Archive for category The Running Ape

Blown away: Boston had a huge tailwind. It’s not physics!

Well, actually it is. But one need not invoke complicated physics to understand that an unprecedented 21-mile-an-hour tailwind at the Boston Marathon last Monday fueled unprecedented times. The top four men — Geoffrey Mutai, Moses Mosop, Gebregziabher Gebremariam, and Ryan Hall — were all ridiculously far under the previous course record of 2:05:52, set last year by Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot. Mutai and Mosop ran close to a minute than Haile Gebreselassie’s world record of 2:03:59. Geb-Geb and Hall ducked under Cheruiyot’s mark by a similar amount despite getting demolished in the last third of the race. Read the rest of this entry »


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The world does not need more observations about the BAA Marathon

But such realities have rarely stopped me in the past, so piss on it.

The top times today, particularly on the men’s side, were off-the-hook fast. The winner, Geoffrey Mutai, ran 2:03:02 and the runner-up, Moses Mosop, was only four seconds behind him. These by far were the fastest marathons ever run. However, the Boston Marathon course is not record-eligible because it is on a point-to-point course, meaning that it can in theory feature a large net tailwind, which was the case today and in an unprecedented way. Also, this particular point-to-point course drops between 400 feet and 500 feet from start to finish, and even though many argue that the configuration of the rises and falls render the course anything but aided on the basis of topography, it is still classified as such.

But it is possible to draw some conclusions outside of the context of times. For one thing, Ryan Hall has if nothing else established that he can run great marathons without the benefit of a coach and that his unyielding philosophy of running to glorify God doesn’t seem to be hurting him as an athlete. People are motivated by all sorts of goofy and even vainglorious reasons, many of them private. Seriously, is doing well largely to impress someone of the opposite sex — and I think a lot of us have done this — any more unruly than Hall’s ethos? Anyway, today he finished fourth behind a guy who ran 2:04:55 last spring, a 59:20 half-marathoner making his 26.2-mile debut, and the 2010 New York City Marathon champion, and beat the man who set the course record last year.

On the ladies’ side, Desiree Davila appears to have “officially” taken over as the United States’ pre-eminent woman marathoner in the post-Deena Kastor age, on the basis not only of her stirring runner-up finish today but also of her 2:26:20 in Chicago six months ago. Between Davila, Kara Goucher (5th today in 2:24:52, less than seven months after giving birth) Amy Hastings (2:27:03 in L.A. last month in her first marathon) and Shalane Flanagan (who debuted in New York City last fall and finished second off a very slow pace, and who can very likely run close to 2:20:00 should she make the marathon her focus), the U.S. has never had such a powerful contingent of woman marathoners, and they are a fairly young group.

Finally, it would be wrong not to complain about the terrible coverage of the race on the Universal Sports Network. Usually, on the infrequent occasions that a major running event is broadcast live, people with a running background bitch that the commentary is too dumbed-down. If that were the only problem, it wouldn’t be much of a problem. Today it was just dumb. Getting names wrong, not giving key splits, making observations about the runners and the race that show a comprehensive ignorance of the sport — if they’re just going to hand the reins to someone like Al Trautwig, who seems to have “prepared” by reading a Wikipedia entry about marathon running at about 4 a.m. this morning, then they should just drop all pretense at quality coverage and let Bill Maher and Lady Gaga sit on the press truck, as this would at least be entertaining.


Futile cycle

One underappreciated aspect of the massive amount of pre-race media coverage the Boston Marathon receives every year is that it provides all sorts of substrate for bloggers intent on exposing the poor reasoning of columnists and reporters who may not be intimately familiar with the sport. This is a marked shift from other times of the year, when the same bloggers make highlighting the shoddy analytical skills of various other people their raison d’etre.

When confronted with the otherworldly and uninterrupted dominance of the marathon around the globe by East African runners that took off about 25 years ago, people aren’t satisfied to explain it on its own terms. They also like to contextualize it and find ways to assert that it’s not a new phenomenon and is therefore at least somewhat likely to be finite.

This, folks, is absurd, and is exemplified by a piece in the Boston Herald published on Wednesday. The writer strives to historicize the fact that runners from either Kenya (18 wins) or Ethiopia (3) have placed first in the men’s division in 21 of the last 23 Boston Marathons. (The writer actually focuses only on Kenyans; the addition of the Ethiopians is mine. Italy’s Gelindo Bordin won the race in 1990 and Lee Bong-Ju of South Korea took first in 2001.) He does this by pointing out that other parts of the world have enjoyed their own turns at the top of the Boston heap, asking: Read the rest of this entry »

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HIIT and miss

I’ve decided that when I see someone giving running advice that includes use of the term HIIT, it’s the equivalent of people referring to the city featuring the Golden Gate Bridge as “Frisco” or equating eating a heaping plate of fettucine alfredo the night before a leisurely bike ride as “crabo-loading,” Basically, it’s a signal that someone knows enough to give advice that might be mostly on target, but invites careful scrutiny.

HIIT stands for “high-intensity interval training.” Maybe I’m being picky, but experienced runners don’t call it that. They say “speedwork” or “intervals.” And maybe I’m a douchebag, but when I see the term, I’m reminded of a legion of neophytes talking endlessly about how tha marathon doesn’t start until the last 10K and telling each other calf pain on a downhill 23 miles into a marathon in someone who’s been training for all of six months is surely a sign of potassium deficiency.

So when a friend and experienced marathoner showed me an article in the fitness section of the Orlando Sentinel yesterday (don’t ask me why it’s been online for a month) and asked me if I agreed with the writer’s assertions in the following passage: Read the rest of this entry »

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Someone’s pissed and staging a contest and giving something away for participating. Unlike those offers that promise a “free” iPod or Playstation 3 for filling out 78 surveys and signing up for 48 trial offers (meaning that you’d be better off working a few more hours and just buying the fucking thing), all you have do do is be concerned that Angryrunner is going to get knee-walking drunk on vodka and cokes after running the Boston Marathon in something like 3:15 to 3:17, tell her why you deserve to win what’s she’s giving away for free (no, not that, dudes…hands off, I saw her first), and send a “tweet” about it, and you may be the lucky recipient of one of eight prizes, plus an as-yet unspecified bonus prize that will be shipped to you along with a pack of Maverick cigarettes.

So have at it. To get started, click on the monkey below!!!


Perhaps you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you here today

The existence of this post, which I’ve been looking forward to with much the same combination of feelings I had before the first running race of my life (dread mixed with let’s-do-it adventurousness), is a by-product of competing influences. On one hand, it addresses an issue that is intensely personal in more ways than one, and is part of an effort to nudge a memoir in desperate need of book covers toward publication. On the other, it’s been years since my last serious race, I can quite efficiently operate from a platform of damning self-contempt, and have every reason to avoid spending too much time rambling into the welcoming but time-cannibalizing void of the Internet. But in the end, it was no contest. I’m doing this for a reason I can convincingly describe as both irreducibly complex and hopelessly simple. I think I have to. And hopefully I won’t ruin it with the kind of pithy overstatement that infects most of the posts on my own own blog, where that kind of flavor serves my self-appointed role as scornful gadabout.

In 1999, shortly before becoming a contributing editor and then a senior writer for Running Times, I supplied the magazine with an article titled “The Thin Men.” It dealt with a subject that was, and remains, a weakly explored one –eating disorders among male distance runners. It garnered a modest amount of appreciative comments from affected men and (more often) concerned wives, partners and family members. It also included a lie of omission, one I suppose can be overlooked given my position as a feature writer rather than a columnist: I myself had been carrying around an on-again, off-again eating disorder for about a decade.

Where do these things start? I don’t want to turn this into a deep general or personal treatise, but everyone’s story is different, and mine started after I got to college and started conjecturing ways to turn myself from a decent high-school runner into a solid university-level one. I wasn’t particularly weight-conscious as a high-schooler, but at some point around my nineteenth birthday settled on the idea that I had to weigh under 140 pounds. It didn’t matter if that meant 139.5, which was as good (sort of) as 136 or 137; it just meant that 140.5 was fail writ large and undeniable. And so one day, after a typical post-practice trip to the all-you-can-eat dining all at UVM, I decided I had put away too much ice cream on top of whatever shitburgers had been on hand, and I threw up the whole mess on purpose. I don’t want to get into the mechanics and you don’t want me to either, but for a rookie I found it frightfully easy, and I’m sure kindred spirits have undergone the same ugly, instantaneous transformation. It was fucking gross, but even before I left the stall, some demented but perfectly lucid part of my mind had decided the matter: I now had a sure-fire way to keep myself at the “right” weight.

The short version is that I didn’t do what I told myself I would do, which would be to limit this kind of thing to “special occasions,” whatever those might have been. I didn’t. I told myself I’d quit this nonsense and just stay at <140 the healthful way. I didn’t. I ran 80-mile weeks for the first time. I improved throughout my freshman year, but in spite of, clearly not because of, what I was doing. And by the end of spring I had gone from an 8:50ish 3,000 meters indoors to barely being able to run under 17 minutes for 5K. I was anemic, with a serum ferritin of approximately tap water’s.

Several things happened in the next bunch of years. One of them was fostering a serious binge-drinking habit. This was not uncommon, and at the time I had my share of fun, but despite keeping a very high GPA in a challenging major I knew deep down I was playing with fire, and that something would give. Later I’d learn that excessive drinking, general impulsiveness, and being raised in an emotionally bland alcoholic household (and please do not take this as an indictment of either my parents, who asked for none of the pain I’ve thrown their way over the years) were all hallmarks of bulimics.

And so it went, and by my junior year I was too tired and quietly miserable to keep running for the team, so I stopped. I told myself it was because I needed to spend more time with academics, but that was bullshit; I was just too toxic, mentally as well as physically. When I headed down Interstate 89 for my next round of higher education, I knew for sure that I had to get my act together because everything I got away with as an undergrad was not going to fly here, including the purging. And I somehow kept myself stable and sober for a good spell, and carried on well in my consuming endeavors, and resumed running seriously. I was training for marathons now, and was enjoying it more than ever. After a tepid first marathon in 2:39 just before I turned 25, I decided, like a lot of shlubs my age running under 15:30 for 5K. to try to get to the Olympic Marathon Trials standard–then 2:22:00–before 2004.

Well, I gave it a fine effort. On the surface, a highly focused and even single-minded one. I posted my training logs on my new Web site for a coterie of dedicated buddies and random observers to pore over, comment on, whatever. This told the story of someone who was hammering out 100-mile weeks, with some blowout tempo runs and all that jazz, and who steadily edged his way down to 2:30 at age 27 to 2:26 at 29 to 2:24 at 31 and now just needed one more push and a little luck. What I did not post on my site, not surprisingly, were the recurrent relapses into binge eating and purging. By this time I wasn’t even weighing myself; it was not, at root, about running anymore, really. It was an emotional crutch, no different than a drug in most important respects. In fact, when things got really rough I’d alternate between using food to avoid alcohol and then booze to stay away from bulimia. How’s that for a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound? But I didn’t care, or so I told myself, and after a while believing it. In the meantime I missed the Trials by a few minutes but ran a new set of PRs at five distinct distances at age 34, seven years ago now. Make no mistake–I had some lengthy periods in which I stayed “clean” across the board, or else none of this would have been possible. But there was surely a cost of indeterminate value, and it seems evident that half the reason I ran my fastest times at a comparatively advanced age (considering I had been running more or less continuously for two decades) was delaying my best running to a time that lay my genuine physical peak because of the dysfunction.

That year, although it seems hard to believe now, was the last year I trained and raced seriously. I had a brief comeback from my first real injury in a long time (a sports hernia) toward the end of 2005, and then when I moved back north a lot of things went quickly to ruins. I was running a lot, but was unfocused. I’d basically abandoned a number of important relationships because I was so volatile, not so much on the outside but in my own head. I started really giving up in a lot of ways for the first time and wishing people would just go away, yet I couldn’t stand the quiet even as I sought it out. And I got to a point where I was just so damned ashamed that I was ready to do some very bad things, lonely and private things, because I didn’t think I could get back to living as the sane and wholesome human being I remembered being at…what, 17? I mean, how low does a dude have to sink when he sees his late teens as the pinnacle of his psychosocial existence, right? But oh, self-pity does burn brightly in the flame of far-flung addiction. And the guilt at how I was treating the good people I had managed not to shove away was incapacitating.

I’ll only say that I came to a decision in the not-too-distant past that is probably the most significant one I’ve made in my adult life, a part of embracing the fact that I’m not unique or even much of a blip on the ass of this planet, which paradoxically relieves me of the burden of treating myself like shit and trying to live with a measure of stability and dignity. And I can list one thing I have started doing in the past couple of years that I never dared to in the past, and that’s telling people the truth. The first person I told about my eating disorder was a crazy but brilliant aunt, a psychiatric nurse, who then proceeded to matter-of-factly tell my mom and dad about it. (I had told her this in a phone conversation and have still never met her in person, and frankly I don’t care to.) I was devastated. I’d been protecting the hell out of that secret for years and had been certain I would go to my grave without telling a soul, and when I finally opened up, my confidant let the cat out of the bag. But, upset as I was, she did me a small favor, because people knowing what I was going through took some of the power out of it. Since then I’ve disclosed this side of myself to various others, at first limiting these people to fellow ED pilgrims and then moving on to a greater range of friends. Now, I evidently don’t mind. Like fungi, sicknesses of the psyche thrive on darkness, and like vampires they don’t do well in the light of day. I have found that telling on myself takes a lot of power out of my compulsions in this area, and although I’ll never know until it’s over if I am truly “healed,” I have the sense that life is more purposeful than fighting heroically to punish myself. I have a feeling–no, know for certain–that it’ll be a few years before a light inside becomes bright enough for me to fully understand the extent to which people have supported me through all of this. And many of them are surely reading this, and know who they are, so please understand that I am grateful, even though I’m a douche in certain ways and will continue to let this charming aspect of my personality predominate from time to time, and you don’t have to forgive for that, but you have to try to laugh. At me, not with me. I do.

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Picking the mind of an angry runner

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. Read the rest of this entry »


Flanagan’s run lights up Virgin’s splendor

Shalane Flanagan, who stands at the top of American women’s distance running and whose only consistent challenger in recent years has been Kara Goucher, showed earlier this month that she is in full command of her powers by placing third at the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in Portugal. Her bronze medal made her the highest U.S. finisher in this event since Deena Kastor took the silver in 2003. Generally considered the toughest distance championship on the planet–even more than any race at the Olympics, which do not include cross-country–it has been dominated so thoroughly over the years by Africans that even a top-ten finish is, in the eyes of most cognoscenti, worth a medal in any international track or road competition. Lynn Jennings’ three consecutive gold medals in the early 1990s, including her 1992 triumph in Boston’s Franklin Park, very near where Jennings grew up, makes her the only American woman to win more than once (Julie Brown earned gold in 1975). Realistically, the IAAF Worlds is to footracing what the Tour de France is to cycling.

On the men’s side, only one U.S. man has crossed the finish line first in the 39 years the World Championships have been staged. Craig Virgin did it twice, in 1980 and again in 1981. Read the rest of this entry »

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Charlie Sheen’s muse

For anyone who’s still wondering about the source of the jovially beleaguered actor’s energy and ideas, it may not be any of the popular suspects — an extended neurotransmitter storm with roots in pharmacopoeia, or merely a fantastic and solipsitic contrivance — but this 2007 interview with one of America’s greatest and most colorful distance runners.

In the age of the Internet and a million apocryphal tales, it’s difficult to say whether Gerry Lindgren’s chief notoriety today lies in his sublime accomplishments or in the training and racing feats attributed to him by himself and others. Whatever the case, several things are unquestioned: Lindgren held the U.S. high-school 5,000-meter record (13:44, set in 1964) for 40 years; he still holds the indoor two-mile record (8:40.0), run on a small eleven-laps-the-the-mile track and surviving a strong challenge over the weekend from Illinois wunderkind Lukas Verzbicas (8:40.70); he won eleven NCAA titles; and he set one world record (27:11.6 for six miles in 1965). As for the rest — the series of 350-mile training weeks, the comments about Oregon runners employing stealth hip checks — who knows? He gives a great interview.

When I was doing those long runs I kind of knew nobody else was doing so much. I thought that if you want to run well you have to go through hell to get to heaven. I was just willing (or stupid enough) to do whatever it takes to serve as I wanted to serve … Every day I have regrets. Why didn’t I do more? Why did I stop at 50 miles when there was still sunlight? Maybe I could have been a bigger influence on other runners and non-runners too if I had just demonstrated a little more courage. I never did enough!

My good fortune is that I was such a wimp and worthless as a runner. My coach told me to become the rabbit, to sacrifice myself for the good of others, so that the team could grow stronger. In running as a rabbit without any regard for myself, I tapped in to the will of the gods. The longer I ran the more I felt energy was there. The harder I trained the more joy I experienced. On those long lonely runs I was always either given more energy by the gods or forced to suffer some unusual circumstance that would test my determination to serve…

I could write a book on [America’s] problems. When the military/FBI/organized crime conspired to kill Kennedy, they killed virtue as well. Selfish military, selfish government and lies took over. We had rioting in the streets, distrust of police and government, and more and more people looking at what they can get for themselves. Runners today don’t want to MAKE great races; they only strive to win them. Runners are afraid to train hard, race hard, pay the price. It is as if we outsourced courage to Kenya and Ethiopia.

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Cross-country is the bailiwick of the young

In looking over the results of December’s USATF Club National Cross-Country Championships in North Carolina, I noticed that the first male finisher over the age of 30 was Chad Johnson (34) in 39th, and that only one woman in the top 30 was over 30 (Katherine Newbury, 32, in fourth). On the men’s side, you have to go all the way back to 175th place to find the first 35-year-old, and things in the women’s field look little different, although it’s worth noting that 46-year-old Colleen De Reuck opted to run in the open race rather than the masters competition and wound up 59th.

A glance at the results of this month’s USATF National Cross-Country Championships (distinct from the club champs in that there’s no team prizes awarded and the top finishers go on to the IAAF World Champs in March) reveals similar data.

What’s striking to me about this is that cross-country and the marathon make excellent partners in various ways, yet marathoners tend to peak in their early 30s, sometimes later (especially on the women’s side). Some of the best harriers have proven to be some of the best marathoners, with the crossover between track and either of these disciplines seemingly less complete. I could propose a number of plausible reasons for these observations, but because I’m not even certain of my premise and also because I’m in a hurry to urinate, I’m going to pass.

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Running, anorexia, living and writing: audio interview with Lize Brittin

Lize and Suzy Hamilton at the 1984 Kinney Midwest Regional

Lize Brittin was a two-time Kinney (now Foot Locker) finalist at Fairview High School in Boulder in the mid-1980s, winning the Midwest Regional her senior year and winding up seventh at the national champs in San Diego two weeks later. Translated for the benefit of non-runners, that means that she was one of the best cross-country runners in the United States, and it makes her one of the few great runners associated with Boulder who’s actually from there; Melody Fairchild, who holds the U.S. record for the high-school two-mile and won Foot Locker Nationals twice, and Kelsey Lakowske, who was fifth at the Nationals in 2010, are the only other Boulder natives to make it to the extremely exclusive race in Balboa Park, which for many years featured just 32 athletes and now allows 40. She also set a women’s course record for the Pikes Peak Ascent and was ninth in the Bolder Boulder 10K, both world-class events — and both at age 16. But even before landing at Brigham Young University and then at the University of Colorado with a full scholarship, anorexia had begun to take its toll, and she wound up nearly dying from it in her twenties.

Lize is 44 now and thankfully as far back from the depths of her illness as anyone can be. She’s had some of her freelance writing published, but more importantly has also finished a memoir about her experiences, Training on Empty, that she’s looking to publish, and she has started a blog of that name. She’s visited area schools and been on local radio over the years in reaching out to younger runners about the topic, was recently on a Runners Round Table podcast, and has compiled (in my biased opinion) a memoir that goes well above and beyond the usual “I have issues” stuff that people have become almost hardened to. Importantly, she’s healthy today while acknowledging the toll her disease took on herself and her friends and family and balancing the running she’s able to do now with the loss of her best years to a life-threatening illness.

I recently chatted with Lize about these matters, exploring the questions below and others. Listen to the audio here (50 minutes, 48 MB download).
As a former competitive runner myself, a person who seeks therapeutic gain or release from the act of writing, and a voracious reader (and hence a critic), I have to ask — what in your view distinguishes your story, and in particular your memoir about your experiences, from others of its kind?

You raced at a very high level, did so without becoming a household name (as you would have been had the Internet existed in the 1980s), and have kept a low profile in the running world for a long time. You are an unassuming person, the diametric opposite of an ego-driven person or a name-dropper, but I imagine that there’s a part of you that shies away from reflecting a lot on your successes because what could have become a national- or perhaps world-class career in the sport disappeared before you could see it to fruition. Is there therefore a bittersweet flavor to the whole of your competitive memories?

In many ways you’re straight from a textbook: You grew up the youngest child in a household which, while characterized by heavy-duty alcohol abuse, was still very much a high-achievement environment; you were chubby as a youngster; and in general you were never comfortable with the idea that you were a valuable person who does things right. You articulate this in the text, but even if you didn’t, this mindset emanates from your words and from your present-day persona as well. On top of that you had a coach who would weigh you and tell you, surreal as it sounds, that you were a single pound overweight on the morning of a championship race. Since you’ve come to know a good many anorexics over the years thanks to treatment and being open about your travails in your recovery years, does it seem that there has to be a “perfect storm” of factors in order for most susceptible girls — or people — to actually develop anorexia?

Anorexia is different from other disorders that could be described as addictive in that there is, in athletes at least, often a “grace period” in which afflicted people actually perform better in spite of manifesting the disease behaviors before they start slipping. You’ve mentioned that Diane Israel and perhaps others had begun counseling you well before you bottomed out. When you were experiencing success in spite of clearly having gone down the road toward “full-blown” anorexia, did you ever have the idea that you might be costing yourself in the long term or was the success itself, combined with the power of the disease, simply too seductive to allow for any such thinking to make real inroads?

Can you describe reaching a point at which you understood that this was no longer about running, or feeling thin or fit or in control, or any of the other mental shells in which anorexics shield themselves, and was really about your own survival?

One way in which you can unquestionably serve as a valuable resource to untold numbers of runners is that you’ve continued doing it at a modest (for you) level and come to terms with how running both shapes and you and how you need to command its role in your life and not the reverse, and you make no bones about the fact that there are days on which you feel fat and that it’s very uncomfortable for you. A lot of anorexics seem to fade from the activity altogether for either physical reasons or because the idea of balance is not even in the equation, but you’re someone who’s occupied every conceivable position on the whole spectrum. What would you tell a young woman who clearly is nowhere near recovery but has accepted the problem and fears that she will never be able to run again?

When did you start writing Training on Empty? Did you see it as a book-length project from the very beginning?

Where are you in terms of publishing the book at this point?

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Unofficial poll about performance-enhancing drugs

There are a number of arguments about the various reasons that performance-enhancing drugs should (or should not) be illegal in Olympic and most professional sports. A discussion on the ethical side usually winds up in an argument between those who say that the conflict would evaporate if there were no such things as banned drugs, since no athletes would have to worry that others were using something that they themselves refused to use. But that opens the door to the question of whether athletes should be protected from themselves, as the untrammeled use of many PEDs is unquestionably dangerous in both acute and chronic ways, also being another subject fo lawsuits (check the Drug Guardians kombiglyze lawsuit). (This is where the idiot brand of libertarian likes to jump in with his two cents that ignores everything about the essence of athletic competition, example-setting, etc. in favor of the tunnel-vision “no rules! If they want to take chances, let them!” ethos.) There’s mention of how allowing currently banned substances would favor richer countries, but this disparity is already evident in so many ways that it’s a non-starter of an argument.

So I was thinking, what’s the main thing that would keep me from using PEDs in a world in which they remained illegal but I could be assured of not getting caught? With the parameters defined in this way, the possible answers are essentially two: Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Division I Cross-Country Championships: spread ’em

Having recently generated an analysis of the consistent, unaccountably large percentile differences between male and female distance runners at the elite level in the U.S.–from high school to college to the professional ranks–it was through this lens that I viewed yesterday’s NCAA D-1 Cross-Country Champs in Terre Haute, Ind. Given similarly sized men’s (246 finishers) and women’s (250) fields featuring very few stragglers, I expected to see the customarily greater depth on the men’s side, as determined by looking at the time spread between the winners of each race and the 25th, 50th, and median finishers–shrink or even disappear.

In fact, this was the case. The women run 6K in NCAA championship-level meets, then men 10K. The spreads between the women’s winner and the 25th-placer, 50th-placer, and median time were 5.5 sec/km, 8.8 sec/km and 14.2 sec/km respectively; on the men’s side the numbers were 5.8, 7.5 and 12.0. As for the performances themselves (median time for men = 31:23; for women, 21:32), it’s hard to compare since these races, while both run on the same day at more or less the same time, were not held on precisely the same terrain, and things like wind (and it was breezy) tend to take a greater percentage bite in races of longer duration as runners spread out and cannot as handily use each other to shield themselves from the elements. That said, a 21:32 for 6K translates to about 37:12 for 10K, a difference of about 18.5%–unduly large on its face, but not surprising. Also, the races developed differently, with fully a third of the women’s field within five or six seconds of the lead at the halfway point but the men’s race becoming a three-runner affair by that point.

Cool story on the women’s side–the individual winner, Sheila Reid of Villanova (the Lady Wildcats also won the team title), almost saw her running career end a couple years ago after incurring the same injury (a tear to the cartilage at the “lip” of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip) that took out two-sport standout Bo Jackson in his prime. Cross-country is the most difficult of the distance races–harder than the steeplechase, harder than the marathon–because you never, ever get to be comfortable. Some are just nastier than others.

Men’s photos   women’s

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Not your mother’s race report

So I found myself sitting in a car with a bunch of Central Mass Striders teammates, anticipating the start of a 5K and interspersing the usual light trash-talk with some desultory complaints about the weather. The verisimilitude started and ended there, but as is usually the case, every rock-solid indicator that I was dreaming meant nothing while I was in the throes of this phantasmagorism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hell, let’s just crucify Ryan Hall right now!

The American record holder in the half-marathon, the fastest U.S.-born marathoner ever, a member of the 2008 Olympic Team and the American with the best time ever on the Boston Marathon course–feats all accomplished before Hall turned 28–recently parted ways with the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. and coach Terrence Mahon.

As is to be expected when any superstar athlete makes an abrupt and unexpected change, Hall’s decision was being second-guessed by observers and fellow runners all over the Web, and not just on sites with nothing but user-generated slag posted to message boards (although on the Web such distinctions may be hazy). Joe Battaglia of summarily declared Hall’s decision to coach himself a failure before Hall–who pulled out of the Oct. 11 Chicago Marathon weeks in advance citing readiness concerns–could even say where he could next be expected to line up. In a not-unprecedented stab at mind-reading based more on retrospective “wisdom” than anything in the here and now, Battaglia concluded that it was “crystal clear” months ago and all the more so now that Hall races not fundamentally to win or compete but to glorify God. While I am not at the forefront of anyone’s push to credit the Lord with either personal failures or personal triumphs these days, I cannot fathom how these aims–assuming Battaglia is even close to the mark anyway–are mutually exclusive. Anyone who has seen Ryan Hall at the end of a successful race knows just how much winning means to him. Read the rest of this entry »

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Men and women are not equally qualified

I’m of course referring again to the Boston Marathon. Earlier this week I mentioned that the race filled to it’s ~26,000-runner capacity within eight hours of opening its online registration portal on Monday, and related this to a possible need for the BAA to tighten its qualifying standards. On the related topic of the respective qualifying times for women and men, I argue in an article for Running Times Online that while women’s are softer, this phenomenon pervades elite American distance running as well, and to a greater extent at that.

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Where does the Boston Marathon go from here?

Considering that the 115th running of this race isn’t for another six months, this probably seems like an odd question. But today’s online feeding frenzy–which saw general registration for the 2011 race open and close within just over eight hours–moved Boston into the same league, in a not-so-desirable respects, as other Americans mass marathons such as Marine Corps that manage to fill tens of thousands of slots in less time than it takes most people to cover 26 miles 385 yards on foot. Read the rest of this entry »


Running and Yoga survey: the results

A brief overview of the smattering of data collected from this survey:

* I posted links to the survey on this blog, on Facebook, and on In so doing I was selecting heavily for respondents who are or were distance runners, but that was the point–I was curious to learn what approximate fraction of runners engage in yoga. I’m sure that the title of the survey itself selected for runners who do yoga more than it selected for those who do or once did only one of the two, but the extent to which this is the case is unknown. (The question about geographic location was gratuitous.)

* I was surprised the survey got even the number of responses it did–28.

* Of the 28, 20 (71%) consider themselves regular runners, with 90% of that group doing three or more runs a week. Of the four non-runners, four used to run and four never have. So 86% (24/28) or respondents qualify as runners of some sort.

* Of the 28, 8 (29%) regularly do yoga and another six used to, yielding a lifetime “prevalence” of 50%. Of the 8 who are currently active, 7 currently run and 1 used to run; in other words, no current yoga participant has never run.

* Of the 6 ex-yoga-performers, 5 currently run and 1 used to run. That means all 14 who admit to having ever regularly done yoga either are (86%; 12/14) or once were (14%; 2/14) regular runners.

* 4 of the 28 respondents said they had never either run or done yoga. Of these 4, 2 were from outside the U.S. out of a total of 4 total respondents from abroad. This may mean something, but probably not. It’s mildly interesting and I would guess that a few people who “know” me only from this blog–where running is rarely a topic of discussion–have been followers since our days, when a comparatively high fraction of visitors were from Europe, Asia and Africa.

* I was relating these findings to a running friend who also does yoga, and she told me that the majority of people she knows who do yoga have never run (and this is in Boulder, Colorado, where running is a de facto civic duty and yoga only slightly less of one). This speaks to the population at which this mini-survey was aimed. I would have guessed that the percentage of people who start as runners and later gravitate toward yoga is much higher than the reverse even without these results.

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A very short survey: Yoga and running

Please answer these three questions. Your answers are confidential and your participation is extremely valuable in satisfying my passing curiosity. Thanks!

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Survey: 92% of distance runners display cognitive impairment

That’s the biased but defensible interpretation of one of the questions in this survey of people who participate in road races, a cohort believed to have significant overlap these days with individuals meeting the criteria for being termed “distance runners.” As Julie, who designed the survey, reports on her Facebook page, only about one in thirteen respondents say that they would be willing to give up the T-shirt offered at virtually every event for an entry-fee reduction. Okay, that’s an oversimplification; the question was actually “If you could lower the cost of a race’s registration fee by a third by giving up one of the following items, which one would you choose to give up?” with T-shirt being one of eight choices. Nevertheless, given that big-time marathons these days routinely charge close to or over 100 bucks to enter, a majority of people admit that they are eager to spend over $30 on a mundane piece of fabric boasting of an accomplishment that in the grand scheme is middling at best. I’m eager to see how many said they’d prefer losing add-ons such as roads closed to traffic and food, at least one of which can justly be termed a requirement and the other nearly indispensable. Read the rest of this entry »

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