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

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Concord High teams pull off an unprecedented double

In accordance with making this space what it is at the expense of uncluttered information, I have to describe how, in brilliant stepwise fashion, I dismantled my chances of watching the making of some modest history in Manchester, N.H. last weekend.

A few weeks ago, I decided on something resembling an extremely thoughtful impulse to travel to New Hampshire to see the state divisional championship meets, which were held on Saturday, and the statewide Meet of Champions, set for this Saturday at Mine Falls Park in Nashua. Coming to Concord and staying with my favorite couple -- and I'll be damned if that phrase doesn't look unavoidably creepy -- has been an annual tradition for me for a long time, but the last three years I've been here every fall while managing to either not stay around long enough for the prep championship races (2017) or skip them despite being less than 20 miles away because they weather sucked (2018). My nephew is in his first season of cross-country at a D-2 school, so I had a dash of extra incentive to be there this year.

The first way in which I started ejaculating obstacles into the path leading to my watching the races that started at 10:00 yesterday morning at Derryfield Park was by choosing a red-eye flight. That was okay and nothing unusual, but this time I failed to account for my take-off and landing dates being different despite thinking that I had. I didn't mind the idea of landing at 1 a.m. on Friday, driving the 75 or so minutes to Concord, waking up, and having a day to get everything together before spending an entire day watching races and then going to (or staying for) the annual Halloween party my hosts (who are not into Eyes Wide Shut shit, if only for lack of wealth and status) were staging. I was less happy to see that I had scheduled myself to land in Boston at 1:00 on Saturday morning, leaving me barely enough time for a nap at my hosts' even if everything about my Turo rental went smoothly. It did not, which this time was only in small part my error, so I didn't make it to Concord until almost 7:00 a.m.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A few steps ahead of EPO

Synthetic EPO in theory became available for athletic use in 1987, when the world record in the men's 1,500m stood at 3:29.46 (1985, Said Aouita, Morocco). Hicham El Guerrouj's current mark, which has stood since 1998, a drop of 1.65 percent from the pre-EPO era. In reality, no one knows exactly when EPO became a major thing in distance running, but you can be certain that athlete managers were hunting for it the moment they learned it could be made in labs as well as in kidneys.

Aouita also held the outdoor 3,000m record for a spell, being the first to dip under seven and a half minutes (7:29.45, 1989), breaking Henry Rono's 11-year-old record by over two and a half seconds. If I had to guess, which I obviously do, I would say that Aouita was probably the last world record holder in a distance event who can be almost definitely removed from EPO suspicion on logistical grounds alone, which isn't to say I think he was any cleaner by the standards of his day than anyone else. In any case, Aouita's 3,000m record has dropped by 1.95 percent. The record (7:20.67) has also been static since Daniel Komen set it in 1996, and in fact hasn't been seriously threatened. (I think Yomif Kejelcha has as good a shot as anyone has in the past 20 years now that Kenenisa Bekele has missed his chance.)

The 3,000m steeplechase record has fallen from 8:05.35 in 1989 to 7:53.63 today, with hat mark now fifteen years old, although it seems unfair to discount Brahim Boulami's 7:53.18 from 2002, since it's known he was on EPO. That's a drop of 2.39 percent.

The 5,000m record fell from Aouita's 12:58.39 in 1987 to Bekele's 12:37.35 in 2005, s drop of 2.70 percent, and the 10,000m mark was trimmed from Arturo Barrios' 27:08.23 in 1989 to Bekele's 26:17.53 in 2005, an improvement of 3.11 percent. Both records still stand.

The marathon is an outlier here, and not merely for being a road race and involving unique physiological demands compared to the aforementioned events. There is also a great deal more financial incentive at the world-class level, in large part because of the introduction of the World Marathon Majors in 2006.

Surprisingly, the world record in the marathon did not change during the 1990s until Ronaldo da Costa ran 2:06:05 in 1998 to take 45 seconds off the record set by the insanely anonymous Belayneh Dinsamo. The longest period without a new record since 1998 is 4 years and 2 days. Eliud Kipchoge's official mark of 2:01:39 from 2018 -- which Bekele came within two seconds of matching last month on the same course in Berlin -- is 4.09 percent faster than Dinsamo's.

I am hoping at this point that putting these distances in ascending order makes it clear that the records in the men's distance events have fallen by greater amounts with increasing race distance. There are a number of obvious issues with this rough assessment, among them the fact that the records listed aren't all from the same time frame (outliers in any sample will do that); otherwise, a graph no one will look at would be useful here. If one attempts to account for this to some extent by using Tergat's marathon record from 2003 (2:04:55), the drop from Dinsamo's record is only 1.51 percent, and the improvement level seen between the late 1980s and the mid-"oughts" in the 10,000 (about 3 percent) wasn't observed in the marathon until 2014, when Dennis Kimetto became the first man under 2:03:00.

I think the running world, of which I remain a mostly cognizant part, is coming around to the fact that the latest racing shoes really can make a phenomenal difference in the marathon on the right set of feet. That last disclaimer does a great deal of work, because most people who run marathons would be extremely ill-advised to run marathons in ordinary flats, much less something with zero cushioning at all. The runners who benefit most from the VaporFly 4% shoe are most likely those who are already extremely efficient, making this a case of the rich getting richer.

I don't know how much a factor EPO is on the roads, but I can say with confidence that most of the improvement in elite marathon times (and the improvement of the all-time top lists down to whatever ranking you pick) in recent years have been owed more to the shoes then to the drugs. I don't know if running will ever confront the issue of whether such footwear ought to be judged an unfair advantage, but unless they actually provide electrical power or something, they represent nothing more than one more clever engineering innovation. A few people my age will eventually start blare on about how much faster they would have been if better shoes had been available in their day, and anyone who hangs with other runners probably already knows which goon or two in the group will be the first to do so.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

More comedy from the Salazar suspension

File this in the overspilling drawer labeled Public statements that should have ended exactly one sentence earlier. From Sarah Lorge-Butler, to whom you should always devote your limited free RWOL clicks:

In sum, Sifan Hissan invites the reader to presume that she either knew nothing about the journalistic and legal investigations into Salazar before she joined the NOP or she didn't care and joined anyway; furthermore, she's basically admitting there's a shady pre-Hassan version of Salazar and that this one happened to be replaced by an upstanding one when she arrived. Maybe I am reading a lot into a few words, but I don't think so. I mean, what she's telegraphing, maybe without her own permission, might be more brazen: "Yeah, he's dirty. So are most people. If you think I am, prove it." Hassan appears uncomfortable speaking in public under any circumstances, and on the track generally looks like she wants to murder someone while trying to hold in explosive diarrhea at the same time; none of this is likely to temper this presentation one bit. What a goddamn shame.

Excellent comic timing

I haven't read this story yet and was just alerted to the headline. My own headline derives from the fact that the IAAF World Athletics Championships are being contested this week in Doha, Qatar, probably among the least hospitable heavily populated environments on Earth for non-sadists to stage distance races. My own motivation for seeing renewables replace oil, which won't ever happen, has little to do with the environment and everything to do with driving these nations into sufficient financial ruin to prevent world-class athletes from training full-time for four years to run a 10,000-meter final at 11 p.m. when it's still hot enough to fry the corners of your own balls on the track if you seat yourself just so.

It's important to throw out some of my initial reactions without assimilating or even perusing the details of the story, because I wasn't sure what exactly these reactions would be if the sport ever got around to sanctioning Alberto Salazar's program for perpetrating Trump-caliber excesses in plain view. (Well, it appears that my first reaction among these initial reactions is to liken the ethics of the Nike Oregon Project to that of the current White House. That doesn't feel like an inner conflict, praise Jesus.)

Besides, it's been a while since I rapped at ya, and if I weren't waiting on one thing I consider somewhat important by my standards, I would have posted a lengthy, tedious, and somehow captivating string of paragraphs at least a week and a half ago that would have included no distinguishing features except for exactly one strategic use of a word or phrase guaranteed to spike someone's blood pressure -- not always the same person of even an identifiable one at all. So this gives me an excuse to make one last Septemb...nah, not gonna make it at this rate.