Monday, January 26, 2015

Alan Turing: Genius Gay Marathoner Murdered by British Government

I got a chance to watch The Imitation Game this past weekend. First and foremost I would highly suggest you watch it. It is not a documentary, so let’s just nip all the “it plays loosey-goosey with the facts” talk in the bud right here. Much of history is a series of mundane details which eventually add up to amazing things. A movie cannot encapsulate all of that and keep its excitement all at once. So, deal with it.  A movie can, however, ignite passion to learn more about, or even remember forgotten, details about history.

In high school, I was blessed to have a computer teacher who has, 21 years later, remained a good friend.  Mr. Karl Engleka made computing an enjoyable thing, long before the internet was anything but a BBS (google it, you damn millenials.) I could only dial-up (*gasp*) for about 15 minutes a day before school started. In fact, he made programing so fun I actually was decently proficient in BASIC and a few other hence-forgotten programming languages. He also introduced me to many different figures in history I might not have otherwise known. 

Alan Turing was one of them.

Turing’s involvement with the Enigma device which coded German communication finally became widely known in the 1990s.  I just so happened to be in one of Karl’s classes at that time. I learned a great deal about Turing but many details of his life remained hush-hush. His homosexuality and subsequent punishment for were one of the things I don’t remember reading much about then. Another was his running career.

Perhaps I heard about the running but as someone who was not interested in the sport, I quickly forgot. The fact remains, however, that Turing was an excellent runner.  His best time of 2:46:03 in the marathon was only 11 minutes slower than the winner in the 1948 Olympic Games. In fact, in a 1948 cross-country race he finished ahead of Tom Richards who went onto win the silver medal in the Olympics. Obviously a cross-country race and a marathon are quite different but this shows his abilities were obviously quite high.

This led me to wonder how much his teammates may have known about his homosexuality. I did some research and it appears some seemingly knew nothing about Turing’s attraction to men. One teammate said “We never had any indication whatsoever [of his being gay.] There was our dressing room, with 20 or 30 young men, running around naked, darting in and out of the showers. He never approached one of them, invited them out for a drink or anything.” This makes me question if this ignorance was actually a company line or if it was that really well-kept of a secret. Regardless, I have a feeling that if some knew (I have no doubt some had an inkling) that by and large, even in a time where being gay was a crime, it would have been gladly accepted by his running mates.

How can I make such a bold claim of tolerance in a time of little of the same? Mostly because runners and the sport of running have long been ahead of the rest of society as a whole when it comes to accepting the new. Be it gender, race, or sexual orientation, the over-riding feeling amongst runners has been “Can you keep up?” 
When Kathrine Switzer was afraid of running in her first Boston Marathon, her spirits were buoyed by so many men who were supportive of her being there. Ted Corbitt, the grandson of slaves was the founder and first president of the Road Runners Club of America and the founding president of the New York Road Runners Club. Janet Furman (formerly Jim) experienced some shock when she had a sex change but for the most part, runners seemed to be rather accepting of the choice she made. (This acceptance was perhaps selfishly made when they saw the surgeries and hormones made her run far slower as a female than as a male but you take acceptance where you can get it sometimes.)

Turing’s story is a sad one inevitably, which is where the title of my article comes into play. When found out to be a homosexual years after being one of the people who helped end World War II, he was given a choice by the courts in England: either two years in jail or chemical castration to “curb his sexual desire.”  Turing chose the latter for what was probably a variety of reasons. Around a year later, still being forced to take these drugs, experiencing both breast enlargement, sickness, and physical bloating of his entire figure, Turing committed suicide. (There is some ambiguity into his death by cyanide poisoning that leads some to believe he may have accidentally killed himself.) In essence, the same country he kept from getting bombed on a daily basis, more or less gave him a death sentence. 

I know some may still feel this was a fine punishment even today. In fact, I would bet my life savings if given Sodium Pentothal there is a member or two of our own Congress who would still agree with this punishment. But my belief is that those feelings are far outnumbered by others and do not represent those in the running community, then or now.

Perhaps it is na├»ve or revisionist of me to believe Turing was accepted by his fellow runners, regardless of his sexual orientation. Projecting views on the morality and decisions of the populace in the 1950s with a 2015 perspective can be one fraught with peril. But when you hear Turing say “I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard” one can only hope that by his side were a group of supportive running friends, running just as hard. 

If nothing else, hopefully his story can resonate and help people see how just like prejudices against races and genders needed to be broken down, so do those against those in the gay communities. Keep in mind, Turing was only pardoned "for being gay" in 2013 and that was only after immense public scrutiny. Estimates for the nameless others who received the same punishment are easily over 50,000. 

When we look at life we realize in the end we all run in one race: the human race. As a society the only way we are going to win this race is if everyone makes it to the finish line together.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

White River Snowshoe 8K Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 1st Edition 
5 miles run in 2015 races
Race: White River Snowshoe 8K
Place: White River Sno Park
Miles from home: 61 miles
Weather: 40s; snowy/rainy

My first thought was "Do these places really save a lot of time by removing the "w" from 'Sno-Park'?"  My second thought was "Is there even going to be any 'sno'?"

Wanting to experience snow in Portland is a tough thing to do. It virtually never snows here, at least of any snow worth value. One must seek it out if they want it during the  
winters. Two winters ago, I had to go to Canada.  Last year we had one little snowstorm and Portland shut.the.eff.down. Like Walking Dead shutdown. Rick Grimes was out trying to kill biters which was easy because they were yarnbombing IPA establishments and couldn't run fast because of their skinny jeans. (Thank you. I will be here all week.) So in order to find some snow and race in it, it meant I had to trek to Mt. Hood.

It's a bit of a shame it took me 2.5 years of living in Portland to venture to Mt. Hood. I have driven past it multiple times en route to various other great places in Oregon. But I had never actually been on the mountain. So, when the opportunity to play in the snow and take on my first snowshoe race ever came upon me, I jumped at it.

Then it wouldn't stop raining.

The night before the race, staying just seven miles from the race site, it was 50something degrees way past midnight and raining. Not normal Portland rain where you barely get wet but like East Coast hate-rain. Like rain that actually seems angry at you for being outside. I wondered if my first ever snowshoe race would be a mudshoe race.

Arriving about an hour prior to race time, my friend Shannon and I wanted to allow ourselves ample time to figure out how to put on, let alone run in, snowshoes. We were pleased as punch to see that at least at the beginning of the race appeared to have some snow on it.  How much was on the rest of the course would be determined.

Here, I give extreme kudos to the race director, Kevin Foreman. A very affable chap he also has a no cancellation policy on races. As for this race, when I asked if it would still go on, Foreman said "If Mt. Hood erupted, there would be a 50/50 chance it's still on."

The course itself had to be modified and lord knows when they did that and how late at night they were up doing so. But come race time, we had ourselves a 4k loop that was entirely on snow. I opted for the 8k, two-looper because I figured I would take me 3 miles to figure out how to run in snowshoes. I didn't want to just get the hang of it and then be done.

A description of the course, for those reading this on how to prepare for future years, is probably unnecessary. Given it will undoubtedly change, suffice it to say we ran a loop which had a gradual uphill for a few hundred yards, a big up hill, a downhill, two short up hills and then a long gradual downhill to the beginning of the second loop. That's the quick version. The longer version goes something like this.

Because I was not aware of how wide the area we could run in was, and even though I hadn't run a step in the shoes, I wanted to be close to the front. I trusted neither my ability to navigate nor pass anyone in front of me so I wanted as clear a path as possible. I didn't want to get tangled up in some sort of Agony of Defeat Wild World of Sports moment. As the first few hundred yards would show, I wasn't too shabby at running in the shoes. Furthermore, the sky had clouded over and white fluffy snowflakes began to fall. It was turning out to be a perfect showshoe running adventure. I was psyched!

I did forget we were at 4500 feet of elevation and running uphill, in snowshoes, in snow, would tax the lungs a bit. But I soon got a little bit of a rhythm. It looked like I was in the top 10 and I felt good. A couple of runners up ahead were obviously going to fight for the top prize but I figured a top 5 finish was within my grasp. Just had to survive the first loop and then I would know what I had in store.

Up ahead I could see a super steep hill but that was obviously meant for sledding or snowboards or
something.  As the 4kers had started 15 minutes ahead of us I figured any of the stragglers would be visible on this hill if we were going to run it. Instead, I saw nothing but kids and adults goofing around as they tried hilariously to get up the hill. What silly goons. Why can't they figure out a way to get up that - WAIT.  Those are runners! Why are the guys in front of me running up that?! Son of a-.

I had great trepidation with this hill. I have suffered a litany of odd calf/Achilles problems in the past few years and the last thing I needed was to tear one of them in this damnable race. Climbing this hill I could feel the strain on both so I was being gentle and slow.  I expected slews of people to pass me on the hill but it appeared my slow shuffle was as fast as everyone else's run and no one did. Fine with me.

At the top of the big hill we still had some slight climbing to do as we snaked through trees and fallen logs.  By now we had also caught up to many of the last of the 4Kers so we had to dodge and weave. As I alluded to earlier I wasn't too adept at that. Down Goes Frazier!  Fall #1.  Back on my feet I trudged forward.

We got to a place where I thought my eyes were deceiving my but more than a few people were sliding ass-first down a hill. "Is this where we go?" I asked as two guys behind me plunged down the ravine.  I guess so. Deathly afraid of tearing something (I hate the loss of fearlessness of getting older) I slid down the hill part on my butt and part on my shoes. Up and running again, I passed the guys who passed me and began trying to track down everyone else.

We ran next to a rivulet of grey water which I am guessing was non-existent three days ago before all this rain came to town. But the sound of its babbling was pleasant. The snow was getting heavier and I was loving this in spite of how much I was sucking at it. I went up two quick hills and my Achilles protested even more. I began to wonder if perhaps the 4k might have been smarter. I then somehow stepped on the back of one of my shoes and down I went again. Fall #2.

That all but ended the uphills and we began too trek downward. This I enjoyed. My lungs felt good, my calfs didn't hurt and I began passing people. One fella, however, wasn't exactly letting me pass. That was his
prerogative but I would have liked a little bit of leeway.  Finally, when I felt I had enough steam, I plowed off to the left and into the untrodden much deeper snow.  I sailed past him and set my sights on the remaining guys in front of me. About 50 yards later, I fell again. This time, however, could see why. I had run right out of my showshoe.

I quickly tried to get my foot back in but this was not a simple contraption. Plus, I was inexperienced in doing so. Plus, my hands were in gloves. Plus, my foot was covered in snow. Plus, I was on the side of a hill and other runners were coming at me. Plus, when I tried to kick my foot free of the shoe, I sent it sailing about 15 feet in front of me. This would be hilarious if I wasn't trying to race. Finally, I got the shoe back on and started running again. Just a few steps later and I realized I had not tightened it properly. I had to pull over again and secure the shoe. Now I was angry at myself for not being more prepared and experienced. I also remembered I don't like races where there is "equipment." I want shoes. That's it.

Bombing down the hill I found I could run downhill very well, just like in real life. I shifted through trees and followed the path in front of me hoping to catch as many people that had passed me as possible. We came to the turning point where I would make a right to finish the race but this loop I had to make a left to start it all over again. I could see all the racers in front of me who had passed me when I was down stretched out in front of me like ants on ice cream: black bodies on white snow.

Having obviously gained a great deal of ground on all of them, I went into racing mode. There were more than a few places where we were all brought to a walk, even if just for a few paces to catch our wind. Do not underestimate this sort of exercise: it is tiring.  But I could tell I was less tired than they were so I timed my quick walk breaks accordingly. I would walk until I was right behind them and then run. Making sure to pass them with strength and not look back. If I had to walk it would be after I had put some distance between us. I passed no less than 7 or 8 runners this way until I was at the base of the big hill again. No shame here - I am walking this bad boy.

At the top, knowing there were just two quick bumps to get over and mostly flat or slightly uphill for a few hundred yards, I began to motor.  I passed the guy who I had veered into the snow to pass on the previous lap and strained to see anyone else to chase down. No one. I was quite miffed at myself but alas.  The remainder of the race was me just picking them up and putting them down. I felt like I had been doing this my whole life, especially when we hit the long gradual downhill. I hopped over logs I had stepped over on the first lap. I didn't slow to take turns on gradual sloping hills. The flip-flap of my snowshoes was a nice rhythmic noise and I felt in tune with it all. I was pushing the pace but couldn't see anyone ahead of me. 

As I entered the last forested portion of the run, which had us leaping over logs and zig-zagging trees on a slight uphill I had walked on the first lap, I simply sped up. I saw one final competitor in front of me I recognized from my race. I went up the incline and made the right turn. Down the hill I went closing the gap. I was getting closer and closer even as I could hear the footsteps of a runner behind me. I deduced correctly it was a 4k runner who I had just passed and he wanted to race me hard to the finish (even though were were in separate races) and I used this challenge to spur me on more. Unfortunately, I was running out of real estate to catch the runner in front of me.

I came barreling into the finish just 5 seconds behind one runner and finished 13th overall. One of the runners I was tracking down (and was catching) before I fell finished 7th. I have ever reason to believe I would have been there if not further up the placings if not for the ejected snowshoe. I was a little perturbed but soon got over it. The race was a huge success and everyone was having a blast. What easily could have been a sopping mess instead turned into a winter blessing.

Shannon came in a little bit later, just one week off of finishing a tough 50k in a time which made her pleased as well. I made a few new friends while Kevin gave away door prizes and many enjoyed a beer or two. I gave the race two copies of No Handoffs and as it ends up both recipients were people I had talked to after the race. My favorite quote from one of them "And earlier I asked you if you ran many races."

Later I found out that while I hadn't had the best day ever, I had qualified for the 2015 National Championship race in Wisconsin. So I have that going for me.

Monday, January 12, 2015

An (Honestly) Helpful Response to JoAnna Novak Saying No Thanks to the Marathon

Anything that puts down runners in the slightest way definitely gets said runners feathers all ruffled.  One of my most-read columns ever was My Response to Chad Stafko's Article that Runners Need to Get Over Themselves. The one ruffling feathers now is JoAnna Novak's No Marathon For Me, Thanks: Five Reasons She's Opting Out.

I hesitate to link to it or even reply but I had a few friends ask me for my opinion on it so I thought, hey what the heck. Ignoring that it is obviously written to get the most clicks possible, (it worked- I am writing about it) Ms. Novak makes a valid point or two. But I wanted to write an open letter to her with some point-by-point responses and maybe a little advice. Of course I am not a Pushcart-Prize-nominated author of three chapbooks (I had to do a lot of googling there to find out what those are) but I have dealt in the realm of pissing people off on a rather regular basis. I hope this helps.

JoAnna: "1. OPRAH: Ever since Oprah ran the Marine Corps Marathon (with her time of 4:29:20) in 1994, marathons have been about completion. According to “How Oprah Ruined the Marathon,” Edward McClelland’s 2007 article in Salon, the queen of daytime television ushered in a new era of populist racing. Forget a competitive time—the point of running 26.2 miles could simply be … to finish? For better or for worse, I’m a perfectionist, an all-or-nothing gal, who wants to go big or go home. I’m not going big with a marathon so … I’ll stay home."

Me: Marathons have always been about completion. The simple fact that the body can handle about 20 miles before it really starts to break down its stores of glycogen makes those extra 6.2 miles the reason a marathon, no matter how many times you run it, will always be about completion. Sure, the times have slowed over the past twenty years as more and more people who wouldn't think of stepping out the door to run now jump right into the marathon. There are definitely pros and cons about that which I openly talk about with anyone who wants to hear.  However, if you are going to label yourself a "go big or go home gal", lord do I hope you never run a slowish race. Because, since this is the internet, people will find your time and will mock you.

J:  "2.) THE ME-ME-ME SHOW: Just like that pesky friend who’s always announcing her new-found pescatarianism (minus oil, minus dairy, plus chia), the hobby marathoner just rubs me the wrong way! From her Facebook posts about the amazing sights she sees on her long run, to the adoption of idiosyncratic lingo, to the epic race-day dramas (fueling stations! strains!): call me a scrooge, but all that attention just cramps my running style."

Me: Again, you make some valid points. I talk about slowing your roll with the use of "epic" and its ilk myself. But if those people bother you with their Facebook posts, remove them. I do it all the time. However, it is their Facebook wall, no matter how annoying they may be. And again, seriously, watch it with the hobby thing or my goodness if you aren't running 17 minute 5Ks, there is a shitstorm a-brewin'.

J:  "3.) NOTHING TO PROVE: Eight years ago, though, I had a different idea. I’ve always been a distance runner, so one summer I toyed with the idea of training. Slowly, slowly, I upped my six miles to seven to eight to nine to ten; for a couple weeks, I ran a comfortable fourteen. And then, it hit me.
Fourteen miles took up two hours of my day. I’d put in the miles, felt good, but for what? I could imagine myself tacking another twelve-with-change onto that."

Me: You might not have anything to prove but this paragraph doesn't make much sense. Also, no offense, even a "hobby marathoner" might have a problem with you claiming you have "always been a distance runner" but had to "slowly, slowly" up your mileage past seven. I just had a friend who barely runs ask me if she had to do any long runs for her 15k and I was confused. The 15k isn't even a long run, I thought.

Also, you erroneously assume that "proving" something is the reason why we all run marathons. Some do and I wish they didn't. I think we should all just Do it For You.  But we don't. Alas.

J: "4.) KNEES AND HEART: Only maybe is extreme distance racing beneficial for either."

Me: OK, now you are just becoming part of the problem. First of all, 26.2 miles is hard. Very hard.  But it is not extreme. Second, I would hope by now a person who has "always been a distance runner" would know better than to think running is bad for your knees (it is not) or heart (are you kidding me?) Those theories should have been thrown out with the "uterus will fall out" bathwater about 75 years ago.

J: "5.) THE JOYS OF MODERATION: Yes, all-or-nothing is great, but, contradictorily, I’m also a happy passenger on the moderation train. Maybe it’s the prospect of turning thirty in a month, but I want to be able to run for a long, long time. I’m happy to pace myself now to ensure I can run just as well later."

Me: So I guess we should have just ignored the badassery that was the perfectionist stated earlier? Regardless, no one wants to run for a very long period of time less than me. And running and training for marathons (152 and counting), and 202 mile runs, and 350 mile runs over 7 days is not what is going to keep me from doing so.

Good luck on your upcoming 30th birthday. I hope it brings a little more wisdom with it than was showed in this article. If you ever decided to run a marathon, your article notwithstanding, I am sure runners would welcome you with open arms.

Cracking the Weight Loss Code

The past few years have been filled with some really exciting long runs and exotic tests of my endurance.  In 2010, I ran the 202 mile American Odyssey Relay solo.  In 2012 I ran the coast of Oregon (350+ miles) in one week.  I ran from Dane, WI to Davenport, IA in 2013 - then ran a marathon the next day. Also, since my last marathon PR, I have had two separate bike crashes, an extremely dangerous staph infection in my foot, and a litany of bad luck, illness, and what have you. I also have had some widely yo-yoing in my weight.

Studies have shown that regardless of what your weight is made up of, ten pounds is akin to an extra nine minutes of time over a marathon distance. Obviously there gets a point where too thin is detrimental, but suffice it to say, a 6’1’’ 185 lb runner (me) will have a harder go at the marathon than his exact 175 lb twin (that smug skinny bastard.)  It is the simple physics of mass through space.

Feeling healthy and strong for the first time since, well, about 2009, I am looking forward to going for a PR in the marathon at some point in 2015. But I know I need to slim down a little bit in order to attempt that. Unfortunately, it has not been that easy.

I was entering my workouts into my Timex TrainingPeaks gadget and saw in the previous 7 days I had run 65.6 miles. This came to 8 hours and 39 seconds of activity. I thought that amount of miles would have a total exercise time much greater. Eight and a half hours is an extremely small amount of my week. In fact, with 168 hours in a week, I only spent 4.8% of my week exercising. If I slept 8 hours a night (I don’t) that means I spent 96% of waking hours not exercising. Therein lies the problem.

We runners like to think we are expending so much energy with our runs. Calories are just pouring out of our skin and after a hard hour run we can come home and gorge ourselves. We “earned" it! The problem is, we earned far less than we think.

In my scenario above, I burned, according to online calculators, 9302 calories. To lose one pound, you must burn 3,500 more calories than you take in  (perhaps more according to some new studies.) That means my exercise burned off 2.65 pounds by itself. Sure, the body keeps burning after the exercise is down and if the metabolism is high and revving there is a continual calorie burn. But the 2.65 pound weight loss only exists if I didn’t gain those 9302 calories in some other way. Sounds tough but that is only an addition of 1328 calories a day over a week. When you run a ton, or feel like you do, you are going to be quite hungry. Those calories will add up and add up quickly. I think about this all the time.

I know I am on the cusp of losing some of you with the numbers and the math. Let me cut to the chase. You aren’t burning nearly as many calories as you think you are.
Thanks to

And by “you” I also mean “me.” In fact, seeing all of this was a tad bit disheartening even though I have been preaching to others that if they “run so they can eat” they are going to learn, especially as they get older, how often there is no way they can outrun their eating.

Since my profession is writing and speaking (not running, but I am flattered some think so highly of my running skills to see that as part of my dream job) I spend a lot of my non-running time sitting. Less of that time has been sitting recently since I have started using the VARIdesk, but I still spend far too little time being active. So, on top of heavier, more intense exercise and trying to cut down on snacks, I am realizing I need to move around more each day.

This article is also my ode to those who think I do not understand what it is like to battle the bulge. Weight-loss, physical fitness, and being healthy do not come easy to me. People see the ultras and the 152 marathons and think effort does not go into these endeavors. I should be flattered that I have made it look easy. Or perhaps I don’t complain enough about sore legs, cramps, and being tired. But suffice it to say, I understand the struggle to stay fit. I know what it is like to be overweight as I have been there. Maybe not morbidly obese but far heavier than I am now (I topped out ~230 playing rugby in college and then in the year after before my running began.) Not only do I never want to go back there for running reasons, I never want to go back there for life reasons.

As such, I struggle forward. I battle each day, tinkering with exercise and diet and rest and recovery to find the perfect balance that allows me to run hard, run fast, and run healthy. I haven’t found it yet and I doubt I will. But that won’t stop me from trying. I hope you join me on my journey of discovery.