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

Friday, December 22, 2017


I'm expecting new running pants and shoes in the post today. According to one of the major weather services, it's supposed to drop below freezing in Boulder at about 5 p.m. tomorrow and stay there until Wednesday at noon, and it will almost certainly snow at least twice in this period.

 This shouldn't be a big deal. In the winter of 1995, I lived in Hanover, N.H., where did not rise above 32 degrees Fahrenheit for the entire month of January. According to my training log, I averaged almost 17 miles a day that month, almost all of it on very hilly terrain and much of it in the dark because I was often required to be someplace during the day. That might have been an unusually rough winter, but as a native of New Hampshire I can't say it was truly atypical for the region.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Things that ten people in the professional running world probably aren't inclined to say

"Someone will eventually have to be the first American woman to win Boston since 1985, and honestly, I don't really care if it's me, Jordan or someone else. People say I'm competitive, but that's not really a major part of my make-up, and technically I'm from Colorado...also, I think there's a misperception about what happened in Central Park in November. It's easy to confuse "Heck yeah!" with something else, but I wish everyone would dial it back a bit."

-- Shalane Flanagan, 2017 New York City Marathon champion, four-time U.S. Olympian

"We try to be as transparent as we can, because it helps the sport. That's why when our athletes give interviews, they're encouraged to be as improvisational as possible rather than come off sounding stilted or colorless. Winning is important, but so is furthering running's image as being home to a lot of honorable, charismatic sportsmen and sportswomen."

 -- Alberto Salazar, head coach, Nike Oregon Project

"You know, I don't really have an opinion on that, and if I did, I'm  not really much for public statements. You look at all of the anonymous people taking shots at runners on message boards, and it's really intimidating. I've just always preferred to let my feet do the talking."

-- Lauren Fleshman, two-time U.S. outdoor 5,000-meter champion

"When we started, it wasn't supposed to be  a gimmick. We really thought we were producing something that was not only more comfortable and more economical for all types of runners, but safer and better on the body. We were as surprised as anyone when the problems started."

-- The makers of Vibram FiveFingers

"I think of how much faster that 47:49 ten-miler and that 28:29 10K might have been if I'd known to incorporate short breaks into my races. The fact that I only discovered how well that works when I was pushing 50 is probably the biggest regret of my competitive career."

-- Jeff Galloway, 1972 U.S. Olympian in the 10,000 meters, book author and entrepreneur

"We've decided to put an end to the anonymous trolls here once and for all by requiring registration instead of just offering it as an option in the hope that this will placate people. Some website owners might hold their nose and tolerate a stream of demeaning 'hotness' threads, libelous claims, and outright racist hostility if it meant more page impressions, but that's not us."

-- Weldon and Robert Johnson, co-founders of

"I'm all for putting athletic bodies on display, because a lot of us have worked hard to get and keep these physiques. But track in field is not a meat-market or a fashion show."

-- Maggie Vessey, retired 1:57.84 800-meter runner

'"You see the miles and all the miles,  and you only talk about those, and the hills and the Kenyan elite genes or Ethiopia genes. You in America coaches label and copy the volume of training. I laugh at you for this as the fundamental EPO difference is hidden plain sight. Kenyans keep getting positive dope and I say strong anecdote about  those being different level moral Kenyans, and we keep the going EPO play. Foolish idiots you are!"

-- Renato Canova, coach of various top East African marathon

"We tried for a long time to develop meaningful performance-enhancers, but the truth is that the stuff just doesn't work. And drug use in the Olympics is historically negligible anyway. Athletes have their own talent, drive and lifestyle to reckon with and, well, that's it. Any benefit any runner, thrower or jumper has gotten from a pill or a syringe? Purely psychological. We like to take about PEDs because we like to chalk up our losing to other people's cheating, plain and simple."

-- Victor Conte, founder of the now-defunct Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO), ex-convict, and current head of SNAC Nutrition

"I actually won't have a book coming out in the next three months. I've decided people focus way too much on nutrition and exercise, and frankly I've never liked writing."

-- Matt Fitzgerald, author of 87.3% of running books currently in print

(Disclaimer for the daft: these are not actual quotes.)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Nobody will beat this

December 17 happens to be the birthday of a sizable contingent of notable runners.
  • Peter Snell (b. 1938) -- three Olympic golds, five WRs, 1:44.3 800m on a grass track)
  • Tatyana Kazankina (b. 1951) -- three Olympic golds, one WR, first woman under 4:00 for 1,500m (her 3:52.47 PR from 1980 remains a European record). Known doper, in case her Soviet nationality and the historical eras weren't dead giveaways.
  • Paula Radcliffe (b. 1973) -- two road WRs (10K and marathon, the latter still standing), three World Cross-Country Championship gold medals, 2004 and  2008 Olympian
  • David Rudisha (b. 1988) -- two Olympic golds, one WR (800m, 1:40.91, still standing)
  • Marc Davis (b. 1969) -- 1986 Kinney (now Foot Locker) national champion, American 5K road record, 1996 Olympian
  • Kevin Beck (b. 1969) -- Setter of numerous course records in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. 1984 Blue Dukes 2-Mile Road Race champion (12:38).
Although Davis was apparently born on the same date I was, he graduated from high school in 1987, a year earlier than I did. This means that when he placed 8th at Kinney Nationals as a junior, he was still only 15 years old.

Friday, December 15, 2017

An amalgam of weak excuses and rationalizations

The title of this post has nothing to do with the state of my current running; I'm not doing a lot, but on the other hand I don't care enough to make excuses for this or rationalize it in any way. I may have one more race to report on erelong, but if I wouldn't bookmark this shithole in anticipation of such a thing.

"An amalgam of weak excuses and rationalizations" is the title of the page I had on an older version of my personal page. At some point I decided to streamline the place and ditch a lot of material I judged to be of little to no interest to anyone else. As usual I missed the mark on this, because I'm sometimes told to this day that one of the main reasons people ever bothered with, other than the now-long-defunct message board, was the race reports. A lot of this was surely schadenfreude-driven, because after shitty races I would often do on dolorously and at disgusting length about my insufficiencies and inadequacies, and would sometimes use these as a springboard to indicting everything I could think of about distance running in general. On the other hand, some people said they found them useful and -- I hate to say it but I'm just the messenger -- inspirational.

Thanks to a combination of recalling this input, recently reading some well-crafted marathon reports from other people, and paying for a website that really adds to value to anything anymore, I decided to post those reports again. This page includes write-ups of 11 completed marathons and one DNF, at Boston in  2003. It does not include the last marathon I raced, which was the 2005 Disney Marathon. I fared well there, especially in relation to the shape I was in (second in 2:28:31), but although I think I have a write-up of that one somewhere, it is such a shitty event, held one of the worst and most worthless cities in American and maybe the world, that I think I will leave that one out.

In other news, I have a few pieces lined up for MotivRunning. The first one is about the eight to ten most common mistakes people make in training for and racing marathons. It should be good because I'm consulting three of the best, most eager minds I can think of. What with the holidays and associated bullshit fully in play, I'm not sure when I'll finish it. I'm actually looking forward to a few weeks of very little writing about, and editing accounts about, non-fictional themes and events.

I am probably running about 35 to 40 miles a week. My knee has been fine for almost four months now; I miss very few days outright, but also have a lot of days that are nothing more than jaunts around the neighborhood just to keep ennui and neurochemical disarray at bay. I am also a regular at the Runners Roost Boulder Wednesday night fun-run.

Overall, even though the one race effort I put in this year was shamefully slow and should have led not only to my immediate removal from running but my literal execution, it has been a remarkable year. I lost my streak of 200+ days in mid-July when I fucked up my right meniscus, and right before that a flare-up of my left ankle knocked me out of a track race. But in some respects, missing five weeks and coming back at least as healthy (if not fitter) than before was more instructive and rewarding than having cruised through 2017 uninterrupted by injury, because this has been the first calendar year in a long time that I haven't responded to personal setbacks in any number of overtly maladaptive ways (e.g., boozing, taking a long and pointless trip across the country, or otherwise creating a lot of stress for people who don't deserve it). I found an unexpected niche in the writing and editing world that, while laden with irritating aspects, almost always teaches me something about the world that I didn't knew previously.

I also have some coaching news to report and will defer this to a separate post. It seems that in spite of being systematically vilified by an increasingly hapless and moronic -- but somewhat more recondite these days, this shit from late November notwithstanding -- basket case, my relationships in the world of advising runner-people only grow more interesting and rewarding over time, and I virtually never initiate these. Apparently, I can lapse into fits of utter bitterness and personal cynicism about running as a hobby and a sport as long as I never actually let on that I occasionally feel this way.

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:

Monday, August 28, 2017

High activity at low ebb

My own running has been curtailed (new information on this toward the end). The World Athletics Championships ended two weeks ago and cross-country season hasn't started yet. There's not much going on in the elite road-racing world in August. This is, in theory, as good a time as any to neglect this superfluous webpit.

Nevertheless, a few things are happening in my running orbit. Not all of them are good.

First, I learned some distressing news from Eric Kobrine, a friend I ran and worked with for several weeks in Orange County back in my comparatively fast, or at least ambitious, days fifteen years ago: a Southern California runner I met in 2002 was killed in a hit-and-run last Wednesday. (Eric is the one in the light-blue shirt in the video.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Malcolm Gladwell vs. LeBron James, yes; LeBron sub-4:40, no

Malcolm Gladwell is an essayist and provocateur of sorts. He likes to look under society's hood to see if the things we too often assume are responsible for success (or failure) are really the driving forces at work in these people and situations. (He reminds me of the Freakonomics crew, or maybe it's the other way around.) I've read The Tipping Point and Outliers and enjoyed them both. I don't agree with everything Gladwell says but I usually like how he says things. He has a podcast too. And he's a dedicated runner.

LeBron James is one of the best basketball players of all time, a fact you already knew unless you just landed here from another planet (not an unfair guess on my part, since a number of my regular readers clearly spend a fair amount of time thinking, plotting and living in places other than Earth).

Now, as Chris Chavez reports for S.I., Gladwell wants to race James over a mile.

I would love to see this match-up. So would Chavez, who engages in some bizarre reasoning:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The two biggest pathos of the 2017 World Champs

Earlier today, a friend remarked "there's nothing easy about this sport." She wasn't talking about her near-Olympic Trials qualifying miss (19 seconds, or about 1/5 of one percent, all lost in the last mile) or returning from a potentially career-ending injury recently; she wasn't talking about herself at all, in fact. She was making an observation about an athlete who should know by now that you don't win races on the basis or your reputation or anything you did a bunch of years ago, and that the more you position yourself as a prima donna, the more of a target you become.

She was merely saying something we all tell each other as a matter of course: A lot of the time, this just sucks from lots of angles.

While every sport is characterized by pathos, this one is filthy with them. When someone fails in running, it's undeniable -- times and places don't lie, and there are virtually no blown calls. It's painful, often jarring, to watch. Injuries are arguably as great a factor in interrupting ending elite running careers as they are in American football.

Which is why it's so cool when it goes the other way.

The 2017 World Athletics Championships are over, and two emotionally charged stories stand out. I'm not the only one who thinks nothing else out of London over the past 10 days came close.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Why I won't actively rehab this or any injury

I learned yesterday with a fair degree of confidence what's wrong with my knee: patellar tendinosis (or tendinitis). It's a slightly unusual presentation in being more lateral than medial, but not especially so.

I got some great information about rehab exercises and what I can and can't (or should and shouldn't do) in the near term. Some I knew about, others I didn't.

The reality is that I plan to put none of this information to use. I was fairly enthusiastic at first about using this injury (and has it really only been 23 days?) as a reason to get back into lifting weights or cycling more or some other pointless bullshit. But if it doesn't heal on its own, not including the help of 2,400 mg a day of ibuprofen, fuck it. I have no impetus whatsoever to return to a point where I'm then tempted to once again start chasing awful-ass times.

I don't really like lifting weights, cycling, or being around groups of people in gyms or anywhere else The more I advertise this mindset, the more certain I am of embracing it, of reifying it.

I have an appointment scheduled for the 18th with an orthopedist. I'm debating at this point whether to keep it, but I probably will just for completeness' sake.

I'm actually glad this injury happened, and if I had any courage or commitment I would take a fucking sledgehammer to one or both knees just to erase all remaining doubt, then force the government to buy me a wheelchair and ride it down a ski ramp or off a cliff like Cutter John from "Bloom County," setting fire to myself and the whole apparatus in the process. Actually, there's no reason I can't do that even when relatively healthy, and aim for my face instead.

As negative as this may sound, I'm just pleased to be free of the compulsion to get things better so I can go back to wasting time running around on the local roads and trails like an idiot, desperate to once again use a stopwatch to create a ridiculous measure of personal worth. It's not like I will likely use the unexpended training energy for anything more useful, but at worst I'll just trade one bullshit hobby for another.

(Note that I don't intend this as broad advice, or mean to discourage anyone who's hurt and wants to get back to running. I consciously support people in their pursuit of asinine goals all the time.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Where's the sport's ideal finish line?

Martin Fritz Huber wrote a short but entertaining piece for Outside Online defending a thesis that, while addressing a moot argument, arises again and again in distance running circles: Regardless of how physiologically impressive the most celebrated feats in ultramarathon running may be, the efforts of world-class track-distance specialists -- and for Fritz Huber's purposes, top milers in particular -- are undeniably superior by applicable athletic measures.

Though the author's arguments -- some of which are cheeky -- are compelling enough, I didn't need to examine them to agree with his premise, which in turn was inspired by a very accomplished ultrarunner, Rickey Gates, having proposed the same essential thing. In my view, a single sub-four-minute mile by a man (or if you prefer, a sub-four-minute 1,500 meters by a woman) is a better sporting achievement than most of the top performances in the ultrarunning world.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why cross-train? (Part II of more than I)

In the first installment of this brief and dolorous series, I declared that cross-training while injured, for purposes of this burned-out shell of a former jogger, is not worth the investment.

Since I just dropped an economic term, I'll wander further down that path. When I was younger and faster, cross-training would have represented a great use of physical capital. I would have channeled it into maintaining fitness that could then be drawn upon to take a high-probability shot at a fairly fast time. There was little opportunity cost in cross-training because the time I spent exercising 15 years ago wasn't realistically being stolen from other, better things I might have done. At all times, being in good shape was something I could almost immediately deploy, anytime and anywhere, for personal gain, even if it was just in the form of a cheap self-esteem boost.

This is simply not the case now. As fast a I can rattle off plausible reasons for "staying in shape" when I can't run, I just as quickly shoot them down, credibly and without blinking.

The main ones:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Why cross-train? (Part I of more than I)

You're probably conditioned to reading this question as "What follows is a list of good reasons to do exercises other than running, in particular when you can't run." But this is a personal blog, not an advice column, which means that now and then I enthusiastically wade into bullshit, merriment, half-coherent self-reflection, slow-motion histrionics, and emotionally driven dissertations about things best left unread by anyone more pressed for time than a Galapagos tortoise on weed. In fact, I just did.

Put another way, I can't run and haven't been able to for over a week now, which in theory means I should be trying to protect my hard-earned fitness until I can get back out there. In practice, that's not going to happen. I'll cheerfully share with you the reasons I have no good reason to do anything more than sit around and only occasionally punch and swear at things while I wait for my leg to heal, and in fact won't be all that concerned if I can never run again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

No trophies or stylized photos for reading this one

Between 1980 and 2010, the number of finishers of marathons in the U.S. rose from 143,000 to 509,000 -- an increase of over 350% -- and has since leveled off. (I suspect that this figure doesn't represent the number of different people, but rather, simply aggregates the finisher totals from domestic events.) During that span, the U.S. population rose by about 35%. 350% is significantly more than 35%.

Concomitantly, road race fees have risen far out of proportion to inflation. Casual runners, who obviously account for almost all of this increase in race fields, present a different set of needs and wants than those who train primarily to compete against themselves or the clock. It would probably be all but impossible to stage a successful marathon these days without the promise of things like bands along the course and nothing short of a catered meal at the finish instead of a much of bagels, water, and bananas.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Training, week of July 10 through July 16 (middle fingers in the air edition)

I ran 57 miles this week. 7/5; 6/4; 7; 10; 6; 7; 5.

I'm not providing a screen shot of my Garmin dashboard for the first time all year, because I'm dismantling the whole "weekly training reports" aspect of this blog, effective immediately, and am only posting this one to announce as much.

Why? Because this is a pain in the ass, but today was the long-overdue final straw. I set out to do some 400s on the road. I never even got close. I've mentioned the issues with my left ankle, both recent and past, a number of times, but today introduced a new bugaboo: Over the course of about 30 minutes at a modest pace, my entire right leg grew more and more achy, that bone-deep, indistinct-yet-almost-crippling sort of pain that I associate with recently having run a marathon or training in excess of 90 to 100 miles a week.

It's been many years since I raced a marathon or ran that much. As it is I'm just an old bastard who trudges around at a series of unremarkable paces and uses the Internet to suggest that this is worth publicly admitting to, which it's not.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Washington Post distributes fake running news

I hate to beat an already battered meme into further unrecognizability, especially since the Washington Post has done some yeoman (pronounced "Yo, man!") work recently. And on the whole, it's unfair to refer to the column that triggered this post as nonsense. It does, however, feature some readily identified veracity issues.

The piece is by 1968 Boston Marathon winner and former Runner's World editor-in-chief Ambrose Burfoot, who has the sort of name I would love to see more often. Amby explores the reasons for the progressive slowing of average finishing times in U.S. marathons, operating gamely on the shaky premise that the reasons for this are shrouded in cultural or mathematical mysteries.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Training, week of July 3 through July 9 (Chinese buffet edition)

Whenever I visit a Chinese buffet, I resolve to assemble a plate of food unlike any of the countless others I've created over the past 30 or so years all over the U.S. (and in Brampton, Ontario in 1995 -- this was easily the best and largest Chinese buffet restaurant I've ever patronize). My instincts compel me to go heavy on the General Tso's chicken, lo mein, and stir-fried vegetables, and less heavy on beef and other fried forms of chicken; I'm also inclined to mix in colossal amounts of sweet and sour sauce. So in my desire to buck this all-to-comfortable trend, I start with a half-hearted dollop of some other shit, maybe even a forkful or two of seafood (which I hate)  But in the end, while I may switch up the order, I always wind up with essentially the same pile of overly saccharine, fat-and-protein-rich warm chunks of goop.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Eat a variety of shit and eventually die

(Condensed version: Anyone claiming to have a revolutionary dietary strategy capable of producing massive breakthroughs in running, cycling or anything else is either a fraud or a fool. Athletes and others have been eating food and performing physical exercise for a long time, and the range of nutritional regimens allowing for very good performances is very broad, as a simple review of the dietary habits of the world's best distance runners establishes absolutely.)

After over 30 years of reading articles and books about sports nutrition, and taking a few courses that at least touch on these. I remain mesmerized by the fact that people are as enthusiastic about seeking absolutes and embracing dichotomies in the realm of sports nutrition as they are in other areas of sport, and of life in general.

"It's the mileage, not the speed!"

"No! Quality, not quantity!"

"Too much mileage kills young runners!"

"Al that speed burns kids out early!"

Sound familiar? It should, because it's the same kind of black/white nonsense we're seeing the golden age of carbohydrate demonization:

Monday, July 3, 2017

Training, week of June 26 through July 2 (Four on Fourths edition)

54. I'll find a way to automate these weekly "training" posts soon, including the blase' dismissal of whatever details they offer.

Happy 4th. I ran my first July 4 race in 1987, when I was 17 and headed into my senior year. It was in Hopkinton, N.H., one town over from where I lived. I was about four weeks removed from a 9:50.1 for second place at the N.H. Meet of Champions and three weeks out from a very warm and anticlimactic New England Track and Field Championships, where I never even found out my time. I took two weeks off after the New Englands, per a custom that was drummed into me early in my high-school career (I wouldn't do this if I could go back and change it), put in about 40-45 miles and ran the 5K in Hopkinton in 16:14, coming in second to Charlie Gunn by 5 or 6 seconds. That was a PR at the time and would remain one until the following June, when I ran 15:57 at the Concord Coach & Carriage 5K in Concord.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sorry for the teasing, June

252 miles for the month and 1,749.5 for the year. It seems strange that I'm on pace for 3,500 for the year, given the fact that this is a half-hearted exercise and photography habit now and not a genuine running one, and stranger still that I was, at one point a few months back almost assured of getting to 4,000, assuming no injuries or serious illnesses (never a safe bet at my or any age).

The only good thing I can say about the way I ended the first half of 2017 is that even eight or nine nondramatic, non-goal-directed miles a day still seems sufficient to move my fitness toward a higher plateau. This shows that I was worse off than I thought when I started this crap again at the beginning of December, which is perversely satisfying now that I realize I can continue to get faster at slow running by just showing up every day, popping my vitamins, and otherwise treating my corporeal self as something to be perpetuated (I won't say treasured") rather than abused.

I still haven't missed a day this year. If and when this streak no longer stands as a hollow boasting point, I'm not sure what I will fall back on. I'm too compulsive to neglect this shitblog outright and too honest to portray myself as entirely happy with the story it tells, so maybe I'll just pray for the whole Internet to fail.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Training, week of June 19 through June 25 (Speaking-in-code edition)

I ran 54 miles this week in nine runs. I did one "workout" -- 1 x 400m and 8 x 200m -- on the track Saturday, and also farted with some faster running on the same track on Sunday. This is a fairly new track in Boulder, and it amazes me that more people aren't out there on warm and cloudless weekend afternoons like the two we just enjoyed. And I still haven't missed a day of running in 2017.

But this "training" I'm doing is really more what most people would simply call "cardio." I'm not sure whether this nomenclature shift means that I'm downgrading my physical activity from "jogging" or whether it's a slight promotion. More likely it's just a lateral move somewhere within the lowest echelons of the quasi-athletic command structure.

Fuck that for now, though; I don't blog much outside of these weekly updates, and since I rarely have anything interesting to say about my training, I am going to start loading the weeklies with stuff that might be marginally more entertaining.

So, a "tune" from the '80s:

Mortal apathy

I believe that a period existed when my race times were very close to the times I would have run had my life literally depended on it.

Now, I don't think I could get to within 5 percent of my physical potential n anything longer than an 800-meter race even if my life did depend on it.

I often stand in such evil judgment of my own running -- when it comes to trying to do it capably, anyway -- that I often think it would be better to pay the ultimate price for half-assing it than face up to how slow I'm going to be for the rest of my life.

As much as I am enjoying running as a whole at the moment for all sorts of reasons, unless I can get past this serious hurdle (and I'm confident that I can, and that I know the path this will require), I shouldn't waste my money on entry fees anymore. I have enough damn T-shirts as it is.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Goldilocks syndrome: the ersatz overachiever vs. the accomplished layabout

Picture a couple of guys in their mid- to late 20s with marathon bests of 2:17:00

One of them has run 13:20 and 28:30 on the track and 1:04:30 for a half-marathon. He does about 70 miles a week with occasional trips upward of 80 and never exceeds 20 miles in training because long runs, in his view, are "hella boring." He works part-time at a gym and is considering becoming a personal trainer, while his longtime girlfriend is a quasi-socialite and grad student who brings enough family dough to the arrangement to keep the couple more than comfortable.

The other runner entered college with a best 3200-meter time barely under 10:00. By the time he graduated summa cum laude from a D-III university, he'd managed to parlay being the team workhorse into running 30:15 for 10,000 meters and place in the top 15 at cross-country nationals. Having moved on to law school and reached his third year there, he's finding a way to log 120- to 140-mile weeks with hard, regular workouts that would make this guy proud. He managed to get his 10K time down to 29:33 about a month before popping his 2:17:00, and has never run under 1:06:00 for a half.

Training, week of June 12 through June 18

Garmin Connect has modified its interface. That makes things look a little different here. But Garmin hasn't changed its essential functionality and flaws, and correspondingly, neither have I.

66 miles in eight runs, escapades even more monotonic (but no more monotonous) than in preceding weeks, because now the gnats are out and I'm taking refuge from them by running smallish loops in aga boneyard, one of the few nearby. It's dry in there and the bugs aren't as inclined to circle around with me, although stopping to take a leak is fraught with hazards because it doesn't take the insects long to pinpoint my location from wherever the fuckers are hiding. Even when I'm moving, deerflies and horseflies and donkeyflies all other types of flies named after quadruped mammals are still able to execute tactical incursions, diving in and ripping off chunks of flesh seemingly on the go. They have a penchant for landing right on that part of my shoulder blades I can't reach with a swat without risking some kind of muscle pull. I take savage pleasure in killing them, and if I could I would waterboard the hell out of all of them first and jabber at them in a very stern tone to describe just what they might have done to prolong their pointless lives for a few days. Perhaps in response to this distinctly non-Buddhist attitude, I renewed my $19 monthly donation to the ASPCA this week. If I learn that any of the money that organization collects goes to rescuing carnivorous bugs (which is all of them, I assume) then I will not only cancel my donation but arrange for the members of the board to be waterboarded and swatted as well.

Where was I? Oh. I'm gonna do some quarters this week. I feel good in spite of the very warm weather, mayne because of the ferrous sulfate pills I've been eating in lieu of actually training harder. I'm actually excited about the fact that I will continue to gain fitness for a while yet doing just what I'm doing and little more, even if that doesn't make me any faster. And that makes little sense, but if you're still reading at this point, that's on you to ponder.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Training, week of June 5 through June 11

This week, I ran 61 miles. More important, the bugs emerged in earnest, it got really hot toward the end of the week, and I was again content to just punch the clock on my runs. I visited the track once but didn't really do enough faster running to call what I did a workout, so no details of that adventure will be given here.

I'm appreciating the fact that excuses I used to think made a vague sort of sense to less dedicated runners make exquisite sense to me now. Over the winter, when it was cold and windy (but virtually never as extreme as it got in New Hampshire during some of my best running years), I'd go out in such weather, but wouldn't do anything hard even though once I was warmed up it wouldn't have mattered. Now that it's pushed well into the 90s, I'm actually happy to have an excuse to go easy, even though if I cared to I could wait until nightfall to drop in a tempo or some intervals.

I therefore remain in a perpetual stand-off between finding it adequate to just be running 60+ miles a week and believing that this is taking the low road.

I'm going to have to jump into some more races before I can really train seriously because this alone will provide a needed fitness stimulus. This inverts the usual, practical performance-oriented model but is not unheard of.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Train(ing) wrecks

Most people study other runners' training logs primarily to learn specific workouts and overall patterns they can apply to their own training or to the training of people they advise. At least they say they do, anyway. A less typical -- but not unheard of, even if most people won't admit to doing it -- reason is to keep tabs on a rival.

I myself like to look at training logs for the sheer wreckage some of them proudly reveal, with their creators usually being the last ones to know the reality of the stories they tell the world. I'm not alone in this tendency. It's classic schadenfreude.

Specifically,  I follow logs characterized by total obliviousness and by rampant denial.

Training, week of May 29 through June 4

Nothing much to say here that I haven't already said. The important day was Monday and now that the glow of having competed somewhat honorably has worn of -- and been replaced by my first cold since last November -- I'm realizing how shitty and slow my Bolder Boulder race was. It's nothing but a cold, annoying fact that I can either brood over or take as a sign that the stepping stones between the me of last December and respectability are placed a little farther apart than I realized, and deal with that by continuing to train and race and see what happens.

I don't think I will be racing again until next month, if that. Maybe on the track at one of the Boulder Road Runners All-Gomers' Meets on the first and third Thursdays of the summer months (I went and watched the one the other night, where George Zack put in quite a respectable performance) or maybe at one of the downtown mainstay summertime events I'm too lazy to link to or even name.

While I've been bitching about not being able to run faster, my girlfriend is recovering from her tenth foot surgery, this one perhaps overdue in the sense it's likely to be definitive but also wisely deferred for a couple of years because it was fairly radical. So I've tried to be especially cognizant of how lucky I am to be able to even run in a straight line without any sort of pain. The fact that I can pooh-pooh a 60-mile race with a pretty serious race at the beginning and a head cold for the last half of it means...well, whatever you want, I guess. We live in a post-factual world, so anything goes.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Age, altitude, and frantic mental masturbation

Now that I'm undeniably back in the racing game after a decade away, during which time I became old and moved to Boulder, I have the option, or the obligation, to mess around with mathematical tools that allow me to estimate how fast I might be running on sea-level courses comparable to the ones I tackle here, and to gauge how my efforts stack up against younger versions of myself.

The only data point I have so far is last Monday's Bolder Boulder 10K. I ran it in 38:31.

False dichotomies, and what keeps people running

Human minds are prone to slotting things into binary or otherwise discrete categories when this is not warranted by reality. It's an understandable that we prefer to see things as either this or that, or in terms of A, B or C, with overlaps between the items in question nominally ruled out whenever possible.

This is fine if we want know if the temperature going to be above freezing, or whether I scored the necessary 60 or more points out of 100 to pass my most recent theology exam. But in the real world, a lot of matters we typically frame in binary terms for ease of analyzing them actually occur along a continuum (a common one is "red state" vs. "blue state," and a fun one is "flaccid" vs. "erect"; I won't go into that one in detail, but most penis-owners and phallologists will tell you that plenty of intermediate states exist). And the same sort of thinking can cause problems in everyday discourse when things we envision -- often without consciously trying -- as mutually exclusive can actually occur in concert.

The Nike Oregon Project has been under intense scrutiny for a couple of years now owing to suspected doping violations. On message boards, a lot of people are quick to point out that the head coach, Alberto Salazar, is famed for operating in the "gray area" of legality -- for example, by having athletes take thyroid medications they don't need to rev up their metabolisms and messing around with megadoses of Vitamin D. What surprises me is that a lot of people see Salazar admitting to these practices (and only then under duress) as de facto evidence that he the NOP aren't actually breaking any rules. That is, if he's in the "gray area," he must not be punching past it.

This is wildly illogical for a number of reasons, but the NOP isn't the topic here. It's the question, "What is your main reason for running?"

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thanks for putting up with me, May

In with a whimper, out with a whisper, or whatever the saying is. 261 miles, virtually all of it at an easy aerobic pace. I came back from Massachusetts in late April convinced that the idea of racing well was either unattainable or not worth whatever effort it would take, and my running last month reflected this. Even if I were certain I didn't want to hack around with watered-down age-group aims, I would still run every day because it's a nice escape from the bullshit of daily life, hones my creativity and mental acuity for the stuff I often have to whip up on short notice, gets me into the sun and the air, forms the basis of my version of a social life...basically for all the reasons any recreational runner laces them up. My performance at the Bolder Boulder was just good enough so that I feel grudgingly motivated to create a sequel, like a director who makes a film he thinks sucks but grosses just enough at the box office and gets solid enough critical reviews to compel him to take a stab at extending the franchise. This means training for another three-plus months until I mosey back east, although I might show up at some of the twice-a-month all-gomers track meets at Potts Field. 1,457.5 miles on the year with zero missed days.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

2017 Bolder Boulder 10K


38:31 in my first race longer than 5K in over 10 years, not that there have been many races of any kind choose from in that span. 3rd in my age group of 385, and 354th overall out of 43,752 (or so). I'm as displeased with this as I should be, which means I have to keep training, or more to the point need to resume serious training and ramp up my effort to make this whole quest worth it.

Now add bullshit and stir vigorously:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Training, week of May 22 through May 28

44 miles, tapering from a very light workload for no defensible reason.

I enjoy each run more when I do less total running, but I hate the world less if I run more, even though my enjoyment of the world is contingent on feeling good when I run. Figure that one out. It's like that M.C. Escher chimney painting in the context of trying to enjoy life as a restless neurotic, with me as a hopping endlessly around the chimney's perimeter in a quest to achieve the vastly overrated pseudo-quantity called "balance."

Monday, May 22, 2017

Training, week of May 15 through May 21

58 panache-free miles, no more or no less of an embarrassment than last week from the standpoint of the 100,000 or so steps a week I refer to inappropriately as "training." We had some genuinely wintry weather on Thursday and Friday that included some decent-sized hailstones in my 'hood, but by Saturday afternoon it was in the 70s.

A seemingly disproportionate number of my friends and associates have been struggling lately. Some of them brought it entirely on themselves and deserve no better than what they are getting; others are blameless, the victims of unreliable bodies and less-than-ideal life circumstances

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Gaughan shatters N.H. 3200m record; crickets cheer enthusiastically

I've been a consistent follower of New Hampshire track and field and cross-country since graduating from Concord High School in 1988. This has clearly become easier over the years with the creation and expansion of the World Wide Web, with two of my go-to running sites among the countless in my bookmarks being Lancer Timing and the MileSplit network.

Last Friday, a junior from Exeter High School named Jacqueline Gaughan went into the 3,200-meter run at the Loucks Games in White Plains, N.Y. already holding the outdoor state record in the event; last June, her second-place 10:24.27 at the New England Championship earned her that distinction. Also, in March, she ran 10:24.32 for two full miles to place seventh at the New Balance National Indoor Championships in New York City, a time equivalent to about 10:20.7 for the metric distance.

Whatever Gaughan's "true" fastest 3,200-meter time was going into the Loucks Games, she obliterated it, running 10:05.71 to place second to sophomore Kelsey Chmiel of perennial national powerhouse Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Chmiel's 9:59.62 and Gaughan's time were good for 3rd and 5th in the nation this spring.

"There's never a reason to pay for running plans"

So says a familiar bastion of virtually nonexistent -- yet somehow still deteriorating -- integrity. (Please click on that link if you're not familiar with the person I'm writing about or why I do it. Lize's post describes what is perhaps the apotheosis of this years-long and only slowly ebbing mess.)

Ever the merry prankster, Kim Duclos decided to take a training plan she asked me for in 2013 -- which she repeatedly promised to pay for and didn't, as detailed below -- and modify the dates on it before posting a link to it on Facebook. This was during the height of an aggressive and quite insane campaign that ultimately wound up with the two of us in a courtroom, during which it apparently somehow escaped her that the judge told her, in so many stern words, "Ma'am, please stop lying and wasting everyone's time. Leave this guy alone, and try to behave like you belong in the world." Of course, Kim hasn't stopped lying and hasn't left me alone, and has also decided to focus her yammering even more exquisitely on Lize, perhaps believing her to be a weaker adversary than me, or something. Dumb move.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How distance running gets media attention in the United States, in brief

1. A well-known running proponent dies during a run.
2. Terrorists' bombs go off at a major race.
3. A celebrity wobbles through a marathon at any pace.
4. A politician lies about his running exploits (and arguably remains consistent if nothing else).
5. Some combination of these.

This morning brought an example of #5, when U.S. Senator Thomas Tillis collapsed during a 3-mile race in D.C. (yes, a Wednesday-morning race) and was hospitalized. It looks like he'll be okay.

This underscores why it's not likely that U.S.A. Track & Field, an organization that simply cannot be abused or mocked too harshly, will ever be moved to up its game from the sub-basement level.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Training, week of May 8 through May 14: unimpressive junk on display

An additional 63 miles' worth of barely aerobic garbage, all in the name of more amusingly passing the time between the present and my eventual last stinking breath. That's my rationale now: I'm practically embarrassed to even admit here what I'm up to every Sunday or Monday, but I'd be a fount of even worse banality were I not running.

As the graphic reveals, this was series of short, stubby, pathetically shriveled runs, especially in the beginning of the week when rainy weather contributed to that shrinkage. I rallied somewhat later in the week, and on Sunday afternoon I had some pleasant accelerations at a sexy pace, but the week as a whole failed to swell into anything resembling a proud, throbbing effort. Well, the last part is arguable; I seem to be sore more often than not now -- the new addition to the soreness pile involves my right knee, although it's nothing debilitating yet -- despite doing everything I can account for (diet, sleep, avoiding toxic chemicals. general life satisfaction) the "right" way, if you consider the act of running itself to be a right thing. And that is always debatable.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Young Runners at the Top: Get your discounted copy here

I realize that virtually no one orders books by mail anymore, and that the tiny number of Americans who still read them either buy them online or visit an actual store. Nevertheless, this flyer offers a 30% discount of you choose to purchase a hardcover copy of Young Runners at the Top, which has a scheduled release date of June 17, directly from the publisher.

The least expensive way to read the book at this point, short of stealing my, Lize or Brad's laptop or thumb drives, is to get an electronic copy through this link at Google Play. 

In the meantime, the three of us and Rowman & Littlefield's publicist are working to set up the usual events locally and beyond -- a book signing and discussion, radio interviews (Lize has long been extensively involved in local radio as both an interviewer and interview subject, so this is not a hypothetical), podcasts, and to-be-determined ventures and misadventures.

All of us are busy with various other things and we don't plan to get rich from this book, but the initial push gives all of us a chance to interface with the running public. This was actually the most enjoyable aspect of being the editor of Run Strong, actually, so even if I remain cynical about ever running respectable races again, I can still glad-hand, hobnob, mingle, and blather about the sport with the best of them.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Training, week of May 1 through May 7

I could safely leave this post and others like it blank with the exception of the customary embedded image file from Garmin Connect with no loss of meaningful information. Or I could just omit the image and type in a two-digit number followed by "miles" (in this case 65). At this point, the only reason I am bothering with these weekly updates is because I like to think I haven't plateaued already in terms of fitness or motivation but am merely in a slump and managing it somewhat honorably (more on this below).

Some people on the downside of their lifetime motivational arc, or perhaps just starting to climb the upside of the same arc in earnest, keep running blogs that feature training reports primarily because they believe that this helps keep them accountable, even when they know few people are reading. I appreciate this impulse, but I've also seen it fail far more often than I've seen it succeed in the absence of other, more organic reasons to train or at least run consistently. What I am engaged in now is some purgatory-style hybrid of running and training, and my inability to escape the repetitively dolorous tone of these Sunday-night or Monday-morning shitposts is consistent with this.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Not to give anything away, but...

A summary of my running these days:

M - Sore, but able to move in a more or less straight line. Pictures of donkeys and horses.

Tu -- Felt great and springy (although sore) but was running slower than I thought I was. Pictures of a 1924 Dodge Dart driving 60 mph with no engine.

W -- Felt shitty and draggy (sore and tired) yet ran the same pace as yesterday. Pictures of dead farm animals.

Th -- Almost not sore. First honest attempt at hydrating with somethng besides coffee all week. Pictures of dead serpents.

F -- Speed day! Same as the other four days except more daydreaming about PRs from the Clinton and Bush administrations. Pictures of the Flatirons. Legs hurt.

Sa -- Went a little and farther than usual because of two new MP3 mixes of "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (for a total of 38). Stopped to examine some constellations and other astronimical phenomena and quietly explain the particulars to nonexistent people, all while being sore.

Su -- 40 percent of the week's mileage in two irritably executed runs, making about 70 for the week and setting things up nicely for a repeat of same.

Kipchoge's 2:00:25: broadening the gender gap

Kipchoge winning the 2016 Olympic Marathon (Getty Images)
After Eliud Kipchoge's 2:00:25 in Italy this morning, the gap between the fastest and second-fastest marathons ever run under any conditions now stands at 2 minutes, 32 seconds -- 2:00:25 vs. 2:02:57, the latter being Dennis Kimetto's WR from Berlin in 2014. (Yes, it was not a world record and I don't think it ought to be -- you can read all about the various reasons for this on the Internet, and have already done so unless you just awakened from a coma and found yourself, of all places, here.)
That is a greater difference than on the women's side, an uncharactersitic finding in athletics, where female outliers are the norm and male outlies the exception. This would have been true even without Mary Keitany's 2:17:01 two weeks ago in London -- and without, surprisingly, the existence of Paula Radcliffe at all.

Keitany's effort took her to witihin 1:36 of Radcliffe's mark, lowering the gap between Radcliffe's WR and the second-fastest mark -- Radcliffe's own 2:17:18 from 2002 -- by 17 seconds.

 One has to go back 34 years to see a fastest-to-second-fastest interval longer than 2:32 on the women's side. In the 1983 Boston Marathon, Joan Benoit ran 2:22:43 after running the first half in 1:08:34 to break the WR Grete Waitz had set in London the day before (2:25:28) by 2:45. Benoit's record would fall two years later to Ingrid Kristiansen (2:21:06 in London). That year at Boston, 84 men broke 2:20:00, 76 of them Americans (and this was pre-prize money). 29th place, which is what I got in 2001 with a 2:24:17, was 2:15:xx or 2:16:xx. 2:24:17 would have been well outside the top 150, aybe out of the top 200 (I can't find deep results online). A favorable wind explains much of this, but not most of it, and the reasons for the involution of B-level American men's marathon running constitute a different discussion entirely.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Training, week of April 24 through April 30

54 miles, 20 of them on the final day. I kind of needed something significant at this point, and my first 20-mile day in years is it. I had  couple of travel days and shitty weather to contend with all week long, but these wouldn't have been real impediments to doing more than I did had I possessed the motivation I had a decade ago; they merely underscored the low threshold I now have for allowing myself to be jostled off track.

I experienced a lot of sadness this week thanks to events outside my sphere of influence. I will say that were I not a runner, I would not have have been privy to these things and therefore would not have experienced the honest emotion that comes with difficulty, and also were I not a runner I wouldn't have dealt with the turmoil and mild disillusionment at all gracefully.

Don't let the door hit you in the ass, April

241 miles. I still haven't missed a day of running in 2017 and therefore have a streak of 120 + whatever number of days I had in a row at the end of December, I think about 15.

Despite getting into a couple of races and tying for the win in one of them (that, only because my buddy held back) it was a disappointing month overall. I knew my ides about where I would be by this point in the year were not realistic, but that didn't keep me from latching onto them and nourishing them nicely into a big bush of expectations I fell far short of.

My annual four-week spring trip back to New England was a good time, as always. Just not for purposes of the subject of this blog specifically.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Doubles, motivation and game theory

I've learned something curious, but surely not unique, about my own psychological approach to running over the years: When I'm planning to run twice on a given day and my motivation isn't at its highest -- and right now I'm as excited about "training" as I am to perform a D-i-Y vasectomy -- I actually have to avoid making the first run *too* substantial or risk skipping the second altogether thanks to later deciding, "Eh, this morning's effort was plenty, I'm not really working toward anything concrete." That is, I have to purposefully slack out of the gate in order to be more assured of a maximally productive day overall.
It can really be boiled down to an application of game theory in which the contestants are not different people or organizations but competing aspects my my own mind. The scheme these days looks something like this:
* If my first run is 3 miles, there is a 90 percent chance I'll head out a second time.
* 4, 75%.
* 5, 67%.
* 6, 55%.
* 7, 45%.
* 8, 33%.
* 9, 25%.
* 10, 10%.
Obviously these are ballpark estimates and the scheme doesn't account for things like improving or worsening weather over the course of the day, etc.
If any of this represents a mental problem, it's not one relating to my running itself, but to the fact that I actually sat down typed these things out and posted them publicly.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Training, April 17 through April 23

Another week at sea level, another week of not taking advantage of the chance to get in some meaningful training work. 55 miles, most of it jogging. I guess I'm just tapering now, for some far-off event, like a fall marathon, or a track race when I'm 50, or for the funeral I refuse to have held in my dubious honor.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Training, April 10 through April 16

Easily the least inspired running week I have had in some time. I'm at sea level and in theory could be taking advantage of that to do some less-depressing workouts, but this week I was just tired, increasingly so as the week went on despite running less and less.

The real focus is on my friend and host Arthur's effort at tomorrow's Boston Marathon, not that this should have detracted from my own running. At this point I'll take the fact that I am not injured and still haven't missed a day in 2017.

I may race this week. That is all.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Understated aspects of realistic goals

First, the obvious stuff: Having goals in life -- beyond the obvious in-the-moment basics like "I must obtain food today" and "I'd like to get out of this terrible rainstorm now" -- is great. I would even say setting and pursuing challenging goals is necessary for happiness in life, with the nature of these depending on your intellectual constitution. If you are born into a family without much money, aren't especially gifted academically, and don't grow up in a situation lending itself to opportunities for professional advancement, then having kids, earning a steady income, and creating a safe place for them to grow up and thrive is often a challenging, unrelenting and noble goal. Things like "I'd like to finish a marathon" or "I'd really like to see Europe someday" are simply not on the radar screens of a good many Americans.

Running goals are almost invariably selfish goals. This isn't central to the point I intend to make within the next 4,000 words, but it's always worth noting. Sure, it's possible to yoke your running aspirations to worthy causes, but chasing a personal best in a road or track race is the epitome of luxury time, and falling short and getting worked up about it is the epitome of a first-world problem.
Psychosocial considerations aside, though, running goals are great because they typically involve a concrete, objective time, place, or distance, making them very easy to evaluate in terms attainment  ("Did I finish?" "Did I break three hours?"). In most cases it's also easy to tell whether your goal makes any sense. If you're 15 and just started running a couple of months ago and notch a 1600 on the track in 5:38, saying "I'd like to break 4:30 before I finish high school" is realistic. Even "Maybe I have a shot at a sub-4:00 mile someday" shouldn't be off the table. On the other hand, if you are 40, have been running five miles a day for ten years or so, and have yet to break 20:00 for 5K, deciding that you suddenly want to run 17:00 before you get too old is probably not realistic.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Best post-Boston Marathon article ever: The year I drank my way to a 2:28:28

This article, which ran in N.H.'s largest newspaper, Manchester Union Leader. in April 2002, is really a fantastic piece of work. Background: I was a mess going into this, having stubbornly overtrained and with no runs longer than three miles at faster than 5:40 pace, making running slightly faster than this in the marathon a comparative triumph.

Beck, Miller best in NH field
After sweating out the forecast, NH runners enjoy mild day
Union Leader

BOSTON — Kevin Beck admitted he had overworked himself preparing for the Boston Marathon.

“I got a little bit fried this spring,” the Concord, N.H., resident said. “I strained myself silly for the best of intentions1. I was doing 140 miles a week for 10 weeks.”

Coming from a runner whose intensity level is second to none amongst New Hampshire runners, Beck’s confession was hardly surprising. Nor was his finish in yesterday’s 106th edition of the Boston Marathon. For the second straight year, Beck was the first Granite Stater across the finish line, this time under cool and cloudy conditions for most of the way, until the sun dared to creep out near his finish.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Training, April 3 though April 9

57 miles in lame singles. My newest hobby seems to be cutting back unnecessarily for races and then not running them very hard anyway. This week's more-or-less spur-of-the-moment 5K was a glorified fun run an hour down the road from where I'm encamped for a couple of weeks with friends, most of them furry.

It was a step in the right direction, I guess, compared to last week's especially uninspired effort. One my my hosts and best friends, Arthur, "needed" a race of some sort before the Boston Marathon on the 17th after last Saturday's USATF-New England Grand Prix 15K was canceled due to snow, so we wound up at in Shrewsbury, Mass. today. You know it's not a very tough crowd when the race director encourages people to do jumping jacks five minutes before the start and three-fourths of the people gathered start doing them. I want to see this happen at the Olympic Trials Marathon some day.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Training, March 27 though April 2: Coxsmacked edition

As good as it is to be back in my hometown of Concord, N.H, not much about this week was good from the standpoint of focused perambulation. My top priority to this point -- whether I've admitted it to myself or not -- has obviously been piling on easy-to-moderate miles, day after day, for the sake of exploring the countryside and fondling donkeys and maintaining what passes for a state of fine mental health, rather than upping the ante and preparing myself to, you know, race. Sure, I've semi-regularly ejaculated declarations of goals onto this blog, and as I demonstrated today, I can at least haul myself to a sanctioned event and pay for a bib and go through the motions of completing it, looking only somewhat like a hapless dingbat in the process. But this, alas, is more out of a partially rekindled habit than a genuine desire to compete again.

Therefore, no legitimate reason exists for me to cut back on my workload in anticipation of a formal timed jogging event.

But I feel obligated to participate in that part of the charade as well, so I "rested" for a 5K that was supposed to be yesterday (Saturday) but was postponed by the management on Thursday afternoon to today (Sunday) thanks to a forecast involving serious snowfall. My rest wasn't especially restful, though. I didn't run much this week (five easy miles a day for the first four days of the week, then eight on Friday and four yesterday) but had to do a disproportionate amount of my work in the beginning of the week because Wednesday and Thursday were effectively shot thanks to preparing to travel and actually traveling.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ciao, March 2017

316 miles this month, in the "...out with a whimper" style of 28 miles in the last five days. I thought I was racing a 5K tomorrow, so I rested in preparation for what's going to be ugly regardless, but I learned yesterday while I was 36,000 feet off the ground that the race is actually on Sunday -- it was postponed because of snow.

So in the end, I averaged 10.2 miles a day for the month, and stand at 955.5 for the year. I still haven't missed a day of running in 2017, and while I have no idea what my personal best in that realm might be since I have never been a "streaker," I know I have never gone a full year without missing a day. I sincerely hope this (mot missing any days) doesn't turn out to be my consolation goal for the year. I know that I'm not yet in what I regard as racing shape despite a lot of positive signs since the dawn of 2017, so whatever happens in the next few weeks isn't critical from a results standpoint. But if I am not enjoying a certain competitive standing by early autumn I may be tempted to do what a lot of washed-up old former half-decent runners do and hide out in ultras so I can have competitive aims without doing any real training. (I'm not saying serious ultrarunners don't train like hell -- I know they certainly do -- only that I have never relished the idea of getting better at a running genre solely through endless jogging and slogging up hills.)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Training, March 20 through March 26

Greatest "accomplishment" this week: no doubles. As a result, despite running "only" 70 miles, I averaged at least 10 miles per run over the course of an entire week since...well, since Jesus was waving a rattle around, I think.

Today I did a fartlek workout disguised as interval training, or perhaps it was the other way around. This wound up being 2 x 0.5M, 4 x 0.25M and 2 x 0.125M in around 2:42, 77, and 37, all with a rest jog of 0.25M in about 10:00 pace. This is about all the indication I'll get that I might be ready to run in the mid-16s for 5K in mid-April. I will never be happy to be happy to run 16-anything for a flat road 5K even if I'm doing it when I'm 97, because to me the age-group shit is just one more form of handicapping and little more, with age-group competition an offer of booby prizes. That doesn't mean it can't be fun to race other wrinklyfuckers, but that's all it's going to amount to.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Training, March 13 through March 19

The week in a nutshell: 85 more miles, only one broken promise that I can think of (concerning running, anyway), and some nice weather to offset the miserable late-winter crap hurled at my place of origin (New England), where I will be in less than two weeks.

I have done almost all of my running in recent months by myself. Here's a training-solo trick I wouldn't get away with if I were on a team or part of a group: setting out to run X repeats of a given distance, reaching a total of X/2 of them, and justifying ending the workout because I was running far faster than I planned or even thought possible. I bet I have done this at least a dozen times in my life as a well-fortified jogger.

Today, I was hoping to hit 8 x 440 yd in about 77-78 with 220-yd jogs in 1:30; I haven't done quarters in a long time, so this was just a decent guess regarding my capabilities. But after getting through four of them in ~72, with each slightly faster than the last -- 73.1, 72.1, 71,8, 70.3 -- I decided enough was enough. (Actually, when you think about it, there is never an instance of "enough" that doesn't translate precisely to "enough." It is what it is.)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Training, March 6 though March 12

70 miles in 12 runs, as ludicrous as that combination looks and probably is. I can't post the pointless but customary screen shot from Garmin Connect because the site's being uncooperative. But it was a good week.

Most people who've been doing this running thing seriously for a while are familiar with experiencing a fitness or performance breakthrough that takes place despite no real attention to honest rest. You keep hammering out mileage on the higher side of what is tolerable or advisable for you, and eventually you're either forced to the sidelines by physical malaise or you simply adjust and find yourself able to run a given pace for a longer period of time with relative ease.

The idea of being able to run faster thanks to resting rather than being fitter is also nothing new. If you spend three months averaging 10 miles a day prepping for a marathon and then do half of that for a couple of weeks before the race itself, you will almost certainly perform better in the marathon than you would have without the two easier weeks, but no sane physiologist on the planet would attribute this to a bona fide fitness improvement accrued during those 14 days; clearly, rest is vital.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The perfect (lack of a) storm, part two

Yesterday, I tried to begin answering the question, "What elements create the ideal training situation for a serious distance runner?" I stated a few obvious facts, chief among them the idea different people thrive in different environments. But I also suggested, without exploring the idea further, that a lot of runners wind up in what proves to be the optimal training and racing set-up without planning it. I'll now shore up this claim with some real and hypothetical examples.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The perfect (lack of a) storm, part one

What sets people up to train for optimal distance-running performance? How much of this has to do with external factors (e.g., altitude, overall weather, people with whom to train) and how much relates to internal variables (e.g.,  typical mood, life "balance," job contentment, sleep habits)?

Obviously, the mix of elements leading to "ideal" training is different for different runners. That said, I'll emphasize three points here that I believe can be generalized to almost everyone, at least two of which are counterintuitive:

1. Conscious efforts to create ideal training conditions don't work especially well.
2. The things you might think would be very helpful at the elite level may not be.
3. Most people's window in this area is quite narrow, at least for unusually fast runners.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Training, Feb. 27 through March 5

87 miles in 13 runs. On Tuesday I took to a treadmill and gathered some mostly meaningless data that allowed me to figure out what my heart rate is at various faster paces (meaning, faster than I go on everyday runs unless it's by design). For example, if I run 11 MPH (5:27 pace) for three minutes, I'm at about 171, meaning that at that at sea level I could in theory click along at about 5:20 pace for maybe 10 or even 15 minutes before summarily keeling over. But I can't believe how much sheer turnover is required just to move at this velocity for any length of time.

I need to race soon, even if it turns out to be a bomb of a race, in the bad sense of bomb. At least I'll have something interesting to write about if that happens. I'm becoming exceptionally bored with this blogging enterprise because at this point it's the same shit week after week -- I ran a bunch, I might start doing workouts someday, but this week I got tired so I just acted more or less like an amped-up version of a fitness jogger. Which is precisely what I am, but for all manner of reasons I'll take it. But as it is my days are plenty full of generating words -- some for pay, some to waste time on social media that could be better spent in a dozen ways, some to communicate with friends and clients. I really want to spend about a week looking slack-jawed at whatever tickles my fancy om Netflix, which these days is another attempt to work my way through all six seasons of Lost one more time.