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

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The suicide-bomber tactics of East African dopers

Dealing with Kenyan dopers (including the mercenaries who are bought by Middle Eastern states) presents many of the same challenges as confronting suicide bombers: How do you stop someone who doesn't care about the worst consequences?

Jemima Sumgong (L) and Eunice Kirwa celebrate their juicy 1-2 finish after the 2016 Olympic Marathon in Rio de Janeiro. Both have since been suspended for doping; both are unlikely to be stripped of their medals. (Photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

While they and many others like them obviously prefer to not get caught, they're not really discouraged from worrying about it. A single major marathon win or high placing is enough to set up someone from a poor country like Kenya (average GDP in 2017: $1,169 in U.S. dollars) virtually for life. It's usually more than one race, though: The fairly obvious pattern is to dope like hell, ride the wave of a series of (often shockingly) great performances, and recede from view. It may take months or a few years for the inevitable drug positives to become known, by which time the caught runner has his or her money safely in hand.

In other words, it's literally worth it to a lot of the world's best runners to dope because they care a lot more about lining their pockets than avoiding shame. (Looks toward the U.S. Capitol) You see the same impulse in countless realms all around the globe, obviously.

All of this, of course, ignores the reality that a lot of athletes enjoy protected status, sometimes for their entire careers. This is not conspiratorial thinking, as anyone who has heard of a certain Texas cyclist and a well-known bike race in western Europe is aware. Anyone who thinks that shoe companies do not conspire with sports governing authorities to cover up doping by popular athletes who raise the profile of the sport is a fool.

So what's the answer? U.S.-only prize money at major American marathons would be going too far even if it ensured discouraging all cheaters and only cheaters. Targeting specific countries is a non-starter. There's probably not much do be done at root level because competitive human beings, at root level, like to cheat and cut corners and fuck each other out of resources, no matter who they are or what faith they claim to hold or what pursuit they choose. Not everyone, obviously, but a high fraction of the people driven to succeed.

I would never want my own kid to be a world-class runner, assuming such an unlikely organism were interested in running in the first place. I'd like to see her reach, say, the level of an NCAA All-American, but not be good enough to consider running professionally and be faced with the choice of other getting her ass repeatedly kicked by juiced-up Russians, Africans, Turks, and others or going on the magic sauce herself. Best to quit the sport and get a job doing something honorable.

Also, shitbags like Renato Canova are largely responsible for this. Anyone who listens to him or any of those fossilized Italian pricks who pretend to be "coaches" but are nothing more than fuel for the PED fire is sorely misguided. It sums up the sport perfectly that Letsrun, which has a full-throated anti-doping stance, has given this guy the title of "Coach" on his message-board login despite his years-long history of flagrantly, laughably inane comments about East Africans and doping. I'm betting the world will find out one day what a dirtball he is. And this has real consequences, because a lot of high-end runners and coaches like to follow Canova-style plans, which is highly questionable when you're not on an illicit blood-booster and sleeping all day when not training.

Finally, don't pretend the Ethiopians aren't in on this. They have always lagged a few years behind since the Kenyans came on the scene in big numbers in the early 1990s or so, and there are apparently some practical and political factors that makes catching them more difficult. Go ahead and believe that your heroes and heroines from that country are "cleaner" than the ones from Kenya while it lasts, because this illusion will be shattered before too long as well.

UPDATE -- 11:07 p.m. MDT, May 23: I'll blame this on traveling, but I left out the whole idea that gave me the idea for this post in the first place.

Doping positives should trigger the annulment of all previous WC, Olympic, and World Marathon Majors results by caught athletes, no matter how much time has passed. The IAAF won't do this because it would require too much admittedly messy work. But it's kinda their job.

No one really wants the reality of having to routinely reassign medals (not so much the actual pieces of metal, but the places) at unpredictable times, and extracting ill-gotten prize money would be a nightmare as well.

But it would accomplish a few important things.

At a minimum, confirmed cheaters would never be able to say, "I still am, and always will be, the 2008 Olympic Champion in XXX" or the like. And it shouldn't matter even if the caught athlete was in fact "clean" at such times (as if this could somehow be known anyway).

Runners should have to plan on maintaining whole drug-free careers or being remembered as, in effect, never having had a career as a pro athlete.

From a practical standpoint, yeah, this would be unwieldy. But I don't see a sound counter-argument from an ethical standpoint.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The revenge of the choppy, workmanlike gait

Before I get to the point here, I should observe something those of you who also blog have probably noticed about yourselves, too: The less I write about running -- be it here or in my past life as an occasional paid contributor to a bunch of now-dead or moribund magazines and their websites -- the more I enjoy my own running. I don't know if there is really a cause-and-effect relationship in play here, and if there is it may be bidirectional, because it seems just as likely that, since I'm strictly a recreational runner now, during periods when I am enjoying my jogging more, I feel less inclined to write about it. I feel no special need to announce that my aerobic therapy appears to be working even better than usual.

Also, I'm still on my road trip; in fact, I can barely call it that anymore, because as of tomorrow, I will have been gone for over two months, and overall, I've kept up and at times even increased the pace of my work (such as it is) in those nine weeks. Rosie and I have run every day for at least 20 minutes, although I am starting to curtail her runs with the increasing heat in some places. That means our mutual streak is up to 201 days. This is getting close to what I managed between the end of November 2017 and July of 2018, which ended in a knee injury that hasn't completely healed. One big difference: I'm running less than half as much as a was then. It's still a bad idea to not take days off, but I don't really care because having a streak to protect gets me, and thus a grateful animal, out the door.

So far, I have stayed in:

A motel in Colorado for two nights
A motel in Kansas for one night
A house in Indiana for four nights
A shitty motel in Bloomington, In. for six nights
A less-shitty motel in Bloomington for two nights
A motel in Kentucky for one night
A motel in Roanoke for one night
A house in Virginia for 24 nights
A house in Philadelphia for six nights
A house in Concord, N.H. for ten nights
A motel in North East, Pa. for one night
A motel in Columbus, Ohio for two nights
A motel in Terre Haute, In. for one night

I am really dreading the drive, because I have come to hate driving, and much of the journey will unavoidably include a large swath of the United States that should be evacuated of the few decent life forms it contains and then turned into a a giant, bland patch of mostly uninhabitable dirt...wait. Someone has already wrapped up that dubious project.

I have a couple more stops to make, but I should be back in Boulder in time to watch the Bolder Boulder 10K on Monday. If so, I think I have curbed my masochistic streak, or at least strategically re-channeled it, in such a way as to prevent me from running the race for a third straight year. It's kind of tempting, since I did place third and second in my age "group" in 2017 and 2018 respectively. But my times -- and moreover, running with zero heart whatsoever -- were and are enough to actually make me angry to the point of wanting to do something extreme, like mutter "What a fucking pussy I am" loud enough to make the sleeping dog next to me crack an eye open a few millimeters in passing curiosity before falling back into dreamland with an inaudible but suitably noxious fart. And like most people who ran too many pointless miles in their 20s and 30s (and possessed the grace of a marionette with muscular dystrophy to begin with) I now look like someone effecting a slow-motion escape from a psychiatric nursing home whenever I "race," or try to run hard at all, so I will choose to humiliate myself in other ways from this point onward. I hope.

Anyway, while I was in New Hampshire at the home of my friends Troy and Teressa, I discovered that Troy, a high-school classmate and teammate for our senior year, was even more of a thorough scrapbooker and record-keeper than I knew at the time, and I knew he was a collector. (He has enough signed Beatles and Star Wars memorabilia to open a museum, and his baseball-card collection alone has an estimated worth of $15.8 trillion.) But I didn't know just how little he missed. He may have missed nothing at all from the Concord Monitor pertaining to the 1987-1988 cross-country, indoor-track and outdoor-track seasons, which for me were alternately excoriating and satisfying.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Some of the dumbest stuff about elite track and field ever written (including blog posts)

I've written some misguided articles and blog posts over the years, but I don't think I could write one as bad as this one if someone paid me a few thousand bucks (probably the approximate compensation for this one, given the venue) to try. The title is stupid, the content is vapid and wandering and the thesis is inane. That the author is a skilled writer only makes all of this worse, because this prevents typical New York Times readers (e.g., educated people who don't follow track) from immediately discerning that the content is mostly nonsense.

I won't waste time diving deep into the various aspects of the Caster Semenya situation, which finally reached a level of urgency sufficient to compel action by the IAAF last week, when I can merely state the obvious in a few sentences: It's a difficult, emotionally charged situation for Semenya and numerous others, and for years Semenya has clearly not belonged in world-class women's events.

But who better to try to co-opt a difficult, emotionally charged situation than a writer intent on framing it as an issue of gender feminism?

Friday, April 26, 2019

Road trip or roving relocation?

Last year, having bought a used MINI Cooper over the winter from a friend at a fair price, I made a road trip across the country starting on March 31. Along the way, I stopped and saw friends in Columbus, Ohio, but was intent on getting to my destination of Concord, N.H. apace, because I wanted to make it there in time for the April 3 birthday party held at the home of the couple I always stay with in my hometown.

I did in fact arrive in time for that gathering, meaning that I completed the trip in about four and a half days. I was still almost three months away from adopting Rosie and I was also, in theory, still training to compete in running races. I was also planning to station myself at the 23-mile mark of the Boston Marathon for the fourth straight year, which I did (and the weather was so abysmal last year that I practically had Beacon Street to myself). I didn't run any races while I was there, although on the way back, I accompanied a friend to a 64-something at the Broad Street 10-Miler in Philadelphia. I stopped to see friends in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, and after surviving the desolation of Nebraska and northeastern Colorado -- which is not as soul-crushing as the strip of I-70 that crosses eastern Colorado and Kansas -- I made it home around May 10.

This year, I'm making a similar trip in terms of its timing (I left Boulder on March 21) and its general eastward direction. Running is playing a supporting, not starring, role. I hope to never be at the Boston Marathon again, and having confirmed that "masters racing" is an especially ugly and embarrassing form of being graded on a curve, I shitcanned the idea of goal-oriented running about six months ago. But I'm still an eager jogger, and since June I've had have a companion who loves both trotting with me and riding shotgun in the car to wherever we decide to jog when we don't start from our home in East(ish) Boulder. I also have a much more enjoyable and lucrative source of primary income than I did a year ago, which is the sort of thing that tends to happen when you have low-to-modest career aspirations (to me, not having to be around other humans while I work is not a perk but a requirement), have stopped pouring booze into the anus in the middle of your face, and have a have a decent flair for marketing whatever professional skills you've managed to develop and retain despite routinely applying a flamethrower to your own efforts.

When I set out on this journey, I did not have a fixed itinerary, with the only confirmed stops being the house of the same friend in Indiana on the way east and the house of same buddy in Iowa on the way back west. I was strongly considering swinging through Roanoke, Virginia, where I lived for a couple of years and enjoyed some great running circa 2003, and heading either north or south from there before starting the return leg. But the one-two punch of multiple automotive troubles resulting from the same incident and an off-putting experience in Indiana in the final days of March made even uglier by those car woes had me thinking while I was still in Bloomington that I'd be headed back to Boulder as soon as I got my headlight fixed. Boulder can be a maddening place even for someone who is untroubled by the fact that American society even on its best day is an irredeemable shambles, but it's my home now, and Rosie's as well, and the more I imagined motoring through a bunch of uninviting land-patches mostly for the sake of motoring, the more alluring the notion of lounging around on the Front Range became.

As it happened, I kept driving east after I got the headlight replaced, which cost me a modest $149. That was on March 5, and I'm still in Virginia, in no hurry to get home, though when the time comes I won't be thrilled to have to drive across the country's flabby, shit-encrusted midsection again.

Monday, April 22, 2019

I have favorite things

Alert readers may have noticed that I use this blog mainly to complain -- about me, you and whatever garbage lies between. I've made every effort to eviscerate myself and my own pitiful endeavors in the same unflinching, corrosive language I've devoted to other broken and failed people, places and institutions. This a challenging balance to strike, because many of my targets have proven so dismal that I struggle to find instances in which I -- even at my most malicious, ignorant and incompetent -- have performed as badly as they have.

Part of my silence lately is owed to having a discouragingly low quantity of irritants in my midst. Car issues made the long drive to the Appalachians stressful, but I got that stuff taken care of and am now ready to drive in a fully damaging way again, and burn as much gas as I can in the process.

As a result, while I continue to add to a post to sum up my road trip with Rosie (we're on day 33, happily winding up the Virginia leg of the journey at my cousins' place), I feel as if this is a good time to emphasize some things in the running world I like a great deal, or at least did back when I was misguided enough to consider anything in the running world important enough to actually rank on quality lists.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Outside invoice clock is ticking

It appears that remarking on the continued passivity of the most unprofessional editor I've ever worked with was sufficient to accomplish what my initial series of complaints about my dealings with Outside could not: I finally got a direct response. At the end of the day on Friday, the traditional time for cowards to do things they desperately wish they could ignore altogether, she sent me this e-mail:

Hi Kevin,

I wanted to circle back here and let you know that we've decided to kill this piece. As I mentioned in my previous emails, it still needs more work in order to be publishable for us, and given the emails I've received from you in recent months I'm not convinced we'll be able to work together on the necessary edits to get there. I never take the decision to kill a story lightly, and I completely understand that the long wait time on this piece was frustrating. If you send me an invoice for 1/3 of the original rate (our standard kill fee), I'll submit for your payment, and you can feel free to take the story elsewhere if you like.

Where to even start? I guess my response to her is as good a place to circle back to as any.

Hi Molly,

Rather than waste more time litigating every dishonest observation and presumption you managed to pack into a one-paragraph e-mail, I'll settle for being relieved that this fiasco is officially over. Besides, you've taken zero responsibility for your assorted screw-ups with up this project, so I wouldn't expect you to start now, and I doubt you do more than scan my messages at this point since you already know how you'll respond.

My invoice is attached, although given your accounting department's reputation and the fact that I'm 49, I'll probably be dead before the check arrives (not that the money was ever an important aspect of this).

As you can see, she didn't admit that she had already seen me take the story off the table and describe in florid and irrefutable detail the events that had compelled me to do this, which I would bet any amount of money is true. So I didn't either, taking this as permission to keep it up. But if she had merely told me, "We've decided not to run the piece" and left it at that, without even offering a kill fee, I would not be writing this. But trying to pin the blame for this on me was a bad idea. So here goes.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The shit-processor: Part 2 of why running is no place to achieve (the good kind of) fame

I imagine the everyday American media consumer as consisting almost entirely of a round, anus-like construct between two and three feet in diameter and about six to eight inches thick, pulsating and pink and ringed with exactly the kind of inelegant detritus you'd expect to find on the fringes of a less-than-perfectly-tended bunghole. This repugnant disk -- and hell, let's just call it an asshole for ease of description -- serves as the nominal head of the beast, and is centered about five feet off the ground, supported by a single stork-like leg; the ostensible purpose of this is to keep the asshole from rolling away on terrain that is not level, but its primary function is more sinister.

In case you haven't gotten the picture yet: The typical human being you see on the street is basically a 150-pound flesh-colored Dilly Bar with an extra stick, with a winking, rasping shit-pore smack in the middle instead of a nodule of chocolate coating left as a marker of the manufacturing process.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The "sport" of distance running will never be popular (and why this is mostly a good thing), Part 1

Since you've all been refreshing this page dozens of times a day to check for a follow-up to my posts(1, 2, 3) about my experience with the ever-more-decrepit and hopefully moribund Outside Online, the only response from their end was an affirmation that no official response would be forthcoming. At least that's how I interpreted this:

Remarkably, she has managed to convince herself – or so it seems – that my posts were just out-of-the-blue random vitriol, and that the various coaches and interviewees involved in the mess at my end basically do not exist or do not have legitimate concerns, possibly because none of them happen to have ovaries.

To sum up the events:
  • Editor approves query and assigns article
  • Editor does virtually zero work on the piece for nine months while dispatching a series of e-mails intended only to placate the sender
  • Article progressively loses relevance thanks to shifting issues specified at various points by the writer
  • Writer loses patience and flips the game board
  • Editor sees (wholly predictable, in my view) response 
  • Editor apparently figures with a sigh that if nothing else the angry writer has solved the problem for her, giving her license to "just sit this one out." Honestly.
More than establishing that this editor is globally useless – in fact, while she may be lazy, dishonest, and even cowardly in her official capacity, she is far from stupid and has written some solid stuff outside the running milieu, which I will leave to you to locate because I am not out to either Google-bomb or help anyone here – the way this all unfolded implies exactly the kind of passivity and torpor that writers who have flitted around this pitiful industry for a while have come to expect of the staff of any publication or website where running plays a prominent role.

The reason is simple: Very few people in America besides distance runners give a shit about distance running as a "sport," and you can safely bet your trivial and banal life that nothing will ever change this. As a consequence, those working in managerial positions (including editors) at these publications have no extrinsic impetus to display competence, let alone excellence, at their paying jobs. Many of them are busy concocting grander fitness-world plans for themselves, which is cool and all, but in most cases these ideas are pipe dreams at best.

I'm on the road now with Rosie in a banged-up car, having just driven through parts of the United States with problems that would be best solved by carefully excising these places with a trowel the size and shape of Tennessee and catapulting the whole manure- and Jesus-laden mess in the general direction of Cassiopeia; I also have my own actual work to catch up on. So the bulk of this will have to wait.

But do keep eagerly refreshing the page, hundreds of times a day, as the next installment will focus on the main reasons women's athletics are unfortunately given the shaft, a discussion of how not even the sort of tawdriness that draws a few new fans into niche sports can boost the overall profile of track and field, and a review of a few athletes who would be considered international demigods if they were major-league team players instead of highly proficient joggers. Sadly, it will even mention Dean Karnazes, who may or may not be alive and running these days.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vigilantism looks better and better every day

I'll try to describe an event that took place on Saturday without littering it with too many editorial comments en route. That way, I can pack almost all of my unrestrained hate into a few dismal paragraphs at the end, where all of you who read that far will be punished for your morbid fascination with the words of someone who fantasizes about depositing all but nine of you into massive porta-john and launching it toward the moon, using powerful binoculars to ensure seeing the septic projectile smash into the surface of our only natural satellite with lethal force amid a silent but awe-inspiring explosion of shit, plastic, bungwipe, blue chemical, and -- count on it -- a few stray cell phones.

I left home at about 11:20 to watch the Jerry Quiller Classic, the first of two home meets the University of Colorado hosts every spring. Because C.U. (and it really should be "U.-Col," in the spirit of "U.-Conn," since nobody asked) doesn't enter its best runners and no good teams show up -- which understandable because the college indoor track season officially ended just a week ago and  mid-March rarely presents good racing conditions -- this would be an easy one to pass on watching. But a lot of my friends were entered, it was actually nice out, and Rosie likes to be out from under a roof and moving around as much as possible. So a cheerful obligation this became.

Although Potts Field is only a mile away on foot and I run past the track early in my runs (meaning, near the beginning the middle or the end) at least once or twice a week, I decided to drive over in jogging garb and do a run at noon, after the 1,500-meter races and well before the other distance events. (When one usually considers 5 miles to be a full day's work, one finds the challenge of "squeezing in" runs laughably easy.)

As is often the case on somewhat ill-fated adventures, this one started off on a series of positive notes, which I believe amounts to a positive melody or at least an optimistic arpeggio sound. (Just as often, people who run into problems describe everything in the previous hour as some kind of omen. Retrospective analysis is great because anything you think might be correct, you can declare true by incontestable fiat.) We did the first part of this on the Skunk Creek Path east of the track, then merging onto the Boulder Creek Path and heading under Arapahoe Ave and the Foothills Parkway. We jogged along with some people who had just raced and some others who were going to. We met John and Linus, one of whom is a dog named after a scientist and the other a chiropractor with a 3:42 1,500-meter best. The day was cloudless and almost breeze-free and the midday sun was warming the air quickly.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

When life is a living hell

...because App Satan is destined to ensure that you never get to say the words "I walked three miles" and really, totally mean it.

This comment thread continues to be an absolute gold mine of people trying to outdo each other on the First World Problems scale. Every once in a while someone who is clearly on the autism spectrum checks in and fucks it up by giving a clear view of just how painful this "gimme my hundredth of a mile in real time" stuff actually is for some folks, but for the most part it's a joyless merry-go-round of some of the strangest grievances I have ever seen in this terribly disfigured running world of ours.

I have a friend who says cyclists are far worse about shit of this nature, so it's reassuring to know that as always, there's always a layer of slime separating runners from the bottom of the sporting barrel, now for the most part a large cask of drug-soaked piss.