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Friday, February 10, 2012

Pentathlon, Life, and what I want to be.

I’ve spent just over a month in Colorado Springs, at the OTC, training, training, and training. It’s been unreal. I leave tomorrow morning for Boston.

When I first got here, just after the fall semester ended, I was in normal-people “great” shape, but not in Harry Greene “great” shape. I was a student who was training on the side for a sport that acts like a full time job.

Where am I now? I’m a bit further along. I’d say I’ve done about a semesters’ improvement in around three weeks. I’m dead serious.

There’s a reason they call it the Olympic Training Center. I wake up in the morning, start training, and stop before dinner, read after dinner, and then go back to bed. The pool is a 6-minute walk away from my dorm room. Fencing is 5 minutes away from the cafeteria. There are trails to run on about 2 miles away. I have structure in my day. It’s not 20 degrees outside (usually).

Typical week:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday:
Fence 8-10
Shoot 10-11
Run 12-1
Swim 3:30-5
Dryland training for swimming 5-5:30

Tuesday, Thursday:
Running or track workout: 9:30-11
Shoot: 12-1
Swim 3:30-5
Usually fencing footwork and target practice somewhere in there.

Long run in the morning
Swim in the afternoon
Shoot at some point individually

Sunday: Competition or day off

I eat and sleep like a mother in between all of this.

I fence with quality fencers who push me, and give advice. They react correctly. Janusz is an incredible coach. I don’t even get private lessons yet, and I’m still improving drastically.

G pushes us in the pool. Long course meters at altitude absolutely sucked at first, but I got used to them. Workouts I couldn’t fathom a month ago are now fun. We get our strokes recorded and analyzed with an accelerometer. It doesn’t get any better than that.... My stroke has improved tremendously over the past three weeks, and I can feel it. I’m more efficient, and I love it.

I’m running the most I’ve run in years, consistently, without pain. I went on a 13-mile long run at altitude the other day, got back and realized that my average mile split was 7:04. Justin and I weren’t pushing. It felt great. I’m faster than I was two and a half years ago with UVM Cross Country when I was running 50 miles per week at sea level, in the summer, after a great base.

I hit 5 shots in 12 seconds the other day. It was during practice, and without a heart rate, but I’m happy with it to say the least. Two months ago it took me about 40 seconds. No lie. I can consistently hit 5 shots in 20 seconds without (and sometimes with) a heart rate. It’s really all about the front sight and developing the right muscle memory.

What does all of this mean? It means that Pentathlon is that much more tangible. It means that when I focus on something exclusively, without distractions, I get better. A lot better. Who would have thought?

After junior worlds, and the all of the “How did it go?” I got from everyone, my parents didn’t have much faith in me. I try not to blame them, since they don’t come from athletic backgrounds, but to be honest it put a bitter taste in my mouth. They support me financially, and I can’t be more thankful for that, but the little things that get thrown into conversation that show that they only like Pentathlon because it’s resume material doesn’t really help with the mental edge. When I feel like my head is going to explode in the pool, I need my own positive thoughts flying through my head, as opposed to doubt. This winter break, I proved to myself (and hopefully to them) that I am competitive. I improved 300 points, passed Americans that I haven’t beaten before, and am 200 points away from the next one up. I went from 11th at nationals to 6th at this passed World-Cup qualifier.

I have a good idea of who reads my blog, but to be honest this post is more for my own benefit. I’m at a time in my life where I believe in myself, and to quote Steve Prefontaine, “Having a true faith is the most difficult thing in the world…many will try to take it from you.” I’m sitting here at 11 pm, typing, not having packed anything yet, and I have to get up reasonably early. There’s a reason I’m here right now. I need to tell myself that as running is real, so is pentathlon. It may not be pure, but it’s brought a sense of verisimilitude to my life.

I’ll be taking four business courses in Spanish in Argentina. Hitting on the realism side of things, I won’t be able to train as much as I want to. Instead of 25 training sessions per week, I might have 12, but that’s life. That’s college. What I want to convey is that after I’m done with school in two and a half years, it will be time. I’ll be fast enough in the pool by then. Fencing will be better. I’ll be in running shape, and fast. Shooting will be there. Riding will be fine as usual. I’ll then have a year until I have to be on my game…to become a true elite athlete, and then another year until the games. After that, life starts. Until then, I sacrifice what I need to in order to become he who I envision.

One might think that if I just train and study, I’ll end up without a social life. The funny thing is, the more I train, and the more time I spend with good people who understand this lifestyle, the closer we get. I train with the same good people, eat meals with the same good people, and shoot the shit with the same good people every day. I’m sorry, but when you’re all fighting for a common goal, that’s how friendships are made (highschool cross country anyone?). When I first got to the OTC in August, and met everyone in person for the first time, I didn’t know how to act. I had heard about Margaux for instance that it was a good idea to “just get on her good side.” I had heard that Pentathlon was catty, political, and that people weren’t actually that cool. Hoooooo man, is that complete bullshit or what? Margaux is fucking awesome. Everyone is awesome. Normally, after I’m around people for a bit, I tone down the filter a bit, and just say Harry Greene things. Some people get sick of my gags, nonsense, stupid humor, etc. What’s weird is that people here…don’t. They spit it right back. They make the same kind of social commentary that I do. They say things that I would hesitate to say in front of other people…and it’s perfect. When I break into song, Margaux sings with with me. When I talk about how showering and soap are completely optional, and how food is sacred, Justin is right there with me. When I make strange faces at Sammy and Rendy, they make strange faces right back. When I ask Janusz if I can wear spikes for the combined event (which involved running over the fencing strips), he tells me “Yes, but only if you take them off every time you run across the strips, and up to the shooting zone.” At dinner with RC (Greco-Roman wrestler), the bobsledders, the fencers, Tucker the paralympic swimmer, Andrew the gymnast, stuff gets brought up that I thought only I talked about… You know how when you know someone really well, you can set them up for witty remarks, and you both just understand each other? I do that here with people I’ve just met, and it works. All of the negative energy just gets blasted into space by the positive vibes that people send out, and it’s perfect.

Athletes seem to be a different breed, no matter where they come from. It’s not about their physical ability or what they’ve done, it’s about the mindset. It’s about trying to be a better person.

Sometimes at home, I’m perceived as arrogant, cocky, a show off, lacking in modesty, you name it. The funny thing is, I haven’t gotten that here once. Not once. Strange, huh? I’ve been called “Someone who just stepped out of an REI catalog,” “Mr. American Man,” and some other stuff that I can’t remember right now, but it’s all viewed as a good thing. My point is that there’s a difference between confidence and arrogance. When you do what you do with conviction, and you’re relatively good at it, and you’re proud of yourself for being yourself, you’re not arrogant, you’re doing life well, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes it feels like other people resent you for it. Yes, I’ve been handed this opportunity by my parents. Yes, I’m relatively well-off. Do I take it for granted? No. Am I going to give all of this back to the youth of tomorrow? Of course! That’s why I want to do what I want to do as a career! Also, living and training among Olympians makes me a small fish. I no longer get called “Hercules,” and I like it. I like going out of my comfort zone. That’s what life is about. When you’re a small fish, no one’s going to say that you’re arrogant. When you’re a big fish, some people resent you for it, because some people just don’t have the drive to be the best that they can be. Funny how that works. If cocky is the converse of apathetic, consider me a large rooster.

My family runs an international overnight summer camp in Maine, and a day camp in Massachusetts. I talked to Rob Stull (president of USA Pentathlon) about life for a while, and he told me that I’d be crazy not to continue with Pentathlon. With the people you meet all over the world, with my International Business major, I’d be stupid not to do it. I like Rob. He’s a good guy, and not just because he tells me what I want to hear. As I recall, that statement was unprovoked by me.

What I’m trying to say with this is that if I were to send a letter back to 12-year-old Harry Greene, I think he’d be happy. I want to keep it that way.

What I’m getting at with the first half of this post is that I can never take what I have for granted. People say that you never realize what you have until it’s gone. When I come back and read this in the future when I’m starting another stint at the OTC, I’d like to tell myself to work as hard as I humanly can, because I only get this chance once. From day 1, do it. Please. Fence like you mean it. Beat the pool to death. Run strong, run smart. Focus on your god-damned front sight.

You only live once. Work hard, train hard.

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