Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Life on the European Circuit
Click on the video above to hear Sean Graham talk about his recent victory in Gent, Belgium. You can see video coverage of life on the European circuit by clicking here. See the town (Leuven) that Sean is in by clicking on #8. Finally click here to read about Sean's life during the last two weeks. Sean talks about his "big" paydays, life in a dorm room and getting around by bike. Read more

2 comments:

Graham said...

EuroBlog Entry #2 “Ups and Downs, Strikes and Gutters”

Intro
So it’s been two weeks since the 3k in Cork, and it’s continued to be a pretty interesting trip since then. Some good times some bad, but overall I’m still having a damn good time. The following should get you up to date on life and racing in Belgium since leaving Ireland. This one covers 2 weeks of life out here so again it is a bit long, but hopefully enjoyable.

From Cork to Belgium
We left Cork at the crack of dawn Sunday, July 1st (The day after the Cork 3k) for an 8am flight to Dublin and then later continuing onto Belgium. And to keep with tradition we had a ridiculous layover between flights; today an easy 7 hours. This time we (same group as before (Myself, Cack, Kristin, “Canada”, and Matt) decided to make the most of it, so we put our luggage in lockers and jumped on a bus to downtown Dublin. We spent the morning and early afternoon checking out the sights there which were great, except the “U2 Wall” which I searched for about an hour and turned out to be just a graffiti covered wall with a plaque on it that said the apartment on the second floor is where U2 recorded many tracks. It was pathetic. Anyway, we got back to the airport and headed off to Belgium, this time no drug smuggling accusations which was nice. Arriving in Brussels around 8:30ish, our group split up; Matt and Canada were headed to a town called Ghent, and Cack, Kristin, and I were off to Leuven, which would be our home base of sorts for the rest of the month. A 30 minute train ride later we arrived in Leuven with only an address of the place that we were staying, which no one at the train station seemed to ever have heard of. We had heard that it was “near the track” so we found some people that seemed to know where that was and jumped on a bus headed in that direction. We walked around “near the track” for about 10 minutes and finally came across a couple that looked like students and spoke English, they lived nearby and were nice enough to look up our dorm on the computer and walk us about a mile plus over there. Thankfully somehow it was still open with the dorm attendant waiting for us at 11pm on a Sunday night.

The first week in Leuven
Leuven is great; it is exactly how you would imagine a small town in the middle of Europe; cobblestone streets, alleyways with small restaurants and outdoor seating, ridiculous architecture, and everyone and their brother out and about. We spent the first few days finding our way around town, where to eat, run, shop etc. No one really speaks English but they seem to all know it so communication is manageable. All this exploring and learning was great except that we were walking EVERYWHERE, which got rather tiresome. It wasn’t until Thursday that we found a place that you can rent bikes for dirt cheap, 8 Euro per Month. The Bikes are absolute junk but they work just fine so no complaints. Anyway, our dorm is nice, classic freshman dorm feel, tiny single rooms with a sink, a bathroom at one end of the hall and a kitchen at the other end, which luckily some students forgot their pots, pans, plates and some silverware in when moving out.
There were a few other American athletes in the dorm and a lot more moving into another dorm by the track later the second week. We went out to eat a few times that week and cooked in the kitchen a few nights as well, there is a supermarket right down the street which is rather convenient, and makes cooking dinners really easy. As for training, we were able to find a nice set of trails that were near the track that you could easily get daily runs in on. Also the track, which was a bit bizarrely shaped, sort of like an egg with one curve being longer then the other, was only about a 7 min jog from our dorm. I was able to get in my workouts that week there, one Tuesday and one Thursday in preparation for the race Saturday. The workouts went ok; my legs felt a little worn out from walking around so much they seemed to feel better as the workouts went on.

The First Race in Belgium – Leon Buyle Memorial 1500
My first race, a 1500 in Oordegem, Belgium, was later that week on Saturday the 7th. Getting to the meet was a bit of a hassle but turned out ok. We biked to the train station in Leuven (maybe 5min) took a train to Brussels (about 30min), another Train to Ghent (35 min) waited for about an hour for a Bus, then took that to the meet site. It was a perfect evening with warm calm weather, which was nice to see since it had been a damn windy and cold most of the week. Leading up the race I wasn’t feeling all that great, but the warm up went fine and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get a new 1500 PR. There were a number of guys I knew in the race including “Canada” and Chris Solinsky, both were attempting to run about the same time that I was shooting for, under 3:39. The gun went off at 6:45, and I felt pretty awful from step number one. I had a terrible start that put me towards the back of the pack and I spent the first lap in lane 2 trying to work my way up, really to no avail. The leaders were through 400 in around 57ish and I was back a few strides in 59ish. Each lap felt as though I was running uphill and pressing just to hit 60 second pace, it was terrible. Solinsky and “Canada” fought for the win in 3:37 and 3:38, and I finished in the back in a disappointing 3:44. It was a tough cool down alone trying to convince myself that the next one would be better and beating myself up for such a poor performance all at once. Somehow a 3:44 got me 35 Euro in prize money which made the race sting a little less, but not much at all. Really a very frustrating evening to say the least. I think all the travel and walking around earlier in the week really caught up to me that evening.

Cack had some friends of hers from Princeton spending the summer in Europe so they were able to come to the race in Oordegem. Kristin, Cack and I spent the night with them in Brussels rather then going back to Leuven on Saturday. We found a cool restaurant in the city, had a good dinner and a few drinks to forget about the race. Got up the next morning found a nice place for breakfast right downtown saw a few sights then headed back to Leuven.

The PanAm Dilemma (Part 1)
So because of finishing in the top 8 at USA’s I was eligible for PanAms. With Ed being the first chosen by his 5th place finish and others declining, it was down to myself, Solinsky and Bolota Asmerom. Solinsky declined as well, so I spoke with Bolota after USA’s and he said he might not do it. Unfortunately he changed his mind and decided to accept the bid to be on the team. I ran into him at the race in Oordegem, and he said that he changed his mind again and let USATF know that he now would not be competing. Great I thought, now I’m on the team, since I would be next on the list and there would be 3 of us from William and Mary on the same USA team, damn cool. So as soon as I got back to Leuven I emailed USATF to let them know that I would like to take Bolota’s spot and join Ed in the 5k, and waited to hear back…..

Leuven Week 2
The next day, Monday, the Tour de France, had a stage that ended in Ghent, Belgium. I was toying with the idea of not going, because of the awful performance Saturday but, come on, you can’t pass up an opportunity to see the Tour de France. Anyway, we got our training in early Monday morning and headed out to a small town about 30km from the finish of the stage in Ghent. On the way we spoke with some other guys on the train and they told us to follow them to another small town instead of the one we were going because it was a great place to watch. They were right. There was a little town festival with a band, and the Tour came right through. It was really cool, front row on the street as the whole scene went by. It started with what can best be described as a parade of the sponsors in high speed. They were driving the course at literally about 35-40 mph, blaring music, and throwing out samples of whatever they were selling. About 45 minutes later, the riders came by all in a span of about a minute and a half. Then it was done, all in all an amazing sight to see.

The PanAm Dilemma Part 2
I rushed into my dorm room after returning from the Tour to check my e-mail and see my status for PanAm’s. There was an email from Aron Mcguire (USATF lead for PanAms), I quickly opened it and it read:
Sean,

Thanks for being proactive. Unfortunately Brazil is not allowing any country to submit replacements for the Pan American Games at this time. If anything changes I’ll immediately contact you.

Thanks,
Aron

So apparently I made the team in theory, but in reality I did not. So W&M will have 2 athletes rather than 3 at PanAms this month. And so it goes, ups and downs, strikes and gutters.

Leuven Week 2 cont again…
The rest of the week was much more relaxing. Now that we have a good handle on where everything is, and bikes to get there, life is much easier. I seriously feel like a local now, biking either down to the supermarket to get some food for dinner, or downtown to hit up a restaurant. There is a summer music festival going on a couple nights a week with live music in a few different squares around town. And we have made it to a few of those on the nice nights. Also, A LOT of other American athletes have begun to show up, so it is literally a who’s who of US runners walking around town, its pretty funny. Cool to spend time with people you only get to see every so often.
My training went a lot better this second week as well, by mid week I felt like I was starting to get my legs back under me. Gags (Frank Gagliano, my coach) gave me a few lower intensity workouts in preparation for the next race, a 3k on Sunday. I felt much better in these workouts than the week before and even training runs were feeling a lot smoother and less taxing.
I had also been e-mailing back and forth with my sister Meagan, who works for a consulting firm as a recruiter in Singapore. She had a business trip this week to Dublin, Ireland, and was trying to make it into Belgium if she could to see me race. She in fact was able to make it and we met up on Saturday, it was great to spend time with her, a little weird that it was in Belgium but great none the less. She would also be able to make it to the meet the next day, which was really cool since she hasn’t seen me compete since the Trials in ‘04.

Ghent, Belgium - Gentse Feesten Meeting – 3000M
Since there are so many athletes here in Leuven now, the meet scheduled a bus to pick us all up and transport us to Ghent. A good deal that we don’t have to worry about trying to arrange transportation, bad deal that there would thus be A LOT of waiting around that day; for the bus, for each event, for the bus again to come home. We were scheduled to leave Leuven at 12:30 Sunday afternoon and the 3k was scheduled for 6:45 that evening. Nearly everything is closed on Sundays out here so I cooked some noodles that morning to have for lunch while waiting at the meet, mmmm cold noodles out of a plastic bag for lunch, what more can you ask for right. Anyway the bus finally showed up at around 1:15ish and we had about an hour ride to Ghent. The ride went by pretty quickly besides the fact that I had to go to the bathroom about 5 minutes after we left, needless to say the last 20 minutes of the ride were pretty miserable. It was a great day, pretty calm, but really hot, probably around 90ish. The track was surrounded by trees which blocked nearly all of the wind there was, but didn’t really provide any shade. I laid around in the shade for about 3 hours with a lot of other athletes as we waited for our turn to compete. By the time the races began rolling there was quite a crowd in the stands and around the track, including my sister. I tell ya, if we want track meets to succeed in the US all we really need to do is sell set up a patio with a view of the track and sell beer. Seems to work wonders out here.
I felt pretty good on the warm up and had a good set of strides before the race that felt ok too. There were a few guys that had faster seed times than my 7:46.9, so my plan was to get out towards the front right away and hang with them until it came time to close. Try not to pay too close attention to the splits and just race. That is exactly how it went. I got out in the lead pack, the pace initially was a bit up and down but I felt good, and was able to run along with the leaders feeling good. I believe we went through the mile around 4:10ish which is a little slower that I thought it would be, but I was feeling good and there was a good group of about 5 guys up front with me. The pace quickened over the next lap and a half or so, and coming down into 600 meters left I found myself moving up through the lead pack rather easily. I took the lead at about 550 to go (which I didn’t really want to do at all, all of a sudden I had just passed everyone) and decided what the hell, go for it. I made another surge with about 300 or so to go feeling pretty strong and not hearing any footsteps behind me. The announcer was yelling something over the sound system but definitely wasn’t English and I could hear my sister going nuts as she stood screaming at about the 200 meter mark. Legs felt a bit heavy as I went into my final push at 150 to go but was able to break through it and close well down the homestretch to my first European win in 7:47.6. It was a great race, wouldn’t have minded a couple seconds faster, but I by no means am complaining. It was great to feel like I had competed like I was capable again, it had been a while.
For the win I received a huge bottle of beer and a little less than 200 Euro including a bonus for setting the meet record which was 7:48 prior to me. Not to mention I got to do this with my sister there watching, it was a lot of fun.

One of the guys, Mark, from Flocasts (a track and field coverage website) was also at the meet and have some great videos of the day, the race, as well as a post race interview of me. Keep in mind that this was just minutes after the race, so cut me some slack.
Anyway, the links for all of these are as follows, they take a bit of time to load but are very well done:

Race and Interview: (Videos are on the left side of the page)
http://www.flocasts.com/flotrack/coverage.php?c=68

Race Day Experience (I’m the guy with the “Key to Heaven”)
http://www.flocasts.com/flotrack/speakers.php?sid=118&vid=4433

So three races down and two to go; a 1500 this weekend in Brasschatt, and a big 5k in Heusden the weekend after that. I will try to keep updates coming throughout the next two weeks. And Ed and Jacob, Kick ass down at PanAms!

tgraham said...

Hey Sean!!!

Fantastic race, and even better interview!!
Glad you caught up with Megs, must have been a blast. Proud beyond words. The Florida Graham's. Kelley needs an updated autograph!
Bless ya, stay safe on the bikes.