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, January 21, 2019

The Heisenberg principle, recovery-run style

When I was racing well, or at least racing regularly and feeling confident about attaining a new performance level, my easy days were often very slow compared to others at my level. I embraced this, which was the proper response. As I was building toward my best period of running between ages 31 and 35, I did a lot of my 15 or more daily miles with the high-schoolers I was coaching, usually at no faster than 8:00 per mile and often considerably slower. To the extent I kept even a loose eye on the paces of these runs, I didn't have a GPS watch, so I was often making informed guesses anyway. I was usually doing a couple of pace-specific harder sessions every week; everything else was filler, and when you're nailing the workouts, you're basically pitter-pattering around for a couple of days -- albeit for up to two hours a day -- in anticipation of the next hard session. If you know that on Friday you'll be throwing back 15 vodka shots in the company of some outstanding prostitutes, you probably aren't particularly concerned about only getting to nurse Bud Lights while pleasuring yourself alone at home on Wednesday and Thursday. When the peaks are redeeming, you don't worry about the troughs in between.

Now that my return-to-racing experiment is over, my pace on any given run shouldn't matter to me one bit. There is nothing cumulative about my running other than the fact that if I only did it once a week or something, it would become harder and less enjoyable. In theory I could record every running step I take and never even look at it at the output, or I could just glance at the numbers from these efforts with the same level of concern as I do when noting in passing how much junk mail arrived this week.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Famous runners I met in high school

I started running in the fall of 1984, when, as hard as it is to believe unless you were alive and sentient at the time, there were two basic ways to interact with people in real time: You talked to them in person, or you spoke with them on the phone. Video footage of pro athletes was limited to television and VCR recordings; a few people might have their own photos of star sportspersons that they had taken themselves, but for the most part, pics of these luminaries were found only in magazines and newspapers. There was, for better or otherwise, a far clearer boundary between famous folks and the rabble (and between citizens of Earth more generally).

At the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa Beach, Fla., Nov. 2005. One of us won the half that day; 
the other won four Boston Marathons.
In the summer of 1985, after my freshman year, a runner from Colorado traveled to Manchester, New Hampshire to run a now long-defunct summer road race called the Bud Kings 10K. It was de rigueur at the time for alcoholic beverage manufacturers to sponsor road races, mainly because during the running boom that had started after Frank Shorter's 1972 Olympic Marathon victory, someone noticed that runners liked to drink like fish, or, almost equivalently, that abusers of ethanol liked participating in road races. A cursory search failed to uncover any real evidence that this race ever existed, although this is somewhat helpful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Gimme gimme gimme

On the first day of summer in 2015, long after human life should have been relegated to God's drunken memory by a massive meteoroid or triumphant supervirus, someone started a thread on the Strava forums to complain that the mobile app displays distances to only a tenth of a mile or km, which is an order of magnitude less precise than the website offers.

First, in the event you just awakened from a multi-year coma, Strava is a service that integrates data from a GPS watch or even a mobile phone to tell you how much distance you have covered in a given time. Those who received advanced math degrees from Trump University will recall that if one knows the distance of a trip and the time taken to complete it, one may invoke a complex algebraic expression to compute average speed. Runners are often concerned with all of these, which is why so many of them now have GPS watches and corresponding online accounts. (Garmin, the company that is synonymous with the term "GPS watch," has its own mobile app and web interface, but you can import your data from these into Strava and proceed do a lot of fun, pointless things with it, like show it to people who don't give a shit because they're busy showing you theirs.)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

One glaring lie

I just realized that as a corollary to doing literally all of my running with my dog beginning on Nov. 1, I have now done about 75 consecutive runs without listening to music. I haven't assembled this long of a no-earphones streak of running since, I believe, the early 1990s. Actually, for all I know I have never done it because it's nothing I've ever formally or passively tracked. I started listening to a Walkman while doing runs alone for the first time in the winter of 1984-1985, in my freshman year of high school. I had run cross-country on a last-minute suggestion, so this was my first experience with off-season running prep. On that cassette tape I used over and over while running mostly in the frozen slop of the dirt roads of Canterbury, N.H. were such forgettable top-40 numbers such as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, I Want to Know What Love Is and Let's Hear It For The Boy. Except that they aren't forgettable, either to me or to a great many radio stations. I'm not sure that in those days anyone realized what a lasting and powerful influence George Michael would become, but no one ever sees the upper echelon of pop culture coming.

Monday, January 7, 2019

A glimpse 25 years into the future

No, I am not offering an idea of what the running world will look like in 2044. In a best-case scenario, human civilization will exist only in the form of irradiated rubble that persistent insects can build homes in. But if I'd been able to magically ascertain in 1994 -- the year I ran my first marathon and one of the last calendar years in which I was an optimist about most aspects of the world -- how things would develop in this niche over the next 25 years, I'm positive I would have said "Fuck that noise, I'll have moved on long before it gets that stupid." But here I am anyway with the rest of the dipshits, because I lack the sense or the resolve to get out and am a natural at demeaning the rabble.

Running was far better when it was far less popular than it is today. Every sane economic and sociological argument applied to the running world I knew as a kid and young adult would have foretold much of the bullshit that has helped fuck it up. Increasing demand for road-races entries has driven up the cost of entry fees far out of proportion to inflation, meaning that people who are serious about these affairs not only pay a lot more money to get into them, but enjoy the experience of being surrounded by hordes of screaming waddlers at most venues.

I've already covered most of the economic aspects of running's blighting, but one thing no one I know saw coming even 15 years ago, by which time the Internet and running had become well acquainted and enmeshed, was a shift in the direction of a flesh-based kakistocracy. Every sport has boasted mostly nude fitness models in its ads and self-aggrandizing goofballs among its ranks, but I doubt anyone predicted that some of these yutzes would become running's self-appointed and widely respected voices and coaches.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Locals who should be put to the the sword: Part 1 of a limited series

I run with my dog, every day. (Lately my knee's been acting up more than it has in a while, so both of us may be out of the formal running picture soon.) I usually take her to off-road locations on public land, such as the South Boulder Creek Trail, the East Boulder Rec Center, C.U. South Campus, Teller Farm, the Cottonwood Trail, Twin Lakes, Davidson Mesa...now that I'm considering the range of our travels, it is apparent we enjoy more variety than I realized. I am usually too busy castigating my own lameness to appreciate this.

I've noticed that there is virtually nowhere in the area that is safe from the phenomenon of idiots allowing behaviorally challenged dogs to roam free, often in spite of immediate evidence that this is not just rude but unsafe. I know this is not unique to Boulder, but it may be more pervasive here because people labor under the delusion that their dogs and their children are inherently more valuable and less prone to disrupting other people than "normal" pets and kids (and to me these are more or less the same thing). Rosie is always, always on a leash when I run with her. Part of this is because I don't trust her not to behave aggressively toward other dogs. I've never seen her attack one, but I've known her to lunge at dogs now and then. Maybe only once in every 10 or even 20 encounters, but to me, if there is any chance that she might hurt another dog, there is zero chance I will create conditions that would facilitate such an event.

I am in the overwhelming minority on this issue. Wherever I go, people are taking advantage of the fact that dogs do not have to be on their leashes. This is fine to the extent that your dog is docile or at least remains 100 percent under your voice command at all times. It is plain, however, that some people understand full well that their dogs might be anywhere from over-exuberant to actively violent, and choose to simply roll the dice and let these animals roam free anyway. This most often happens in places where people don't expect to encounter other people walking or running, e.g., when it's really cold or along a rarely used rec path. These people are stupid for thinking this -- we're in Boulder, Colorado, where even the kinds of people who will be dead of natural causes within a year are out roaming the landscape for exercise. But more than that, they are assholes.