest example happened on Friday night at Progressive Field - home of the Cleveland Indians.

After being gone for two weeks with the Mount Vernon Nazarene University baseball team on the Cougars' postseason run all the way to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round, it was time for a fun family activity. My wife, Carla, and daughters Ashley and Kylie loaded up in the van after work and we headed to Cleveland even though it was already raining in Mount Vernon and the forecast did not look all that great for Cleveland for the rest of the evening. I wasn't sure that we would get the game in, but everyone wanted to go and I figured we would find something fun to do regardless.

As we got within a few miles of the stadium, my cell phone rang. It was Rob Campbell from the Indians' PR department. Rob is a recent grad and former baseball player from Northwestern who landed his job with the Indians after seeing a posting by Digital Royalty's Amy Martin. Among other things, Rob is responsible for the Indians' @tribetalk Twitter account as well as for filling the seats in the Indians' Social Deck.

As I talked to Rob on the phone, he informed me that due to some cancellations by other people that there would be room for not only me but my whole family to sit in the special section adjacent to the bleachers on the leftfield home run porch. After making sure that he knew what he might be in for with an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old in the section, he gratiously agreed to meet us at the media gate to get us in.

We arrived and were met right away by Rob, who took us to our seats. The girls were excited to see that we were in the front row and that not only could we watch the game live, but that there was a TV right in front of us too where we could catch replays. The Social Deck consists of two rows of five seats each with wireless internet access. After a quick trip to the souvenir stand to pick up an Indians'-themed stuffed monkey that they each had to have, we settled in for an exciting interleague battle between intra-state rivals.

As the game went on, it was also fun to meet the other people in the Social Deck. There was Terry from Indians Prospect Insider and his nephew, Joe, and also Lisa (@lzone) and Kelly (@kmcglumphy) - two Cleveland area residents and PR pros. We all enjoyed the game including a beautiful rainbow mid-way through. In the eighth inning with the rain coming down a little harder, we moved in behind home plate under the overhang to seats that Rob had secured for us just in case of inclement weather and we finished the game there.

Once the game was over, we had one last highlight when Rob took all of us down on the field and then into the visitor's dugout to watch the postgame fireworks show. We each had a photo taken on the field by an Indians' photographer to commemorate the evening and then a great fireworks show ensued. One of the pictures that Rob took of the evening ended up getting retweeted by the MLB twitter account (@MLB) and my family was famous. :)

As we headed home and even now as I reflect back on the evening, I know that my family was able to have a night that not all that many people get to experience. My daughters have told people non-stop about the game and experience and they think that Rob is their new best friend because he's the kind of guy that once you meet you feel like you've known him forever. We also had numerous people following the game through us on both Twitter and Facebook and that's exactly what the Social Deck is set up to do. (You can check out all of our photos from the night here.)

Rob took great care of us and is really good at what he does. He is working hard to connect Tribe fans and generate as much excitement as possible about a team that to put it bluntly is struggling out of the gate this year. Rob and the rest of the PR and marketing staff of the Indians have a tough job because in today's economy it is really hard to get people to come out to games when the product on the field may not be performing as well as the fans would like. And, we all know that the Indians will never be able to spend money on players the way that teams like the Yankees do.

However, one thing that Rob and his counterparts have going for them is the fact that Tribe fans are some of the most loyal supporters out there. Yes, they want their team to win on the field. But, year after year, they continue to support the team - hoping that this will be THE season. And, through efforts like the Social Deck, the Indians are on the cutting edge in all of Major Leage Baseball at finding ways to connect the fans with their team. Now, here's hoping that the on-the-field product will continue to improve to match the hard work and promotional efforts of people like Rob.

To read Terry's take on the experience on his site, check out his story.

If you would like more information about the Indians Social Deck, follow @tribetalk on Twitter and drop Rob a note.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Amazing Race 2 - Tennessee Edition

Well, this week officially ended up being the final week of the Mount Vernon Nazarene University sports season as the baseball team was eliminated in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round in Cleveland, Tenn. However, I was able to make the most of the team's postseason run and eight-hour roadtrip one way with my traveling buddy, Joe Rinehart, who called all the action with me on the radio.

First, I must say that this year's MVNU baseball team was special. No, it wasn't the most talented team to ever take the field in the program's illustrious history. However, it may have been the team that was the closest on and off the field. I have the opportunity each year to travel with the team on its spring trip to Florida, and 12 days on the road really let you get to know them. Then, the past two weeks I've been with them on the road at the American Mideast Conference Tournament and now in Tennessee. They are a group of guys that were very welcoming to me and to all their teammates. That's probably what helped them come together for a special ending to a season that was an up-and-down adventure all year. Congratulations, Cougars!

OK, and now back to our roadtrip. Some of you who have followed me on Facebook for awhile now remember that Ryan Halley and I did what we called Amazing Race - Branson edition when we drove to the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship in March of 2009. We let my Facebook friends give us places to stop along the way on our 12-hour trip and it really made it a lot of fun. So, I decided to revive that idea for this week's trip to Tennessee and Joe was a willing participant.

The trip started off with an uneventful drive to Cincinnati where we made our first stop at the home of MVNU alums Paul and Joy Helton. Joy had gratiously made us fresh cookies and left them on the porch for us along with cold milk since they had to leave to go to the Reds' game before we arrived. It was a welcome snack after nearly three hours on the road.

We headed out from there into Kentucky and after a dinner break ran into a bunch of rain which made the drive pretty miserable. We weren't able to stop to see many sights although we did get a picture of a giant dragon at a fireworks store. We rolled into our hotel at about 1:00 a.m. - just barely getting off the highway because it was blocked off past our exit for a bomb scare.

While in Cleveland, Tenn., we were treated to great southern hospitality by the Lee University staff led by George Starr, the sports information director. Joe and I had fun calling three games on the radio as the team went 1-2 and interactions with fans and parents on the school's Facebook fan page was a lot of fun. We set an all-time high for visits and interactions during those three games. It was also fun to spend some time with my good friend, Eric Smith, the Taylor (Ind.) SID, although I'm afraid he might not speak to me for awhile after MVNU thumped the Trojans 21-9.

Through the power of Twitter and the close-knit group that is the SID family, we met up with Owen Seaton from UT-Chattanooga one of the nights for dinner. I've known Owen for awhile now, and this guy was generous enough to treat us to a great dinner over which we all shared a bunch of funny broadcast stories in addition to listening to Joe and Owen talk shop about the future of the MVNU video department possibilities. It was a fun evening.

Well, after the Cougars were eliminated on Wednesday, we headed out on Thursday morning for home. As we neared Knoxville, we decided to see a few of the sights that people had asked us to stop at. We saw the Sunsphere and the world's largest Rubik's Cube, which had both first appeared in 1982 for the World's Fair in Knoxville which Joe had ironically attended. We were so close to the University of Tennessee that I decided to ask my online friends if anyone had connections to get us into Neyland Stadium. Within a few minutes, Jay Stancil called me and had set up a visit thanks to Drew Rutherford and Tom Satkowiak. We got a tour of the field, the media room, and the spacious UT locker room. It was very cool.

After a quick stop at the UT bookstore to see the sea of orange apparrel, we head back on I-75 north. Pretty soon, we came to Corbin, Ky. - the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken. We met Jay there and took some photos and then headed to Sonic for lunch. It was great to visit with Jay, who is this year's Ike Pearson Award recipient as the NAIA Outstanding Sports Information Director of the Year.

After lunch, we continue home with only a stop in Lexington, Ky. to see Rupp Arena and an impromptu filming of Cops. We also listened to the Reds' meltdown versus the Braves when they gave up seven runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to blow a 9-3 lead. However, we quickly recovered as Joe went into character as either 'Danny Carpenter' or 'Vernon Knox' to make me laugh. Some of this was caught on webcam, but some of the funniest stuff wasn't filmed because I was laughing so hard that I couldn't hit the button to start it.

Well, needless to say, we enjoyed our trip and made some memories. We're thankful for those of you who contributed suggestions or met us along the way and to the rest of you who tolerated our silliness. It was a fun time and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next Amazing Race will take us. Who wants to go along for the ride?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sportsmanship...You Make the Call

This morning, I got a call from my cousin, Robert, asking if I had heard the story about the NAIA golfer who purposely lost on a playoff hole after already qualifying for the NAIA National Championship so that a golfer from another team could make the tournament in his senior year. At that point, I had not, so when we hung up I quickly researched it. This article on ESPN.com presents the facts and I encourage you to read it before proceeding with this blog.

Sportsmanship as defined by Webster is: (noun) : conduct (as fairness, respect for one's opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.

After reading that article, listening to the audio file with comments from Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic and other ESPN analysts, and checking out a couple of blogs with opinions on both sides of the debate, I decided that I was going to post my thoughts. I'll say up front that this blog could go on and on, but I would most like to hear the comments of others. I am also a big fan of true sportsmanship stories such as this story almost exactly two years ago to the date involving the softball teams of Western Oregon and Central Washington.

First, I don't want to be too critical of St. Francis' Grant Whybark for his attempt at sportsmanship. The sports world needs feel-good stories and the NAIA's mantra is Champions of Character. I just think that if Whybark truly felt like this was something he needed to do, he could have gone about it in a much more low-key way that wouldn't call attention to himself. He is obviously a skilled golfer as he shot a one-over-par 145 over 36 holes in the conference tournament to force the extra hole, so he could have just missed a long putt during the playoff without anyone really noticing it. However, by blatantly blasting a ball 40 yards out of bounds and making sure that he told everyone who would listen about his intentions, he decided to draw attention to himself which is really not what good sportsmanship is all about. It is also a little arrogant to think that he wouldn't lose the playoff hole to his worthy opponent playing it straight up. One other question...would Whybark have done the same thing if he had anything to lose? I think we all know the answer to that one.

The person that I really feel for is Olivet Nazarene's Seth Doran. Obviously a well-liked player by his conference peers, Doran was having a great tournament of his own as he matched Whybark hole-for-hole to finish with an identical one-over-par 145 after 36 holes. While I am sure that Doran is excited to make the trip to the NAIA National Championship at nearby TPC at Deere Park in Silvis, Ill., site of the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, I am guessing that the true competitor in him wishes that Whybark had a mulligan on the hole and the two of them could play it out on the up-and-up. Personally, I probably would have pounded my tee shot into the woods (although it typically goes there without me trying) if I was Doran as I would rather have won the berth on my own merit.

One other thing...the sport of golf is one of integrity - possibly more so than any other sport. It really is about what you do when no one else is looking. Golfers are taught to self-report even the smallest and most obscure of errors that sometimes cost them championships and thousands of dollars just as it recently did Brian Davis. However, it is that integrity that draws people to the sport. While we all like to see people doing things for others, the goal in golf is to shoot the lowest possible score within the realm of the rules. To try to do otherwise really goes against the very nature and integrity of the game. It would be better to withdraw than to purposely hit bad shots.

Finally, the true winner in all of this is the NAIA and the NAIA National Championship that will take place on May 18-21. Typically, this tournament doesn't draw anywhere near the coverage or media curiousity that the NAIA's highly-successful 32-team, one-site basketball national tournaments or even the NAIA World Series in baseball draw. However, I would be really surprised if there are not TV cameras there when Whybark and Doran tee off in 12 days. The best thing for the NAIA to do in order for it not to be a distraction to the other golfers who aren't used to this kind of coverage would be to pair the two of them together and watch the story continue.

I welcome your thoughts on this subject. Was this just good sportsmanship by Whybark or did he dishonor the game? How would you have handled the situation if you were Whybark or Doran for that matter? What ending would you like to see when the two compete at the NAIA National Championship? Thanks for taking the time to tee it up with me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

And the Winner is.......

Carla Parsons! Yes, my wife successfully defeated all 52 challengers to win the inaugural Six Degrees of MVNUSID bracket contest. While it is no shock to me that she won since she has now beaten me in 11 of the past 18 years, it has been very funny to watch all of my other friends and so-called experts (numerous sports information directors and other sports PR people, a sportswriter from a major newspaper, and a TV anchor) fall by the wayside to her picks this year as well.

Carla finished with a total of 1,230 points as she correctly picked Duke to win the 2010 national championship. She has been a fan of the Blue Devils for a long time now, and that loyalty paid off for her in this year's contest. One final look at her bracket (below) shows why she was able to finish in the top 3.4% of ESPN's contest as she finished 21,043rd out of 4.8 million brackets that were posted this year.

I also want to give a special shoutout to Mike Schaffer and Toby Boyce, who finished second and third with 1,120 points and 1,060 points respectively as they also both correctly picked Duke to cut down the nets in Indianapolis.

Well, if you are like me, you really enjoyed this year's tournament. From the exciting first round that included a bunch of upsets to Butler's near-miss at the buzzer in a classic national championship game between a David and a Goliath, I am hard-pressed to remember a tournament that I enjoyed more from start to finish. I also think that a large part of that enjoyment came through interacting with all of you through social media and the bracket contest, which again fits with the premise of this blog that we are all connected. It's sad to think that next year's event may get watered down with the expansion to a 96-team format, but I'm going to chose to remember this year for what it was and not fret over another bad decision by the NCAA just yet.

Thanks again for participating. I'm sorry that I don't have video of Carla's happy dance when she locked up her win, but I may be able to sneak a picture of her enjoying her winning dinner tonight before we go to the Daughtry concert in Columbus.