The increasingly parochial observations of a casual runner in his fifties. Was "serious" about "the sport" until personal and sociocultural inevitabilities prevailed.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A half-dozen running questions likely to stump almost everyone

Here are some questions you should ask runners for fun the next time you encounter one or more of them in person. They're no good for Internet situations because they're meant to put people on the spot, and the power of that is obviously diminished in online discourse because even the most flamboyant know-nothings in existence can usually make passable use of Google.

1. What is the purpose of a cool-down?

In most cases, you're likely to be told that it flushes the lactic acid out of your legs, or some such bullshit. The real purposes of a cool-down -- and I consider these benefits, just different benefits from the one the name implies -- are to pad the mileage log and shoot the breeze with your friends after a workout or race. Anyone who claims otherwise is ignorant or lying.

I mean, think about this. Do you really think there are situations in which running your car's engine makes it cooler than it was before instead of warmer? If not, consider helping me phase out this terrible term through the systematic shaming and personal degradation of anyone who uses it, even your mom. And trust me, if you're who I think you are, she does. A lot.

2. What are the proven physiological benefits of compression socks in distance runners?

"There are none" is the correct answer. Most people training to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trails are not simultaneously battling congestive heart failure and pitting edema. People report feeling sleek and aerodynamic in them, which is fair, but also not indicative of a physiological benefit.

3. What are the proven physiological benefits of compression sleeves in distance runners?

"There are none" is the correct answer. These are a natural enough descendant of compression socks, and the two of them together are an inevitability of the "sprint suits" from the 1980s, which according to one study might be worth about five seconds in a marathon, not accounting for the various inconveniences they would pose in such a setting.

4. What are the proven physiological benefits of "breathing strips" in distance runners?

See above. You have to be either superstitious beyond measure or completely clueless about how human ventilation actually works to even think these could help you. If Paula Radcliffe really did dope her way to her 2:15:25, then shame on her, but to me it's worse that she ever allowed herself to be associated with this scam.

5. What is the purpose of a carbohydrate-depletion and loading cycle and when is is needed?

Most people who champion "carbo-loading" know nothing about the underlying physiology. I still hear people -- most of them my age, actually -- talking about carbo-depletion as a precursor to carbohydrate-loading before intense long-distance (at least 1 hr 30 min, usually closer to 1 hr 45 min) events. Not exactly new research suggests that this is not necessary for most people.

And on the "most people" front, it's worth noting that most people who run marathons these days are not well prepared for them in relation to some theoretical maximum level, meaning that dietary considerations are further down on the list of race-day concerns than, say, a total absence of 20-mile runs, no weeks over 30 miles, etc. (I'm not roundly bagging on people for running races less than well prepared; I did this every time I raced last year, and though I probably should have been punished for it, I wasn't, except in the form of humiliating results. I am only saying that people should be realistic about what they gave and have not done when standing on the starting line contemplating their immediate future.)

6. You have a squirt gun filled with your own urine, and all of its contents are obligatorily discharged in a single squeeze. Faced with one person extolling the benefits of veganism for distance runners and a second person yammering about the utility of a ketogenic diet, who gets a face full of piss?

This is a tough one because it's tempting to reach beyond the parameters of the question and consider which group of people tends to be more annoying overall. I would advise not listening to either person unless you are planning to unleash a 90-second torrent of scathing invective inches from the speaker's face as soon as it stops flapping and it's your turn to speak.

Both of these practices can in fact help a limited number of diligent, careful people who happen to be highly competitive in certain niche endurance events. Most of you are stupid and slow (no offense -- I'm just playing the percentages here), so you should steer clear of overmanipulating the nature of the crap you shove into your mouth.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Closing the door on Outside

In contrast, it seems, to a number of other contributors (or "contributors") to Outside Online, I got my check for $200 for not being published there in rapid fashion -- astonishingly so, in fact. I submitted my invoice on March 29, it was reportedly submitted for payment on April 1 (yeah, yeah), a check was printed dated April 11, and at some point after April 19, the date of the postmark on the envelope, the check arrived at my house. (I say "at some point" because I only got back to Boulder yesterday evening.) I could speculate that the rapid response was in some way linked to circumstances perhaps unique to my interaction with the folks there, but instead I'll pull the "I brought it up by not bringing it up" trick.

So, since I was not actually published but was compensated for my labors, much of which consisted of blogging here, I have, as promised, donated the loot to those who are on the front lines of animal welfare. Instead of the ASPCA, however, I chose Outside Online's generous donation to go to the Humane Society of Boulder Valley.

God Bless the Living Jesus out of everyone involved in this wondrously wayward transaction, and if you want to try your hand at getting published in that increasingly comical online repository of randomness, I suggest interviewing Lauren Fleshman about her last dump, and describing in 700 to 800 words how sportswomen being unapologetic about defecating is part of the long-overdue empowerment of female athletes, or at least of female Twitter users desperate to be acknowledged and appreciated by Lauren Fleshman. (Credit for that one's core thesis goes to an unnamed faithful reader of the blog.)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The suicide-bomber tactics of East African dopers

Dealing with Kenyan dopers (including the mercenaries who are bought by Middle Eastern states) presents many of the same challenges as confronting suicide bombers: How do you stop someone who doesn't care about the worst consequences?

Jemima Sumgong (L) and Eunice Kirwa celebrate their juicy 1-2 finish after the 2016 Olympic Marathon in Rio de Janeiro. Both have since been suspended for doping; both are unlikely to be stripped of their medals. (Photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

While they and many others like them obviously prefer to not get caught, they're not really discouraged from worrying about it. A single major marathon win or high placing is enough to set up someone from a poor country like Kenya (average GDP in 2017: $1,169 in U.S. dollars) virtually for life. It's usually more than one race, though: The fairly obvious pattern is to dope like hell, ride the wave of a series of (often shockingly) great performances, and recede from view. It may take months or a few years for the inevitable drug positives to become known, by which time the caught runner has his or her money safely in hand.

In other words, it's literally worth it to a lot of the world's best runners to dope because they care a lot more about lining their pockets than avoiding shame. (Looks toward the U.S. Capitol) You see the same impulse in countless realms all around the globe, obviously.

All of this, of course, ignores the reality that a lot of athletes enjoy protected status, sometimes for their entire careers. This is not conspiratorial thinking, as anyone who has heard of a certain Texas cyclist and a well-known bike race in western Europe is aware. Anyone who thinks that shoe companies do not conspire with sports governing authorities to cover up doping by popular athletes who raise the profile of the sport is a fool.

So what's the answer? U.S.-only prize money at major American marathons would be going too far even if it ensured discouraging all cheaters and only cheaters. Targeting specific countries is a non-starter. There's probably not much do be done at root level because competitive human beings, at root level, like to cheat and cut corners and fuck each other out of resources, no matter who they are or what faith they claim to hold or what pursuit they choose. Not everyone, obviously, but a high fraction of the people driven to succeed.

I would never want my own kid to be a world-class runner, assuming such an unlikely organism were interested in running in the first place. I'd like to see her reach, say, the level of an NCAA All-American, but not be good enough to consider running professionally and be faced with the choice of other getting her ass repeatedly kicked by juiced-up Russians, Africans, Turks, and others or going on the magic sauce herself. Best to quit the sport and get a job doing something honorable.

Also, shitbags like Renato Canova are largely responsible for this. Anyone who listens to him or any of those fossilized Italian pricks who pretend to be "coaches" but are nothing more than fuel for the PED fire is sorely misguided. It sums up the sport perfectly that Letsrun, which has a full-throated anti-doping stance, has given this guy the title of "Coach" on his message-board login despite his years-long history of flagrantly, laughably inane comments about East Africans and doping. I'm betting the world will find out one day what a dirtball he is. And this has real consequences, because a lot of high-end runners and coaches like to follow Canova-style plans, which is highly questionable when you're not on an illicit blood-booster and sleeping all day when not training.

Finally, don't pretend the Ethiopians aren't in on this. They have always lagged a few years behind since the Kenyans came on the scene in big numbers in the early 1990s or so, and there are apparently some practical and political factors that makes catching them more difficult. Go ahead and believe that your heroes and heroines from that country are "cleaner" than the ones from Kenya while it lasts, because this illusion will be shattered before too long as well.

UPDATE -- 11:07 p.m. MDT, May 23: I'll blame this on traveling, but I left out the whole idea that gave me the idea for this post in the first place.

Doping positives should trigger the annulment of all previous WC, Olympic, and World Marathon Majors results by caught athletes, no matter how much time has passed. The IAAF won't do this because it would require too much admittedly messy work. But it's kinda their job.

No one really wants the reality of having to routinely reassign medals (not so much the actual pieces of metal, but the places) at unpredictable times, and extracting ill-gotten prize money would be a nightmare as well.

But it would accomplish a few important things.

At a minimum, confirmed cheaters would never be able to say, "I still am, and always will be, the 2008 Olympic Champion in XXX" or the like. And it shouldn't matter even if the caught athlete was in fact "clean" at such times (as if this could somehow be known anyway).

Runners should have to plan on maintaining whole drug-free careers or being remembered as, in effect, never having had a career as a pro athlete.

From a practical standpoint, yeah, this would be unwieldy. But I don't see a sound counter-argument from an ethical standpoint.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The revenge of the choppy, workmanlike gait

Before I get to the point here, I should observe something those of you who also blog have probably noticed about yourselves, too: The less I write about running -- be it here or in my past life as an occasional paid contributor to a bunch of now-dead or moribund magazines and their websites -- the more I enjoy my own running. I don't know if there is really a cause-and-effect relationship in play here, and if there is it may be bidirectional, because it seems just as likely that, since I'm strictly a recreational runner now, during periods when I am enjoying my jogging more, I feel less inclined to write about it. I feel no special need to announce that my aerobic therapy appears to be working even better than usual.

Also, I'm still on my road trip; in fact, I can barely call it that anymore, because as of tomorrow, I will have been gone for over two months, and overall, I've kept up and at times even increased the pace of my work (such as it is) in those nine weeks. Rosie and I have run every day for at least 20 minutes, although I am starting to curtail her runs with the increasing heat in some places. That means our mutual streak is up to 201 days. This is getting close to what I managed between the end of November 2017 and July of 2018, which ended in a knee injury that hasn't completely healed. One big difference: I'm running less than half as much as a was then. It's still a bad idea to not take days off, but I don't really care because having a streak to protect gets me, and thus a grateful animal, out the door.

So far, I have stayed in:

A motel in Colorado for two nights
A motel in Kansas for one night
A house in Indiana for four nights
A shitty motel in Bloomington, In. for six nights
A less-shitty motel in Bloomington for two nights
A motel in Kentucky for one night
A motel in Roanoke for one night
A house in Virginia for 24 nights
A house in Philadelphia for six nights
A house in Concord, N.H. for ten nights
A motel in North East, Pa. for one night
A motel in Columbus, Ohio for two nights
A motel in Terre Haute, In. for one night

I am really dreading the drive, because I have come to hate driving, and much of the journey will unavoidably include a large swath of the United States that should be evacuated of the few decent life forms it contains and then turned into a a giant, bland patch of mostly uninhabitable dirt...wait. Someone has already wrapped up that dubious project.

I have a couple more stops to make, but I should be back in Boulder in time to watch the Bolder Boulder 10K on Monday. If so, I think I have curbed my masochistic streak, or at least strategically re-channeled it, in such a way as to prevent me from running the race for a third straight year. It's kind of tempting, since I did place third and second in my age "group" in 2017 and 2018 respectively. But my times -- and moreover, running with zero heart whatsoever -- were and are enough to actually make me angry to the point of wanting to do something extreme, like mutter "What a fucking pussy I am" loud enough to make the sleeping dog next to me crack an eye open a few millimeters in passing curiosity before falling back into dreamland with an inaudible but suitably noxious fart. And like most people who ran too many pointless miles in their 20s and 30s (and possessed the grace of a marionette with muscular dystrophy to begin with) I now look like someone effecting a slow-motion escape from a psychiatric nursing home whenever I "race," or try to run hard at all, so I will choose to humiliate myself in other ways from this point onward. I hope.

Anyway, while I was in New Hampshire at the home of my friends Troy and Teressa, I discovered that Troy, a high-school classmate and teammate for our senior year, was even more of a thorough scrapbooker and record-keeper than I knew at the time, and I knew he was a collector. (He has enough signed Beatles and Star Wars memorabilia to open a museum, and his baseball-card collection alone has an estimated worth of $15.8 trillion.) But I didn't know just how little he missed. He may have missed nothing at all from the Concord Monitor pertaining to the 1987-1988 cross-country, indoor-track and outdoor-track seasons, which for me were alternately excoriating and satisfying.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Some of the dumbest stuff about elite track and field ever written (including blog posts)

I've written some misguided articles and blog posts over the years, but I don't think I could write one as bad as this one if someone paid me a few thousand bucks (probably the approximate compensation for this one, given the venue) to try. The title is stupid, the content is vapid and wandering and the thesis is inane. That the author is a skilled writer only makes all of this worse, because this prevents typical New York Times readers (e.g., educated people who don't follow track) from immediately discerning that the content is mostly nonsense.

I won't waste time diving deep into the various aspects of the Caster Semenya situation, which finally reached a level of urgency sufficient to compel action by the IAAF last week, when I can merely state the obvious in a few sentences: It's a difficult, emotionally charged situation for Semenya and numerous others, and for years Semenya has clearly not belonged in world-class women's events.

But who better to try to co-opt a difficult, emotionally charged situation than a writer intent on framing it as an issue of gender feminism?