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

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Random ideas experienced on the plod lately

  • Sometime after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, cities in the U.S. and around the world began honoring his memory by naming new streets and renaming existing roads after him. It's a gesture, not a meaningful move in the direction of civil rights, and some of these roads are in very nasty parts of the cities through which they run.

    I have been staying with friends in Concord, New Hampshire, close to where I grew up and lived until about fifteen years ago. While running on the local roads and trails, I've noticed that many of the streets in residential developments that weren't here when I moved away bear girls' names: Lisa, Jennifer, Judith and Susan have all been given nods just in the East Concord section of town.

    I've noticed this in other parts of the country as well. This seems to be to feminism what MLK Jr. Drive is to race relations: We can't achieve anything like genuine equality, so we'll at least name things after underrepresented or otherwise beleaguered groups of people.

  • Not for the first time, I own a pair of shoes that feel sublime on my feet but have laces that come untied every two minutes no matter how I knot them; likewise, for at least the twentieth time in the past 30 years, I have a pair worn-out shoes that at least have miraculously reliable laces. Yet I can almost never be bothered to remove a pair of great laces from a pair of shitty shoes and put them  in the great shoes. I guess this idea will simply never occur to me.
  • The other day, I was running on a trail and was confronted by a puddle so extensive it might have been better classified as a bog. (It's been raining at least two days in three since I got to New England at the beginning of the month.) I had been on this trail for about two miles, and I could see the paved road I was hoping to reach right on the far side of the puddle,  maybe 200 feet away. Despite my shoes already being somewhat wet anyway, I decided to pick my way around the puddle rather than plunge through it, hoping to keep my feet from being absolutely soaked for the last 2.5 miles of the run. This resulted in a 10-minute side trip through some underbrush and a fair number of new scratches on my legs. When I was about ten feet from the road, I stepped into a puddle I had somehow failed to spot with both feet, right up to mid-calf. When this happened, I just stood there for a moment in the cold water, ruminating.

    This experience seems to encapsulates the entire state of my running at the moment. Wander, plan, try some workarounds, commit, hesitate, and blunder in the end no matter what.

  • Scott Douglas' new book Running Is My Therapy is proving to be an excellent read. I admit that I expected no less and would probably praise it even if I found it wanting, but the chances of Scott turning out a less-than-super piece of writing are very small. I'll post my Amazon review here once I, you know, write it, which means finishing the book.
  • I did a couple of workouts this week. One involved running a set distance on a track in a specified amount of time, while the other was effort-based on confined to the road. I did these on the basis of what my coach instructed, and strayed only slightly from the prescribed sessions. Clearly, this is progress.
  • See if you can figure out who "Literal_Crap_Bag" is, other than, obviously, an intoxicated person (the Subreddit is called "Crippling Alcoholism") blaring lies about the man she's obsessed with -- a guy who, according to her, is a drunk and dishonest social-media user who wants to have sex with her.

    If projection were a felony, Kim Duclos would get 35 years to life.

  • With some regret -- I'm loving seeing my friends, but hating the N.H. weather -- I'm heading back toward home, a 2,000-mile drive, at the end of the week. I will be giving a talk to a youth running group outside a major city along the way. That will no doubt make those of you convinced I am the spawn of Satan, a drunken woman-beater, or both deeply distressed. 





Monday, April 23, 2018

A foolproof method for identifying the toughest runners

Have you ever wondered if competitive distance runners vary widely in how tough, gritty, strong-willed, gutsy, etc. they are? That is, when you scan the results of, say, a 5K race in which the times of the top 25 male finishers range between about 14:30 and 15:30, do you wonder how much of the variation in outcomes at this level are owed to basic differences in how deep into the well of effort or pain these runners are willing or able to go, versus basic differences in their fitness and ability levels? (For purposes of this post, I am talking about runners in everyday events, i.e., track races and road distances up to the marathon. Ultras and all of the "adventure racing"-style bullshit represent different species of competitions. I'm not judging the value of that bullshit, just saying it's not the same as straight-up conventional racing, although certain ultras sort of are, maybe.)

In fact, there's an easy screening tool; it just takes a few decades to collect meaningful data.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Occult excellence

This morning, I watched a short Instagram video featuring a distance runner who recently won a major international championship. This was at least the hundredth such Internet clip I've seen in the past couple of years, and adds to the canon of similar television clips and -- reaching further back into the technological Pleistocene -- VHS videos I've watched that feature accomplished runners doing impressive things.

For perhaps the first time, I was struck by the full reality of why running as it exists today stands no chance of being a major spectator draw in in the United States in particular and worldwide more generally: With distance running, it's simply not possible to immediately recognize breathtaking excellence or be impressed by what you're seeing, at least not to the extent this occurs in other sports.

Monday, April 16, 2018

When it rains, it pours...unexpectedness: Boston 2018

For the fourth straight year, I was in at the 23-mile mark of the Boston Marathon waiting for a couple of athletes I work with to trundle by and, of course, to take in the fullness of the race up close.

This event had enjoyed the makings of a truly historic Boston for months. The American field included almost all of the leading lights of the very recent and somewhat recent past: Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenhein, 41-year-old Abdi Abdirahman, and a contingent of Kenyan-born U.S. entrants from Colorado on the men's side, and Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle, Jordan Hasay, and Desi Linden on the women's. Ritz withdrew about a week ago and Hasay pulled out yesterday citing a possible foot issue, but this still left a great domestic field ready to roll.

The weather went to hell during the weekend and it was assured that it not only would it be very cold and rainy at the start, but also that a 20- to 25-mile-an-hour wind would be blowing almost directly in the runner's faces the entire way out of the east-northeast. This meant that times would obviously be slow, but also that attrition -- always a big factor in any world-class marathon but especially at Boston -- would play a major role. Usually, the East Africans are hit even harder than others when it's as raw as it was guaranteed to be today.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

In the bud

This weekend, I did a couple of runs on land-patches close to my childhood home, tracts that were mostly unsullied by the presence of hominid life forms until fairly recently. By "fairly recently," I mean "until about 15 to 20 years ago." That may not qualify as "recent" by most standards, given that only about 1.14% of dogs alive at this moment were alive on April 8, 2003. But I haven't been a permanent resident of Concord since 2002, meaning that I've missed a lot of goings-on here. Furthermore, my useful life ended somewhere between roughly 1996 and 2001, and as a result, my mind is often stuck a couple of decades in the past, when I sometimes envisioned a future that didn't include being a seething, cynical misanthrope with a strangely persistent pro-social streak.

Yesterday, close to a snowmobile trail that threads its way along a power-line corridor that passes within a hundred yards of my old house in northernmost Concord, I saw a sign that did exactly what it was supposed to do: It succeeded in getting me to investigate an issue of public interest.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A solid example of why this blog should be repealed and run through a shredder

In a recent four-day span, I drove about two-thirds of the way across the country, leaving Colorado last Friday morning and arriving in Concord, N.H. on Tuesday afternoon. In theory, my two primary purposes here are visiting my family and friends and being at the Boston Marathon in the services of a couple of athletes who inexplicably trust me to advise them.  Just as appealing, though, was the idea of spending a lot of time by myself, free of the self-imposed lunacy of social-media engagement and other Internet bullshit, which is the main reason I drove instead of flying.

The most interesting, or at least distinctive, thing in the Jayhawk State.

On Friday afternoon, I stopped in a nowhere town in Kansas off I-70 and ran 3.3 miles. It was fairly unpleasant, in part because of the wind but mostly because almost every time I run these days, even for just a few steps, I am fighting the biological tide. The fact that my legs, knees, hips, and arms work with sufficient synchronicity to permit me to move in a mostly straight line at about 10 miles per hour for short spells doesn't imply that it's wise, fun, or remotely useful to do this. When I was younger, I could make a weak case for the amount of time I spent trying to be proficient at distance running to the exclusion of pursuing more productive and beneficial things. Today, however, the only defensible justification that I can offer for running every day is that I have irrevocably failed at everything that was once important to me, and I'd like to navigate the rest of my life free of both harmful mood-altering drugs and the insistent desire to destroy myself. Running doesn't induce physical pain (well, my knee sometimes sings) so much as remind me of my overwhelming purposelessness and the futility of continuing to do very basic and necessary things such as consume food, drink fluids, and draw breath. I mean really, why even take steps to maintain this unsightly bag of decaying cells? Yet I insist on bumblefucking my way along toward a long-overdue but natural demise, and physical activity, even as it ratchets up my demand for food and water and oxygen and drives home the fact of how much less capable I am at various things than I once was, is the most reliable means at my disposal to keep the noises driving me toward ruthlessly maladaptive behaviors to a comparative minimum.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Runners born before 1970 who should even bother: a comprehensive list

The people named in this post, and only those people, have defensible reasons to take running seriously. While they are strongly advised to avoid indiscriminately volunteering their status as "competitive runners" owing to the high risk of rightful ridicule, they may unreservedly self-identify as such in the right settings if prompted, although the label "athlete" should be altogether omitted from such conversations.

"Taking running seriously" in this context means aiming for given times, placings, accolades, or awards in the manner of genuine distance runners (e.g., Olympians, World Championship team members, paid professionals, or members of high-school or collegiate teams) and engaging in goal-oriented machinations toward those ends (e.g., track workouts, hill repetitions, and tempo runs). It notably excludes those who participate in road races --- especially "getaway" marathons -- simply to finish them as well as those who take part in organized running events mainly for the social aspects; such activities can indisputably add utility to people's lives by giving them reasons to keep "fit" and "healthy" without exacting undue physical, psychological, or emotional costs.

Note that while it is possible for formerly competitive runners to morph gracefully into participant-runners, there are no known or even theorized instances of people making the transition in the other direction.

The data used in compiling this list was collected via an informal but thorough review of race results, in-person interviews, blog analyses, and on-site observations over a period of approximately many years.