June 19, 2006

Soccer? On this blog?

Yep, it's that time again. For most Americans, getting excited about soccer is a once-every-four-years phenomenon (unless you have young children, in which case it's once a week and you get to cut up a lot of oranges). But, as the excitement rises with more World Cup success each quadrenium, the publicity and magnitude of the tournament itself is sinking in a little more into the American conscience.

The great thing about the tournament layout is the fascinating outcomes that arise from each "groups" of four nations in the preliminary round. Each team plays the others in a round robin format, with teams getting 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss (along with various death threats if you hail from Europe, and God help you if you were the keeper). The Americans, or "The Star and Stripes", are in an incredibly tough group, having to face the Czech Republic (the second-ranked team in the world), Italy (a three-time Cup winner and historically one of the strongest national teams in Europe), and Ghana (easily the best team to come from Africa in a long time despite this being their first entry into the tournament). The top two countries from the group will then move on the second round.

Here are the results from the first four games:

Czech 3, US 0.
Italy 2, Ghana 0.

Ghana 2, Czech 0.
Italy 1, US 1.

With one game left for each team (US v. Ghana, Italy v. Czech), the points stand as such:

Italy 4, +2
Chech 3, +1
Ghana 3, 0
US 1, -3

The numbers to the right of overall points note the goal difference for each team, i.e. how many more goals they've scored than their opponents. This is the first tiebreaker in the event that two nations have the same number of points, something fairly common since there are only 3 games to play in the round.

So, what do the Stars and Stripes need to go to move on? Well, they can't win the group, since the most points they can get is 4, as the winner of the Italy/Czech Republic will have 7/6 points respectively, and if there is a tie, Italy will have 5.

So, the US is playing for second. In order for them to make second, they MUST BEAT GHANA. This will give them 4 points and eliminate Ghana from the group. In all likelihood, they will also need help in the form of an Italian win, leaving the points as such:

Italy 7
US 4
Czech 3
Ghana 3

However, thanks to the tiebreakers, ther is a way that USA can seal second even without needing help in the second game -- BLOW OUT GHANA BY FIVE GOALS. As of right now, the Czech Republic holds a goal differential advantage of 4 (as 1 - (-3) = 4). If the US beats Ghana by 5 and the Italy/Czech game ends in a tie, the standings would be as such:

Italy 5
US 4, +2
Czech 4, +1
Ghana 3

Further, as it stands now, Italy holds a goal differential advantage of 5 (as 2 - (-3) = 5). If the US beats Ghana by 5 and Italy loses, the points would look like this:

Czech 6
US 4, +2
Italy 4, <2 (since it'd be 2 - (goals lost by))
Ghana 3

We can see now that a blowout win for the US means they're in by points if Italy wins, in by differential advantage over Italy if the Czech Republic wins, and in by differential advantage the Czech Republic in the event of a tie. So, by beating Ghana by 5, the Stars and Stripes will assure themselves a place in the second round no matter the outcome of the Czech/Ghana game.

The last set of results key in on a US victory, by not by a bundle. Let's say the US wins by 3 (which is still somewhat of a blowout for soccer, but not nearly the scale we looked at earlier). That would leave them with this line:

US 4, Even

If Italy beats Czech, US is in by points. If the game is tied, Czech is in by tiebreaker (as they would have a net +1 goal differential). However, if the Czechs can beat Italy big enough (in this case by 3), the Italians' goal differential will sink below the Americans' and push Donavon +10 into the second round thanks to these standings:

Czech 6, +4
US 4, Even
Italy 4, -1
Ghana 3, -3

So, even winning moderately well still gives America another chance to get to the second round outside of an Italian victory. Of course, if they do make it into the second round, they have to face Brazil, historically and currently the strongest 'futball' nation in the world. So, that's nice.

If you've read this far, you either love soccer, have too much time on your hands, all of the above, or just really like me, which I appreciate. I just really enjoy game theory as well as writing about sports, and since the Braves haven't won in a week and a half (my eating crow post is coming soon; worry not, Dad), I thought this would be a fine topic to discuss, especially in the occasion of our nation finding hope in a sector where we've never had too much success before.

Good luck on Thursday, Star and Stripes. I've shown you what has to happen -- now go out there and do your part!

June 15, 2006

Triathlons are moderately difficult: Week 4

Had a fantastic training session yesterday that leads me to believe that we're taking the right steps in our "race" preparation. Earlier in the week, Meagan and I had tried a swim/bike brick with mixed results. I was able to get in the full 500, but with multiple long breaks, though I did manage two seperate 100m endurance swims and found a good rhythm with my breaststroke, something that might be key it settling myself down if I overtire myself with freestyle. Biking went well, even on a spin bike for 45 minutes (though it was hooked up to a tv, and there was no trainer to really push the tempo). I even ventured out to run a couple laps (about 5/16 mile) to complete my own "wuss triathlon". Needless to say, there were many sore muscles over then next couple of days.

Had a small breakthrough yesterday, though. Our training class met for our first brick together, a swim/bike! We were slated for a 20-minute swim, and I actually started with a 200m endurance swim! During my break (read: time to gasp for air while keeping a death-grip on the side of the pool), I talked with the swim trainer working with us, who asked to analyze my stroke over the next 50m. After the lap, she had a few suggestions, and we talked a little more about breaststroke as well. At the end of 20 minutes, everyone was told to get out of the pool (we were trying to focus on transitioning), and was finishing at 450 -- so agonizingly close! I felt like had I had a couple more minutes, I would've been able to get the 500, and would've had them without the training mini-session. To me, the important thing was feeling like I COULD do it, which is a huge difference from a few weeks!

Biking was rough, but in that good "if I can do this, surely I can do it later!" knid of way. The worst part of it was trying the PowerGel they'd passed out earlier that afternoon. I'd chosen the "Cola Buzzzz" flavor after being warned against the Orange Gel flavor. This was a mistake, as it tasted like two thick shots of Kahlua, only coming back up rather than out of the shot glass. I downed a good chunk of what was in my water bottle to get the taste out of my mouth. By the end of the ride, however, I really think it was worth it. The group decided to run a lap around the track to complete our own version of a "slightly less wussy triathlon", and Meagan challenged my to a race, and I was able to sprint around the track with good speed.

All in all, is was a great training session, and I'm finally in the mindset of "I can do this" rather than "they're gonna have to search for hours to find me after I pass out in the lake/on the course." There's still a lot of work to be done (especially on the running front), but I think now I'll be able to focus on honing what I've learned rather than feeling like I've never done any of this before.

In addition, I've joined the MP3 revlotion, but not through iPod because I AM NOT A SLAVE! I found the Rio Forge 256MB MP3 player for a great price on woot during their most recent woot-off, and I LOVE it! It's really easy to get songs downloaded to it, and even though it's 256MB
(which is still a nice, long 4 hours) I can add SD memory to it and store a lot more on their if I wanted to. It also has a decent FM tuner that you can actually record, creating something akin to TiVo (RadiVo? Sounds too much like a blind techno group). All this (including headphones and an armband) for 30 bucks -- who says I'm not a good spender?

What a week -- feel better about the swimming, know that PowerGels are the devil, and have something to keep me from being bored during run training. In my book, that's a Tri-fecta!

June 09, 2006

In addition, I can speak whale.

Had a breakthrough in training yesterday -- I completed 100m continuous endurance swim for the first time! Yes, it's only 20% of what I'll be required to do in the "race" (in quotes because there's no way I feel that I'll be competitive), but's a great start and a big step to getting to the 300m I'd like to be at by next week.

The other nice thing was I could feel a wall come down as I was around 90m. I think had I pushed myself, I might have been able to 150. It sounds a lot like what Meagan says about running on the track; once you get past the few laps, it gets easier because you just keep running. So from here out, I'm going to do my best to focus and just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming....

In other news, I have the greatest wife in the entire planet. Lovely Meagan and I will, in fact, be watching WWE's (formerly WWF) The Great American Bash PPV live in Indianapolis next month. Not only will we be in Conseco Fieldhouse for the event, but we were able to score FLOOR SEATS!! We might even go the whole nine yards make a sign, who knows? It's going to be a tremendous experience, not only from the getting to see some bigtime wrestlers live (I'm guessing that Undertaker, Bobby Lashley and Bautista and possibly Rey Mysterio will be in action), but the mass of what I'm guessing will be less-than-classy humanity that will be surrounding us throughout the night. It should be a lot of fun, and we'll be watching Smackdown! each Friday night with baited breath to see just what's in store for us on July 23.

June 08, 2006

Triathlons are HARD, Week 3

Man, I've put myself in a hole. With Meagan being gone for the weekend, I had no training partner and didn't have a great desire to work out, especially after being diagnosed with a sprained foot. It was something that happened a few weeks ago; I was holding our 55-pound dog Ozzie to prevent her from bolting out the door after my in-laws had stopped by for a visit, and she thrashed hard enough to elude my grasp and land with all of her weight along the side of my foot, squashing it against the floor. It hadn't really bothered me, but I was worried about run training, so I had it checked to make sure it wasn't broken. It's just a sprain, but it's going to make me focus more right now on the swim/bike aspect than the run for a couple more weeks. I'm a little concerned, but I'm doing my best not to lose focus -- if Lance Armstrong can trek across France after having cancerous testicles, surely I can trek across Eagle Creek Park with a little pain in my foot.

But my training was not up to par. I did a bit of walking with the dog one night, but other than that it was mostly working on abs and core, and I don't think I did anything near the level of what had been done in the training sessions. This week's going to feature a lot of swimming due to the foot, and I have a lot of ground to make up.

Eating has gone very, very well. Even with Meagan gone, I ate plenty of fruits and whole grains (thanks in large part to those being the only things we had in the house). My only slip-up was getting a pizza at the bar while playing poker, BUT it was a chicken basil pesto pizza with low-fat cheese. Voluntarily getting low-fat cheese on a pizza -- what have I become??

I'm giving myself a big push this week -- next week's training is a brick (two phases instead of just one); swimming followed by biking. They talked about starting with a 300-500m continuous swim, and I'm only confident with a continuous swim of a third of the least of that range. I was planning on doing a big swim push this week with my foot being hurt, anyway, but next week's training really galvanized by want to get to where I need to be to finish this thing next month. It's gonna be a lot of work, but I'm sure it'll be worth it.

June 05, 2006

I hate being right so often...

From an April 7th post in The Middle:

"Let's not forget that there are still seven months until the elections, which is plenty of time to bring up the controversial issues that key in on voters' beliefs rather than objectivity. Up til now, we've been dealing with issues that don't really favor the right wing (mainly the war & the fact that the Bush/Cheney administration may indeed have had something to with the CIA leak). But let's not forget that the abortion and homosexual marriage debates have been mostly on hold in DC, aside from the bevy of never-ending protests, making the fews moments without them seem non-routine these days, I'm sure. Rest assured that there will debates in Congress (and subsequently, the nation) on the topics towards the middle of summer and gaining steam into the fall."

This morning, this article could be found in the Indianapolis Star. Comments (or fuel to the fire, if you will) forthcoming.

June 01, 2006

Triathlons are HARD (Week 2)

So, last week I rediscovered the wonderful world of swimming, and how, in fact, how not-so-wonderful it turns out to be. I'd already been dreading the run, so the only leg of the race (which, in my case, is a term used VERY loosely) that I felt confident in was the cycling.

Then I got on a spinning bike.

Spinning bikes are stationary, but differ from traditional exercise bikes in that the seat is the same height as the handlebars, forcing the rider to hunch over like you would in an actual race to reduce drag. They also have simpler, non-electronic controls, making it easier to train in groups. Lastly, where exercise bike are somewhat comfortable and will let you ride for miles without too much pain, spinning bikes are torture devices that create huge sore areas on your toccous and force you to use muscles that you hadn't used in years.

Guess which one's more akin to how the actual race will be?

So, after 25 minutes filled with "climbing" intervals (setting the bike to high resistance and coming out of the seat to peddle slowly with good cadence), I was half-past dead. It didn't help that before the spinning, our training group worked on our "core" muscles (or "muscles you don't actually use unless doing crunches, passing medicine balls or fluttering your legs up and down") for 25 minutes beforehand.

Depite all my complaining, I was able to walk out of the gym, albeit somewhat oddly, thanks to dead glute muscles and a sore butt and made it to the grovery store. They say never go grocery shopping when you're hungry. I say ALWAYS go grocery shopping after getting you butt kicked on a spinning bike. I have to say that in four years my diet has gone through drastic changes, but nothing like what happened last night. In college, it was pizza, Rand burritos and Coke. As a "bachelor", it was pizza, burgers, Taco Bell, Fried chicken, more pizza, Coke and beer. After getting married, it became chicken patties, Hot Pockets, Ritz Chips, Diet Coke (with some sort of flavoring to cover up the taste), and the occasional (three times a week) fast food meal when I was too lazy to make my own lunch. The last wasn't too bad a diet, but after the butt-whooping I got last night, I figured it was time to change again, and Meagan has never balked at healthy foods, so I took a deep breath (along with one last, longing look at the Golden Arches) and took the plunge into really healthy eating.

Instead of chicken patties for sandwiches, microwavable skinless pre-grilled chicken breasts. Instead of Golden Grahams, Whole Wheat Chex. Ritz Chips were replaced by 100% Whole Wheat Wheat Thins and Triscuits. Fruit snacks were replaced by actual fruit. Extra granola bars were bought for pre-workout snacking. Bagged stir-fry with cream sauces became both bagged stir fry in soy sauce and fresh peppers/pre-stripped microwavable grilled chicken to make fresh stir-fry.

And, lastly, against all odds and any visions I ever had for my eating habits: 1% Milk (which, admittedly, was a stretch to begin with) became Skim Milk.

I will say this though -- it seems to be worth it. In a week and a half of training, I've lost 6 pounds, going from 225 to 219. Granted, that still puts me 49 lbs deep into the "Clydesdale" division, but I don't think I'd ever want to be skinny enough to weigh 170. The swimming has gotten better -- over the past weekend, I did a 75m endurance lap, which I was pretty psyched about, and in both swim sessions managed to do 500m, though there were a lot of breaks in between.

Really, I think that the training classes have brought out something in me. It made me realize that I was really sold on the idea of finishing this triathlon, even if it takes twice as long as everyone else. I've found that's the best way for an O'Neill to acheive something; totally sell them on an idea so that they're too stubborn to quit even if the odds are bad and the prospects of success dire. My family's done some amazing things that way, and come July 29, Meagan and I will happily keep the family tradition.

But, man, are we gonna be sore.