The following articles, written by me, have been published online.
13-year-old Winter Vinecki: Competing for a Cause
Read from WTS here
USATF Cross Country: Bringing up the Rear
Published by Women Talk Sports on November 17, 2009
Well, I have done it again. Last year on this very day, I swore that I would not get talked into running another cross country race, but here I am, sweaty and exhausted, sitting down at my computer to recap the 2009 Southern California USATF Cross Country Championships.
I began running in September of 2008. Truthfully, I always flirted with the idea of being a runner. As a competitive swimmer, we used running as cross-training on occasion, and on those cold early mornings with my toes on the edge of a swimming pool that I was sure would be freezing enough to make me scream, I just wanted to lace up a pair of shoes and run far, far away. However, I always made that chilly plunge (typically once my coach pushed me in), and my running shoes sat in my swim bag, collecting more mold than mileage.
As I retired from swimming following my senior year of college at the University of Nebraska back in 2003, I took five good years to be a “normal” person who doesn’t attend six hours of practice per day and who could sleep in past 4:45am. I felt like a lazy bum during those years, but I think that my body truly needed rest and time off. I started competitive athletics (gymnastics, then swimming) at the age of nine, and didn’t really come up for a breath until my 22nd birthday.
Things changed during the summer of 2008 after I returned to my hometown of Eugene, Oregon to watch my college friends Ann Gaffigan (my roommate in the dorms back in 2000) and Anne Shadle, compete in the Track and Field Olympic Trials at Hayward Field. The intensely competitive atmosphere of that incredible event made me realize that the desire to train for something was not dead inside of me. I have no delusions about my place in the sport of distance running. I know that by beginning at the age of 27, I will never be a factor in competitive events or set anything other than personal records, but I get a strange satisfaction out of kicking my own butt into shape on the track week after week.
This brings me to Track Club Los Angeles (TCLA), where I have been training every Tuesday night with a group of adults who, like myself, aren’t willing to hang up their shoes just because college is over. Through TCLA, my coach, Eric Barron, encouraged me to run (notice that I did not use the word “compete”) at the Southern California USATF Cross Country Championships in both 2008 and 2009.
Last year, I was so new to the sport that I readily joined USATF and showed up to the race expecting a field like any other road race where I could blend into the masses. However, the field was made up of roughly 20 women whom had nearly all competed in the sport of cross country for their colleges, however long ago that may have been.
That day, it was 96 degrees at the start of the race and the air was filled with smoke from the seemingly annual Los Angeles fires. Never having to deal with overheating in a swimming race, the sun has become my kryptonite as a runner. Regardless of the shape that I am in, when I get too hot, I am simply done. So as I turned various shades of red while running the 6K race last November, the only thought that crossed my mind was, “I wonder if anyone would notice if I hid behind that tree and just quit.” Needless to say, my 2008 XC experience left me almost in tears as I crossed the finish line dizzy, dehydrated, and dead last.
I came up with a million excuses as to why I would not be running this race again in 2009. I had been injured over the spring and summer, the hills weren’t good for my still recovering hip, the weather would probably be scorching, blah, blah, blah. Truthfully, I just didn’t want to get last place and realize, yet again, that I am still very much a novice in this new sport that I have come to love.
Six days before this year’s race, I finally decided, with the encouragement (a nice word for “pressure”) from my TCLA teammates and coach that I would suck up my pride and represent my club again. After all, I would be the 5th girl, and we needed five to score. I spent the days between my decision to run and the race by obsessing over the weather forecast, pleading with friends on Facebook to come and run as well, and contemplating a sudden and fictitious bout of the dreaded swine flu.
Race day was upon me, and the weather, although sunny, was not unbearably hot. As the much faster runners around me were lacing up their spikes in preparation for the race, I readjusted the laces on my own regular running shoes to look cool and legitimate and cracked jokes with my teammate, Ginna Ladd, who was about as uncomfortable with the whole situation as I was (it should be noted that she just ran 3:03 at the Chicago Marathon and had no reason to feel out of place). I warned Ginna about the fast pace that the women took out in last year’s race and we agreed to stay controlled despite our nerves.
As I approached the starting line, I took a deep breath and told myself, “Just forget about getting last, who cares? Close your eyes, let them run away from you at the start, and concentrate on being tougher and faster than you were last year.” As it turns out, running my own race works much better for me than focusing on the widening gap between the lead pack and myself. As I was running the three-loop course, I finally realized that getting last place is not the worst thing in the world, but lacking the courage to step up to the line or the determination not to finish what you have started just might be.
I crossed the finish line of the hilly 6K four minutes faster than I did last year, accepted my 17th place medal (there were only 18 runners, which need not be mentioned in further retellings of this story), and put on my flip-flops because my feet still think that running is torture and consistently punish me with impressively large blisters. As my times begin to drop and my weekly mileage continues to increase, I am reminded that although this sport is difficult and requires amounts of stamina that I’ve never tapped into before, I do love distance running, even if it is from the back of the pack.
|Start of the women's 6K... you can spot me way in the back!|
|Covering the 6K course in Los Angeles|
Field Trip: Adidas Track Classic
Published by Women Talk Sports on May 21, 2009
I teach 4th grade in South Central Los Angeles. Twice weekly, for one hour, I teach P.E. to my students, although we have little equipment. We do, however, have a small four-lane track painted on our concrete playground, and being a runner myself, I decided early on in the year that I would trade in kickball and freeze tag for track workouts. After all, running is a sport that can be done anywhere, anytime, with nothing but a pair of decent shoes.
Inside the four walls of our classroom, we have been learning about current track stars and my students have really come to admire many of them. They all love fellow Californian Jordan Hasay because of what she has accomplished at such a young age. They think that Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher are incredible because of their 3rd place Boston Marathon finishes. In fact, the day of the Boston Marathon, we all anxiously awaited a phone call with live results from my sister who lives only a few blocks from the finish line. I think the cheers of my students could be heard throughout our large school as they learned that our American competitors earned podium finishes. They also think that Jeremy Wariner, Tyson Gay, and Allyson Felix are awesome because last spring, I filmed an Adidas running commercial with the Olympians, which my students recently discovered on YouTube (is nobody safe from a Google search?).
Back in September, I had only a handful of students who could complete two consecutive laps around our roughly 80-meter “track”. We have been working hard since then, and to reward those students who have made great improvements in their fitness and who have stayed motivated all year, I decided to have a little friendly competition. The kids were divided into two groups, boys and girls, and ran one-lap repeats. They had to complete each lap in 30 seconds or less to remain in the competition, and they were given a 30 second recovery. The last two boys and two girls standing would win a ticket to the Adidas Track Classic with me in Carson, just miles from our school. The race was on, and to my surprise, the winning students completed over 30 laps!
|4th Graders racing on our school's "track"|
We arrived at the Home Depot Center on the sunny Saturday afternoon, and my students were immediately overwhelmed by the size and surface of an actual track. They clapped rhythmically for the long jumpers and squealed with amazement as the pole-vaulters soared over the bar time after time. But the best parts of the day were when the athletes they had been learning about appeared in person before their eyes. They cheered for Jordan and her blond ponytail (they dubbed her Rapunzel), they stayed focused on Shalane Flanagan and Sara Hall throughout the entire 5K race, and they came to adore steeple queen Anna Willard as she cleared barrier after barrier with pink and blond streaks in her short brown ponytail (surprisingly, none of my students have come to school with pink hair yet!).
|Anna Willard-Pierce signing autographs and chatting with my students|
As each race finished, we sprinted (with my injured self hobbling behind) from the stands to the tents behind the track where we had the most luck spotting the athletes and crowding them for autographs. All of the runners were extremely friendly and took the time to talk to my kids and take pictures with them. I was especially impressed by 17-year old Jordan who seems to handle pressure like a pro (she finished 11th in the international and professional field of the 1500 with a time of 4:16.92) and was great with my kids as they mobbed her.
|My students, myself, and Jordan Hasay|
As the meet was winding down, we got one last surprise. I spotted Ryan Hall walking past us (he was there to support his wife, Sara Hall, who placed 8th in the 5K race). I got his attention and introduced him to the kids. As soon as they made the Boston Marathon connection, they whipped out their autograph books and big smiles spread across their faces. Ryan told them that at his school, they didn’t have a track either. He offered them encouragement and left quite an impression on them. This past Monday, during P.E., one of my boys told informed class that “it looks like we’ll have to run around our concrete circle again, but that’s OK, because Ryan Hall didn’t have a real track either”.
|Ryan Hall with the 4th graders|
The event was one that my students and I will not soon forget. I will be forever grateful to the athletes who took the time to inspire the next generation of track and field fans. You never know, the next Jordan Hasay just might be among them.
Getting Naked for Nike
Published by Women Talk Sports on April 24, 2009
I first found out about Bear Butte Running Camp through a Nike Pack E-mail encouraging some of us Los Angeles area runners to audition for a new “Mockumentary” that Nike was filming. I read through the description of the ad and questioned whether or not I was enough of an exhibitionist to possibly bare it all for the sake of creating something different and pretty freaking hilarious. I decided I would go to the audition and find out what the “wardrobe” consisted of and then worry about my modesty if they chose me as one of their runners.
To my surprise, they did choose me, and I soon after had a sneaking suspicion that my wardrobe may only consist of Nike shoes and little else when the Saturday wardrobe fitting was cancelled and I was asked to show up to the location early on Sunday morning without knowing exactly what I would be wearing. I was suddenly pleased with my decision to visit a tanning bed twice in the previous week to erase the stark contrast between my very Scandinavian buns and the rest of my body, which sees the sun on a regular basis.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have a few butterflies in my stomach as I drove to Simi Valley from my West L.A. apartment that Sunday morning. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I knew that pro Nike runners Lauren Fleshman and Nick Symmonds would be there as well. How awkward to meet two of my running heroes in the nude! My anticipation slowly lifted as I became distracted by signs that I was following which read “Harvest Crew” that were oddly enough located directly above and pointing in the same direction as signs advertising “Raquel’s Bat-Mitzvah”. I started thinking about how traumatized teenage Raquel would be if a group of nude runners came flopping through her coming of age party, and I could only laugh. I knew then that those two days of filming would be an adventure if nothing else.
Once I arrived at the location, I was given a very tiny flesh toned g-string with clear plastic straps across the back and up the middle. I was also given pasties, which I had never worn before and found to be pretty comfortable for someone like myself who could consider a band-aid to be a sufficient bra. I put on my miniscule wardrobe and then the real fun began! We were told to pick out a Nike watch of our choice, were given a pair of Nike Free 5.0 shoes (which are now my absolute favorite racing shoes- and no, Nike didn’t pay me to say that), and some of us lucky runners were given Nike sunglasses as well. It was like Christmas morning! We had our pasties covered in makeup to match our natural skin tones by the makeup artists, crammed into rented SUV’s, and were driven up the hill to a pretty rugged trail where we spent most of the morning learning each others anatomy.
Stripping off the sweats for the first time was probably the most shocking experience of the day. Even though I am from Eugene, Oregon, where topless hippies frequent the streets of the Saturday Market each weekend, I was stricken with shyness, especially being new to running and not wanting things to jiggle while being filmed in high definition beside the much more accomplished runners and their impeccably lean bodies. But all it took to put a smile on my face and lighten the mood was one of the other runners shouting, “Spring break! Woohoo!” as he undressed. I realized that everyone else felt just as ridiculous in their g-string as I felt in mine, and a positive, humorous tone was set for the day.
And so the hill repeats in pasties began. After shooting a few takes, the producers weren’t happy with the reflection coming off the clear straps on the underwear. We tried applying makeup over the top, but it quickly came off and we were back to square one. We were given the completely optional choice to bare it all and ditch the undies for some generous Nike gift cards, and within mere seconds, all but four of us girls were jumping up and down with their hands in the air hoping to get picked by the casting director. Those of us who decided to leave a very little something to the imagination got to put on our clothes and take in the view (of the mountains, of course). We dubbed ourselves the “never nudes” (any fans of Arrested Development might appreciate the nickname) and spent quite a bit of time over the two days soaking up the sun.
One of my favorite parts of the two-day shoot involved the scene where an actress was brought in to play the part of the Nike rep. It was so hard to keep a straight face as she stood in front of us, answering questions such as, “do these shoes come in a size 15?” with some quirky responses that didn’t make the final cut. My personal favorite was when she answered Mr. 15’s question with a very serious, “Yes, yes they do. And congratulations, by the way.” I should mention that each time Mr. 15 (whose real name is Jonathan) stood up to ask his question, his naked butt was literally inches away from my face and that the director continually asked him to pull down his g-string more and more with each take because they were picking up a clear strap reflection on film. I kept thinking to myself that this was so not a typical Sunday!
I am exposing my inner running nerd here, but part of the reason that I was so interested in this particular Nike project was how excited I was about getting to meet and run with Lauren Fleshman and Nick Symmonds. A lifetime fan of distance running, I have watched Lauren race for years and was present at the 2008 Olympic Trials at Hayward field when Nick won the 800 in one of the most electrifying moments of the entire competition (Oregon runners swept the race). I also knew that Kara and Adam Goucher would be involved and I would never pass on the opportunity to appear in an advertisement with them (even though unfortunately for me, they shot their segment in Portland, Oregon). I am an enormous Kara Goucher fan, especially after her gutsy and downright inspirational Boston Marathon performance last Monday.
My hopes for meeting Lauren and Nick were more than surpassed. They were both extremely friendly, down to earth, and obviously fun people. Lauren was a “never nude” like myself, so we spent a lot of time talking about running and Eugene during our down time. We discovered that she is a very talented guitar player, singer, and songwriter. She played a few tunes during one scene and I was quite impressed.
My entire experience with Bear Butte Running Camp was an extremely memorable and entertaining one. I met some fantastic people who became fast friends, was accessorized (but not clothed!) in Nike gear, and above all, am now proud to say that I was a part of this creative and comical Nike project, even if I did gasp with shock when I saw my naked rear end front and center on the Nike website.
Until you see my bare buns again,
Just in case you haven't seen the footage, here is the link:
Also, watch for a more tame 30 second version on ESPN and NBC during track and field events this spring and summer (Penn Relays, Pre Classic, and the US Track & Field Championships)!
|Lauren Fleshman (center) poses for photos with fellow Bear Butte runners|
|Nick Symmonds, with his shorts on|