April 9, 2020

Efficient Cause

There are no sports to watch right now, which has placed baseball somewhat more prominently in my mind. By way of explanation: it's the best sport to follow, and to think about. But to watch? Probably not.

There are various reasons for this, depending on who you ask. Schools of various vintage can be blamed, and not without reason. Blame, though, is perhaps the wrong word.

A team is supposed to win; to win you need to score runs; we basically know now that the best way to score runs is to avoid outs (to walk) and hit home runs, where BABIP is eternally 1.000. Which is not to say a high batting average on balls in play is without value, or fails to indicate a useful player: Ty Cobb has the highest ever, and he was pretty good. It's just that Brooks Robinson never threw out a batter who had just watched ball four, and with very few exceptions, balls hit over the fence are never caught.

The problem here, rather evidently, is that the efficient manner of play dispenses with defense and (mostly) baserunning, dynamic components of the game that people like to watch. We are left with the "three true outcomes"--a walk, strikeout, or home run--but little in the way of on-field dynamism.

There are exceptions, though they are mostly not well known players. The last true star in that vintage was probably Ichiro, one of the most prolific singles hitters of all time. Even that sentence is either praise or criticism, depending on your perspective. It has to be said, he didn't walk much, or hit for extra bases often. But if that must be said, then it must also be felt that he was remarkable to watch, and one might ask whether this is because--not in spite of--his relative inefficiency.

It is often said of baseball that the drama comes from the focused battle between the hitter and pitcher. And this is... well, it's not untrue. But it also wasn't the original intent. Way back when, the notion was simply that the pitcher threw something for the batter to put in play; the baserunning speed and acumen of the batter versus the fielders, then, took center stage. A walk or a strikeout was essentially a punitive measure put in place to keep things moving; they were never intended as desirable outcomes--certainly not 2/3 of the "true" outcomes.

As an aside, I think it's tremendously lucky for football--both kinds--that analytically optimal strategy just so happens to align with what people mostly like to watch. (No one really wants to watch Mahomes hand the ball off 45 times a game.) Baseball and basketball, then, were not only unlucky, but certainly that in some respects.

There isn't a coherent thesis here, more like an iffy observation: Sometimes less efficient things are more beautiful, and we like them better.

A more learned person than me could relate that back to Aquinas and others, and note that beauty is an absolute good--that is, good in and of itself, not good for something. And so to be truly beautiful, a thing cannot be instrumentalized. And perhaps, one might say, to make something good for something is to make it less beautiful, and less good.

This, maybe, is part of why jogging exceedingly long distances appeals. It's silly, good for nothing. And so, good. Beautiful, even.

(See? I brought it around.)

April 6, 2020

I think I ran over 90 miles last week, and also played catch (with a baseball) for about 30 minutes yesterday. My shoulder is sore; my legs are not.

Back when anyone at all could go to gyms, I often did; so it's not that I needed to be reminded that my niche athleticism is precisely that. But whether needed, I got the reminder.

Not as a compensatory mechanism, but rather due to a lack of races, I've been thinking of soloing a 50K. Ideally about 3:45. If I do that, and it goes well, I'd like to try Psycho Psummer again in July. If anyone is racing in July. And if anyone is racing in the Fall, there is Heartland, again, maybe--or for the first time, the whole way.

We'll see. It's easy to say "Well, I was going to do *insert ambitious thing here*, but the world went crazy, and so I didn't." But there are cool local races that I'd like to do. Both parts of that are important.

A thing about pandemics that prevent travel is they invite folks to reflect on place, what it means to them and maybe what it ought to mean. Maybe we shouldn't travel so much for races. Maybe Western States shouldn't be ultrarunning's Boston or Kona; maybe Boston and Kona shouldn't be Boston and Kona, either.

That, I should note, is relatively easy to say when I am not qualified for 2/3 of those. (I can't comfortably swim one length of a pool. So.)

March 24, 2020

Unbreakable is free on YouTube; I watched some of it last night and will watch the entire thing this weekend. Maybe--probably--by coincidence, iRunfar published a "where are they now" on Nick Clark, and Treeline talked about an Anton comeback.

It felt like sitting several desks ago, a couple positions back, listening to podcasts and reading blogs. These are things one can still do, of course, though there are fewer blogs and probably more podcasts (the hosts of which mostly trade one another as guests, so far as I can tell).

Both Nick and Anton's blogs were some of the most trafficked--owing to the detail with which they described their training, and probably no little projection. That is, if I could only train that much, in those environs, maybe I could... well, the mind can only wander so far into fantasy. But "so far", often enough, is pretty far. Far enough to get you out the door, down the street, a mile or so from the trailhead, at which point you're liable to keep going, and maybe even enjoy yourself--or if not that, at least derive some satisfaction from the rocks passing underfoot, the trees going back, the roots feeding deeply as you imagine, maybe, increased capillary density is doing the same in your legs.


In Unbreakable, you get to see both of them running. There are shoes that no longer exist, a company that no longer makes running gear altogether (RIPPI, maybe?), and Ian Sharman, briefly, wearing too much black and a funny hat. (There still is Ian, of course. And Kilian, who I did not remember ever looking so young.)

There was also Geoff Roes, making pasta, and winning. He also had a very good blog. I couldn't remember the name, but when I started to type "Geoff Roes b-", Google autofilled "burnout" first, and then "blog".

That is, one might say, what it is. And that was, after a fashion, the angle on both of the aforementioned articles: Does Nick still run? And does Anton still train? (And, if so, what will he do with it?)

The latter--and the article frames the questions as such--is a meme, at this point. Or rather, is still a meme, and has been for years. I have run ultras, do so in flimsy shoes, and have long hair. And though I would argue the former are simply stupidity and preference intertwined, and the latter a result of really liking Ride the Lighting in 6th grade, we're all imperfect self-evaluators. So maybe I'm a part of that; maybe this is a part of that; I don't know.

Maybe putting three semi-colons in once sentence is an indicator of something, or many things, related to all of this or none of it or some fraction in between. 

But. About Nick, I'd heard very little. It does seem he's good, which is good. He used to be really fast--maybe the best top-end resume at Western States to never win it--and now he's not, but that doesn't seem to matter to him, or bother anyone else.

Which, also, is good.

It is trite to point out that good things are always good, maybe especially when other things are not--though other things are always not good, if we're being honest. Still, running. It's good to want other people to have what they want, and to pursue what we want in the meanwhile. Maybe there will be races soon, or something that approximates soon. I'd like to do a specific 50k, but who knows, and maybe big fall thing, but it all feels silly to plan, and even sillier to point it out.

October 28, 2019

There is a slight twinge in the area between my shin and calf, which I have and will run on.

There is a gravity to longer races, like larger things. They hold you close and squeeze your vision and then, when circumstances and effort shift you away and your trajectory alters, the delta changes as well, and you're flung into the space between the stars, an unlight of experiential lack.

This is the not remembering, the propulsive browsing, the fearing the fear of missing out.

Which is to say, of course, that I'm back to running and eager to train for something, anything, though I don't know what.


This is an experience I've had before, and likely, if you're reading this--and you are--one you have as well. And so it is perhaps not worth saying, except that I suspect the only reason anyone writes anything at all is the drive to share universals in a unique way, so we can all gesture and say yes, yes, it is like that, we are not alone here or in our experiences.

I could tell you that a marathon is long and hard in the same way I could tell you that Anna Karenina and Middlemarch are long and great and the Mississippi wide and the bronze burning sunset crowning it beautiful.

Books particularly strike me as similar experiences to significant races, in that one spends a great deal of time and emotional energy invested in a world that is not precisely shared by most people we interact with and so you look up and around and talk and it takes you a while to orient yourself that this is here, and not there, and in fact people don't know the contents of your mind, nor you theirs.

This, I suppose, is why book clubs have always worked, and why races are useful.

It probably also why there are a lot of books about running, and probably soon a Nobel prize winning author with one. (Admittedly, I've DNF'd races and IQ84.)

October 23, 2019

The Des Moines marathon has, if you're interested, a lot to recommend it. Good volunteers who hold cups correctly, a few more hills than you might like, and a bit longer--but they're all early. If you're smarter than me the second half could be run very fast; it's a course calling out for a negative split. I listened but did not, as teachers sometimes told me in grade school, listen. There was a Motley Crue cover band at mile 25, but they hadn't started playing yet when I passed, so I guess that's a negative. (Or maybe they were primarily for the half marathon, and were done already? I don't know and won't research the matter further.)

I started the race too fast, in a pack, justifying the act to myself by drafting and social pressure and the idea that if they could do it, so could I. Many of the runners were college--or just graduated--young men, and they really liked the sign one spectator was holding about how you should "find a cute butt and follow it". 

They all pulled away between 3-6 miles. About half would come back, Icarus-style, much later.

I persisted, knowing I'd gone too fast, but wanting not to overcompensate and now go too slow. I got passed and did a little passing, but mostly ran a solo tempo until mile 12, at which point I entered the Drake track, and make a loop of the blue surface. This felt rather exceptional. There were people, one of whom was my dad, and I knew now I'd essentially made it half way and was on time. 

There was another long stretch of straight and solo running then, and a park around mile 18, which I knew would continue until mile 24. There was a dirt trail, and I briefly entertained the notion of darting that way, of doing a little dirt jogging and rock hopping, and just abandoning this whole thing. It hurt, then. I threw an empty water cup into a trash can, and the volunteers cheered, and that helped. I tried to do another behind my back, and didn't succeed, but they cheered that too. 

I got passed by a hard charging man by a lake at mile 22. He told me to come with him, and I said that I couldn't. I then caught one of the aforementioned college guys, and then another. The second stayed with me for a bit, and a friend of his darted along the course, yelling encouragement, alternating between insisting that said friend beat me or work with me--he apologized when the former command was issued. 

We trudged on together. There was briefly the notion of a Motley Crue cover band--but then, as we've established, there was no such band. A bridge, then, and a couple turns. The announcer said I looked pumped; and indeed, the photos I'm not going to buy and thus will not post show a large smile. 

I finished at 2:55:30, drank half a bottle of water, grabbed another, and waited for my girlfriend to come across the line. She had wanted to break 3 hours, but didn't. She will, though. We had some pretty good cookies--I always erroneously assume I'll just make do with whatever food is around, whenever I stumble on it. 

It's Wednesday now, and that happened Sunday. I'm pretty happy with it all, though I believe I can get much fitter, and execute better. So, I believe I can go faster. But who doesn't? 

It has also occurred to me that I now have a PR I don't hate at every distance but 100 miles, because I haven't finished 100 miles. People I know are tired of me talking about that, so I probably need to do it. Granted, post sign up, I'll probably talk about it to an insufferable degree. We'll see.

October 21, 2019

Des Moines Marathon


For the best, probably, that this time represents a happy enough medium between "I won't be embarrassed to say it if asked in a social setting" and "what I think is possible if I get fitter and get everything right on the day itself".

October 15, 2019

I wonder if anyone at Newton is grinding teeth over Nike taking the forefoot lugs idea, injecting fancy foam and carbon plates, and maybe subsequently breaking the marathon with the idea.

I do also wonder how the whole thing works. A stiff plate makes your calves and ankles work harder--so Nike curved theirs, eliminating the problem. Do the forefoot pods mitigate the drop of the shoe, thus reengaging the calves while still taking advantage of the sloped plate to mitigate fatigue? That is, is this a shoe that combines the benefits of lower and higher drop shoe geometry--track spikes and conventional marathon flats, say--while decreasing the drawbacks of each? I kinda think so.

Of course, I also wonder whether anyone will be able to buy these--and for how much.

Anyway, I'm going to run the Des Moines marathon this weekend, in Altras, because I hate my calves and am one of "those" people.