Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Meb Keflezighi: Real American (book excerpt)

Meb's scintillating victory at the Boston Marathon yesterday was enough to make many get a little teary eyed.  Of course, living in the internet age, I heard conspiracy theories about how the race was rigged to let Meb win and the ever-popular "Meb isn't really American." We heard the latter back when Meb won NYC Marathon in 2009. I thought perhaps we had evolved as a society since then but it appears in some circles we have not. As such, I felt I would find the excerpt from my book 138, 336 Feet to Pure Bliss which actually talks about this exact subject.

Many were predicting an American would win New York in 2009.  However, use of the term “American” was almost always a not-so-veiled code word for Ryan Hall.  Hall had won the Olympic Trials handily, had paid his due on the international circuit and seemed poised to take over the mantle as the next great threat to breaking the Kenyan running monopoly on top of the leader boards.  So, when Eritrean-born naturalized US citizen Meb Keflezighi won the race, setting a personal best at the same time, it was a shock to many.  Meb’s win was not a surprise because he was unknown to the running community but rather because of his rather disappointing racing results for the previous two years.  Starting at those same Olympic Trials in 2007 that really put Hall on the map, where a hip injury bothered him all the way to a 2:15:09 eighth-place finish, Meb had done very little to instill confidence he would ever be near the top of his game again.  Until this fateful day ending in Central Park in Manhattan, that is.

Meb’s win became both a day of pride for Americans as well as one which lit up discussions about what exactly an “American” was. Leave it to New York to add to its already long-list of historical race finishes a social, economic, and racial discussion which was long overdue.

During the race, instead of the usual sponsor splashed across his chest, Meb was wearing a singlet showing the country he is a citizen of: the United States of America. As the first American to win the race, male or female, since 1982, it seemed almost surreal that Meb chose to wear his Team USA shirt for this—his first victory ever in a major marathon.

However, the immediate discussion popping up in newspapers and around the Internet was that Meb was not a “real” American. Also, his victory was no indication of U.S. distance running being on the rise for that same reason—he was not American. The problem with this is that arguments of this nature are blatantly incorrect on their face incorrect simply because they mix the issues. 

During my travels I once had a discussion with two American runners. However, I was the only one in the discussion who was actually born in the United States. Talking about a myriad of running topics, we gravitated toward Meb and his victory as it has just happened a few months prior. We were almost in complete agreement about most of the underlying issues.

-American long distance running, while having been in quite a swoon for a very long time, seems to be rebounding.

-People want American distance running to get better.

-Whether they would admit it or not, some were hoping that the aforementioned “American distance running” champion would have far paler skin than Meb.

Without delving too deep into the underlying racial issues here, it was clear to see that part of the problem was not only that Meb was not born in the U.S., but his victory did not exactly signal the beginning of the return to American-born preeminence in distance running. This was where the confusion in the question lies.
First and foremost, Meb is 100-percent American. Any argument otherwise is ignorant of U.S. law. He is a citizen of the United States, and unlike many of those who just happened to be lucky enough to be born within the borders of this country, he actually had to take a test for that privilege. Meb’s citizenship is an indisputable fact.

However, the question about the origin of the dominance of African-born distance running remains. Whether it is genetics, the nature of the lives of those runners (high-altitude training and living, lack of modern conveniences which make running a “way out”, etc.) or something else, Africans are currently cleaning house in distance events world-wide. Therefore, to those who refuse to admit surprise, Meb’s victory is not all that impressive.  In fact, by their view it is just another victory for the “African” distance runner. 

To discount Meb’s heritage as a contributing factor to his success would be to do so at the risk of great folly but to discount his upbringing would do the same.  And this is where the real issue lies.  Basically, is the American distance running system creating the right environment for Americans, either natural born or naturalized, to succeed on the world scene? The U.S. has been fortunate lately to have great success amongst its natural-born citizens like Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein, but Meb’s victory at New York is also a victory for the system itself. You see, genetics play a large part in success of an athlete but are not the complete puzzle. Training, attitude, and coaching make up far larger portions than many give them credit.
Meb’s victory in New York came long after he had moved to America and lived and trained within an American system.   

His victory was just as much a victory for the American distance running program (and his own hard work) as it was for his genetics. Americans might not be ready to dominate the sport just yet, but the future looks bright indeed. The pieces are in place and they fit together well, regardless of the different shades of color that they are painted.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Whidbey Island Marathon Recap

The past few months have been tough for me running wise. My mileage has been down significantly given a herniated disk. When I cannot run I am not nearly as happy as when I can.  However, the past two weeks have seen a great deal of improvement in not only my back but also where the pain manifests itself, in my left leg.

When I was asked to be the featured speaker for the Whidbey Island Marathon I agreed knowing at the time I might not be able to run it at all.  Then my situation improved and I thought perhaps I would do the 13.1 race.  Then it improved more and I realized I would get a chance to run the marathon, albeit far slower than I would like.  But that meant I would get to run over the Deception Pass Bridge.  If you have read my second book, you know I absolutely adore running over bridges. This beautiful vista would be no different.

After premiering my new movie about my solo 202 mile running of the American Odyssey Relay at the race expo, I got to meet a ton of people, as per usual.  The race has nearly doubled in size from last year and people were coming from all over the country.  I got to meet a veritable plethora of runners including island local and 13 year old phenom, Ryan Vasileff.  With a 1:32 half marathon PR to his credit, we will definitely want to keep an eye out for him!

My goal for the event was to simply run as pain-free as I could for as long as I could.  My longest run in the past 3 months was on a 16-miler at the Dizzy Daze race a few weeks ago.  Other than that I was about as ill-trained as one could be and still call themselves a runner. The added difficulty to everything would be that the already challenging Whidbey Island Marathon course was made its most difficult ever this year with some changes to the route. This was going to be one hilly marathon.

Race Morning:

The morning broke absolutely gorgeously. If I was doing anything else besides running a marathon, I would have been in heaven.  However, bright sunshine, regardless of the temperature, is not my ideal race condition. Fortunately, as I would learn through the course, there was a a great deal of shade provided by trees, hills and houses along the way.  As such, only a few sections were exposed totally to the elements. Given that not one single cloud darted across the sky on this day, that was a good thing.

My best friend Shannon and I caught one of the shuttles out to the start form our hotel.  A nice amenity provided by the race were shuttles from the hotels to the race start and from the end of the race to the hotels. Very little planning needed.  Shannon was nervous given she was still physically aching from actually being assaulted by another runner at the Gorges Waterfalls race (which never was followed up by the Race Director; very disappointing) and I was curious if one run over 13 miles in 3 months was enough to get me through this bad boy.

First 10k:

As the race started, we went down the slightest of hills before beginning the first of many rises, this one leading to Deception Pass Bridge.  It is difficult to describe how beautiful this morning, this pass and the runners enjoying it in unison as their footfalls were the only sound around. My head was on a swivel as I looked at both sides of the bridge, the water below, the eddying tides, the rocks which were hewn out by the passage of time and everything else I could take in.  The bridge was far too short.
At this juncture I was about in 15th place and felt like I wasn’t pressing. The leg felt marvelous and I thought a time around 3:15 would be very doable. Given I could barely run 3 miles at that pace a week or so ago I was very pleased.  

I had this very odd section around miles 3-4 where I felt like I was in some Nyquil-induced fog.  It is difficult to explain how exactly it happened or what it felt like in my head but a strange fuzziness took over.  As I usually run in a fog in the early stages of a marathon, this didn’t bother me too much. But the reasoning behind it, given I had never really felt anything of the sort before, was intriguing.  Eventually it subsided but was perplexing nonetheless.

A few runners passed me near the 10k portion and I passed a few who had been in front of me. One of the female leaders had already stopped to tie her shoe once and stretch out a calf muscle or something.  I felt bad for her so early in the race and hoped it would go away. But as soon as I felt bad for her, she spring up and disappeared into the distance.  So much for sympathy for the speedy!

To The Half:
Having barely run anything over 13 miles in the past few months I was happy with how I was feeling in this opening portion but cautiously aware that this might get ugly. While we had already dealt with a litany of hills and I knew there were many more to come.  I wasn't aware of how many and how often though!

As we went down this long wonderful downhill, skirting a slew of waterfront houses for sale on Skagit Bay for really nice prices, the first sign of my leg giving me some trouble showed up. (As a sidebar “Skagit” has to be one of the most awful names for anything ever. Later when I saw there was a Skagit Public Utility District called the Skagit PUD I realized I think I found the worst name of a place to ever work in history. Even when I learned that "Skagit" is pronounced with a soft "g" it only made it minorly less offensive to the ear. But I digress.) As we screamed down this hill, the views were breathtaking. The mountains of what I am guessing are both Olympic National Park and Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest were off in the distance on two different sides. On this crystal clear day one could see for hundreds of miles from this vantage point.  It really was astounding. My running, on the other hand was not.

As the course flattened, I found this was the only time I could actually speed up at all.  Normally I can cruise the downhill portion laying waste to anyone who was able to pass me on the up.  Here, however, a pain began to grow in my groin and quad I realized that extending or accelerating on hills was not going to happen. Given the amount of hills on this course it was going to be a problem.

The flat before the monster hill at mile 9-10 only made the climb that much more difficult.  But as many runners were reduced to a walk, I at least was able to solider on. What I thought would be a problem today, a lack of energy in later miles, really wasn’t much of a problem at all. Perhaps it was the forced slower pace but throughout the day having energy to push hard was always there. The climb right at mile 10 got so ridiculously steep I heard someone drop, under their breath, a “mother farmer”. I actually laughed out loud as I thought the same thing when I saw it. (It went up ~95 feet in a tenth of a mile. I thought they were going to give us Sherpas and a rope guide to help get us up and over.)
A little kick for me personally was when Ryan, who I mentioned above, left me a sign to inspire me as a surprise. The hill was still just as tough but at least I smiled a little inside.
But once over the hill, I finally felt good again.  There was a much more reasonable downhill portion which allowed me to pick my stride up a bit. I would be remiss if I did not mention that I had already taken three bathroom breaks in the first 10k. I was happy that I hadn’t needed to take another until mile 12 but they were getting a little ridiculous. During the Q&A after my movie I was asked if I had ever been nauseated or had to use the bathroom during a race and if so why I thought that was.  I mentioned I had gone through every thing one could possibly imagine.  Trying to figure out the cause of most of those things would drive one crazy, though.  for the most part, wondering why something is happening is futile. Just deal with it when it happens and try to learn from it.  So, in other words, if you have to pee ever 15 minutes for the first hour of a race, then go and pee.

When I came out of the porta-potty I had one runner pass me and for some reason it irked me. I decided to lay down the hammer and in spite of the uphill that lead to the halfway point, really turned it on.  I went through the half on a 3:19 or so pace and felt very happy. I never saw that runner again. To be honest, I was surprised.

To Mile 20:

I knew the next seven miles would challenge me. At mile 12 we saw the mile 20 marker on the other side of the road so we knew we would be coming back down this way.  But as good as I had felt at mile 13 and 14, miles 15 and 16 almost did me in. A very long downhill which I would normally use to reel in anyone who was in front of me only served as a reminder that my leg was not working properly. In fact, at the 16 mile marker I had to simply stop, walk on a downhill portion (much to my chagrin) and contemplate my first ever marathon DNF. I can say if there had been a car there to take me home I would have accepted it. But there was not so I pushed on. Slow at first, still dealing with the downhill and then a little faster as the downhill evened. I knew we had one last ridiculous hill to climb leading to mile 18.  If the leg truly was not workable I would get to the top and call it a day.  But I had to get to the top first.

Yet, like before, in spite of the pain in my groin, I had no problem climbing the hills.  Many who would go on to beat me soundly had to simply walk up these hills.  And just like before, once at the top and running down the other side, I had nothing in my leg that would allow me to accelerate. Now I just wanted to quit out of frustration. The pain from mile 16 had done away but the "Not wanting to be out here anymores" was kicking in.  As a few more runners passed me, runners I know should not have been doing so, I just had to suck it in, enjoy the beautiful day and used my extra energy to cheer on all the other runners on the other side of the road about to take on the massive hills in front of them.

To The Finish:

The next mile or so was one that was open to the sun and my SKINS compression clothing, which had been so helpful in holding my leg together, was covered in the salt from my sweat.  I remember looking at my watch at mile 21 and seeing that it was only 12 seconds faster than my overall time for my marathon PR. Knowing I still had 5 miles left when I normally would be done was a bit of a kick. Looming ahead of us was a monster of a hill which I did not recall being on the course map.  Fortunately, we turned right before it and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I knew there was one more big hill at mile 24 and that was all I could handle.
A moment to mention the volunteers and staff involved with this race: top-notch is all I can say.  I laugh thinking back to mile 21, an oasis of an aid station where everyone was so eager to tell you what they had that it came out as “Icegatorbanawatergu right here!”  One at I time, I begged them, smiling, before I grabbed a delicious orange energy drink.

A slight jaunt through what I am guessing was military housing had more than a few people out cheering us on.  There was also at least one unplanned aid station from a little brother and sister team who were handing out full bottles of water.  This was just awesome.

A flat section on a very wide running/bicycle path that ran flush with the bay was absolutely beautiful.  Too bad I was now in such pain in my groin I couldn’t fully enjoy it. I wondered if I had done permanent damage.  After talking about how to not ‘Do Nothing Foolish’ to so many people, I wondered if I had. Then the final cruel hill popped up in front of me.  Again, many were completely slowed to a crawl. Suddenly, my groin felt better I took the hill with gusto and began passing people who had passed me.  Before I knew it I was up and over and heading to the last mile.

If I have one complaint about the race it is the twisty-turny nature of this last mile. When you are in the last portion of a marathon you want to not have to rely on your proprioception and balance in order to finish what has been a hard day.  And unfortunately, that is what happens in a portion with lots of turns.  Throw in slow moving runners (in this case half marathoners, some wearing headphones with the volume ridiculously loud and one time, I swear to all that is holy, walking six abreast on a narrow sidewalk. Arrgh!)

As I traversed this last mile, I could hear the footsteps of another runner behind me. They were letting me cut a swatch through the runners, completely with “On your left!”s and over-exaggerated jumps and surprised yells to make me feel like the bad guy. I was tempted to let them pas me as I knew I wasn’t really in the best shape for a sprint to the finish and chances are they had started way behind me anyway and their chip time would be faster.  But the way they just hung on my shoulder angered me a bit. (I am not saying this is wrong; it is racing.)

So for the entire last mile, whenever I could hear or feel them surge, I would do the same. Only in the finish chute when the half marathoners blatantly did not follow the “marathoners to the right; halfs to the left” signs and I had to stutter step to get around a large group, did I finally succumb.  The runner passed me and took me by about one second at the finishline. (As I figured, they actually “beat” me by around 45 seconds.)

I finished 42nd overall in a time of 3:34:19 which was my 137th slowest of 148 lifetime marathons.  If one can be satisfied with a result and disappointed at the same time, it was that. I was extremely pleased to be part of the largest race Whidbey Island has put on. Even more so, to See Shannon also conquer a tough race after her recent setbacks on what is one of the toughest road courses I have ever run was great as well. 

Kudos again to the organizers of the race and the people of Oak Harbor and Whidbey Island.  This truly is a wonderful place for a race and a lovely time spent.

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Response to the Black Toenails Tumblr

I was told someone had responded to my Fit Shaming article and that I should read it.   Normally, I ignore anonymous responses to anything I write but I figured I might as well give it a read. (Although the person who sent me to the article was also anonymous, kind of a jerk and very well might have been the writer him/herself.) Then, I figured I might as well respond, mostly because I was amused how someone could ask me to reply in a courteous nature while also insulting what I write, how I write and why I wrote it. Let’s see if I can show how the high road is actually taken. (Probably not.)

Dear Anonymous Tumblr Poster,

I am going to have to start this entire response off by stating that many of the questions you ask about what is fit or what is healthy or what is a variety of other things were, intentionally, left without definition.  Why?  Because ANY definition, no matter how vague or specific, will somehow be incorrect and leave one group or another out. As such, I figured that relatively reasonable people could come to an agreement on what fit or healthy or anything else you asked me to describe is. Ergo, I left its actual description blank. (Although a Fit Vs Healthy blog may be in the works.) As that seems to be the crux of many points you made, you will have to accept this as my answer to all of them. (I will add, however, that without a doubt someone could look “fit” and still be unhealthy. Many examples, recently and unfortunately punctuated by the passing of professional wrestler Ultimate Warrior, come from the world of professional sports.  Many of these men and women look to be at the pinnacle of health but inside are probably wrecking their bodies with drugs or other unhealthy items.)

Perhaps it was a poorly written sentence but when I said “And for the purposes of this article, I am focusing mostly on women and body issues for them...”  I was not stating that I knew what body issues for women feel like for women. I was stating that I was going to focus on the way that people speak about women’s bodies as they are usually the ones in question in all the instances I was referencing.  Even though many people can succinctly speak about complex issues that do not personally involve them, I was not trying to be one of those people. (This is in response to your comment of …”more importantly, he is certainly not in a position to comment on how women feel.”)

You asked if I was a medical doctor which I am guessing was rhetorical. Nevertheless, I am happy to answer in the negative there. I am still 100% certain one does not need to be a medical doctor to read what medical doctors write and understand them. And when I don’t understand them, I have a litany of medical doctor friends from all differing backgrounds and specialties whom I call upon when I have questions (which is often.) Of course, this ignores the fact that medical doctors themselves constantly disagree on a multitude of different subjects. That said, you had no problem stating what is fit and you claim not to read any actual medical journals. In fact, you stated many certainties (hedging some with “may” and “might”) without cited medical background. Why did you do that? Because your blog is not a peer-reviewed journal, you probably are not being paid to write it, or a variety of other things that allow you to have an opinion which, if stated relatively well and without ridiculousness, reasonable people will accept.

As for judging, we all judge every day every minute everywhere we go. People complain about making generalizations or stereotypes but both exist so that we can speak about broader topics without having to name Steve from Poughkepesie who I grew up with and know every single thing he has done for the past 15 years. Judgments are a part of life. I hardly think I made any unnecessarily harsh judgments in my post but perhaps I need to read it again. (OK, just did. Nope.)

You asked (adding “philosophically” as if that automatically makes it a more learned question) why we would care if everyone is fit or healthy? I honestly do not even know how to answer that question and not because it is like Plato's Cave and stumped me. Seriously? Why should we want people to try to not be ill or unhealthy? Does that not answer itself? You throw out a strawman argument about unhealthy people potentially being a"...Pulitzer Prize author, or a brilliant musician, or for christs sake, someone with a thyroid disease and no medical insurance” as if I said that we should round up the unhealthy people and throw them in an internment camp. You actually quoted me but seemed to miss what I said. I said being fit is a goal everyone should strive for. You asked me why.  If you can give me one legitimate reason why they should NOT do so, I would be amazed. Because by your logic, being fit apparently would take away their prize writing ability or musical talent.

I can think of nothing that is not improved by being fit. I am not saying that Tolstoy should have worked on his lats more or Yo-Yo Ma needed to really nail some jump shots or that Harriet Tubman was fine and all but I wish she had done some pilates. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if those who contributed so much to our society, but died because of self-afflicted health problems, were around a little while longer to make our society even better still? (Pro tip: That is rhetorical. Of course it would be.)

In your last portion you said that me stating “we definitely should hold the applause for those who actively chose not to be fit” made you sad, reverting to your original statement of what is fit, healthy, etc. If you actively chose NOT to be fit, you are hurting yourself, and, to many degrees, many others. I detailed this in greater extent in my Cost of Obesity article (which I linked to in the article you are having so much trouble with.)

The result of all of this remains exactly what it was when I first wrote my article: the world needs healthier people. If you disagree with that then you probably agree with most of what Fox News talks about as well.

Yours truly,

Self-Proclaimed “Extreme Athlete” Dane Rauschenberg

p.s.  If you truly want to have intelligent discourse about the subject, let me know who you are and perhaps we can actually, you know, discuss it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Something that has happened in the past few years is becoming rather commonplace and is beyond annoying to me.  I have decided to call it “Fit-Shaming”.  I touched on it the other day in my article “Running Will Kill You” but I wanted to expound upon it here. Basically, I am a bit tired of seeing people supposedly needing to feel bad because they choose to be fit and enjoy sharing their feelings about that. I have actually experienced this firsthand where I almost have to apologize for making the decisions that get me to where I am today. (And to illustrate that point, I almost decided not to post this article after I wrote it as I feared reading the backlash from people who didn’t get the point. Then I saw a Yale student, perfectly healthy, albeit very small, was forced to eat and weigh in each day in order to not be expelled. I decided I needed to go ahead and post the article.
I know this complaint of being fit will be compared to people of privilege complaining about having too much gold bullion but the mere fact I feel bad about complaining about it shows what sort of problem there is. Do not get me wrong- I know we place a great deal of emphasis on being youthful, healthy, good-looking and fit people. Denying that would be ridiculous.It is also good that we as a society seem to be more accepting of differing body types and have a firmer grasp on reality. But the pendulum has swung too far in response to that in some cases.
Just like a fan of running saw minimalist shoes and five-fingered frames (stupidest name ever; you know we have toes not fingers on our feet, right?) swing back and go into the realm of moonbooty Hokas, we now have gone from vilifying obesity to almost celebrating.  If it is not one article from Huffington Post it is a video from Upworthy talking about what “real” women are like or how “authentic” certain bodies are (this link is NSFW). Dove soap has a campaign celebrating bodies of women who aren’t in the best of shape but again it talks about “realness”. All those bodies are real. Every single one. Not just the ones who are unfit.
A conversation with friends about this subject had some touting the usual party line in this debate.  Societal standards say women have to be one way. The media is to blame for making us feel fat or unpretty. Photoshop has taken over what women “really” look like. Here is the problem with each of those statements.

1. Society definitely does not say women have to be one way.  In fact, if anything, society (in America at least) celebrates how women can be many different sizes and shapes. (And for the purposes of this article, I am focusing mostly on women and body issues for them, not ignoring men’s issues but realizing that for the time being, these articles are predominantly speaking about women.) Is it perfect with no pressure on women to be super fit?  No. Is it much, much, MUCH better than it used to be? Yes.

2. If the media is to blame to making you feel fat, then turn off the media. Someone stated how they had to fight the media to make their daughter not feel fat or unwanted. Well, then teach your daughter to feel fit and wanted (if she is those things; don’t make her feel fit if she isn’t actually fit and I am not talking a six-pack of abs.) Educate her. Give her strength to fight back and lover her body.  To paraphrase Louis C.K. when he said someone there shouldn’t be gay marriage because “What would I tell my kids?”, don’t put it on the media because you don’t want to have a talk with your kid and raise them the right way.

3. Finally, cool it with the complaining about airbrushing and photoshop. We all pretty much assume those covers are touched up. And if you think there should be no touching up, then don’t wear make-up, don’t comb your hair and don’t wear black because you know it is slimming. We all try to put ourselves out there in the best possible light.  That is why you will probably never see me without a shirt on. Too self-conscious to do that and it doesn’t have a thing to do with the media.

What bothers me most about these campaigns is that they actually do more harm than good. Why should one group of people (those who are fit and take care of themselves) feel bad about it because another group (those who don’t) may have been made to feel bad about how they are? How about we just don’t make anyone feel bad about what they are doing unless it is harmful? Being too thin is just as bad as being too fat.  Not running enough is probably as bad as running too much. Being/doing/having too much of anything is usual on par with the same on the other side of the scale. Shaming those who make a concerted effort to be fit doesn’t help the plight of those who don’t.

You may recall the 'Hot Facebook Mom' Maria Kang who started off a firestorm. I loved her statement. She wasn’t touting any product or food. She was just stating that there are often people who use anything as an excuse to not do something else. She says the photo was not photoshopped but was “airbrushed”. In a second photo you can see she has stretch marks.  She is just as “real” as any other woman. But because she dared to come down on the wrong side of the “every woman is a goddess!” fence she received a healthy dose of criticism.

Look, the problem we have in this country is complex. I would like to believe it is simply a Calories in, Calories Out thing but it is multi-tiered. As I am relatively fit, I don’t get the benefit of the doubt in that I know what it is like to NOT be relatively fit. However, I do as I have been there. I also know how hard I have to work to JUST be THIS relatively fit. As such, I get it is hard work to eat right, exercise properly and fit it into your entire life. It is not easy. We wish it was. That is why we settle for lap band surgery, fall prey to every diet that comes along on infomercials and do virtually everything but eating right and exercising properly.

I know what “real” women look like. I see them every day.  Some are fat, some are obese, some are thin, some are fit and some look so pristinely perfect they look like they were airbrushed in real life. I see these women in many settings. Mostly I see them at races where they are working on bettering themselves in one way or another. 

We live in a different world today where the “average” person does the formally unthinkable.  We have people supporting each other in amazing ways. We absolutely do not need to waste any time making those who are fit feel ashamed for being that way. And to be absolutely clear, we shouldn't make those who are average or a little overweight feel bad about themselves, either. But with the enormous cost of obesity we have, those who are doing what they can to be fit should be applauded. This does not take the applause away from those who are not as fit. There is not a finite amount of applause to go around. However, we definitely should hold the applause for those who actively chose not to be fit. 

Because it hurts us all in the end.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Running Will Kill You

Or at least that is what the folks over at All Malaysian Air Coverage, All the Time (formerly known as CNN) will have you believe. More accurately, that is the headline grabber they use to get you in before you realize that not only do they not really know one way or another but they are probably wrong.

Yes, I am a runner so I don’t want to think something I am doing will be harmful to me.  But I always have been one who likes to take myself out of a situation and see if even though I do enjoy doing it, whether it is good for me.  (That is why I almost never have had Chicago Bears players on my Fantasy Football team until the past few years.  I loved them but they had no one who was going to help me score points.  If that isn’t objectivity, I don’t know what is. GO Bears!)

Ignoring a ridiculous statement made later in the article presented, let me just state the facts.

1.    The smoking gun in the article is merely research brought up at a conference and has not been published by a peer-reviewed journal. If you know anything about the medical world, this is not saying it is the same as stating UFOs built the pyramids, but someone else is going to need to take a look at the research before we can all sign off on it.

2.    The research was done by self-reporting of individuals, something which is notoriously flawed. Think of your friends and how incorrect they are in thinking about how much they eat in a day, how many calories they burn off in exercise, etc.  Self-reporting is not something we can trust.

3.    We know absolutely nothing else about the self-reporters.  We do not their previous medical history, their current jobs, their stress levels, or even HOW they died. Heck, the study itself even states “The study authors could not find a strong association between cardiovascular health or painkiller use and the long-distance runners' shorter life spans, so the reason behind this link remains unclear.” Of course, that won’t stop them from throwing out the “STOP RUNNING! IT WILL KILL YOU!” flag. (Yes, I am exaggerating.)

(N.B. I am well aware they are not saying to stop running altogether. Although the study reports that those who do not run AT ALL still live as long as those who run more than 20 miles a week, which is more or less the same thing.)

OK, now we get to the part that makes my blood boil. Dr. James O'Keefe, a cardiologist at the Mid America Heart Institute, states “We’re just not designed to run 26 miles at a time, or 100, or go on a full-distance triathlon for 12 hours as hard as you can go.” This leads me to a personal story.

When I ran my 52 Marathons in 52 Weeks I lived in the greater DC area. I was a relative novice to running and there was not a lot of literature out there on how to do this sort of thing. And by “not a lot” I mean “absolutely nothing”. I was a little worried about how it could stress me out, especially since I was planning on running as hard as I possibly could each week.  I reached out to a variety of universities in the area (George Washington, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, to name a few) asking if any of them wished to conduct a study on my body as I went along to get information for, well, science.

The responses I received were what I can only say were guarded enthusiasm. To cut to the chase, it appears virtually everyone I spoke to was very excited to do at least something with me but it appeared that from the top of their programs they were getting the pushback. The crux of the issue was signing off on working with someone who was going to out there and “harm” themselves like I was planning on doing. When all was said and done, I was not able to get anyone to work with me. To be honest, while I was confident in myself, this apprehension from people who supposedly knew more than me did make me a little uneasy. Yet, I went out and did it anyway. Stupendously and with zero harm or injuries, I might add.

When the endeavor ended I actually was contacted by some of those same universities stating that they wished they had done something with me and if I ever did this again they would be interested. You can imagine how hard I laughed at that. Nevertheless, my point is that somehow, nearly a century after people with far less advances in medical science, footwear and apparel, food and drink did amazing feats of long distance running, we (as runners) still face the “freak” flag from non-runners.

No longer are most people looked at strangely as they run on the roads. Beer cans are rarely thrown from cars at runners anymore. Virtually everyone you know has run some sort of long-distance race. But there is still this backlash against running long distances.

A friend recently told me of their constant interactions with their sedentary, overweight relatives who berate them over their fitness goals and running.  (Why is it always the unhealthiest that like to tell the healthy how to live properly?) This interaction, and literally thousands I have heard or experienced myself of the same ilk, are why the statement by O’Keefe above just pisses me off.

I have spent the past 8 years of my life showing people they can do more than they think they can. Can everyone do 52 Marathons in a year safely? Maybe not. Can they run the coast of Oregon in one week? That’s iffy. How about 202 miles in 50 hours? No. However, many people can do similar things (and some have done longer, faster and better than me!) But you needn’t run hundreds of miles at once to know that the body IS ABSOLUTELY EFFING DESIGNED TO RUN THAT FAR.

I am hoping O’Keefe’s statement was taken out of context or was truncated or something else because it is just ridiculous. I mean, how can a man of science say we are not designed to do something that hundreds thousands of people do each year without detriment?  Even if you go to hundred mile races we are still talking thousands of people who do those.

The ultrarunning world is actually experiencing a little infighting as to what is really considered an “ultra” and one of the main reasons is the old guard is a little miffed that regular ole suburban plodders have infiltrated the ranks of the 50 mile finishers. If Suzy Homemaker and Johnny Pencilpusher can finish a 50 miler smiling, it can’t be all that hard, is the thought amongst some. And, to some extent, that is true.  It is still a great achievement and one anyone who does should be proud of.  But we as runners have shown over just the past decade, how relatively average people can accomplish relatively remarkable things.

So, I suggest you just file this away into your “Full of Crap” file.  Don’t worry about dusting it off to re-read it. It won’t be but a few more weeks until the next study comes out telling you it is impossible to do the things you or someone you know has already done.

Monday, March 31, 2014

On Being a Race Bandit

Last November, runners were told to get over ourselves. While I agree that on some level this assertion is true I can also think of no subset of the human population that couldn’t be told the same thing. What raised the ire of many runners was this proclamation was coming from the mouth of a self-professed (and portly) non-runner. Like the old adage of “I can make fun of my family but you can’t”, this one came from outside the inner circle. That’s not acceptable. 

Then runners were hit from within.

One runner at a half in NYC recently posted a bunch of selfies with herself and other “hot” male runners in a race. Relatively harmless, the piece went viral, although I wondered if it would have received the same haha praise if a male runner had done it with “hot chicks” in the background. 

Then a few days later, another runner and blogger Ashley Hesseltine, thinking this selfie idea was brilliant, usurped it for her own article. Problem was, unlike the runner in NYC, she didn’t pay for the race she decided to run.  She became a bandit. But worse, she became a smug, not-particularly-funny bandit, writing about it without the best of writing skills relying on mainly snark and cursing for humor. When runners deemed to tell her being a bandit was wrong, her self-righteousness went to eleven.

I have no doubt that some people were probably far too bothered by it and I am sure others took to insulting her personally rather than her actions.  Of course, if you title your own blog “Witty + Pretty” you are asking for people to take swings.  I get it.  My job title on Facebook is “Manufacturer of Awesome.”  You don’t think if I have a bad day or race or comment or whatever that those who don’t like me aren’t going to jump all over that? Please. But I digress. (I also am pretty freaking awesome, so no worries on that one.)

By the time many read Hesseltine’s blog for the first time, the addendum she added in response to the initial commenters simply oozed with indignation.  If I had to guess, even though Ms. Hesseltine is a runner, I bet she never had banditted a race before. She probably wasn’t expecting such vitriol or anything other than “You so funny!” Thinking she did nothing wrong, she had to stay on the attack when those speaking of what she did pointed out it was uncouth. (Coincidentally, I had unknowingly read other articles by Hesssletine in the past which I only now realized were hers and the same confrontational-for-the-supposed-sake-of-being funny attitude permeated throughout those as well.)   

Races cost money for a reason. People who take part in them fairly do so because they have paid for that right. I won’t list all of the things that runners’ fees go to pay for but police officers, road closures, aid station food and drink, chip timing, race medals, t-shirts and course entertainment are just a few. Claiming, as some of her defenders did, that the roads are public and they pay taxes so they can use them during race day as well asinine. Your taxes pay for school chemistry labs too but you can just waltz in and fire up a Bunsen burner whenever you want.  Plus, on top of all the other safety reasons in races that existed prior to April of last year, we now live in apost-bombing of the Boston Marathon world. People who aren’t where they are supposed to be are going to be looked at different. Sure, Ms. Hesseltine is a white woman but if she was a Chechen or Middle-eastern man doing the same thing, she would be looked at differently.  This is not me taking the slippery slope too quickly; this is looking at real life.

Here’s the thing. We all make mistakes. I banditted a race once. I felt wrong after.  But even in that race I did not take any of the fluids, food or medals for finishers which others spend their money on. (A picture since taken down, apparently showed Hesseltine taking bling she didn’t pay for.) Also, I definitely did not bandit specifically to write a post about it in hopes of bolstering my writing career. Therein lies the fundamental problem with Hesseltine’s post and why so many were bothered. The whole  “Thanks for the PAGEVIEWS, suckas!” attitude showed absolutely no remorse whatsoever or even a hint of “Sorry, my bad.”  If either had popped up, I am guessing runners would have dropped the whole issue. But, the more people disliked her, the more it fueled her post being viewed and the more she fired back at her “trolls”. Unfortunately, just because someone disagrees with you, does not make them a troll or a bully, both words Hesseltine threw around in her middle-fingers-up-and-ablazin’ responses.

But that sort of response is fairly typical of the too-cool-for-school Gen Y  blogger. Saying “Get over it already” and then writing ANOTHER blog with one of those horrible non-apology apologies to milk her 15 minutes even more didn’t help matters at all. I guess that is what they do over at the Huffington Post.  Click bait. (Just be happy she doesn’t write for CNN or she might have written about Malaysian Air 370 for the past two weeks and then complained about people being upset about her mocking the crash before writing another post about us needing to get over it.) 

Stating she had raised money in the past for charities and had signed up for this race again already (which I found shocking that the race would allow) seemed to show she was a good person. She probably is. But it was strike two at missing the point. She made a mistake and did something wrong but rather than just owning up to it she put up another layer of talk-to-the-hand to her haterz.

Perhaps this is another case of runners needing to get over themselves. But runners are rather good at self-policing their sport. When someone gets out of line they get whacked down. One can claim as Hesseltine did that her entire post was all in the name of showing off her city or just trying to be a comedian. Even supposedly sending in a check afterward to pay for the registration fee smacks of Hesseltine trying to buy her way out of the whole her own attitude created. Simply taking it on the chin would have done her a world of good. Of course, contrite and logical doesn’t get pageviews.

I hope those pageviews were worth it in the long run. And maybe if she did a few more of those long runs, her times would be better.