I Voted

I voted. My wife voted. My friend Jack voted. I did not want to and that, based on my observations, does not put me in a unique position this election season. Shoot, based on the poor turnout in US elections, it hardly makes this year unique that so many are repulsed by politics. This year is special, though, and not in the good way.

Yes, he is an addled buffoon; but she’s despicably criminal in all her dealings. Yes, he’s crass and (likely) committed sexual assault; but she covered up for Bill. We could go ’round this till we’re sick with dizziness. We have terrible candidates. We have only ourselves to blame for it.

Voting is perhaps the least of the rights that we are granted, for all the high talk about how special it is. Quadrennially, we get the reminders of ‘one man, one vote’ and ‘no taxation without representation’. Every election cycle, men and women stand before us and make us promises that they intend to break post-election, as Bill Clinton did promising a tax cut or Obama did with health insurance. And people vote for the liars.

In the midst of all this, we forget a basic truth that harkens back to the first days of the Republic. The Founders never intended a citizenry that voted to engorge itself at the expense of the country, nor a political class that enriched itself at the public trough and through special grants, such as the exemption from insider trading laws.

The Founders intended for a patriotic citizen to vote for the best of the country. In some cases, that is an abundantly easy thing to determine. This year? Good luck figuring it out. My determining factor was which candidate generated the most intuitional and press opposition. I voted–for gridlock. I want the kind of internecine warfare that has led to resignations of corrupt public officials. WikiLeaks brought sunlight to this election, albeit on only one side. I want more sunlight, on both sides.

I want the crooks gone, all of them.

And since we’re on the subject, here’s an old article of mine from 2012. I still want my purple thumb.

Old coot and the 3-Legged Dog

Report came into the Humane Society shelter, of a missing dog, named Ripley, a black 3-legged chihuahua, belonging to an elderly couple.

Second report came in of FOUND chihuahua, by local animal welfare cop.

Call went out to Harold and Winnie, we might have found your dog.

Shelter followed protocol, no promises, please come down and ID your dog.

Everybody gathers, expecting a happy, happy ending.

Until Harold said, “It’s the wrong leg missing. That’s not my dog.” Sadness. Then shock, as Winnie whacked him on the shoulder, enough to rock him.

“You forgetful old coot, you’re dyslexic.”

Mark Cuban Misunderstands Patriotism

Mark Cuban may be part of the celebrity nouveau riche , but on CNN recently he decided to play the menial labor job of partisan hitman while wrapping himself in the flag of a patriot. Go listen to the piece and count the times that Cuban says, “if Donald took a short cut . . .” or ” we just don’t know . . .”

In another interview, Cuban states, “After military service, the most patriotic thing you can do as a wealthy person is pay your taxes, because that keeps the roads paved, the military paid and kids going to school. He obviously doesn’t understand the concept.” I’ll grant you, he has a point. Following laws is an act of a patriot. The thing is, we don’t know if Trump paid taxes or not.Cuban admits such, in passing, before he launches into more of his diatribe.

There is no legal or moral responsibility to overpay one’s taxes. I am quite sure that if we examined Mark Cuban’s taxes, we would not find any over-payments and a simple internet search did not show an articles praising Cuban for voluntarily contributing monies above his tax obligations to the federal treasury.

Cuban, the Hypocrite

Cuban, if he ever runs for office, he’s not going to release his returns. How do we know? He said so on his blog, in his own words:

“I have absolutely nothing to hide,  and if I ever run for President you will have to take my word for it and I hope every candidate for office says the exact same thing. Read my words: My taxes are none of your business.

Funny thing, that. Especially with a statement he made in the very same post:

So my suggestion to Donald Trump is to not be intimidated. Stand up for all of us and every future Presidential candidate and not provide your tax returns . You get audited every year like I do. If there is anything wrong it was the job of the IRS to find it, not the other candidates, the media or any of us.

Another aspect of patriotism, arguably higher on the list of ‘most patriotic’, what ever the hell that means, is not blatantly slandering a fellow citizen by innuendo and weasel words.

Still, the whole subject interests me. No, not Cuban’s hypocrisy, but patriotism. It’s a word and a concept that has fallen (or been hurled) into disrespect. That, to my mind, is dangerous, so for the foreseeable future, I am going to take a look at patriotism, what it is, what it isn’t, and how to practice it. Expect to see new articles every Tuesday until I run out of ideas.

Seaport Striders, Thoroughly Awesome

One of my great joys is the way the running community gives back to the rest of the community (think of all those charity walks and 5K’s) and to the younger runners around them.

The Seaport Striders have an event every year, the Benefit Run, where they generously split the proceeds with our three local high schools. Wait, hold it – I’m incorrect.

They match the proceeds.

That’s right – they pull money out of their own funds to help the kids. All we have to do is show up and run/walk/stagger for a 5K. Optionally, you can buy an entry and cheer, knowing that twice what you paid (it’s only $10, BTW) goes to the programs as Asotin, Clarkston, and Lewiston.

So, Friday evening, 7PM, Chief Looking Glass Park. Low key, no awards, no times posted to the internet. Want bragging rights? We’ll have a clock going for you. Don’t care about bragging right? Ignore the guy with the watch and enjoy the company.

Snag an application here – or show up at 6PM and fill out an application on the spot.

See you there!

And thank you to the Striders!

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? An Update

In the summer of 2014, a mass of people in a cascading waterfall of icy water, undertook fund-raising for the ALS Association with the Ice Bucket Challenge. I was one of those, nominated by my brother, Ken. I had daughters volunteer to do the honors of dowsing me, but two out of three were pregnant and at their delivery dates. Not up to lifting a five-gallon gatorade jug, so I delegated (with much protesting from the daughters) that job to the Asotin Jr. High Cross Country team at our first practice.  Good times.

One of the places the research money went was to Project MinE. Per the news today:

In a study released on Monday, Project MinE revealed they found a significant association between loss-of-function NEK1 variants and risk of familial ALS. NEK1 maintains neuron cyberskeletons, among its many roles in neurons, according to the Rare Disease Foundation.

Nice to see progress against this dreadful disease.

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.

I am so not a morning runner!

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.

Epiphanies at 63 Miles per Hour

Epiphanies at 63 Miles per Hour

The Great Courses are now on Audible. Actually, I think they’ve been there for a while, but it took me some time to recognize it as I am a sporadic audiobook listener. The problem isn’t with the medium – the quality is great. It’s me – my mind drifts when an interesting concept comes up. Also, driving time, especially with music leads to pretty vivid daydreaming, a major source of story ideas.

I gave my brain a vacation from creating last Friday and listened to Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques. The discussion turned to the differences between flat and round characters, as first proposed by E. M. Forster. You’re right, it’s nerdy inside-writing stuff. Except, I thought it was interesting, with a dozen different lessons embedded into the concept. I turned off the audio so I could think while I drove and spent the next fifteen miles, rolling over implications, though not other motorists, pedestrians, or squirrels. With my brain, I get plenty of practice at driving, quite successfully, while distracted.

So, there I was, bubbling over with ideas, alone on the road. When my daughter or her future husband worked with me, I had some one to lob ideas at, to get reactions, objections, a sounding board to riff off. (My daughter hated the fact I would constantly stop the book to talk it over. Her brain works . . . differently.)

Friday I had no one, just the inside of my own head. Most of the time, that’s plenty good enough. At the top of the Lewiston grade, with home nearly in sight, I came to what, for me, is a startling conclusion.

I needed a group to work with, study with. A writer’s group.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you say, people are social creatures, everybody needs their own gang.

Not me, not exactly. My gang is family and a couple of close friends, but most of my activities are solitary. I work alone, run alone, write alone, read/learn alone, so when I decide I need to join a group, it is atypical behavior.

Having reached the conclusion that I needed like-minded people around, I went looking for writing groups. The internet possesses a metric buttload (I’m using European measurements today) of information on writing groups. Most of them are established, some online, many in person. I checked for the Lewiston area. Right town, wrong state though, as they met in New York. A bit far, plus one other big problem.

They critique each other.

As a matter of fact, every group I found critiqued. Some set up rules on doing it nicely, some seem to be a bit more Genghis Kahn in their attitudes. They also had rules on what to do with people who didn’t get any writing done – boot them from the group, set them up on a 12-step writing programs, verbally flail them at the next meeting.

Oh, and they focus on craft, too. Many online groups focus the how-to bits of writing. The majority preach the same hoary aphorisms. Occasionally, you’ll find a James Scott Bell or Orson Scott Card (must be something about that middle name) who explain in more depth, but that doesn’t seem to trickle down to the local level. I see an awful lot to thou shalt not‘s offered as precepts rather than guidelines. 

What I didn’t see was a group that looked at the why, that was devoted to studying writing by looking at the underpinnings of art, not from the viewpoint of pure craft but a more philosophical level before applying it to the actual work. Techniques are very nice, but understanding why the techniques work as they do strikes me as much more interesting. Going back to Forster, the concept of flat and round for characters is not fully developed as (per the professor) Forster never had a working definition of a round character. Likewise, the adages “show, don’t tell” or “never use an adverb” which are used to beat new writers into compliance with their elder’s or editor’s diktats begs investigation at a deep level. Fiction writing is, after all, also called storyTELLING and, last I looked, adverbs were still parts of speech in the English language, suggesting some degree of utility.

The second problem with a critique group is that I don’t play nicely with others. If you have a critique, it better be based on something more than “I would have done it like . . .” In my experience, that’s the way most critiques play out, even if they choose their words differently. Worse are the fools who believe that there are infallible rules to writing, the precepts I mentioned above. With one exception, there are no absolute rules though you better be darned sure of your skill if you violate normal tenets of writing craft, and know exactly what effect you seek in doing so.

So, not seeing the types of groups I wanted to hang out with, I’m going to have to start my own. Since it will be different from the others, I’ll have to spend some brain power on figuring out exactly how it should run, how often it should meet, how many people should belong, etc.

That parts easy. Finding the like-minded people? That might be a little tougher. 

Best get started, hey.

PS. The one rule that really is inviolate? Don’t bore the reader. Ever.

Clear the Course!

Clear the Course!

On Saturday, Justin and I headed to Eldama Ravine town where one of the regional cross country meets was being held for juniors (under 18) and seniors (over 18). The town is 100 kilometers- about a two hour drive – from Eldoret and we watched the dawning of the sun on the trip. The GPS had a ridiculous notion that maintaining a steady speed of 80 kilometers an hour is possible. Not if you want to have your car survive the journey. We averaged considerable less, but still made it to the meet early enough to grab a quick breakfast of tea, samosas, and chapatti.

The races, four total, were held at the fairgrounds. Pulling up, it reminded me of nearly all the small meets that the Asotin kids run, with the limited flagging and small but vocal crowd. As you’d expect for a regional, the officials did a nice job of keeping things organized, and there were race marshals out on the course. The crowd helped shoo cows and little children from the raceway.

The course was a two kilometer loop with open ground through the fairgrounds, some single track out on the far end, and enough turns to allow for some tactical maneuvers. It didn’t have much in the way of hills. The juniors girls were running 6k, the junior boys were running 8K, and everyone else was in for five laps, or 10K.

The biggest difference between the local races I attend in Washington State and here was the speed (though this was a regional championship, so more like our state meet than a local district meet.) The races started with a simple whistle and the runners left the line like quicksilver on a downhill slope.

Nandi County ended up very well represented in the finishes, sending three girls to the next meet. Similar results for the boys race. Both races were relatively competitive for the first couple of laps until the winners made moves and gapped the fields. 

The senior races, on the other hand, weren’t nearly so competitive. The woman’s race was won at the beginning of the second lap when the leader made a move past the pair next to her and never looked back. She ended up winning in dominating fashion by over a minute and a half. There’s always a concern when someone breaks early that they may have made the move too soon. This young lady dispelled that notion by crushing the last lap and showing a hell of a kick to the finish.

The men’s race saw an early lead by a runner who expected to win. Rather than play a conservative game, he left the line hard and maintained that. Unfortunately for him, another young man had a bigger engine. He chased the leader and, on the third lap, made a move to go past him. Like the lady in the race before, he didn’t look back, building a commanding lead. The first man continued to run hard and will be moving on to the next race, having taken second.

The finish line was old-fashioned, with runners given placement cards to present as they exited the chute. I didn’t get results or names to go with the faces. It’s a different feeling watching races where you don’t know half the athletes personally. In most of the races I attend in Washington, I’ve been watching the same kids, whether it’s Tiegens and Egglestons/Dykstras at Asotin, or Ward and Vanos from St. George. Anyway, an odd juxtaposition of familiarity and disconnection.

Justin was hustling after every race, getting interviews so that he could write stories for freelance sale.

 

Interview with Author Robert Coe

Interview with Author Robert Coe

I thought that with the current issues raging across the country at our various institutions of higher learning, it would be interesting to discuss the developments with someone who experienced the most notable period of upheaval on campus. Please greet Robert Coe, author of Jock: a memoir of the counterculture.


Paul: Your book, unlike most in running, is a big sprawling work that puts running into the context of both the lives of the athletes and into larger interrelated communities. As a writer, I think it was an interesting decision to make. Why did you?

Robert: I realized there was no literature out there that placed not just running but major college athletics firmly in the context of the Sixties, in my case also bleeding into the early Seventies.

I wanted to write JOCK the way I did because somehow the idea had accrued that in the era of Muhammad Ali’s draft resistance and “Broadway Joe” Namath dating Janis Joplin and calling a Super Bowl victory and anti-Vietnam War disruptions shutting down 442 college campuses nationwide in 1970, including Stanford’s — that somehow this volatile era barely touched college football and swimming and Track & Field and cross-country; that being a “Jock” somehow left you pure and unaffected, or maybe even back in the Fifties yourself. Much of Stanford Track & Field did remain mired in the Fifties, with Coach Payton Jordan running the program and requiring everyone to have short hair and proselytizing for his conservative version of the American Way and employing all kinds of outdated training methods in virtually every track and field event you could mention. (For distance runners it was “Intervals, Intervals, Intervals.”)

But our cross-country team was its own little counterculture. Not that all of us were stoners – in fact most of us weren’t – but we were running against the way things usually worked in college athletic programs. We were pretty much on our own, working under a great Coach, Marshall Clark, who understood Arthur Lydiard’s maxim “Train, Don’t Strain,” where the previous head of the program had lived more by the rostrum, “No pain, no gain.”

Many Stanford athletes, including players on our two winning Rose Bowl football teams (the first one led by Heisman Trophy Winner Jim Plunkett), understood that all of us were up to our eyeballs in what was happening in the world, whether we liked it or not. And anybody who didn’t think that way couldn’t have been paying much attention. Even Plunkett said it wasn’t an easy time to focus on a game.

Paul: You were around the running world about the time that the athletes began to rebel against the AAU. Was this an out-growth of the times, a milder version of the counter-culture, or simply people finally awakening to the unfairness of the AAU system?

I was more or less oblivious to the events going on at the level of the A.A.U. Our sport was a shadow of what it is today. When I set a new Stanford freshman school record in the Mile (4:09.5), I was unaware of any youth development programs anywhere in the country that I could have pursued in the summer, although I subsequently learned there were a few.

As far as rebellion goes: in my case I had many “culture wars” with Coach Jordan, the Head Coach of the record-setting 1968 Mexico City Olympic team, over– get this – my hair. It’s all in the book. In the end I would usually follick-ly conform, but I never enjoyed these confrontations. Weirdly enough, I was one of Jordan’s favorites. He nicknamed me “The Baby-Faced Assassin.”

Paul: In your memoir, you compared the T&F team to ‘labor’. This past year, the athletes at Northwestern sued to be able to form a union. They were rebuffed by the courts. What do you think of the current relationship of student/athlete to educational organization and how do you think it may have changed from your time at Stanford?

Robert: I used that term “labor” only once, referring to a terrible incident in which one of our teammates was struck in the temple by a thrown discus during an official team practice in the stadium. Discus throwers were allowed to throw on the football grass while their teammates warmed up in preparation for running, jumping, vaulting, etc. We were warned simply to “pay attention; be careful; watch out; keep your eyes open.” It was an accident waiting to happen, and when it finally did happen, with truly horrible results – our teammate permanently lost the sight in his right eye – I told people that “we” should never have allowed this practice to continue. We were “Labor.” We should have organized and as a team asked the Athletic Department to find another place for discus throwers to practice.

But to directly answer your question about today: I get a sense that there is a great deal of harmony now between athletic teams and the athletic department. I hear through the grapevine various grumblings about the basketball coach and football coach David Shaw’s conservative play-calling, but them’s peanuts. The success of the Stanford Athletic Department is incomparable to any in the history of college sports, and I think harmony is part of the reason why. The other part is the enormous financial resources at their disposal.

Paul: A portion of the Missouri football team went out on strike and refused to practice over issues of perceived racism at the university. They won. Could that have happened in 1968-1972 with the Stanford team? What would have been the reaction of the university and the public?

Robert: I knew Black football players who felt that “Indian” Coaches – we didn’t become the Cardinal until the fall after I graduated, meaning I and my classmates Black and White spent our whole careers on a team with a racial mascot — treated them like machines, expecting them to return from injuries more quickly than white players did.

Two days before the Stanford-Michigan Bowl game, my friend, the workhorse fullback Hilary Shockley, quit the team, despite a personal appeal from Head Coach John Ralston. “Shocker,” who had played the whole season with painful bone chips in his ankle, reportedly told his Coach, in a word-play on our head trainer’s constant refrain– “You can’t make the club if you’re in the tub” –“You can’t hit the field until you’re healed.” (Shocker was a walk-on, like I was; he went on to Harvard Business School.)

There were many racially-tinged events during my era. My 1968 entering class of 1,447 students was (according to the school newspaper) 85% Caucasian, 6-7% “Oriental,” 5% “Negro,” and the rest Mexican-American, Filipino and “American Indian.” (The Daily failed to mention we were also about 2:1 male, and Title IX was still a pipedream.)

A year-old Black Student Union was demanding the formation of a Black Studies program and expanded admission and financial aid for minorities. My freshman English instructor had us read Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, which he described as a work of “genius.” The racial pot wasn’t just bubbling, in other words; it was boiling.

The only incident of refusing practice I ever heard about came when players in the first Rose Bowl camp, Black and White, gathered in the locker room before one of their hated morning practices and decided that since they were going to be playing in a Rose Bowl Game in less than a week, by god they were going to have fun. So no more morning workouts! “Boy-cott Prac-tice, Boy-cott Prac-tice!” I don’t know if anybody actually chanted that, but a Sixties-style “People’s Revolt” had definitely reached a Rose Bowl football team. And I give it up to John Ralston: he gave in to their demands. He even arranged a field trip to Marineland.

Paul: The racing world is in big trouble as the doping scandals continue to widen in scope. How would a 1968 Robert Coe have reacted to the pressures of today’s racing environment where the phrase “the winner is the guy with the best doctor” has gained currency? Would you have competed or called bullshit and walked away?

Robert: As I mentioned in JOCK, I was in an era that was almost pre-doping. PEDs were something new in the lexicon of sports. Olympic drug testing had been instituted for the first time in Mexico City, where Coach Jordan had been a vocal and sincere opponent of drug use: an honest-to-god believer in those “precious bodily fluids.” But testing methods were crude, and rumors of abuse by major U.S. stars were widespread, although without hard evidence to back them up.

To the best of my knowledge, Performance Enhancing Drugs never touched Stanford’s athletic programs at all while I was there. Stanford Quarter-Miler Jim Ward, Jordan’s 1968 Track Team Captain, would later claim that all six runners who finished ahead of him in the N.C.A.A. 440-Yard Championship Final in ‘67 were doping, and that his friends at U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. were given PEDs like candy from training room dispensaries. Maybe there were scenes at Stanford I didn’t know about (although I doubt it), but in an era that introduced a number of innovative approaches to training, encompassing not only drugs but also the human potential movement, I saw evidence of neither in Dave’s Animal Kingdom. That was what I called Head Trainer Dave Blanchard’s Training Room. Except for the assistant trainer Scotty, who was a very cool guy, the Stanford Training Room was about as retrograde a scene as you could find on campus in my era. But to answer your last question: if doping had been around, I am quite certain I would not have done it. Yes, I definitely would have walked away. Not for health reasons, although those would have been reasons enough. Cheating violates everything I felt about our sport.

Paul: As we get older, I think we all become a little introspective. Some look back and decide it was all worth it, each bump and bruise. Others play a game of ‘what-if’. Where do you land, in life and in running?

Robert: I write in the book that I simply closed the door on that chapter of my life. Injuries and illness kept me from becoming the runner I might have been. But then again, I quit at the age of twenty-two. Kenny Moore, the two-time Olympic Marathoner and Sports Illustrated track scribe for three decades, who I knew slightly back in the day, read JOCK, and among other things wrote me this: “You might not regret ending serious racing, but I do for you. I can clearly imagine you and me continuing our talk about the meanings and paradoxes of sporting effort, community and service, and me inviting you to train in Eugene after the ’72 trials. Where I would have tried to shake you out of the provably erroneous assumption that four college years were all you were allowed for a career.”

From the current perspective of these many years, I think I would like to have seen what I could do. But forgive me if I quote from my book:

“My portrait hung in the Stanford locker room for nine years! I raced against Frank Shorter, Gerry Lindgren, Martin Liquori and Steve Prefontaine, and in meets with Bob Seagren, O.J. Simpson, Lee Evans, and John Carlos! I led Pre for 800 yards in the 1971 Pac-8 Conference Mile! Before the first race Jim Ryun contested as a Born-Again Christian, I was dragged off the track in the Devil-Take-the-Hindmost Mile! I could run a 50-second Quarter and also out-race long-distance All-Americans and Olympians, past, present and future! I logged thousands of miles with some truly great runners [including Don Kardong and Duncan Macdonald] and aspired alongside them to national championships! I competed for the London Track Club at the Crystal Palace and at the Oakland Coliseum and San Francisco’s Cow Palace for Stanford! I trained on trails in the Sierra Nevadas and on the track at Berlin’s Olympiastadion! I coursed through the cypresses of Point Lobos and risked my life running along the Rhine! I was a forest creature in Munich, a Yank between the hedgerows of the English countryside and on the cobblestones around Buckingham Palace, and a hippie running naked on the beaches of the Costa Blanca! When the great Australian Ron Clarke set his last world record [over three miles indoors], he flung his arms around my neck and said, ‘Thanks, mate!’ I was present at the births of West Coast cross country and the West Coast Offense! I had been there, and done that. But I also decided early on that my book would no more grovel over my victories than it would trade in my long-vanished defeats. What I wanted to do [with this book] was open a window on an era, and confirm that I felt like the Stanford All-American basketball star Nneka Ogwumike did when she addressed a crowd at Maples at the end of her final college season in 2012: “I wouldn’t have traded these four years for any other place with any other community, any other team, any other coach.”

Paul: What memories of running and racing at Stanford mean the most to you?

Robert: My teammates and our Coach; our long training runs and tough interval sessions; and our amazing competitions. I refer frequently to a line from Kipling: “The strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf.”

  1. What advice would you give a freshly minted high school graduate who’s headed off to race in college.

Robert: All that really comes to mind are clichés, most of which contain a germ of truth. So here goes: stay hungry. Feed your passion. Keep an open mind and heart. And train, don’t strain!


Jock: a memoir of the counterculture – a review

Jock: a memoir of the counterculture – a review

Those looking for a ‘pure’ running book will find it in Jock: a memoir of the counterculture. With Robert Coe’s careful eye, you get a stunningly detailed look into the life of a competitive collegiate runner during one of the most tumultuous phases that the United States has endured. However, those looking for only a running book are in for a surprise as Coe takes us on a journey through the late-sixties and into the seventies.

Most running books focus on the how-to of running, and a few comment on the history, but Jock seeks the totality of the experience. Set at Stanford from Coe’s first days entering the campus to his final year, the narrative winds through the cross country season to the classroom, out onto the track, and eventually as far away as Stanford-in-Britain.

Coe’s journey is neither smooth nor straight, as befit the period in which he compete. His recollections of the protests on campus and the reactions both the rank and file students and the student-athletes. He’s honest to a fault, showing that there was no unified front – some athletes were supportive of the administration of both the university and the country, even as he and many others were not. Coe does not pull punches. If he felt a particular individual deserved approbation, he delivered it, often in spades, as his descriptions of head coach Payton Jordan make abundantly clear.

Yet that is balanced by the clear pleasure he derived from his teammates. A storied cast that included luminaries such as Don Kardong and the immortal Ron Clarke populate the book, lending it an indefinable air of groundedness. Running at the leading edge of the boom to come, he recounts competing against Pre and the other Ducks, the icy crap that he ran in at WSU for the Pac-8 championship, and the records that seemingly fall with every page. Coe’s tales of the training runs, the effort that went into training, are worthy of a book of their own.

Yet, side-by-side to that, are the stories of drug experimentation, the nascent hook-up scene, and a culture that was in a state of upheaval in which every rule could be, and often was, called into question. Coe gives an honest accounting of that, too, both of his own activities – yes, he experimented – and that of the late sixties. He joined some of the protest marches, investigated the claims and counter-claims, and grew into an adult seasoned by the experience at Stanford and in Europe during a pivotal sophomore year.

Where all the other legends get pared down to the feats on the athletic course and sanitized to make them orthodox, Jock looks at the life of the athlete from an intimate perspective. Unlike the tightly controlled legend of Prefontaine, Coe ranges far and wide in an authentic effort to provide sense to running as it related to the age. In this lies the meat of Coe memoir, a blatant openness that peels back the veneers to expose the vicissitudes of the protest generation.

For a person interested in more than a running book, Jock: a memoir of the counterculture delves into the running even as it touches, in first-person detail, history.

PS. On Tuesday, I’ll be posting an extended email interview with Robert Coe!


Paul is the author of two fictional tales of runners: Finishing Kick (recognized by Running Times in their Summer Reading list July, 2014); and his newest novel, Trail of Second Chances. He blogs on the running life and interviews people that he finds interesting.

Fixing the Disparate Impact of 1B/2B Cross Country

Something that disturbs me every year is watching the 1B/2B girls lining up to race and seeing how few toe the line. To put it in perspective, 73 girls ran this year. The boys field saw 141 racers. This doesn’t represent an anomaly – the same thing happens every single year. The numbers over the last four years are: 73/141, 66/137, 72/125, 62/129. I could go back further in the records but that rough 2:1 proportion remains.

Relative to the remainder of the divisions, and even compared to the 1B/2B boys, a smaller percentage of qualified female runners get the opportunity to run at the Washington State meet. I’ll get to what I mean by qualified later. I’m afraid that there will be some math, but nothing complicated. Promise!

I finally had time this year to do some research. I used the numbers from Athletic.net to generate my statistics. The numbers inside the raw results were fascinating and when broken out, indicate that the best way for a 1B/2B runner to get to State is to be male. Given all the Title IX implications, I was surprised. So, to the numbers. . .

Entries to the state meet are based on an allocation model devised by the WIAA. Each division and district gets a set number of teams that can advance from the regional meets to the state meet. Individuals can qualify if they place in the upper bounds of the runners. This bound is defined by the WIAA as the team allocation times five.

For District 7/9 here in Eastern Washington, our allocation this year was four. Asotin, Reardan, Northwest Christian Colbert, and Tri-Cities Prep all had teams make the cut. The meet also had twenty individual slots (4×5). Those slots are not reserved, though. Any person finishing in the top twenty filled one. So, from this meet. nine girls went as individuals with the other eleven spots taken by runners from the qualifying teams. For District 1-4, the allocation was for three teams and fifteen girls. They had five individuals crack the top of the standing to get to state. District 5-6 got one team, five girls total. Three of the top five were not on the winning team and moved on. Each team is permitted up to seven competitors which swells the ranks of the field a bit in favor of the teams.

The total number of allocations for the girls is eight. For the boys, the allocation is sixteen. Part of the reasoning for the difference is that more boys participate in cross country than do girls. The numbers at Athletic.com back this up. Based on their numbers, there were a total of 468 boys in the 2015 season versus 217 girls. Seems to support the case for halving the field of runners on the girls side at the superficial level.

What the raw number does not tell us is why there should be such a discrepancy. While it is true that the participation rates for females increases with school size, to have 1B/2B cross country get less than fifty percent rates of the boys rate suggests that other factors underlie the issue.

I dug deeper, looking specifically at the individual qualifiers. That when I thought things got quite interesting. I looked at this past season and found that the last individual girl qualifier, Jessica Mitchem of Toutle Lake, finished in 47th position. In percentage terms, she finished at the 64th percentile (with State Champion Madie Ward at the 1st percentile.) Performing the same calculation on the boy’s side had Gunnar Johnson in 122nd place, and at the 86th percentile.

Compared to her male counterpart, Mitchem had to a better runner relative to her peers. I did the same calculation for the preceding three years and found the same result. The boy’s value was always higher than the girl’s. I had to go back to 2011 to find an example of the girl under-performing her field compared to the boy, and in that case, the girl ran three and a half minutes slower than her qualifying race, suggesting she was sick. 2010 saw a return of the pattern.

So, in the matter of individual qualifiers, the selection process obviously weeds out girls that would be as competitive in their field as their opposite number would be in the boy’s field. Remember, too, that the boys get twice as many teams, which means that more of the girls qualify individually. Six of the top eight runners in District 7/9, for example, were individual qualifiers in arguably the toughest 1B/2B district in the state. (Eight of the top ten finishers came from that district in 2015.)

Even more interesting to me was the median pace. I looked at this to see whether there might relative movement in the quality of the runners. I chose the median versus a mean to remove the outliers such as a Chandler Teigen dynamiting the state record or the afore-mentioned young lady who ran while ill. I looked at four years, 2012-2015 (representative of one high school ‘generation’) and found the boy’s to medians to be 18:44, 18:31, 18:22, and 18:44. Pretty much a flat line with what appears to be normal deviation.

The girl’s results for the same period: 22:27, 22:45, 21:54, 21:42. The girls aren’t flat-lining, their flat getting faster.

I contacted Andy Barnes from the WIAA who was listed on their website as the go-to person for questions regarding allocations. In the first email, I just asked for information on how the allocations were assigned. Between email exchanges, I had started to look at the breakdowns a bit more thoroughly. Andy sent me a prompt reply that it was based on the participation rates within the divisions by teams, suggesting that the individual component was not addressed.

I checked the information on the site as Andy suggested and sent a follow up.  I did not send him the full data, just pointed out the disparity that I was discovering. I also suggested a potential remedy that would not otherwise reduce the speed of the field:

Andy,  

Digging into the numbers, it appears that the depth of the men’s field is extended by the individual allocations (the lowest boy ran in the 86th percentile) while the girls field does not get that same benefit (the lowest girl ran at the 64th percentile.) This would appear to restrict the participation rates for the female athletes of comparable ability to their male counterparts.

Wouldn’t it make sense to try to increase the participation by increasing the individual qualifier slots to fill out the middle of the pack. The additional individual qualifiers would maintain the overall speed of the field while serving to increase the competition for the middle of the pack, advance the opportunities for the girls, and perhaps encourage more participation at the small schools. For example, opening the individual qualifiers to 20 in District 4 would have resulted in three additional girls at the meet, all of them freshmen and within the upper two-thirds of the overall field. I think you would agree that the chance to earn a spot at the state meet can be a powerful motivator and that success for one athlete can encourage others to follow.

I would be interested in your thoughts.

Andy responded again. Here is the text of that email:

Paul, you have obviously done an extensive review of the entries and we appreciate that.  However, the member schools believe that the process outlined in Handbook rule 25 is the process they wish to use for state tournament entries.  

Every year the rules of the Association are reviewed including the Allocation process.

If you feel that a change is necessary I suggest you work with your local school to suggest a change to the current process.

Let me know if you have any questions.

I understand the position of the WIAA in that they need to have consistent rules, and I further understand that Andy is standing up for the process that they have in place.  Where I suggest a problem exists is that they have a process that can be documented as creating a disparate impact on female athletes. In this day and age, not to seek to proactively correct that seems unfair and outside of the WIAA’s stated core principle of “Provide access to equitable, fair, and diverse activities.

For a female athlete who is young and on the cusp of qualifying, especially those who run without teams to provide encouragement, missing the state tournament could easily be demotivating. To have to meet a higher standard than a male adds injury to insult and is not equitable.

While it would increase participation, I do not believe that the solution is to add more teams. The net result of adding teams would be to slow the entire championship field. Most athletes perform better in direct competition. With a field as strung out as the 1B/2B girl’s race, most of the athletes are running on islands as it is. A better solution, one that increases the level of competition in the middle of the pack, is to increase the number of individual qualifiers. 

I went back to the regional races to see what impact altering the allocation schedule to the number of teams, plus one, times the five already used by the WIAA. The net result? Six additional entries into the state race. From District 6, Caitlyn Ball (Riverside Christian), Katie Henneman (Tonasket), and Victoria Cole (Riverside Christian) would have joined their fellow athletes in Pasco. The other three come from District 1-4, Sarah Loven (Mossyrock), Amelia Kau (Orcas Island), and Meleah Kandoll (Toutle Lake) would be in. In the hyper-competitive District 7/9, no additional qualifiers would have made it out of the regional.

The last of the six, if they ran to form, would still be slightly ahead of the boy’s equivalent, but the overall disparity would be in single digits from a percentile perspective. In the case of Kau, she would have likely placed similarly to teammate Stephen Hohman. Why should he go and she’s done for the year?

Another factor is that four of those six are freshman and the other two are sophomores, exactly the kind of developing runners we should be encouraging. Qualifying for state, legitimately, is the ultimate encouragement. And, to the girls around them, inspiring. One of them just might decide that “if ‘so-and-so’ can do it, so can I.”

Why, the next thing you know, the participation numbers just might grow. Wouldn’t that be great?

“So what is your degree in?”

Taking a diversion from running today and visiting on the work side of my life. For those who don’t know, I’m a home inspector, the guy who squirms his way through a crawlspace and clambers through attics to get you good information on that dream home you’re eyeing.

It’s a very cool job. I get to see how other people live, how they design, what they consider priorities, all by looking at their houses. Now, I do have a few rules. When I’m in the closets, for example, I pay attention to the closet, not to the belongings. Ditto for the kitchen drawers and under the sinks. Never, ever, do I violate a person’s privacy by intruding into dressers and the like. (And yes, I have heard stories of tradespeople doing exactly that. They should be banned from the trade/business if caught.)

I also don’t judge people on the basis of their homes. I’ve had more that a few women – it’s always the women – who apologized the condition of the home, despite the fact that it doesn’t look bad to me. My standard response is that anyone with kids and dogs gets special dispensation. For homes that don’t have the kids or pets, I point out that I have done frat houses and sororities – they’re golden.

Yesterday, my afternoon inspection was twenty miles outside of Lewiston and into the hills above the Clearwater River. The home sat on 78 acres with riveting views from its perch above the canyons. The buyer and seller were both there, which is a bit unusual, but this was a For Sale By Owner transaction. FSBO’s are almost always more relaxed than a traditional sale for both parties, and definitely for the inspector. Normally, I am bound by rule not to divulge my findings to the other party; with FSBO’s, they both accompany me and we chat about the various issues as we discover them.

The buyers were from Moscow, home of the University of Idaho. As happens often, my clients were brighter than I am. That’s the drawback to spending a lot of time with people with PHD’s. The advantage is that I learn something new nearly every time I’m with people such as these.

And, as happens often, I got the question: so what’s your degree in?

I get the question because the skill set for a home inspector, much less one that also coaches and writes, is a diversified set. Recognizing zebra stripes on the wall as indicative of minimal insulation, or being able to describe the function of an air conditioner (not that I could repair one – that requires manual dexterity, too), or understanding and communicating the potential for a carpenter ant intrusion takes broad knowledge across multiple disciplines. The breadth of knowledge greatly exceeds the depth of same. Home inspectors are the ultimate generalists. The best of us are able to synthesize two or three relevant observations do determine system failures that are not readily obvious. 

To answer my client’s question, I told him quite simply, “I don’t have a degree.” I’ve told the kids in the AVID program at Clarkston High the same thing.

Still, I’ve always been an active learner and, as Louis L’Amour pointed out in his book, The Education of a Wandering Man, a person can become very educated without stepping foot in the halls of academia. As he also pointed out, that particular route of self-directed learning should be undertaken only by those with the self-discipline to stay the course.

In the course of my life, I’ve had the opportunity to work in many different fields, from shovelling manure for a buck an hour, to flipping burgers, to driving truck, to sales, to code inspection, and to home inspection, with professional writing as the next stop. Each taught me new skills. (Even shovelling manure – I learned to grow tomatoes and onions from that old couple, and got my first marketing lesson at their little roadside knick-knack shop.)

I have always read, too. I average more than fifty books a year and would read more if I ditched the computer and political blogs. For about a two decade stretch, I read non-fiction ranging from biographies of civil war generals and the Tudors, to quantum field theory (as much as I could handle with my limited math – I’m good into calculus, but some of that stuff is deep) and Gell-Mann’s the Quark and the Jaguar. I’d binge read fiction when I needed a mental vacation, sci-fi before it went stupid, thrillers, mysteries, the occasional ‘good’ book that the college professor would proclaim as ‘literature’ which I always thought was an arbitrary standard.

I will be the first to admit that I have led a fortunate life. I was born in a country where a person is allowed to better themselves. That is not true of most of the world, and while people decry the lack of opportunity in America, it’s still here, though there’s a catch: you have to be willing to work and to learn.

More importantly, you have to believe. Believe that opportunity still exists, though the larger society will claim the American Dream is dead. It isn’t, not as long as life stories like Ursula Burns or Ben Carson exist. The distance that they travelled is far greater and far rockier than the path the rest of us complain about. See the opportunities, not for taking advantage of people, but of learning and serving because that’s the home of opportunity. My vocations and avocations a

Believe in the people around you. We’re all part of a tribe, even a loner like me. Find your tribes – you probably belong to more than one – and find ways to contribute.  I had a person who once told me that I trusted everyone (true, at least at first) and that I never got burned by it in a major way (also true.) His complaint was that he’d keep score with people and always ended up getting screwed. It wasn’t fair that I did the opposite, with the opposite results. I don’t think he saw the larger picture. Believe in people, meet every stranger as a friend. The people around you will surprise you with how much they actually care and how much they will help.

Finally, the hardest step. Believe in yourself, both as you are now and how you want to be. I can’t offer many guidelines on this one as I don’t know them. There may not be a pat answer. In my life, I try to surround myself with good people, positive of mind, that will ask of me my best. I always seek new experiences and chances to expand my knowledge, whether it’s via a good book or a chance conversation.

And, I think indirectly, my client gave me a better answer to the question of my degree during our conversation yesterday.

My degree is in the Practical Applications of the American Dream.

Run gently this weekend, friends, and find a good book or buddy to spend some time with, too.

 

A Good Day Running

A Good Day Running

Sights from the trail . . .

It's a stand-off between the sheriff and the baaaad guy. The deputy looks on. The good guys 'wear' white.

It’s a stand-off between the sheriff and the baaaad guy. The deputy looks on. The good guys ‘wear’ white.

An easy six on trails today. Perfect weather with temps in the high 40’s and nary a soul in sight.