Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teg’s Olympic Journal #1: Still Sharpening

Matt celebrates just after making the Olympic team.Replacing light fixtures, painting doors/walls, moving furniture, cleaning—ah, the joys of selling a house. Since I got back from Stockholm, Michelle and I have been working hard to get the house ready. Not the ideal time, but it was important that we get the house up and sold so the transition to Portland in the fall is easier.

With all that work I have not even had a chance to really reflect on the race at Stockholm, so here it is. I was happy with the race overall! My only problem is that I am having a hard time getting comfortable in the middle of the race and just going with the flow. I feel like I am pressing the entire race, and that is never going to lead to fast times. Luckily the race was on the slow side and I was able to have some pop left in my legs at the end. With 500m to go, Mottram dropped the hammer and never looked back. To be honest I was not really paying attention to just one person in the race at that time, because I thought if anyone made a move the pack would go with it. Unfortunately, Mottram put close to 2 seconds on us in just 200m. With 350m left I was ready to go but as I started to move to the outside, I noticed Songok was already on my shoulder, and I was boxed in. It stayed that way until 70m to go, and finally a gap opened and I was able to unleash. I really moved well in the last 100 and that made me very happy with the race overall.

When I talked with Jerry about the race, he reminded me of the sharpening work that is still to come. I never really thought about it, but up to this point we have done everything at 61-62 pace, and that makes it really hard to settle into a race. Now over the next couple of weeks adding in a bunch of mile race pace work should make it easier to settle in to the slower races. I mean, if I do a bunch of repeats at 56-57 pace, and I need to race a 62 pace it should feel easier. At least in my head it does!

I am confident that our timing leading up to the Games is going to be perfect. I will be providing regular updates over the next few weeks, so check back and leave me some comments.

Speaking of which, answers to some earlier comments:

Does your wife ever travel with you to your meets overseas? Do you ever take a full day off of running or do cross training? What would be your ideal in how often you’d be running a race during the middle of a season?

Much to Michelle’s displeasure, she does not get to travel with me overseas. She was busy with grad school and now she is finishing up her dietetic internship, so that limits her ability to travel. She does, however, travel to some of the domestic events. And she will be going to Beijing, which is awesome.

I do take full days off, and they are not scheduled. I just read my body and take them when I need them. I do not do anything training related on those days.

I always want to race as often as possible in the summer. I do realize, though, that the races take a lot out of us and recovery is important. At least once a week for shorter races and every 10-14 days for 5Ks would be awesome.

I was curious as to where you train while in Europe. I mean, do you just go run on the streets around where you are staying when you are not on the track, or do you try to find trails when possible? When you are doing track work, are you able to use the track you will be racing on, or do you find other tracks in the area?

We usually decide in the spring where our base is going to be for the summer. I have been in Berlin, Teddington (London) and Hulst (Holland) in the past, and all have been great. We usually are able to find soft surfaces, which is always nice. At the meets it depends on the city—usually there are trails to run, but everyone once in a while it is city streets. Luckily we are only running 5 miles most days. The meet always provides a practice track to do stuff on, and we are never allowed to go on the competition track before the meet.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kenya’s Roads: More Hindrance than Help

A typical paved Kenyan road.Here’s the latest dispatch from Peter Vigneron, in Kenya on behalf of the KIMbia Foundation.

There is a tremendously important article in the May/June issue of The Boston Review by the Berkley development economist Ted Miguel. In a meditation on Africa’s encouraging growth rate since 2000, Miguel argues that, for the first time in 30 years, African economies appear to have broken free of stagnant or even regressive growth rates. In the development world, this is big news, and Miguel’s article is one part of a trenchant discussion among economists who are trying to sort out why Africa is beginning, finally, to recover.

But the article caught my eye for another reason. Miguel opened with a description of Busia, a border town in western Kenya that has begun to cash in on trade between Kenya and neighboring Uganda. Busia now has ATMs, car rental businesses, supermarkets and, critically, Miguel writes, “the road from Kisumu, the economic hub of the region and Kenya’s third largest city, to Busia ha[s] become a paved, two-lane highway all the way to the border.”

Miguel’s is a remarkable observation, both in that a major road in Kenya is today well paved, and that in Kenya, the jewel of East Africa, something so basic as a proper highway is cause for celebration. And it is.

The Kisumu-Busia road is one of a few good highways in Kenya. Travelers headed from Nakuru to Kabarnet also will not find potholes, though they may similarly fail to encounter any other cars—the route conveniently links two homes of former Kenyan dictator Daniel Arap Moi, and is ignored by most commercial and even passenger vehicles. Besides Kisumu-Busia and Nakuru-Kabarnet, there are some other good stretches of road, but they’re difficult to find and don’t often last more than 10 or 15 miles. More typical is the road north from Nairobi, the main artery bringing goods from the capital to the cities of Rift Valley Province and beyond to Uganda, which is disastrous. In some stretches, drivers avoid the road itself and follow dirt tracks alongside the potholed and crumbling pavement.

Good roads are good for trade, but Busia’s new road was likely a product of economic growth rather than a cause. I’m told that the smooth, wide roads in Narok District, home to the Masai Mara game reserve, are funded by tourist dollars, and, as Miguel writes, Busia is clearly benefiting from the successes of Kenyan and Ugandan interdependence. But in other regions, the majority of regions, the cost of bad roads to Kenyan society is staggering. Driving 20 miles from Eldoret to Iten takes 45 minutes, a major expense with gas in Kenya over $7 a gallon. Flat tires are commonplace. Suspension systems cannot possibly last—in working condition—more than a few thousand miles. These are major costs to a developing economy, and frustrating and unnecessary costs.

Yet the the real price of Kenya’s bad roads is paid in human lives, not in fuel or vehicle repairs. Each year thousands of Kenyans die in traffic accidents (the government reports around 3,000 deaths annually, but the World Health Organization assumes significant underreporting in most developing nations, and presumably Kenya too) and traffic fatalities occur, per registered vehicle, at a rate 20 times that of the United States. Pedestrian deaths account for nearly half of all fatalities; in the United States the figure is closer to 12 percent.

Driving in Kenya is terrifying. Even the best roads are too narrow, and all are trafficked as heavily by pedestrians and cyclists as they are by cars. The safety features of American roads—stop lights, speed limits, lane marking, warning signs, traffic enforcement—which are almost banal in their ubiquity, are nearly absent in Kenya. Because transit takes so long, when road conditions are good, drivers proceed at wildly excessive speeds. Since March, I have witnessed or heard first person accounts of 4 fatal accidents. Weekly I read about a major crash in The Standard or The Nation—typically when an overloaded matatu, or taxi, has suffered a flat tire and careened into oncoming traffic and killed five or six or 10 people. On two occasions I have seen the charred remnants of tanker trucks sitting forlorn and forgotten in deep ravines by the side of major roads; in May I was a passenger when the vehicle I was traveling in hit a pedestrian (at low speed).

The shell of an abandoned truck.It may seem strange to write about car crashes in a country battling AIDS, hunger, illiteracy. But these problems are less visible to prying eyes, and it may be that the governmental neglect of transportation infrastructure is in fact representative of its neglect of the entire spectrum of social problems affecting millions of Kenyans each year. In 2003, President Mwai Kibaki declared his willingness to tackle the roads question and limit the corruption that allows government officials and contractors to pocket money and leave roads in disrepair. If Kibaki was sincere, his initiative has been slow in coming. Worse, it is almost as if, by maintaining his personal highway, former President Moi is publicly acknowledging the billions of dollars he looted while in office, or the members of Parliament, riding in their Mercedes and Land Rovers, are acknowledging that driving safely in Kenya requires extraordinary vehicles. Few seem concerned that government serves itself first and Kenya last.

I wonder if there is another dimension to the issue of roads, however. At the intersection of traditional Kenya—small farms, big families, village culture—and the new, rapidly growing Kenya—of satellite television, Lexus SUVs, and high-rise office buildings—we find that here the value of human life has not yet synced with the swiftness by which a speeding car erases a person from the earth. Or, perhaps, at the margins, where the modern car and its modern driver encounters those Kenyans still hovering within a society that has changed so little in hundreds of years, there is resentment for the old ways, perhaps even hatred. When a driver clips a cyclist at 70 miles an hour, or swerves too wide around a pothole and catches the drunkard who didn’t jump quite quickly enough, maybe he is unconsciously doing his part to bring Kenya into the 21st century.

These are uncomfortable ideas. They do not seem in line with the Kenyan people I know, who are among the most gracious and caring individuals I have ever chanced to meet. But I cannot decide what to think. It is inconceivable to me that the drivers of these modern cars have yet internalized the corresponding appreciation of human life. If they had, they would have slowed down.

In a recent New York Times Magazine interview, former Bogota, Colombia mayor Enrique Peñalosa said that when a city planner or a politician builds a good sidewalk, he or she is “constructing democracy,” because in developing nations most people do not drive. I imagine that the relationship is slightly different—maybe sidewalks are themselves signs that democracy has taken hold, that citizens can demand a safe place to walk and find that their leaders are listening, or that an effort is made to safeguard life even if it has never been safeguarded before. This was supposed to be the role of government—to serve people.

Africa, or at least Kenya, is developing, and I agree with the unstated premise of Dr. Miguel’s piece, that we in the West should want Africa to develop. It just seems that within this bizarre form of accelerated growth—where many Kenyans sleep on dirt floors and under grass roofs, and other Kenyans fly to Europe for medical care—some essential priority has been lost in the scramble.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nelson and Quigley Run Personal Bests in London

Tim Nelson at the 2008 Olympic Trials. Photo courtesy eliterunning.com.Tim Nelson and Sean Quigeley ran personal bests for 3,000m at today’s Grand Prix meet in London. Tim ran 7:48.87, and Sean was close behind in 7:50.02.

Tim and Sean laid off the opening pace of the front pack and move up nicely at the end, with Tim finishing first among the members of the chase pack. He was 7th overall, which we’re mentioning partly so that we can point out that 8th overall with Britain’s Scot Overall. Sean was 9th.

Results are here.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Cat Whisperer Comes to Manhattan

Richard Kiplagat and Fasil Bizuneh are among the elite field in Sunday’s NYC Half Marathon. Although he might not have the fastest half marathon personal best of the field, surely Richard will be the leading cat expert among the top finishers.

Video thumbnail. Click to play

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Teg 4th in Stockholm: 7:40.75

Matt Tegenkamp finished 4th in the 3,000m at today’s DN Galan meet in Stockholm, Sweden. Matt ran 7:40.75 behind Craig Mottram (7:37.73), Isaac Songok (7:38.97) and Daham Najim Bashir (7:39.45). (When he ran for Kenya instead of Qatar, Bashir was known as David Nyaga.)

As he describes below, Matt will now return home for almost two weeks before leaving for Beijing.

Results are here.

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