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

Monday, June 29, 2015

A short list of exceptionally stupid beliefs about the NOP mess

Here I refer chiefly to things being used throughout the dumbosphere in attempts to discredit Salazar's various accusers.

"Why didn't (the Gouchers/Steve Magness/others) come forward with this stuff years ago, when they first knew about it? That they waited is a huge dent in their credibility." (alternate version: "If (the Gouchers/Magness/etc.) know more than they are saying, then either they need to say it now or STFU!")

These observations bespeak a profound ignorance of human nature and how USADA conducts investigations, and only the latter is remotely excusable. 

First of all, if you are a paid professional athlete and part of a training group you come to know or believe is dirty, the likelihood that you will immediately call foul to members of the press is vanishingly small. Few runners would want to piss away their livelihood and risk the wrath of a notoriously despotic and narcissistic coach-figure without the assurance of winning an ensuing battle guaranteed to be ugly for all involved.

Second, once an athlete approaches USADA and an investigation gets underway, that athlete in some cases may sign documents affirming that he or she won't talk to the press or anyone else about certain matters. I'm no expert on this side of things myself, but I know this much.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kara Goucher and Cytomel: Salazar's bait-and-switch

Somehow, Alberto Salazar's open letter (part 1, part 2) is being touted by ostensibly literate people as being not merely credible but a knock-down argument against those who have accused the (Nike) Oregon Project distance coach of playing well outside the rules. This is a perfectly reasonable assessment insofar as it is reasonable to opine confidently about something you clearly have not read closely, or at all.

Kara and Adam Goucher were the first former NOP athletes to speak on camera about their experiences and suspicions. Both have been duly eviscerated on the message board. I hope that Robert and Weldon Johnson use the latest barrage of suspiciously repetitive, anonymous anti-Goucher, anti-Steve Magness posts as a catalyst to quit operating their forum like an unaccredited mental hospital, and make registration mandatory in order to post. It is painfully obvious that the majority of these posts are originating from a comparatively small number of anonymous sources.

In short, Kara accused Salazar of giving her a bottle of Cytomel, a thyroid medication, in the spring of 2011 as the Boston Marathon approached. Kara says Salazar wanted her to lose the remnants of her post-pregnancy weight -- she had given birth to a son, Colt, in September -- and encouraged her to take the Cytomel without a prescription and despite the fact that she was already taking a thyroid medication for long-standing Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The 1984 Dash for the Rash 5K

A Memory Down Trip Lane. 
The Dash for the Rash 5K, held to benefit Poison Ivy sufferers across the land, was one of New England’s finest road races for over a decade. Sadly, as has happened with increasing regularity, a corporate takeover of the sponsoring institution (with subsequent loss of funding) spelled the demise of this high-profile and storied affair.
Back in ‘84 I was in the shape of my young life. Fresh out of divinity school in the Orient, I’d just given up my three-pack-a-day smoking habit and had jacked up my mileage to a cool 500 a month, all of it quality. For tax purposes I was technically unemployed, but (and I should keep my trap shut here on account the government looky-loos who monitor this site) I was running a prostitution ring out of my garage, a venture that kept me in shoes and gear while giving me ample time to train. After one set of 10 x 400’s in the 57-58 second range, I figured I was ready to shatter my existing PR of 13:58 and improve on my third-place Rash Dash finish of the previous year.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

10 reasons Salazar's letter does him more harm than good

Clear-minded readers of the letter don't need this explained to them, but not everyone has the time or impetus to wade through its 12,000 words and thirty-odd screen shots, so here goes:

1. He gave David Epstein a number of concrete lies, distortions and deceptions to seize upon and tear to pieces. As many have already seen, Epstein very quickly made hay of the opportunity to do this. Those who claim that Epstein hasn't added anything new are managing to ignore the fact that Epstein's work to date has done nothing but emphasize, to an ever-greater extent, just how dishonest Salazar really is. Even if Salazar is miraculously found to have never done anything illicit in regard to doping, he will never be able to reasonably claim that he is an exemplar of integrity.

2. He revealed that his emotions, as is characteristic of him, are overriding his intellect. He plainly insisted on having his letter posted in close to its native form, complete with glaring typographical errors and childish, stereotypical insults (e.g., "the BBC/ProPublica writers did not want the facts to get in the way of their stories") that never would have been included in the context of corporate oversight.

3. He indisputably either lied or was astonishingly careless about the Kara Goucher-Cytomel timeline.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On chutzpah and the publicizing of e-mail exchanges

David Epstein has published a response to Alberto Salazar's open letter challenging the allegations of misconduct made against him by a third of the population of the Portland metro area. If I could be bothered to count the number of distinct things of some importance that Salazar undeniably got wrong -- you don't have to trust me, you don't even have to trust Epstein, just refer back to older news items -- I expect that I'd count at least a dozen, maybe fifteen.

Given the number of internal inconsistencies in Salazar's rambling screed, along with the various issues that Salazar flat-out fails to address, it's astonishing that anyone who has carefully gone over it can see it as any better than "Look, the dog ate my homework and I have e-mails from Woofy to prove it," much less a knockdown refutation of Magness et al.
The e-mail exchanges are red herrings that only people convinced in advance of Salazar's innocence or relative innocence could perceive as exculpatory. People forget or simply don't realize how easy it is to selectively edit things like e-mail and text-message exchanges and leave entire portions of the conversation out (see: University of Toledo head coach resigns, Feb. 2013).
Oh, wait. Didn't some other well-known figure in endurance sports try the very same tactic before later being nailed to the wall?

I think people are interpreting Salazar's willingness to take unrestrained punches at Magness' and Adam Goucher's competence and as well as his character as a sign that he must be clean, or at least less dirty than his accusers have claimed. After all, would a guilty man evince so much sheer confidence and bravado? 

Concerning the hypothyroidism stuff in Alberto Salazar's open letter

It won't be long before I start to despise myself for spending time writing about the Oregon Project mess when I could be undertaking more productive endeavors: working on my novel, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or hiding in the bushes and throwing dog turds at passing children. Unfortunately, I'm not there yet.

Alberto Salazar published a letter on the Oregon Project Web site today intended to refute allegations of doping and suspicious behavior brought against him by some of his former athletes and other associates. Specifically, Salazar, in prose screaming for a copy editor's mercy, tries to counter the testimony of former assistant coach Steve Magness, athletes Adam and Kara Goucher, and massage therapist John Stiner. These people form just the tip of the accusatory iceberg, but theirs were the first fingers pointing publicly at Salazar, and the embattled coach has apparently chosen to deal with his detractors in order, although I suspect that he hopes to simply ignore many of them outright.

Instead of pointing out the various reasons this letter fails to do its intended job, I'll focus instead on a section of the letter that on the surface appears more benign than the rest of the content, which contains a lot of excoriating criticisms of Magness and Adam Goucher. The heading of this section is "THYROID AND ASTHMA MEDICINE IN THE OREGON PROJECT."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Weldon Johnson buries the lede

In one of many threads on about the Nike Oregon Project doping mess (I suppose I should call it a potential doping mess at this point, but for purposes of this blog I'm not a journalist), site co-founder Weldon Johnson describes the history of his relationship with Alberto Salazar. His post is extraordinary for what it reveals about longstanding behavior by Salazar and Nike that can aptly be labeled thuggery:
When Farah went to Alberto's group, on an interior page of a message board thread I posted that it was perfectly reasonable for people to ask Farah what supplements he was on and whether he was on thyroid medication. Alberto called me and in the course of his conversation said his guys would never speak to LRC again. I told him that was his right but if that was the case, we would need to state that they were doing that and why. I told him I thought it would make his group look bad. He reversed course and said he would not tell his athletes what to do. Before I spoke to Alberto but after he left a message, I showed the same post to a friend of mine and he said, "he's calling to congratulate you for being fair minded." I laughed and said "no he is not". 
At the Olympics after Mo and Galen went 1-2 Alberto said "Another big problem I believe was there's too many people who use the excuse of drugs, that anyone who runs fast is on drugs. The second you start thinking that as a coach or as an athlete you're basically saying you're not good enough to compete with other people unless you cheat. What I've always told our guys is 'Don't believe all that bull. Those are the losers that say that.' Rather than trying to change their own training to get better they use that as excuse and it's a defeatist attitude. A lot of the mind-set for us was 'We can beat these guys. We've just got to train smart.'" 
The next day or a few days after that I asked him about that comment in light of what he said at Duke, "I believe that it is currently difficult to be among the top 5 in the world in any of the distance events without using EPO or Human Growth Hormone." 
He did not like the question and definitely let me know it. I need to find the audio off an old computer.
I didn't quite realizing the timing of this but then when I got back from the Olympics we got a letter from his lawyer asking for the IP addresses and "identification information" of 117 different poster's names who he claimed were defaming his client. I told him we were not legally liable for the information posters posted but that if he would send me the posts that he deemed were defamatory I would look into them. I viewed it totally as an intimidation tactic or an attempt to find out who his critics were. The lawyer did not write back with a single post that was defamatory.
We never disclosed these incidents on but perhaps we should have because there is more than a lot of tension with us and Alberto and it makes doing our job harder. My concern was if we disclosed them people would have said we had an agenda against Alberto. Looking in the rear view mirror, I realize now I don't have a problem with reporting factual information.
So even years ago, Salazar was concerned enough about the claims and observations of a bunch of anonymous message-board posters to try to figure out who they are. This is nuts. For one thing, even having an IP address in hand isn't typically enough these days to solidly establish the identity of anyone associated with it. In an age of countless public Wi-Fi networks and people posting from mobile phones and other devices, an IP address has become increasingly moot. I probably use at least three or four on a typical day.

On the message board, a lot of people are convinced that those defending Salazar, who are droning on about the supposed lack of credibility of those who have come forward and categorizing the evidence so far as trivial, are paid shills of Nike tabbed to foment doubt and bullshit. Until reading Weldon's post, I thought that this smacked too much of conspiracy-theory nonsense. Although in the main this remains my position, it's clear that Salazar has been more paranoid and controlling than even his bombastic and clearly controlling persona suggests. (On the matter of control, over the years I've had two very benign interview assignments with current members of the NOP nixed by Alberto at the last minute for clearly spurious reasons. I'm far from alone in this respect.)

So maybe the conspiratorial types are actually correct. This would actually make sense, because it would explain why a number of individuals who appear coherent and thoughtful on the surface are saying some absurdly mindless things about the controversy and repeating them ad nauseam.

Now for the placeholder post

Having a blog is an excellent way for anal-retentive types like me to foster one more completely meaningless thing to worry about. I say "completely meaningless" only in the sense that I don't get paid a cent to write this stuff, nor should I (although I once did earn as much as $83.33 a month just to expel whatever I felt like expelling as long as the hits came in; it wasn't fun after a while). And it's okay to write for the hell of it, even when I have assignments out there it would be wise to submit before, say, the holiday season so I can earn some change.

Anyway, since my activity here is and will probably remain sporadic, whenever I feel like I'm about to have something cool to say -- and I have reason to think that this will be the case shortly on a few fronts, including a podcast, a book deal, and a huge unruly secret -- I occasionally feel like jamming a less-than-compelling post into the mix just to keep non-posting streaks to a minimum. Hence, "placeholder."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Wherein I address a remarkably stupid question

Unless you just woke up from a coma, you know enough about the Nike Oregon Project mess -- although I prefer at this point to call it the Alberto Salazar scandal -- so that I don't need to offer even a cursory description.

Although the story broke over two weeks ago, the hits keep coming unabated; practically every day, someone new who has had professional dealings with Salazar steps in to offer his or her thoughts and experiences, none of which have made the formerly bombastic, now-silent NOP coach look any better.

A number of observers are convinced that those stepping into the fray now are simply self-serving publicity whores -- runners whose athletic careers are either in decline or finished and who therefore can't help but compensate for this grim reality by making noise that is either unwarranted or too much after the fact to be meaningful.

I have had discussions with some of the players here ranging from superficial to extensive, but that's not really relevant. I trust my own understanding of basic human psychology enough to dismiss this as mindless bullshit.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Who's been looking after this place? (Or: A brief history of the virtual me)

I started keeping this blog in April -- my first foray into building a dedicated running blog in about nine years. Within a few weeks, I let it lapse into neglect. Some of this was a result of laptop woes -- did you know you don't have to dump water on the keyboard to hose the unit; you can actually just set it down in a very shallow puddle? -- but by the time I got those taken care of, I had already lost momentum. 

But nothing really ugly happened with my running or creative drive in that time. Really, I'm just not sure of the feasibility of this project. Things are simply not the same for runners (and others) wishing to project their voices across the Internet as they were in 2006.