Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Toughness and context

Running means pushing and experiencing a degree of unrelenting physical and mental discomfort that few other athletes face. Even sports we acknowledge to be punishing, such as rugby, football, and hockey, allow for periods of respite during games to gather and re-focus critical resources.  In a race, you’re never resting; how hard you’re working is a mater of degree.

As a result of the need to force ourselves through discomfort, a lot of us wonder about our own mental toughness. Because bearing down and tolerating pain in both training and racing is critical to our success as distance runners, we wonder if what we’re experiencing when we’re at our perceived limit is much different from what other runners experience. How could we possibly know if we’re any more or less “tough” than the typical competitor when we don’t have a frame of reference outside our own to use as a reference point?

Read the rest at Lowell Running.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

4 on the 4th and other powers of two

I watched a Four (kilometers) on the Fourth this morning up the road in Gunbarrel. I was there not to run but to take pictures, cheer on friends, and provide a social opportunity for my newly adopted Doberman mix, Rosie. All three of my teammates who ran did well -- 2nd, 4th and 4th overall.



I ran an Independence Day race with an identical name thirty years ago -- the Four (miles) on the Fourth in York, Maine. This race is now in its 39th year. I had recently graduated from high school and was three weeks out from a 9:43 3200 for 12th place at the New Englands (times were slow because it was hot, but back then New England was still in Great Britain and thus not as track-oriented). I had spent the first two of those three weeks resting and the third one in my first week of training for what would prove to be a remarkably shitty and ultimately abbreviated college "career." I was in York because my then-girlfriend's then-parents had rented a then-cottage for the week and I was asked along.

I woke up the morning of the race reeking of Sun Country wine coolers, along with everyone else around. Then again, everyone stunk of that stuff then. I headed to the start with my then-girlfriend's then-dad. My then-girlfriend decided to sleep in (no surprise given how things then were).

I can recall my splits without looking at my Strava data or anything else: 5:08, 10:19, 15:45 and 21:40. That's right -- 5:08, 5:11, 5:26, 5:55. I nice quadratic function instead of a linear equation to describe the pattern. (Actually, this would have been great: 5:03, 5:11, 5:27, 5:59 for the same 21:40. See the subtle but mathematically powerful difference?)

I was pushing the whole time, too. It was hotter than Satan's anus with no shade in the second half along the then-Atlantic Ocean, but I also went through 2 miles almost on pace for a 5K PR when I was reeking of fruit and not at all sharp. I felt like a vault full of diamonds for about 4K and dumpster full of zirconium the rest if the way.

I think I was 10th overall and despite almost walking the last kilometer I think only one person passed me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Inside the intrinsic rewards

As I've probably mentioned here, in my peak competitive years -- when I was never "good" but was probably decent enough to justify running 100-plus miles a week, at least when addressing a biased audience -- I often wondered how much running I would do in some hypothetical world in which racing was impossible (e.g., it was outlawed or I was being paid lots of money to abstain from it) but I still had full command of my physical capabilities. The idea in pondering such a question was to try to tease out how much of my willingness to train that much was rooted in trying to achieve competitive ends and how much was founded on a simple love for, or addiction to, the activity of running itself.

There is actually another layer to this question. If you knew that after, say, a date one month from  now, you wouldn't be able to run at all for an extended period -- maybe ever -- would you keep running anyway? If so, how much? And why bother?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The U.S. is producing more 2:15 marathoners than it did circa Y2K

...and probably about the same number it did in the 1980s, adjusting for population growth since then.

I "somehow" came across Track and Field News' top-50 U.S. men's performance lists from 2001. Post-Olympic years are sometimes lackluster in this area, but plus or minus years ago, this was unquestionably part of a nadir in American distance running.

For the year, there were only seven sub-13:30s and two sub-28:00s, and a high-schooler had the fastest mile time. Not one man ran a marathon at under 5:00 pace, only two had a faster performance than Paula Radcliffe's soon-to-be-run (and still-standing) WR, only 19 broke 2:20:00, and only 48 ran under 2:25:00. And there's no way I should have been the seventh American at the Boston Marathon and 41st on the U.S. list for the year with a time that would virtually never win the women's division of that race in similar weather conditions.

Using 2017 as a gauge, track distance events have not really become much deeper if one adopts the debatable tactic of factoring out naturalized Americans to assess "intrinsic" talent. Last year, 17 American men broke 13:30, eight of whom were born in Africa. Six broke 28:00, but no U.S.-born runner did.

The marathon is a different story. Last year, 35 men broke 2:19:00 (the current Olympic Trials and Olympic Marathon standard) on loop courses, and 40 more did so on courses considered aided (three at Boston, three at St. George and 34 at CIM/USATF Champs alone; St. George is considered too aided to be used for Trials or Olympics qualification purposes).

The take-home message? I was bored enough to Google mentions of my own fastest marathon and vomit up a passing response. This is it.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Reconciling passive nihilism and legitimately supporting others

I'm 48 years old. This is not ancient, but almost certainly means I'm more than halfway done with my stay on this 8,000-mile-thick incubator of indignities, cheating and strife, a reality that in turn allows me to be reasonably certain about a few things concerning my own future and absolutely certain about a few others.

One of these is that I'll never be a parent. Starting in my early twenties and maybe earlier, I was fairly sure I would never want to be a dad, but obviously my chances of following through on this unofficial mandate have improved with every passing year, and I can confidently declare the outcome decided. If you don't think humanity would be worse for the addition of my DNA to its profile, then you haven't smelled it up close.

Another is that I don't expect to ever have a career in the traditional sense. This isn't a consequence of having no primates to help support, because for while I did intend to have a serious career, and the plan persisted after I'd already disposed of the idea of having kids. But the two "goals" are clearly complementary. I've been saving more money than I spend every month for quite a while now, and frankly I don't have to work very hard to do it. Other than rent, food, gas, and my car insurance, I don't have any regular must-do expenses. I'm actually very good with money and overall planning now that I'm never shitfaced and wandering the streets in a suicidal funk.

I hope it's clear by this point that I'm not boasting about my relatively easy life any more than I'm griping about the surety of leaving no descendants. I didn't take the most deliberate route in landing where I have in life;  I'm just putting forth a few facts to lay the foundation for even more bullshit in the joyless paragraphs to come.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

10 running articles we might see before the industry goes extinct

When the Internet first showed promise of being something more than a bunch of static files retrievable by people lucky enough  to work for colleges or the government, pundits were proclaiming that print media would soon be relegated to the dustbin of information history. Maybe even books, too.

While this obviously hasn't come to pass even 25 years later, the World Wide Web has undeniably hit the publishing industry hard. Sectors with a higher buffering capacity have weathered this to varying degrees, with many remaining plenty solvent. But running magazines, which never were and never will be generally popular things to either hold in one's hand or read on screens, are moribund at the moment.

I'm hoping that when the biggest of them is finally in hospice, its editors prove playful enough to go full Onion on its global readership. Considering that "How to Train for a Marathon on Three Days a Week" (tagline: "Here's how to get faster on fewer miles") and "The Waver's Dilemma" are real titles of articles people were paid to write for the mag I'm thinking of, it shouldn't be too hard to put the following on the cover and expect to fool at least half of the people who see it in this wondrous land of prosperity and credulity:

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review: "Running Is My Therapy," by Scott Douglas

Scott Douglas has written and co-written a great many things about running in the past 25 or so years, including a chapter in Run Strong. He had a back-page column in Running Times in the 1990s that was fearless by the standards of the day and made entire issues worth the cover price in RT's pre-Internet era. Most important of all, he remains the only person I know with a website boasting a .biz domain, and I even know the story behind it (hint: It's not complicated).

Scott has greatly aided and abetted my own writing career, such as it is, in a variety of ways, but that's not why I decided to write this review of Running is My Therapy, which was published in April. I did this because I have seen so few books in the running genre that are worth reading in the past two decades that I feel I owe it to the milieu as well as the authors to make a note of these lovely exceptions. (Another Alex Hutchinson's Endure, making 2018 a guaranteed banner running-book year no matter what's unveiled in the second half of it. Alex is a major reason my recent pitch to Outside was successful. But again, none of this post is about me except for the parts in which I carefully note my own accomplishments.)

Anyway:

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Form matters: Limitations on assessment


Suppose someone asked you, in the warm, bright glow of an office Christmas party, if you have any fear of being in unlit places, or if the idea of being cold and alone in an unfamiliar environment was unsettling. Depending on your gender, age, and individual personality traits, you might respond that neither prospect is especially bleak, or you might allow that such things would be unwelcome but manageable. Some runners, after all, enjoy bouts of isolation, especially outdoors.

But no matter what answer you gave, it’s likely that it would suggest a more optimistic picture than whatever would unfold in reality. If I’m standing around shooting the breeze in a 65-degree room amid smiling people, wired on  plenty of coffee, I might not even be able to remember what it was like to be underdressed on a New Hampshire winter night, cutting through some woods because I thought I knew a short cut home, only to hear things that sounded suspiciously like large animals crashing about nearby. In short, I’d underestimate the extent to which I’d be stressed in such a scenario — even if I’d experienced something similar in the past.

How does this relate to form analysis? In several ways, actually.

Read the rest at Lowell Running.

The freak shows are being relocated (or colocated)

And update on an earlier idea: I’ve copied all of my posts about Steve McConkey and Kim Duclos to the Chimp Refuge, preserving these posts' original dates in the process. Although both Kim (new home) and Steve (ditto) once belonged to the running world, this is no longer true (although, exactly as anyone familiar with either of their habits could have predicted, they've become bonded to one another, if not to sanity, in their lie-soaked and unrelenting distaste for yours truly).

The Chimp Refuge has existed since 2006, and was originally designed in no small part to serve as a repository for derisive essays about religious loons anyway, and I’m no longer interested in sullying a legitimate running blog with new material about either person.

Because the Chimp Refuge was once part of the now-defunct ScienceBlogs.com network, it actually attracted a considerable number of hits in its day (we topped out at just over 90,000 unique visits one month in 2007), and thanks to the vagaries of Google indexing, it still gets more traffic than this one does in spite of my having largely neglected it in recent years. That aside, it's simply a more appropriate place to rant about the world’s reprobates, undesirables, and sickos. [If you really want to keep close tabs on the ridiculous things Steve writes and says, try this humble project.]

Saturday, June 2, 2018

No sir

About three-fourths of the way through the Bolder Boulder 10K on Monday, I was flagging (every single story I tell about my races now flows from an obligatory reference about how much I suck, so please bear with me) and shuffling gamely along a slightly downhill stretch on Pearl Street, when a group of three or four teenagers came up behind me, chatting gaily about the whole experience.

"We like your shirt, sir!" one of them chirped as the group trundled past. They were referring to the words GIN AND TACOS on the back of my T-shirt. I'm sure they didn't know the origin and didn't care to, which was fine. I replied that I pretty much felt like I was in a gin-and-taco bath at that point, and we all had a fine chuckle. Except me.