Friday, May 25, 2012

Protecting Us From Ourselves?

Due to the extreme heat on Sunday at 9:25 a.m. the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon’s medical director made the decision to shut down the course for the safety of the runners and volunteers. Within ten minutes of this decision all water station and timing personnel were notified of this decision. At 9:35 a.m. the finish line was shut down. Participants who crossed the finish line after that time will not receive official results.
“Our medical resources were being heavily utilized and we reached a point that the safest decision was to shut the race down,” said Dr. Jeremy Metzler, medical director of the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon. “Runner safety is our first priority and we had to make that call for our runners.

When the race was shut down, the marathon implemented its contingency plan and deployed shuttles to all the water stations to pick-up runners on the course.

“Despite the closed course and the urging of public safety, our operations team and volunteers, some runners chose to stay on the course,” said Sean Ryan, race director of the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon. “We would like to thank the community members, medical staff and volunteers who stayed on the course to provide water and support to these runners.”

A total of 3,622 individuals finished the half marathon before the shutdown. Only ten elite marathon finishers received official finisher results based on gun time, not chip time, per USATF guidelines regarding marathon prize money.
Posted at 12:47 pm in Race Day
There's been lots of discussion on this issue recently. Many runners agree that sometimes RDs have to make decisions that are difficult and close the course for the sake of public safety. Others contend that the course should not be closed, and those who choose to run should be allowed to continue, and if they finish they should receive an official finishing time.

I'm with the second group on this.

First, Let me clearly state that I am not a libertarian (I believe that those who need help should receive help) but I do subscribe to the view (presented by John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty") that we should suffer fools, perhaps not gladly, but allow them to do the things we may deem stupid nonetheless. J.S. Mill argued that each of us should be permitted to do what we wish as long as we do not harm another. May we harm ourselves? Sure. May we suffer the consequence of our unwise decisions? Sure.
"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
Now this may sound overly "legalistic" and official, but Mill applies it to all aspects of life. The theory basically rests on the belief that each of us are happiest when we are permitted to pursue our own good (interests, desires, dreams, goals) in our own way. We don't want to be told, and made to do, something "for our own good". There are some necessary conditions (for Mill and for me) that must be met: This applies only to mature, rational human beings capable of caring for themselves. This implies that one needs to be able to weigh the risks and benefits of an action and can then rationally determine whether the action is worth it.

Concerning Green Bay, stories are flying around, fast and furious, about runners collapsing from the heat. These stories are used to illustrate why it's obvious that the RD did what he had to do and that we need to be protected from ourselves. But I don't see how the stories themselves illustrate that. Shouldn't we be allowed to take responsibility for our own choices?

One of the problems, as I see it, is cultural: People seem to think that they will always be safe and/or taken care of and therefore there are no risks. 

I'll give a couple examples:

Example #1: Many years ago my husband and I spent a couple weeks in Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park. Camp 4 is a rustic 'climber's' camp located near the start of the trail to the top of Yosemite Falls. This hike and trail is fairly long and arduous for the uninitiated. What we saw everyday were families embarking on a day's long hike, sans water, food, clothing for possible weather changes, etc. They took off in flip-flops and tank tops. Every single day that we were there, there was a 'rescue' where Rangers had to go retrieve an unprepared hiker.

Example #2: In Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors love to go see and take pictures of the elk. What you end up seeing are mothers holding their babies standing 15 feet from a huge bull elk for the sake of a picture. People! That's crazy.

So why does this happen? I believe it's because we don't really grasp the risks we face. I like to call it the "Disneyfacation" of recreation and athletic pursuits. We believe that everyone can do anything and if it's an organized event, or a park, or a trail, then it's gotta be safe. We believe everything is 'safe'. It's all just like a trip to Disneyland!  Just last night I had a guy laugh at me when I somewhat jokingly pointed out to another climber that he was "gonna die" if he continued doing something (stupid) that he was about to do because he wasn't paying attention. The other climber laughed at my remark, and said 'you can't die in the gym". Ummmm. Yes you CAN!  

Our culture has tried to make everything seem safe. But the fact remains that some things are inherently dangerous to some degree because we will never be able to control all the variables in all situations. We are lying to ourselves if we believe that everything is safe. Add to that the fact that people are sometimes stupid and you have a bad situation. Instead of trying to protect ourselves from dangerous situations we should work to instill a degree of respect and understand of what we are getting ourselves into.

In 2009 I ran a very hot marathon and I didn't do it well! Part of the problem rested with the RD's negligence (inadequate fluids, given the conditions, at aid stations). But it was also my fault. I didn't drink enough. I didn't have a clue how much I needed to drink or what to drink. And, I ended up hobbling the last 6 miles, every muscle in my body cramping with every step and breath. But here's the thing: I learned SO much from that experience. I did things right at Boston this year because of the lessons I learned during that horrible marathon. Granted I survived to use the lessons learned, but the fact remains that even in organized events I need to understand that I am responsible for the choices I make.

Many argue that the RDs job is to make sure everyone is safe. Is that the RDs job IF the RD has fulfilled his/her responsibilities? Where does my choice, my liberty, my individual sovereignty come in? Should I be permitted to do something stupid if I decide that , for me, it's worth it? I understand why RDs do it. You want your race to have a positive reputation - with fun and PRs not suffering and death. But that is a different issue then whether it's an RD's job (duty?) to make sure we don't do something stupid.

I'm sure these situations will only continue as more people take on challenges that perhaps they are ill prepared for.
"The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." ~ John Stuart Mill

Monday, May 21, 2012

Appropriate Madness

 “Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot.” ~ Aristotle
 It's 4 a.m. Sunday morning. I stumble through my pitch-dark house trying not to wake everyone. I start the coffee brewing, jump in the shower...and wonder why on earth I'm up before dawn, getting ready to run another marathon. What madness has me in its grip? I can't remember at this point why I thought this was a good idea.

I've just spent the past two days sitting through a Road Runners Club of America Coach Certification Clinic - 9+ hours each day sitting on my tush doing nothing with my body, sloth and tightness settles in. I'm itching to run. So, after deciding Friday night that running the Colfax Marathon would be unwise, I found myself tromping around my house silent and grumpy. My husband asked me what was wrong, about a bazillion times - I said  'nothing', about a bazillion times, churning my decision over and over, silently, in my mind. As we got ready to go to sleep he said: "Just go register. If you want to run it, just go register". So, at 11 p.m. I got up, went downstairs to my office and clicked on the "register" button. Done.

Sunday - 4:34 a.m., I get in the car and point it towards Denver. I crank Coldplay on the stereo, roll down the windows, and breath in the cold, damp morning air. This is one of those mornings that makes you aware that coffee is one of the greatest gifts from the gods. The streets are silent. And as the sun begins to break the horizon, I am reminded of why I thought this was a good idea.


So, where did this idea really come from? Why would I choose to run three marathons in less than 5 weeks? I'm definitely the quality over quantity type of runner (and I'd say in most aspects of my life). So why would I go this route. This goes against much of what I believe is good and worthwhile. 

Well this winter was tough on me for many reasons - tough training (weather conditions), concussed training, sick training, injured training - and then sucky races for all of that! What could I take away from all of this? I didn't even have the opportunity to learn lots of important lessons from it all - except, of course, that you can't control the weather (Boston) nor can you control the negligent actions of someone else (concussion) - But I already knew that!

My thoughts on running Colfax went something like this:
1) I just feel like running it - the weather forecast predicted practically brilliant conditions. I just feel like going for a really long run in brilliant weather! Even though I had run a marathon the previous weekend, I felt really quite recovered, my legs felt fairly good, and my heart wanted to run.
2) Maybe, just maybe, I can salvage something out of this training cycle by:  a) doing something I never ever would have contemplated doing, and b) qualifying for Marathon Maniacs, something I never really want to do (I never even gave any thought to the notion) nor thought I ever could.
But, "Is this a foolhardy action?" "Is this imprudent?" I asked myself. As a good Aristotelian this is an important question. Additionally, am I trying to prove something (to myself and others)? By Friday I had convinced myself that it was indeed foolhardy - that's what reason tried to tell me. I could hurt myself. I'm pushing things too far. The risks are too great. This is just a stupid idea. All my friends will think I'm crazy.

But reason is not the only factor important to weigh. Aristotle describes how the virtues (such as courage, prudence, etc.) demand a balance between the rational and irrational parts of the soul. Emotion (the irrational) moves us to act. Without emotion, without passion, we don't care about anything so we don't 'want' to do anything. Reason directs the emotions, for without reason our emotions run amok. But you have to have both in balance, and that's the hard part. Reason said: "No. Don't run. It's stupid and risky". Emotion said: "Baaaa. Run. You want to run". The crux is finding that balance.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” ~ Aristotle
So I ran. It was fun. I fortuitously ran into a friend around mile 3 and we chatted the whole way (she just needed an easy qualifying time for the Pikes Peak Marathon) - something I never do when I'm in "race" mode. I looked around, I lost track of the miles, I stopped twice, yes twice (!) to pee, I stopped at water stops, I maintained my form, I high-fived some friends passing the other way...

And I just went for a nice long run on a brilliant day and had a lot of fun doing it. In the end, that's why I run and continue to run...
"No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness." ~ Aristotle

Friday, May 18, 2012

Everything Was Fine, Until...

After lasts Saturday's marathon I slept like a baby - long and sound - and then in the blink of a thought, all that changed.

Why? Well as I innocently sat before my computer, typing this and that, getting some much neglected business done, an idea popped into my head with NO warning - and now that it popped I can't seem to exterminate the little bugger!

And here's the thought: "So, if I woggle the Colfax Marathon on Sunday (5/20) I'll be a maniac. Hmmm."

Okay, where did that come from? I've never given much thought to the whole Marathon Maniac thing. I mean, I think they're maniacs (in the best possible sense of the word). So why did this have to pop into my head?

Add to this the BIG mistake in judgement in posting said thought on facebook, and bamm - the sharks came to feed. "Do it, Do it, Do it!" was the refrain from all and sundry. Why did I post this on facebook? I know better.

And so for the past night and day and night, and now onto another day, I've been chewing and chewing and chewing on this.

Now I'm off to Denver for the RRCA Coaches Clinic - Two days of sitting on my tush. Good forced rest, I told myself two days ago. Gaaaa, too much time to think and ruminate even more.

So here I sit on the fence, making the bigger mistake of posting this here. 

The decision will be made.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Time to Crawl Under a Rock and Lick My Wounds?

That's a Question, Not a Statement of Intent.
"We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success. " ~ Henry David Thoreau
On Friday afternoon, May 11th, I flew from Denver to Sioux Falls, SD and drove an hour north to Brookings, SD. And on Saturday morning, after a night of tossing and turning, I ran the Brookings Marathon, 27 days after running a brutally hot Boston Marathon.  

My aim was clear: to qualify for Boston again. I hate that kind of pressure, and I usually set my sights fairly low so that I can be surprised if things turn out well and okay with it if things go a bit pair-shaped. I tried to salvage my winter training cycle - which was a hodge-pogge of challenges, and ups and downs - and I suppose I did exactly what I prepared myself to do. I haven't hit my groove since my injury last November and then the concussion in February dealt the final blow to my initial aspirations - which if you asked me in October, I would have said I hoped to set a masters PR in April. Alas, it was not to be. There would be no brilliant revelation, not rabbits pulled out of hats, on this glorious day in South Dakota.

Well, I took a gamble, not entirely irrational, but not entirely rational either, and I lost the bet. This is still fresh and so I'm mixed on the message I'm being sent, but at this point I am: a) disappointed, and b) happy that I tried.  Mixed emotions to be sure - and I'm used to mixed emotions, but I must admit that I wish things had gone better this past Saturday.

I could blame LOTS of factors for my failure to score that BQ. Not the weather this time - the weather was great. Oh, for weather like that 4 weeks ago in Boston! Oh, how differently I might see the world today had that gone well - but, that's not what we got. Just deal.

Was it insufficient recovery from Boston? Yes. Insufficient (in terms of specificity) training? Yes. Injury? Yes. Concussion? Yes. Fighting an impending cold? Yes. PMS? Yup, that's what I said guys - PMS - Oh, Yes! End of semester and travel fatigue? Yes. And worse of all - my feet went numb! Hello down there feet - why are you doing this to me? You've never failed me like this before. I must admit that that was entirely unexpected. Just deal!

But what does it really matter? What sense is there in whining? It does no good. It changes nothing. I tell my five year-old daughter this fact of life ad nauseam. Let's face facts: Those races where everything works, everything clicks, everything feels on and easy and smooth and you're healthy and the weather is perfect, and course is divine - these are rare gifts indeed. The question is whether you can deal with the hand dealt to you and do what you can on the day you have. And the fact remains, that I gave it the best I had to give on that day.

I try not to fester, but I do. I analyze, I dissect, I inspect every possible variable. The analytic philosopher in me tries to pull the pieces apart into itty bitty bits of manageable objectivity. But my more synthetic sensibility, which truth be told is my more natural inclination, leads me to suspect that the variables may, for all eternity, remain a mystery.

But the unknowns aside, I must admit to myself that my body did what it was trained to do. Just because I ran 3:53 (This year I needed 3:55. I ran 4:01 on Saturday) last year without feeling particularly taxed, does not mean that I can do the same thing this year, a different and much more difficult year, even if I will it to be so with all my heart and soul. As much as running demands a determined will and a passionate heart it also demands the right training, and when the two come together at just the right time, it feels easy and right and good.

And I will continue to pursue that aim, wounds and all...

"There is something about jumping a horse over a fence, something that makes you feel good. Perhaps it's the risk, the gamble. In any event it's a thing I need." ~ William Faulkner

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Equal Rights For Runners On The Road!

“I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.” ~ Dr, Seuss, Yertle the Turtle

Yesterday morning while running through a quiet neighborhood along a narrow, twisty road with a posted 20 mph speed limit, I was nearly run down, and most certainly run off the road, by a speeding vehicle heading my way. I ALWAYS run against the traffic - and I'm convinced that this has saved my life several times. The driver and I made solid eye contact as she bore down on me. She clearly had no intention of moving away from me. I jumped into a bush and stood there on the side of the road in disbelief as she zoomed on down the road. In huge letters across the entire back window of the car was "USA Pro Cycling". Now I was just really really really ticked! A cyclist!! A cyclist running down a runner!!!???
Last year while training through another snowy winter in Colorado and battling it out with the cars on the roads (since the trails were fairly impassable for most of the winter), I made the observation that cars were giving a lot more room to the cyclists I saw on the roads than the runners. Even more vexing and infuriating, I have had numerous encounters with large groups of cyclists also pushing me off the road and into the ditch. Now, granted, my "observations" may suffer from a bad case of "hasty generalization" (insufficient sampling variety) but after 40 years of running I feel somewhat qualified to at least comment on the issue: So here goes...

First, it is NOT my intention to stir up animosity between runners and cyclists. I do ride (usually when I can't run ;) and so I believe that cyclists deserve the protections they legally have. But I believe that these same rights ought to be extended to runners/pedestrians as well. The arguments used to support legislation protecting cyclists apply equally to runners. 

In 2009, Colorado joined a national trend to pass laws aimed at protecting bicyclists and educating drivers. The "3 Foot Law" , requiring motorists to give cyclists at least a yard of clearance when they pass. The Colorado law also makes it illegal to throw objects at riders. Law makers and riders applauded the measure.
"The members of Bicycle Colorado are excited that the Bicycle Safety Act will go into effect on August 5, 2009. Here's what this new law will mean to you while biking or driving.
For a downloadable poster (PDF) explaining the new laws, click here.

Better Traffic Laws for Bicyclists                  Photo: David Budd
3 Feet: Enjoy a Little Breathing RoomBicyclists get at least 3 feet of space when vehicles pass. To help give you 3 feet, motorists can cross a centerline when clear to pass you safely.
Riding with FriendsTwo bicyclists may ride side-by-side when clear but please move to single-file to allow other vehicles to pass.
Be Safe, Be Seen
Ride as far right as is safe. But that doesn't mean you have to ride in the gutter - riding in the right half of the lane often is the safest and most visible spot.
Go With the FlowYour choice - bicyclists can ride to the far right or far left on a one-way street. Remember, still no riding upstream - ride in the same direction as traffic."
So I started thinking about why or if this law applied to runners. So, I contacted Brandon Shaffer, President of the Colorado Senate:
Dear Senator Shaffer,

I'm doing some research on SENATE BILL 09-148 - I understand that this bill concerns Bicyclists only, not runners/pedestrians. I am wondering if you can direct me to any legislation concerning runners on public roads. I have been unable to find any sources other then general pedestrian laws.

Thank you for any help you can provide on this.

Caolan MacMahon
His response: 
Ms. MacMahon,

You are correct. SB09-148 applies to a bicyclist's interaction with other vehicles on the road.  It mentions pedestrians once, but it is in the context of how a bicyclist ought to interact with a moving obstacle on a road (which includes a pedestrian).

To the best of my knowledge, no bills have been introduced this year on runner or pedestrian specific issues.  The best place to find existing laws on this subject is in Title 42 "Regulation of Vehicles and Traffic."  More specifically, 42-4-801-808 contains pedestrian specific laws.
I hope this helps.
Brandon C. Shaffer
Senate President
After digging through all the bills concerning MOTOR VEHICLES AND TRAFFIC REGULATION, I found nothing beside the following: 
"...vehicles are required to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians who are lawfully within adjacent crosswalks at the time a circular green signal is displayed."
 "A person riding a bicycle upon and along a sidewalk OR PATHWAY or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk shall yield the right-of-way to anypedestrian and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing such"

So now here it is, a year after I really began thinking about this, having survived another winter season on the roads, and I think it's high time something change. I'm tired of cars feeling that they are allowed to "buzz" me - and it happens very regularly. It's time that runners join forces to change this situation. Cyclists, at least in Boulder, have been very effective in joining together and using their numbers to influence laws. It's time for runners to do the same.

Now to get to work!


On May 8th I wrote to one of the sponsors, Sen. Greg Brophy asking about legislation concerning runners/pedestrians. Here is his response today, May 9th:
I have not heard from anyone about such a concern.  I need to ask our research team how pedestrians are currently treated on the road.
Greg B.
It seems clear that no one has given this much thought!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

You Can't Reap What You Don't Sow

Why All Children Should Run :)

Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's final exam time, the bi-annual ritual where we try to measure, through imperfect means, what someone has learned. This time of year also ushers in the urgent pleas from students begging for clemency, compassion, leniency...While others express heartfelt gratitude for having the opportunity to learn something entirely new, sometimes even life changing and challenging. 

Take two students:
One hands over her exam, hesitates and then says, smiling: "You're amazing, you know that. This class has changed my life." I'm only part of the equation and I'm not amazing - though that's nice to hear occasionally. But, ultimately it's up to her - it's up to all of us as individuals accepting responsibility for what we do and fail to do with our lives.
Moments later a student hands over his exam. Three out of four of the essay questions are blank. I spoke with him several days earlier and told him that if he did well on the final, he would pass the class. I suggested he talk with me about any questions he had while studying. The students knew exactly what would be on the final (75% of the final is directly from earlier exams). As he hands me his exam, he says "This is the best I can do." I look and immediately see all the blank spaces, and ask if he can't try to answer those. He does not take the exam back from me. Instead he begins telling me, with heartfelt seriousness and concern, that his life is in my hands.
Wait, how did HIS life fall into MY hands? And yet this is not an unusual refrain from students: "Please, I worked so hard. I have to get a 'C'."..."This class is going to ruin my GPA."..."This class is so much harder than another class I've taken."..."I'm going to lose my scholarship/be sent back to my country/have to stay at community college for another year..." and on and on and on... But rarely is there any recognition of how their actions are responsible for their situation.

So what sets the two situations apart? It seems that our culture emphasizes the importance of team playing over the importance of personal responsibility and initiative. But the fact remains, that ultimately we have our own lives in our own hands.

Aristotle argued that there are three necessary (not sufficient) elements if we wish to master something: Desire, Practice, and a Teacher: I must WANT to master the thing. I must practice, practice, practice. And I must have a "teacher". Now a teacher needn't be someone who actually stands before us and teaches us facts or techniques. Rather, a teacher may just be someone who exemplifies what it means to master the thing I wish to master. The best runners in the world are as much 'teachers' as a coach is. They are examples of what it takes and what it means to "run well". I can learn a lot from those who do something well. And then I must really want it, and work very hard at pursuing it.

Running illustrates this perfectly. No one can run your run for you. No one can finish the race for you. You either ran today or you didn't. You put in the effort and you hope to reap the benefits.

I've been coaching rock climbing for 15 years and running for 3 years - the number one lesson children (and adults) learn while pursuing these passions is: It's ALL up to you. I can help, I can encourage, but no one does it for you. You either succeed or fail in reaching the goals YOU set for YOURSELF, and then YOU do it or YOU don't do it. When you play a game of soccer it is possible to win the game even if you don't contribute much to the effort. But that's not the case in running.

I've been coaching an elementary school running club for several weeks. Lots of what we do are running games, keeping it fun. But last week we began heading out into the neighborhood for a mile run. The kids range in age from pre-K (several of the coachs' kids, including my own) to 5th graders. Some of the kids are new to the running thing, and some are already accomplished racers. But what you see is a lot of effort, some jogging, some walking, but they all get there, and when they do they are glowing with pride - the feeling of individual accomplishment.

No one did it for them. No one can do it for them. And I hope they carry that feeling for the rest of their lives.

Go forth and sow some seeds, set an example, work for the goal, enjoy the ride, and have patience...
"Patience is necessary, and one cannot reap immediately where one has sown. "~ Soren Kierkegaard

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...