Former 2:24 marathoner, now pushing 50 and reduced to a pitiable spastic shuffle • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on distance running since 1999; mostly a crank since approximately 2016 and possibly long before • Coach and adviser of less pessimistic perambulators • Dobie-mix owner Sentence-fragment impresario

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A few steps ahead of EPO

Synthetic EPO in theory became available for athletic use in 1987, when the world record in the men's 1,500m stood at 3:29.46 (1985, Said Aouita, Morocco). Hicham El Guerrouj's current mark, which has stood since 1998, a drop of 1.65 percent from the pre-EPO era. In reality, no one knows exactly when EPO became a major thing in distance running, but you can be certain that athlete managers were hunting for it the moment they learned it could be made in labs as well as in kidneys.

Aouita also held the outdoor 3,000m record for a spell, being the first to dip under seven and a half minutes (7:29.45, 1989), breaking Henry Rono's 11-year-old record by over two and a half seconds. If I had to guess, which I obviously do, I would say that Aouita was probably the last world record holder in a distance event who can be almost definitely removed from EPO suspicion on logistical grounds alone, which isn't to say I think he was any cleaner by the standards of his day than anyone else. In any case, Aouita's 3,000m record has dropped by 1.95 percent. The record (7:20.67) has also been static since Daniel Komen set it in 1996, and in fact hasn't been seriously threatened. (I think Yomif Kejelcha has as good a shot as anyone has in the past 20 years now that Kenenisa Bekele has missed his chance.)

The 3,000m steeplechase record has fallen from 8:05.35 in 1989 to 7:53.63 today, with hat mark now fifteen years old, although it seems unfair to discount Brahim Boulami's 7:53.18 from 2002, since it's known he was on EPO. That's a drop of 2.39 percent.

The 5,000m record fell from Aouita's 12:58.39 in 1987 to Bekele's 12:37.35 in 2005, s drop of 2.70 percent, and the 10,000m mark was trimmed from Arturo Barrios' 27:08.23 in 1989 to Bekele's 26:17.53 in 2005, an improvement of 3.11 percent. Both records still stand.

The marathon is an outlier here, and not merely for being a road race and involving unique physiological demands compared to the aforementioned events. There is also a great deal more financial incentive at the world-class level, in large part because of the introduction of the World Marathon Majors in 2006.

Surprisingly, the world record in the marathon did not change during the 1990s until Ronaldo da Costa ran 2:06:05 in 1998 to take 45 seconds off the record set by the insanely anonymous Belayneh Dinsamo. The longest period without a new record since 1998 is 4 years and 2 days. Eliud Kipchoge's official mark of 2:01:39 from 2018 -- which Bekele came within two seconds of matching last month on the same course in Berlin -- is 4.09 percent faster than Dinsamo's.

I am hoping at this point that putting these distances in ascending order makes it clear that the records in the men's distance events have fallen by greater amounts with increasing race distance. There are a number of obvious issues with this rough assessment, among them the fact that the records listed aren't all from the same time frame (outliers in any sample will do that); otherwise, a graph no one will look at would be useful here. If one attempts to account for this to some extent by using Tergat's marathon record from 2003 (2:04:55), the drop from Dinsamo's record is only 1.51 percent, and the improvement level seen between the late 1980s and the mid-"oughts" in the 10,000 (about 3 percent) wasn't observed in the marathon until 2014, when Dennis Kimetto became the first man under 2:03:00.

I think the running world, of which I remain a mostly cognizant part, is coming around to the fact that the latest racing shoes really can make a phenomenal difference in the marathon on the right set of feet. That last disclaimer does a great deal of work, because most people who run marathons would be extremely ill-advised to run marathons in ordinary flats, much less something with zero cushioning at all. The runners who benefit most from the VaporFly 4% shoe are most likely those who are already extremely efficient, making this a case of the rich getting richer.

I don't know how much a factor EPO is on the roads, but I can say with confidence that most of the improvement in elite marathon times (and the improvement of the all-time top lists down to whatever ranking you pick) in recent years have been owed more to the shoes then to the drugs. I don't know if running will ever confront the issue of whether such footwear ought to be judged an unfair advantage, but unless they actually provide electrical power or something, they represent nothing more than one more clever engineering innovation. A few people my age will eventually start blare on about how much faster they would have been if better shoes had been available in their day, and anyone who hangs with other runners probably already knows which goon or two in the group will be the first to do so.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

More comedy from the Salazar suspension

File this in the overspilling drawer labeled Public statements that should have ended exactly one sentence earlier. From Sarah Lorge-Butler, to whom you should always devote your limited free RWOL clicks:

In sum, Sifan Hissan invites the reader to presume that she either knew nothing about the journalistic and legal investigations into Salazar before she joined the NOP or she didn't care and joined anyway; furthermore, she's basically admitting there's a shady pre-Hassan version of Salazar and that this one happened to be replaced by an upstanding one when she arrived. Maybe I am reading a lot into a few words, but I don't think so. I mean, what she's telegraphing, maybe without her own permission, might be more brazen: "Yeah, he's dirty. So are most people. If you think I am, prove it." Hassan appears uncomfortable speaking in public under any circumstances, and on the track generally looks like she wants to murder someone while trying to hold in explosive diarrhea at the same time; none of this is likely to temper this presentation one bit. What a goddamn shame.

Excellent comic timing

I haven't read this story yet and was just alerted to the headline. My own headline derives from the fact that the IAAF World Athletics Championships are being contested this week in Doha, Qatar, probably among the least hospitable heavily populated environments on Earth for non-sadists to stage distance races. My own motivation for seeing renewables replace oil, which won't ever happen, has little to do with the environment and everything to do with driving these nations into sufficient financial ruin to prevent world-class athletes from training full-time for four years to run a 10,000-meter final at 11 p.m. when it's still hot enough to fry the corners of your own balls on the track if you seat yourself just so.

It's important to throw out some of my initial reactions without assimilating or even perusing the details of the story, because I wasn't sure what exactly these reactions would be if the sport ever got around to sanctioning Alberto Salazar's program for perpetrating Trump-caliber excesses in plain view. (Well, it appears that my first reaction among these initial reactions is to liken the ethics of the Nike Oregon Project to that of the current White House. That doesn't feel like an inner conflict, praise Jesus.)

Besides, it's been a while since I rapped at ya, and if I weren't waiting on one thing I consider somewhat important by my standards, I would have posted a lengthy, tedious, and somehow captivating string of paragraphs at least a week and a half ago that would have included no distinguishing features except for exactly one strategic use of a word or phrase guaranteed to spike someone's blood pressure -- not always the same person of even an identifiable one at all. So this gives me an excuse to make one last Septemb...nah, not gonna make it at this rate.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Liberty Bell Invite results exemplify an ongoing Colorado youth bonanza

I closely follow high-school running in my home state of New Hampshire, and manage to stay on top of the rest of the New England prep scene as well (the latter partly by default; interstate competition is frequent in neighboring states that are all practically small enough to fart across on a clear, dry day). Now that I seem to have settled in Colorado permanently, I keep tabs on the kids here as well. But I'd like to think I'd be paying attention to Colorado high-school running anyway, because there are some notable things happening here at both the once-in-a-generation level and the top-ten-in-the-U.S. level. While Colorado appears to be enjoying an unusually strong ripple, I think the reasons for this are manifest in the rest of the country as well, and that these reasons fairly easily explain why we're seeing about the same number of superhero-level outliers as before, but quite a few more kids in the "extremely good" range.

At the Liberty Bell Invitational at Heritage High School south of Denver last weekend, an affair that ranks among the biggest regular-season cross-country events in the state if my guess is close, both the boys' and girls' already impressive course records were broken. Cole Sprout of Valor Christian, arguably the top prep runner in the country, ran 14:38 to break the 2007 mark by 13 seconds, while junior Sydney Thovaldson, now considered the second-most-influential woman in Wyoming behind Liz Cheney but overwhelmingly the more popular of the two, erased Brie Oakley's 16:43 standard from 2017 by three seconds. The finish line of this course reportedly sits at 5,466' above sea level.

I'll delve into the influences of the physical setting as a whole on the times at this event, but as a glance at the winners through 2015 reveals, some very talented athletes have raced at LBI in its forty-one year history. When future Olympian Adam Goucher of Doherty (Colorado Springs) broke the course record by over 18 seconds in 1993, the same fall he proceeded to rip a 14:41 to win the Foot Locker National title in San Diego, his blistering new mark was "only" 15:05. The next kid to get within even 15 seconds of Goucher's time was Brent Vaughn, who recorded a 15:16 in 2002 and went on to run 9:05 for 3,200 meters the next spring, a time that stood as the state record until quite recently and is now decisively held by Sprout. The next year, Ryan Deak of Smoky Hill of Aurora, at one time a veritable talent factory, was the first to break fifteen minutes (14:58); in 2007, Williams, who'd go on to reach FLN and run 8:51 for two miles at sea level the following spring, notched the 14:51 that had stood until Saturday.

On the girls' side, the erratic nature of the progression is even more evident. When Lize Brittin ran 17:50 at LBI in 1983, she broke the course record by 47 seconds, but the race was then only five years old, and it also may not have made her 17:36 the next fall seem as phenomenal as it proved to be, even if Lize did run those times in campaigns in which she placed 15th and 7th at FLN. Lize was the furthest thing from an open-road time-trialer as you'll ever find, so of her various course records from the 1980s, her LBI time would have looked the most vulnerable. But even as the race grew to include more and more out-of-state athletes, no one even came close. The first runner to go under 18:00 after Lize was Megan Kaltenbach of Smoky Hill in 2000 -- sixteen years later. In fact, Kaltenbach would win the race three times, with finishes of 17:40, 17:49 and 17:36.0. For good measure, in 2003, Katelyn Kaltenbach, also of never the hell mind because don't be a dumbass, ran 17:42 to put two extraordinarily hot sisters (as I would have seen them as a high-schooler, but not either in real time, when I was over 30, or now, when I am pushing 50) a total of about 31 seconds outside Lize's record in four combined tries.

As you can see from that PDF, which I won't link to again because I'm trying to get to the point as quickly as humanly possible before the missiles hit, the Smoky Hill sisters ushered in a new era (a phrase I just used on purpose because it should be abolished from the vernacular and is probably incorrect anyway) of faster winning times, but Lize's mark stood until 2011, when Eleanor Fulton broke it by less than a second. Then, one year later, Jordyn Colter of Cherry Creek (Denver) appeared to do the equivalent of hitting a baseball clear out of the old Tiger Stadium with a 17-flat. This meant that a record that had stood for 27 years and fallen by about half a second was now over half a minute in the dust. Colter would run 2:04.5 for the 800 and 4:41.1 for the mile as a senior in 2015, so anyone speculation that her record would stand for a good spell would have been reasonable. But in 2016, Lauren Gregory of Fort Collins ran an unbelievable 16:52 -- and lost the race by nine seconds to Oakley. You may remember Oakley running 10:09 to win the 2017 Colorado 5A 3,200m title (where Gregory ran 10:16; never, ever, ever again will a high-school girl finish second in 3,200-meter race at 5,560' with a time that fast, mark my or someone more reliable's words on that one) a few months after running 15:52 to set a national high-school indoor record in the 5,000m.

That sets the table for discussion of current events, now that I myself am sick of writing about them. I'm taking a break, but the rest will appear below the "Read more" link when I'm good and ready.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Coleman offered leniency owing to exceptional efficacy of doping regimen

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Citing the youth, promise, and above all remarkable success of U.S. sprinter Christian Coleman, the figurehead organization U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) declined to apply its rules and uphold its suspension of the decorated athlete from competition.

Coleman, who holds bests of 9.79 and 19.85 for the 100-meter and and 200-meter  dashes, was reportedly unavailable for between three and sixty random drug tests in a 12-month period between April of 2018 and this year. Coleman's lawyers, who candidly note being professional shit-sacks whose ideal ultimate fate is being found face-up, naked, and badly defiled in filthy roadside drainage ditches, were able to provide Coleman's sponsor, U.S.A Track and Field (USATF), with a plausible excuse to allow its wayward athlete to continue racing and typically besting the world's pre-eminent international dopers.

One of Coleman's attorneys, also an official in Nike's human development division at USATF's main offices in Indianapolis, expressed gratitude for the language intentionally placed in the USADA guidelines at the organization's inception that allows for especially successful dopers to continue competing after clear rules violations while allowing for the occasional sacrifice of over-the-hill talent to provide a veneer of concern for rules enforcement.

"Christian is young and doesn't understand that skipping tests outright is dumb and attracts attention," said the attorney, who was visibly intoxicated during the conversation and late for his third disbarment hearing of 2019. "He doesn't quite get that dirty urine goes down a biochemical rabbit hole if it comes from the right bladder. But the kid's only 23."

One of Coleman's trainers was more sanguine, emphasizing the willingness of USATF to limit its punitive doping-related actions to aging athletes whose real value is limited but whose name recognition suggests to the public that someone gives a rip. "They'll pop some American over 30 before Tokyo," the lawyer predicted confidently as he pleasured himself to a rare VHS video of Scrooge McDuck ejaculating into the face of an impoverished gosling. "Someone who ran 9.95 to 10.00 four years ago. It won't fool anyone, but it'll push enough attention back to the Russians and Turks so that we can absorb our own fucking carelessness. I mean really." The official said her real name was Ann and that the reporter could probably figure out her true identity if he wanted.

"Fuck this shit," a sprinter with knowledge of Coleman's thinking reportedly added sometime late last week. "I'll answer the door when I'm home and if I'm out, I'm out. I do what I need to do, which is what everyone does. Sadly, it's considered uncool to say that, so I won't."

Coleman, who is carefully being groomed for an eventual 9.65 on today's pharmacological aids but expects to break 9.50 in 2022 after a new class of rapid intramuscular kinase enzymes is secretly introduced, declined to go on record for this report.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Dear adults in the Runner's World editorial room

Last week, an article about the difficulty of breaking four minutes for the mile at high altitude and centering on an event at which I was present appeared on the website of Runner's World, the magazine that seems to boast the highest circulation among the few remaining print publications of its type. The article seems to have been published without any editorial oversight whatsoever. As in, the RW site, or part of it, functions as the author's personal blog, or did for the purposes of this mess. Another possibility is the editor who was supposed to review it was somehow compromised, maybe by a massive blow to the occiput to conclude a hilarious backward fall on roller skates after being drilled in the face by a love rival; I'm leaning toward higher-probability scenarios such as the author being the editor, or the transparent inattention and mail-it-in work ethic that appears to predominate wherever enough people congregate in an effort to produce a fitness periodical. Especially if enough of them are under 30.

With this post representing yet another opportunity to provide my jaded middle-aged perspective on the innumerable troublesome issues with contemporary running journalism (and facts per se as a matter of general relevance), I probably don't need to again explore the possibility that the entire running world, including you, me and everything actually not included in the set of things in the running world, is utter misery incarnate and in urgent need of violent dissolution by the most apocalyptic means imaginable, because we still owe Jesus more than the U.S. owes others. I could even suggest that without the existence of Alex Hutchinson, who is so much better than the rest us who have ever tried this have ever been, shows just how awful we are by showing that even the good ones sit in a cluster a solid delta behind Alex, and as result should either immediately strive to improve or immediately quit. As true as these things may be, though, they're hardly important, since I, like you, am weak and lack the means to do anything historically influential and downright vivacious such as amassing and constructing the necessary implements of doom without forgetting something important, like a trustworthy jackknife.

I could even offer a bland aside about how people's basic choices about how and where they seek and find their running and other information (or at least ideas) and how much they're willing to pay for it (note: This variable is "null" except in cases of extreme drunkenness or stone credit cards), but for whatever reason, magazines focusing on endurance sports are about as much of a growth industry as asbestos and saccharin, with Outside and Runner's World well outside of the top 100 in U.S. circulation and lagging behind various magazines you've surely never heard of. Runner's World's circulation is less than it was a dozen years ago, and the outfit appears to be trying to survive by selling even more garbage to naive and deluded readers than before, not that I would observe such a thing in a dry analysis like this one; Outside, like a number of companies, may be trying to expand its brand by focusing on things like Outside TV. Either way, the startling number of de facto place-holders who are now contributing to and employed by online and even print running pubs may represent a proxy for the incipient failure of whole components of businesses. If running articles are still being recycled after 20 years in circulation (like this "2016" example, published in print and online in 1999), demand for fresh content is obviously low, and what would original content outside of hi-tech product reviews even look like? Apparently like the story I decided to review over a period of days, not at the expense of work, but at the expense of 24, which is worse. RW is now putting its stuff behind a paywall, which is funny because if it's inaccurate or useless as a randomly chosen personal blog, it's basically worse than what you can see for free because of all the ads, every one of them a grotesque eyesore. And, yeah, I was going to link to the sources of some these claims, and maybe I went back and did, or will, but I decided to close all of those shimmering tabs instead because they were harshing my mellow.

More to create an interesting writing exercise for myself than out of some moral imperative, I will try point out the worst of the flaws in the article itself, with minimal editorial commentary to match this terse introduction, aiming for the perspective of a fact-checker who knows next to nothing about distance running and was ordered only to list the most glaring errors and biggest pieces of missing information. I know won't succeed in this, and will instead veer off into the weeds multiple times, as always, because bitching is just so easy. I will look this over when I'm done and maybe excise some of the more acidic output, and then I will remind myself that no one, no one at all, is listening, except for four distinct people who are madly pushing pins through the eyes of voodoo dolls who all look like someone who lives in my house.

But like I said, time to focus. This actually gets a little wonky, as Paul Krugman might say. (He writes for a bigger newspaper than this one.)

Monday, August 26, 2019

How to Beat the East Africans, revisited

I was poking around last night through my trove of musty Runner's World articles (all of which were actually written for Running Times) last night and decided to click on one I wasn't looking for from almost nine years ago. I decided to investigate this one because the title didn't immediately evoke any memories of having written it, the kind of lapse that happens with increasing frequency now that I live in a pleasantly beveled THC haze. I don't remember what I was actually looking for, either, come to think of it.

I had apparently once again gotten fed up with bad articles about running in mainstream publications (a tendency I'm thankful to say has since given way for the most part to attacking entire running publications themselves). In this instance, I was taking issue with the premise that American-born distance runners (to be interpreted in the traditional sense) should be able to beat East Africans with enough good old-fashioned American ingenuity, given that training didn't seem to be accomplishing this. Drugs were not mentioned, but should have been, since Alberto Salazar's name featured prominently in the piece and the ones I was attempting to rebut, or correct, or slander.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Instead of Tweets, Vol. 6

I haven't been blogging lately, but I've been dumping a lot of shit into this file or one like it, so I guess I'll publish some of it. ("Publish." Such a terrible pimping of that word, using it mean "spew words into cyberspace with zero editorial oversight.")

I have now run at least once for 20 minutes at a time every day since last Nov. 1. I've been doing lame doubles often enough this summer so that I'm sure I have quite a few more runs than the number of days that have passed (293). Despite this, I would be surprised if I have covered much more than 1,000 miles at a running clip. There are benefits from being consistent, and then there are people like me who basically try to claim fitness on what amount to a little under an hour a day of vigorous tai chi, and who would be better served by three well-structured intense runs a week and four days off were competitive aims near the top of the perambulatory priority list.

My general lack of participation in social media, and by extension my lower level of engagement with current events, has left me with a perhaps not surprising amount of free time and positive emotional energy (by my standards). As a result I have been spending more time outside and at least diddling with the outlines for some of my half-written stories, one of which has me legitimately excited. I am also probably going to do the thing that will bleed more time from my day (and there is still plenty to spare) and upgrade to a nicer keyboard, one that will produce better noise both because it'll be a better machine in general and because it will have the technological power to compensate for most of my mistakes.

Other than that...

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Instead of tweets, Vol. 5

  • The word "jogger" seemingly should have gone the way of "Negro" and "gal" by now, still tenaciously tumbling from the faces of especially old, sheltered or antisocial folks but nowhere else. Not because it's offensive, but because it's stupid. Yet the general media knows no other word besides "jogger" to describe a pedestrian who is not walking, crawling, hopping, or skipping, and we're always reminded of this when runners find dead human bodies, or otherwise bear witness to some kind of shit that has either degraded or ended someone's life. I am at times deeply disappointed to have never found a human corpse while running, or for that matter at any other time, with the most interesting unexpected find I have had during a jog being two people about my current age fornicating in a clearing in the woods of New Hampshire. (That happened when I was about ten years out of high school, a couple of miles from that high school, which made sense because both participants in these copulatory shenanigans were teachers there, and married. But not to each other, as I knew, or at least had good reason to believe, as a result of having had one of them as a teacher myself. That whole encounter could have gone darkly hilarious in a hurry because I had a loose dog with me who though disciplined, was naturally curious every time he saw a bare human ass thrust into the air, which, to be frank, wasn't all that often.)

    Anyway, I am convinced at this point that this "jogger" convention is not a journalistic convention at all but an inviolable rule. If Usain Bolt himself left the Olympic Stadium, a gold medal in each hand and one around his neck, and happened to see someone getting mugged during a private moment en route to his limo, and dashed over to intervene, the headline would read "Jogger Fresh Off Pair of Olympic Record Foils Would-Be Thief." Better still, say some unfortunate finalist in the Olympic 1,500 meters dropped dead after the start of the second lap. If his body were sprawled across the first two lanes when the field came around a minute later, if the announcers thought he was merely unconscious or play-acting, they would bark about the athletes having to hurdle him. But if they knew he was dead for some reason (say, his head had become separated from his body by an errant, whirling circular saw blade, which probably only happens in Naked Gun movies), they would cry with dismay that a group of joggers had just torn past a deceased victim of foul play with nary a concern for anything but their own unseen destination.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Fuckin' weirdo

I found myself looking at a fuckin' weirdo yesterday during my midday run, and what qualified the person as a weirdo (for present purposes only) is that she was looking back at me through a phone held up to and obscuring some of her face, in plain view of various others, ostentatiously following and apparently recording my movements for over a minute.

I was trotting north up the sidewalk along the eastern side of Manhattan Avenue in Boulder at about ten past noon, about halfway through an easy, clockwise-ish 25-minute run with Rosie, looping around the western side of East Boulder Park where the middle school and its track sit; in summer and non-school hours, these expanses are effectively extensions of the same park. This is my usual midday "Just in case I can't get Rosie out tonight" thing these days. Sometimes we do this twice, although we often run from home too. But the park has a big pond where Rosie can swim or cool off, a dedicated dog park if I want to take her in there to socialize, access to the unpaved part of the South Boulder Creek Trail, etc. It's flat, and if I want to I can do biggish loops entirely on grass, so Rosie's paws and my knee both like it there. Oh, and squirrels. And a big open field where I can set her off her leash with little worry so we can play fetch. It's almost perfect for my current recreational/exercise needs. The northwest corner of the complex sits about eight-tenths of a mile from my house, and that's where I usually park, just north of the track on a street called Tenino. People do this all the time in this neighborhood, all day long, so I don't know what was so special about me today.