Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

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.