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, December 23, 2018

Still operating despite the shutdown

  • I discovered a heartening statistic today: The number of participants in U.S. road races is on the decline and has been since 2013. I would have guessed that the number of road-race entrants was still increasing, but more slowly than it did in the first 10 of so years of this century. Instead, running events are becoming literally less popular. This doesn't gladden me as much as the concomitant decrease in U.S. life expectancy does, but it's still gratifying.

    Many of today's most populous road races are a sick joke of wrongly measured splits, bad logistics and poorly ordered priorities. While I admit that I'm more likely to notice such issues now that I'm far slower and more bitter than I was in my so-called prime, when I was too focused on my own results to care much about anything else, this decline in quality is unquestionably real. Despite the advent of chip timing and other conveniences over the past 25 years, I'd bet that virtually no one who's been competing seriously in road races since the late eighties or early nineties would tell you that races are better now. Some might call it a draw, but most would say it's gone downhill. (Now that I think about it, one of the reasons they'd say it's gone downhill is because so many courses literally go downhill by design, leading to malignant Instagram weenie-ism.)

    I have acknowledged that I don't fundamentally fault the new, "casual" participants -- call 'em yoggers, because my friend does -- for this progressive shittification. This is slightly dishonest in the sense that I think races would be better off without so many beaming, screaming, oiled-up yoggers, but I still place the bulk of the blame on the corporatization of road racing that has unleashed shit-gobbling monstrosities like the Competitor Group and its new Chinese pimp-daddy. And to let them off the hook a little, when more people want something and a higher fraction of the wanters are OK with supplier being mediocre, the shittier that thing is gonna become for anyone clamoring for excellence. It's as certain a principle in economics as gravity is in aeronautical engineering. To pretend any of this was avoidable would be naive. But I still believe that race organizers could make races great for serious runners while still catering overwhelmingly to the economic realities of the yoggerscape with just a little more work and sacrifice. They won't, because they lack the basic pride in their product. All of the principal figures involved should be slowly lowered headfirst into the business ends of post-Rock 'n' Roll-yagathon port-o-johns and made to repent and repent some more, and then slam-dunked into the stankmess anyway.

    Anyway, the big takeaway: Don't slam CrossFit, or at least ease up on the blows. It just might be partly responsible for the recent siphoning off some of rabble from yog yaces.

  • I was considering some of the common criticisms leveled at college track coaches and how a lot of them simply fail to account for the reality of collegiate distance running. Contrary to what a of people appear to believe, it is not the job of these coaches to ensure that their athletes are being properly groomed for professional running careers, and this would hold true even if more than a tiny fraction of collegiate D-1 runners were presumed to be headed to the pro ranks. A coach at a Pac-12 school told me a few years ago that there was really no such thing as a structural "easy day" at his institution, and that he was sure this was true of every other meaningful D-1 program as well. The jobs of these coaches is to take very good 18-year-old kids and turn them into great 22- or 23-year-old young adults. Quite a few of them are very successful at this; excepting the true pros, most runners who compete post-collegiately never better their college times. This isn't because they "burned out" in college, it's that they were de facto running machines for a few years of their lives and good luck trying to replicate that as a working stiff or even a layabout.

    In reality, it is surprising, and perhaps a testament to college coaching as a whole, that such a high percentage of runners college thrive in this environment. While washout stories are inevitable, it is actually surprising that there aren't more of them. At my most intense level of training, I was doing around 100 to 120 miles a week, with anywhere from 15 to 25 of those miles at marathon race pace or faster; this is shit compared to what college athletes are doing, step for step. And that's with a great deal more inner and ambient pressure.

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