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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Status quo

Another week, another few incremental slips toward the bottom of the pit of nihilism, which is of course as deep as one chooses to envision it. But first, the crap you didn't come here to see.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Mirror mirror

Someone took out my driver's side car mirror one evening in the wake of a snowstorm last week. I found the wrecked remains of it on the ground the next morning. There was no note, of course, or anything else in the way of apology or acknowledgement. Just the evidence that some filthy fuckface had made his mark on someone else's life in a way that is all too typical of the diseased members of this feckless species.

I take solace in knowing that, unless this person dies suddenly -- a statistically unlikely scenario, but one I can passively root for -- he will be lying in his own excrement one day, enfeebled by age or disease or both, and terrified beyond measure because he fears, correctly, that there is no afterlife and that that he will soon be nothing but a decomposing, stinking, and forgettable mess. His stupid brain will race with panic as he accepts that he was a failure for decades on end and a morbid stain on an already putrid world, and that people only wanted him for whatever money he had, just as he only bothered with others so that he could try to divert resources from them in turn.

Hopefully, he will be overwhelmed by knowing that, inasmuch as anyone will remember his sad and ugly face at all, he will be recalled as utterly stupid, replaceable, and unlovable, as is true of almost all of us. His ebbing spirit will fray as he grasps that his existence was as unsolicited as it was pointless and undeserved. If he has children, he will have unquestionably helped fuck them up and turn them into whatever gibbering inadequates they became in their own right; if he had a job, he was probably a substandard employee who could and should have been replaced by either a machine or a literal moron. He should have become an incidentally miscarried splotch of mucus or an actively aborted zygote, embryo, or, for all I genuinely care, 38-week-old perfectly viable foetus. He may have been a country music fan.

To those of us who fail to hold a great deal of concern about whether we make it through any given day alive, annoyances are almost worse than crises because they aren't sufficiently distracting. When I was routinely setting fire to whatever prosperity I had managed to achieve in life, I rarely had time to stop and ponder the absurdity of this fucking circus. Consider the sheer lunacy of supposedly sentient primates regarding this whole awful shitshow of humanity and actually thinking, ceaselessly by the millions: "Let's bring another human victim or two into this fucking nightmare! We don't have the couple hundred thousand it'll cost us, but who cares because vanity!" Now that I am sober and stable, the same basic abhorrence for simply being here and having to participate in this ruinous scrum (I expect to die by my own hand someday, just not yet) that I have always held is a more insistent force, as I am no longer trying to assemble the elements of basic survival.

In short, if nothing else, I comprehend why I drank so destructively all along: I don't like being here, and I don't like the way I or pretty much anyone else behaves. Yes, I have a special distaste for certain themes and practices, notably toxic Christianity (right down to the fact that these malformed dunces seem to be incompetent at everything besides breeding, that great equalizer, the one thing abject fish-eyed dipshits can do as well as anyone else).  People as a rule are incompetent, life is a series of annoyances, and no one should be sorry about the prospect of leaving the world.

This has nothing to do with running other than giving me reason to note that running is the only thing that takes some of the sting out of being here. I don't even have a difficult life and never have, and my unhappiness today stems entirely from my own bad wiring. But I didn't fucking ask to be here and I deeply resent ever having taken part in this shit, and I offer no apologies for saying as much. People and their habits as a rule are fucking disgusting.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Sports "diets" are about the process, not the outcome

That's a basic statement of fact, not an indirect endorsement. Put another way, it means that, in my experience, people sign on to "diets" not because they have good reason to expect stellar results, but because it gives them a point of focus shared by thousands of others at any given time. If enough people are engaged in a given thing, jumping on the bandwagon may not better your life, and it may not even be medically or psychologically advisable, but you'll automatically gain a bunch of new de facto allies. The pursuit in question may be watching Real Adultresses of Botox Junction, summiting a specific group of mountain peaks wearing only a cowboy hat, or deciding that vaccinating your kids will cause them to be even more fucked up than you are.

Many have suggested that were it not for parents instilling religious ideas into their kids' heads before their brains are old enough to respond critically, the whole scheme would largely collapse, at least at the level of obviously untenable claims like six-day creation, dead people coming back to life, and the Bible -- errors, contradictions, atrocities and all -- being authored, or at least dictated, by a being of unimpeachable wisdom and utmost kindness. After all, tell any educated 18-year-old who has somehow never heard that Christianity is not merely mythology that people rally around but an actual account, and that the account established that the cosmos is between six and ten thousand years old with Earth at its center, and the response would be incredulous laughter.

Friday, February 8, 2019

My uncle the child molester is dead and other indicators of a wondrous cosmos

My mother grew up with two brothers and no sisters, which for you non-genealogists means I had two maternal uncles and no maternal aunts. I'm using the past tense because the younger of those two uncles recently died. I think he was 73. And he really was the "uncle with wandering hands" motherfucker of holiday horror-joke lore. Starting in 2001, he served a six-year sentence in the New Hampshire State Prison after his three children -- that is, my first cousins, who as you'd expect are all about my age -- learned from their own kids that my uncle had molested all eleven of them. In other words, my uncle went to prison for sexually abusing his eleven grandchildren after those kids became old enough to start reporting his behavior to their parents.

He was kind of a lifelong fuck-up even without this in the mix, so my mom was never especially close to him even though both of them never left New Hampshire. He and the mother of my cousins were divorced when I was very young (this is perhaps not a surprise given the various details already provided) and my dad used to take my sister and I used to visit my uncle, my three cousins, and whoever my uncle's new girlfriend was maybe once a month on weekends, about a 30-mile drive. We would do some things I liked, like play frisbee, and other things I didn't, like go fishing. I wish more fish were like sharks and ate the fuck out of folks. Anyway, my Uncle Fondle rented some little red shack in a place called East Sutton, which was and remains about as boonies at it gets. At one point he had a goat, which seemed cool at the time, but now who the fuck knows how that damn goat was treated and what it saw. He smoked pot that he grew himself (Uncle Fondle, not the goat) which a lot of people living out in the New Hampshire sticks did and continue to do, and it's funny to consider now that in the 1970s, this seemed the most deviant thing about him. They should be putting cannabinoids in the municipal fucking water supply by now. And this is really nothing to laugh about.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Effective drug testing is the "taxing the super-rich" of athletics

The sport's powers-that-be (USATF in the United States, the IAAF internationally) claim to want a banned-drug-free sport. That's a hard position to not publicly take.

These governing bodies, at least the latter one, have tacitly admitted that world records currently on the books may be drug-aided. This was the basis for the dead-on-arrival proposal to erase all world records set before 2005.

Everyone, however, likes world records. Meet promoters, athletes, fans and -- critically -- sponsors.

Thus the sport faces a perennial dilemma. With a truly clean sport in place, there is little chance of new records being set, and fan interest may wane. With a continued doping free-for-all or the perception of same, records may fall, but the sport will be perceived as a bleak laughingstock.

As a result, the governing bodies sort of have to try, but not their very hardest, at all. If this assessment is accurate, it is borne out by the reality that this is exactly what appears to be happening. A horde of big-name Kenyans have been busted in recent years, but as yet no Ethiopians, and this is almost certainly not attributable entirely to real differences in PED usage patterns. If athletes aren't being rigorously tested, for whatever reason, than there is no assurance at all that they are running clean.

At any rate, this scheme seems sufficient to generate a solid degree of fan interest. Road records are more often the target now, especially Radcliffe's 2:15:25 marathon record, and these can only occur so often, and not to packed stadiums in their entirety.

People, broadly speaking, want a clean sport, but not the sum of the results of what that would require. This is where I see parallels with the debate on how much to tax the ultra-rich. It's an idea that almost everyone can get behind, because almost everyone really has no problem at all with higher taxes on people who have a lot more than they do or ever will. Many people don't want higher taxes on well-off, but not really wealthy, people because they (however feebly) often envision themselves joining the ranks of those nicely situated not-storybook-wealthy types. Problem is, those very ultra-wealthy have the power to dictate public policy as long as they can continue garnering enough votes. So much is likely to be said in the next two years about far higher taxes for the top 0.1 percenters, but in reality it's probable we'll see a tepid compromise that sets off no rebellions but makes no one very happy.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Altitude training may not be worth it, and other scatterings and orts

It is practically a given that any American distance runner with so much as an outside shot at reaching the Olympics will relocate to high altitude at some point, or at least do training stints of several weeks at high altitude. (For purposes of this discussion, think 5,000' or higher.) This is in spite of the fact that there appears to be no evidence at all that taking a sea-level native and training him or her at altitude produces a more successful runner.

It is plain that people who are born in places like Boulder are suited for high-altitude running in a way that no migrants can replicate if they move here as adults and perhaps even if they arrive as teenagers. This is evident not so much in the surreal performances some of these natives can throw down here as it is in the unfortunate fact that they don't usually gain as much as the charts would predict (about 3.5 percent).

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Alternative engagement

I get regular reminders that anything I do for pleasure or gain that is unrelated to running adds more non-quantifiable satisfaction to my life than any running-related stuff does, apart from the requirement that I actually jog a little every day. Importantly (he snickered, as if any of this shit were important), "running-related stuff" can be broken down into three fairly distinct categories: Doing it, advising other people how to best do it, and writing about it. To get even more granular, "doing it" means either training or jogging.

The daily runs I do with Rosie constitute jogging, which is not a pejorative or even a loose description of speed but a euphemism for "moving around outside" -- something from which I invariably draw satisfaction. Any running I do that involves noticing my pace in a way that sets in motion even faint thoughts of racing again is a warning sign of a relapse into training, and that crap is toxic. The catch is that, as I hinted at above, some of my "jogs" are done at pretty quick paces, at least over shortish segments. As I noted last time, I have stopped recording most of my runs with my GPS watch, but I have a pretty good idea of when Rosie has dropped the pace into the low-6:00 range, which she almost always does in cool weather.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Heisenberg principle, recovery-run style

When I was racing well, or at least racing regularly and feeling confident about attaining a new performance level, my easy days were often very slow compared to others at my level. I embraced this, which was the proper response. As I was building toward my best period of running between ages 31 and 35, I did a lot of my 15 or more daily miles with the high-schoolers I was coaching, usually at no faster than 8:00 per mile and often considerably slower. To the extent I kept even a loose eye on the paces of these runs, I didn't have a GPS watch, so I was often making informed guesses anyway. I was usually doing a couple of pace-specific harder sessions every week; everything else was filler, and when you're nailing the workouts, you're basically pitter-pattering around for a couple of days -- albeit for up to two hours a day -- in anticipation of the next hard session. If you know that on Friday you'll be throwing back 15 vodka shots in the company of some outstanding prostitutes, you probably aren't particularly concerned about only getting to nurse Bud Lights while pleasuring yourself alone at home on Wednesday and Thursday. When the peaks are redeeming, you don't worry about the troughs in between.

Now that my return-to-racing experiment is over, my pace on any given run shouldn't matter to me one bit. There is nothing cumulative about my running other than the fact that if I only did it once a week or something, it would become harder and less enjoyable. In theory I could record every running step I take and never even look at it at the output, or I could just glance at the numbers from these efforts with the same level of concern as I do when noting in passing how much junk mail arrived this week.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Famous runners I met in high school

I started running in the fall of 1984, when, as hard as it is to believe unless you were alive and sentient at the time, there were two basic ways to interact with people in real time: You talked to them in person, or you spoke with them on the phone. Video footage of pro athletes was limited to television and VCR recordings; a few people might have their own photos of star sportspersons that they had taken themselves, but for the most part, pics of these luminaries were found only in magazines and newspapers. There was, for better or otherwise, a far clearer boundary between famous folks and the rabble (and between citizens of Earth more generally).

At the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa Beach, Fla., Nov. 2005. One of us won the half that day; 
the other won four Boston Marathons.
In the summer of 1985, after my freshman year, a runner from Colorado traveled to Manchester, New Hampshire to run a now long-defunct summer road race called the Bud Kings 10K. It was de rigueur at the time for alcoholic beverage manufacturers to sponsor road races, mainly because during the running boom that had started after Frank Shorter's 1972 Olympic Marathon victory, someone noticed that runners liked to drink like fish, or, almost equivalently, that abusers of ethanol liked participating in road races. A cursory search failed to uncover any real evidence that this race ever existed, although this is somewhat helpful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Gimme gimme gimme

On the first day of summer in 2015, long after human life should have been relegated to God's drunken memory by a massive meteoroid or triumphant supervirus, someone started a thread on the Strava forums to complain that the mobile app displays distances to only a tenth of a mile or km, which is an order of magnitude less precise than the website offers.

First, in the event you just awakened from a multi-year coma, Strava is a service that integrates data from a GPS watch or even a mobile phone to tell you how much distance you have covered in a given time. Those who received advanced math degrees from Trump University will recall that if one knows the distance of a trip and the time taken to complete it, one may invoke a complex algebraic expression to compute average speed. Runners are often concerned with all of these, which is why so many of them now have GPS watches and corresponding online accounts. (Garmin, the company that is synonymous with the term "GPS watch," has its own mobile app and web interface, but you can import your data from these into Strava and proceed do a lot of fun, pointless things with it, like show it to people who don't give a shit because they're busy showing you theirs.)