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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Putting clothespins on athletic genitals

First, quick hits from the recent freelance files: I recently talked to Shalane Flanagan for the second time in nine years, this time concerning strategies for getting past mental barriers in racing once you've blown up once or twice in high-pressure situations. Shalane is as immune to sub-par races as any elite runner on the scene today, but such was not always the case.

Shalane may be known as a world-class runner but she should really be lauded more for the thoughtfulness with which she gives interviews. In fact, this trait seems more characteristic of women elites than male elites -- not sure why, but I'm already off track in the first paragraph, so please visit Motiv Running and read the article. (I was going to borrow from Nicholas Kristof and just write "read!" but he gets flak for that.)

Also, this piece has nothing to do with running, but it's my first foray into local journalism and it concerns a topic that's important to me. (In case you're wondering, Boulder Weekly pays freelancers as well as most mid-sized daily newspapers do.) I wound up going down a lot of research rabbit-holes and changing my initial ideas somewhat by the time I was done with this 3,000-word opus, but it was well worth it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sprinkler dancing, Olympic prep, and abject moral confusion

In a scene in Ocean's Twelve (a solid piece of filmmaking, but not as good as Ocean's Eleven) a lithe and limber thief uses a series of acrobatic dance-style moves to penetrate a field of oscillating lasers protecting the Fabergé Egg he intends to steal. That no real security system would operate like this isn't the point of either the scene -- which makes little sense but allows an actor to flaunt his martial-arts skills -- or this post.


I like to run at dusk, at least at this time of year. Well, I actually like to run at night, but lately I've been wandering into places that aren't well-lit in the absence of natural light sources, so waiting until well after sundown to make use of these routes is a bad idea for reasons that don't require explaining.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Every runner's humblebrag

When it comes to the topic of proficiency on rolling terrain, some distance runners will admit that they're no good on downhills compared to other runners. These admissions are, in my experience, almost universally coupled to the offhanded observation "I can run uphills, no problem."

On one hand, this makes a modicum of sense: being great at running uphills and not-so-great at running downhills are probably complementary traits. I'm kind of a bucket-sitter and shuffler, so cajoling my center of gravity forward in the way that would help me on downhills isn't easy. Uphills, at least sustained uphills in longer races, have always  to present less of a challenge to me than to those around me.

But on the other hand, there's a moral component to this "admission" in a lot of cases. Most people, if given the choice between being perceived as a good uphill runner and being viewed as a spectacular downhill runner (and my above comments concerning my own form notwithstanding, this is largely a false dichotomy), would rather be viewed as being good climbers. Better to be seen as gritty and tough but possibly not agile than to be perceived as fearless and coordinated but weak.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Lies and spin

I wrote a month ago that I would not actively seek rehabilitation for my injured right knee or any other running-related malady I might incur in the future. At the time I made the claim, it was, to invoke Politifact "Truth-o-Meter" language, "mostly true." I had an appointment with a sports doc in place for August 18, but I was considering cancelling it, and I wasn't doing any exercises that were likely to  either help or hurt what was ailing me. I was riding my bike around for about an hour a day, but on the whole I had resigned myself to inactivity (the cycling I do doesn't really qualify as exercise), further physical and personality deterioration, and incipient senescence; I had embraced and inarguable certainty that my running -- the entirety of my life , actually -- had been a demoralizing charade of mediocrity punctuated by serious mistakes, and that for a variety of easily demonstrated reasons, it was completely unreasonable that the cosmos was even allowing me to continue existing.

OK, maybe I didn't take my existential crisis and nihilism quite that far, but I did say I'd let nature take its course. I recently described learning that my injury was most likely to the meniscus, not the patellar tendon, and that it would probably go away on its own, with or without me doing some running on it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Pointless PSA: Boulder Book Store event on Sept. 7

Brad Hudson, Lize Brittin and I will be at the Boulder Book Store on Thursday, Sept. 7 at 7:30 to discuss Young Runners at the Top and sign copies of the book for anyone who buys one.

The reason I am calling this a pointless PSA is because no one in the Boulder area who doesn't already know about the event is going to learn about it from this blog. Therefore, this post will not increase attendance by even a single unit. Its influence on the world will be not merely trivial, but undetectable. It is a flagrant waste of time, words, and psychological and emotional resources. I have an assignment for Boulder Weekly that I am looking forward to reading far more than I am looking forward to finishing, and this post is a means of delaying work on that project and avoiding a slate of other responsibilities, both real and propositional, at the same time.

It should be noted that some of the regular readers of Beck of the Pack either don't read books about running, aren't runners or parents of runners, are nowhere near Colorado, are mentally unstable in ways ranging from endearing to unsettling, or would prefer to see Young Runners at the Top and its authors fail; in some cases, more than one of these traits applies. Therefore, making this kind of PSA is rather like appearing on The Muppet Show and mooning the old hecklers in the balcony, Stadler and Waldorf, after spiking their tea with Adderal and giving them pellet guns.

Nevertheless, since I have absolutely nothing of interest to talk about concerning my own running, I have a de facto obligation to either delete this blog outright or repeatedly mention things related to "my" newly released book. (For what little it's worth, I've been able to run up to 40 minutes every day without pain and am seeing a PT tomorrow afternoon, but I've retained few of the competitive ambitions I tricked myself into having at the beginning of the year.)

Mike Sandrock wrote a nice primer for the event in Sunday's paper. I hope no one confuses me with runners who were actually "prep stars" like Brad and Lize, though. I was a person of middling talent and reasonable dedication from a small state who managed to run 9:43 a couple of times in high school and place second in two state championship races and third in another. My prep running career was as forgettable as my adult "career." Anyone who believes otherwise is badly deluded, and I can't take the blame or the credit for that either.

"Boston Marathon: An Unfair Disadvantage": fair conclusion, wrong reasoning

Hal Walter has posted a thorough defense of the idea that the net elevation drop of the Boston Marathon course is not configured in such a way as to offer an advantage, and that as a result, the the route's being ineligible for world records is unfair. Mr. Walter's blog post reviews a study published last week at PLoS One by Dr. Phil Maffetone and colleagues.

I agree the Boston course per se isn't as fast as the layouts in Berlin, London and elsewhere (says the guy whose lifetime personal was set at Boston, natch). But the points the authors raise do not by themselves support the idea that the Boston course is slower by as much as it seems to be or that it should become record-eligible.

From Mr. Walter's post:

Saturday, September 2, 2017

5K double track and wood chip trails with hills

That is the description offered of the course used in the "Gilford at Gunstock" Early Bird Invitational, which was held Thursday at a ski area in New Hampshire about 30 miles north of where I grew up. This meet was instituted in 2011, making this year's event the seventh.

Based on the results, both this year's and the previous six, I think that description is not as florid as it could be.

The winning time in last week's boys' race was 17:43.1, by Tyler McLaughlin of Moultonboro. McLaughlin won by 30 seconds, bettering his own 2016 winning time by 13 seconds. Here's a breakdown of the finishers: