A Day in the life at Ohio State (OSU) with Coach Gary

Matt Taylor, www.ChasingTradition.com

 

I got to French Fieldhouse right at 3:00. The guys were gathered inside at the far end of the track. After making the round of introductions, we headed out to the van. Coach Gary was at the helm, I was riding shotgun and the other 9 guys piled into the back. The first thing that stood out to me was the fact that there were only 9 guys in the van. Two were missing, but that's still a pretty small team compared to the other schools I've visited. Portland has about 40 guys! The next thing that stood out is the fact that everyone on the team except Dan Glaz and Kevin Bruffy is from the state of Ohio. Talk about homegrown talent - I doubt there's another team in the country that routinely makes it to Nationals with so many homegrown kids. Some schools are very regional (Portland for example), but OSU doesn't need to leave the state. Being from Pennsylvania, I'd hate to think that Ohio kids are just better runners - so we'll go with the more accurate conclusion that Coach Gary does a great job recruiting in Ohio and also does a great job developing his athletes

We drove about 15 minutes out to Highbanks, one of Columbus' many metro parks, for the usual Monday workout - 3 x 3.5 miles. In previous years OSU would work out on the golf course every Monday, but they're re-sodding (is that a word?) it so Monday's have switched to Highbanks. We do two lower loops for our warmup - it's about 3 miles total. At this point, I was planning to do one interval, maybe half of the second. It's about 85 degrees and sunny. During the warmup the guys are remarking at how many high schoolers are out here today. There must have been 4 or 5 different teams at the park so there were kids all over the place.

The 3.5 mile loop starts with a flat 1-mile loop. From there you head up into the hills for a 2.5 mile loop. This loop is very hilly, a constant up and down, with 2 or 3 good grinders, especially the last one, which runs about 300 meters. The trails are beautiful. A relatively wide path that runs through a thick forest. There's a few wooden bridges that we cross and one section where we have to ascend a few stairs. It sort of reminds me of the back hills at Van Cortland Park.

I head out with Levi Fox, Glenn Collins, Matt Penza and Coach Gary. The instructions are to run about 5:40 pace and cut down on each interval. We come through the "generic" mile in 5:35 and it hurts. It's a complete shock to my system and it's about to get worse. As we approach each hill the pace picks up. That's how we're supposed to run - a sharp contrast in pace going up the hill, and then backing off slightly as we crest it. It's sort of like a fartlek within a tempo run - a double whammy.

We stay in a tight pack, working the hills together. "Up, up, up. All the way to the top," Coach Gary encourages us up each hill. The first hill is pretty steep and long - I'm definitely doubting whether or not I can maintain the pace. But something happens around the 2-mile mark - I start to feel great. I think it just took 2 miles to get the rust out and really get warmed up. The last 1.5 miles goes smoothly and we finish in 19:29. Now we get four minutes rest, which seems like 30 seconds. While we're jogging around recovering, the other two groups come in. Alex Bailey, Jeff See and Kevin Bruffy first, followed by Brian Olinger, John Ealy and Braden Martinez.

I'm definitely fatigued and my legs are heavy. The worst mistake I made during the recovery was stopping. Once you stop, it's hard to get going again.

"You doing another one with us or are you done?" Coach asks.

"I think I can get through one more."

We start off on number two and the first 400 meters are brutal. The legs just don't want to get moving. You have to realize, I haven't done a real workout since last spring. I did a tough tempo run at Adams and a few 200's at Colorado, but that's it. So this is definitely a wake-up call. Coach Gary leads us through the mile in 5:25 - Ouch! But the same thing happens in the hills. Once we get to the top of that first hill, I feel great. I wonder if it has anything to do with the two weeks I spent at altitude. In Alamosa or Boulder, I would have been finished after getting up that first hills - but here at sea level, I can recover at the top of the hill and get going again. At this point, I'm loving the loop in the woods. This feels like real cross country. Coach Gary is continually motivating us to work the hills. Sometimes he'll run in the front and push the pace. Other times he hangs in the back to make sure no one drops off the pace.

After the last hill we cross the finish line - 19:28. Olinger's group comes through in 19:35. They're taking a more pronounced "cutdown" and also using a sharper contrast in pace with the hills. At this point I feel completely spent, but I'm thinking about running the first mile on this last interval. During our four minute break, everyone pours water on their head and takes a sip or two or water and/or gatorade. The gatorade tastes so good at this point, but I know more than a mouthful would be a death sentence. It's really sweet today.

After a minute (ok, so maybe it was four) Coach Gary gathers our group. "No watches on this one, ok? Levi, I don't want you looking at your watch."

"At all? Can I just start it and stop it at the end, or do you not even want me to to start it?"

"Either one, but just don't look at it during the interval. Just follow me." With that we take off on our last interval. Again, the first quarter mile is death. The mile isn't much better. We head up into the woods and approach the first hill. The pace quickens a few meters before the base of the hill, and Levi blasts to the front. Coach Gary comes up alongside and I tuck in behind the two. Matt and Glenn hang back. As we approach the top of the hill, Coach looks at me, "Can you keep him going the rest of the loop?"

"I'll try."

Coach drops back to run with Matt and Glenn, who are hurting a little bit. Levi and I push on. The rest of the loop is a struggle. I'm running just past my threshold and starting to accumulate some lactic acid. The downhill sections are starting to hurt more than the uphill. Aside from "left" and "right" to point me in the right direction, neither of us says a word for the next mile or so. I want to quit. I could easily stop right now and walk or jog the rest of the way. But Levi keeps pushing forward and pulls me along. He eats up so much ground with his long stride. To match him up the hills, it feels like I have to take 2 strides for each of his own. Downhill isn't even close - it feels more like 4 to 1.

"800 to go," he says.

"Thank goodness," I say to myself.

There's one medium hill and then the long one at the finish. We really push the medium hill - I'm close to all-out. Then we dip down the hill and make a right hand turn under the bridge to start the final climb. We start conservatively, but within about 50 meters we really pick it up. We match each other's effort up the hill and finish together at 19:33. A minute or two later Olinger, Ealy and Martinez finish their last interval in 19:20. Although I'm smashed, it feels great to do a hard workout. It definitely makes me want to start racing again. I'm amazed that this is the workout they do every Monday. It doesn't sound that bad - running at 5:20-5:35 pace for 3.5 miles - but you have to put it in context. It's a 16-mile day with about 10.5 of those miles climbing some pretty intense hills. Put that in a 90-mile week, with two other workout days and you've got yourself a work week.

Afterwards, we cool down with two more lower loops. We're all thinking it, but Levi is the first to vocalize it, "This is the worst part of the workout." My whole body aches and my calves have already transformed from muscle tissue into rocks. Water and gatorade have never tasted so good. Everyone hydrates well while we sit around and stretch. When it's time to go, we hobble to the van.

Once we get back to the fieldhouse, the guys get in line for the massage sign-up sheet. Hell, I'm supposed to be "immersing" myself in these programs, so I take the Wednesday evening 6:30 slot. Lord knows I need it. Then we head down to the training room, which they kept open for us. Jeff See is already in the ice bath and Alex will join him shortly. The rest of the guys grab bags of ice or ice cups. I haven't iced since May of 2000, but something tells me it'd be a good idea. Fifteen minutes of ice cupping later, my legs are numb, but they feel so much better. Brian and I head back to his place, take quick showers, and head over to pick up Jamie, his girlfriend. From there we head down to the legendary Plank's Cafe. Because it's half-priced pizza night, the place is packed.

When we get there some of the guys are already sitting at a table in the back. They just ordered and, because everyone knows everyone else's pizza of choice, they also ordered for Brian, Jamie, Braden and John. I'm the lone man out, so I order my own pizza - maybe 5 minutes after the others. Thirty minutes later everyone gets their pizza. Five minutes pass, then ten, then fifteen. Still no pizza for me. Thirty minutes later (an hour total after ordering), I'm still pizza-less. The waitress claims that it's just busy and she has no control over the kitchen. But I swear two or three groups came in later than us, got their pizza, and left before my pizza finally came. Clearly she just forgot to put in the order - or someone else got my sausage and mushroom pizza. John, Jamie and Brian were all nice enough to let me have a few pieces of theirs while I waited.

Although I'm starving, the delay allowed me to experience something I never would have tried otherwise. When John gets his pizza, he eats the corner piece (it's not cut like a traditional pizza - there's four rows across and six rows down) and then pours a huge pile of sugar in that spot. He proceeds to dip each piece in the sugar. After asking a few times, I finally decide to give it a try. I know what you're thinking - nasty! Not so my friends - it's delicious. You have to give it a try. Despite the 75 minute delay, I'm glad I got to experience Plank's. The decor is old school, as are the employees. It's more like Bingo Night than Half-Priced Pizza Night. The best part of the whole place? There are pennants hanging all over the walls and at the far end of the restaurant I notice a Yale banner. Go Bulldogs!

Tomorrow I'm doing a morning run with Brian and then heading over to campus for a football luncheon with Coach - that should be interesting. I'm exhausted right now and the morning run looms. Goodnight!

Matt Taylor
www.ChasingTradition.com

 

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