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 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.

I had a running message board on my website from sometime in 1999 to mid-2004. Its 500 or so members, which featured maybe 50 to 75 regulars, had its share of annoying assholes, but was in general a locus of respectable erudition. The focus was on high performance, whatever that meant to individual contributors. Anyway, I am positive that if someone had proposed that instant photo uploading would engender a shift in the direction of runners with big fake tits gaining massive followings and leveraging their sex appeal to position themselves as athletic role models, few of us would have believed it. Of course, if you had added that a pile of rapidly rotting flesh named Donald Trump would be president in 2019, most of us would have unpretentiously suggested dropping every nuclear bomb in the worldwide arsenal on their primary targets simultaneously and calling it a humanitarian act. The only thing I can think of that might stem the tide of American stupidity is to start reversibly sterilizing every American infant at birth, and whatever the easily demonstrated benefits of this might be, the chances of such a useful movement gaining traction are zero.

I'm not going to point you at any of the T&A Instagram accounts with a zillion followers. For one thing, I bet you already follow at least five or six of them, telling yourself it's just so you can check out their follower lists and who is depraved enough to follow such worthless accounts. For another, as savagely inane as that garbage may be, I don't have anything against the idiots who promulgate it. Most are just bored housewives from places like Texas, where between 33 and 38 percent of women are now born with latent breast implants. These women grew up in a generation that celebrates exactly this kind of flamboyant nonsense, and if this is how they want to spend their spare time, well, it's not as productive or praiseworthy as developing incredibly contagious virus with a 100% mortality rate in human beings, but it's hardly a criminal lifestyle.

I will, however, mention one account that shows not just how this stuff makes running dumber, but how running feeds back on responsible parties to occasionally punish them.

Back in September, someone even older, crustier and more contentious than I am pointed me toward the account of a guy who looks like a skinny Pauly Shore. This runner's "shtick" is picturing himself drinking what looks like seaweed shakes. He's in his mid- to late thirties, I think, and he's not slow -- were he a woman he would be capable of qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials.

This runner had just traveled from his home in the Midwest to a sharply downhill half-marathon out West, ostensibly in preparation for the upcoming Chicago Marathon. He was boasting of a three-minute personal best, but conspicuously failed to connect the course profile to his much-improved pace. He did post this: "My calf was sore going into this race... Now my entire legs are sore 2 days later.. Ready to recover and prepare for Chicago!"

His post on the half-marathon garnered over 125 comments, virtually all of which were gushing with praise for this "amazing" personal best. I think my crusty associate posted something to the effect of "This is not a legitimate time," but I don't see it up there now and I assume the account owner deleted it. I recall the runner claiming that he needed a half-marathon to get ready for Chicago and couldn't find a good one near him. This rationale is roughly as believable as a guy caught with a naked hooker in his car saying that he just wanted to give a hitchhiker a ride and get her some clothes.

Anyway, sure enough, the guy's legs were trashed and he didn't run under three hours at Chicago. He spun this outcome in some way that only a moron would accept, and many morons did in fact accept the spin.

This guy has over 45.000 followers.

OK, this is just someone having fun and doing his thing. But do I really want any part of a "sport" that has become as infected with complete fuckheads as this one has? Running used to offer me a respite from the banality of the ambient world's lack of intellectual rigor. Now, the full-throated camera-wielding seaweed-chugging ass-waggling mob has taken over. I kind of like this now that my presence in running is even more voluntary and discretionary than it used to be, because I am learning to not be troubled by the cartoon-caliber antics of the rabble and instead revel (and Revel) in their inevitable failures and fuckups.

But that's not all, of course. This guy, along with too many bikini-model runners to count, also has a website in which he offers coaching and nutritional guidance. And while I am absolutely not saying that midpack runners can't be good coaches (I was never an elite runner and I think my understanding of how the game works vastly outstrips my accomplishments, as meager as both may be), I am certainly saying that people who offer undeniable evidence that they have no fucking idea what they are doing don't make great mentors.

To repeat: In 2004, while we all knew that boneheads like this existed, virtually no one would have accepted that such people would gain any traction in running other than by serving as spectacles -- sources of first-magnitude schadenfreude for others. To paraphrase any number of wry philosophers of yore, no one ever went broke betting that human stupidity was more flagrant than previously thought.

Hearteningly, road-race entries are actually down in recent years. This is hardly a mitigating factor at this stage of the game, though. It will have the same overall impact on running as half the people in California giving up gasoline-powered cars would have on climate change: It's too fucking late, and no one should care anyway. Let it all burn to ashes.

I can argue that I have done my part by quitting racing, but in terms of my own tendency to get caught up in my own needless psychological static. that is only part of the answer. I need to find a way to expunge all evidence I was ever a competitive runner from my mind, so I am not tempted to even engage the subject. The gravity-assisted dingbats and the ass-wagglers can have it.

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