Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Laz Lake indignation zombie

One strong sign of a dead issue is the observation that the issue has not moved, eaten, or even breathed for several weeks or more. Though thoroughly caked in funk and stank, certain such issues can nevertheless regain the appearance of life if animated by an outside force. The result of such interventions, predictably, is a kind of zombie — something that is only causing a ruckus because certain misguided people keep reciting the same incantations at the worst times, preventing the poor beast from dying in earnest until some brave warrior on AMC fires a flaming titanium dildo (often mischaracterized as a platinum vibrator) through the left side of its already badly dented head from the barrel of a Howitzer.

If it’s not already obvious, I know little about how zombies are actually formed, and less about how they are permanently killed. But I do know what they are, idea-wise. The claim that tax cuts for the wealthy “trickle down” to the shit-eater classes is a great example, credited to Paul Krugman, of a political zombie. In running, the “quality over quantity” debate is a blend of category error and, by my reckoning, Ritalin-propelled zombie. The latest Fast Women newsletter contains a bearded zombie, and in the context of our little running world — rendered all the more news-starved owing to its largely virtual nature — it’s a doozy.

Alison Wade reports that last week, Courtney Dauwalter became the second straight female winner of the U.S. edition of a race called the Big Dog Backyard Ultra, held in a place apparently named for the occasion (Bell Buckle, Tennessee). A backyard ultra — and guess who learned something today? — is not just something held on small loops, but a particular ultratastic thing: Entrants repeatedly complete the same 4.167-mile loop within one hour, resting if they have the time, until only one person remains. The weird distance is accounted for by the fact that someone who hangs in for 24 laps, or one day, will complete 100 miles in less than one turn of the globe. (To me, this is kind of admirable even if the last handful of competitors in “The Long Walk” held 4 MPH, maybe even 4.167, for more than five consecutive days, starting on the Maine-Canada border and ending with a few rifle reports on Interstate 95 near Waltham, Massachusetts, or possibly Danvers. That contest was held in the 1970s future, making unclear whether it has become a historical event yet, so good luck finding details online. But I read about it in an honest-to-goodness paperback book as a teenager.)

It’s a good thing for horror fans that women have won the most recent versions of this race, because this opened the portal for the bearded zombie to swagger on in, albeit knock-kneed and clad only in a badly fraying Speedo and therefore scraping its unkempt, kick-marked scrotum on the splintery doorframe on the way through:

Read the rest.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A benevolent bitch speaks her truth

 (This my best spontaneous effort at channeling my Doberman Pinscher mix Rosie’s thoughts and impressions during or after a typical run. She’s been living with me for two and a half years now, a little less than 40 percent of her life. I figure one way to get into a better groove is to emulate the mindset of someone incapable of maintaining or even imagining a “bad mood.”

Any apparent mistranslations or examples of projection are solely the responsibility of the reader and the dog.)

Up we are by the crack of nine, usually. I just wait for the babbling to begin. This usually means we’ll be on the move shortly. This makes me happy. Really, the only times anyone should be inside are during thunderstorms or other high-wind events. But we can’t get going until he drinks some astonishingly foul brown liquid (and this is coming from someone who eats things off the pavement).

Our first run of the day is usually done entirely inside our yard. Let me show you a map of most of it.

Read the rest.

"Quit stalking me or else," demands total stranger and secret online follower

I had a lively Saturday night by my standards. At a little after seven, I got the following e-mail:

The sender's name rang no bells, but I already knew that Kim Duclos was somehow involved. On the rare occasions I get abrupt, running-related messages from strangers, the poison can always be traced the same source, even if the delivery system changes. You know the now-iconic line "Life finds a way" from the original Jurassic Park? So does the infantile resentment of the unstable, beer-addled do-nothing. (If you're not already familiar with Ms. Duclos' role in a few choice lives, lucky you. I wouldn't recommend losing yourself in the various miseries linked to above, but to summarize, she hasn't stopped trying to make my life miserable since the 2014 day I fired her despite embarrassing herself in court over four years ago and being told that day to stand down by a judge.)

When I found the sender's Facebook profile, I still didn't recognize him. But thanks to a bizarre, months-old, self-immolating taunt aimed my way from one of the remarkable number of Reddit accounts bearing Kim's undeniable style fingerprints, I did recognize his wife. That thread, which I did not participate in, includes at least a half-dozen frenetic responses from various versions of Kim to herself. I don't have the patience to explain that mess in detail, but in brief, Kim was unhappy that yet another one of her loopy Reddit identities had been discovered and mocked elsewhere, and enlisted an ally -- someone she'd discovered in her online trolling travels, most likely -- in an effort to deny ownership of the account. This did not work even a little bit, but strikes me now as almost heroic in its naked embracing of a strategy that would only lead to snorts of condescending laughter. Too bad for her new pals that they didn't realize what they were in for in pledging whatever allegiance they pledged.

Anyway, rather than reply to the e-mail, I posted a screen shot of it along with a few other niceties to a Twitter account dedicated to displaying Kim's ceaseless absurdities and cruelties, thereby establishing that I was aware of her role in the message I'd just gotten. I didn't tag anyone or even check to see if either member of the couple was on Twitter. Yet very soon after I posted this, I got another email from the same guy, confirming my conclusion.

Read the rest.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Half time

When distance world records fall after remaining untouched for some time — say, ten or more years — my and most other observers’ first inclination is to speculate about someone’s chances of further improving the standard, and to wonder what the performance might translate to at other distances for the new record-holder.

But after the men’s and women’s 5,000-meter and men’s 10,000-meter records were broken recently, perhaps owing to the combination of events, I was instead led to recall that when I started running in mid-August of 1984, only one human being, David Moorcroft, had covered 5,000 meters in under 13:05.50 — exactly half the time it took Joshua Cheptegei to run his WR in Valencia, Spain. Moorcroft had pushed this record, 13:00.40, below 50 percent of Joshua Cheptegei’s new 10,000-meter record in 1982. This means that, by one crude measure, the best male distance runners in the world are twice as good as they were just 38 years ago.

Read the rest.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Uncoupling the criticism car from the rage engine

If someone were to ask me how I felt about my life, I’d say that I’m getting everything out of it that I put into it. Whatever I’ve wanted to do or acquire since reluctantly deciding four years ago to live like a human all of the time instead of occasionally, I’ve pretty well done and gotten my hands on, at least pre-covid. If, at Thanksgiving 2016, not long after the last booze-fog had evaporated and I was again building back from below ground level, I’d been asked to imagine a picture of my ideal 2020 life setting, it would have shown something close to what I now see every day: A near-perfect dog sleeping under a beautiful synthesizer, with a zippy little douche-wagon visible out the window of a place that’s obviously home and a neat row of jogging shoes prepared for duty in the background. My credit, previously on a par with a decent NBA field-goal percentage, is now more like an acceptable free-throw percentage. (Credit scores are a load of shit anyway.) All throughout, I haven’t had to leave the house for work or missed a rent or other kind of payment. I have engineered every one of my own work opportunities. I don’t have health insurance (and don’t care to), but I haven’t felt the need to visit a doctor in close to two years anyway — hell, for some reason I haven’t even caught a cold this year. I gave to at least ten different charities in 2019, though that’s dropping to zero this year.

This isn’t to boast — after all, it’s a pretty marginal life for someone my age who is technically educated — but to get the point across that, compared to people with more happening in their lives, like actual jobs and mortgages and kids, I have few unavoidable sources of day-to-day stress.

At the same time, I have thought about myself that you probably don’t. For example, when I’m reading or watching a movie, it will sometimes occur to me that the substrate containing the factoids and sensory impressions I flood my brain with in a controlled and often pleasurable way will one day be blown out the side of my nasty head by a high-velocity projectile and exist as an unseemly splatter on whatever is to my left. (I’m right-handed.) I navigate my days madly bombarding my head with data because the noise is preferable to untrammeled introspection, all the while understanding that it’s all going to disappear in an explosion of bloody neurological jelly when I finally grow too tired of the process to kick the suicide can up the road for one more week. (The same thing would happen if I died a natural death, but there is nothing graphic in that supposition.)

Even without such a gruesome snapshot of my concept of my own future, it’s probably obvious that I hold myself, if not all of my ideas, in low regard. On the other hand, maybe it seems that, as one who continually points out deficiencies in the human circus, I believe that I stand above or at least apart from it. The best way to describe my stance on the human animal is that we’re pretty gross, inescapably, but that we’re all blameless for this, at least to start out. It’s a version of hating the game rather than its unwashed-and-unwiped players, even though thanks to sheer luck I was given enough useful tools to remain in “the game” without much effort — something that only makes me despise the whole scheme even more, as uninterested as I’ve become in putting those tools to better use.

I’m introducing these things mainly because, well, I think about them a lot, and also because I decided last Thursday to shitcan my various antisocial-media accounts. I could attribute this to having watched The Social Dilemma or to wanting to avoid the extra madness of the impending election, but mostly it’s because I’m sick of hurling nonsense into that stream and being dinged by other people’s as it zips by. I will now converse with people only by e-mail, text or in person, not that we’re talking about an auditorium full of interlocutors, and this place will be my sole one-way bullhorn for conveying the symptoms of my steepening decline into optional misery and offering various defenses of the idea that staying as far from folks as I can get away with is the best of suboptimal social choices. I’m hoping that being divorced from some of the data stream will allow me to figure out how much of my inclination to bash people for bad behavior couched as journalism or activism — no matter how robustly I can defend this, every time — arises from my own choleric outlook and, really, resignation to chronic unhappiness.

Read the rest.

Friday, October 2, 2020

A good Friday: Looking through the haze at some positives

Today, in early October, the air quality index (AQI) Boulder is 156, in the red zone, meaning that “Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.” Despite wildfires being a more recurrent theme this summer than usual, I’m still usually prone to misidentifying the stink coming in the window first thing in the morning as something more proximate, like the results of something I’d dumped into a hot skillet during a drunken 3 a.m. rally and quickly forgotten about — a supposition which, while lacking in recent support, would be entirely conceivable from a historical point of view.

Local college hunks advertising their junk on the Bear Creek Path

Also, you may have noticed that an already fraying U.S. government is now in outright turmoil. Lost in the clamor of Trump’s perpetual drumbeat of degeneracy and mask-flouting — at least as far as I can tell while avoiding deep news-site dives — is the fact that the U.S. Commander-in-Chief is, by his own word, suffering from what has to be considered a grave illness. That wouldn’t be great news even if the most contentious national election anyone can remember were not getting underway.

So, contra most of what I tend to write about here, especially lately, I decided to mention a few people who, rather than simply throwing word-darts at perceived villains, are addressing some of the problems that have been laid bare in running (and women’s athletics as a whole) in recent years, or at least focusing on running as a sport.

Read the rest.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A wrap-up of the Chris Chavez hit job

No bully campaign is complete without side-splitting demands and a missing rear-view mirror.

I didn’t expect this or any other contrary response to Chris Chavez’ recent intentional public shart and its consequences to compel a reaction from him or anyone involved in spreading the mess around, or from the accused announcer himself. I assumed instead that the production would play itself out in a way that established both the emptiness of Chavez’ gripe and the hypocrisy* of the complainers who climbed aboard the rage-train.

This set of guesses proved correct. Like most online outrage-fests, it was a story with a noisy beginning and no conclusion whatsoever, with any counter-points ignored outright when not dismissed as mansplaining or a failure to “get” the required picture.

Looking back at the disturbance in the Internet force now, its most incredible feature was something I hadn't seen before my first post: Mary Cain's Instagram lecture. You have to appreciate, if not admire, the breezy totalitarianism in Cain's gag-reel list of suggestions and demands, which starts with at a questionable assumption (that male athletes can be “made fun of and called overweight”) dependent on a false one (that the pacesetters in Prague had been belittled or called overweight). These include eliminating men from announcing — except, presumably, for young, useful idiots like Chavez — and never mentioning athletes’ fashion choices without consulting them first. The entire post looks like the work of someone who has never watched more than a couple of track meets on television; I bet I can name more good women track announcers than she can name track announcers, period. It looks, in fact, like something prepared for her by Lindsay Crouse, the self-parodic New York Times columnist who threw Cain’s travails with the Nike Oregon Project into the spotlight last year in a manner about as defensible on ethical grounds as the NOP itself.

It can’t be over-stressed that this started with a comment that no reasonable observer would perceive as sexist or offensive at all in the context of paid, professional athletes. Did the athletes themselves express dismay? Nope. But you can see the chain of purposeful amplification: Chavez wants adulation from a certain demographic, and this announcing gives him an opening; Cain was coached by a something out of a Mike Judge script — a derisive, controlling, win-at-any-cost male (and professional and college sports do attract this element) who’d already been suspended by USATF by the time she was dragged into the NY Times to "offer" her story, giving her carte blanche today to spout absolutist policy proposals and other absurdities; high-profile Twitter women uncritically propagate the contrived outrage, some of them pretending that they haven't taken precisely opposite stances when they were pro runners.

Just imagine what running or any sport would look like if ideas like Cain’s were taken seriously by anyone in charge. A reality show on PBS, maybe, or a silent film showing a parade of thinly clad, over-caffeinated people engaged in what might be an athletic contest. And under such draconian coverage rules and fascist-style crackdowns on the range of people allowed to be on the coverage side, would women in the media still be scratching their heads about why more people don't watch women's sports?

But the real harm here isn’t limited to potentially damaging the careers of people who have done nothing wrong. As Lize Brittin notes, it’s the needless stoking of people’s personal insecurities when so many genuine sources of this already exist. It’s revealing that Chavez et al. are aware that certain kinds of comments about women’s bodies are harmful, yet have no problem propagating non-instances of such comments when any whiff of a rationale for doing so presents itself.

Maybe they run some kind of rough calculus before hitting the “post” or “tweet” button: “Is this everything I really want it to be?” I have no idea.

But I do know how to wrap this up in the right lingo: Hey, clicks, amirite?

This is an excerpt from today’s subscriber-only post.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Back to the past future

Sequential changes that first seasoned and then saturated running have made it harder to keep the individual flame of mystery burning.

After what passed for an encouraging set of six times 200 meters plus some strides the other day, I’m again on the verge of getting ready to consider training seriously for a specific type of footrace. Rather than allow these “Why the hell not?” phases to annoy me by triggering an internal tug-of-war, I’ve started critically evaluating them as the cognitive-emotional farts they are as I patiently wait for the stink to pass. And this isn’t solely about running; I’m often cultivating a distracting level of self-contempt for not striving to achieve a number things I supposedly want to achieve when so many of the variables — ample time, good health — seem to favor my diving into such quests. Yet despite being torn in two directions, I almost always roll with the 51 percent of me that says my future conscience will be fine with today’s choice to be a fitness jogger, or a writer who produces just enough stock material to be comfortable, or a dog-sidekick with a marginal, well-modulated social life, or however I view myself.

On a given morning, I’ll have drawn up a training plan for the next six weeks and decided, with the mercurial yet total sincerity of the oft-relapsing alcoholic, that it’s now or never as these legs won’t last forever; by 7 p.m. that evening, I’ll be giving myself lukewarm congratulations for my just-completed hour of light cardio and a couple hundred pushups. If I or any of my ideas around my lassitude were unique and I were more amply endowed with comic genius, my endless inner monologue about my spastic intentions could be translated into a side-splitting episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

My various goals all seem exciting enough in the imaginary attainment until I realize that these days, I really won’t do anything substantial or focused unless a literal urgency in my life somehow compels this, even at the expense of my self-esteem. An example would be confinement in a jail cell or somewhere else with no access to the Internet or other media, only a treadmill, a pen and a writing pad, throughout the duration of which stay I would be a startlingly productive — if not necessarily skilled — screenwriter or novelist. I’d emerge pale and underfed, and joyous for having finished something worthwhile that I’d concocted and and at least sipped from.

But more often than imagining myself completing workouts or stories I’ll probably never start, I’m engaged in the quasi-complementary task of trying to prepare others for some of the same things. As my running friends represent a range of personalities, I go about this in different ways; it can involve anything from giving a friend honest advice about how a certain drug might be interfering with recovery to generating a formal, dynamic training plan. Also, if I do train adequately for the kind of race I’m kind of getting ready for, I will undergo this specific experience for first time in decades. Because some of the folks I’m helping are about the age I was when I first took up the task myself, I’m trying to remember what it’s like to be in high school and fully committed to whatever the identity of “serious competitor” means. That requires me to adopt the psychology of a running-fixated teenager — but not quite the teenager I was myself, because that would mean omitting a slew of influential variables that didn’t exist in the 1980s.

Before the 1985 Manchester Invitational, Derryfield Park. Rick Bragg (standing, facing the camera) and I (far right) were co-captains two years later, when Concord “won” the Meet of Champions.

The technological leaps over the past three-plus decades are easy enough to process and integrate into this periscope-style view, but in my opinion, the most powerful consequences of technology on competitive runners’ everyday lives isn’t how they use the wealth of data at their disposal, but how they see it, and how their minds handle the reality that their running — a habit most of us in essence stay glued to because of what it can only mean solely to each one of us — has been depersonalized, sometimes without our conscious consent.

Read the rest.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Dissecting Outside's smear of Lazarus Lake

The short version of this story is that any person or entity wanting to to be at the forefront of equality in sport or anywhere else would do well to avoid deception, bully tactics, and the exploitation of free labor to get there. (Come to think of it, that would be a poor way to run even an openly discriminatory business; mean people still like to get paid.) In the end, someone ostensibly on your side will notice and report on the mismatch between your mission statement and your behaviors, and suggest that you don’t prod others in the direction of more humanistic value systems while exposing the active corrosion in your own.

On September 11, Outside Online ran a hit piece under the guise of asking its object, someone the article called the “noted” race director of a virtual ultramarathon, why he had banned entrants from using the term Black Lives Matter as a team name in the event, an act that inspired swift social-media reprisals against the RD, Gary Cantrell, whose nom de plume is Lazarus Lake. It was a textbook example of beginning with a conclusion and fighting off every logical exit-ramp to ensure getting to the holy grail of highlighting a far-flung and consequential injustice permeating all of running. Actually, the story and its framing were only part of the smear job; the way its editor, Molly Mirhashem, promoted it on social media was the clincher.

The piece, written by Mirhashem’s de facto male mouthpiece for these kinds of “bad man” stories, Martin Fritz Huber, carries the headline “Why Did a Virtual Ultra Ban ‘Black Lives Matter’?” it’s a fair question, although “Why Did a Virtual Ultra Ban Political Messages?” seems more accurate. But the subtitle, “The infamous race director Lazarus Lake and runner Ben Chan disagree on whether the running community is a place for serious debate,” requires some radical leaps that the content fails to support.

Read the rest.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

A quick take on good news

On Friday, which won't be remembered as a fond day in history by most Americans, a smattering of students from Concord High School and Trinity High School met for a cross-country race at Derryfield Park in Manchester, New Hampshire. With the spring sports season having been cancelled, this was the first competition in which most of the kids had participated since at least February. It was also the first race any of them had ever been in that required strict social-distancing protocols. No spectators were allowed. You know most of the revised nationwide norms concerning the enjoyment of public spectacles people actually want to watch.

I imagine it felt like a sanded-down production to some of the team members present, but one athlete showed such supreme focus that the turned in what was, adjusting only a little for circumstances, arguably one of the best early-season performances ever observed -- or at least timed -- in the Granite State: 15:57, plus unknown fractions of a second. Second place was 17:10.