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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Things informed runners would admit to if injected with a strong barbiturate

A lot of people do good things for good reasons, such as working multiple jobs to support their families. People also do not-so-good things for good or at least defensible reasons, such as stealing food to stay alive or exacting various forms of revenge on physically abusive spouses.

Moving down the urgency scale, people often maintain vaguely defensible or sketchy practices when it comes to their serious hobbies -- not because they really believe that these practices are beneficial (or at least harmless) but because they are enslaved by them. As cognitive-dissonance theory predicts, such people search for rationales to logically justify habits their psychological make-up compels them to do anyway. A person who embarks on a spending spree in the midst of a manic episode might claim that the reason he just put $2,000 worth of CDs on a credit card is that he really likes Justin Bieber, and he might even convince himself that this is true.

Runners, being more compulsive than most, are a hotbed of such rationalizations. When we  knowingly do things likely to impede our competitive development, handy rationalizations are always within easy reach: I don't need to taper for this race, it's just a 5K. I don't need to do over 40 miles a week for a half-marathon if I get in plenty of long tempos. I can be kinda sorta bulimic and run well if I manage it right. Anything slower than  x minutes a mile is just junk, so why even bother?

Below is a list of rarely expressed truths or de facto truths in the running world. Most people who have been around the sport for a while would not disagree with any of these statements, but in most cases would not want to be the person volunteering them, as a few are more controversial than others. (Understand that this is not a list of common running myths, which are different in that myths, in this context, are things people mistakenly believe to be true.)

Feeble disclosures

1. I topped 55 miles this week. That's a first for this calendar year and my highest total since last July, before I injured my right knee. I'm a little hesitant to push much higher than this, but I think that if I'm careful about where I run and attentive to replacing my shoes when they are excessively beat up, I can stay in the range of 60 to 70. I have as much time as I need and sufficient motivation, even if things have changed on the go-for-it front since the days I had a solid shot at qualifying for the Olympic Trials.

Obviously I can't know for sure my body will hold up, but I've been receiving a veritable flood of thoughts and prayers from various interstellar sources (a good chunk of which, it must be noted, is the metaphysical equivalent of hate mail) so I'm going for it.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

This week in Steve McConkey: Meditation is "dangerous" and a "false religion"

My new friend Steve McConkey has been busy this week at his job, which is getting angry at the various ways in which the United States is not a Christian theocracy.

As is Steve's tireless habit -- I discovered that he even has his own tag on "Right Wing Watch" -- he's using distortions of reality to maximize his level of personal unrest. For example, yesterday, he titled one of his complaints "Trump, GOP Congress Give Planned Parenthood $500 Million In Taxpayer Funds," as if this is something new (it's not). But since this nominally a running blog, and Steve McConkey has historically focused his energetic stupidity on track and field athletes, I'll focus on his major track-related gripe of the week: Nike's new "Headspace" app. (In a version of this complaint he posted two days ago, he mentioned 2016 U.S. Olympian Colleen Quigley's endorsement of the technique, but later scrapped it. He does quite a bit of this sort of rant-tweaking and screed-juggling.)

The potential utility of mindfulness meditation is sports is well established, though in need of further study. (I'll admit that the name "Headspace" reminds of this.) But I won't spend time here analyzing this because it's not central to the point, which is that Steve McConkey is lying about what this technique is, how people are using it, and the possible effects of trying it.

He starts with the usual breathless hyperbole:

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Running, social media and the Dunning-Kruger effect

One of the few things I will take credit for as a runner is never believing that I was any better than I was despite a fair number of other people attempting to enable such a fantasy. Avoiding self-delusion really shouldn't be a source of pride for anyone, but considering the shape the world has taken since the advent of the Internet and the ascendancy of social media in particular, it's actually worth remarking on.

I created a personal Web site in 1998, using a MediaOne (later bought by AT & T and then Comcast) account. In the spring of 2001, I bought the domain kemibe.com, with the idea coming from what was already on my license plate (kevinbeck.com was already taken by an artist in North Carolina -- he does good work) and moved my stuff there. In the three years between those events, I became a Lab owner, a contributing editor and then a senior writer for Running Times, and ran what would turn out to be my fastest lifetime marathon. Most of what I posted to my site -- which also included a message board starting in, I believe, 2000 thanks to the good people at Network 54 -- was, predictably, about running, writing, and my dog. (and no, Jim, you don't need to plumb the port-a-johns of the Wayback Machine and produce evidence of the sad pages I'm mentioning. I know it's out there.)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A new equilibrium (wonkish) and various observations (petty)

In basic economics, a supply-and-demand graph shows quantity supplied and demanded on the x-axis and price on the y-axis. The supply curve (normally a line) is upward-sloping, because the higher a price a firm can command for its goods, the more of that good it will produce. Similarly, the lower a good's price, the higher the demand for that good, so the demand curve is downward-sloping. The point at which these curves intersect represents the equilibrium price of that good.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Living on handouts to combat gay athletes is tough work, but someone's gotta do it

[Ed.  note: this post is being updated regularly to reflect new discoveries revealing just how messed up Steve McConkey is.]

I admit that I questioned whether this exposition belongs on a running blog, or anywhere. It will, after all, do no more than briefly focus attention on a person with dubious aims and substandard cognitive abilities for the benefit of a handful snickering people, and will likely result in zero net effects on the human circus as a whole. But since that sums up virtually everything I post, including things I write about myself, why quit now?

The other night, one of my many provocateur-friends called attention to a public Facebook post on the page of one Steve McConkey, who has vague connections to the track world (and whose name I immediately read as "McMonkey" thanks to this glorious parable about racism and hucksterism, a true gem in the invaluable Dr. Seuss canon).














By the time I saw this, it had elicited a predictable groundswell of full-throated dunce-yawps couched as pitying sentiments for Hawking, whom the ersatz-faithful were positively certain was now being tormented for all eternity in Hell by their boundlessly compassionate ecclesiastical fetish-figure. This kind of Hawking-bashing fun sprung up all over the Web; I'm betting that at the news of Hawking's overdue demise, a few old-coot fundies somewhere in the Incest Belt experienced the faint stirrings of an erection for the first time since Sarah Palin was on a national ticket.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Why exercise is underutilized in fighting depression (warning: it's a bummer)

Scott Douglas is a longtime denizen of the running-writing world. He wrote a chapter for Run Strong -- the contract for which I wouldn't have landed without his help in the first place -- and if it weren't for his active assistance and passive encouragement over the years, I would have contributed far less than I now have to the pantheon of published blather about running and a few other things (the fact that most of this material is of negligible utility isn't the point).

More than anything else, Scott is intensely thoughtful and committed to a reality-based view of the world, regardless of the consequences such an ethos might engender. (Case in point: he's a seminary graduate who has identified an atheist.) This, not the fact that I have solid personal reasons to like him, is the primary reason I appreciate his work.

Today he has a piece in Slate attempting to answer a question I've asked a great many psychiatrists and psychologists going back to my own days as a medical student in the 1990s: Why don't mental-health clinicians more strongly encourage exercise?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Blaming clean athletes for the doping of others?

If nothing else, Toni Reavis' idea is a new one: Tracksters need to essentially divorce themselves of their own governing body if they expect to be part of a clean sport.

Reavis attempts to draw an analogy between a group of soldiers undergoing basic training in a particular time and space and the entire worldwide community of top-level track and field athletes. If one soiled private fails to take a shower, the story goes, then his mates will physically force him to do so to maintain the integrity and smooth functioning of the unit. And so it should be, Reavis says, with athletes who dope: Their peers should somehow force them to clean themselves up for the benefit of the sport as a whole.

I've seen, and made, some sketchy analogies in the past, but this one is dismal for two extremely obvious reasons.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The diamonds establish the ugliness of the rough

Lately, in my noble quest to find better versions of Eighties songs to imitate on my keyboard, I've been getting distracted by wily YouTube algorithms and diving far down the rabbit-hole of Diamond League, Olympic, and World Champs distance races going back 20 or more years. I've watched, not for the first time, most of the world record races in the men's and women's 800 meters on up to the 10,000 meters.

One predictable effect of this is reinforcing, in purely numerical terms, how slow almost all of us are in comparison to the best of the best. I can see, for example, that I would have just missed getting lapped twice by Kenenisa Bekele, Daniel Komen and Haile Gebrselassie if you could superimpose their fastest track 5Ks onto my own. I can see just how quickly I'd fall off the leaders in a 2:03 marathon even at my lifetime acme, when I, like many of you, was fast enough to win a flurry of podunk 5Ks and use such metrics as an excuse to start a worthless blog.

But that's just math, and such differences are dry and quantifiable and therefore forgettable. Watching these videos has a far more insidious effect on the subconscious in that exposure to a steady stream of truly gifted runners devalues the running of mortals, even mortals most people would think of as fast.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Febrero

According to Strava, I ran about 180 miles in February. (The total shows less than that, but I don't record all of my runs because it's a bad idea to bring an Android out in a snowstorm.) I have no plans to boost this by a statistically significant amount, because this seems to represent a level of exercise that satisfies me psychologically without being enough to put me at risk for relapsing into "training." For all but maybe two dozen people over the age of 40 in the entire U.S., competing in races when you have no shot at approaching your fastest times is an incredibly stupid idea, and I am not close to being one of those 24-ish people. Neither is anyone reading this, but that won't stop a single one of you from getting out there and riding the struggle-bus anyway, which means your only fruitful option -- whether you realize it or not -- is to become permanently injured and find other ways to sweat.

As I just realized today for the first time in at least a week, I still haven't missed a day of running in  2018. This, in some respects, makes it all the more remarkable how much less I ran in  Feb. 2018 than I did in the same month sixteen years ago, my highest-volume week ever at 611.

I mean, I shouldn't even be admitting to this upon questioning, much less volunteering the info, but here is the data: