Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Are Runners So Prickly About their Pace?

Well my last blog post caused a bit of a brouhaha when I posted it on Facebook. It seems everyone assumed I was harshing on the so called 'slow runners'. THAT was not the point of my last blog post. The point of my last post was that it doesn't serve anyone's interests to have runners running very different paces in fairly close quarters.

I was not commenting on 'slow' runners, but many self-professed back-of-the-packers/slow runners seemed hurt that I wasn't acknowledging their right to run. Alas, that was not what I was saying. I was saying exactly the opposite: Everyone has a right to run THEIR race when they sign up for an event.  I did say, at several points in that post, that whatever 'racing' meant to you you should be permitted to do it. The problem is when your choices or the way the race is organized (and that was my main issue) sometimes interferes with the aim of certain individuals.

Political philosophers take great pains to try to understand 'liberty' - what it is, what it allows and what its constraints may be. A general and somewhat uncontroversial definition of liberty goes something like this: Each individual is allowed to exercise a liberty to the extent that others make exercise like liberties.

So while that rules out certain behaviors, those behaviors were not the concern of that post.
But, I'll leave the running/racing etiquette issue for another post...

However, during the discussion a larger issue became apparent and I think it needs to be addressed - and that is the strange double-edged-sword mentality that many runners fall prey to:
1) Defensiveness about their pace. They seem to be concerned that they are 'slow', but at the same time they maintain that they have every right to be slow -  and yet they still seem defensive about their 'slowness'.
2) The belief that if someone isn't 'fast'- ie. running Olympic qualifying times - then they really have no business being concerned about their races? So, only those who are really fast have a right to worry about their race results and the rest of us slow pokes should just have fun.
I don't understand this juxtaposition. First, why are so many runners so defensive about the pace they run? Running is a personal challenge, and that's the beauty of it. I can't even race my younger self, never mind someone else. I'm racing ME. I have goals that are mine alone. Do I like to compete against other women my age? Sure, no doubt about it. But that's only because it helps me push myself. I would rather set a PR then win my age group any day. What I run may be slow or fast based on where you're at, but that shouldn't really matter to you or to me. So my comments about running with people who were running at a slower pace simply concerns how this creates a difficult situation for everyone and my primary concern is when races are organized to create just this situation.

However, self-professed slow/back-of-the-pack runners seem to succumb to self-denigrating feelings about how slow they are, while simultaneously getting all prickly about how they have a right to be slow. There's often a tone of apology, and some even refer to their running as 'waddling' - and I'm sure that John Bingham would be proud -  but there's often a tone of righteousness as well. According to many runners I'm slow. Should I feel bad about this and apologize for my relatively slow pace? No. Should I feel that somehow I don't measure up? No. Should I feel that I'm a sucky runner? No. Should I be telling myself and everyone around me that,  "Yeah, I suck and I have every right to suck, so there", or, "Yeah, I'm slow and damn proud of it".? Why is that even an issue? That doesn't do anything for anyone. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who is out there, by definition, doesn't suck and isn't 'slow' in any objective sense. We need to stop denigrating ourselves and judging ourselves based upon how we think others judge us - because it just ain't true.

On the other edge of the sword is the view that I shouldn't worry about my race times if I'm not world class. Somehow, race times only really matter if you're going for an Olympic qualifier. But this notion seems to run counter to the above claim, that being, that I have a right to run my race even if I'm slow. And yet these two views seem to be expressed by the same individuals.

In logic there is a thing called "double think" - where a person believes two things that are mutually exclusive. I believe  this is an instance of double think: 1) I have a right to run regardless of my pace, and 2) I really shouldn't be concerned about my race if I'm not really fast. Of course #2 pretty much applies to 99% of us.

I agree with #1 and I disagree with #2 - and I maintain, that you can't reasonably hold both views. Furthermore, I think we hold ourselves back and undermine our efforts by maintaining such irreconcilable beliefs.

According to #2,  I guess I'm just supposed to go out there and have fun and to-heck-with-it if I have a sucky race. Sure I train 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year, through rain and snow and heat and exhaustion...but it's all just about fun, right? I say that that is a big stinking pile of BS.

Most runners do it for fun AND for other reasons that may actually be more uplifting. For me it's not JUST about having fun. For me it's about the challenge, the exploration (of myself and my world), the discovery...and who knows what else...

Just run and let others do likewise.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Quick Thought On Race Logistics and Contest Results

You're running the last miles of your 10k, marathon, half marathon, etc. and suddenly you run into (literally, sometimes) a gridlock as you merge with other runners running another race. This has happened to me several times this past year and I have to wonder if there isn't some reasonable solution.

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, I ran the Anthem Turkey Day 10k in Broomfield, Co. The race was well run, and the course was open and tough. But about a mile and a half from the finish the 10k runners and the 5k runners merged together for the rest of the race. I was running around a 7 min pace at that point and that put all the 10k runners in with the 8-9 min pace 5k runners (that's how the times worked out for the two races joining). As you can imagine, this led to a bobbing-and-weaving finish for the 10k runners who were obviously running at a faster pace then the 5k runners. Luckily, we were on a pretty wide road so it was manageable, though still difficult to focus on running instead of navigating. I've run several races on bike paths where you are forced to run through tall grass and weeds to get around slower walkers completing different races (eg. Eerie Erie, Colorado Marathon, Boulder Marathon).

The question is: Does this make sense? I realize that I am not a race director and I can't possibly have any idea how difficult it is to coordinate these things, but as a runner I can attest to the difficulty of navigating around families running 4 abreast, baby joggers (and I've run with one lots) and those out for a beautiful day fitness walk. I'm not complaining about their reasons for being out there (though it would be considerate for walker to give runners some room to pass) and I'm happy to see everyone out doing their thing -  But the fact is that runners and walkers and joggers often don't mix well on the same course.

A classic example is the Boulder Marathon. This event offers a full marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, and 10k. All the races are run on parts of the same course. When I ran this marathon in 2009 the last few miles were clogged up with half marathoners, most of whom were walking - that year the half marathon was started an hour after the full. So those running the full inevitably arrived at the last four or five shared miles with the slower half marathoners. Even with a wide road, I was forced to weave around groups of half marathoners. The mix just didn't work and it's no fun to be constantly saying "on your left" for the last four miles of a marathon.  

Back when I started racing, in the 1980s, most races offered one option - it was a 10k or 5k or half marathon or marathon event - Not all at once. Today races offer us a menu of options, and that's nice, but with that menu we are forced to deal with logistical challenges. How do you manage two, three, or four separate races run on pretty much the same course and at pretty much the same time? My experience is that it's not working so well for the runners - at least not the runners who are interested in racing (regardless of what pace 'racing' may mean for them).

What do you think? Am I the only runner out there dealing with this?

Hmmm. Next post on running/racing etiquette?????????????????

Chronic Runner T-shirt Contest:

I really want to give everyone a T-shirt!! I wish I could, but alas, I am just a poor teacher :( So I put everyone's name into a running shoe box (seemed appropriate and I have lots of them;) and a name was drawn.

And I have a winner! {lifeasa}RunningMom  

For all of my followers and readers, I want to thank you for reading and commenting and supporting this exercise, this discussion, this process.

"You just want somebody listening to what you say. It doesn't matter who you are..."
...This is for you.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where The Sidewalk Ends: The Socioeconomic Divide

Sidewalks are disappearing in urban areas, where they're most necessary. Perhaps this is happening because people have stopped using them or perhaps people have stopped using them because they're disappearing. For years I have returned to my childhood home in New Jersey and when I am there I run. Here the traffic is thick and fast and dangerous. I literally take my life into my hands when I run there. Over the course of 20+ years of running the same routes year after year, I have witnessed the disintegration of sidewalks - they slowly break up, crumble away and disappear - never to be replaced and I am forced to battle it out with the ever increasing and aggressive traffic.

Recently Runner's World ran a piece about the "whiteness" of running - and it got me thinking about something I've thought about many, many times - and that is the "wealthiness" of running. Of course in this country 'whiteness' and 'wealthiness' go hand in hand as many statistics clearly show. It seems that running is most enjoyed by those in the upper income brackets. There are some obvious reasons for this, but it seems that having leisure time and a safe place to run are the main prerequisites for developing the running habit. Other reasons include: disposable income available for gear, and perhaps most importantly, cultural/social support of and encouragement for such pastimes.

There is an amusing blog and book, published several years ago, called "Stuff White People Like" - and I'm sure somewhere on the list must be: Running. If there's also a book out there called "Stuff Fairly Well-Off People Like" running will also be on the list. When I posed this question to many, many runners both in person and online, collecting responses from those in the U.S. and internationally, the response was predictable, but disheartening nonetheless: The almost universal response was: that's the way it is with everything - The Socioeconomic divide is just the way things are, and at least running isn't as bad as golf or skiing or triathlon... 

Well, I teach ethics for a living, and so I spend my life's energy thinking about how things OUGHT to be, not how they ARE. Call me idealistic or unrealistic if you wish, but much positive change has begun with such ridiculous speculations: Think about slavery, women's rights, segregation laws, child labor laws... 

So, I think that this socioeconomic divide must be addresses, discussed, debated, and ultimately resolved. Saying that this is how life is, that no one ever said life would be/is fair, or some other such blather, does nothing for the world. To say that what is, is what is, and that is how it's always going to be is maintaining something that is logically fallacious, historically incorrect, and (possibly) morally corrupt. As I've written in previous posts, I believe that running makes for a better world, so I'm always interested in getting more people out running because I want to live in a better world and I want to leave a better world to my daughter.

Besides the folks who claim that that's just life, there are those who maintain that: "If you really love something enough you will make the sacrifices to keep doing it." Now I see at least two problems with this position: a) We have a chicken-and-egg problem. You have to be a runner first before you understand that it's something you want to do - something to make time for, something to make sacrifices for, something to strive for; and, b) For many people survival is the issue, not running, and there is nothing to 'sacrifice' besides necessities that can't be sacrificed. How presumptuous is it to say to someone living in poverty or living in a dangerous neighborhood, that if they really want it they can have it. This attitude seems to be reflect a very American upper/middle-class unwillingness to see that sometimes people can be in extremely dire situations - Sometimes it due to their own choices, and sometimes it the result of circumstances entirely out of their control. This latter possibility makes people very nervous and so we pretend it doesn't exist.

Add to that the fact that we, as a culture, do nothing to encourage that segment (poor or minority) of the society to join us, and the claims discussed above seem just plain ignorant and out of touch. If you live in a place where traffic makes all the streets unsafe to run on and sidewalks are few and far between (and yes, there are places like that - but "fairly well-off people" don't go to those places) then you probably won't run. It's difficult enough to keep up the running habit in the best of circumstances - but when everything is working against you - No time, no money, unsafe environment (in every way), no support - you probably won't do it.

Returning to New Jersey...I run when I'm there. I do it because I must. I do it because I am already a runner. But would I become a runner today had it been like that when I was younger? Would I take up running now if I lived there now? I don't know. But we certainly aren't doing much to spread the good word. We smugly sit back and pat ourselves on the back for making the necessary sacrifices. The fact that this problem exists in everywhere should provide little comfort. Running doesn't require a lot to do. But support and encouragement and inclusion goes a long way.

Some organizations that work with underrepresented groups:
Girls on the Run 
While Girls on the Run focuses on getting girls running, many of the programs can be found in the inner-city, urban areas. If there isn't one near you, they are always looking for new people to start programs.
Back On My Feet
"Back on My Feet is a nonprofit organization that promotes the self-sufficiency of those experiencing homelessness by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. Back on My Feet (BoMF) does not provide food nor does it provide shelter, but instead provides a community that embraces equality, respect, discipline, teamwork and leadership. All members - regardless of race, education or socioeconomic status - join together to move their own lives forward as well as the lives of their teammates."


Here's some demographic data for readers of Runner's World: This is not necessarily completely representative of the running community, but it is still telling:

any college 87%
grad college+ 60%

employed 75.0%
prof/mgr 42%

median hhi $111,929
average hhi $120,877

household income

$60,000+ 81%
$75,000+ 74%
$100,000+ 57%

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Mutterings: T-shirts, Tshirts, T-shirts...

I've run 13 races this year with at least 3 more to go by end of the year. Thus far I've collected 11 tech t-shirts and 2 cotton/blend t-shirts. By the end of the year I will have 2 more tech shirts and a beanie (the Colder Bolder hands out beanies instead of shirts) I've handed off the shirts that are too large to my husband - He loves tech shirt for bouldering and hiking in the high country - though I always hand them off with a little pang of regret. "Be proud when you wear that - it was a tough race you ran". These silly t-shirts can remind us of a particularly memorable, difficult, or successful race. They're not just t-shirts to me.

But the question is, for those of us who run even more than a few races a year: what can we possible do with all these tech shirts? They're not exactly the type of shirts you just 'wear around' when you're not running, or doing some other sweaty activity.

I've done some searching online to find charitable organizations that take donated t-shirts and distribute them to people in need around the world, and they're difficult to find. Often, if you drop clothing along a race course that clothing will be donated to a shelter - but are tech t-shirts really what people in need of clothing want and can use? It seems that perhaps budding Kenyan and Ethiopian runners, or American inner city running programs for adults and kids could actually use these shirts but that seems to be the extent to their use - because truth be told, they're very good for running, but not much good for anything else.

I guess I'd rather see races return to the days of handing our cotton/blend t-shirt which we can actually wear with pride when we're out and about running errands, taking the kids the soccer games or the playgrounds, having coffee, doing yard work, and just living life. Runners like to wear their badges of glory, aka. race t-shirts. But I'm just not going to be wearing a tech t-shirt to go to the grocery store. So, tech t-shirts seem like a bit of a waste. 

I also find myself with piles of gently used running shoes - they have lots of miles on them but they still have some life left in them. Three shopping bags full of shoes are sitting in my garage waiting to be carted of the the Boulder Running Company to be donated to One World Running which donates running shoes to needy people around the world. So, why not do something like this with t-shirts.

My daughter is a big fan of the PBS kid's show "Sid the Science Kid", and Sid always comes up with some crazy "super-duper-uper-big-idea" at the end of every show. So, here's my super-duper-uper-big idea: Start an organization that collects tech t-shirts to be distributed to running programs around the world.

Stay tuned...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Madness

It's precisely 6:37 a.m. on a coldish November Monday morning. I am running my usual Monday morning loop which is a mix of roads and trails. I use the roads to hook up the somewhat disjointed trail system that weaves through eastern Boulder County. The trails are quiet and peaceful at this hour. The darkness and cold weather has reduced the bike commuter traffic considerably (wimpy cyclists;) and so I enjoy getting lost in my thoughts and listening to the robins wake up. I reach Niwot, a cut little bedroom community just northeast of Boulder. Most of the streets are wide and open and sidewalks are few and far between.

I'm running, always against the traffic, on a particularly quiet street when a jeep approaches me. Her right wheels are about 6 inches from the curb (no exaggeration) and she is most certainly exceeding the posted speed limit. As she gets closer she does not swerve from her course until the very last minute, right before she almost runs me down. I look at her, undoubtedly, with an expression of surprise and disgust, and see her vehemently gesticulating. Her arm flails around as her finger points hard in the direction of the sidewalk. Hmmm, I suppose she feels very strongly that I should be on the sidewalk.

Apparently her anger at me is worth possibly killing me. I do what I can. I jump out of the way (yes, onto the sidewalk) and, of course, gesture back.  It was clear that she had me in her sights two blocks away. What could she have been think? What is she REALLY angry about?  I'm not in her way. We are the only two creatures anywhere in sight. The road is wide and open. But she is so spitting-mad at me.

Well, good morning to you too! 

Farther along, at every street crossing, the cars seem to be gunning for me. Is it just me, or is something up?  What's with all the anger? Is it just another Monday morning and you're hating your life, so you take it out on me? Man, just go for a run!

I find that the angry streets just keep getting angrier - whether I'm running or driving or biking. And it has, most certainly, gotten worse over the past 30 years. And, there seems to be a pecking order, of sorts, at work:  the car threatens to run down the bike and the runner. And bike, sometimes, threatens to run down the runner. It's like picking on the kid who's smaller than you on the playground. I believe that there's a sense of anonymity that people feel when they're moving quickly on some sort of machine and that seems to embolden people to act badly. Interesting, Colorado cyclists have the "Bicycle Safety Law" which require cars to give cyclist 3 feet of space when passing - this law does not apply to runners (or any pedestrians). So I suppose that woman in the the Jeep had every legal right to practically run over my toes.

But what's the point of all this anger and animosity? Am I annoying people because I'm out running? Clearly I'm not interfering with their plans, their lives, their comings and goings. And yet, my very presence seems to have annoyed the hell out of this poor woman.

In 399 BCE Socrates was convicted and condemned to death, ostensibly for asking difficult questions and challenging his fellow Athenians to live better lives. He did this simply by living his life - he lived according to his values and firmly held beliefs about what a valuable human life entailed. Before he is led off to drink his hemlock cocktail he warns his accusers that killing those who challenge them and their ideas and their judgements, or ask them to account for themselves and their actions, will only cause more problems and solves nothing:  
"...that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves."
It was this quote that came to mind when this woman pretty much tried to crush me. She's not the first to do so, nor will she be the last. And, all those people who tried to run me over on this beautiful fall morning went on their not-so-merry way, to spread more of the same, no doubt. All I can possibly say to all of them is: For heaven sake, just go for a run! You'll feel better and you won't feel the need to run me over next time we cross paths.

Make yourselves happy, and let the rest of us do the same. Better yet, why don't we all encourage everyone to do the same. Smile when you run. It sets good example.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On Not Being So Patient: NYCM 2012

New Jersey, 1979: I am a high school runner, captain of the cross country and track teams, at a small New Jersey prep school. Today, when I look back I see the makings of a future road runner. I routinely got up before sunrise to run through the cold, dark streets of my neighborhood as house lights began to click on, beginning a new day. This was not a common thing to do, at least not for a teenage girl, and I don't even know where, when, or how the idea occurred to me to do this. No doubt it was the early morning laps my father and sister and I ran around Cedar Brook Pond that began when I was 8 years old. Even today, 30+ years later, cold, dark morning runs take me back to those mornings. This is the year, 1979, that my father and I take the NJ transit train from Metropark to Manhattan to watch the New York City Marathon. Grete Waitz has returned to defend her title following her out-of-nowhere victory and world record setting run in 1978. We make our way to central park to get as close to the finish as possible. As I watch, Grete Waitz glides by, the crowd cheering a deafening cheer. The energy and excitement shooting through the air vibrates my skin into chills. Wave upon wave of runners stream past us and the cheering continues, on and on...

And on that day in November, 1979, I said to myself, inside my head, I must run this race. I will run this race...


I am the first to admit that I am not the most patient person when it comes to running:  I want my running times to come down, now, and I take a dim view of situations that interfere with my running plans - in this case, that would be having to wait to register for the 2012 NYCM. Last year and the year before I registered for the New York City Marathon lottery a year before the race - the day after the current year's race - and then sat back and waited, feeling the anticipation grow as April approached, hoping that this would be my year. Both times my hopes were dashed among the excitement of others posting they're "I'm in" news. The green-eyed monster left me feeling sour and grim. Humph.

At some point this past year I decided to stick it to the proverbial NYCM-Man and qualify for guaranteed entry - You can't keep me out, you NYCM-Man, you. So there. Ha. I ran my qualifying race on October 9th, 2011, and a few days later, new qualifying requirements were released by the NYCM. Arggg. No fair, No fair, I whined like a four year-old who'd just been cut-off in line for the slide. I didn't read, until later that day, the fine print saying that the new qualifying times wouldn't apply to the 2012 race because the qualification period was already open. So I walked around that day feeling bitter and doomed. Ah, the NYCM-Man got me again. I was beginning to take this just a bit personally. Once I calmed down and regained my composure, I did indeed see that the new times applied to the 2013 race. Phew.  The world was again a brighter place. Now, I not-so-patiently, waited for the day after the 2011 race: The day I would register for guaranteed entry into the 2012 NYCM.

November 7th comes, and there's no information about registration - nothing about the 2012 race - nada. I start franically searching the internet and posting questions on Facebook. I send the NYCM an email because the only thing I can find about qualifying guaranteed entries says: "please contact us by April 20 via email at if you run a fast qualifying time." In return I receive an auto response about the 2011 race. Rumors begin to circulate on facebook. Everyone's wondering - What's up?

I guess I'll just have to be patient. And yet I will not relax until I have my registration in hand, so to speak. I begin to wonder, is "guaranteed" really guaranteed? Should I cover my bases and enter the lottery since this would be my third year in a row to apply - and no doubt be rejected - thanks NYCM-Man - which would then get me a guaranteed entry for 2013. Am I feeling just a little paranoid here?

Oh, the heck with it. Give me a reason to go after the new qualifying times. I dare you.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...