Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Handicapping the 2012 Field: Ben Moeling

2011 2nd Place Overall

Ben Moeling

Let’s get the necessary out of the way right away: Ben shocked everyone last year on both the rocks and the bikes, then double secret probation shocked everyone again by booking early for 2012. Eradicating opium crops in Kandasucks, Afghanistan – check. Shepherding future GOP Presidential candidates around Goat City, China – check. Spidermanning up the walls at MetroRock, Newburyport – check and mate and pour the Knot.

So we welcome Ben back, although fellow racers should be comforted by the fact that he has been eating cheese and drinking red wine for 12 months in luxurious Geneva, not wearing kevlar and ducking-n-covering in Afghanistan.


  • Seneca Rocks…as noted last year: three-stage climb, with Danno leading and Ben the third climber (therefore pulling out the protection), roughly 80-90 feet per stage…see this pic…but that was almost ten years ago…double but, this year, Ben’s trainer will be spending ELLT weekend at Joshua Tree. No, not some opium-induced recreation of the U2 album, but the actual Joshua Tree, a climbing mecca.
  • Per 2011, “Mad Mountain Bike Skillz…proven more than once on the single track trails around northern Virginia” and proven again at Willowdale last year.
  • Faith in the integrity of the ELLT, which is fantastic….but….see below.
  • Lastly, navigating the rough seas of ELLT has to be easier after you been dunked in the sandy and salty brine of Girl Talk: “generals gathered in their masses…get out the way!”


  • In 2011 we expected rock climber’s hoops skills and average elite mountain biker’s golf skills…we were right. Ben’s hoops and golf skills are summed up perfectly in the pictures below.
  • Spinal Tap’s drummer2nd place in 2008 failed to reach the overall podium in 2009. 2nd place in 2009 completely missed 2010. 2nd place in 2010 completely missed 2011. Ben has broken the pattern of the last two years, but 2nd place does seem a bit cursed.
  • Faith. Pure, simple, unadulterated faith in the goodness of America and the truthiness of his seven iron, his outside shot, his biking lungs, his lobstah claw climbing grip, and his 0-13 east coast elitism. No one, not even Tom McParland, brings more pure faith in his ability to win all weekend. Admirable, of course, but also a weakness when you’re five, six, seven, and eight irons suck and your outside shot resembles Detlef Schrempf boxing out than Shaq shooting a three.

Past performances:

In 2011, Ben was casually capable at soccer and then turned into Spiderman’s Stripey Pants Cousin on the rocks. In golf…no surprises. On the bike, Ben finished the time trial 12 seconds behind athletic-super-freak Chris Roy and nearly one minute ahead of the 2010 mountain bike gold medalist. Sweet Abraham Lincoln’s mother, that is a damn good ride. In hoops…whatever. Of course, as noted in 2011, “Ben has been shot at from close range and managed to, 1) not soil his khakis; and 2) avoid being hit. Ben also endured six+ months of language training with Eric Shimp, which was probably far worse than being shot at from close range.”

Expectations for 2012:

With the exception of his Chinese language training classmate, no one has done more in the last 11 months to lobby for reduced, adjusted, moderated, and qualified expectations. Ben has mentioned injuries, jet lag, language adjustments (apparently going from speaking diplomatese and Swiss German to Byfieldian Masshole is a tough transition), and age as reasons why expectations for his performance should be lower. But here is the chicken-fried truth: Ben is going to get out-climbed on the rocks by 2 or 3 racers, out-golfed by everyone except the other three in his foursome (Danno, Tom McP, and the Race Director), and picked into so many pick-n-rolls he’ll see Big Baby Davis in his sleep. But on the bikes…with Danno unqualified and Chris Roy also on the Competition Committee’s yellow card list, Ben has a shot. A surprising morning on the rocks and just one — just one — stellar golf shot, plus a top-of-the-podium mountain biking finish and Ben could hold on to 2nd place overall. If the field is a mess…maybe First Place Overall Supreme Grandmaster Champion.

(worth noting: of all the pictures in this post, only two show Ben actually competing, and one of those is on the green, where Ben is using an eight iron to putt)


Training, Expectations, and the Subtle Art of Triathlon Scoring

Based on today’s email-avalanche around ELLT expectations for Mr. Steve Otto and Mr. Eric Shimp, it may be time for a refresher of how ELLT scoring is done.

We covered this in June 2011 and noted at the time that all events are subject to expectations, often set early and adjusted constantly, including after the event (usually over lunch). It’s possible the ELLT Competition Committee has been less than clear about what goes into expectations, so below is a basic primer – with two huge caveats: 1) what’s below is not retroactive (meaning you can’t apply things below to expectations/outcomes from previous years); and 2) what’s below is absolutely subject to change.

We’ll pause here to remind everyone why we even need expectations

Expectations fall into three broad categories: 1) Athletic; 2) Social; and 3) Conditional. For athletic, consider Danno, last year’s Overall Champion. Having seen Danno climb, expectations were high, something he overcame by being one of only three racers to complete the Ben-Moeling-5.14b-Spiderman route. So, high expectations were met. Having seen Danno play hoops, expectations were low…and he met those expectations. Notably, those expectations were based on past performance. If Danno had spent even 30 minutes on Adams Lane playing pick-up hoops before the triathlon, the expectations would have gone up. To translate all that to today – Otto’s running regime should reward him with extra stamina in mountain biking and basketball, as well as additional calming zen-ness in golf, raising the overall expectations for him.

We’ll pause here to remind everyone why Otto needs golfing zen

Social expectations are simple: everyone is expected to survive Steve Ball’s masterful mixology, although “survival” for some will be different than others. Additionally, someone threw down the olive-laden toothpick in a challenge to Steve Ball’s reign as Master of the Ball Bar, so its possible this year will be more challenging than usual. Would also note Tom McParland’s liberal use of The Knot as a pre-race Gillooly certainly changed the game over the past two years.

We’ll pause here for a reminder of us how dangerous Mr. McParland can be

The last expectation category, Conditional, is exactly as it sounds and is probably best explained through examples: Ben Moeling was expected to climb well and bike well, but those expectations were lowered by his rookie status and questionable decision to train in Afghanistan prior to the race. Steve Ball was expected to play basketball with considerable difficulty in 2008. And then he was half of the winning team. He held his own in 2009 and in 2010, his expectations were so high he was handicapped by being teamed with the Race Director. And he promptly reverted back to pre-2008 playing form, once again lowering expectations dramatically for 2012. Ok, that is example is more Athletic than Conditional, but it does explain how the expectations can yo-yo from year to year (and even day to day during the race).

One last note: expectations are based on accumulated data and blind guess work. The more the ELLT Competition Committee knows, the more finely tuned the expectations. Strategically speaking, racers need to decide whether more or less information moves the needle in the right direction.

Final final note: this group isn’t based on the quote “cheats and liars” for nothing. If you’re not making stuff up about your own training and/or making stuff up about the competition, you’re not trying.

Last final point: if you think the Competition Committee is full of crap, appeal to The Commissioner

ELLT 2012 Soundtrack

I will always associated two songs with ELLT 2011: Girl Talk’s “Oh No” and Guns & Roses’ “Sweet Child O’Mine.” I remember sitting on the step to the porch, with Ben Moeling in the chair to my left, and hearing “Generals gathered in their masses – get out the way,” envisioning Ben riding with the US 10th Mountain Division into some dusty, hell-torn Afghan town, music blaring. And later that evening, JP using “Sweet Child O’Mine” to tell us all the news he was holding back the whole weekend. From triathlons past we have James Brown’s “The Big Payback” (“I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razy,” which may be the ELLT theme), The Gourds “Gin and Juice,” and Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried.”

But what else goes on the ELLT 2012 playlist? “Battleship Chains”? “Redemption Song” (Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros version, of course)? They Might Be Giants “Don’t Let’s Start”? What else?

Our Man in Kandahar/Newbury/Geneva

in this month’s issue of The Atlantic, Ben Moeling, ELLT 2011 Second Place Overall and rock climbing champion, is quoted at length….worth a read…pretty sure his Afghanistan experience helped him most on the mountain biking stage

ELLT 2011 — 2 Days and a Wake-Up…odds on the overall winners

JP arrives tomorrow, so I should probably provide the odds for this year’s triathlon. We’ve handicapped the field and heard predictions from some Young Liars, so now we need to get down to brass tacks. In previous years, I offered odds on every event, every racer. This year, I have less time and more to do, so we’re skipping straight to the overalls.

(as noted in 2009, these odds are in name only — the “house” is not offering to take bets)

Odds of winning 1st Place Overall in the 2011 East Luray Liars Triathlon

Eric Shimp (returning champion) — 15-1: Eric will very likely medal in golf. He needs to overcome high expectations in climbing and the toughest competition to date in hoops. But he could be the first-ever repeat champion.

JP Ratajczak (2008 champion) — 14-1: The only difference between JP and Eric is golf. And slightly lower expectations on the rocks. And JP has been training on the bikes. JP could be the first-ever repeat champion.

Steve Otto (2009 2nd place) — 5-1: Trained. Took a year off to regain his zen. No Steve Ball vodka-martini-induced distractions. Could potentially shatter expectations on the rocks. Could medal at golf. Could medal at the time trial. Finally on a top-two hoops team. Not a dark horse, but favorite.

Tom McParland (2010 3rd place) — 10-1: Tom will very likely medal in mountain biking, but is highly unlikely to repeat at golf (where he landed in 3rd last year). And by “medal in mountain biking,” I mean get one of the top two time trial times. He also has the advantage of being on the top-rated hoops team. Tom may be the first local winner.

Dan Moore (2008 3rd place) — 20-1: For the first time, Danno is in contention at rock climbing (we’re all certified, gentlemen). His golf game still sucks, he is not in contention for mountain biking — although if the next best time trial time is more than 2 minutes more than Danno, The Commissioner may reconsider — and his hoops team’s only hope is to win a style award. He needs to come in 3rd at golf to have a chance.

Eric Gundrum (2009 3rd place) — 30-1: Eric skipped out on the off-season basketball and driving range work-outs, but he could still medal at climbing.

Mike Graf — 10-1: The Young Liars are convinced this is “Me-Mike”‘s year. If his golf game has improved and if he excels on the bikes, he has a chance.

Gary Cavanaugh — 20-1 (could be 5-1): If Gary’s work situation changes and he can climb, and then he follows that up with wins on his home course and his home court, he takes the top spot overall.

Chris Sousa — 15-1: Chris could put a tremendous dent in the title hopes of Eric Shimp and Steve Otto by wiping them out at golf. And he knows Willowdale well enough to post a top two time trial time.

Steve Schukraft — 10-1: Complete wild card. Climbing? Likely very good, but no idea where to set the expectations. Golf? Could suck, could be sandbagging us with mad skillz. Mountain biking? Very likely a top two finish. Hoops. Ehhhh….no hope (based on his team).

Ben Moeling — 10-1: Another wild card, although carrying slightly higher expectations on the rocks and bike….but also a “Herat Handicap” that gives him a bit extra for having spent time in Khost.

Eric Marshall — 15-1: Hockey skills may translate into great rock climbing and solid mountain biking. But hoops and golf?

Eamonn Garber — 20-1: This is the first year the old guys will compete against the next generation (yes, JP, that means you and Gary are the same generation). Expectations for Eamonn are high…but if he can lock in at least one 1st place finish, he has a chance.

Jason Madden — 50-1: So if Jason wins the time trial (quite possible) and his team wins at hoops (highly unlikely…but Steve Ball took home a 1st place in 2o08, so who knows), he’ll have a strong case for the overall win.

Chris Roy — 100:-1: Chris will only join us for hoops and his team is top-ranked in all the pre-season polls (again). He needs total chaos in the first three events to take first overall.

Big Daddy — 2-1: He wins at golf, he wins the overall, no debate.

Triathlon 2011: Detailed Schedule

As some of you know, I have occasionally been a control officer for US senior government official visiting foreign countries and occasionally coordinated trips for and traveled with senior US government officials…all of which sounds cool, but really means I formatted itineraries, made phone calls, and stood outside while meetings happened inside.

(in that helo I am bravely clutching a copy of the classified briefing book and thinking about mountain biking through the field below)

But the lessons from Cairo and Dubai and Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Russia all paid off when it comes to the East Luray Liars Triathlon. The book isn’t printed yet and some small details need confirming, but this is our up-to-date schedule for three weeks from yesterday:

Thursday, July 28: Out-of-town racers arrive, dinner at 11 Adams Lane, Tom McParland pours The Knot.

Friday, July 29:

  • 0730-0930: Dunkin Donuts coffee and breakfast, plus penalty shots against JP and Eric Gundrum (this event is an exhibition only and does not count in the final standings)
  • 1000-1230: Rock Climbing at MetroRock
  • 1300-1430: Lunch at Michael’s Harborside in Newburyport
  • 1500-last golfer in: Golf at Rowley’s Carriage Pines course
  • Pizza and Beer Dinner at 11 Adams Lane

Saturday, July 30:

  • 0800: Mountain Biking at Willowdale in Ipswich/Topsfield, including a Time Trial.
  • 1200-1300: Lunch at American BBQ in Rowley (where they have PBR on draft)
  • 1400: Basketball, Cul de Sac de Adams, Newbury, MA
  • 1700: Closing Ceremonies, with spouses and kids, friends and neighbors
  • 2000: Return of The Knot, Bitching about The Race Director, Suggestions for 2012, and general shenanigans.

Sunday, July 31:

  • 0930: Breakfast at the Newburyport Farmer’s Market (note: this event was formerly known as “Antiquing with Steve Ball”).
  • all day: out-of-town racers depart

A few notes:

  • as it stands now, we’re not going to Red Hook in Portsmouth. The drive always sucks, but the food and beer has always been excellent. Unless we need a new keg from Red Hook, we’ll be eating on the Merrimack River on Friday and at a local BBQ place on Saturday. If anyone strongly believes we need to go to Red Hook, I am open to reconsidering.
  • out-of-town racers need to let me know who needs clubs. MetroRock has harnesses and shoes and I’ll make sure we have enough bikes, but I like to let the golf course know if we need to rent a couple sets of clubs.

We’re less than three weeks away. Hope you’ve been training.



How to celebrate

I don’t intend to include YouTube links here often, but this one is perfect…..Bruins fans celebrating in Afghanistan…..