December 14, 2016

On debate judging, subjective performance, w/ autobiographical digressions

I believe I've mentioned this before, but if not: I didn't (really) play any sports in high school. I did try, a little, freshman and sophomore years, but to basically no effect. I was only about 5'11, 170 lbs, and I ran the third slowest mile in gym of all the ~60 guys in my graduating class. I think it was around 14 minutes, which... isn't actually running, at all, because I couldn't do more than jog for about thirty seconds without getting winded. All of this is to say, I wasn't big, fast, and had no demonstrable endurance. I also couldn't hit a baseball, or, y'know... do anything athletic with any real proficiency.

But I could talk a lot, reasonably well, and there was a competitive outlet for that: Debate. Suddenly, I was good at something. It was odd, but I think, in hindsight, quite necessary. There's a place for hard-learned lessons--but a little confidence isn't the worst thing in the world, either. So I went from the guy who would basically hide during practice, to someone who expected to win everything, all the time. I went from being afraid to compete, to embracing it. Senior year, my partner and I were undefeated when negative (the negative duo is tasked with arguing against the stated plan, which the affirmative proposes and then attempts to support), placed in every tournament I entered, then finished third at state.

I've judged quite a few tournaments since then, including national qualifiers this past weekend. If I'm being honest, this has less to do with whatever success I might have had as a speaker, and more to do with the fact that I'm a living, breathing adult, willing to show up. Turns out, not many are willing to give up Saturdays to hear teenagers shout about Chinese missile proliferation at 100 mph.

I am, though, less because it's fun--though it... sort of is--than because I value the experience. It mattered a great deal to me, and so I want to help get it right.

Of course that does raise the perpetual question: What the hell is "right" in a purely subjective competitive endeavor? The team that wins is the team that convinced you they won, essentially; but that's logic so circular as to be functionally useless. There are various paradigms that take aim at some slice of objectivity; a judge might state their preference towards pretending to be a policy maker, or focusing on stock issues, etc. Or maybe they just go with who sounds the best. It really does vary, and with very few exceptions, the judges don't share these preferences before the round. So the debaters are left to compete without really knowing how score is going to be kept. If that sounds anxiety inducing... it really, really is. And yet, the better teams tend to perform consistently, which suggests the whole thing isn't as arbitrary as it sounds.

Still, it seems incredibly strange when compared to my present competitive focus--running, which I am generally less awful at now than I was during my teenage years. Debaters can--and basically always do--feel aggrieved when handed a loss; but the time you run is the time you run, and there can be very little argument about it. Racing is, perhaps, the most honest thing there is. Debate is... well, not. You don't lie--at least not often, or blatantly--but you spend a great deal of time arguing things you don't believe, using evidence you know damn well to be biased, cherry-picked, etc.

I'm really only interested in noting the difference between the two things, and not issuing judgment on their respective qualities. Both have benefits, and I enjoy both for what they are. Not the hottest of takes, but that's probably ok.

A note on my running, speaking of: I'm not injured! That's really the best part. I have some tentative race plans, and perhaps a rather audacious goal. I'd rather not write it out yet, though, lest I look like an idiot. (I am still, after all, not quite so confident in my running. Near the beginning of every race, some part of me is convinced my body will just revert to 16, and I'll face-plant 800 meters in. A slightly less extreme version of this anxiety manifests after basically every poor training run, also. So if it seems I'm cynical and/or negative about my running sometimes, well, it's because I am.)

November 24, 2016

I ran 18 flat, and I suspect tweaked whatever is happening with my foot a little more. Trying to run a 5K without landing on the outside of your forefoot is weird, turns out.

Anyway, a cool thing happened. I suspect you'll recognize first and third overall.

November 22, 2016

I'm typing this on my phone, so please excuse any poor penmanship. I wrote something needlessly verbose this morning, but then deleted it. It was pretty terrible, so that's a good thing.

Which is, sort of, what I was getting at. Maybe. A little. Some things are good and some things are bad and there is great beauty and horror and love and pain and, well, you know.

My sprained ankle recovered, and I raced well for a bit, which is good. Now there's a pretty large and tender bruise on the outside of my left foot*, though, which is bad. I will tell myself it's not really bad, of course, because I'm stubborn and frankly unwilling to confront the reality that I seem to get hurt quite a bit, and I don't know why. Three stress fractures and two sprained ankles in the last four years is a bad record by any objective standard, though, I do know that. But it's a thing I consciously ignore despite that knowledge, because I don't have enough other hobbies, maybe, and I do genuinely like this jogging thing. Also, bikes are expensive and racing them looks like a literal pain in the ass.

Anyway I'm 28 years old and maybe have the tendon integrity and bone density of someone thrice my age, I don't know. But I'm a bit grouchy about it at the moment, of that I'm certain.

But all runners are hurt all the time, and most don't ever get a fist bump from Billy Mills after a 10K run on the college cross country course named for him, a genuinely grassy, hilly affair, which snaked around Haskell Indian Nations University, the college in Lawrence you perhaps haven't heard of. This was a lovely race, and he said something nice, that I ran well or something, and I felt that I did okay after all, 38 minutes and thirteen seconds on a real course, but still soundly thrashed by three guys, all of whom would have been dusted by Mills himself, who was--on one day at the very least--the fastest man in the world at that distance. This is to say, we all accepted our awards gratefully, if a bit sheepishly.

Anyway. That was a good day.

Of course, good and bad in running is relative, because the real world has real problems and really profound moments of hope in that choking miasma. You know this already, though. And of course, though emotional energy is finite, we can care about several things. I can be mad at my foot, and also at literal goddamn Nazis delighting in their ascendancy in 2016 America, a Native protestor losing her arm on a night when her compatriots were hosed with water, the very subsatance Flint still doesn't have. To say etc would seem flippant--and I know even the remarks I did make are cursory, lacking detail--but of course I could go on forever. It has always been tbus, though. Which is not a cry for complacency--Sisyphus pushes the boulder, even though he must never make progress. So too, I would suggest, ought progress towards an equitable and just society be pursued, because it's right, not because it's promised to work. What does that goal look like? And what is needed to get there? I won't presume to tell you that--which is not to say I know myself. But I know, while we're talking about Sisyphus, that Camus ultimately concluded he must be happy. At least he never had any stress fractures.

*Morning update: I'm pretty certain the foot actually is ok. Good thing I wrote about it anyway, though.

October 11, 2016

A very useful review of a shoe I own. I'd add that I find the heel counter a bit high and a bit abrasive, and the upper is warmer than I'd like. But otherwise I'm pleased with it. People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.

October 2, 2016

I'd expected my first ever self-powered 100-miler to be a few weeks ago--or if not then, some other footrace. But I did 100 on a bike yesterday, which, considering I'd never done 20, isn't so bad. Also kept all my toenails.

Then I ran for an hour today, which sounds less impressive, but matters way more to me.

September 29, 2016

While I'm being positive, and because nominally running blogs do this sort of thing from time to time, here is some music I am presently enjoying. Most of it is screaming. 

Tolkien nomenclature is omnipresent in the black metal scene, which is odd, because the man himself was emphatically Catholic, insisted his most famous work was "essentially Catholic", and black metal... isn't. Most famously, Burzum and Gorgoroth borrow their names from his canon, then scream about satan. Barrow Wight, thus, is something of an overcorrection: A band that takes its name from Tolkien, then writes songs almost wholly in-universe. If that sounds silly--and fun!--that's because it is. It's black metal in the style of proto-black 80's giants like Venom, Celtic Frost, and Bathory. Which is to say, it rocks. 

Black Fast is a bit of a throwback also, insofar as thrash metal basically always is. 

I didn't set out with a theme of "bands that sound like they could maybe be 20-30 years old", but here we are. Venom Prison are death metal without any tech/prog wankery, and a bit of hardcore edge. 

I saw Cloud Rat open for Wolves in the Throne Room last week, which is a bit odd, in that WITTR is one of the more famous (and famously overserious) atmospheric black acts out there, and Cloud Rat is just a ripping grindcore three-piece. I also mistakenly always assume they're a straight edge band, because they are vegan, and those things are weirdly intertwined in my head--at least, when it comes to bands whose genre ends in -core.

Elder is nominally doom, but like many in the genre, take a lot of cues from older psych rock. The opening guitar noodling gives away that much. 

Mgla is impossible to pronounce, less hard to describe. It's modern black metal, that has no interest in gazing back towards Helvete, or playing with other genre's toys. 

Here's an acoustic thing, with clean vocals. I know, right?

September 28, 2016

Worth remembering--and noting--after spending a few thousand words angsting over a bad race: This jogging thing is actually pretty fun. There are worse things than traipsing towards a horizon that looks like a crumpled up white tablecloth soaked with pink lemonade.

September 20, 2016

What we really want

There's a reasonably profound clarity provided by declaring one's self bad at a thing, so it's pretty nice to say that I suck at ultras. Not that I'm especially pleased with that reality--but I am pleased to know it with the degree of certainty that I do. Of course, people have pushed back a bit against that notion, which is both expected and fair. Coworkers who do not run suggest that completing them is transcendent in and of itself, and people I know who have done them simply respect the challenge, and the possibility of failure.

They are all right enough, but I think we must have a certain right of self-determination, when it comes to such things. I have wanted various things when starting ultras, and mostly, I haven't had them when I finished (or didn't).

Of course we first must grant that my expectations were inflated. But I'd suggest that doesn't contradict the stated sucking, but rather is a natural component of it. Optimally training for an event gives one a pretty good picture of what is possible, and then proper execution makes is real. If I expected too much, it's because I failed at one or both of these components.

Addressing the second point first, because it's a short answer: I pace like an idiot.

On training, I could actually write even less: Specificity matters.

Not really a shock, that. And it's something I knew, but to be human is to be capable of a pretty staggering degree of hypocrisy and self-delusion. So that which I would suggest to others is not that which I have done consistently. Simply, I've been unwilling to abandon my "template" week. You know what this looks like without my telling you: Track on Tuesdays (or hills), Tempo on Thursday, a long run (rarely a back to back) during the weekend, with moderate to high (for me) mileage sprinkled throughout. This is, generally, what everyone does. so it's not that the template itself is in error, as it's my stubborn adherence to a stricter version of it.

People will argue this point forever, so I certainly don't claim the last word on it, but: My long runs aren't long enough, or hard enough, because I don't want to thrash myself so horribly I can't get my other shit in, because god forbid I lose some races during the local summer 5k series (I still did lose one of the four though), and hell, there's a road mile, let's hammer that too, etc.

Prolific masters runner Pete Magill has written that, for most average hobbyists, it's possible to stay in reasonably good shape for 5K to half marathon all at once. The marathon, he suggests, is a different beast. You have to sacrifice some things if you're going to tackle it. He's not written about ultras (that I know of), but I can only imagine that's even more true as the mileage increases.

Which is not to say you ignore the faster stuff. But priorities have to shift. Most coaches (I know, I know, there are exceptions) suggest long runs of either half the time or half the distance for 100s, because the race doesn't care who could run a decent half marathon every day for a week, but rather who can keep their legs moving for one day. Maybe there's not any physiological justification for this. I can go on about mitochondrial biogenesis being maximized at 120 minutes--or whatever--but the pain in your legs isn't going to listen. And anyway, there's something to be said for doing what works for most people, most of the time. I'm too contrary sometimes, too willing to think I've got a better idea. That's not always a fault--people at work like that I suggest novel things, for example--but in this case, there's something to be said for the wisdom of accumulated experience.

So for this 100, I hit 30 miles three times, and 20+ more than I can recall. I was in great shape to run a 50K! Probably a good 50 mile, had I not jacked my ankle. But even if I hadn't done that, 100 was going to be a disgusting, shuffling affair. (This is the part where I acknowledge that some people do indeed crush 100s on nothing but 20 mile long runs. They usually race ultras a lot, though, and have more lifetime miles in general.)

That brings me back to point two, which I (for some reason) addressed first: I could've just paced better. Conservative training can pay off with a conservative race plan. But you can't cash chips you never won.

Having spilled all these words, the logical question is, of course, so what? Are you prepared to do things differently? To that I would say yes, while simultaneously acknowledging that saying a thing isn't doing a thing, and often, there's a massive gap between them. So really, I don't know. My ankle is still clicking around and sometimes burning a bit, so it's all hypothetical anyway. I can say for certain I'm excited about some half marathons this fall and winter, though, and a couple races in the neighborhood of 50 miles in the spring. 100 is a long fucking way though, and it's important to consider whether I want to do it--and do it right--or simply want to have done it.


You know what's cool, though? My dad finished his first marathon at the same event. Proving what I mentioned at the outset, he's not at all happy with his time, but I'm very pleased with it for him.

Also, my cousin finished her first 50-miler the following week (her first marathon too, simultaneously), taking second at the North Face Endurance Challenge, Wisconsin edition. She did not share my specificity problem, doing 30-mile long runs every weekend.

September 12, 2016

I suppose the shortest possible version of this ersatz race report is this: For all my talk about taking any kind of finish I could get, regardless of time, I definitely DNF'd.

The slightly amended version would note that, because the race is generous, I'm simply listed as a 50-mile finisher, because I did at least that much. But I will know that's not what I wanted, as will various others I've told.

I'm not as bothered about this as I perhaps ought to be, for reasons I'll attempt to expand upon, but also because my present concern is almost 100% allocated to the fact that my left ankle is pretty fucked. I care more about my ability to run daily, and race often, than to obtain any single result. And if I've compromised that for any significant length of time, I will be pretty unhappy.

But I am not altogether unhappy as I write this, ticking my left foot back and forth, typing along with the too-loud clicking of that tendon I can feel snapping about. There are several real-life circumstances that, as ever, highlight the frivolity of these manufactured adversities--running isn't life or death, and some things are--but for now I'll stick to the race.

The race was to be a 100-mile trail race but instead became a 100-mile road race that I quite midway. Half of that was my choice. The other half was the rain, and the existent policy for the trails, being in a state park, that no race gets to tear them apart for all potential users.

So we got the rain course: Four 25-mile loops, consisting of a 21/4 road/grass ratio.

I ran the first one in four hours, which was both stupid easy and (probably) stupid fast, given the circumstances. I ran the second in five hours, because the last 15 were basically on one leg. I really don't know what happened to the ankle. It was working until it wasn't, and I don't recall stepping on or in anything. I'm neither mad nor disappointing, so much as embarrassed.

That's not to be taken as a criticism of the local community, but precisely the opposite. Everyone--or as close as humanity allows--in the Lawrence/Kansas City (and broader midwest) trail/ultra scene is awesome, and has been for the five years I've been a part of it. Bombing in front of nice people who are encouraging you by name is worse than doing it anonymously.

And in longer races, I've made something of a habit of it. That's really just the reality, not self-deprecation. I'm very consistent from 5K to half marathon (relative to my slim talents); and against local competition, I'm usually pretty competitive. But, against many of the same people--and, generally speaking, the same regional level--I perform far less well. I've done 14 such races now, and would only suggest three of them went as planned/hoped--whether grading by time or place--so I don't think that can be considered a fluke.

What perplexes me about this is, I'm sort of the "volume guy", locally. I'm usually around 70 miles a week, and in the buildup to this 100, I had ten weeks over 90 miles, with a high of 123. You'd think that would be enough, and yet, it clearly didn't work. I say that because I'm not willing to chalk-up whatever happened to my ankle as a fluke. I didn't step in a hole or on a rock, and more often than not, injuries just come from fatigue exacerbating biomechanical weaknesses.

A casual evaluation would suggest I might have been better off deemphasizing overall volume, and hitting longer long runs. Maybe--probably--I don't pace well. (A four-hour first 25 of my planned first-ever 100 is objectively pretty stupid, after all.) Perhaps there's also something biomechanically "off" that simply doesn't hold up. Shit, maybe I'm secretly hording some sliver of extra intermediate fast-twitch fibers, and would be better off hammering intervals, focusing on 5Ks, and stretching to the odd half.

I don't know, which is ok, because I'm not fast enough to have any sponsors to lose anyway. I don't need to do anything but enjoy it. And I still--despite the last few paragraphs--mostly did.

I like this event and basically everyone associated with it a great deal. No matter how my day goes, it's hard for me to feel too bad about the whole endeavor. A lot of people did have great days, and I'm happy for them. The RD, given the circumstances, did a phenomenal job, as did the volunteers, who had to remark a course and set up new aid stations with less than a day's notice. I've been a part of this event since the first, in 2011, and each has been memorable and valuable to me. This last one will be also, even if I don't quite know how yet.

Still, maybe I should be angry. Maybe I'd train harder or better if I were. But I don't think that's a switch you can flip--and I wouldn't, even if I could. Of course I don't really know what I'll do now at all, besides spin on the stationary bike/elliptical until I can move my left foot in at least one direction without pain.

When that happens, I suspect my ambitions will focus on those shorter distance, which have been kinder to me in the past. Ticking down under 17 on a 5K in a couple months would feel good, hypothetically, and there's a trail 25K in November I'd like to run. Still, maybe I'll just go powerwalk a goddamn 100. But for now, mostly I'd like to run at all, hopefully in a few weeks.

I don't really have a very interesting conclusion to write regarding myself, which is probably for the best, as I should shift focus anyway:

Here are the people who got the 100 done. For now, I still don't know how anyone does it, from the guy who hammered it in 16:16, to the folks pushing 30. These portraits are one of the coolest things the race does, and I'm genuinely thrilled for everyone pictured here, in all their exhausted, filthy glory.

September 2, 2016

I am a week from being a day from running--or walking--my first 100-miler. It is a week from being a day from being five years since I first volunteered at this race, mostly by accident, falling into a hobby which has defined me, in the way that the meaningless things we occupy ourselves with do.

The field is good. It is good although it's local--thus lacking name elites--and it is good because it's local. There is last year's winner, and the first winner. There is the accompanying 50-mile race's course record holder, and the marathon's course record holder. There are people who aren't from here, but mostly, there are people who know this place, have done it or something like it before, and yet are drawn back for reasons I can't articulate but can feel, as I'm one such person myself, being the marathon record holder to whom I just referred.

I don't think I'll win, though, I should say that. Or perhaps I shouldn't, as many people argue you need all sorts of confidence heading into any athletic endeavor, much less one that will, to put it gently, fuck you in several viscerally severe ways. And it's not that I lack confidence, so much as I can read past results, and I know I'm not the best guy there--certainly not at 100 miles.

There is also the fact that, most crucially, I don't really care.

It is a run, or a walk in the park, or some other half-winking understatement that actually mirrors how I feel quite accurately. I want it to be a nice day, perhaps a bit cooler than usual, and I want to enjoy myself while getting it done.

I am not a meme and I just can't register that snarling passion it takes to regard this as the ultimate test of one's self, that running means I can overcome anything, can do anything! :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)


But I do care, in the way that one cares about a thing that does not matter at all, and yet has given life its present contours. I know it is manufactured adversity for a man who has known nothing but a comfortably middle-class white male life. But I know also--because I went to college, see previous sentence--the knots one can get tangled in, attempting to discover, discern, define life's purpose--thanks philosophy classes!

My next post will probably be ex post facto. I really hope I will tell you I didn't quit.  

July 22, 2016

I've read some history lately, concerning various times when people had to walk places in order to get mauled by one another.

The nice thing about training for and eventually racing--or rather, "getting 'round"--100 miles is that, no matter what injuries might befall me, however deep into fatigue's mire I might sink, there is a basically zero-percent chance that anyone will take advantage by stabbing me with any sort of weapon.

July 6, 2016

The oft-repeated training axiom "listen to your body" is, like most oft-repeated things, both true and not in ways that reject even that notional dichotomy.

It is inoffensive precisely because it means nothing, and so it can--and does--mean whatever you want it to. Training theory is often this way, of course. With the full expanse of Internet wisdom perpetually available, we're free to find an expert to tell us to do what we wanted to do anyway.

So when one is compelled to listen to their body, should they give priority to the lungs, the heart, the raging IT band, or that whisper of bursitis? And what of the mind, which is certainly not outside of the body, for all that it projects itself thus. A word, too, for heart, by which I mean "heart". Passion, that is. Desire.

Perhaps one doesn't speak this language fluently. Thus a HR monitor is strapped on, or a GPS watch. Sometimes this voice is a compliment rather than a replacement; but other times it is that petulant whine that you needed ten today at 7:30, 8 is too easy, 9.73 is too short; are you really that lazy? What good is our training, after all, if it cannot be precisely measured, those increments our daily subsistence rations.

I don't know. I say that a lot, which is because it's one of my most persistent truths.

I'm sitting presently on a low box one might jump on to at the gym, but only if one couldn't jump very high at all.

My body says my mind is muddled my calves are tight my left ankle is too and my mind is directed at those things which are persistent problems for me it says that they will be my undoing I will run slowly for one mile and die an ambling death trying for 100 because there is no fitness which could ever be equal to that and yet this morning all of this was gone and my legs felt great after a long and hilly day and I felt vibrant and aspirational but no more not tonight because I'm listening to my body and it's just such a goddamn cacophony I'm going to go read a book.

June 10, 2016

June 8, 2016

Irrelevant Update

I still have no idea what the hell I'm doing.

Like, generally. But also specifically, regarding running.

Funny how running does that. Clears some things up, makes other things murkier. The din of process mapping and style sheet updates peels away, but suddenly there are these races you haven't done, these others that have defeated you previously, and you've never raced that guy before. Wouldn't all of that be fun?

Well, yes. But the legs can only take so much. As importantly, the bank account is prone to bonking as well.

So I don't know. I need new shoes. I need to do laundry. And there's more style sheet updating to do tomorrow. And then I'll go run again, until I've got a thousand bits of inspiration, but not one.
I think I'm going to run a 100 this fall, for the highly-technical reason that I've never done so, and feel like trying.

We'll see. There's a bit more to think about, and certainly more to say regarding the 'why'. But for now it's probably sufficient to say it's the thing that excites and scares me the most, and life is pretty banal otherwise. Of course there are compelling reasons why I should do literally anything else; there's never really a good time to run/walk/etc 100 miles in one go--it's actually pretty fucking stupid on just about any rational level--but I'm going to have to do this someday, and there will always be reasons why not.

June 3, 2016

In case you haven't heard, physicists are now speculating--sciencing, etc.--that the universe is expanding at a more rapid rate than previously thought, and so the rending of all things will be sooner too; and that's just as well, because, at 28 years old, I received my first earnest "you look good for your age!"

May 24, 2016

Jason Koop's book is worth reading, if you're at all interested in ultras

A link to the book

You probably don't need to read past the headline, but, here are some specific thoughts (not really a review) in a very non-specific order:

1) Nowhere does the book claim to be for advanced or experienced runners--and indeed, it makes frequent reference to those whose goal is, say, a 30-hour 100--but I'd suggest it is better suited for that demographic. Not just because the training is intense--though it is--but because there isn't a ton of hand-holding. There aren't any plans. His argument is, he can't coach you without coaching you. And so, if you don't have a coach, you have to coach yourself. Newer runners may not have the experience needed to make smart, consistent decisions, however. And they certainly might not have the confidence to do so.

2) The book helpfully avoids outlandish claims, and guru-ism. Which is not to say it's precisely typical of ultra-training advice--it isn't--just that Koop cites the hell out of his claims. To put it too simply, he's very much an "exercise science" coach, not a "because this has always worked" coach. Again, that's a bit of a false dichotomy, but is nonetheless useful is describing his approach. If you're the sort who believes the way to train for ultras is to run as much as possible, because shit, it's a fucking long footrace, what else would you do?, you will probably be sick to death of the extensive physiological justifications for everything.

3) So, about that training. It is intense. In specific blocks, it even makes some of Daniels' more rep-intensive phases look decidedly moderate. (Though his workout as far more simple. You really can memorize everything you need to know about his workout structures in a few minutes, and indeed, it's all in one small table. This, to me, is a feature, not a bug.) Koop's contention is that, to force an adaptation--especially in an experienced athlete--you have to apply increasingly severe stress. One hill workout a month, performed at a mediocre effort, isn't going to provide significant stimulus. And that is, primarily, his concern: Build the biggest engine possible, then--and only then--get specific. Historically, one might call this base building, and put the focus on high-end aerobic running. Lydiard 101, basically. Koop is more like Canova, though, in flipping this prioritization scheme. Get fast, then work to extend that speed. Some will note--and have--that his blocks are unsustainable. He'd say that's the point, that if you always train similarly and cautiously, you won't get much better.

4) I'll give this a separate section, just for emphasis: As much as his focus on intensity might momentarily lead you to believe otherwise, his is not a low-volume approach. But the volume exists as support for and a result of the quality work, not as a goal in and of itself. He treats long runs--usually the keystone of ultra-plans--similarly: Useful, but not wisely pursued at the expense of quality. His argument here is essentially--and this is where I come back to this approach probably being best for someone who has been running for a while--that high mileage and long runs yield benefits over months and years, not weeks. If you've been running 50 miles a week for five years in a row, he would suggest you're unlikely to get significant physiological benefit from a plan that focuses on long runs (at the expense of other sessions). To him, long runs are for fueling and pace practice, and building confidence. These things are valuable, but inessential.

5) You'll probably disagree with some of his prescriptions, but he does justify them with lots of citations. For those who like a "why" with their "what", this will be appreciated. Being in this camp myself, I especially enjoyed his explanations of what each type of run he prescribes is supposed to do. It is, in my estimation, the best lay-person primer on endurance physiology out there. (Magness' The Science of Running is more extensive, but probably beyond what the average person wants to wade through. The formatting, editing, and writing also fall a bit short, comparatively.) Perhaps the best thing about this approach is that--although he hates this metaphor--he's teaching you to cook, not just handing you a cake. Whether you end up opposite every one of his conclusions, you'll probably learn quite a bit to apply to your own training.

6) Ultras are more than fitness, however, so there is extensive focus given to foot maintenance, how much to eat, etc. Being honest, I... skimmed these parts. They're useful, but less interesting reads (to me). Same goes for the several-page treatments given to some of America's most famous ultras. Were I going to run Leadville, I'd appreciate the course knowledge and tips. But I'm not going to, so.

7) This is a professionally published and co-written book. It's technically sound. In my first quick read-through, I noticed only one obvious typo. There is a slightly irritating tendency to reference a table that one has to turn a page to see--in academic publishing, we call this a facing pages violation--but that's never too obtrusive. There are little anecdotes by some of Koop's more noteworthy athletes--Dylan Bowman, Dakota Jones, Kaci Lickteig--inserted into the run of text. While this does break the flow of reading sometimes, I suppose many will find these sections interesting. Given Koop's stated disdain for n = 1 data, though, they do seem a little out of place.

8) Koop does dismiss rather casually of a lot of ancillary concerns. He doesn't have a stated opinion on shoes or diet (other than that LCHF is misguided, insofar as it compromises intensity), and believes cross training is almost always time that could be better spent running more (or recovering from harder running efforts). Personally, I think there's quite a bit of evidence that strength training supports endurance adaptations, and provides unique benefits that running more wouldn't cover. Others will swear that cycling saved their running, that optimizing fat burning--by eating a high percentage of it--is the key to endurance, etc. But I don't suppose we're ever going to have all the answers to these things. The book claims to provide Training Essentials, however, so perhaps Koop would argue these are fringe concerns in any case.

9) You should buy this if you're a training/exercise science geek, or an experienced ultrarunner, who thinks they've maximized adaptations from a traditional (mostly easy) volume-focused approach. In terms of marathon training books, it's probably most similar to the Hanson's approach--speed to strength to specificity--but with way more science words, and clearer periodization. I'd say Canova is perhaps even closer, but he hasn't written a book in English, so that's something of a guess. Still, the focus on quality and intensity over volume (once a runner has, to use a Canova term, built their house) seems similar to me. That is, it's nice to have a base. But you have to build up and out if you want to fit more shit in, eventually.

10) I don't know if this is the best plan, or set of principles, or whatever. I'm not a scientist or a coach or fast enough to have an official opinion on such things anyway. But it's a good book.

May 19, 2016

A Transcribed Ian Thompson Interview from the 1975 Marathon Handbook

The following is a transcribed interview, including all the inconsistencies and typos. See the previous post for further explanation.


Ian Thompson--2:09:12
by Dave Cocksedge

"I always enjoy my training. It's never been a chore to me..."

"I'm never too bothered about others in any race..."

"I've been running for more than 10 years at club level, without a great deal of success..."

It could be any of a thousand fun-runners talking, runners whose biggest dream in life is breaking three hours at Boston. Ian Thompson wasn't much different from them until October 1973, and he still doesn't think much differently.

Thompson entered marathoning almost accidentally. His team needed an extra man for the scoring in the British national championship. Ian volunteered, and won in 2:12:40. That race qualified him for the Commonwealth Games. He won again there, with 2:09:12--the second fastest marathon ever. Since then, he has won the Athens and European races, both in the 2:13s.

After the last one, he reportedly said, "The only person in the world who can challenge me now is Frank Shorter." Perhaps he was misquoted, since this doesn't sound at all like the Thompson pictured here.

Ian Thompson, 5'6 and 126 pounds, was born Oct. 16, 1949. He is a graduate student in Spanish.

How fast do you think you can run a marathon, judging from the experiences in those you've done?

I think I can go faster (than 2:09:12), provided I pace myself more sensibly over the first half of the race. There were certain things against me before the Commonwealth race. My training was interrupted by two bad colds, as well as other factors. Given time, and they say a marathon runner reaches his peak at about the age of 28, I will definitely run faster than 2:09. That gives me another for years.

I think I overdid the first half at Christchurch (Commonwealth Games). I went through the turn in 1:03 and took 1:06 for the second half, whereas if I'd run a 1:04 first half, maybe I could have run another one for the second half to finish in 2:08.

Can you describe a typical week's training?

Sure. Sunday's, I do a long run--about 28-30 miles. Every lunch hour from Monday to Friday, I do a six. On a Monday, I run another six in the evening. Tuesdays, I do a track session in the evening. Wednesdays, I run two easy road runs, then Thursday another track session. On a Friday, I run either a track or hill session in the evening. Saturdays, I either race or do another fairly long run. I like to get the long run in, and then fit the rest of my sessions around that.

What s your ideal number of top-class marathons each year?

I think no more than two major ones a year--like Commonwealth and the European (in 1974). I could probably get away with a couple minor races as well, but two really big ones a year is plenty to get on with. I mean, you're asking a man to hit a peak twice within a year, and physically and mentally that requires a lot of careful planning and hard work.

What about thoughts of Montreal in 1976? Does the prospect of that volume of training until 1976 daunt you at all?

Well, I live very much day to day with my running, so I've hardly ever bothered to think that far ahead. I always enjoy my training. It's never been a chore to me. I'm quite used to high mileage now, as I've been averaging 140 a week at times since I was 21. I've built up a background of heavy mileage over the years, so the thought of a few more doesn't scare me. I simply love running for the sheer hell of it.

When I ran 14:05 for 5000 in 1971, I was on that sort of hard road work. I believed firmly in Lydiard training for the track. It didn't really work for me then, but now I think I'm beginning to reap the benefits from it. Obviously, it was ideal preparation for the marathon.

Don't assume that I'm running 140 a week all the time, though. Mostly I supposed I average 90, but occasionally bump it up to 140. When I tried to average that figure week in, week out, I found I couldn't cope with it. My body didn't have time to recover.

What are your feelings about racing a fit Frank Shorter?

 Well, I read an article on him some time ago and I was impressed. Obviously, the Olympic champion must be good. But with a 27:51 10,000, he's got almost frightening speed as well. I'd love to race him, but I'm never too bothered about others in any race. When I'm out there, I'm out to run my best and let everyone else do their own thing, so to speak.

It's what you do on the day that counts, isn't it? I've no doubts that Shorter will be tough to beat. But when I'm against him, I won't worry about him in any way.

In your interviews, you've always tended to adopt a low profile, always claiming not to be overly impressed or even greatly aware of the reputation of your rivals. Is that genuine or assumed attitude?

Well, I don't spend time reading up on other runners. Basically, I run to get the maximum out of myself. And to be honest, tactics in marathon races are just not on in that sense. You've got to pace yourself and run to your own capabilities, so what's the use in knowing everything possible about the men running against you?

But then on the other hand, I don't deliberately go out of my way to be in total ignorance of rivals. Knowing more about other runners has virtually been forced on me in the last months, since I came through into the big-time. I mean, in Christchurch, I couldn't very well not know the others, since I was surrounded by them and got to know them as people as well as reputations.

There are many athletes who I think spend far too much time worrying about others in their event, and this is not a very healthy attitude. There are other things in life besides running. I just like to do my training, and then I don't really want to know for the rest of the day. I'd rather spend it on another activity. I believe in keeping it in it place. I don't even bother to watch athletics on television unless I happen to be in and something is on. I won't go out of my way to watch it.

What do you think about when training and racing?

Racing is entirely different from training. Frank Shorter said that marathons, when one is running well, are compressed into about three-quarters of an hour in thinking time, and I found this--especially in Christchurch. I was pressing myself forward all the time so much that there was little time to think about anything else except my form. I had sensation of time dragging by.

You know, two hours and nine minutes sounds a long time, but it seemed to go by pretty fast during the actual run. Odd thoughts flash through your head, like, "What will I do first after finishing?" or, "I wonder if my friends and family are watching, or if they know how well I'm going today?"

Training runs can be tough mentally, though. I can think of a recent long run. It was a murderous thing. I felt tired and heavy. I wasn't flowing as well as I'd like to, and time was dragging by. I kept thinking of the work I should have been doing at home, and anything and everything really, just to fill up the time until I could finish.

Do your regard mental preparation to be important for racing?

Yes, very important. For me, this means staying relaxed and not thinking hard about the big race beforehand. Relaxation is very important. I was relaxed before my first marathon because I wasn't particularly expecting anything earth-shattering. And, strangely enough, in the Commonwealth I was relaxed too, with a sort of quiet confidence. I was happy about a lot of other things in life besides my running. Everything was clicking, and I was in a relaxed frame of mind--which is ideal.

From what you've learned in your first year of marathoning, what advice for a novice attempting a marathon for the first time would you offer?

Train! Do a lot of training for it. That will give you the confidence as well as prepare you physically. Long runs regularly will give you the relaxed rhythm you need.

With the increasing pressure you've obviously experienced since winning the Commonwealth and European titles, how long do you think you'll be able to exist at the top level?

I don't really know. The deciding factor will be the sort of job I get. At the moment, I have the freedom to train all I want, though my studies have inevitably suffered since October 1973. If the job makes demands which encroach on training and racing time, then they have to go.

This is the case for professional athletes. If one can devote onesself exclusively to racing, one can have a long and useful career in the sport. But as an amateur, a man has to work and earn himself a decent living wage. The successful amateurs are people who have been able to fit their job in with their training, with the athletics having first consideration.

Would you continue with athletics even without further success?

Oh, yes. You've got to remember that I've been running for more than 10 years at club level, without a great deal of success to spur me on. As I said earlier, I would run just for the pure love of running. I mean, if I lived just for racing, it wouldn't be enough. Races are over in a flash, relatively speaking, after a lot of building up for them. So it's the enjoyment of the training that keeps me going too.

It's a weird sort of pleasure, but it works. You know, you get a feeling of satisfaction after you've forced yourself to get out for a long run on a wet and windy day when you'd rather stay indoors. Besides that, when I'm out on my own, feeling fit and the running is coming easy on a bright sunny day, I'm flowing along the roads and it's just good to be alive and well, enjoying the sensation. It's a pleasure in itself, really.

I think if I ever got to the stage where I'd be constantly worrying about my form and unable to enjoy my training, I'd give up racing.

What else excites you besides running and racing?

Hard to say, really. Not a great deal. Dancing occasionally, and the very occasional drink. I'm a pretty placid type of bloke. I don't have many ups and downs in life; just prefer to take things calmly as they and as they come along. At parties and socials, I'm quite happy to take a back seat and let other people get the attention. You wouldn't call me the life and the soul of the party; just part of the audience, perhaps.


Thompson would not, as it happened, run faster than 2:09:12--although he would continue marathoning with some success until 1987. I cannot find anything regarding what manner of job he ended up with. 

May 18, 2016

1975 Marathon Handbook: An Introduction

I got this book--used, obviously--for a penny. The anachronisms are plenty, and a bit amusing. They list every man who ran a marathon under three hours in 1974, explicating his time, age, and home state. For women, they set the bar at four hours, and list the same information. I won't reproduce that here, for reasons that are probably obvious. There are, however, two interviews, along with an editor's note and a 'how to train' article. I will transcribe each of them.

Generally, I wouldn't do this. I buy books, and little else. Supporting that industry matters a great deal to me, because books matter a great deal to me. But this book is out of print, and the publishing company that produced it no longer exists (although the magazine for which the editors worked--Runner's World--obviously does), so I'm not greatly concerned about receiving a note from any lawyers. Moreover, I enjoyed reading these items, and I don't think they're easily available online. It'd be a shame not to give them a platform, however small mine is.

It goes like this:
Ian Thompson--2:09:12 (by Dave Cocksedge)
Jacki Hansen--2:43:54 (by Bill Cockerham)
Making Your Own Time

Tonight, I'll just write-up the editor's note that precedes the proper articles. Ideally, I'll do one interview each of the next two evenings, and the training article Saturday. I may provide a little commentary after each piece, but I won't insert any into the actual works, or edit things in any way. That said, away we go.



It was January 1970, and I'd jumped from an established magazine, Track & Field News, to a then-smaller one with a new name, Runner's World. My first assignment was to help Bob Anderson finish a booklet on the marathon. I wondered then if there were enough marathoners and enough interest in marathoning to warrant a special publication like this.

I ran marathons but didn't see too many other people doing it. How many could there be? A thousand or so, with most of them clustered around Boston. How many races were there? Maybe a dozen, mostly on the coasts.

Bob put down my doubts by handing me a folder full of statistics he'd collected. The figured indicated that about 2000 Americans were running marathons. More than 1100 ran at Boston in 1969. Forty-six races were scheduled in the US for 1970. Those numbers sounded big then.

In early 1970, the big names in marathoning were Derek Clayton, Ron Hill and Jerome Clayton. Clayton had just improved his world best time, Hill had won the European championship, and Drayton had run 2:11. The top two Americans were Kenny Moore and Ron Daws.

We couldn't have known then what we were getting into with the Marathon Handbook. Five editions later, there are many more than three times as many runners and racing opportunities. Ten times as many Americans run under 2 1/2 hours in 1974 than back then.

Derek Clayton has retired. He said in an extraordinary retirement announcement, "I lost the desire to continually thrash myself. I can say now that I hated every moment of my training." Hill and Drayton have been frustrated in recent years, unable to match their old form. Moore and Daws are in semi-retirement, still running well but not as seriously as before.

Ian Thompson wasn't doing much running in 1969. Now he's the second fastest ever. Back then, Frank Shorter was a senior at Yale. He'd won his first national title, the NCAA six-mile, but his fist marathon was still years away. Five years ago, Tom Fleming was in high school and hadn't run a marathon. He has finished second in the last two Boston marathons.

There were no women listed in the 1970 Handbook. The number who tried marathons then could be counted on one foot. But by 1974 they had their own national and international championships, 17 of them broke three hours, and the 100th best time was almost as fast as the pre-1970 world best. Jacki Hansen's mark is 25 minutes faster than that one.

The booklet, like the sport, has expanded from its modest beginnings. Marathoning is still the central theme because the marathon is the most important long distance race. But it isn't the only one. As the marathon grows, so do the shorter and longer runs, and the race walks. We'll cover them here until they're big enough to have booklets of their own.

The marathoners could barely fill the first booklet. We had to pad it with reprinted articles to reach 52 pages. Now the marathon statistics alone go longer than that. But as the lists grow, the individual times on them aren't devalued. Just the opposite. Each new one represents a person who never before thought he or she could go so far, so fast.

Joe Henderson


Henderson, of course, literally wrote the book(let) on Long Slow Distance. It's a name he would come to regret a bit, because the point was never that the running was slow, but that it was easy, so you could do a lot of it, and sustain your (mental and physical) health. I'd say more, but you can actually read the entire booklet on Henderson's website, here. I'd recommend doing it; the entire thing is very short, interesting, and misquoted.

May 17, 2016

I am sitting in my car, on the first day of my 28th year alive, which I spent as follows: Four steady in the morning; four easy at noon; four easy in the afternoon; six reps til gasping, then flailing--this is how I determine VO2max pace--up Lawrence's biggest hill in the evening.

I didn't run my age, which is a thing people do, nor did I train for any races I haven't yet signed up for. But I fucked around outside, which is probably more fun than any of that anyway.

May 12, 2016

Habits, like records, are made to be broken. I'm not sure anyone has said that--much less anyone wise, or quoteworthy--but I'm trotting it out as a way of explaining my lack of writing over these last few months. (At least, my lack of writing here. I have written about 200,000 words of fiction in the last year, which I really don't plan on or want to do anything with.)

Anyway, let's make up for that a little. A brief recap:

I ran the Topeka to Auburn Half Marathon, the kind of low-key local race that people tend to call a "gem", and with reason. You begin and end in grade school cafeterias, and between them, you churn up and over gravel roads in between Kansas' capital, and a smaller town you haven't heard of.

I won the Pi Day River Rotation Trail Half Marathon for the third consecutive year. I held up three fingers as I crossed the line, which was immediately embarrassing.

I kicked--or rather, walked in to while staring at my phone--a dumbbell, and took a few weeks off from running.

I then ran the Cherry Creak Sneak 10 Miler in Denver. About which I can say, altitude does make a difference when you're running at a decent effort, and not training for a month isn't great race prep.

Which is not to say I sat around, morosely listening to Morrissey, eating ice cream and letting my legs turn to sloth. I certainly exercised. I lifted. I biked. I rowed. I ellipticaled fiercely.

But exercising isn't training, which is a thing you know, and I knew, but which I--and you too, probably, from time to time--sort of pushed away. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing, and so I thought, the cardio is there, I'll hammer and the legs will respond. They did, of course, but mostly with searing insults and cramping.

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Training. What it is, and what it's for. There are of course micro-level debates. Are you MAF or Hadd, when it comes to HR training? Or, do you think that's a relatively useless metric regardless? What exactly constitutes "speed work" during the base, and for that matter, why are we worried about it? Do we train systems, or focus strictly on race pace?

I love these questions, because I'm a strange obsessive, who spends entirely too much time reading this stuff--two more books in the mail!--for someone who doesn't coach, and isn't very fast. But I also love them, I think, because they speak to the fundamental human desire for agency, and control.

It's seductive, isn't it, to think that we know how something works, and moreover, how we can make it work. Believing that a second, midweek long run will be the difference between a marathon blowup and a rapturous PR is lovely, maybe even essential, because it gives form, focus, and faith to those weeks before the fateful date.

Essentially, there's some part of us that wants to believe that, as sportscasters are fond of saying, a team or player "controls their own destiny". It's an endlessly stupid line: If they control it, then it isn't destiny. But we aren't wholly rational beings, and believing irrational things is sometimes brilliant. If a plan promises us a PR, and we get it, then what's the problem?

This comes to mind:
"You will never be a national-class marathoner on 90 miles a week; you may never be a national-class marathoner on 140 miles a week. But the only shot you have is to go the 140 route. When you're 40 years old and beaten up, you'll know something about yourself that [naysayers] won't. You'll know if you could have been a national-class marathoner."
- Mike Platt, 2:18 marathoner
The appeal here is obviously not the accuracy. It's actually very easy to argue against, as plenty of men have run faster, on less mileage. But facts don't really matter when faced with such gritty, sweat-soaked truth(iness). It's totally bought in, believing in agency, in causality; it's a repudiation in itself of absolute doubt, and so satisfying for that. This, to me, is training.

There is still the question, however, of what training isn't. It strikes me as possible that one could run 100 miles a week for no reason but pleasure, while someone else could run 20 in pursuit of a 5K PR. Is the former still "training", while the latter isn't? Is it a question of intent, of function versus form?

In keeping with my lack of thesis, I'll similarly omit a conclusion: I don't really know where the line is. I think a lot about these things, but I think a lot about them because I don't know, and don't suppose that I can, really.

So, to bring it around to my own navel gazing, I suppose I should add that I don't really have a damn clue what I'm going to do the rest of this year. Some part of me feels the need to run a 100, or rather, to have run one. And maybe I could stack some other ultras around that? And my road marathon PR is still embarrassing. Need to fix that.

But another part of me notes that I've really found myself enjoying more moderate mileage, with a renewed focus on hills, track reps, and weights. (Not low mileage though, promise. This isn't a Crossfit kick.) I do believe I'd be best served doing the races such training predisposes me to--and that ain't 100s--rather than picking somewhat arbitrary goal races, then talking myself in to five hour long runs on trails that have way too many goddamn snakes for my liking.

I don't know. But I'm happy enough to indulge this ignorance--I've got plenty--and happy also to let it waft away during what we will call, for now, my daily exercise.