Barry and Braden's PR Times

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Year in Review

It was an absolutely fun year of running for myself and Braden, as he developed into quite the athlete while I tried my best to be a good mentor and running partner to him.

There has been so much that has transpired from the previous year. Last year, Braden started getting into running as a 6-year-old when he ran his first 5K and 10K races. In 2014, he ended up running (4) 5K races and (1) 10K for a total of 5 races with a combined distance of 18.6 miles ran.

Needless to say, he ramped up his running to whole other level in 2015!

Before getting to some highlights, I just want to write about the running adventures we've started and developed this past year (this is where I get all emotional while typing everything!).

Braden's year started as a 6-year-old with our first race at the Little Rock Marathon 10K in March. We had trained all winter in preparation for the race and a week before the race, Braden got strep throat. The doctor was very pessimistic about him running, but Braden was not going to let that deter him after training for so long in preparing for the race. On race day, he got sick at mile 4 and I came really close to pulling him off the course. He would have none of that though...he didn't want to quit and was determined to finish. Even though he didn't have a good race time, he finished first in his age group. It was at this race that I saw the competitiveness and drive he had to finish and succeed.

After the Little Rock race, I discovered the opportunity to have us run in the Arkansas Grand Prix. In order to run in the Grand Prix, though, you have to belong to one of the many running clubs that are throughout the state. Naturally, we were drawn to the Conway Running Club due to its proximity to Vilonia. We have developed so many friendships with those in our running club and we (when we are able) love to go to the meetings. The great thing about Grand Prix races is seeing runners from around the state frequently, which means even more friendships as well. There are so many times that I feel I'm just tagging along since Braden is the more well known of this father-son duo, but I don't mind at all!




Braden missed the first three races on the Grand Prix schedule, but it didn't take him long to catch up. The Grand Prix races are made up of several different distances and are divided up into championship and non-championship categories. The championship races are worth up to 30 points and the non-championship up to 20 points. There were a couple of Grand Prix races where he didn't finish first in his age group, but in those races he did come in first amongst those who were Grand Prix participants. Overall he scored maximum points for all his Grand Prix races and totaled 250 points for the year. For this accomplishment, he'll be recognized in February 2016 at the Grand Prix Awards Ceremony. The Grand Prix definitely made his competitive juices flow, and more than any of the other races he ran (other than USA Track & Field), he was more amped and focused for the Grand Prix ones.

At our third Grand Prix race of the year, the Capital City Classic 10K, Braden's "running career" took another twist. At the finish of the race, after setting a new PR, there was a gentleman who came up to me and asked how old Braden was. After I told him Braden's age, the person gave me his card and asked me to give him a call. That person was Coach Cezar Terlea of the Arkansas Performance Running Club Patriots, a USA Track & Field club based in Little Rock. At first I was skeptical and had to make a few phone calls to my Conway Running Club friends to see if Coach Terlea was legit. After receiving some very positive feedback, I started taking Braden to the University of Arkansas - Little Rock track every week. Ever since he's been running for the Patriots, he rarely misses a week where he doesn't practice. The Grand Prix races and USATF track events have really complimented each other well, with the distance racing helping his stamina in USATF and the speed from track helping in his road races. Coach Terlea, who is also the head cross country coach at Central Baptist College in Conway, has always been positive with Braden in teaching him to be more efficient, proper running techniques and ways to get faster. What makes USATF events more challenging to Braden is that he needs to sustain higher speeds for shorter "long distance" runs. USATF divides their age groups into two-year brackets, so this year Braden was in the lower age of the 7-8 age group. He did really well his first year by qualifying for the Outdoor Track & Field Nationals in the 1500 meter and the Cross Country Nationals in the 2K. We took him to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Cross Country Nationals, where he got a true taste of running against the elite runners from around the nation. Even though he didn't finish where he wanted, it was a great experience and it made him more determined to put in the work on the track to improve and get faster.


Braden's USATF Junior Olympic medals from 2015

Braden strives to excel in everything he does. He's a straight "A" student at school, where his teacher says he's very competitive in his schoolwork and he is goal-oriented, which is unusual for a kid his age. We always set goals for our races and even though I have to sometimes tell Braden he needs to be a little realistic on what he wants to do; for the most part he is successful. We say a prayer before every race asking the Lord to give us the strength mentally and physically to succeed and to thank Him for being able utilize the talent's He's given us. After that, Braden's aim is to win! He gets a thrill when he's able to meet his goals and I love being able to celebrate with him when he does. 

When you have a kid as driven as Braden, the goals tend to be pretty easy. Prior to a race, we always lay out what he wants to accomplish. The first is to win in his age group, the second (if it's a Grand Prix race) is to get maximum points, third is to set a PR, and last is to get a high age-grading percentage.

What is age-grading percentage? To me it is one of the best measurements of where a runner truly stands with their perfomance. I first saw these percentages on Mac's Race Timing Service's searchable results from one of our races and from there started researching about the meaning and application of the program. 

The optimal age for runners is between the ages of 19-30...basically their prime. Because youth is on their side, on any given race, the top runners tend to be between those ages and will put up the fastest times. Anyone who falls outside of the prime age group (generally younger runners like Braden and older runners like me who are 40 and up) are at a disadvantage to the 19-30s due to not yet being fast enough or slowing down due to getting older. This is where age-grading plays a part. There are programs that will calculate a younger or older runner's result based on age, distance, track/road, and time. The result will give what the person would have timed if they would have been in their prime. For example (shown below), Braden ran his best 10K in 47:39 and, plugging in the numbers, it basically shows that giving the same effort as a 7-year-old, he would have ran a 33:49 time as a 19-year-old. The last number that is given is an age-performance percentage. The higher the percentage, the higher class of athlete you are. For an example, if your percentage is in the 60+ range, you are deemed a local class runner, 70 + is a regional class runner, 80+ is a national class runner, 90+ is world class, and lastly, 100+ is world record level. On my best efforts I tend to fall in the high 50s to low 60s. Braden, though, is on a totally different level. At the beginning of the year he was mainly in the mid to high 60s, but ever since he's been running track, his percentages have been mostly in the 70s. For his 10K PR race, he had his best run ever, performance-wise, with a percentage of 79.01%, which puts him on the cusp of being a national class runner for his age. His 5K PR of 23:32 gave him a performance percentage of 77.68%.

Along with Braden's goals, he has big dreams as well. I don't want him to grow up so fast, but he is already looking forward to running track and cross country for Vilonia. Vilonia has one of the top running programs in Class 5A and they are led by Coach John Allison, who leads the cross country team, and Coach Michael Stout, who leads the track team. They both know Braden very well! There are not too many kids who like to watch track, but Braden loves seeing the older kids in action and he has already informed me that one day he is going to own all the distance records for the school. At the Fly Like an Eagle 5K, he got the chance to run with the owner of nearly all the long distance records at Vilonia, Zach Rail. Even though he was sick during the week, Braden was determined to run the race. He finished...barely, but it was at that race where he met a lot of the cross country kids and Coach Allison. Coach Allison and Stout are outstanding individuals who really have the best interest of the kids they coach and it is my hope that both of these men will still be coaching when Braden gets older. Lastly, to my chagrin, he wants to run for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a Texas A&M fan and I don't care for the Hogs, but I told Braden that if he had the opportunity to run for Arkansas, I would Woo Pig Sooie him around the track! Even I know how great Arkansas' track and cross country programs are. I use the age-graded calculator to tell Braden the performance percentage he needs to get, in order to get a scholarship and run for a great team like the Razorbacks. He knows all the hard running (along with academics) he'll be doing over the next several years is for a scholarship and to get into the best school he can. Once again big dreams!!

Braden with the Vilonia Cross Country boys

Like most runners, Braden has had times where things didn't go quite as well. There are times he hates to train and some of his races haven't been as good because of it and for a time period in the late summer, it seemed tortuous to get him to try to get a 5K training run out of him, especially when we were having to train for 10Ks. I discovered he needed some changes in scenery and was getting bored of the same route we had been running. Usually, though, he's had bad races due to illness. He had strep three times and had the stomach bug a couple of more times which affected his performance. He did throw up on the course a few times at the finish, but that was because he pushed himself really hard at the end. Overall, I believe he's left his "mark" at the race course at least 7 times.

One of the privileges and best parts about running races is getting to do them with Braden. There are no other sports I can think of where I can actually participate and take part in my son's accomplishments...I get such a thrill! I really thought that it would take Braden a few more years before he would seriously challenge me in a road race, but he has made such huge strides, I've found that I need to be on top of my game in order to keep up with him, especially with the killer finishing kick he possesses! More than anything, I believe he relishes the challenge to beat me (and talking trash!). His first race where he accomplished this was the Watermelon 5K, where I had an extremely bad race and the excuses to go along with it, but at the Breakaway 10K I ran close to my PR and he still beat me! I've had ups and downs with my running ever since I started in 2011. During that time frame I've had many successes focusing mainly on half marathon and marathon events, but I've also had some bad setbacks which were attibuted to injuries. Running with Braden has sparked a renewed interest for me and I know that I need to continue to get into better shape and strengthen my game because it won't be long before the only time I'll see him is at the start and finish lines, where he'll be waiting on me! One of my biggest highlights of the year was when we ran in the Soaring Wings Half Marathon Relay. The relay provided us with an opportunity to run as a team and what made it even better was when we were able to place in the top three.

Some of the hardware Braden collected in 2015
I love to talk running and, more than anything, I love to talk about Braden's running! I know it's the proud father in me, but I truly thank the Lord every day for the blessings and abilities he's given to Braden. Braden has an amazing support group and I always show him comments on Facebook and let him know when someone gives a word of encouragement. I have had so much fun starting up this blog and it allows me to give him a record of what he has done so he can look back many years from now to see where he's progressed.

So what do we have to look forward to in 2016?

Braden has mentioned that he wants to win the Grand Prix again, set more PRs, and after his finish at the National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships, he said wants to work harder on the track to improve his speed to be more competitive on a national level. This next year, he will be traveling all around Arkansas again while also going to Kansas, and hopefully Sacramento, California and Birmingham, Alabama for USATF. We are also in training for his longest race yet...the River Trail 15K in February.

Now for the sad part...for me. I will be deploying this upcoming year and my last race with Braden will most likely be in early April. It's going to kill me not being able to run with and see him continuing to get better and better. Once again, he has support that will be there with him while I'm gone. Thankfully, his papa Bernie will join the Grand Prix after running a lot of the races this past year and even though he can't keep up with Braden, he'll at least be able handle the logistics of taking him to most of the races and being there for him. His uncle Greg has graciously accepted the role of running with him for his weekly long distance runs. This was my biggest concern since he has gotten so much faster. I didn't want his times to suffer because no one could train with him, so my brother has the huge responsibility of coaching him while I'm not here. Also, since Coach Terlea will be coaching in Conway, it will enable Braden to run track in Conway instead of having to get toted down to Little Rock all the time. One thing is for sure...even though I won't be here, I will still be able to keep close tabs on his races and continue to write the blog.

Here are Braden's running highlights for 2015:

* He joined two running clubs: the Conway Running Club while running in the Arkansas Grand Prix and the Arkansas Performance Running Club Patriots for USA Track & Field

* He ran 23 road races including: (1) 1 mile race, (2) 2 mile races, (9) 5K races, (2) 8K races, (8) 10K races and (1) Half Marathon relay

* Combining road races with USATF competition, he ran a total of 104 miles

* In all his races (including USATF), he came in 1st place in his age group 21 times and placed in the top three 26 times

* He won his 0-9 age group in the Arkansas Grand Prix with a maximum point total of 250 points, while also getting maximum points in every Grand Prix race he ran in

* He set a PR in the 5K distance 5 times, reducing his 2014 time from 30:06 to 23:23 (6 minute 43 second reduction)

* He set a PR in the 10K distance 3 times, reducing his 2014 time from 1:04:25 to 47:39 (16 minute 46 second reduction)

* He won 2 Gold medals, 2 Silver medals and 1 Bronze medal in Junior Olympic competition

* He broke the course record in the Chase Race and Paws 2 Mile run for the 0-6 age group, which had stood for the past 5 years, by 1 minute and 51 seconds

* He qualified for and ran in the National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in the 2K run and he also qualified for the National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in the 1500 meter run 

* He ran in events all over the state of Arkansas while also running races in Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico

Well, that will do it for 2015 and Braden and I would once again like to thank everyone for their support and truly means a lot to us!!!

Our next race will be on January 24, where we will have the first Grand Prix race of the year...the One Hour Track Run in Pottsville, Arkansas. This championship race will be a flat course and there will be water stops every 1/4 mile...because it's a track! The winner is whoever runs the most laps (furthest distance) in one hour.

Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 USATF National Junior Olympic XC Championships

At the beginning of the year, if you would have told me that Braden would be participating in the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships, I would have given you a strange look because he had only ran five total races prior to March! This race was his final one of the year and would prove to be the most challenging.

My little running buddy has accomplished so much this year and when he was "discovered" by Coach Cezar Terlea of the Arkansas Performance Running Club Patriots it opened up a whole different opportunity to run track and cross country instead of the normal road races. Even though Braden qualified for Nationals in Jacksonville, Florida in the 1500 meter run, he wasn't able to go because of prior commitments, but looking into the future I knew he would most likely be able to qualify for Nationals in cross country at Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a reward for him doing so well this year I wanted to give Braden an opportunity to participate against the country's best runners, so I circled the date on the calendar and made hotel reservations far in advance.

Braden has been putting out some fantastic PRs as of late and we hoped the momentum would carry him to a good finish in Nationals. He ran an 8:56 in qualifying for Nationals and based off of last year's championships the same time would have placed him in the top 100. An 8:37 finish would most likely have placed him in the top 50. Based off of those times, we figured a top 75 finish would definitely be doable.

The race was on a Saturday, but I wanted to get to New Mexico a few days prior for a couple of reasons. The first was that it was a 12 hour drive and I wanted us to get time to recuperate from the journey and the second was I wanted him to get adjusted to the altitude (5,000 ft. above sea level).


We left on Wednesday morning at 3 a.m. and planned on getting to Albuquerque by 2 p.m. I wanted to leave enough time for us to get in a run, so when we arrived at the hotel, we immediately changed and looked for a place to go. The weather was beautiful during our 2.5 mile run, but we could definitely tell that our breathing was more labored because of the altitude. I wasn't concerned about pace, I just wanted to stretch our legs after being in the car for so long. I considered the next day's practice to be more important since they would open up the course for the runners and I wanted to give him a more rigorous workout.

Thursday was a very busy day! We started out the morning by going to Ninja Park where Braden got to train with a staff member for a couple of hours on the same type of obstacles that are on his favorite show - American Ninja Warrior. He has indicated, several times, that he wants to be an American Ninja Warrior when he grows up and he discovered that the training and obstacles he trained on were a lot more difficult than it looks on television. He had a wonderful experience and he would have spent even more time at Ninja Park, but we needed to get to the course for our training run.


The course was at Balloon Fiesta Park, where they hold the annual balloon festival, and for his particular race, it was one giant loop around the park. For his age group (8 & Under), the course length is 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) and though the distance is not a problem, the more pressing issue is trying to run fast for the whole distance. Braden was still a little tired from the workout earlier in the morning, and with the wind and altitude, his training run was not good. He ran a 10:30 and he basically said that he didn't feel he would do good at all on race day. I told him that he would probably do better running with the other kids and he hopefully would be better adjusted to the altitude by Saturday. After our run we had dinner and then went to get his packet. The line for the packet was non-existent, but in the next room over it was a zoo. The room was where they had USATF gear and it was like being a kid in a candy store! I purchased Braden some long racing tights, a jacket and a shirt that he customized.

On Friday morning we took our last run around the course and strategized what to do on certain parts and where I would be stationed at while he was running. Braden did better, as far as his time was concerned, but it still wasn't as fast he wanted it to be. Another thing that wasn't helping was him being congested and having a cough. He was fine on Wednesday, but on Thursday he started to have issues so we had to go to the store to load up on cough medicine and decongestant.

After we left the course we went to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History where he took in all the dinosaur artifacts. He loved that New Mexico was a hotbed for Tyrannosaurus Rex and other big dinosaurs. Later, we went to the Albuquerque Convention Center where they held the opening ceremonies. Luckily, we arrived a little early because there were parents standing along the walls due to there not being enough seating for everyone. Braden marched in with his region and he got to listen to Olympic athletes and coaches address the runners as well as take the oath of sportsmanship. It really started hitting me that my little guy was a Junior Olympian and I felt so proud of him being able to reach this level.


Saturday was the big day!

I'll back up a little bit first to talk about the weather. The temperatures all week had been in the high 50s to the low 60s and even though it was a little windy, everything was nice. The forecast for Saturday, however, was not looking good. The prediction for most of the week was that the temperatures were really going to drop, it was going to be very windy, and there was a great chance for rain and possibly snow. Because of this, I packed for the possible cold weather and tried to mentally prepare Braden for the conditions. For the most part everyone likes to run in nice weather in training or during races, but the one thing we haven't had in any of our runs is bad conditions. When I woke up Saturday morning and looked at the forecast, I couldn't help but to feel optimistic about the race...mid-40s, 10 mph winds, and the possibility of rain later in the morning. I told Braden that it looked like Mother Nature was once again going to cooperate! Boy, was I wrong!!!

After getting dressed we went out in front of the hotel and it actually felt pretty comfortable. At that point he didn't think he would need running gloves or a head band to protect his ears from the cold. However, a little later on when we were leaving to head out to Balloon Fiesta Park, it started to drizzle. Braden's race started at 9:30 and at 9:00 he was supposed to go to a big tent to report; this gave us about 45 minutes to warm-up. It was during the warm-up where the weather turned for the worse. The winds started gusting (which made it colder) and the rain started coming down. In hindsight, I should have just taken him to the car and have him sit until he was to report to the tent, but instead he was stretching and trying to get loose. There were a lot of teams from other states that had smaller tents set up that was at least keeping their athletes dry, but Braden was getting drenched from head to toe. By the time the 2K race for the girls started, Braden was shivering and wishing for the officials to open up the tent to report in. My final words to him was that I was extremely proud of him no matter how he would finish and that he needed to not as much worry about the time, but where he placed. Once Braden finally got in line to get under the tent, I had his mom wait to near his starting box while I positioned myself about 100 meters up the course from the starting line.


When the gun went off, I tried to pick out Braden out of the mass of humanity that was composed of the 227 runners, but I didn't see him. As soon as they all passed me, I ran across the field to an area that had a hill so I could see him before the half-way point. Many runners went by before I eventually saw Braden coming towards me, I cheered him along and started to make my way towards the finish area.

As I was running, along with hundreds of other coaches and parents, toward the finish area, I was having a difficult time running in the elements. All I could think about was if I was having a tough time running, how much more difficult it was for Braden. When I got to the finish area I saw the first place runner blitzing towards the end and then I had to wait. After a couple of minutes Braden finally came into view and I yelled for him to run like he's never run before and to kick it in.


I didn't get to initially see where he ended up or his time, so I had to wait for the scoreboard to scroll through the names. His name finally popped up as the 148th finisher with a time of 9:49.6. His time was better than any of his training runs while in Albuquerque, but a minute slower than his qualifying time in Arkansas.

I had to hunt him down and then we had to find mom and the poor kid was soaking and freezing and just wanted to go back to the hotel. I carried him back to the car and we headed off. Braden was obviously disappointed in how his race turned out but I told him that I was still proud of him and that he ran in the worst conditions that he's had to race in before. I told him that there were a lot of kids that had advantages that he didn't. The first was the that lived in Colorado, Utah, etc. were used to thin air. The second was the cold and rainy weather...I talked with some parents from the north and northeast and they said they were used to weather like this back home. The third was him being cold and drenched before the race even started (especially after being congested and coughing for the past few days)...once again, my fault for not taking him to the car to keep him at least a little dry. Lastly, running on grass...this was only Braden's third race on grass because Arkansas doesn't have a lot of meets that involves cross country like those in the north and west coast who have a lot more experience running on the grassy terrain. Not trying to lay out a bunch of excuses, but they all factored into the performance.

Once again Braden was disappointed, but he took everything in stride. The one big take away was speed. Braden is really good in the 5K-10K races and is pretty fast in those distances that require discipline in pacing. For the 2K cross country race and the 1500 meter run in track, pacing is a little different because for the most part you need to go all out. He's been doing a lot of 200 & 400 repeats, fartleks, etc. on the  track to work on his speed, which has helped in his road races, but he needs to sustain higher speeds for the "shorter" distance races. When I talked with Braden's coach after the race, he said that this was a good lesson for him because, in Arkansas, Braden is a "shark" and doesn't have a whole lot of competition, but going up against the best in the country, it showed him what he needs to do to compete and improve. Braden recognized this and talked about needing to incorporate more track work into his training so he can be more competitive. It was great hearing him turn a negative into a positive and not get discouraged from the result...all it did was make him more determined than ever to better himself!

After we got back to the hotel, Braden had some hot chocolate and got into the hot jacuzzi. The rain stopped shortly after his race, the winds died down and the sun came out...near perfect conditions for the other runners and their races. In the evening, we had some snow showers and when we woke up in the morning, there was snow everywhere. It was Albuquerque's first snow of the winter and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to play in and have a snowball fight. In the afternoon we were going to take a tram in the Sandia Mountains, but it was too windy, so we went to the Explora Science Center and Children's Museum where he thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Sunday morning came early and with it the long journey back home. Braden said he had an awesome time, other than the race itself, and altogether it was a nice getaway before the holidays.

My Junior Olympian is already looking forward to next year's race and the experience from this race will help him greatly. I told Braden not only will he be a year older in his age group, but the race will be in Hoover, Alabama, where it would be more like Arkansas in weather and altitude. Needless to say, he was very happy to hear about the change in venue. I suspect in 2016, after another year of training under his belt, he'll have a lot better result that will be reflective in the standings.

Below is the video of the race...Braden shows up at the 3:20 and 6:39 mark:

USATF JO XC Championships Boys 8 & Under