Posts I wish I’d written

From my friend TK over at Pigtails Flying: An Open Letter to a Fall Marathoner

New Houston Hopeful interview: Tamara Karrh

Tamara embodies a kind of runner that I was just talking about yesterday with Coach Sandra: she is a runner who has moved her status from recreational to elite without losing her love of running in the process. Once you step up training and start having to work it around other life commitments — of which Tamara has many, including four young kids — it’s easy to start to experience training as a grind, a burden. As Tamara says, “A lot of it is just the love of it. I love the training…it’s something that I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to each and every day.”

I should note that Tamara is no longer technically a “hopeful”: she qualified for the Trials with a 2:40:22 last fall. This weekend she’s going for the A standard, a 2:39:00 or better.

For the full interview: Houston Hopefuls > Tamara Karrh

Runner survey: results and analysis

The results of my casual (meaning non-scientific) survey of race participants are in. 403 people responded, which I think is a good sampling. They hail from across the spectrum of runner types, from absolute beginners (“Newbies”) to professional elites (well, three of them; I wish I knew who they were).

Download the survey: “What do race participants want?”

Although I “advertised” the survey in many venues (NYRR, USATF and Running Times Facebook pages and the LetsRun.com message boards, as well as via Twitter), I suspect that close to half of the responses originated from the Runner’s World online forums. I shamelessly spammed those forums when responses started dwindling at around 180, and they picked up to a wildly healthy clip in the hours and days after hitting RW.com.

Note that I am not a professional survey maker, nor do I know a thing about statistics. I am a regular person such as yourself. Meaning an amateur.


Groovy pie charts, tables and highlights make for easy comprehension.

Since I have heavily notated the PDF of the results, I won’t post analysis here. If you’re that interested, then click the link below. I will note that there are some excellent ideas for race directors contained herein, and I was very surprised by some of the results, others not so much.

Survey respondents had some great observations and ideas. Like these!

Anyway, once again, in case you missed that first link — read it for yourself by downloading it here: Survey: “What do race participants want?”

Once again, I offer my thanks and gratitude to the 403 runners who took the time to complete the survey.

Blog: Washington Ran Here

Here’s a new blog I made my way to via a circuitous route. I think it was Angry Runner.

Anyway, she’s funny. And interesting. And fast.

In which I seek solace from a dead poet

I recently purchased Tim Noakes’ seminal work The Lore of Running. I had to put something into my Amazon cart to get free shipping and I’d always meant to buy this book. So I did. It can best be described as a compendium of running physiology, but shot through with a whole lot of wisdom.

Weighing in at 931 pages, it’s not a book I can see myself reading through cover to cover. Instead, I keep it on the dining room table and once or twice a day, when I’m having breakfast or lunch, I dip in and read a few pages. Today I ventured into the chapter entitled “Training the Mind”. I thought I’d pick up some tips in preparation for the day that I line up for a race again.

But it seems I could not escape my current predicament, even by studiously avoiding chapters about injury. There, on page 556, a section entitled “Psychology of Injury” began. On the next page was a subsection: “Typical Response to Injury,” which enumerates the mental stations of the injury cross in a form that would make Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proud (except…what, no bargaining?):

  1. Denial: At first, the athlete refuses to accept that the injury has occurred and simply denies its possibility. Examples of runners who ran to their deaths, denying that they could possibly have heart disease, are detailed in chapter 5.
  2. Anger (rage): When the injury can no longer be denied, the athlete becomes enraged and blames either the doctor, a spouse [ed. note: oh, yes -- that's why runners should always hitch their wagons to other runners, who will call them on their shit], or some third party for the injury. Occasionally, athletes will blame their bodies for this betrayal and may even subject it to further abuse, for example, by continuing to run. [ed. note: or, in my case, by consuming tremendous amounts of wine.]
  3. Depression: When denial and rage no longer work, the athlete moves on to the (penultimate) state of depression.
  4. Acceptance: Finally, the athlete learns to accept the injury and to modify ambition to accommodate the inadequacies of the mortal body. When this occurs, the athlete is likely to be over the injury.

That last line bears repeating, in case you missed it: When [acceptance] occurs, the athlete is likely to be over the injury.

Isn’t that tragic?

But probably true.

I am almost afraid to note this, since I’ve had so many false alarms over the past couple of weeks. But I think my original problem (crippling muscle knots) has abated almost completely and I have actually replaced that problem with a new one: a pulled adductor muscle. Maybe it’s a compensatory injury from my wonky walking, but I’m more apt to blame it on the insane pedaling I’ve been doing on the stationary bike over the past week.

The past few days (and especially at night and first thing in the morning), the adductor magnus, or maybe it’s the brevis, hurts a lot. I did three hours of cross-training yesterday, 2.5 the day before, most of it on the bike. Today I didn’t do anything other than take a hot bath and, earlier, wander the aisles of Bed Bath and Beyond, not buying things (sometimes I do this for no apparent reason, sort of a reverse osmosis consumerism). If I do anything tomorrow, it will be going to the Y and trying out my water running equipment. But if that irritates the problem muscle, I won’t proceed.

So. To review. The good news is that the original problem seems to be going away. The bad news is I have a new problem. But I’ve dealt with adductor strains before — I even trained with one for 10 weeks — and they are not a big deal. I know this particular monster and it’s not that scary.

Might this be a light I see? I know better than to hope when the right thing — the only thing — to do is to simply wait. I almost hate to trivialize T.S. Eliot by applying his words to something as lightweight as a running injury. But, on the other hand, I think he had a lot to say about accepting hardship and even quietly embracing it as a worthy experience unto itself (if one accepts that things that are worthwhile are not always necessarily pleasant):

I said to my soul be still, and wait without hope; for hope would be hope of the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith. But the faith, and the love, and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: so the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

“This is nothing.”

That’s what Jonathan said to a despairing me the other night as we embarked on another possibly pointless home/amateur massage therapy session to try to treat whatever is ailing both of us.

He’s right. Read this.

Thanks, TK.

New elite masters blog: Susan Loken’s Running Journey

Susan Loken (who I believe is 46) is a three-time winner of the USA Masters Marathon Championships and a two-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. She was one of the first fast amateurs who I became aware of, because she passed me during my first marathon, the 2007 More race in Central Park. She didn’t just pass me — she practically singed the hair on my arms off, she was going so fast. I did some reading about her after that race and was inspired to find that, like me, she’d taken up running late in life. Unlike me, she’s gotten a lot faster (and at a much faster rate).

On a lark, I got in touch with her to see if she was trying for a third Trials qualifier and if she’d be willing to be interviewed for the Houston Hopefuls project. The good news: Yes and Yes. The better news: Susan started a blog earlier this summer to document her own progress of building up for this goal after two-odd years of taking something of a hiatus from competing at her usual high level.

Read on: Keep Believing: Susan Loken’s Running Journey

New Houston Hopeful interview: Heather May

This one’s with a twist: Heather has qualified for and raced in the Olympic marathon Trials twice already, making her our first “Trials veteran” in the series. Yet her experience has not dampened her enthusiasm for going after a threepeat. Having become a marathoner as much out of ignorance (“I’ve run 10 miles. Now what do I do?”) as out of a desire to qualify for the Trials, Heather’s path as a Trials-calibre runner has been both fraught with peril and filled with opportunities for self discovery.

For the full interview: Houston Hopefuls > Heather May

Some pointed questions about books

I heard on NPR the other day that Amazon’s sales of Kindle editions is now outpacing their sales of hardcovers. They’re predicting Kindle editions will overtake paperbacks as well sometime in 2011. Amazon controls something like 12% of the bookselling market (don’t quote me on this — I also heard this on NPR in an interview with an industry expert), so they’ve hardly cornered the market.

Yet other signs point to the demise not just of the printed word (Barnes & Noble being up for sale, for one thing; the New York Times’ struggle to staunch annual operating losses in the hundreds of millions for another) but of traditional publishing as well. Is this a bad thing?

Consider this: books used to get edited copyedited and proofread as part of the publishing process. I doubt that they do anymore, or at least with any care. It’s common to see horrendous typos, malapropisms or production mistakes (like entire paragraphs repeated) even in later editions of a book. So quality has dropped off at the page level. But what about at the book level?

If a publisher has decided to put the money behind a manuscript, does that mean it’s a book worth reading? Oftentimes, the answer is no. Publishers publish and market what they think they can sell.

If you self-publish a book, does that make you a total loser? Does it mean your book sucks more than a book that a publisher actually decided to pay to publish, market and distribute? Self-publishing has a stink on it that you can smell a mile away, with the books being the turds no one wants to touch, let alone to admitting having produced themselves. But I sincerely hope that this is a state of affairs that will eventually change.

I have read “legitimate” books that were no better (or sometimes much worse) than self-published efforts. I suspect there are probably some very good self-published books out there too. If I could just find them. That’s one big problem when traditional publishing goes away: the marketing and promotion. But with that also goes the hype for books that are, frankly, not worth the paper they’re printed on (or, if you prefer, the hard drive space they’re taking up).

On reason I think that the quality of so many books has gotten so bad is that publishers are focused on their cash cow books. A bio of Hillary Clinton can keep a company afloat and pay for all those debut novels written by Jane Q. Dontquityourdayjob.

Is there a reason not to self-publish? Isn’t getting 100 people to buy and read your book better than having it rejected by 30 editors, never to find an audience at all? I kind of wish more people would stop looking to the publishing industry model and just jump on the self-publishing bandwagon. Wouldn’t it be great if a bunch of great writers emerged from what has traditionally been viewed as the final desperate option for failed writers?

Why not make the process of publishing as democratic — and as ephemeral — as blogging is? Blogs and videos find an audience through word of mouth. Perhaps ironically, a blog’s popularity will often lead to a book deal! (See also: Smitten Kitchen, Alright Tit, The Oatmeal, James Lileks et al.) Books…magazines…blogs…increasingly there’s not a lot of difference. I don’t care about the medium or format. I just want to read something that’s original, has a distinctive and consistent voice, and is interesting. Increasingly, I’m finding this content online, on people’s blogs. If traditional publishing — and the books it produces — is dying, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world. Maybe it’s just evolution.

A few minutes with Lornah Kiplagat

Lornah Kiplagat, 36, has been absent from the racing scene for awhile, but she’s back. She has excelled at distances from the 5K to the marathon, and has continued to race competitively across that distance spectrum throughout her career. She holds four world records for road racing: 5K, 10M, 20K and half marathon. Originally from Kenya, she has been a Dutch citizen since 2003. The Mini 10K was one in a series of post-surgery “comeback” races for Kiplagat. A four-time winner of that event, she’d hoped for a fifth title and was leading for the first half of the race before being overtaken by the eventual winner, Linet Masai. Kiplagat would finish fourth.

You’ve been running fast forever. How have you managed to have such a consistent career?
I think it’s just good planning. Good support, the right people around you. And a lot of running. So if I can also do that as a career, then you like to do that extra.

After setting the world record for the half in Udine, Italy, 2007.

What’s it like to have a tulip named after you?
It’s nice. How did you know about that?

I went to one of your sites and there was a story about that. I thought that was pretty neat.
Yes, it was nice of the Dutch that they did that for me. They mentioned this to me about seven years ago, even more. They thought it was a good idea, and they started preparation for it. Because it takes a long time. But it finally came out. It’s a very funny flower because it’s very strong. We have tulips and home and normally tulips don’t last long. They were lasting like for three weeks!

That’s very appropriate for a marathoner.
Yeah. Tulips normally just wither down.

Do you train in Holland?
Yes. But mostly in Kenya. Because of the altitude. It’s nice in Holland in the summer. I like it. But in the winter, it’s better in Kenya, for sure.

I was reading about your High Altitude Training Centre in Kenya. It seems like the focus has become less on athletics and more on academics.
The focus is really both. But we’re more into giving opportunities to top athletes all over the world. So they are able to train there.

Did you always have it in your head that you wanted to start something like this?
It was with a group of people. We have one guy in Kenya that’s selecting students. And they are staying in my place. They get coaching. They also get to study there. After that, they can come to America. We do it with four people. My part is to coach them — not so much to coach them, but to motivate them. So it works really good. They are boys and girls, top students from high school.

Is your foundation still focused on AIDS prevention and AIDS education?
Yeah. We are growing, actually. We’re starting up a high school for 300 girls. The training camp was so small. We could do only 12-15 girls.

How did you manage to grow it so quickly?
We’ve not yet gotten funding, but we have the plans for doing that.

How do you select who gets into the school?
They have to meet a certain academic level. And they all have to be doing something in sport. Football, hockey, running.

Do they have to maintain a certain level of academic consistency to remain in the school?
Yes. They have to. You know, they come there and they go down…we want them to come there and go even higher. Academically and in sport. This would be a boarding school. Before we didn’t have a school. They would only stay there during holidays. They could go to schools all over Kenya. They’d come to us in August and December, but it was not enough. It was too short to do something. Finally, I said, “I’m doing something, but it’s not enough.” So we needed to put [together] a better structure. We hope the first class will be 2013. It’s nearby the altitude training center. We’re trying to get the funding, but even if we don’t get it, it will still happen with our own money. I’ve got the ground to build the school already. It’s 18 hectares. That was the hardest part — getting the ground.

What made it so difficult? Finding the right place?
That and getting the right ground in such a place is almost impossible anymore. Getting a space that big. I had to move four families.

Was that difficult? Did they not want to leave?
No, it was an opportunity for them. If they give me one acre of land, then I have to buy them two and a half somewhere else. But in a nice place, where they can really farm. And still with some money on top of that. So they saw it as an opportunity to get more land. That was the most difficult part, and now that’s done. So the rest — putting up the buildings — is not a big deal for me. If we get funding, it will go quicker. If we don’t, it will go slower. But still, it will happen.

Do people know that you’re doing this project? Do people at these things ask you about it?
I don’t even talk about it. When I see that you’re interested, I talk about it. But normally I don’t even mention it.

No, I ask because I was surprised. I did some research on you yesterday. I know you as a runner but had no idea you were heading up all these other projects.
I don’t think most people are interested. They just want to see how the running will be. This is for my own good feeling. I don’t want to be just a runner and then pass by. I want to be a runner, but establish my roots. You want to know where you came from and where you end, what you brought to influence society. That’s what we [with husband/coach Pieter Langenhorst] do. Pieter supports me very well with this work. He’s the one making things happen. Sometimes you can be together, but if the other partner doesn’t have the same motivation, it doesn’t work. For us, it works very well.

I came across an interview with you a few years ago in which you were describing your experience of going to one of your first races in Kenya. You slept in a bathroom. There was basically no support. Have things improved in the last 18 years?
Yeah. It’s improved a lot. It’s like day and night.

Yes, it was really shocking.
It’s quite impossible now to have that kind of experience. There are so many athletes now, so many girls. Girls running now is a normal thing.

Is it still one of the biggest professional opportunities there?
Absolutely. In the last 10 years, it’s grown like crazy.

Can I ask you about your running, or are you tired of answering questions about that?
No, it’s okay.

You’ve been coming back with some shorter races. Are you planning on returning to the marathon?
I will build up slowly now, since I am coming back from injury. But end up at the marathon.

Do you have one in mind?
Not yet.

As you’ve moved into your thirties, have you found that you need more recovery between hard workouts?
Yes.

Are you doing two workouts a week now? Or three?
I run, of course, every day. I do speed work three times a week. But not very sharp, though.

What kind of mileage are you doing right now?
70-80 miles a week. Not a lot.

What do you get up to when you’re peaking in your training for the marathon?
If I’m going for the marathon, for sure over 100.

Do you think after you turn 40 that you’ll keep competing?
No, I think I will just go to easy running. But not competing. It depends.

Because a lot of women are running well into their forties.
I’m not far from 40…

That’s why I’m asking.
I will just see how it will go.

If you scale back the running, will you spend more time on these other projects?
Yeah. That’s like my baby.

Do you think doping is widespread in women’s distance running?
No, I don’t believe it. Because I know most of the women in distance running and most of them are really clean.

I know it was bad in the eighties. A lot of the Chinese times, people don’t even really count because it’s assumed they were all on something.
And it is possible [to excel without drugs]. It’s just a matter of training hard. Simple. No shortcuts. Knowing most of the girls in long distance, you can tell that they train hard. Even in competition, you can see somebody who you can say, “Hey, something is wrong.” So it happens, but it’s not common.

Do you train by heart rate?
No.

How do you know how hard to run?
I used a GPS watch. Every kilometer, I know what speed I’m running and I feel. So if I’m running under 4:00 per K, and I’m feeling good.

Do you race with a GPS?
Sometimes [Kiplagat wore her Garmin 310xt at the Mini 10K]. When I’m not sure, I race with a GPS.

A lot of people are funny about it. They think it’s cheating, that you have an advantage over other people in the race. Or they assume that elites never use them.
No. It’s no different with a watch. Every kilometer, you can see [the split]. What’s the difference? There’s no difference.

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