Former 2:24 marathoner, now pushing 50 and reduced to a pitiable spastic shuffle • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on distance running since 1999; mostly a crank since approximately 2016 and possibly long before • Coach and adviser of less pessimistic perambulators • Dobie-mix owner Sentence-fragment impresario

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Dear adults in the Runner's World editorial room

Last week, an article about the difficulty of breaking four minutes for the mile at high altitude and centering on an event at which I was present appeared on the website of Runner's World, the magazine that seems to boast the highest circulation among the few remaining print publications of its type. The article seems to have been published without any editorial oversight whatsoever. As in, the RW site, or part of it, functions as the author's personal blog, or did for the purposes of this mess. Another possibility is the editor who was supposed to review it was somehow compromised, maybe by a massive blow to the occiput to conclude a hilarious backward fall on roller skates after being drilled in the face by a love rival; I'm leaning toward higher-probability scenarios such as the author being the editor, or the transparent inattention and mail-it-in work ethic that appears to predominate wherever enough people congregate in an effort to produce a fitness periodical. Especially if enough of them are under 30.

With this post representing yet another opportunity to provide my jaded middle-aged perspective on the innumerable troublesome issues with contemporary running journalism (and facts per se as a matter of general relevance), I probably don't need to again explore the possibility that the entire running world, including you, me and everything actually not included in the set of things in the running world, is utter misery incarnate and in urgent need of violent dissolution by the most apocalyptic means imaginable, because we still owe Jesus more than the U.S. owes others. I could even suggest that without the existence of Alex Hutchinson, who is so much better than the rest us who have ever tried this have ever been, shows just how awful we are by showing that even the good ones sit in a cluster a solid delta behind Alex, and as result should either immediately strive to improve or immediately quit. As true as these things may be, though, they're hardly important, since I, like you, am weak and lack the means to do anything historically influential and downright vivacious such as amassing and constructing the necessary implements of doom without forgetting something important, like a trustworthy jackknife.

I could even offer a bland aside about how people's basic choices about how and where they seek and find their running and other information (or at least ideas) and how much they're willing to pay for it (note: This variable is "null" except in cases of extreme drunkenness or stone credit cards), but for whatever reason, magazines focusing on endurance sports are about as much of a growth industry as asbestos and saccharin, with Outside and Runner's World well outside of the top 100 in U.S. circulation and lagging behind various magazines you've surely never heard of. Runner's World's circulation is less than it was a dozen years ago, and the outfit appears to be trying to survive by selling even more garbage to naive and deluded readers than before, not that I would observe such a thing in a dry analysis like this one; Outside, like a number of companies, may be trying to expand its brand by focusing on things like Outside TV. Either way, the startling number of de facto place-holders who are now contributing to and employed by online and even print running pubs may represent a proxy for the incipient failure of whole components of businesses. If running articles are still being recycled after 20 years in circulation (like this "2016" example, published in print and online in 1999), demand for fresh content is obviously low, and what would original content outside of hi-tech product reviews even look like? Apparently like the story I decided to review over a period of days, not at the expense of work, but at the expense of 24, which is worse. RW is now putting its stuff behind a paywall, which is funny because if it's inaccurate or useless as a randomly chosen personal blog, it's basically worse than what you can see for free because of all the ads, every one of them a grotesque eyesore. And, yeah, I was going to link to the sources of some these claims, and maybe I went back and did, or will, but I decided to close all of those shimmering tabs instead because they were harshing my mellow.

More to create an interesting writing exercise for myself than out of some moral imperative, I will try point out the worst of the flaws in the article itself, with minimal editorial commentary to match this terse introduction, aiming for the perspective of a fact-checker who knows next to nothing about distance running and was ordered only to list the most glaring errors and biggest pieces of missing information. I know won't succeed in this, and will instead veer off into the weeds multiple times, as always, because bitching is just so easy. I will look this over when I'm done and maybe excise some of the more acidic output, and then I will remind myself that no one, no one at all, is listening, except for four distinct people who are madly pushing pins through the eyes of voodoo dolls who all look like someone who lives in my house.

But like I said, time to focus. This actually gets a little wonky, as Paul Krugman might say. (He writes for a bigger newspaper than this one.)

Monday, August 26, 2019

How to Beat the East Africans, revisited

I was poking around last night through my trove of musty Runner's World articles (all of which were actually written for Running Times) last night and decided to click on one I wasn't looking for from almost nine years ago. I decided to investigate this one because the title didn't immediately evoke any memories of having written it, the kind of lapse that happens with increasing frequency now that I live in a pleasantly beveled THC haze. I don't remember what I was actually looking for, either, come to think of it.

I had apparently once again gotten fed up with bad articles about running in mainstream publications (a tendency I'm thankful to say has since given way for the most part to attacking entire running publications themselves). In this instance, I was taking issue with the premise that American-born distance runners (to be interpreted in the traditional sense) should be able to beat East Africans with enough good old-fashioned American ingenuity, given that training didn't seem to be accomplishing this. Drugs were not mentioned, but should have been, since Alberto Salazar's name featured prominently in the piece and the ones I was attempting to rebut, or correct, or slander.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Instead of Tweets, Vol. 6

I haven't been blogging lately, but I've been dumping a lot of shit into this file or one like it, so I guess I'll publish some of it. ("Publish." Such a terrible pimping of that word, using it mean "spew words into cyberspace with zero editorial oversight.")

I have now run at least once for 20 minutes at a time every day since last Nov. 1. I've been doing lame doubles often enough this summer so that I'm sure I have quite a few more runs than the number of days that have passed (293). Despite this, I would be surprised if I have covered much more than 1,000 miles at a running clip. There are benefits from being consistent, and then there are people like me who basically try to claim fitness on what amount to a little under an hour a day of vigorous tai chi, and who would be better served by three well-structured intense runs a week and four days off were competitive aims near the top of the perambulatory priority list.

My general lack of participation in social media, and by extension my lower level of engagement with current events, has left me with a perhaps not surprising amount of free time and positive emotional energy (by my standards). As a result I have been spending more time outside and at least diddling with the outlines for some of my half-written stories, one of which has me legitimately excited. I am also probably going to do the thing that will bleed more time from my day (and there is still plenty to spare) and upgrade to a nicer keyboard, one that will produce better noise both because it'll be a better machine in general and because it will have the technological power to compensate for most of my mistakes.

Other than that...

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Instead of tweets, Vol. 5

  • The word "jogger" seemingly should have gone the way of "Negro" and "gal" by now, still tenaciously tumbling from the faces of especially old, sheltered or antisocial folks but nowhere else. Not because it's offensive, but because it's stupid. Yet the general media knows no other word besides "jogger" to describe a pedestrian who is not walking, crawling, hopping, or skipping, and we're always reminded of this when runners find dead human bodies, or otherwise bear witness to some kind of shit that has either degraded or ended someone's life. I am at times deeply disappointed to have never found a human corpse while running, or for that matter at any other time, with the most interesting unexpected find I have had during a jog being two people about my current age fornicating in a clearing in the woods of New Hampshire. (That happened when I was about ten years out of high school, a couple of miles from that high school, which made sense because both participants in these copulatory shenanigans were teachers there, and married. But not to each other, as I knew, or at least had good reason to believe, as a result of having had one of them as a teacher myself. That whole encounter could have gone darkly hilarious in a hurry because I had a loose dog with me who though disciplined, was naturally curious every time he saw a bare human ass thrust into the air, which, to be frank, wasn't all that often.)

    Anyway, I am convinced at this point that this "jogger" convention is not a journalistic convention at all but an inviolable rule. If Usain Bolt himself left the Olympic Stadium, a gold medal in each hand and one around his neck, and happened to see someone getting mugged during a private moment en route to his limo, and dashed over to intervene, the headline would read "Jogger Fresh Off Pair of Olympic Record Foils Would-Be Thief." Better still, say some unfortunate finalist in the Olympic 1,500 meters dropped dead after the start of the second lap. If his body were sprawled across the first two lanes when the field came around a minute later, if the announcers thought he was merely unconscious or play-acting, they would bark about the athletes having to hurdle him. But if they knew he was dead for some reason (say, his head had become separated from his body by an errant, whirling circular saw blade, which probably only happens in Naked Gun movies), they would cry with dismay that a group of joggers had just torn past a deceased victim of foul play with nary a concern for anything but their own unseen destination.