Let me tell you a story. In the summer of 2013 my brother and I decided we were going to run the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon on October 20th. I had run four half marathons before, and thought that I would be able to set a personal best in the race. My brother Andrew had never run a race before, but certainly wasn’t lacking in confidence regarding his ability to complete it, and to do it in a time that was faster than mine.
We went about training in different manners. I ran diligently starting in June right through mid September, tracking all of my information per run. In fact, I became very interested in the science behind running, and devised a genius strategy to ensure that I would run the fastest race possible come October. During every single training run, I wore a heart rate monitor and tracked how I was feeling based solely on my heart rate. One of the challenges of long distance running is either coming out of the gate too quickly and falling apart before the finish line, or simply not feeling very good, and thinking that you can’t push your body any more than you already have. By using the heart rate monitor I planned to eliminate all mental decisions I would have to make. I would simply run at 165 bpm until near the end of the race, because I had calculated that this was the threshold I could maintain without flooding my body with lactic acid by running at a rate that was not sustainable for thirteen miles. Come mile eleven, I would turn on the afterburners and cruise to a personal best. My target time was 1:45.
Andrew’s summer training consisted mainly of playing pick up basketball once a week, maybe a touch football game here and there, and the occasional run which never approached more than 9 miles and that didn’t follow a beginners training path for a first race experience.
Fast forward to October 20th 2013. The race was on a Sunday morning, and we had a nice weekend eating carbs and hydrating. Andrew enjoyed a few beers Thursday night and then a few more Friday, but I was much more focused on what it takes to be successful, and stuck predominantly to water…. What a rookie!
Sunday morning it was 2 degrees with a light drizzle as we walked up Yonge Street trying to find the start line in the masses of people decked out in neon Nike running apparel, or the odd person decked out in cutoff jeans chowing down on copious amounts of pre run gel packets and energy drinks. This was the perfect setup for someone like me who hates running in hot weather. Conditions were ideal. Training went well. I had my podcast schedule teed up (I never ran with music at this point in time as I felt it messed with my breathing too much, and caused me to speed up and slow down with the timing of each song). Time to set a record. Andrew was in the first heat so he started his run 10 minutes before me. We were each prepared to run our own races.
Finally, after months of preparation and many jitters, the horn sounded and my race was underway! It didn’t take very long after I crossed that line for things to start to deviate from the grand plan I had in my mind. Within about 200 meters of the start line, I suddenly felt a loosening around my chest, and instinctually reached my hand under my compression long sleeve shirt (perfectly designed for running in the exact condition that day) to catch my heart rate monitor as it fell off me. I examined it and quickly realized that the strap, which up until this point had shown no signs of wear, had cracked where it connects, and would not be serviceable the rest of the day. I now had two problems:
1.) I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel on this heart rate monitor without seeing if I could fix it later, so I had to carry it around for the entire race in my hand. Incredibly annoying, as I had a phone in one hand and a strap in the other all race.
2.) I had trained in such a rigid and robotic manner I was completely unprepared for any variance from my estimated plan that may arise on race day.
I essentially started running the race without any information on how my body was actually feeling, after spending the previous four months working very hard to suppress my ability to read and gauge my body’s comfort level. Predictably, the excitement and lack of monitoring resulted in me coming out of the gates much too quickly. Further compounding my woes was the fact that the race was marked exclusively in kilometers, while I measured all of my training in miles, and couldn’t remember if a mile was 1.6 or 1.8 kilometers…. Who can keep track of all of these things?
About mile nine (I’m guessing based on possibly incorrect calculations) I realized that I was going too quickly, and hoped that I just had enough in the tank to bring it home. I wasn’t feeling very good and hoped to gut it out. By mile eleven my right hip had completely seized up to the point that I could hardly run. The worst was yet to come.
We had signed up for the run in early July, but Andrew had waited a few weeks before confirming he would run. As a result, my bid had “IAN” written prominently on the front of it, while Andrew’s just had a number, something he made fun of me for all weekend. As I dragged my mangled hip up Bay Street during the last kilometer of the race moving at what I would describe as the pace of a slow, wounded duck (which could be aptly used to describe a Mark Burehle fastball…..) I knew I wasn’t going to set a record or reach my goal. Then it happened. The hundreds of people lining the barricades on either side of the street, who were presumably there to support their family and friends started cheering for me. How do I know this? Because they first started saying things like “Come on Ian. Its not that much Further. You can do it!!” or “You are so close Ian”. When you are walking so slowly a pace that strangers can identify your name and feel the need to start chanting “Ian, Ian, Ian” because they can see the anguish on your face amongst a group of people all in anguish, you have done something wrong.
These people spurred me on to the finish line at a time of 1:53 and some change, which ended up being 9 seconds slower than my brother, who ran a blistering last mile that concluded with him fist pumping as he cross the finish line before bending over and puking all over the place. He won the race, and had a much better performance.
Upon getting back to my girlfriend’s apartment after the race, she proudly showed us the pictures she thought she took of me during race day, that actually were of a complete stranger who did bear a striking resemblance to me. He too completed the race before me.
What does any of this have to do with the Toronto Blue Jays?
I lost within the first 200 meters of a 21,082-meter race, or approximately .94% of the way into the contest. One of the most tired clichés born from the 24-hour sports cycle goes:
You can’t win the championship in the first month of the season, but you certainly can lose it!
I can almost hear a poorly dressed sportscaster saying this now in an overly solemn tone. He is likely wearing a suit, shirt, tie combination all cut of the exact same fabric as if he received a bulk discount on a clearance material.
While there are always exceptions to the rules (the 2014 Dodgers were 9.5 games back at the end of May, before taking over the lead in the division by the end of June) I do believe there is some truth to this statement. Falling off the pace early can lead to a range of issues from an anxious fan base, a manager on the hot seat, to players pressing for immediate results.
Take for example the Blue Jays 2013 campaign. With the acquisitions of Reyes, Cabrera, Dickey, Josh Johnson and Buehrle, for the first time in a long time, the Blue Jays were expected to compete for a World Series. For a brief period of time they were even the Vegas pre-season favorites to win the World Series! Just like the Dodgers last season, the Blue Jays found themselves 9.5 games back by the end of May. Even with a magical ten game win streak in the middle of June, the team never closed the gap to less than 5 games for the rest of the season.
So while there have been many things in the first week that make me want to jump up and down or place a wager on the Blue Jays postseason chances, I am trying to temper my excitement a little bit, and remember that the best place they can possible be in by the end of this month is simply “still alive”. While the Blue Jays are already 3% of the way through the season and currently in first place, there are plenty of ups and downs to come. Already the leadership of this team has done a tremendous job of moving on from the Marcus Stroman injury to refocus on the season.
Quick Hitters from Week 1:
- Russell Martin throwing out base runners from one knee is a lifetime away from the Arencibia experience
- Trading Dioner Navarro as he requested would have been a big mistake. Heavy D brings a range of skills to the team including being an overqualified backup and a nice DH. Come the dog days of July, having another active bat will be very nice, and I suspect he will end up playing more games than initially projected
- Bullpens can be purchased late in the season if you are within striking distance (which is really just a reflection of one inning in NY)
- While having a strong defensive team doesn’t sound like fun in the offseason, it feels great once the season begins! Pompey, Bautista, and Pillar all made highlight reel grabs to start off the season and must play a big role in building confidence for the young pitching staff.
- Going into the season, the Blue Jays were 14-42 in new Yankee Stadium since it opened in 2009, including a 17 game losing streak the team broke last year. To take 2 of 3 to start the season is a great emotional boost, and gives the feeling that this year could be different.
- Putting a beating on a team at their home opener is an underrated experience. Winning a game when your starter doesn’t go 5 innings and gives up 7 earned runs is even better.
- If the 8 and 9 hitters produce even close to as much as they have the first week the rest of the season this team will generate an incredible number of runs.
- Seeing Castro pitch and look so comfortable while doing it was the surprise of the week for me. When batters have no data or information on pitchers it always helps the pitcher early, but when a guy touches 96 with movement I’m not too sure how much a scouting report helps.
- Osuna’s change in velocity from fastball to change up (96pmh to 78mph this week) is going to be fun to watch in person.
- Edwin rarely hits a homerun that isn’t a no doubter. He sits on off-speed pitches and stalks the exact pitch in the exact spot he wants. While other players may hit a fly ball that carries out of a park, the Edwing only knows how to explode on a ball and leave pitchers hanging their heads.
- Rough start for Sanchez, but I don’t want to read too much into it. When you throw 80% fastballs, your fastball better be locating. As a fan, when a young pitcher gets touched up its much easier to take than when a veteran does. I can reasonably assume that Sanchez will continue to develop his non-fastball arsenal, and at some point he will put it all together.
- I wish we had one more starter so the bullpen could have Sanchez, Osuna and Castro lined up. It might also help protect Sanchez while he develops his other pitches.
Monday night I will be up in the 500’s for the home opener! I’m looking forward to seeing some Blue Jays baseball live. Next week will contain a full report of my first opening game experience.