Meh, the Olympics are coming

I used to get excited about the quadrennial Olympics, even though I grew up in the Cold War period were the athletes stood as proxies for the world's superpowers and their allies/henchmen. The latter, of course, was dependent on whether we were talking West Germany (cheer for the good guys!) or East Germany (BOO!)

Even then, the Games were rigged, to the extent that the amateur athlete was seldom seen. The Eastern Block, in thrall to the USSR, employed most of their athletes in government jobs. Most of the world followed suit. The Western powers, led by the United States, were slower. Every time the US contemplated allowing athletes to actually make some coin, the world would protest that the spirit of the Olympics would die. Still, the good guys won their fair share of medals and basked in the glow of smug self-satisfaction, knowing they didn't cheat.

We won't note how many boxers were in the US Army in those days. Oh, wait . . . moving on . . .

The seeds of the destruction of the Olympics date to this period. Unable to overcome truth, justice, and the American way by cheating the system, the East Germans made a management decision to cheat the athletes, specifically their own.  As cogs to the machinery of the State, the individual athlete was expendable. Modern medicine with its miracle drugs provided exactly the tool to teach the running dogs of capitalism a lesson. (I know, capitalist running dog was more a Chinese thing. Roll with it.)

The East Germans dominated the 1972 event, garnering more medals than any other country without the initials USSR or USA. The secret to their success lay in advanced training programs, the natural superiority of the collective - and a little blue pill, containing testosterone. That the anabolic steroid would create enormous health problems (that persist to this day) for the athletes was irrelevant. The goal was to win medals, and at any cost.

The Chinese, as always, like to steal a good thing. Treating PED-use like a Louis Vuitton handbag, they entered a team of distance runners into the World Championships in 1993, winning six of nine possible medals. A month later, they demolished world records. Wang Junxia still holds the top spot in the 10K record book, 23 years later.

Doping, not nationalism, not professionalism, is the slayer of the Olympics. I'll grant you greed plays its part, as well, but we'd still tune into the Olympics to watch world-class athletes if we knew they were clean.

In the last two years, the scandals involving PED use in the running ranks has exploded across the news. With the advent of new testing procedures, the authorities are finding more athletes dirty and recalling medals by the bucket-load. The latest are the 23 culled from the 2008 Olympics.

Now comes news that, despite the total absence of ethics displayed by the Russians, they're going to participate in Rio. The gutless IOC (and I'm being kind) punted on banning Russia, opting instead to pawn off that responsibility to the individual sports federations. The federations will blink and look the other way, exactly as they have been doing for the last four decades.

Knowing, as we now do, that many, and maybe most, of them are doping diminishes my admiration for their talent and their hard work. I have a simply policy; I don't cheer for cheaters. 

Two weeks after the Olympics, our junior high school cross country season will start. I'm guaranteed to have one kid chase the geese and fall in the river, at least one 6th-grade boy make an inappropriate comment that will get him clobbered by a girl, and enough goofiness to recharge my sense of humor for a year.

None of these kids is likely to ever set a world record, but they'll run their guts out whether they finish first, or fifteenth, or fiftieth, and do it the old-fashioned way, with hard work, sacrifice, and pain.

Them I can - and will - cheer for, enthusiastically, each and every one, regardless of where they finish.

Fourth of July

Of all the statements of man in relationship to each other and to the government, none rings with more clarity than the Declaration of Independence.

Calvin Coolidge, in his address celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration, stated:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

We ought not forget what was wrought - nor sacrifice it without a struggle.

h/t Ed Driscoll via Instapundit

I am so not a morning runner!

My wife has an annoying habit of bopping out of bed in the morning, usually cheerfully. In contrast, I drag my sorry rear-end out, creaking and complaining along the way. I get moderately more cheerful if I can get up when I want to, instead of to the alarms. I am very much a creature that prefers his own rhythms.

We use three alarms, two of them to music. The first goes off about ten minutes before my wife gets up. We started this alarm years ago when I noticed that the alarm would go off, we'd snuggle for ten minutes, and my sweetie would end up running late - well, off schedule - getting to work. So, we set a pre-get-up alarm. A couple of decades later, we still use it.

Then her alarm, which used to be the radio at six a.m., announce her turn to get out of bed. Problem with the radio. The news comes on, I listen and by the time I got out of bed, I was in a foul mood. News organizations do not specialize in good news, and every one of them is biased as heck. The new alarm at six sharp is a gentle tone. She turns off hers, I kill the music on mine, and I doze and dream.

I get a lot of story ideas in this intermission. Some are exceedingly weird, some are viable. All are entertaining.

The next alarm thirty minutes later, playing Mannheim Steamroller, gets me to my feet, if grudgingly. Don't laugh at the name - they've got a great sound and are creative in re-imagining classics. I use their Christmas carols. Anyway, for the last month, this was my cue to dress in run gear and get ready for my sweetie to drop me off six miles from the house to run home.

Now, for the record, I hate running early in the morning. When I race marathons with early morning starts, I get up at three a.m. so my body can wake up and get loose. No such luck in a training cycle when getting up in the middle of the night is not an option. I tried using hot showers to loosen the muscles, but that was only moderately successful. Stretching cold muscles accomplishes diddly. I grumped my way out the door.

I'm also slower in the morning. My pace drops off a good thirty seconds per mile in the morning, except on trails. (Got no idea why that is. Best guess is I might be a bit of a head case.) About the only good thing was that I met a great number of cheerful people on the greenbelt in the morning as I lumber past with all the grace of Lurch.

I've tried running in the morning before, most notably with Adric, a friend, when we both needed to get ready for a Spokane-to-Sandpoint relay. Never has it gone well, though the sunrises can be spectacular.  My back does not like morning runs. It begins to lock up. Then it spasms. Then it gets worse, swelling and applying pressure to a herniated disc at the L5 vertebrae in my back until I can barely move. It got to the point where the disc was pressing on nerves, sending shooting pains down my right leg. No bueno.

The damaged disc has nothing to do with running, by the way - I managed to hurt it as a teenager lifting 180 pounds over my head. Then I played a football game the next day. Teenage boys are dumb, sometimes.  

It's taken two weeks this time to rehab the back. I've learned to be very cautious and careful.

I'm a slow learner. Given that morning runs break me, I'm taking my training back to the afternoons. Yesterday was the first run in about three weeks. It was nearly 100 degrees out and I'm not heat acclimated. It still went better than a run in the morning. Bonus, no back pain when I rolled out of the sack.

If you're the kind of runner that can go out and tackle the run in the morning, my hat's off to you. For me, mornings are for drinking coffee, baking sourdough bread, and writing.

Run gently, friends. If you're in the heat of the day, stay smart and hydrated. I'll see you out there.

It's almost like the people doing the work are products to be exploited

Nike surrendered. Dropping their lawsuit against Boris Berian was less a voluntary action and more an act of self-preservation. For those not following the case, Berian had a contract with short-term contract with Nike that allowed them to match offers if Boris found a better deal when the contract ended. Berian signed with New Balance for $125,000 after the Nike contract expired. Nike said they matched the offer - except theirs had 'reduction' clauses. 

The reduction clauses triggered mass mockery from athletes in the social media. Effectively, Nike wanted to match with as little as fifty cents on the dollar, with the argument that this was industry standard. Numerous individuals - led by Jesse Williams, Nick Symmonds, and Sally Bergesenn,the Oiselle CEO - filed briefs in support of Berian that stated that the reduction clauses were not standard. Bergesen, in her brief, stated unequivocally, "In my experience, in talking with other sponsors and industry leaders, reductions, as well as option years, are viewed as being abusive to athletes."


The speculation was that Nike retreated due to the skepticism shown by the presiding judge, but don't under-estimate the PR debacle that was growing. Nike has not enjoyed a good couple of years, what with the bribery scandal in Kenya, the questions regarding PED's and the Nike Oregon Project, the 'buying' of the USATF, and the unusual no-bid award of the World Championships to Eugene. The hits, as they say, keep coming. The news that Nike might just consider the athletes to be disposable products certainly would not help their image.

It also reminds me of the way that the publishing houses treat authors. Kris Rusch does a fantastic job of educating new authors to the dangers of dealing with publishing houses. Instead of reduction clauses, they co-opt (steal) as many rights as they can, place restrictions on what an author can write through non-compete clauses, and use sliding-scale royalty clauses that ensure that they always get paid for their work while reducing the author absorbs the entirety of price reductions for deeply discounted books at Costco and Walmart. 

Or Disney bringing in H1B visa-holders to replace their existing engineering staff. Adding insult to injury, Disney required the soon-to-be-laid-off engineers to train they're replacements. The abuse of the H1B program is rampant at Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and the rest of the tech companies.

All this points to a larger problem. Major corporations do not believe that people matter. They see labor purely as a line number on the financial statements. The lower that number, the more money Google or Facebook makes. Investors love more profits, the stock market value goes up, and it's all good.

I disagree. I understand that labor is absolutely subject to the same supply and demand laws as everything else. It is because of this understanding that I oppose programs like the H1B visas and unlimited criminal immigration. Both work to devalue the labor of the American employee. Mother Jones has a nice recap from 2013. I don't agree with them much, but here there is common cause.

That is shameful.

Likewise, Nike's reduction clauses or Hachette's copyright grabs seek to exploit the value of the work of the athlete or author while retaining all, or the majority of, the benefits to the corporation. Run, Boris, run, but not for New Balance and how dare Nick Symmonds wear something other than Nike apparel in his hotel.

That's why I don't buy Nike products any more - I flat don't trust them. Instead, I'll spend my money on shoes from Edna, the Kenyan start-up. Ditto, USATF. I sponsor my local cross country team, but I won't spend a dime for the USAFT if I can possibly help it.

I'm turning into a curmudgeon in my old age. I still think that the people around me matter. I wish our corporations and sports federations thought the same. Athletes should not be treated like prized racehorses, and shot (financially) if they break a leg. They're people who deserved to be treated with respect for the efforts they put forth and rewarded accordingly.

Which is harder? Starting running - or restarting? Part Deux

While running, I pondered a question, the one in the blog post title. To see the beginnings of my thoughts, read this.

I started running again when I was 38 and recently laid off from Texaco. It wasn't a response to the shock or early-onset mid-life crisis, but a rational decision that I needed to stay in shape. At the time, I was working on a black belt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean style of martial arts. I figured my new boss did not want me to show up broken - and, with a family to feed, I couldn't risk getting broken.

So I decided I would run. Being goal-oriented, I decided not only that I would run, but that I would complete a marathon, so I picked one that was about six months out, the San Diego Rock 'n Roll. Seemed like a big grand thing to try for.

My first run getting ready was four miles, in rain, wearing heavy cotton sweats. It pretty well sucked but I covered the ground. Now, I was still doing the martial arts, just not the sparring. I was splitting my limited spare time from my new job driving a lumbering concrete mixer six days a week between the running and time at the studio.

In most respects, I was not a returning runner, but a new runner. I had no recent baselines and no real memory of training habits to guide me. No coach. I just ran when I could, averaging about 25 miles a week.

Marathons ought not be taken so lightly. For you veteran runners, quit laughing. I survived being dumb.

Then I moved up to a new class of dumb, tackling ultras and falling in love with trail running. It turned out that I was good enough to win age group awards in the ultras that I entered, but it was the ability to go out and cover 30, 40, 50 miles of trails in solitude that captured my spirit. I found I didn't need racing to run. I averaged 70 miles a week and felt like my legs could take me anywhere.

My body conspired against me, though. I have gout (and probably psuedogout) and long-distance running exacerbates the problem. I became an expert at managing hydration to limit the deposition of the monosodium urate crystals that trigger the worst attacks. In February of 2005, I reinjured my back coaching youth basketball and lost feeling in my right leg. Months of rehab with a physical therapist followed, which was better than the surgery that the doctor wanted to do. Different surgeon got to cut on me to repair a hernia. It was a challenging year, but I ran a marathon (Seafair in Seattle) and Hood-to-Coast with that hernia.

Gout is, unfortunately, a progressive disease, one that eventually leads to gouty arthritis and tophi, deposits below the skin. I have both, and an extra bonus complication.

I haven't had a major cold, the kind that puts a person in bed for days, in decades. My immune system is so hyped from attacking the gout that it is at full alert at all times. It detects an intruder, it tries to kill it. Ironically, this includes NSAIDs used for treating the swelling of gout attacks and the gout medications themselves. Effectively, my immune system triggered allergic reactions to the meds.

It took three years for the doctor and I to get my immune system to be slightly less aggressive so I could take probenecid. (I still react to allopurinol.) Once we could start treatment, it was almost a year of non-stop attacks while the medicine purged my body of extra uric acid. A year without running. Afterwards, the side effects of the drugs became evident. I'm now anemic. Taking iron supplements helps, but only masks the problem.

I'm slow, slow, slow, but . . .

Now I'm in a restart cycle, and back to running, though different than when I decided to run that first marathon. This time I have the memories close at hand of what I could do. Every time I run and look at my watch, see a 10 minute mile pace, I can recall knocking down that same mile in seven's. Hills I used to climb with ease require a walking break.

It's easy to get discouraged when, week after week, it becomes more clear that I won't be able to run the same way again. I have to remind myself of all the work I put in before, the miles of training, the hours on the track doing speedwork. Most especially, I need to remind myself to be patient. It took years to build the base that let me play on mountain tops, and years to lose it. I won't get it back in a month or even a year.

Whether you're just starting to run, or making a comeback to running, hope is a crucial element. It's easier for the newbie, but perhaps even more important for the runner coming back for whatever reason. Coming back, fighting not just the physical battle, or the mental battle, but your own memories, is tough.

So, stay hopeful, run gently, and good things shall come.

I promise.

Which is harder? Starting running - or restarting?

I seem to have misplaced my speed, what little I used to have. Long, slow slogs over the last couple of weeks remind of this sad factoid and also gave rise to this thought - Is it harder to start running or restart your running off an extended layoff?


I wonder if a study exists that tracks when people start running. I suspect many longtime runners assume that everyone started in high school, or even earlier. I'm not so sure, especially for women runners. In my case, I ran in high school only because I had a track coach that thought even discus throwers needed to cruise five miles a day. Protests that the discus circle was only eight feet across and the flinging the disc was an explosive event fell on Mr. Stanley's deaf ears. Off I went, grumbling, until I settled on my first ever running goal.

Get fast enough to keep up with the cute girls.

I had no background for running and this was early enough in the first running boom that information was pretty limited, so we all turned the same miles. In hindsight, the best part of being a teenager is the ability to recover. I plowed through the first couple of five-milers, dying off as the group outran my meager ability. Each day, I died a little later into the route until one day, two weeks into the regimen, I finished with the girls. Barely. Progress. Also, goal achieved.

Every practice started the same, with the run. Then, we'd split to tackle our individual events. While the runners did their speed work, I spun myself dizzy, working on perfecting release angles and timing, building calluses on the edges of first two fingers. Also, wearing out the soles of my sneakers. Discus is ridiculously hard on footwear.

Summer came, and I kept running because the cute girls did, and the monthly 10K's popped up on the horizon. I started racing them and discovered early on that I had a governor on my engine. Sprint speed I had, not great but I could hold my own in a kick. What I didn't have was the one essential quality that every great distance runner must possess - the ability to process incredible amounts of oxygen. I didn't know it at the time, but I had/have exercised-induced asthma.

Funny thing about exercised-induced asthma; the worst period of the attack is 5-20 minutes into the run. I used to joke that it took me three miles to warm up. As always, a kernel of truth hides within the joke.

Since I couldn't run away with the leaders, I developed a racing strategy that worked. I became a grinder, hanging on through that first hard period, letting the fingers on my hands go numb as I pushed the redline. When my lungs finally started to relax, I'd notch the pace up. I got used to suffering in the middle of the race as much as I did in the beginning after the first rush.

That's when I discovered that most people don't like to suffer, not even in a race. I learned to run on that redline full-time, knowing that it would recede as my lungs opened. I'd step to the start line with the intention winning my battles by being willing to suffer more. The longer the race went, the better I did, getting stronger as others died off.

It came to a head in a 10K when I tangled up with an old Marine. Dude had to be at least 40 (ed. note, a decade younger than I am now) {sigh} and was still running with me three miles into the race. I ratcheted up the pace, he matched. In a surreal haze, we dueled for two miles, the Marine edging ahead a half-step, which I would answer and challenge with another uptick.

There's a beauty and purity to that kind of battle, with each racer calling forth better from his competitor, and answering the call himself. The Marine, a colonel, had racing courage in spades. With every stride he conveyed one message; either I would beat him, head up, or he would beat me. He would not concede.

I finally broke him on a hill, a mile out, surging halfway up. I didn't look back, but kept finding a little more air and speed, convinced he was still coming for me.  I finished with a long kick, trying to catch a fellow high-school athlete who would one day be my brother-in-law. That 10K would be the fastest of my life. I ran a 35:56, not shabby for a discus thrower.

When starting, I had no baseline for how hard running could be, the pain you can inflict on yourself in the middle of a race. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss. I had no idea of my eventual capabilities.

This is an advantage for beginning runners, young ones in particular. With no expectations, the beginning runner finds their way forward, discovering the endorphin rush, the aches, joy and the boredom that can come with the miles. Each experience is new, and discovery whitewashes the memories of yesterday's painful finish. Returning runners don't have the benefit of discovery and newness.

Shortly after that PR 10K, I would end up taking a break of two decades from running. I'll tackle restarting - for the first time - on Tuesday

Fixing Broken Springs

Inside every mechanical watch is a mainspring, a coiled piece of metal that, in the ages before digital, required periodic winding to keep the watch running. Let the spring relax fully, and the watch slowed to a stop. Wind it too tight, and it broke.

Runners have mainsprings, too. For some, it is a love of racing that gets them out the door to train. Others prefer the more relaxed journey of a trail run. Many only run because they want to stay fit and putting a pair of shoes on and getting out the door is an economical way of getting cardio.

My mainspring is either wound down or broken; I don't know which. I stopped running shortly after returning from Kenya. It was not sudden, more a petering out, thinking, "Nope, don't wanna, not gonna."

Now, this has nothing to do with Kenya, and everything to do with me. Kenya, and Kenyans, are wonderful. Watching the athletes work at their sport with such dedication is inspiring. Seeing the families interact and recognizing all the similarities was enlightening, as was observing the differences.

But when I came home, I began a process of evaluating what I considered important, a process that is still on-going. I also walked into the busiest market I've seen since the real estate bubble days of 2006-2008. Work took over and dominated everything. First I stopped running, then I stopped writing. Two months without a run, almost as long with out writing anything of significance.

However, work does not provide the same sense of release. I'm good at what I do, inspecting homes, and I care passionately about it. As I mentioned, the real estate market is hot. This does not bring out the best in some people, as the greed factor prevails over fair play. I have been in more battles over basic codes issues in the last three months than the previous decade. The hours of research to 'win' the argument exhaust me.  It's petty and stupid.

It came to a head on Memorial Day while I swapped comments with Justin Lagat who had just raced at Ottawa. He might be running a race nearby, if he can get an American visa and a sponsor. I told him if he got close, I'd come and cheer if I could clear some time.

As we closed the conversation, a voice inside questioned the 'if' in my semi-promise. A second voice chimed in with asking why I'd only go to cheer.

Once upon a time, I'd show up to run, like I did for the Turkey Trail Marathon I did with my friend Adric. I had no business being on the course under-trained and at altitude. Still, I finished and was happy to do so, even with a personal worst.

Now, I looked at the work schedule. No time for training while working six days a week and long hours at that. Plus the battles against real estate agents who would rather take me to task than do the right thing. (For those agents I work with, I'm incredibly grateful that you have such high standards - and I offer my apologies for oft-times making your job harder.)(For the grammar-nazis, yes, I see/know the flawed usage there. Too bad. This is a casual blog and does not follow the Chicago Style manual.)

The thought that I have no time pissed me off. Work is supposed to be a means to acquire the basics of life, not be the sole reason for living, unless you live in a subsistence culture. Many Kenyans do; most Americans do not. When my work life takes over the rest of my life, when people start placing demands on my time, changes get implemented.

I made two decisions. First, I cut back work, effective today, to a single inspection per day and now charge for all my services. Gone are the freebies, because they get abused. One inspection a day, six days a week, plus travel and research, makes for a full-time week. I'm killing off the overtime work. For years, I was the hardest working inspector in the area. Time for someone else to take over that role. It might kill my company. I'm betting it doesn't.

Second, I signed up for a marathon, a clear sign of insanity. Or, as Jackdog Welch put it, I'm a knucklehead. Could be Jack's got a point . . .

Of the two, the work decision will have the biggest impact, freeing up time to do things I've missed, like writing articles on this blog or coaching junior high cross country again. I was going to skip coaching, but when my gut said I'd miss it, I listened. When Coach Thummel asked if I'd help out again, I said yes.

The spare time also gives writing space to breathe. I stink at lollygagging and writing will fill in a goodly portion of the time that I have carved out. I certainly don't lack for ideas. Around here, there like flies in the Australian Outback. Instead of an Aussie salute, I write the ideas down in a notebook so they don't disappear. If I started today writing two thousand words a day, the backlog in story ideas would keep me writing for a decade.

The rest of the newly-created 'spare' time fills with training for the marathon. Race day happens on October 9th, a scant 117 days from now. I have to go from over-weight couch potato to fit enough to run 26.2 miles in less than four months. That gives me 117 days to figure out if the mainspring ruptured beyond repair, or if it just wound down.

I'll keep you posted.

Run gently, friends.


Enda Shoes - The Kenyan Alternative

I'm a day late on this post. Blame work or writer laziness.

I heard about Enda Shoes just before I left Kenya. My friend, Justin Lagat, was contacted by them to do some writing for the new company. For a sample, you can head for the Enda blog. The latest article is about Justin's diet as he trains as an elite runner, prepping for the Ottawa Marathon. As a matter of fact, he should be on the plane headed this way so that he can toe the line with the world's best on Sunday.

The concept behind Enda is as simple as training the Kenyan way - work hard to be the best. They're designing shoes that will have a very modest 4mm heel-to-toe drop and lightweight performance characteristics that should make training in them a quick, responsive experience. Like the Asics I've favored for years, these shoes work really well for mid-foot strikers.

To answer what might seem to be the obvious question, nope, I'm not getting paid for this post. Nor will I get paid for the post I'll write when I get a chance to try out my first pair of Itens - that the model name for the first shoes they're producing. Nope, no pay, and in fact, I'm paying them.

I bought a pair of shoes by contributing to their Kickstarter program. Enda is a start-up that is attracting some early interest, both in the quality of the shoe they're building, but also because they are bring the shoe manufacturing home to Kenya. For years, the elite Kenyans have run in American or Japanese shoes made in China.

Navalayo Osembo-Ombati and Weldon Kennedy decided to turn that on its head. Kenya, like almost every developing nation, desperately needs good jobs. The two co-founders have launched Enda to bring the rewards of Kenyan runners home to the larger masses. In doing so, the two relay on the Kenya and East African tradition of harambee.

Loosely translated, it means 'all pull together'. In the fledgling days of the new country, when the economic outlook was terribly bleak, individuals and micro-businesses would pool resources, doing together what they couldn't alone. Wells got dug, houses built, businesses started, by pulling together.

The athletes are no different. Most of the major camps have an elite sponsor to help bring along the next generation. Wilson Kipsang has his. Lornah Kiplagat started the HATC in Iten. Asbel Kiprop's is in Iten. The athletes give back, generously.

Instead of sending all the manufacturing jobs to China, Enda is locating them in Kenya, providing jobs, income, food for the families there. For now, it's just the assembly, but Enda plans to 100 percent source the shoes from Kenya in the future. Enda represents that same spirit of harambee that grew the Kenyan nation, that supports its businesses and athletes today.

So, knowing all this about Enda, can I ask you a favor?

Can you go to their Kickstarter page and take a look? Share this post? Or like them on Facebook and help spread the word?

If you run, take a look at the shoes. You're going to be buying new shoes sometime soon anyway - consider contributing to something bigger than Nike's wallet. You'll know where the profits are going.

Please, think about it.

A thousand Kenyan children will thank you.

PS. If you are up at 7AM EDT on Sunday like I will be, give a quiet cheer for Justin Lagat. He's a good man in a tough field and could use all the moral support we have to offer.

Good luck, Justin!


Does Doping Violate the Social Contract if All the Elites Do It?

I did something stupid and time-wasting last week: I argued with someone in the comments section of a blog I follow. We were debating libertarian philosophy, and it took me about three exchanges with him (I’m assuming him, but twits come in all shapes, sizes, and genders) for me to realize I was arguing with a child. The tipping point was a blanket statement by said twit that there can be no social contract between individuals because all such contracts are enforceable. He further stated that, Paul's social contract is NOT voluntary because it considers -existence- to be 'agreement'.

For a child, this is completely true. An adult recognizes that there are three options available to him. First, he may comply with all the tenets of the social contract like 'murder is bad and will be punished'. Second, he can leave. Third, he can accept that the social contract prescribes certain penalties for failure to comply to the contract and accept the consequences for consciously violating them.  In each case, the individual maintains his sovereignty, with the understanding that each decision carries with it concomitant consequences and responsibilities.

I got to thinking about this while I was out on the trails yesterday, specifically within the scope of doping in the running community. When you step to the line to race, you operate on the assumption that you are doing so in the fairest of environments. The rules are published and understood by all. We all face the same wind or rain or heat. The running surface is the same. The clock or the first chest to break the tape declares the winner. These are part of the social contract we hold with each other for races.

Doping shatters that shared covenant. Or does it?

The thought that crossed my mind yesterday dealt with the rampant cheating that occurred on the Tour de France (and is rumored still to be happening) as highlighted by Tyler Hamilton’s book, The Secret Race.

It was accepted practice inside the peloton that there were cheaters, even specific individuals that were expected to cheat at given points to help the team win. Based on the fallout from the scandals, every single team was involved.

So, was the social contract actually ruptured in this case? If all the competitors are engaged in the same behavior, who is harmed?

This becomes an important point in the running world as the Olympics approach. Kenya has been cleared by the IAAF to compete. The status of the Russians is less secure. Certainly, based on the reports we see in the news, I’d have to say not a single prominent Russian athlete is clean.

A plethora of articles in the last five years make the argument that we should just accept that the athletes are doping and legitimize performance-enhancing drug use.

Yascha Mounk, writing in the New York Times in 2012, suggested exactly that, writing, “The distinction we currently draw between which substances should be allowed, and which should be prohibited, ultimately says a lot about our own arbitrary assumptions – and precious little about anything else.”

Early in his article, he blurs the line between food and drink and drugs, treating them all as performance-enhancing. While good nutrition and hydration are necessary for proper athletic performance, they are just as valuable to the rest of us. Not so with the cocktails of PED’s some athletes are ingesting, inhaling, and shooting.

In his opinion, so-called dangerous drugs should be banned but relatively safe drugs such as EPO should be permitted. Since we haven’t been able to successfully moderate PED use now, I don’t see how his plan would be any sort of improvement if the goal is ‘clean’ athletes. He clearly has surrendered to the ‘everyone-does-it’ belief. He isn’t alone.

Runner’s World provided a more balanced approach in 2013. In Sports Medicine Experts Debate: Should Doping Be Allowed?, sport ethicist Julian Savulescu offers two interlocking rationales for allowing drugs. First, that detection of PED use is woefully inadequate. Second, that we are hard against the limits of human performance so cheating is inevitable in pursuit of new records. He wrote a longer piece, again at the NYT, that also pointed out that cheaters have an advantage over clean athletes—the obvious solution in his mind seems to be to encourage those clean athletes to dope.

Interestingly enough, he starts the NYT article with a statement that “We should allow drugs in competitive sports for three reasons. First, the ban is ruining the mood and spirit of the game. It’s hard to enjoy any sports narrative if we don’t know who is clean and who isn’t.” It is a paradoxical concept, one that I think undermines his premise. Of course we want to cheer for clean athletes. We do so because at a fundamental level we want to “Be like Mike.” Hero worship is ingrained in our DNA and has inspired generations to strive and succeed. PED’s tarnish the image, leaving it with a scummy film that we all can see.

The other side of the debate leans less on the practicalities of testing and PED use and more on the dangers and moral implications of such use.

The dangers are well known. Multiple studies demonstrate that steroid use causes cancer, heart attacks, and liver disease. The best known of these is testosterone, one of the controversial steroids at the master’s level where aging athletes get treated for low-T.  Even EPO, considered reasonably benign, is estimated to have caused twenty deaths in cycling.

The trade for improved performance pits the risk-taking strategy of winning now with drugs against the principle of personal performance, integrity, and good health. The master’s runner who compensates for a lack of testosterone with pills or one who ups his oxygen uptake with EPO may win the race but denies a level playing field to a competitor who might have more natural talent and has trained better. Athletic performance is not entirely, or even mostly, about winning. It is about competing, within the rules, and striving for excellence. As Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, said, "The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Elite athletes should not be able to endanger other runners, either, by competing in a fraudulent manner, yet they do. Coubertin’s sentiment has been abandoned with a win-at-all-costs mentality. In the case of Russia, they do so with state sanction, making a mockery of the Olympic ideal.

Galen Rupp was not an aging athlete when reports surfaced (via Steve Magness) that he may have been taking substances to boost his testosterone at age 16, which, if true, would have been quite unusual. Rupp and his coach, Alberto Salazar, deny that he took a banned substance but questions remain, not just of Rupp but the entire Nike Oregon Project.

This is where the social contract shows its frayed edges. It is one thing to propose, as Savulescu and Mounk do, that athletes be allowed to openly choose to use PEDs. We presume that these athletes are adults, capable of making informed decisions. We treat them the same way we treat boxers who think having their brains battered is sensible. (Boxing, by the way, has its own rules and problems with drug use.) We might consider altering our rules to permit PEDs and thus adjusting the social contract.

Children, however, cannot legally consent to use drugs. Parents and guardians are responsible to provide the consent. As a society we have a social contract that provides for care of children. We mandate that the children receive basic education, get proper nutrition, that they have shelter. Are we perfect in accomplishing these? No. Our efforts fall short of our ideals. They always will.

Altering the social contract on PEDs requires we alter the contract for our children, too. We cannot espouse an ideal, striving for excellence, and simultaneously advocate for legalized cheating. When excellence is redefined as having superior dope, we devalue the components of human effort and heart. Changing the contract within the narrow confines of the sport conflicts with the greater contract we hold as a society.

The overarching social contract encompasses the entirety of our society, not just the elite running community. I asked a question above, If all the competitors are engaged in the same behavior, who is harmed? The answer is the next generation and those who place long-term health over short-term glory, sportsmanship over placement. In other words, nearly everyone but the doped elite athlete or the doped master’s race winner at the local 5K.

The PED-using athletes set a terrible example for the sport and to our young. In the last year, four high school runners— Maton, Fisher, Hunter, and Slagowski—have broken the four-minute barrier for the mile, nearly doubling the total. This worries me.

Audiobook Reviewer on Finishing Kick!

AudioBook Reviewer, run by Paul Stokes, took a listen to Finishing Kick and posted their opinion at the site, AudiobookReviewer.

They said some nice things about the story and my writing - always one of those 'hold-your-breath' moments as you just never know how a book will hit someone. They also said very nice things about the narrator, Annette Romano, who did such a fabulous job.

There is also a giveaway, so if you want the audio version of the book, head over and enter. Also, I don't ask often, but would you please, please, please share the giveaway info with your friends? Share this out on Facebook or Twitter. Annette and I would be very grateful.

Longer, more nerdy blog post coming, hopefully later today.

The Running Boom is Dead! Long Live the Running Boom!

The Wall Street Journal, in a fit of hyperbolic excess, has decreed the running boom dead—and painted millennials as the killers.

One tiny problem. It’s not dead.

Let’s deconstruct the WSJ and see where they go wrong.

“After two decades of furious growth in footrace participants, the number of finishers dropped 9% in 2015, according to industry-funded research group Running USA.”

The first bit of evidence that Rachel Bachman, the author of the article, offers immediately seeks to conflate running with racing. I don’t doubt that the total number of finishers dropped substantially. Have you checked out the entry fees lately? You would think that the basic law of economics would be applied to everything produced at the WSJ, but they apparently did not bother to do so in the case of race entry fees.

As the fees become increasingly expensive, the participation rate is going to drop. When I signed up for my first marathon, the fee was about $50. That same marathon now charges $145 for the same race, an almost three-fold increase in a seventeen year period. The 5K, held on the same day, is $45, nearly as much as my first marathon. No wonder finishers are down. They aren’t entering in the first place because the races are much too expensive.

Bachman addresses the racing versus running argument in her next paragraph:

“A sport traditionally dominated by young adults, running is losing its hold on 18- to 34-year-olds. Millennials, in their late teens to mid-30s, recently passed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. In footraces and other running events, however, their presence is shrinking, to 33% of finishers in 2015 from 35% a year earlier.”

This is just laziness on Bachman’s part. The two top participation groups are 25-34 year-olds and 35-44 year-olds. The former account for 25 percent of racers. The latter is actually bigger at 26 percent. The group that lags? The 18-24 year-olds at 8 percent. Where did the push that overtook boomers come from? Yep, the newly minted adults. (Stats from RunningUSA)

The fact is that from age 18 to 34, people are at one of the most active periods of their lives. They are going to college, starting first jobs, forming families. I have daughters in this age cohort. They would like to run, but they are moms with young children. One, with a daughter, works full time and goes to school, the other is working on a degree in electrical engineering and has two children. As anyone with kids recognizes, getting out the door is an ordeal. We won’t even bring up sleep deprivation, when new parents celebrate four consecutive hours of sleep as a Hallelujah moment.

Their children will get older, they’ll graduate with degrees, and I am quite sure that both will return to regular running. Of course, they might be in the 35-44 cohort by then, though I suspect they’ll find a way to get there sooner.

By the way, the third largest participation group is the 45-54 year olds at 19 percent, which lends credence to the influence of life events on running.

Bachman then presents stats from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association showing a shocking decline in running.

But the larger pool of noncompetitive runners also is shrinking—especially among millennials, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Overall, the number of adults who run 50 times a year or more declined 11% from 2013 to 2015.

In the same span, the total number of frequent runners ages 25-34 dropped 19%. Runners ages 18-24 dropped 22%. That translates into about 2.5 million fewer young people who run consistently.”

The SFIA information built from polling does not include critical data such as confidence levels, margins of error, and response rate. Given the rate of decline in racing is less while having a solid economic argument for the decline calls this number into question. I’d dig into the report that SFIA wrote but the price tag is a little spendy for a modest blogger.

I’d also like to address response rate for just a moment. Pollsters in nearly every field are having a notoriously hard time getting accurate samples and the response rates have tumbled to somewhere south of ten percent. And this is relatively old data on polling. The newer numbers are likely much, much worse.

Moving on . . .

Millennials aren’t sedentary. Rather, they’re fueling the proliferation of studios that specialize in everything from cycling, CrossFit and boxing to ballet barre workouts, boot camp and weight training. Their hunger for variety is reflected in the success of ClassPass, which offers entry to a range of fitness classes in 31 U.S. cities for a monthly fee. The service has booked 18 million reservations in less than three years, most of them for people in their 20s, a spokeswoman said.

More silliness. Take the 18 million figure. Divide by three. Divide again by the ‘consistent runner’ number of 50 above. That leave a total of 60,000 people – of all age groups, not just millennials, a virtual drop in the bucket. Still, I would love to see the demographic breakdown for the membership. I suspect that it not support the argument that the millennials are driving growth. The fees for ClassPass, while reasonable, price it out of reach of the majority of that age group. I have a request for information from ClassPass. I’ll update here if and when they get back to me. The fee issue applies to Crossfit studios and the like, too.

Novelties also have a big initial push (see Color and Mud Runs) with declining participation later. This applies to the night-time glow-in-the-dark yoga events mentioned in the article. Not a surprise that the same company that developed the Color runs designed Soul Pose. Bigsley Event House is not a running sponsor; they’re a purveyor of novelty events.

That younger people are experimenting with different workouts and sports and yes, novelty events, shouldn’t surprise anyone. Personally, I’ve tried running (racing, road running, ultra-running, trail-running), martial arts, weight training, cycling, racquetball, basketball, hiking, and more. Just because they try other things doesn’t mean that they won’t be back later.

We’ll finish with a quote from the article by Rich Harshbarger.

“Once these millennials start their families and hit their professional stride in terms of earning potential, they’re going to come back to this sport.”

In the meantime, let’s stop blaming millennials for something they didn’t do and hasn’t happened. The running boom lives.

Sometimes you gotta get a little dirty

My shins look like midgets took razors to them, but I cian't blame anyone but myself for the twenty or thirty cuts.

The first batch I self-inflicted while gardening. Over the weekend, I built two new garden boxes. Into these I planted onions, five kinds of peppers, and tomatoes. These join the kohlrabi, broccoli, potatoes, garlic, leeks, lettuce, and shallots already growing in the other boxes. Also, bending to the inevitable, I put some flowers, primrose and pansies, into the small box by the sidewalk.

I had company while I worked at filling the new boxes with fresh soil. Miss Jane, a doe that first came to visit last year during the fires and drought, apparently has decided to make herself at home in downtown Asotin. She ate the new leaves off the Brady's apple tree a dozen feet away while I put the tomatoes in and I'm pretty sure the look on her face could be interpreted as "Are they ready yet?"

Short answer for Miss Jane, "No."

Longer answer - I need to build a fence.

None of that left me scarred. Dirty, yes, because I derive a great deal of pleasure in working with the soil. The slashes on the shins came from tackling overgrown roses. The roses need to go to make room for other plants.

Roses don't like to be messed with. They bit right through the pants I wore, stabbed through gloves, and were generally a pain to remove, but I'm stubborn and don't mind a little bleeding for a good cause. The roses and the baby walnut tree are kaput, ready to go to the recycling facility.

So to are the raspberry canes. I thinned those while I was in a blood-letting mood, removing most of the dead canes to give the new ones room to fill the void. Last year, we got quarts and quarts of raspberries, with the grandkids helping harvest. It will be more gentle on little hands with the bed opened up a bit. Meanwhile, I added innumerable tiny scratches to my forearms to the ones on my shins.

Then, yesterday, I decided - which might be the wrong word as it implies thought when what I felt was need - to go trail running instead of attending a track meet.

Every once in a while, with a force as strong as an addictive compulsion, I have to get onto trails, to feel earth and rock and leaves under foot, the slap of wet brush against my skin as I head into the woods to visit the wild. Yesterday that hit and hard. I had plenty of daylight and good running weather with cool temps, clouds, and a spritz of rain. I drove up to the North Asotin Creek trailhead, changed into run gear, and gave myself permission to play.

This early in the season the trails around here tend to be a bit overgrown. Well used ones will naturally define themselves with the increased people traffic clearing the path and edges. I tend to avoid the well-travelled paths, so I get the trail grabbing and stabbing as I pass. Sometimes I abandon the trail for a bushwhack if I see an interesting feature I can't get to otherwise. Invariably, my shins and thighs take a beating though I don't notice until I get back to the parking lot.

At least one scratch came after I elevated to avoid stepping on a garter snake. In his defense, he was hustling out of the way, too. A pretty slitherer, the snake fled but not before I dodged into a dead shrub. No harm, no foul. As the Black Knight would say, it's just a flesh wound.

The wild turkey pecked around for fodder at the end of the canyon where the basalt formations back off the creek. This is where I've encountered bears and bear cubs, elk, deer and, high on the bluffs, big horn sheep. The turkey ran at speed when I got close.

The sun made an unexpected appearance after I hit the turnaround. With no one to laugh except the animals, I ditched the shirt and let the heat baked into my back as I careened my way back. I ended up running much faster than I intended - or than I thought I could. The return trip was nine minutes faster than the outbound leg, nearly two minutes a mile faster. Most of that was in the final two miles.

The goal for the day was to stay steady, but the feel of rocky soil interspersed with pine needles and the warmth on my skin lent a sensation of pure pleasure. Since I don't train any more, I surrendered to the trail and let my stride open up.

By the time I got back to my car, I had burned that 'need' feeling out, replacing it with peace. I don't get to this point often enough. As Emerson wrote, Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air. I highly recommend it.

You don't need to run, either. Walking will do it to.

For those looking for a good book to get introduced to trail running, take a look at Lisa Jhung's book TRAILHEAD. Alternately informing and funny, she's written a wonderful book for newbies and gristled veterans alike. Hjung delves into mud and snow and how to make cleats for handling ice, the different types of trails, gear, food, first aid, animal encounters (those two chapters are next to each other), and trail etiquette. It's easily the most comprehensive yet accessible book I've read on trailrunning.

Better yet from my perspective, she counts anyone who shuffles faster than a walk along a piece of dirt as part of the club. Worth checking out.

If you're into gardening, my favorite book, written by an aerospace engineer is New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It's designed for those of us that love fresh produce, enjoy playing in earthy soil, and are inherently lazy. I plant stuff. I don't weed. Then I harvest by the bushel. Unless Miss Jane beats me to it.

Need to figure out how to fence the garden without making it look like Stalag Thirteen.

Posting at InlandXC

Track season has started and I finally got to a meet. The write-up is over at InlandXC. I had decided that the work involved in the write-ups was a little too time consuming, so I discontinued the site.

Then, at the State Cross Country meet, I had some Pullman parents tell me how much they missed the articles.

So, the write-ups are back. Each one takes about two hours to put together, not counting the time at the meets. Blogging may pick up, now that I have something I feel like writing about.

For those looking for a fun documentary on running, check out The Barkley Marathons. You can watch it on a range of streaming options, including Netflix and Amazon. Pretty amazing race. It's a bucket list item for the masochist at heart.

120,000 of elevation change over the race, mostly as a bushwhack.

Sounds fun.

A nagging feeling . . .

Trips to Kenya should come with a warning label. “Caution: individuals traveling to Kenya may experience unexplained disorientation and confusion on returning to their homes. Inattention may lead to hazardous driving, long silences, and immoderate consumption of alcoholic beverages. Individuals having experienced in small measure life in the Third World may also note a lack of patience with the trivial problems peculiar to the First World.

I've been idling along since I got back from Kenya, going to work a lot, doing a (very) little bit of writing, and occasionally going for a run. Writing has suffered from a rather confused idea of what to do next, having finished one book and having a dozen waiting in the wings.

I started the novel about Grace, the main character in my future novel about Kenya. Started and ground to a halt over a bit of conversation. Meanwhile, the characters from the last book chattered away inside my head and the opening scene of the sequel popped. Eventually those voices overwhelmed Grace which means that her novel gets put on hold until I finish the series.

Or maybe not.

I'm toying with the idea of writing both at the same time. This morning, I happily spent an hour mapping the general outlines of the sequel. I have two possible endings for it, one pretty standard, the other a bit off the wall that I really need to understand before I try it. Tomorrow I'll try mapping Grace's story and see what happens.

To do both, I'm going to need to make a few choices. The biggest will be to deliberately forego income which is darn near Un-American. To make it happen, I'll need to focus on working with people that I like or on projects that I think are interesting. Those should generate enough to pay bills while I write, read, and run more. The second change is a deliberate effort to spend time in activities that are rewarding emotionally. That's more time with family, friends, and outdoors, less with bores, natterers, and nincompoops.

Life choice decisions like this aren't possible for the vast majority of Kenyans. For the small middle class, work is six days a week, a far cry from the American ideal 40 hour work week or the European 30 hours. For the rural areas, work is a seven day a week activity for everyone. When they aren't at their jobs, picking tea for example, they're working the family garden plot or tending to the cows. Cooking is still done over a fire for many women, laundry done by hand in a bucket.

We – you, me - live fundamentally comfortable First World lives which we are disinclined to disturb. That we can blame on evolution, which has hardwired us to be risk-adverse. As a survival strategy, it is highly effective. Surviving, though, doesn't translate to living fully, to rising up to meet our higher aspirations. For that, we need to take chances. More accurately, I need to take some chances.

It might work as well as the first, and last, man who thought domesticating a lion would work. If so, consider it an object lesson on what not to do.

Until I try, I won't know and that not-knowing will nag at me.