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

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Sadness with no real name

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

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

That was the nice part.

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 6, 2019

Video (yes) of the 1972 New England High-School Cross-Country Championships

Every once in a while, something I post on the Internet for no better reason then to justify an emotionally satisfying exploration of history happens to add a few verses to the online distance-running canon. This in turn sometimes results in a mutually pleasing interaction between previously unacquainted running junkies who hail from different generations and places but have enjoyed overlapping experiences.

This has happened on a number of occasions as a result of this write-up stemming from my experiences coaching high-school track and cross-country in my hometown at the dawn of the century. Although I took charge of the BBHS teams sixteen years after John Savoie died, a number of members of the faculty remembered him, in some cases both as a student in the early seventies and as a young adult thereafter. Partly for this reason and also because I'd heard about J.P.'s nonpareil exploits over the years, I decided to give out a J.P. Savoie Award in addition to some other gimcrack in my second season there, when the boys went to the N.H. Meet of Champions for the first time. To quote myself:

As a junior he finished third in the 1971 New England Championship, having led his mates to the New Hampshire Class I state championship the week before. After again leading the Green Giants to the state crown in 1972, he returned to the New Englands and, coming from 50 yards behind in the final half-mile, crossed the line a winner by a full ten seconds, setting a record of 12:11 for the 2.5-mile course. In the spring, he set a Class I State record by grinding out a 4:19 mile. All told, Savoie at one time held over 30 cross-country records throughout New Hampshire. J.P. Savoie, who spent fewer than three decades running and roving among us, was a winner of the first magnitude. Sports were only a part of that.

Screen capture of J.P. Savoie about 30 meters from the finish line in Portland, Maine. 


































In an unlikely bit of kismet, a gentleman who ran in the New Englands race that Savoie won got his hands on a video of it, or of a decent chunk of it. He tells the story well, so I will pass along his words in their native form.

Good evening,

I just stumbled on the piece you wrote about John Savoie. Heartbreaking really. 

It’s a bit of a story how I know his name and why I searched and found your essay today. 

I was in the New England Championship race in ‘72 that he won. I was not vaguely a contender to win but I was there, Riverside Golf Course in Portland Maine, Nov 11, 1972. My team Mt Desert Island from Maine won the Class B state title on the same course the week prior and ultimately we were 8th in that NE meet. 

It was the first of I think 16 state championships won by my coach, Howard Richard. We lost him in 1994 in his late 50s, too young, of a massive heart attack. 

Through the wonders of social media I’ve stayed in touch with my teammates, the larger Mt Desert island HS running community and perhaps most importantly (in this story) to my coaches widow.  

About 4 yrs ago she told me that she had unearthed a box of my coaches old home movies. I remembered him carrying his super 8 camera to most of our big races and at the end of the season at a pizza party we’d see his movies. I remembered such a thing at the end of the ‘72 season.  It made me wonder whether the ‘72 film somehow had magically survived. I didn’t quite dare believe it was even possible. 

It took me 4 yrs to get his widow to send the box of movies to me in New York City, where I live retired from my career at the Museum of Modern Art. None of the films I received were labeled. I still could only hope there might be familiar treasures among the reels but had no way to even see.

My son in law works in network TV in NYC and helped me arrange for the films to be sent to LA for careful cleaning, restoration  and to be digitized.  It took 6 weeks to get the work done...and yes, dreams do come true.  I literally put them up on YouTube yesterday. 

Of course the one you will be interested in features the New England Championship race that John Savoie won. The first segment on the film is that New England Championship race. The 2nd race from the reel is the Maine State Championship from the week prior. 

Naturally posting the races on social media has created a flood of warm nostalgia amongst my old teammates and friendly rivals from back in the day. I found myself thinking about that race again and became curious about the winner of the race. I found a website in Maine that listed the top 10 finishers for many of the races including 1972. It wasn’t hard from there to find information about Mr. Savoie and ultimately your essay. 

I will attach a link to the video here. 



I hope this completes the circle for you in the same way your essay did for me. 

Sincere thanks for what you wrote. 

Larry Allen 

I got this on May 31, so I haven't exactly done a quick turn-around with this. But with the passing of Coach Bill Luti, the era in which he operated -- a time for all intents and purposes preceded my own blundering upon the runningscape -- has suddenly become more interesting and urgent. Savoie ran for a crosstown rival of Luti's Concord boys, one that was actually better than the Crimson Tide in '71 and '72. Savoie's coach, Harvey Smith, was in some ways a protege' of Coach Luti, but Harvey, who went on to coach some historically dominant tennis teams at CHS after winning seven straight Division 2 cross-country titles at Brady, is now legendary in his own right. I hope I can direct him to the video, because I'm sure he knows nothing about it and it would be truly moved by it. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The state of the running media, and an eponym


Since I'm distracted by being absorbed in long-ago years' worth of memories about Bill Luti and the roles he directly and indirectly played in my running and greater life, and because most of those memories illustrate why I'm a running lifer despite my relentless bitching, I'm hesitant to jump back into the mode of critic. But Mario Fraioli's curiosity about people's general take on the state of the running media is too enticing to ignore, and would be even if not for the flood of recent events illustrating the deeper reason I think Mario, who now qualifies as a long-timer in the industry, was even asking the question of his guest, Jeanne Mack, in the first place. The portion of interest starts at 51:40.

I will strike a bastard compromise here and lodge a few complaints without bothering to defend them at any length, because both the people who agree with them and the people who disagree have access to the same information I do, and I am certain that anyone with the motivation to even form a meaningful opinion is aware of this information.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Bill Luti, 1921-2019

Even if I were to spend the rest of the day writing stream-of-consciousness ideas about the direct and indirect influence William V. "Bill" Luti had on my running, I wouldn't finish by the end of the day, so I will save most of that for a later time. But for now, based on what I know about this blog's readership, you'll either recognize Bill Luti as the most significant name in Concord's distance-running history or not recognize the name at all. (Actually, a few of you have probably run the Bill Luti 5-Miler without learning much or anything about him, especially if you're not from the Capital Area.)

September 1985. Coach Luti is not in the photo, but the fashion...
The basics are captured here. The founder of Granite State Race Services, Bob Teschek, was one of Coach Luti's runners himself at Concord High School and a contemporary of my mom, who also went to CHS and had Coach Luti for gym class. (If it's not yet clear, Coach Luti was one of those men you called Coach Luti or Mr. Luti no matter who you were or what sort of authority you might have believed you possessed.)

A deeper dive, which I didn't even know existed until yesterday when I got the news about Coach Luti's passing, is here. I seem to remember the author, Bob Estabrook, being present for all four versions of the CHS Alumni Race I ran as a student, and he probably ran two I returned for as a nominal adult. He's also my mom's age. Bill Luti (I can get away with that now) turned a lot of people into lifetime runners and running influencers.

Coach Luti was coaching the CHS girls in 1986, my junior year, and although I was never on one of his own teams, I paid very close attention to the many things he told me, even if I sometimes didn't like them. If nothing else, he was able to remind me I didn't know much about much at my age no matter how much I was reading about running and should probably just shut up and do 10 x 440 at White Park in 67-68 least once a week instead.

Of course this is sad news, and even this brief excursion into my own memories has been an emotional one. But it's hard to feel distressed, for the lack of a better word, about the passing of someone got 98 years and compiled both the resume' and the respect that Bill Luti did.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Advocacy plus cynicism equals reality

Any adult who devotes a large portion of his or her life to becoming faster at optional foot travel -- as a participant, director or both -- becomes an addition to an ongoing roiling expo of uncertainty, frustration, fatigue, and professional underachievement. Non-runners may think that runners look like they're in pain when they're plying their trade, but in reality, the true suffering of anyone who puts running at the top of the life priority list is as undetectable at a glance as it can be punishing and degrading to body and mind over a period of years.

Sometimes, for a while and even for the duration of a career, an athlete perceives the rewards as being at least proportional to the setbacks. Aside from those who can be considered professional runners (and probably two-thirds of the people you've ever met or will meet who make this claim are lying), longtime competitive runners as a rule are as emotionally labile as they are physically resilient, unusually so in both cases; the word that seems most apt is unfulfilled, especially those who lack other distractions of sufficient weight. This would be easy to say about anyone with enough spare time for a serious hobby and the capacity to dream big about it, but most runner types I know are more inclined to seek comfort from their actions and accomplishments than from their possessions or the people they know. That the at-large population is at least as askew in many ways as runners are is no reason to glorify the palette of traits that define "serious" runners. It's a difficult sport and the physical aspects are, to me, a comparatively small part of the challenge.

(I love running. I'd never willingly give it up. I'm just saying that admitting this in effect means admitting to a higher-than-average probability of possessing certain traits "they" might find curious if not nettlesome.)

At the same time, advising people who aspire to be better runners alluring remains a very alluring pursuit. Part of this is basic familiarity: Much of the time, running is the last thing I feel like discussing, but because I have immersed myself in this world for decades, analyzing and discussing training comes automatically to me. I sometimes wish I would suffer a blow to the head that would selectively wipe out all of my memories relating to running as a sporting endeavor. In fact, maybe this has already happened, and explains why I'm often a ball of inexplicable unrest, and also why no one will look me in the eye when I approach them while brandishing a light saber.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Worn down

The area shown below is known as the Muchyedo Banks. I took the photo on a drizzly Halloween mid-morning, a few days before leaving New Hampshire. This spot is about a half-mile into the run that morning capped my streak of 365 days. I'm facing approximately northwest. The soil is a lot sandier than it looks, and the drop from where soil yields to sand down to the waterline perhaps more pronounced as well -- according to Google Earth, about 80 to 85 vertical feet. That's significant, not only in its own right but because it's about a quarter of the entire way down to sea level itself.

About 18 years ago, I wrote a story called Swing Time based mainly on this spot. In my imagined version, a giant oak tree has managed to spring from the soil near the base of the water and rise to a height of well over a hundred feet. This forms the basis for an appropriately scaled rope swing and an interesting hoax. I wrote a number of bad short stories in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but this one I am somewhat happy with even with the passage of so many years and writing lessons learned and attendant reasons to shit on anything I wrote a long time ago, or this morning.

I did have some fun rope-swing experiences as a kid, not terribly far from hear but on the northwest edge of town, at Broad Cove. It's surely for the best that that place gets a lot of public foot and bicycle traffic now.



The spot is a little over a mile west-northwest of the house where I spent the majority of my life in Concord, marked below with an H. Starting in about third grade, in 1978, I and my neighborhood friends used to ride our bikes west along Hoit Road across the interchange with I-93 and, often, to the nearest grocery store, which was in Penacook, close to a three-mile ride from my house. 

Sometime in the past ten years, a long-overdue service station with a Dunkin' Do...a Dunkin' franchise was installed on Eli Whitney Drive, which in turn only started to exist on the 1990s, when Wheelabrator, a garbage-to-energy facility, built a plant and a giant waste emitter (can't call it a smoke stack, but it's the undisputed eyesore of the general northern Concord-Boscawen-Canterbury skyline) at what used to be Hannah Dustin Drive.


Before Interstate 93 was built in the late 1950s, Hannah Dustin Drive was the conduit from East Concord to Penacook. It ran southeast and intersected Mountain Road right at the spot where this unfolded. Portions of Hannah Dustin Drive west of I-93 are still paved even though they're only reachable on foot, and only then by people with an exploratory agenda. This strikes me as ectopic city tissue


To get to where I started my Halloween run, I just drove from Hoit Road (U.S. Route 4 at this point) out Old Boyce Road, which becomes Riverland Road as it just to the west, which becomes Oxbow Pond Road as it makes a hard left turns south, toward a commercial (sort of) bed and breakfast.

Today, there's a small parking lot at this location. The trail leading north is part of a state-designated conservation area. When I was a kid, Old Boyce Road ended in an unnamed dirt lane paralleling the railroad tracks and leading, via trails, to the eastern bank of the Merrimack, close to the Route 4 bridge. I explored this area on numerous runs both in high school and in my return to Concord from about 1997 to around 2003, and once followed the dirt path along the tracks all the way north to West Road in Canterbury, neat Exit 18.

That exact trip would not be possible today. I took the photo below from close to the same spot I grabbed the photo above from, obviously having rotated about 45 degrees counterclockwise.


I was standing on the remains of a path that ran straight north-south without interruption within the past 20 years. Here is a view of that spot as one approaches it from the north. The path is simply gone. If you want to get around the space, that's easily done by using the railroad tracks just to the left. But it's a jarring reminder that some events that occur slowly in relation to human lifetimes, like the inexorable changing of a river's course, occur with astonishing speed in geologic time.


You may find it odd that anyone could be titillated by this stuff, but it makes for a lot of inexpensive fun. For example, when writing posts like these aren't enough of a way to waste time, I can make a personal adventure game out of exploring a familiar area using Google Earth Pro's ground-level navigation feature.



I wish I could be at the "New England" Championships this weekend; they're being held in the same place they were staged my senior year, Wickham Park outside Hartford, which is actually an unusual site. But if nothing else, I am back to making high-school-level competition my main running focus at the moment, and probably moving forward until the sport, the planet or all two are eradicated, preferably amid the clamor of a gleeful cosmic drunken belch. Some of the reasons for this should be obvious to you, while others are ore personal but not exactly recondite.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

N.H. Meet of Champions recap

First, if you would rather watch the races in their entirety, with solid commentary, than risk reading reading a bunch of my choleric observations, that's easy (girls, boys). But that's clearly not the case because even the most arrant twits among you don't read this blog looking for glorified agate results. Besides, I have nothing choleric to offer today, although I'm annoyed that my hamstring is sore (if it's not going to heal, I want it to actually snap, loudly enough to be heard 40 feet away and preferably in G minor) and not thrilled about either the end of DST or the long journey back west I'll be starting shortly.

I predicted the top five girls' teams correctly, but in the wrong order (results). Picking Concord over Bishop Guertin was a bit of a reach and was predicated on more momentum than the Tide was likely muster. But Concord still ran a terrific race. Also, I did not count on Coe-Brown's usual number-one girl having unresolved Lyme disease and having to be pulled from the race. That, or something, resulted in Coe-Brown falling behind Exeter. So my 1-2-3-4-5 wound up going 1-3-2-5-4. Of note, the individual winner, Caroline Fischer, also had Lyme disease, which in effect robbed her of half of her high-school running career because her illness went undiagnosed for so long. What a fantastic kid. And now I'm thinking that half the state's runners have been infected with B. burgdorferi at some point, and here I am having spent as much time as possible in the woods in shorts and quarter-socks for the past week.

My boys' predictions were similarly decent (results). Coe-Brown would have won yesterday even if the places of their sixth and seventh runners had been scored. My forecast of an average time of "about 15:40 to 15:45" for their top five was cutting it close, but they managed to thread that needle with a 15:44.16. The Bears are ranked 23rd in the U.S. by Milesplit right now despite having a total enrollment of 700; I'm not sure how I feel about this because Milesplit is awful in virtually every way and will hopefully be gone soon, but they are right to recognize Coe-Brown's 2019 boys' team, and next year they won't have as much discretion because the team is almost certainly going to be even better next fall.

I actually called 1, 3, 4 and 5 on the nose, but I did not count on Londonderry losing one of its varsity runners in an unexpected and probably disruptive way, and they wound up sixth (claiming the last New Englands berth). I also didn't count on Pinkerton running a stellar race, which is fuckin' obvious or else I would have said they were going to, which is the nature of wrong predictions. Pinkerton has been semi-regularly punking Concord for at least 35 years now, and it's time someone bitterly pointed out the school has over three thousand students and therefore should never lose in anything. (I know it doesn't quite work that way, but it's good to have handy, difficult-to-refute excuses on hand to both explain your own shortcomings and devalue the achievements of others.

It remains surreal to me to watch Coe-Brown's Aidan Cox, believed to be one of sixty thousand kids named Aidan in New Hampshire alone and a freshman who looks like he skipped at least two grades, chasing the top runner in the state down the homestretch and then tossing his cookies in a trash can. The one time I puked after a race, it wasn't even after an especially hard effort, and I didn't know if was coming for sure until the initial surge was somewhere in the vicinity of my incisors. Yet there happened to be a trash can there, and I hit it perfectly -- not the opening but the side. Maybe if there were no cans available in finish chutes to vomit in, runners wouldn't have the urge to puke. They ought to start putting porta-johns in the chute area to see if that triggers similarly ignominious outbursts of an even more socially awkward sort.

Apart from the results, the day presented the usual array of faces I was happy to greet but in some cases could not match to a name with the immediacy I would have liked. I got to chat with my first coach, Rusty Cofrin, whose initial season at Concord High coincided with my freshman year and who went on to teach math and coach for about 25 years before brain cancer forced him into retirement. I had a chance to talk pretty extensively with some of the parents (at least three of whom I graduated with) and a couple of the kids. They seem like a nicer bunch than my team was, not that we were bad, but it's weird to consider some of the things we could get away with in the 1980s thanks to simple technological barriers to being caught, like speeding away from cops on snowmobiles at 80 miles an hour up right the middle of Route 132 and watching the police try to plow their Crown Vics through 8" of snow to catch up. Come to think of it, it's probably even easier to do that now, but if they really wanted to catch someone doing that and not just random teenagers cackling and trailing clouds of marijuana smoke (well, not all of us) and worse, all it would take is GPS and heat maps.

I have no special reason to be as pleased as I am about this visit. which officially ends in a few hours. Last fall, when things didn't go my way (which is code for "I pussied out of running a couple of races and then bailed on other shit") I cut my three-week trip in half and came back to Colorado before I started setting things on fire. This time, off the bat, I could have adopted the same ah-why-bother attitude when, right off the bat, annoyances started flying my way. Factors beyond my control kept me from watching the state divisional races last weekend, my hamstring kept me from running seriously, and I accepted even before arriving that I'll probably never see my dad again. 

That was offset by some good stuff that's not suitable for a blog, not because it's tawdry but because I don't have the verbal dexterity to convey exactly how my experiences this week have revitalized me. I seem to be embracing the fact that there are things I simply don't like as much as I used to, primarily because I have gone from mediocre to pitiful, and so it's fucking dumb to even feign aspiring to competence in these areas. Since this is, in the main, a positive post, I figure my plane has at most a 35 percent chance of crashing, because I'm really superstitious about these and other things. In case that happens, here's a pictorial summary of my more public endeavors. (I like cemeteries generally, not because of the morbidity factor, but because they are never, ever crowded in November. I like the ones I find in the woods better because I can invent lustrous false histories about the people they memorialize. I will have more to say about a few of these if I survive my flight.)















Friday, November 1, 2019

God knows there were holes in that barn

When I met my mom and Harper, her five-month-old Golden Retriever, for a walk at the Sewalls Falls Recreation Area on Tuesday, I happened to bring up a story about a different dog that took place about 30 years ago about a half-mile from our meeting spot, and a little over a mile south of the house I lived in for most of my childhood and young adult life outside of school, and visited regularly until my parents sold the property and moved to Dover in 2004. I'll describe that episode first, because it's kind of funny, and what follows as a result of watching a documentary film my story prompted my mother to describe is not funny in any way at all, and is in fact nothing short of horrible.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Concord High teams pull off an unprecedented double

In accordance with making this space what it is at the expense of uncluttered information, I have to describe how, in brilliant stepwise fashion, I dismantled my chances of watching the making of some modest history in Manchester, N.H. last weekend.

A few weeks ago, I decided on something resembling an extremely thoughtful impulse to travel to New Hampshire to see the state divisional championship meets, which were held on Saturday, and the statewide Meet of Champions, set for this Saturday at Mine Falls Park in Nashua. Coming to Concord and staying with my favorite couple -- and I'll be damned if that phrase doesn't look unavoidably creepy -- has been an annual tradition for me for a long time, but the last three years I've been here every fall while managing to either not stay around long enough for the prep championship races (2017) or skip them despite being less than 20 miles away because they weather sucked (2018). My nephew is in his first season of cross-country at a D-2 school, so I had a dash of extra incentive to be there this year.

The first way in which I started ejaculating obstacles into the path leading to my watching the races that started at 10:00 yesterday morning at Derryfield Park was by choosing a red-eye flight. That was okay and nothing unusual, but this time I failed to account for my take-off and landing dates being different despite thinking that I had. I didn't mind the idea of landing at 1 a.m. on Friday, driving the 75 or so minutes to Concord, waking up, and having a day to get everything together before spending an entire day watching races and then going to (or staying for) the annual Halloween party my hosts (who are not into Eyes Wide Shut shit, if only for lack of wealth and status) were staging. I was less happy to see that I had scheduled myself to land in Boston at 1:00 on Saturday morning, leaving me barely enough time for a nap at my hosts' even if everything about my Turo rental went smoothly. It did not, which this time was only in small part my error, so I didn't make it to Concord until almost 7:00 a.m.