The increasingly parochial observations of a casual runner in his fifties. Was "serious" about "the sport" until personal and sociocultural inevitabilities prevailed.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Topological doping and other hijinks

Toward the beginning of the year, I decided I'd allow myself to post here only after producing a new running-related article for a paying entity. I expected this constraint to reduce my blogging to practically zero if I stuck to it, because between my other work and my unusually far-ranging travel plans, I didn't anticipate doing much writing about running, period.

But as is the case for a substantial number of people, the middle of 2020 doesn't look like January said it would. I also realize every time I work with certain people that I ought to do more of it. On top of that, things happen.

I've generated two clickables for Podium Runner this month. This one describes a really helpful and efficient workout, insofar as anything we recreational runners do to get faster can be regarded as a wise use of personal capital. I think I got the idea for it from Daniel Komen in the late 1990s after reading that he'd done it in 3:56-2:55-1:56-56 or something close to that, though I'm not sure of the rest. I ran it in 4:47-3:32-2:17-61 in 2001 not long after my 2:24 marathon, but the rest was probably more like three minutes because I was pacing a high-school kid, and you know how they are between reps, finding excuses to re-tie shoes, rearrange their crewcuts and so on. He went on to win a second state title in the 3,200 meters a couple weeks later, and ran his high-school best of 9:26 a week after that.

This one, meanwhile, details a workout I've actually myself more than once within the past several years. In fact, the hill in photo, taken by editor-in-chief Jonathan Beverly -- and though it would be fun to lie, not for this piece -- is the one I used. You can almost see the 0.9-mile-long path around little Viele Lake off to the right in the backgr, although not for this piece. In the next week or so, two more should appear. One is a review of the careers of four runners, only one a UVM graduate, who returned from long absences -- and various compelling reasons to stay quit -- to match or arguably exceed their already considerable achievements. I'll also have something about combination workouts after picking this guy's busy brain a little more.

For now, though, I'll return to the topic of hills. I do this with both reluctance and the usual demonic joy that accompanies deconstructing the sort of antics that manage to be dishonorable and hilarious at the same time, like one of Frank Gallagher's schemes but without the felonies and misdemeanors.

Monday, July 13, 2020

This won't make it stop, but anyway

In February 2018, I reconnected with a University of Vermont college teammate who now lives a few hours away. When we met for coffee, he told me that, by happenstance, his sister's husband was in the employ of another former teammate who'd gone on to become the CEO of a Vermont insurance company. This gratifying success story was Michael, a boyish and polite fellow I'd lived and spent a lot of time with back in the day, but hadn't talked to since before my first marathon.

After I met my local friend at a Lucky's in Boulder, he passed along a photo of us there to his brother-in-law; in return, we got a photo of Michael and Eric, another teammate, flanking our now-retired coach. Michael -- and I keep wanting to type "Mike," but in a non-annoying way, he just never went by that diminutive even at 19 if he could help it -- was 48 when this was taken, but looks about 30.

Two weeks ago Thursday, I got a text from Crested Butte. Michael had been found dead in his home that morning.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A profile and stuff

The "stuff" I'm reluctant to post. None it is tawdry or quarrelsome, so fuck off if you came here for the goods or the antipathy. But like lot of people who maintain low-priority personal blogs, I feel as though I run the risk of not scaling what I say at this point in socio-virological  history to the broader, elephantine occasion. It is quite unlike me to care that different receivers process my electronic transmissions in different ways, and that at this time, the lives of parents, kids, anyone in the service industry, anyone who is pregnant, and countless other identities that flit in and out of my mind have already had to shift into completely different modes, and the disruptions are an added stress that at best recedes into the background while still exerting insidious effects on mood, judgment and other things. I had to cancel any serious plans I had for the rest of the year, but, while I was excited to go to Europe and elsewhere, it's not in the same category as an immediate transition to a new, uninvited existence. Worrying about being too far from some indistinct psychosocial center certainly defeats every purpose of a personal blogspace, but I think most people get it. And it's the only disclaimer you'll get from me, because Jesus Christ are you people a scattershot mess.

With that context in mind, the events and ideas I'll relate here -- crap that might be news to the handful of regulars readers in New England, Colorado and a few points yonder -- have been generated from a haphazard series of notes serving as the seeds of this entry, which is how I bet a lot of people do bloggery. That's my advance excuse for material that is out of order, outdated, flat-out incorrect or laughably inhumane.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

All good and bad puns involving respiration are taken

If you're using public recreation paths, unless someone has a cattle prod to your ass, you have consciously chosen to assume the known risks of being on those paths. Those known risks do not, at this point, include a statistically meaningful chance of becoming infected with COVID-19, assuming social distancing is maintained (and probably if it's not, although if you get within six feet of someone running or cycling when you don't need to, especially me and my dog, you're asking for it anyway, more in the form of slobber than irritation).

You can find this information in a lot of trustworthy places (example), which is really the point of this post: Try to avoid being scoldy when you don't know what the fuck you're talking about, even under the aegis of playing health nanny. Most of the noise in the world is made by people who have no idea what they're talking about, and adding to the chorus only helps cement the status of the U.S. as a religion-crazed, dipshit-happy armpit, or if you prefer a more sanitized analysis, a formerly proud nation now in an unfortunate and precipitous decline. (As someone honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, I can use my service as a shield to say whatever I want about the United States and applauded for it, like everyone on Twitter claiming to have had a limb blown off in Afghanistan.)

If you are telling people "Wear masks anyway," you make just as much sense as someone warning you about catching AIDS or getting pregnant from contact with toilet seats, and people who have in fact attempted to gather trustworthy information on the issue have no more obligation to take you seriously than they do someone wandering the neighborhood and drinking gin out of an inverted toilet plunger while sticking copies of the Watchtower on everyone's windshield.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

This here patch of a newly nebulous world

Toward the end of February, as what is now a crisis of uncertain but still-growing magnitude was still at worst an abstraction for most of us in these gloriously United States (remember these races?), I was doing a twilight 30-minute run and thinking about some ancient interview with a runner-on-the-street type in the wake of the Boston Marathon, probably on WBZ out of Boston in the 1990s. I don't know why my memory apparatus seized on this nugget, but in it, the ebullient, endorphin-powered subject was going on about how running is different from other sports because the pros line up with the rabble and so everyone is literally racing them, sort of. This is a common and longstanding observation, pre-dating the "second running boom" of the early 1990s characterized in large part by the emergence of intentional walk breaks in marathons.

But this reality has taken on enormous gravity in the age of social media, in particular in a sport that arguably has no real professional locus and in which user-generated content on sites like the Letsrun forum, a smattering of podcasts and blogs, and Twitter essentially serve as the media. And in recapitulating the evolution of both the public arm of the sport and society in general over the last 20 years, I realized that a significant chunk of what I will call my own confusion over the way some observers have chosen to cover professional running is a precise and inevitable consequence of this reality, the commingling of elite and everyday, blog-equipped human presences.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Olympic Marathon Trials Pre...

I haven't been paying much attention to the build-up to the Olympic Marathon Trials that are probably over by the time you read this, probably because I know what most sources of "information" are putting out without having to look and that I would only be dunking the soft, even babylike skin of my ass into a bucket of rubbing alcohol by reading it. What I like best are the profiles they write about "heroes" who squeeze in under the standard by 15-20 seconds and are showing up despite having jobs, kids and other horrific handicaps no one else ever confronts. What I want to see, but would probably have to come up with myself, is a profile of the 2:18:45 or 2:44:30 entrant who does nothing but play video games all day long in mom and dad's basement, but is completely serious about wanting to make the team. Alternatively, we could the inverse, a guy with 2:08 chops who has sort of lost interest in the last two years and is now bagging groceries at Safeway and jogging 10-15 miles a week to keep in shape, but is mostly looking forward to experiencing the Trials with his growing family. That would nail all the possible permutations.
  • Women's race: This one will deviate from the form charts (is that still a term?) more than the men's race will. The course is not precisely what I would call a motherfucker from here, but it's slow, and will seem nigh apocalyptic to a generation of marathon runners who normally avoid courses not run on the equivalent of airport runways (preferably shielded from wind) or point-to-point downhill.

    I'd love to see Molly Huddle make this team, but she seems banged up and will be out by 30 to 35 km. True 21st-century hermit Emma Bates will earn a surprise win, opening up big gap in last 5K after a bold move at 21-22. Desi Linden and Emily Sisson will take second and third, with Kellyn Taylor close on Sisson's heels. Hasay drops early and as quietly as possible. Winning time: 2:27:58.

    The race will go out in 1:14+, yet only 12-15 will be in the pack.
The thing that continues to strike me is how many people believe they need to be part of a formal training group with a full-time coach in order to succeed in this sport. Maybe my personal experience doesn't mean much since I was an everyday hack with a 2:24 PR, but I did my best racing in two distinct periods three years apart in which I was working full-time (more than that, in the first case) and in stable relationships that undeniably made me happier in ways I couldn't appreciate than I would have been otherwise. If you can't find time to run 100+ miles a week when you don't have kids at home, it's because you don't care enough. For some people it's often the difference between being willing to give up three relatively benign but time-sucking nights a week at the bar and not being willing. If you aren't doing at least three to five unplanned workouts in the dark every winter either before 5 a.m. or after 7 p.m., there's a good chance you don't care enough to be as serious as you believe you'd like to be, assuming you live in northern latitudes.
  • Men's race: I really like the prep of the NAZ Elite crew. I should admit at this point that I am mostly clueless about things like late scratches because I have only been skimming the news until today. That's why I am calling this a pre instead of a preview or a prediction or anything else. All I can really say is that I posted it in time.

    I think this will be Jared Ward's day, followed by Stenley Kebenei, Scott Fauble, Haron Lagat and Galen Rupp. Jim Walmsley will finish no worse than 7th, and Tyler Pennel will be in top 10. Winning time: 2:13:49.

    Rupp, of course, may still be the strongest in the field despite all of the bullshit and the fact that most people are rooting against him. He has always been incredibly focused. I really won't be surprised if he wins, and with relative ease. But it would probably be best to eject the stank of Salazar from running altogether. I don't see a lot of fans complaining about collateral damage. 
While you'd be right to point out that I was not, and was in fact never expecting to become, an elite runner, I was able to train like one, and multiple examples exist of world-class runners who had full-time jobs or at least didn't feel like they needed to move across the country to get better. I'm not shitting on that choice, but suggesting, strongly, that everything that comes wrapped up in that nowadays is utterly unnecessary. And if you do make the choice to spend your latter twenties ostensibly being a serious runner but instead hanging out in Boulder coffee shops and boasting about 70-mile weeks, well, "Thanks for the entertainment" is about I and anyone of a certain vintage is likely to offer.

I took a look at the list of topics on the front page of a certain message board this morning, and was tempted to fall back on the facile conclusion that most people are blunt-force assholes. Instead, I reminded myself that it's probably the case that most people who contribute thoughts anonymously to that particular part of the Internet are assholes, but that it would be statistically unjustifiable to extend this judgment to the general U.S. population. As much as I've shit on some of the mainstream media op-eds about the running world offered by writers who happen to be women in the past year, at least they've put their names on their nonsense, and tend to be better with words even when the words themselves are bland, whiny and generally insufferable. Any message board in which women are effectively shut out invariably becomes dominated by the monkey element before long. I wonder how many of the pimple-poppers on that board realize they will be fat, bald and the objects of derision of most of the targets of their own criticism by the time they're 40. If they're away from the running world, though, they'll probably be as happy as any of us.

I think the running world was nicer when everyone involved seemed to accept, and even prefer, that no one needs give a shit about what runners do or why. Part of it has to do with the ravenous hunger for recognition people have developed and how thus translates into wanting to be celebrated for basically every life event that doesn't end in an arrest or a divorce. You can't really blame people who were 15 when the Facebook and Instagram plagues were released into the wild for needed to outdo everyone else in ways that look comical to people who remember what the early Internet looked like (and for better or for worse, loaded shit onto it that may still be findable on Usenet groups).

Friday, February 21, 2020

From my keyboard to your face

I decided that I would permit myself to post here only after reaching certain milestones on an unrelated writing project, which is not the same as promising to post here each time I achieve one of those milestones. And although these aren't really milestones, more like inchpebbles, I plan to attain them at a remarkably glacial pace. Part of this is quite reasonable, since I have to write for money while we all still can, and have churned out a startling amount of informative chum over the past four weeks. I am also continuing to assemble blog posts in the way they probably appear to be constructed, i.e., over time and from a patchwork of current events and whimsical ideas.

Although I prefer to shun blogging even when unfettered by such arbitrary self-shackling, I virtually never lose interest in writing about other people's questionable ideas once I decide my own ideas about those ideas are sufficiently urgent in my own mind to warrant public expression. This usually means making a number of jokes that at most three people possess the background to understand, although it's not usually the same three (or fewer). I also seem unperturbed by the notion that most of my recent ideas are likely to offend a nontrivial fraction of the readership I have cultivated, given that, although this has been a mostly unguided process, I have largely managed this by offending our mutual philosophical enemies. Every misanthrope ultimately paddles toward whatever uninhabited islands are left, it seems.

Putting this altogether, I'm therefore expecting that this standard will afford me a day or two to ponder the likely upshot of posting ill-advised content before I actually publish it, thereby adopting the putative perspective of Wile E. Coyote in those fragile moments after he had already stepped laterally off a high precipice but before the Acme Inc. version of gravity exerted its inevitable effects and sent the hapless poacher on yet another whistling plunge toward another in a long string of faked demises.

Astute readers might have noticed that I usually fail to supply links to buttress my words unless I need to link to something not easily found otherwise. This saves me a lot of time, and it assumes that you follow distance running closely enough to have some idea what I'm talking about.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The speckles resulting from a burst of moist verbal flatulence

This post is mostly a review of 2019, both my own and professional running's as viewed through my lens. I am presenting it in February because nothing about what I do, say or think at any time of year is of measurable consequence to anyone outside my small, if stubbornly expanding, sphere of avocational operation. Maintaining a blog that has long assumed the sole purpose of entertaining the same ten or eleven people (I think one guy lost his phone in a strange sexual escapade and can't afford a new one yet) comes with only the faintest sense of obligation to anyone at the other end of these words, and by now you probably accept that I keep this place on life support mostly to layer somewhat-padded insults on people and institutions under the pretenses of legitimately giving a damn about the underlying principles.

Sadly, most of te responses of those ten (or eleven) perennially grateful readers are made to me directly, since on average you're smart enough to not say what you think in the comments lest one of the blog's elliptically orbiting psychopaths seize on your information and suck you into a netherworld of shouting at unmoored narcissists and apocalyptically resentful loons. And those latter words almost as aptly describe certain New York Times, et al. columnists and pro athletes as they do my favorite citizen interlocutors. As a result, being something of a rake by inclination, I am provided ample motivation to persist in describing my dislike of certain trends in the running world even though the persistence of these trends will only serve to make the world more entertaining with every new year, at least for those of us who have chosen not to direct our diabolical gametes wombward and are therefore more naturally prone to regarding things we see as errant with more of a detached scowl of resignation than an engaged frown of despair.

Also, a number of events in the first days of 2020 inspired me to wait on this post, because these were gratifying events, and it's important you to understand that most of my grousing is far more a consequence of being a fundamentally contemptuous and unpleasant individual, covered in snot and the ineradicable funk of despair, than it is a response to acute personal difficulties. Just today, I heaved one of those silver scooters that should have been made illegal decades ago off the side of an overpass just to watch it explode on contact with the pavement 10 meters below, and such was my consternation over another near-collision involving one of those demonic devices that I failed to notice the young child attached to the scooter at the time until the whole assembly was fractions of a second from landing. I averted my eyes at the last millisecond because my temper is no match for my weak stomach. As world events continue to make me more cynical, I find I can summon less and less concern for such lethal outcomes. But before that tantrum, around January 5th, I finalized plans to have my mom visit Colorado for the first time in April. This summer, I will meet both my parents in Washington, D.C., assuming it hasn't been turned into a crater and perhaps even then. I haven't seen my dad in over seven years, so this is something. And this fall, I plan to go to London for the first time. I may also spend the summer away from Boulder, but that is unlikely even though the option is there because this is actually a nice place to live at all times of year, especially when you don't have to drive to and from a job.

This is where you should stop if you want to experience any sort of joy today that does not derive from schadenfreude, agreement with generally sensible opinions expressed in a perhaps mean-spirited way, or the realization that if someone who churns out shit like this can support himself in the world while avoiding paddy-wagons and straitjackets, anyone can.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Sadness with no real name

The 3" x 5" index-card version of the end of my year is that I spent a low-key Christmas holiday with a couple of friends, went to a couple of token social functions, made use of the down time to learn a few new songs on my computer in the shape of a piano, became stuck many times trying to get past the prologue of my most recent never-to-be-finished novel, and did most of the stuff most people whose nuclear families are thousands of miles away do in the last week or so of the year: Wait it out and dodge the inevitable yuletide commercial, emotional and vocational mayhem as it comes. On the surface, an unremarkable smattering of events.

I did something different for Christmas itself in 2019. I have a relatively small family for someone my age; I don't know my dad's relatives very well, and on my mom's side, all but a dozen or so of us are usually hard to find and most of those with stable addresses are in New Hampshire and Virginia. Rather than give out "presents," I decided instead to give $50 to ten diverse and trustworthy charities in the names of friends and family members. Since we've all just been giving each other the same damn restaurant gift cards for years, making it a wash from all of our individual perspectives, this felt a lot more Christmas-y than most past years have. I have deeper reasons for doing this sort of thing, which on the surface appears to contradict the low regard I continually seem to exude here for my seven million fellow inmates in the prison of life, but actually makes a lot of sense if you consider that I see all of us as hapless victims of our own feeble composition, including the things we do to piss each other off.

That was the nice part.

About a week before Christmas day, I got notice from a longtime friend in Colorado Springs that he and his girlfriend would be coming up to Boulder for two nights, the 24th and the 25th, staying at a hotel a little over a mile from where I live. I have known him since the winter of 2011. We became acquainted when he, looking at my shoes from his spot next to me on a bench somewhere in Boulder, asked me if I was a runner. I smiled and told him sort of, which has been my honest answer for years. He then rattled off a series of numbers that would be unintelligible to most humans -- "1:47, 3:38, 7:55, 13:45" -- ticking each one off, index finger on thumb, as he spoke.

He was an intense guy. Robust, small, compact, anxious. And boozy, like me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

If these are your generals, don't expect a revolution

In 2011, one of my friends did a podcast on the topic of eating disorders with a professional runner. The audio portion of the podcast itself been lost, but some of the professional runner's impressions of the discussion, and of eating disorders among runners as a whole, remain online.

Lize was on the show mainly because she'd written a memoir about her own experiences as a top runner whose entire career was affected by bulimia and anorexia. In it, she describes the role of her coaches and other mentors -- fewer in those days, and apart from her peers and idols behind the starting line, all men -- in her successes and her disease in as nonjudgmental a way as anyone could, given the scope of the events she describes.

The pro runner proved to be something of a foil to the notion that eating disorders are really as much of a problem as is popularly believed. After the podcast was posted,  she characterized EDs as "a subject that is shaped everyday by millions of women doing the best they can to stay fit in a food-overloaded country." While allowing that she was aware of holding a perhaps unpopular opinion about such matters, she suggested that the "female athlete triad" (low bone mineral density, amenorrhea and negative energy balance) is, if not a nothingburger, flung around carelessly, and expressed annoyance at her own various doctors' asking about her eating habits when she was visiting for an unrelated complaint. She opined that "Someone just needs to write a tiny little book titled 'How to adjust your weight as a female distance runner without getting an eating disorder.'” She described her frustration in dealing with eating-disordered teammates, mainly because they refused to get the message abut what was healthy and what wasn't, and she found their fundamental incorrectness exhausting. She said that only by withdrawing emotionally from people with EDs could she foster any real empathy for their struggles.