Aimless souls who wander the Internet looking for interesting running-related blogs know that the process is like looking for a leftover candy bar on the set of The Biggest Loser. But despite the cringeworthy banality of the majority of weblogs as well as the limited range of topics runners typically explore, titillating examples do exist. One increasingly popular one–even if I am calling it that mainly because I just found it myself–is “Run Angry,” a wonderfully vulgar yet coherent set of essays assembled by a thirtysomething marathoner from the cold white north. She’s got a little something for everyone: She’s a lot faster than most women (and men) will ever be, yet pedestrian enough to have fun at faster runners’ expense; she drops f-bombs like a longshoreman, yet none of her coprolalia is gratuitous; she does indeed fuel herself on high-octane angst, but not on genuine bile–at least not yet. And her comic timing,such as it exists in this medium, is brilliant.
The moment I discovered the blog, it was inevitable that I would want to stain my own with her crass musings. Since I’m a narcissist to the core, or so I am told by people who inexplicably dismiss the value of solipsistic ranting, I knew I would very much enjoy this experience because I could count in it being like interviewing myself on a day when I was in rare form as a subject.
So, here she is, preparing to run the Boston Marathon on April 18th, looking to run under 3:20.
Kevin Beck: Hi, Angryrunner. I hope I’m not interrupting your beauty sleep.
Angry Runner: Lucky for you I don’t sleep. Which might explain why I resemble….hm. Let’s not answer that.
KB: So, if I had to guess, I’d say that one of the things that inspired you to join the distressingly bloated army of blogging runners is that you were angry about how many boring ones there are, and always will be, and angry is rarely boring.
AR: You are wise.
Boring. Banal. Formulaic. Painfully unoriginal. Delusional. The more running blogs I read, the more I noticed the vein above my right eyebrow twitching. Once it got to the point that I couldn’t read the few I actually liked, I figured I’d spice up the discussion with my patented, gratuitous use of profanity and self-deprecating sense of humor.
KB: When did you start running? Were you already irate? Did running make this better, worse, or both?
AR: I guess it depends on how you define “start.”
My earliest memory of actually RUNNING was doing laps around my parents’ house after watching Joan Benoit win gold in LA. I would have been 5, and I was already pretty bitter. My kindergarten teacher was a real bitch. She didn’t like my penmanship and forced me into the slow reading group, despite the fact that I was reading circles around those snobby bitches that wouldn’t let me come to their cocoa parties. Oh no. I had to go sit at the OTHER table where I’d finish reading everything in 5 minutes and would spend the rest of the time being mad that I didn’t get to go read the fun books which I’d already read. And then…THEN…I had to go into remedial gym because I couldn’t skip! Seriously?? Seriously? SUCH A LOAD OF BULLSHIT.
Anyhow, I swear I’m going somewhere with this.
See, after being told how badly I sucked at everything by the rednecks at my rural elementary school, I got increasingly frustrated. But I did realize that I could beat the stupid bitches in one thing: RUNNING A BIG LOOP. So I’d do that. And I’d run and run and run to make sure I could outlast the bitches who pissed me off. And if one of them snuck by, I’d cry and scream that I didn’t win.
Long story short, this pattern has pretty much influenced MY ENTIRE LIFE. Starting with running a big loop around the field in elementary school. Moving to trying to outrun the 8- and 9-year-olds who also ran the kid’s races while their fathers ran 10ks. And then deciding I had to do a 5k because my other friend did one. Then working my way up from horribly mediocre 7th grade cross country runner to semi-respectable and kind of obsessed during high school. While I burnt out and spent a long period of time running purely for fun with a couple races here and there/dabbling in racewalking, my desire to BEAT THOSE FUCKING BITCHES WHO TOLD ME I COULDN’T GO TO THEIR COCOA PARTY. This isn’t a “joy” thing; I’ve always LIKED doing it because I liked COMPETING. And if it wasn’t because of one of those snobs, I was competing with myself. And I don’t mean this in the hippie dippie “ZOMGZ WE ARE ALL WINNERS” way; I mean I COMPETE WITH MYSELF KNOWING I MIGHT NEVER WIN.
So I guess the real answer is: I’ve always done it. I’ve always been kind of angry. Running really either exacerbates it or makes it feel better, all depending on what I’m looking for that day and what I can do. The years where I was running a bit slower than I am now were ultimately a hell of a lot less satisfying. Running without the ability to get really worked up and compete is just no fun at all.
Wow, that was roundabout…but I think I got the question, kinda? Yes? Maybe?
KB [extended pause]: Sorry, I had to take a shower and a nap there. Not because of you. Mostly, that is. Yeah, that was a solid answer. I also started running right after Joan Benoit’s win, which was the same month Jim Fixx dropped dead of the most ironic heart attack in history and became comedian fodder and couch potatoes’ rationale for not exercising to this day. And I just wanted to be able to catch and hold the cocoa-party “bitches,” as you call them (come on, they were just kids! There’s a limit to this!), not beat them.
AR: In all fairness, I’m prone to hyperbole. I didn’t want to beat the shit out of all of them, just Kelly and Jenny. To that end, I remember being really happy when a bird shit on Kelly’s head. Not that I’m one to hold a grudge.
Wait, I’m off topic here.
KB: So I gather that you ran for your high-school team and have kept on competing because you see races as the perfect medium for processing emotions — amplifying whatever they may be at the moment, for better or for worse. Not to get all psychobabble on you. But I’m the same way. It’s like listening to loud inspirational or earthy music like Peter Gabriel when you’re inspired or loud Alanis Morissette when you’re angsty.
AR: That’s probably true.
Which I suppose explains why I had a tendency to psyche myself out as a teenager. I mean, have you ever spent 5 minutes with a teenage girl? They’re irrational. Even if they don’t know it. Maybe it’s hormones, but teenage girls are dumb.
To that end, I constantly improved for my first couple years of high school and was respectable, if not great. (A couple sub 20 5ks, around 5:06 for 1500.) But I distinctly remember bombing out at a big track 10k that summer because I got too worked up about what would happen if I failed. And unsurprisingly, I failed miserably.
To this day, I’m not sure what set of circumstances led to that spectacular flaming out. I think a bit of it was coach/parental pressure I just didn’t deal with in a constructive way. (And it may be notable that my father was one of my coaches at various points, and that many of my coaches liked to point out that I wasn’t as skinny as the other girls…because, well, many teenage girls tend to react strongly to this kind of stuff and I guess I was one of them.) But it took a tool on whether or not I could get worked up at ALL for a race. There was a period of time where I struggled to get nervous or focused after remembering what happened when I got TOO nervous…and I got slower.
In retrospect, it all sounds a bit ridiculous. But I guess it goes to show that I learned from a young age that running is *as* physical as it is mental.
Fact: My ipod contains a LOT of Peter Gabriel.(Just saying.)
KB: Anyway, you’re running a marathon in a couple weeks here. Do you find that you have to mete out the anger a little more evenly when racing that far and even in the training for it? I mean, it’s one thing to get really fired up for a 5K and run almost the whole thing on being pissed at the middle-aged guy who was ogling you at the start and smelled like, well, flatulence, and then having to watch him stay 20 yards ahead of you. But in a marathon you have to relax for several hours. Is that a challenge?
AR: Yes — and this is how I look at it:
Once you go up over a certain distance, it’s less like…you’re strictly going into battle. Like with a 5k? There is no time to think. You have to get fired up, and you have to run fast. 10k? Not far off. 15k/10mi/half range? You have to be ready to battle, but you’re wise not to jump right into it off the line.
But with the marathon? You have to respect the distance. It becomes less about whatever you’re feeling and more about planning it out and NOT reacting like you would in a shorter distance. *That’s* the challenge. You have to plan out where and when you’re going to take those moments to latch onto whoever the hell is wearing a stupid shirt and aim to blow by them. You spend the earlier parts of the race waiting…and when you do that? You know it’ll be worth it because you’ll see a lot of people coming back.
Well, ideally. But yeah.
KB: You take an appropriately analytical approach to training and racing goals while making a conscious effort not to get too bogged down in numerical minutiae, or so it appears. Do you actively seek advice from people?
AR: Yep, this is true. Part of it is that I’m just not great at following a plan. Another may just be my own stubbornness and desire to just run, look at my numbers and figure things out for myself.
I do like to bat ideas off people, and I often do that on the blog. When it comes to people in “real life” I approach? I’m pretty picky – there is a lot of bad advice out there, something I know you’re well aware of. That said, I talk to people who like to read about the sport and have an appreciation for the grind…not those who give me that smiley “IF YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN DO ANYTHING” bullshit. I tend to think that training needs to be more of a conversation than a plan: its gotta evolve naturally, and what happens on one day may effect things in a way you hadn’t anticipated.
KB: Do you read running magazines or books?
AR: If I have a specific question, yes. In terms of books: recently I printed out a lot of old articles on Lydiard training just to read ideas by someone who took a much purer approach to training and thought about it as I went over what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve also got Jack Daniel’s on Running on my bookshelf and occasionally pull that out as well.
I also like Googling certain things and checking out the various literature that’s available…even if I don’t always agree with a lot of what I find. A lot of it – for me – is there is just so much MORE information out there these days that more of it is bound to suck. And a lot of it gets repetitive. Once you’ve been around the sport for enough years, you do learn a good deal…though you’ll (universal you) will never really know it all. Nobody does, no matter how great an expert they are.
Like I mentioned, I find that if I’m reading something running related online it’s usually because I have a specific question. For example, the first time I ran Boston: I read as many course descriptions as I possibly could, and it helped give me a sense of how the Newton Hills would play out. It was helpful, though none of those descriptions fit how I tend to feel about the course: that the second half is trickier than the first. What that says about anything? I don’t know. But it’s interesting.
KB: One thing it took me a while to consciously realize is that half of what makes a blog great is a clever coterie of commenters.
AR: Absolutely! To that end, one of the reasons why I’ve liked Julie Threlkeld’s blog is because you sometimes see some great discussions of training going on between a lot of really smart people. The same with Flo Karp’s. It’s great when people seriously engage with the commenters, especially because like I was saying, training really is a conversation.
KB: Most blogs tend to select for like-minded followers–
AR: [Interjects angrily] Or the writer deletes those who disagree, which I always suspect when I see a post that has 100+ people kissing the blogger’s ass. I think this happens more in the “healthy living” blog community, but seeing that many of them fancy themselves experts on running I think that it’s relevant here.
KB: In your case I can see the potential for people who think that leaving comments consisting of a series of Carlin words but are otherwise substance-less is clever. Yet your visitors seem like a really witty bunch.
AR: When I started blogging I had no idea what would come of it. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found that so many like minded people were out there. I really enjoy my regular commenters, even though I don’t have interaction with every single one of them. But I love that my blog gets a lot of really funny people who visit and comment regularly, and it’s gotten to the point that I’m friends with some of my regular commenters, thanks to twitter and email.
KB: Have you dealt with any consistent detractors or idiots? If so did they slink away on their own or did you put them through a rhetorical wood-chipper?
AR: I’ve had one person come back on more than one occasion to criticize me. The funny thing is, after checking the IP I realized it was someone who had initially complimented me then came back to tell me how much I sucked. That makes me laugh, particularly because she called me “whiny” implied I was a hypocrite and pointed out that I’m a cunt.
I mean, you’d THINK she’d read enough to get that these aren’t things that I deny, but apparently not. I had fun with it, and so did my regular commenters. Because really, I just find it funny.
I get the impression that there are probably a few people who can only take me in small doses or just find me mean and nasty…and that’s fine. I’ve been called an elitist too, which is kind of hilarious. (My post detailing my hatred of running skirts has been the source for a few of these emails/comments I’ve gotten. Apparently the fact that my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek wasn’t apparent enough.)
KB: It’s only natural to wonder what an eloquent, energetic, and clearly highly educated does when she’s not running or blogging. Without giving too much away, can you expand on that?
AR: I sit in corporate purgatory and try not to hang myself. I’d jump out the window, but I’d probably just break my legs and not be able to run…making my job even more painful to sit through.
I’m an editor, which fits with my undergrad degree…and not with my overpriced graduate one. (It’ll be paid off in 2035. Too bad I don’t plan on living that long…ha ha!) I’m looking for a new job, so…SOMEBODY HIRE ME.
Other than that I spend a great deal of time dissecting pop culture and finding alcoholic beverages to consume.
KB: A lot of devout Christians and others with strong traditional family values surely read your blog, and some of what you say may be off-putting to such people, who are active members of their communities and prove their worth by going to church regularly, which is something you seem to be neglecting.
AR: Yeah, I kind of assume they’ll run away screaming.
KB: Whenever I see you use the “c” word, for example, I cringe at knowing you’ve written that for anyone to see.
AR: I know, I’m absolutely *terrible*, aren’t I? I’m a horrible influence on society, being an unmarried female over 30 with the mouth of a longshoreman. I’m also an atheist of Jewish heritage so basically, I am causing society to crumble merely by existing.
KB: In fact, the more I think about, the more I realize that there’s an excellent chance that some teenage girl in the Texas panhandle who runs track for her high school is going to read your blog and walk up to her Sunday-school teacher and blurt out, “I have a c-word and so does that Angryrunner lady!” and point at her crotch with a blank yet hopeful expression.
AR:I’d like to give that girl a high five and present her with a flask of vodka. Or Jameson. Or tequila, which may be fitting because if I got down to Texas I could have some excellent Mexican food you just can’t get in this part of the country.
KB: Still, doesn’t it trouble you that you might be alienating those with stronger family traditional Christian American moral values ?
AR: Hm. Now that I think about it? No. There are plenty of lovely blogs they can read written by people who both run and attend church. Or people who just don’t swear like I do. Or “inspirational” runners who don’t engage their readership but demand you be inspired by them. Or health bloggers who can give you a step by step tutorial of how to freeze a banana. Or how to make your life “ZOMGZ WONDERFUL” by “following your dreams,” completely forgetting that not everyone in the blogging world is a thin, attractive, privileged blonde. They are free to go there to be inspired and hopeful. I like to provide an alternative point of view for all of us malcontent, malevolent misanthropes out there.
And perhaps somewhere some future Angry Runner is realizing IT’S OK TO TELL EVERYONE THEY ARE FULL OF SHIT. I can only hope she has the sense to wait till she turns 18 to tell everyone they’re a bunch of asscunts.
At any rate, these traditional folk are welcome to read too. They might find they like what they see, even if they cant admit it to anyone. (They can admit it to me!! I won’t tell.)
KB: This discussion brings to mind another aspect of the Internet I find intriguing — the “I wish you wouldn’t say such-and-such on your own blog” meme. And they’re serious.
AR: I fucking hate that. The “Hey, X makes me feel like Y and that’s sad. So you should never say that.” Um, how about you suck my toe. (Note: at least one of my toenails has fungus from falling off so many times, so…that’s really gross.)
KB: So there’s a difference between you going running through a public park on a cold, blustery day and yelling, “this headwind sucks ass, motherfuckers!” at a group of kids and their mortified moms and writing the same thing on your own Web site.
AR: I’m pretty sure I’ve yelled that in front of kids and their moms. But then again, I’m a terrible person.
KB: On a different note, you seem to keep late hours, which I wouldn’t know unless I did the same thing.
AR: It’s true. I’m kind of an insomniac. Or close to it. And no, not saying that because I watched Fight Club one too many times…I promise!
KB: [Night-owl-ism] is kind of a freelancer’s bane, at least among those of us with post-crepuscular habits who happen to run, since most races are ass-early. I’ve always found that even when my “morning” run takes place at around noon that I’ve been able to get it together at 7 a.m. on race mornings even if I would never dream of getting up that early for a hard workout. What say you?
AR: Amen. The idea of doing a workout in the morning is…meh. My efforts to do so are typically fruitless as I just don’t work right that early. It’s amazing I can pull my act together for races.
But I’m the same. I see everyone else is finished with their long runs before I’ve even had coffee. (At you know, noon. Hungover, sore, tired…no reason to get up before then.) I try and adjust in the summer, but it rarely works out well. Add to that a sometimes erratic schedule (my main job has “normal” hours but if I’m there late/have a side project…it can be weird) that is at it’s most erratic in the summer months? I end up doing a lot of running in the dark.
KB: Do you usually run alone?
AR: Yep. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve run with another person in a non race situation in the past couple years. I find my inability to commit to schedules and tendency to be more competitive around other people makes training with others more stressful than it should be, which sounds ridiculous. Instead, I race frequently with a lot of those efforts pretty measured. (I’m fortunate to live somewhere with a cheap winter race series, works perfect for marathon training.) Similar benefits, with the advantage of having it on a weekend so I don’t have to rush out of work.
KB: About how many visits a day do you get?
AR: Not that many. I think my record is around 600, but more typically in the 150-200 range, higher when I post something screaming for audience participation. Clearly, no advertisers and banging on my door…THOUGH THEY REALLY SHOULD. I’m a cult hit!
KB [wondering if he's heard "cult" correctly]: So what’s your drink of choice?
AR: I recently fell in love with Pinacle whipped vodka. Stoli Vanila Vodka and Coke is a favorite of mine. If I drink wine, it’s red. If I drink beer? I don’t like anything particularly heavy. More ales, less stouts. Though I’m equal opportunity.
KB: Back to the marathon — how many have you done and how has the event treated you so far? Is it your favorite race distance? Have you set immediate and ultimate goals?
AR: Fun fact: I didn’t run my first marathon until I was 29…and I’ve only run 5. My third Boston will also be my 6th marathon, which seems kind of absurd. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I wasn’t running very seriously from roughly about…18-25 (save a few periods where the competitive desire returned) and when I started caring again I was also attempting to racewalk with some degree of seriousness. But the longer I kept at that, the less I began to enjoy it and after a couple botched attempts to get an Olympic Trials qualifier (less impressive than it sounds. It’s not very fast.) in the 20k walk, I realized I was more or less done with the event for the time being. That was late 2007. I was kind of jealous of those who always talked about training for Boston and I wanted to do that too! And it was kind of a weird realization: it was something that initially hit me when I saw a girl I knew out on a long run the night of the Super Bowl. I knew she was training for Boston…as we some of my other running friends. I felt left out, so I signed up for my first marathon in the fall of ’08.
I ran my first effort really conservatively and was surprised with how smoothly it went. I had not set any big goals other than “Qualify for Boston and maybe run a 3:35?” nor had I run a ton of miles, yet I ended up negative splitting by like four minutes (I ran just over 3:31) on a hot day and feeling great doing it. I decided I liked it and wanted to make this my “thing” for awhile.
It’s actually really funny: I’ve had some spectacular crashes in races. Anything from 800-half marathon. But the full has gone fairly smoothly.NYC ’09 was a little rough because I cramped pretty badly by 22.5 thanks probably to nutrition mistakes, but even then it wasn’t a horrific crash and burn as far as fades go. (A positive split by maybe…two minutes? If that.) The others have been negative splits by at least 2 minute. It’s a little disconcerting, but exactly why I’m enjoying it at the moment. It still feels relatively “new” and I while I feel I could stand to work on my execution, I think I’ve got a good appreciation/feel for what might get me faster.
Goals? Foggy at this point. I am not good at goal-setting, probably because I’m a cynic. My spectacular crashes in running and life have largely been due to setting the bar too high and at this point, I’m oka-0 with inching it up slowly in this case. The problem is, of course, that you’ve only got so many good marathons in you. So perhaps I need to work a bit at balance.
I’m still not 100% sure of my Boston goal largely because, well, I’m terrified. Which is probably why the marathon and I have gotten along in our short courtship: I’M SCARED. It’s hard not to get carried away when you’re so scared of blowing up.
Again, I really do need to work on balance, yes?
(Interview conducted on April 2, 3 and 4 in the middle of the fucking night. Angryrunner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)