Saturday, February 7, 2009

Viva La Lucha!


Tim continues to lob great running discourse our way, which is only enhanced when he's running! Recently he was talking about the runner's perception of his own limits, which can be negatively impacted by a little experience with gadgetry. We all know how that works, glancing down at the watch, "ok, so this is 7:00. . . and this is 6:45, nice, not bad, but can I hold that, oh, look now, I'm at 6:30, wow, check me out!" So, the watch is telling us this is what we're doing and we're naturally logging that feeling with that number and blah blah blah. In short, Tim is saying to his athlete (and any of us listening), put down the watch, back away from the HRM (btw, this is different Tim from the one who sent me on my BASE way last year, HRM strapped tightly to my bosom), and just run. In fact, I want you to hit these paces. In effect, we probably can hit numbers we never thought possible if most of our running has been guided by numbers.

So, is that how we become the animal that unleashes its fury in its running shoes? All I know is what happens when the competitive juices start to bubble, when the whistle blows and it's on. Coming from a team sport that used a ball, there really was that us (me) against them (you) mentality at work, always. It was always a battle of wills and skills. In fact, even though soccer is very much an endurance sport, I generally worked on my skills much more than my endurance unless you count the year before my freshman year in college when I worked HARD all summer, running as much as anything.

I think if we had to say, even with running, the sport comes down to wills and skills. The will includes endurance, the skills includes the various training methods, work-outs, etc and of course they overlap. My core exercises are becoming part of my skills but the irony is that I worked so hard in my sport on my skills, endurance being easy to come by and here I am loving to a fault the endurance training, but I'm afraid I've neglected some skills (put down the sandwich and give me 50!).

Anyways, I'm a big tennis fan. Always have been. My mom and I used to watch a lot of tennis. If you missed those great Borg v. McEnroe matches, Conners, Edberg, Lendl, etc., you missed a lot of drama and athleticism. Wills and skills.

I mentioned last week in a post how I was staying up late to watch the Australian Open tennis tournament. Great theater. I was running with JW and Tom on Sunday am and the Nadal v. Federer final started live at 12:30am. I kinda wanted to stay-up and watch it, but I kinda didn't. No, not because I supposed to get-up at 6:00am to run a beastly trail. I had a bad feeling about the match. I like Federer. I like some dynasties. They're fun. If I meet someone and they say they ALWAYS root for the underdog, they're not a sports fan. That is one lame cliche, which I think they use because they think people will think that's cool, okay you're a sports fan. I say BS. You don't know enough about the game to know what's going on, what's at stake. And some dynasties are cool. Granted some aren't. But I move on. I have watched a lot of tennis over the last year, enough to know that Nadal has Federer's number. Nadal had just played a grueling 5+ hour semi final and had only 48 hours to recover for the final against the (supposed) best hard court player in the last 20 years (Federer's semi lasted about 2 hours and he'd been off already a few days). So be it. I knew Nadal would be okay. First of all, he's 22. Secondly, he's an animal. He's always had the will. He's never lost at Roland Garros, where they play the French Open. Never. He's that typical great clay court player, characteristically able to run everything down, scurry around and frustrate the more graceful hard/grass court folk. Typical Spaniard. But he's worked hard. He beat Federer at Wimbledon, ending Roger's streak there. Nadal then won Oly gold in China. Now he's won on the hard court (though not as fast as the U.S. Open, it's hard court). He's got the skill, now. I clarified a few of my thoughts on the subject in a comment on The Science of Sport blog. One of the authors there had a pretty lengthy take on the match, among other things - GREAT BLOG. You can read his post here. Here's my response:

Matt said...

"I have to complicate (or simplify) your take on Federer. Last year it's pretty clear that Federer was feeling the affects of mono (I believe that's what he had), so the Djokivic win at the Aus. Open was not so much a case of him surpassing Federer, but of him certainly playing well and Federer not having his A game. Granted the Serb and perhaps Murray represent new blood on the list of men's "contenders."

However, if Nadal wasn't playing right now, Federer would have his take on several more majors - he'd reach 20 most likely. Murray and the Serb are good (potentially great) but DO NOT have the game to consistently beat Federer in a grand slam final. Federer has the mental edge against those guys. And the Serb has some issues, certainly (family, health, etc).

The 2009 Aus. Open final was historical in that it determined who is the best today and most likely Federer's place in the pantheon. He is not the greatest. He's not even the best now (Brad Gilbert actually said that at some point during the coverage). Nadal has brought his game up to speed with the hard court. That's clear. Sure he's at a disadvantage (hitting 10+ feet behind the baseline), but he's done it. He now has the chops to play with anyone. But, he has the mental make-up to beat anyone. One of the best points someone made (BGilbert I think again) about Nadal is that he "doesn't know the score" while he plays. What that means is that he is simply grinding out another point. He doesn't quit. That can be very tough on an opponent mentally, and since Nadal has the edge physically against anyone he plays, the combination is brutal.

That's where Federer is in trouble. His brilliance on the court usually produces some level of concession from his opponent. But not Nadal. And now, Nadal is just as brilliant tennis-wise.

If Nadal can stay healthy, he will go down as the greatest.

Remember, he's 22 years old.

But he's tough on himself, too."

Now, I put this in here to share that point that Brad Gilbert made about Rafa Nadal. If you've ever watched him play tennis, especially in the last year, you'll note he's sick. Sampras recently referred to him as an animal. But Gilbert describing his play as one who "doesn't know the score" is pretty scary, and I think Gilbert is on to something. Nadal could be down 0-40 in a game, down a break in the set and it's not over. Very few players have those kinds of testicles/tunnel vision, etc. He is so in the moment, trying to win the next point (regardless of the context), that you have to literally drive a nail through the coffin. Actually 10 nails.

In a way, there's something kinda mindless about it. It's so competitive it's frightening. Federer actually cried on the podium after the match.

Whatever you want to make of that, I say he knows. Here's a guy about to become the all time grand slam winners, surpassing Sampras (he needs one to tie, two to become "the greatest"), but he knows. It's over. Of course, Nadal's sportsmanships is about as brilliant as his canibalism. He's so soft-spoken, such a gentleman. I want my kid to be the next Rafa Nadal.

So, back to running. Put down the gadgetry and go out there and run. Sure, we need the skills and the gadgetry helps us build those skills, recover, stay on program, etc. But when it's time, it's time. I think that's why we all respect JW so much. He's an animal. He's like Nadal on the trail. What did he make-up on the run at Worlds? 2nd place was probably in tears. That's not fair. I had him. It was over.

All this to say and sorta echo what I think Tim is saying. The watch will help, but chances are, you already have what you need to succeed. The question is how bad do you want it? How far are you willing to go to get it? That's what I'm struggling with because what I say I want and what I've done in the past don't quite jive. That's right, I'm jive talkin. . .so . . .

¡c├íllate ahora y viva la lucha!

2 comments:

  1. Wow.. good post! I'm a tennis fan myself so I like the connection. I'm not really discovering anything.. just rediscovering.
    Thanks.

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  2. great post and thanks for the props. I do think the gadgets have a place in training (a small one though). For testing they are key... but I think that's it.. especially when it comes to off road racing. I never have pace displayed on my garmin... never. Just time and lap time.... and some times distance. I look afterwards but that's it but don't give it much thought.

    I don't really need to know that I am running a 10 minute mile up a steep ass hill. I know how hard I am working and I don't think the pace has any relevance.

    Now if it's a run test up a hill... as a time trial then the time is important to gauge progress.

    beers soon dude... a south county sound run sounds good. lets shoot for next week some time.

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