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, January 27, 2019

Alternative engagement

I get regular reminders that anything I do for pleasure or gain that is unrelated to running adds more non-quantifiable satisfaction to my life than any running-related stuff does, apart from the requirement that I actually jog a little every day. Importantly (he snickered, as if any of this shit were important), "running-related stuff" can be broken down into three fairly distinct categories: Doing it, advising other people how to best do it, and writing about it. To get even more granular, "doing it" means either training or jogging.

The daily runs I do with Rosie constitute jogging, which is not a pejorative or even a loose description of speed but a euphemism for "moving around outside" -- something from which I invariably draw satisfaction. Any running I do that involves noticing my pace in a way that sets in motion even faint thoughts of racing again is a warning sign of a relapse into training, and that crap is toxic. The catch is that, as I hinted at above, some of my "jogs" are done at pretty quick paces, at least over shortish segments. As I noted last time, I have stopped recording most of my runs with my GPS watch, but I have a pretty good idea of when Rosie has dropped the pace into the low-6:00 range, which she almost always does in cool weather.

Advising others mostly online -- and call this coaching if you must -- is not something I would ever want to do full-time. I would rather perform oral sex on furtive businessmen in cars and back alleys, because I would stand far less risk in that and other ribald scenarios of feeling like a failure in various ways. Most of the runners I work with online now have been with me for many years, and I have met all but one in person. These are friends, not "clients." As such, my investment in their outcomes far supersedes any misgivings I might have about doling out advice as a person who is rather noisy about being jaded about his own past and present running. Also, I am not pretending that the attitude I have embraced is the one I believe is ideal -- just because I can't stand the idea of going out and running times nowhere close to what I could once accomplish doesn't mean that others more determined than I am are ignoble for beating their heads against the same general wall. None of this is life or death. Also, I continue to play moderate to extensive roles in the running of a few high-schoolers, and that will never be anything other than worthwhile.

I rarely write about running for pay anymore, but it's important to mention this because I often wish I'd never done it at all. I sometimes yearn for a way to somehow erase not only the evidence of having regularly done it over an embarrassingly long period of years, but the very fact of it. In other words, not only do I not want you to know I have a bunch of shit out there with my name on it, I don't want me to know, either. Most of it is garbage on its face, but worse than that, it didn't prepare me for any other writing. It seems fitting at this point that an article I successfully pitched to a well-known publication in May and submitted one week later is, eight months later, still languishing in a folder the editor in charge named "Shit We Promised to Publish Sometime But Would Rather Not" or the like. It seems reasonable to propose that because this is for the online version of the magazine, space is not an issue (and the piece is about 750 words) and the only reason I bother pestering the editor ever few weeks at this stage is too see by what small degree the canned response I get changes from one e-mail to the next. I have even offered to pull the plug on it and eat the $600, but I was assured that the article would run when it was...fuck, who knows? Senile? Irrelevant?

I have been asked by various people over the years how to break into the running-writing game, although this practice seemed to dry up in concert with how easy it became for anyone with chimpanzee-level Googling skill to track down an editor online starting maybe 10 or 12 years ago.
Regardless, in the unlikely event you harbor aspirations of writing professionally about distance running, abandon them now. If you have any talent whatsoever, this is a massive opportunity cost because you should be writing in venues where you will be more widely read and paid correspondingly better for your output.

You might rightly be thinking, not for the first time: If avoiding the subject of distance running in my everyday life provides an undeniable boost to my sense of well-being, why do I maintain and regularly update this blog, which is seemingly at odds with such a purpose? By way of analogy, would someone disgusted with his years-long drinking habit piss and moan about this mostly to his buddies at the bar while trying to give it up? In fact, he probably would, because even though his fellow beer-slobs may have no interest in abandoning their state of more-or-less-permanent drunkenness, they recognize that he is at least venting to an audience that gets it. And regular readers of this virtual dive-saloon understand the difference between a "running blog" and a blog by someone who happens to have been a runner and has no power to undo this fact, as glorious as that would be. This is an assortment of reflections on the fact that I wish I'd never started running in the first place, apart from my more generalized philosophy of wishing I could prevent my parents from ever having met.

I don't mind having invested a lot in running as long as I can keep this reality for from my conscious mind. I can't undo having participated in who knows how many track, cross-country and road races, but I can bury all of that shit pretty deep. It's like having been a fan the Police or Tone-Loc at one time; it's nothing to be embarrassed about because it's such a common affliction, but it's still wise to immediately change the station when that stuff comes on.

I am taking a writing workshop in Denver that is proving to be a lot more useful than I had any reason to expect. I can already see, for example, how I have imported some habits from writing nonfiction into my playful attempts at fiction that are assets in the former realm but liabilities in the latter, and I am excited to know that a few simple rules can affect a whole style and even a body of work -- stuff readers don't even now is going on even as they appreciate it. I have no illusions about blossoming into a truly competent fiction writer, but at least it's a hobby I can get excited about. Because of this, and also because I'm using my music keyboard more and more, I can more easily admit that I don't really need even the jogs I'm doing now; I just continue to really want them. Thus if I do bring a sledgehammer crashing down on my kneecaps, I won't be as depressed in the aftermath as I once believed.

Next up: When will the elite running world recognize that moving sea-level natives to altitude is not an effective may to improve those runners' performances, ceteris paribus?

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