Running in Greenville, South Carolina

Visiting family on the other side of the country for Labor Day. They have interesting spots to run here, too.

Saw a big heron. Too slow to get the picture. I keep stumbling on pretty places like this. Life is good.

Saw a big heron. Too slow to get the picture. I keep stumbling on pretty places like this. Life is good.

No one in the booth to collect the toll, so on we roll.

No one in the booth to collect the toll, so on we roll.

About here is when I remembered the East Coast has a lot of poison ivy.

About here is when I remembered the East Coast has a lot of poison ivy.

That is not good Georgia red clay . . . South Carolina has their own variety.

That is not good Georgia red clay . . . South Carolina has their own variety.

As evident by the lack of footprints, not too many people here leave the beaten path.

As evident by the lack of footprints, not too many people here leave the beaten path.

Why do the suits get all the money at the Olympics?

On the Runners, Racers, and Trailbait group at MeWe I posted this link. The Washington Post article takes a good look at the culture of the governing bodies for the Olympics.

The governing bodies don't come off well. The quote that aggravated me most came from USOC CEO Blackmun. “You have to look back at where the Olympic Movement came from. It was an amateur-based movement. Nobody got compensated,” said Blackmun, who made about $1 million in 2014, tax records show. “It’s not a for-profit movement. Nobody in suits is getting paid for this beyond what you have to pay people to raise all the money we have to raise. . . . We are in good faith trying to maximize the level of support we can provide to our athletes. I wish we had the resources to support more athletes.”

Bottom line: the men in suits will steal the athletes candy and consider themselves noble for it, until the athletes control their own future.

One poster, Will, posted the following, made some very good points on how the athletes could do that. With his permission . . .

Nothing is too big to fail. The Olympics have become too big, and as such, have become wasteful. There are plenty of other companies out there other than Nike who seem to be willing to sponsor athletes if their companies can get some notice out of it.

Why not hit the reset button and set up something at home? Set up something in the U.S. (or elsewhere) and keep it in the same spot to avoid the cost of hosting a different place each year. For coverage, find some computer engineers (I hear India is ripe with them) to set up a streaming website that can utilize real time feeds from peoples phones. Most people have smartphones now days, so set up “citizen videographers” throughout the events and courses to record and stream to the website. Since most people already willing pay for these phones and internet options, and many are fans of professional sports, and enjoy filming things anyway, I’m sure enough would volunteer to film for free.

There are plenty of athletes in this country who write and blog who can effectively advertise to the necessary audience to drum up awareness and views. The website can easily track who watches what events, and this can be used to help draw sponsorships for individual athletes.

This isn’t a new idea. Citizen journalists have been doing this to factually report what is going on in their country, state, and local areas as big media no longer provides the service. The same setup can easily be applied to athletics.

There certainly seems to be enough athletes in this world who have done well financial (perhaps not in athletics) who could come together and purchase some land to make this happen. Start small. Build a track. It doesn’t have to be “Olympic” caliber construction. Start on dirt, or cheap asphalt. The stadiums don’t make the event. The athletes do. So just focus on them, because they are what is enjoyable.

Feel free to add your own thoughts - and do think about sharing it around.

For those in Seattle, Laura Fleshman hosting a group run from the Oiselle store at 6:30PM tonight. Olympian Kate Grace, a fellow runner sponsored by Oiselle, is one of those affected by Rule 40 - she can't support the company that helped her during the critical Olympic season.

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.


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.

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.

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.

Volunteering at the Snake River Half Marathon

The Palouse Road Runners held their annual Snake River Half Marathon yesterday. Weather for the race was an unseasonable comfortable 50 degrees with light winds, a welcome difference from the year that we cracked ice off the water jugs to fill cups. The Asotin High School runners crewed the turnaround aid station, also an annual event.

As every race director will attest, finding enough volunteers for a running event is like panning for gold, slow and tedious. Nominally speaking, the Asotin team gets paid for their efforts, the funds going into the cross country program, but Coach Tim Gundy is a fan of supporting runners, in all venues, so the bigger payoff for the team is the opportunity to volunteer.

This year, we only had three kids that have helped before, so we conducted an impromptu training session on how to hand out cups. Sounds simple, hand the runners cups, but the fact that said runners are in motion makes it like passing a liquid-filled baton on the track. They played, taking turns at both roles. Surprisingly little water hit the ground.

The race started at ten and, at 10:33, Jimmy Oribo went by, looking very strong. He was the men's winner in 1:09. Just behind him came the rest of the leaders and then, we got busy. The turnaround aid station sits at the six mile mark and gets hit twice as the runners grab a cup on each side. It's the most intense of the three aid stations.

It took a while for the kids to figure out that it's okay to shout encouragement to the athletes - they might have been the quietest group we've had there - but they got the hang of it pretty quickly, with their indefatigable coach leading the way. 

Since my self-imposed job is to keep the cups full and in plentiful supply, I couldn't take pictures. As it turns out, Miss. Taylor, one of Gundy's runners, is pretty darned good with a camera. In addition to handing our water, she took a bunch of terrific pictures.

The first female came through at 10:41 by my watch, and seemed very comfortable. As it usually the case, there were more women runners than men. A lot of writing has been expended in various running magazines trying explain why that should be the case. I'm not sure anyone has the answer. Me, I'll celebrate the folks that got off the couch to run.

The main pack kept us jumping but, having done this a time or two, we had our systems set up and handled it. We brought extra tables and water jugs and set up the station on both sides of the road. That saved a lot of effort crossing the road to serve the return group of runners.

The sports drink was Heed, a point that the runners made to the kids when the latter called it Gatorade. I suspect that the PRR will get a request to change to a more palatable drink next year as it didn't seem to be a big hit with the runners. Having used the stuff myself, I can sympathize. Good product, but the flavor . . . . well, let's just move along.

The long tail of the race arrived and the work tempo dropped off. The folks at the back of the pack are almost universally grateful. We told the kids up front that they might find a cranky runner or two - it happens - but that most of the people would thank them for being there. I'm not sure the first-time kids believed it. By the end of the race, they knew it. The quiet kids were laughing and cheering and enjoying themselves, feeding off the energy of the runners.

The Awesome Crew at the Turnaround Aid Station, Snake River Half Marathon 2016


How Can You Tell The Governing Bodies of Track Are STILL Corrupt?

Justin Lagat linked over to an article at the Guardian yesterday that had a line in it that simply astonished me. We'll get to that in just a second. First, here's the whole article. Wada warns Kenya to comply with its anti-doping rules or risk Olympics ban

It's pretty clear that the WADA has decided to target Kenya. Justin is pretty adamant that the Kenyan athletes are clean - and superior. Me, I agree with the latter. I do think they are superior runners, for a host of physiological and economic reasons. I also think that Kenyans are still people, and people come in all flavors. Some wouldn't cheat ever. They're the 'Goody Two-Shoes' of the world. I, quite fortunately, married one of these people.

Some people, though, will cheat despite the risk and even knowing that they absolutely will get caught. Their lives are usually a rolling disaster and everyone near them recognizes it.

Most of us are in the middle. Given incentive enough, we might 'bend' a rule if we think no one is looking. I see no reason why the Kenyan population would be different in this regard to any other on the planet so on the matter of Kenyans doping, I come down on the side of - Some are. Most probably aren't, the same as elsewhere not named Russia.

To the Kenyan athlete's credit, they have been at the forefront of the battle to get the country's programs in compliance with WADA and trying to drive out the corruption they see. In November, they briefly took over the offices of Athletics Kenya to deliver a message. Thus far, it hasn't been heeded, but there are good people in the fight. They'll keep pushing.

And that's where the governing bodies proved that they have not reformed yet. WADA is deadly serious about cleaning up Keyna, enough so that some European and American athletes have high-tailed it to Ethiopia. Yes, I'm casting aspersions. No, I don't trust the management of the runners or of the governing bodies.

The article states unequivocally that Kenya must have a testing program in place no later than early April or face having athletes banned from Olympic competition. Now part of this is posturing on the part of WADA. Per the article, no national body has ever been banned from the Olympics for not having an anti-doping program. IOC (International Olympic Committee) is the organization that has control of the participants.

Buried deep in the article is this admission: "It is up to the IOC to rule on any Olympic suspension. In November the IAAF banned Russia from international competition following the scandal of state-sponsored doping, but they are expected to be made eligible for a return before the Games in Brazil."

I'm tempted to curse, but this is a PG-rated site. The Russian ban amounts to losing the indoor season. Meanwhile, their athletes are continuing to gear up for the quadrennial event that dominates the sports world and won't be subject to in-competition testing. Out of competition testing isn't even happening - per the WADA press release of January 20th, 2016, "During this period of non-compliance, RUSADA is unable to conduct anti-doping activities." Even if they were, though, out-of-comp tests are a joke, as exposed by Tyler Hamilton in his book, The Secret Race.

Russia shouldn't be allowed to enter a team in international competition for at least four years. That is the penalty assigned to an individual knowingly using banned substances. The Russian Federation engaged in systemic cheating, allegedly bribed IAAF officials, and have done the absolute minimum to avoid further sanctions. To permit them to enter the competition makes a mockery of the efforts of every clean athlete on the planet, so naturally that's what the IOC will do, with the silent acceptance of the IAAF.

In the meantime, Kenyans may forced to stay home? Really? We're cutting some slack to known cheats and criminals but penalizing a great number of innocent Kenyans?

And what about all the European and North American athletes that are training in Kenya right now? Are they subject to the same proposed ban? If not, why not, since they are training right along side the Kenyan athletes in Iten. If we're to be suspicious of one, we should be of all. That won't happen, of course. There's too much money involved.

When I read articles like this one, I'm reminded of a piece written over on VeloNews, Seven Things Track and Field Can Learn From Cycling.

Regretably, T&F is proving to be a slow learner. With the scandals associated with doping, state-sponsored doping, bribery, the no-bid contract for the Worlds in Eugene in 2021, the reports of Nike bribing people, it is amazing that the hammer is poised be dropped on Kenya while the Russians might skate.

The easy answer - that WADA wants to clean up the sport - gets negated by the fact that WADA ignored Russian whistleblowers until the 2014 documentary forced its hand. The IAAF and IOC have demonstrated their fecklessness, but all three need to prove that they possess the integrity to continue to lead.

How better to demonstrate that integrity by clobbering a relatively small and poor nation who's athletes dominate the long distance field, while letting in the known drug cheats, the Russians, and the white folks that trained right beside the Kenyans.

Color me skeptical. Probably cynical, too. I hope the Kenyans get their program built, test clean as a whistle, and embarrass the powers-that-be with a terrific performance on the world stage. 

Sunday Long Run in Eldoret

First Long Run

Sunday marked my first long run since I got to Kenya. I typically like long runs that meander rather than the measured and business-like runs recommended in most training plans, i.e., 16 miles @ xx:xx pace.

I did that this morning, sliding out to run west along the river. It’s semi-familiar, with the low grasses and the basalt rock. The little things remind me that I’m not anywhere near to home. Pretty flowers that I’ve not seen before, or the call of a bird with a ‘whep, whep, whep’ sound or another that sounded like a gate squeaking back and forth. I saw a pair of Hadada Ibis who, from the way they complained, didn’t like strangers. Little things, as I said, except for the Ibis – they were way cool.

The run started with cloudy skies, something that Justin said is a bit unusual. I think I brought them with me. It cleared later though, with the characteristic blue of the African skies.

In addition to the railroad trestle bridge, which is a bit on the sketchy side, there’s a wooden bridge across the river to the east, and a downed eucalyptus tree to the west. I didn’t use any of them, content to stay on my side of the river. At points I was on cattle paths, dirt road, single track, railroad track, and bushwhacking. My kind of run, in other words, where the play factor is high.

An observation that I made to Justin when I got back – he did his own long run, headed in a different direction – was that Americans are obsessed with their watches at the expense of learning to listen to their bodies. Looking at a watch today would have depressed me. Since I left it at home (deliberately,) that wasn’t an option. For the trip, I’ve been using a Fitbit to keep track of exercise time and heartrate.

As expected, my heartrate spiked when I landed at Nairobi, bumping up about twelve beats per minute. (I don’t trust the Fitbit resting heartrate calculation, by the way – it usually higher than what the device actually shows first thing in the morning.) About a week ago, the rate stabilized and began to drop, the earliest indication that the adaptive response to altitude is kicking in.

For running, I’ve pretty much ignored mileage in favor of time. Kenya, as you might imagine, is somewhat deficient in mile markers. Or kilometer markers. Or markers in general. Today’s run was set for an hour and ten minutes. It’s shorter than it would be at home for a very good reason—as soon as I start to exercise, the heartrate climbs like a rocket. My average on today’s run was about 143, or about 87 percent of max heart rate, depending on what formula is used. For a long run, that’s pretty high. Runner’s World recommend 65-75 percent of max, for example. I can get to that just walking if some hills are involved.

So, the obvious-to-me way to handle this situation is to run by ‘feel’, varying speeds with terrain and my perceived effort. As the chart shows, I managed to do this really well for the first forty-five minutes. Things got a little irregular after that (though one of the gullies is the result of a pit stop – the Kenyan countryside does not have porta-potties.) The last third of the run still showed good consistency when the hills are accounted for.

I didn’t bother to check the Fitbit to see what the rates actually were, but just ran at a pace that seemed pretty comfortable. As long as I’m at altitude, I can expect elevated numbers. Obsessing would drive me nuts, the opposite of the goal here, so I run, enjoy it, and check on my progress afterwards.

Hope your long run this week goes as well – run gently, friends!

Are the great running magazines dying?

News broke this week that Marathon and Beyond will cease publication after it issues its December 2015 edition. The magazine occupied an interesting niche in the marketplace, opting for long-form articles that delved more deeply into the subject matter - whether it was a particular marathon or training story - than the quick blurbs that appear elsewhere.  The reason editor Richard Benyo offered was the transition in the readership from a print-based clientele to the digital consumer. While they still maintained a core of people who loved the magazine, the total numbers eroded year-by-year to the point where the magazine was no longer a viable business concern.

They aren't alone in feeling the pinch. Last year,  Running Times, my favorite magazine, announced that they were cutting their offering from ten issues per year to six. Even Runner's World is cutting, going from twelve to eleven this year.

To anyone watching the state of American newspapers, or the rise of indie publishing, this comes as no real surprise, though it is sad. The magazines, as with the newspapers, have yet to figure out how to fully monetize their content. Indeed, by publishing their content to the websites, often within days of the print version arriving at the subscriber's home, they actively devalue their business.

“We feel its [Marathon and Beyond] decline can be attributed to the move (especially among younger runners) to digital formats while at the same time the traditional long attention span of the running demographic has been undermined by new media,” Banyo wrote to Runner's World.

The digital formats share several things in common. First, and most importantly to the readers, it is free. Why should they wait for a print copy that they eventually will throw away, when they can have the same information, plus save ten bucks a year? Efforts at establishing firewalls work only when the content is so unique that readers willingly pay for it. In the case of the running mags, they don't have that quality. Much of the material that they publish is regurgitated from past issues. Want to know how to run a faster 5K? Google it (or Bing, which is what I use) and you get 18 million results. The best nutrition for a runner? 8 million, with two of the top ten linking to Runner's World articles. Which leads us to the second problem . . .

The internet is forever. All those articles will be there long after the magazines fail. In fact, it's fun to compare articles from five years ago to today's - the similarities are striking. When the magazines turned over subscriber bases, they did so on about a two year cycle, making it advantageous to rerun the same types of articles because the newest readers would not recognize the repetition. That's no longer the case.

Another part of the M&B statement interested me: that the attention span of the newest readers degraded to 140 characters. This leads to quick 250 words bits of fluff that do little more than announce a study or give a headline. At the websites, you can see the transition to this in the manner that they lay out the articles. A picture, a headline, one sentence of information. I would love to know the click-through rates.

None of this is good news for the running magazines (and they aren't alone.) For books, though, the dynamic is different. The disintermediation that is taking place makes it more advantageous to write books, especially those that approach the subject from a different angle.

Thus, we see more memoirs of runners appearing, from Nick Symmond's Life Outside the Oval Office to Rand Mitzner's Thirty-three Years of Running in Circles to Dave Clark's Out There. In Running: A Long-distance Love Affair, Shawn Hacking added the sound track to follow the story. JOCK: a memoir of the counter-culture, by Robert Coe, puts the history of the sixties into the context of his running career at Stanford.

Jack Welch put together a collection of his work from Running Magazine in When Running Was Young and So Were We, as we take a look back at the golden era of American running.

 There's always been a wealth of how-to's in running, but I wonder how much longer they will continue without any real changes in the underlying science. Some will continue to proliferate, mostly on the basis of athlete celebrity, but with the same information available for free, the need for them diminishes by the day.

In the fiction category, we see a little movement, too. There are, of course, my two books and more on the way. Bill Kenley put out High School Runner: Freshman. John Parker put out the wonderful Racing the Rain to complete the Quenton Cassidy saga.

While it looks bleak for the magazines, the future seems bright for authors of longer works. I've queried a dozen magazine for articles from Kenya, with no replies. While it would be nice to have a paying gig while I'm there, the raw material for the articles (there were about four different takes on Kenya that I wanted to explore) can still be used for a book or two. Plus the fiction that I'll generate from the trip.

I'm sad to see M&B go, but the running world will still have its own literature. It might be tweet length and book length with little in-between, but as long as there are runners who are also creators, we'll find a way to communicate.