Wednesday, May 6, 2015

7 Things People Yell from Cars

Most vehicle inhabitants seem happy to drive by runners on the road without much fanfare. For a small number of drivers and passengers, however, the sight of a runner on the road is excellent reason to roll down the window and start yelling.

It's likely that the things yelled at male runners differ categorically from the things yelled at female runners. I consider myself a competent observer of the former and not the latter. So I am sure the following has a male slant. And I'm sure female runners could contribute to this post a whole other category of things yelled. 

That said, here are seven things that have been yelled at this male runner over the years.

1. "Get off the road!"

You're right. I should get off the road. That's just smart. We runners shouldn't be out here, demanding that drivers share the road, and making certain drivers feel bad, on top of it all, about their not having exercised in 11 years.

No one should be on the road without an engine. Roads are for vehicles, not people. Who do runners think they are, anyway? 

If they insist on running on roads, runners have to expect it to be dangerous. They have to expect cars and trucks to drive near them. They shouldn't expect drivers to steer a bit to the left for them or to tap their brake pedals a bit. That's inconvenient for the driver! No driver should have to do that!

2. "Give my little sister her shorts back!"

Ha! Kudos to this yeller for creativity. Less creative yellers deliver the same sentiment with the more mundane, "Nice shorts!"

What guy runner who favors short racing shorts hasn't, at some point, been ribbed for their shortness?

It used to be that every athlete that performed in shorts -- from runners to basketball players to soccer players -- wore sensible, lightweight, short shorts that did not restrict leg movement and did not weigh thirteen pounds.

Now, of course, the long and baggy look is everywhere. And do we all know where the long and baggy look came from? It came from prison.

Belts are contraband in prison. Federally-issued prison threads are often issued too big for the wearer. And custom tailoring is not available in the clink. For these reasons, and possibly others, the incarcerated of the '80s began to walk around with overly large, prison-issued pants falling off of their asses.

This look then became a look. It traveled from prisons to inner-city streets, to suburbs, to professional sports, to... everywhere. Now millionaires schussing Aspen's slopes don fashions influenced by the baggy, saggy, droopy look born in federal penitentiaries. And, sadly, almost no non-runner younger than 45 knows a good pair of athletic shorts when he sees them.

It used to be that all short-panted athletes wore sensible, functional, short shorts.
Lookin' good, Julius!

I look at it this way: runners who wear short shorts -- as short as the shorts Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar used to wear -- are the people who are hanging onto functional fashion that's not influenced by convicted felons. I think that's pretty classy of us.

3. "Wooooooaaaaaahhhhh hahaaaaaa!"

It's usually a teenaged boy who yells this. I don't know what it means exactly. It could be a jubilant celebration of human activity and the battle against sloth, lethargy, apathy, the diabetes and obesity epidemics, and premature death.

But it feels more like adolescent ridicule, and tends to revive ancient, 5th-grade memories of being heckled by older kids in a school hallway.

4. "Great hill training!" and other friendly ambiguities

Sometimes, you can tell that a stranger is yelling something positive -- something friendly and encouraging -- but you're either not 100% sure of what they've said or not 100% sure of the meaning of what they've said.

A smiling woman hung her head out of her SUV the other day while I was running in hilly country and just approaching a particularly steep, long hill, and she yelled: "Great hill training!"

In this case, I could hear the words clearly, but wasn't sure if she meant I was doing some great hill training, or the area was great for hill training, or that particular hill was great for hill training....

I wasn't actually doing any hill training. I was just out for a few miles in my neighborhood, which is hilly. Given, however, the stuff some people yell at runners from cars, I appreciated the obviously friendly spirit of her yelling.

So I produced an equally positive response. I returned the smile and yelled: "You know it!" I didn't actually know what she knew. But it was that kind of exchange.

5. #%@&*#%@&#!!!!

Now why would you say that to me? Do I know you? Did I do something horrible to you? Do I look like, or remind you of, someone who did something horrible to you? Do you need counseling? Your meds? A few years to grow up?

6. "Go, Danaaayyy!"

"Hey!", who the hell was that? Was that John?  I think that might've been John. Or did he sell that car? Yeah, he got rid of that car, so that had to've been Stew. I think it was Stew.  ...either Stew or Mike...or maybe Anders. Or was it Pete? It could've been Pete. It probably was.

7. "Run, Forrest, run!"

What? My name isn't Forrest ... hey, wait a minute! You're joking about the movie Forrest Gump! Ha! No one has ever said that to me before! Did you just create that excellent and completely original joke? I hope no one steals your joke and takes credit for your wittiness.

See this post and all kinds of great New England running news and commentary on the level...on

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Some Commentary on the Boston Commentary

For TV stations, one great thing about covering a running event is that you don't have to pay a whole team of expensive, first-rate sports commentators.

To cover even a big running event, such as the Boston Marathon, you're free to hire just about anyone, put them on the air, and let them make up a bunch of shit. This is due to the fact that only .000000001% of your viewing audience knows anything about competitive running.

Covering a road race is nothing like covering, say, a pro football game. Football audiences know what they're looking at. So you need to assemble a team of skilled sportscasters who actually know what they're talking about and aren't just making things up.

But running? Can I tell you a secret? I sometimes think there isn't even much of anything to really know about running. I mean, it's just running, right? People run. They get tired. Some get tired sooner than others. What else is there to know?

You should probably hire this Toni Reavis guy

If you're putting together a road race TV broadcast, chances are good that this guy Toni Reavis will come poking around for a job. If there's an association of full-time, professional road-racing TV commentators, Reavis is probably the president, vice president, secretary, the entire membership, and the only inductee into its hall of fame.

My advice? Cough up the dough to hire him, just so that you'll have one commentator on your team who can, if necessary, come up with whatever nit-picky stuff there is to know about running.

The best thing you can say about this Reavis character is that he's a knowledgeable, articulate, intelligent, insightful, smooth, upbeat road-race commentator with decades of experience. Oh, and he's a seemingly nice guy. Other than that, he's a pain in the ass.

The trouble with Reavis is that he makes the rest of your team look bad. He insists, throughout the broadcast, on interjecting... whatchamacallits... you know...accurate, relevant facts. Of course, this makes the nincompoops you've hired to work with him look like... nincompoops.

Kathrine "Marathon Woman" Switzer

Kathrine "Marathon Woman" Switzer, on the other hand, is fantastic. She was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. She does inspirational speaking, and she wrote a book called "Marathon Woman." She also sells shirts and stuff online that say "Marathon Woman" on them.

(I would have thought that that Joan woman from Maine was the real "marathon woman," what with her winning Olympic gold, and running marathons in her 50s as fast as Switzer has ever run them in her life. But that shows you how much I know.)

Anyway, Switzer absolutely loves the exposure (it helps to boost sales of her "Marathon Woman" shirts and visors and stuff), and she's been commentating on the Boston Marathon for WBZ-TV forever. It's pretty much a spring rite of passage -- throw a headset on Switzer, she starts rabbiting on and on, and you know it's springtime in Boston.

Of course, this year, the troublemaker Reavis couldn't leave well enough alone.

Reavis and Switzer clash in Boston

Early in the Boston Marathon, Switzer was explaining a racing tactic of one of the women. (Maybe that Deba woman? I'm not sure.)

Anyway, Switzer was saying that this particular runner always holds back for most of the race, and then takes the lead just before the finish. In other words, Switzer was making shit up, just like she was hired to do. Good doobie, right?

But then something unfortunate happened. And, don'tcha know, it was just the unfortunate sort of thing that can happen when you're making shit up.

As soon as Switzer finished saying this runner always sits back in the pack and never leads early in the race, the runner in question jumps up into the lead...and it was early in the race. Whoops.

So Switzer played it this way: she got very excited and emphatic and said she'd never before seen anything like it from this runner. 

Which was brilliant. The old "Marathon Woman" turned this sticky situation around and used it to add excitement to the tedious chore of watching people you've never heard of run in the rain. Perfect, right?

But what does Reavis do? He interrupts Switzer with (yup, you guessed it) one of his pain-in-the-ass, credible, road-racing facts. He says something like:

"That's absolutely not true. In 2013, she led in New York for nearly the whole race." 

And he says it with this tone of...what would you call it? ...incredulity.

Freaking Reavis. He just doesn't get it. Right?

Switzer gets upper-crusty and calls the men's elite field a bunch of has-beens

Reavis' disrespectful treatment of poor Kathrine had lasting repercussions. Sometimes, you see, affordable talent is also touchy talent. And Reavis' comment was all it took to set Switzer off.

Right after his comment, Switzer started talking with this snooty Boston Brahmin accent, and she stuck with it for the rest of the broadcast. It was like listening to Eleanor Roosevelt talk sports for hours.

Then, toward the end of the broadcast, Switzer told Reavis that he was making too big a deal out of the men's elite racers, because they were...get this...a bunch of old, has-been marathoners who are now more into African politics than they are running. Whoa! Kathrine!

Were a similar comment ever made about pro football, baseball, or hockey players, that commentator's chances of ever working again would be about as good as the chances of a guy wearing a red jumpsuit in an ISIS video.

But it's just road racing. So Switzer's saying that the BAA's whole 2015 elite men's field was a bunch of has-beens not worth anyone's attention or excitement probably won't amount to anything at all.


There are big efficiencies to be gained by filling out your road-race commentary team with people already on your payroll.

For this year's Boston Marathon, WBZ-TV used one of its everyday anchors, Lisa Hughes, and its regular sports director Steve Burton. And it didn't matter that Lisa and Steve don't know much about road racing or elite runners.

Okay, Lisa wasn't factually perfect. She said that a guy who finished in 2:21 had finished in 2:49, because she was mistakenly reading the women's clock rather than the men's clock. 

But so what? She was in the right 2-hour neighborhood! And it's a totally understandable mistake. They have a million clocks all over that finish area. It's confusing.

How was she supposed to know that 2:21 is, for guys, just a few minutes from an Olympic Trials qualifying time and that 2:49 is, on the other hand, within the reach of a talented hobbyist?

And, admittedly, Steve Burton did not realize that Ethiopian distance runners, like race winner Lelisa Desisa, are actually from Ethiopia, and that Ethiopia is a place in Africa where English is not the first language.

Okay, so Steve made the mistake of starting his Desisa interview with a complex, convoluted, 21-minute question, not more than three words of which Desisa understood (two of those three words being "Lelisa" and "Desisa").

But so what? Viewers got the gist of the thing. They could tell that Desisa was glad that he won, and that he was tired and wet from running in the rain. What more was there to understand about the little politician?

And Steve stayed buoyant throughout. He never lost his buoyancy. A very important thing in TV broadcasting, buoyancy is, and Steve is a buoyancy master. And did I mention he's already on the payroll?

With the elites in, pull Reavis and cut to Heartbreak Hill 

Once the ten or so real runners have finished the race, don't pay Reavis to stick around any longer. Not that you have to tell him to leave. At this point, he will yank off his headset, hurl it from the bridge, and storm off for a drink in some VIP tent.

Once the so-called "elites" are in, the circus comes to town -- that parade of clowns, tens of thousands of them, slogging along in an endless pack. Now's the time to get an intern or some other nobody out onto Heartbreak Hill to stick a mic into those joggers' faces!

Over the years, a few grumblers have complained about this being an ignorant and disrespectful way to treat runners who've trained so hard, all winter, to run Boston.

They say it's not nice to jump out in front of runners as they climb the hill, and to make them stutter-step around you and respond to inane, phony-excited questions through their profound exhaustion.

Oh, boo hoo! It's not like we're jumping onto the turf at Fenway, or the ice at the Garden. It's just a bunch of amateur joggers on a public street. Why not get 'em to talk? They all wanna be on TV anyway. Everyone does.

Don't worry. There's room for production mistakes too.

Finally, I'll leave you with one last luxury of broadcasting road races on TV: you don't have to worry about your production blunders, because no one even notices them.

This year, for its Boston coverage, WBZ was showing multiple windows during commercial breaks, so that viewers could keep an eye on both the men's and women's races while also learning about detergent or insurance or whatever.

With just a mile and a half to go in the women's race, and with the top three women runners right next to one another and that American Desi woman trying to chase them down, WBZ went into a very long commercial break and eliminated the window showing the women's race!

It was like suddenly interrupting coverage of a Patriots game during a final drive for the end zone, with two points to make up, eight yards to go, and two downs to do it in.

But do you think anyone cared or even noticed? Nah. Come on. It's just road racing. No one actually knows what they're looking at.

I'm proud to've had this post published as an article on the fantastic running website 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Storytelling and the Barefoot Running Movement

Are we ready to talk honestly about this yet? This little embarrassment called barefoot running? I think we might be. It's nearly behind us, after all. And a new fad-I-mean-innovation is well on its way, right? Super-cushioned shoes!

Doesn't it seem like barefoot bologna has, for the moment, sated runners' appetites for fads? Doesn't it seem like runners just aren't jumping into super-cushioned shoes quite like they jumped out of their shoes for barefoot running? 

Or maybe it's not about being sated. Maybe it's just that these super-cushioned shoes haven't been served up to runners with a great story, as was barefoot running. Either way, it's tough to be a follow-up fad. Too bad for HOKA ONE ONE.

(An aside: HOKA ONE ONE's cause is not helped by the fact that its shoes look like platform sneakers Jodi Foster might've worn with bell-bottoms to portray her child-prostitute character in the '76 cinematic classic Taxi Driver.)

Born to tell stories

As you all know, the barefoot running craze was pretty much single-handedly launched by the book Born to Run, written by Christopher McDougall. But who exactly the hell is Christopher McDougall?

Well, let's take a quick look at a few high-level McDougallistics:
  • McDougall played basketball in high school.
  • McDougall rowed crew in high school.
  • McDougall is 6'4" and 200 pounds (or so says his online bio; he looks heavier than that).
  • McDougall graduated from Harvard.
  • McDougall worked, for years, as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press.
  • McDougall is the author of the international bestseller, Born to Run.
  • McDougall's bestseller is being made into a feature film starring Matthew McConaughey.

So here's what these McDougall facts tell me about McDougall. And let me know if you think I'm leaping to unsupported conclusions.
  • McDougall is a big guy.
  • McDougall, in his grade school days, played big-guy sports.
  • McDougall is smart.
  • McDougall is a good writer and a traveler who excels at bringing home stories from foreign lands.
  • McDougall is such a hell of a storyteller that even Hollywood got a piece of him.

Wait. Am I trying to suggest that the very progenitor of the barefoot running movement -- the movement that rocked the running industry -- is not an expert runner?

The man who dissected our strides and analyzed shoe geometry so minutely? The man who pointed an accusing finger at the modern running shoe? The man who told us all to take off our shoes and retrain our feet, legs, and minds? The man who turned so many millions into barefoot believers?

That man is not even a running expert? He is not a slender, little distance runner? He is not a great university or high-school cross country or track coach? He has never even run for a high school coach? He is not even, say, an academic doing research on human bio-mechanics? Are you telling me that McDougall's field of expertise stories?

Yes, telling stories. More than that, though. His expertise is telling stories brought home from foreign lands. And, in so doing, enjoying the storytelling "freedoms" that come with addressing an audience that is not, for the most part, in a position to refute what an author claims to have witnessed in those foreign lands.

That's what the AP paid McDougall to do: bring gripping stories home from foreign lands. He is trained in that. He is a professional at exactly that.

How some elite marathoners responded to the barefoot running movement

I have never traveled to Mexico to witness, first hand, the Tarahumara Indians running barefoot on sun-baked lands that are not paved but every bit as hard as paved roads. (Are they as hard as tar roads? Or even harder, like cement roads? They must be something!)

But I know how some elite marathoners responded to the barefoot running movement. And I think their response speaks to the truth and wisdom behind the movement.

Before the barefoot running movement, a whole bunch of the world's fastest marathoners were foolishly racing in the Adidas AdiZero Adios -- one of the more cushioned of the lightweight shoes out there.

And, get this: depending on which of the various Adios models you're looking at (from over the last few years), the shoe has a 10 to 12 mm drop! Holy smokes! Can you believe this? I mean, did these elite marathoners have a death wish?

But then came the barefoot running movement and all of its wisdom. In response, these elite, uh, kept running in the Adios. And, well, Dennis Kimetto ran his world record 2:02:57 in Berlin wearing the Adizero Adios Boost...a shoe with a 10 mm drop.

What? Did he really do that? Hadn't he read Born to Run? Didn't he understand shoe geometry? Didn't he know that lots of cushioning and heel lift are the dangerous tools of the corrupt running shoe corporations?

Wait'll you read what has happened since.

Now that the barefoot movement has quieted down, and the so-called wheat has been separated from the so-called chaff, do you know what these same elite marathoners are doing? 

They are still running in the Adios.

That's right. These elite runners are still yet to respond to the barefoot running movement. They've kept their cushioning. They've kept their heels lifted. They haven't listened to Christopher McDougall at all.

Don't they know that McDougall has been to Mexico? Don't they know that he wrote overseas for the AP, for crying out loud? DON'T THEY KNOW THAT HE RAN BAREFOOT WITH TARAHUMARA INDIANS?

Yes. They know. But Adidas is paying them major bucks to ignore their foot health and remain corporate running shoe conspirators.

Whoops. People got hurt. And sued.

Ouch. One result of the barefoot running movement is that a whole bunch of people ran barefoot (or in those goofy Vibram FiveFingers) on hard surfaces and got hurt. What I mean is that lots of barefoot runners sustained pesky little injuries like, oh, fractured metatarsals and bruised calcaneuses (heel bones).

Of course, the other notable result of the movement is that 155,000 FiveFingers wearers got together and sued Vibram. The company had made the unfounded barefoot-running claims we've all heard -- about reducing foot injuries and strengthening foot muscles -- and had left out the part about fracturing and bruising bones. Vibram paid millions to settle the case. 

Not his fault!

Just to be clear about this: the injuries people sustained while running barefoot on paved roads were not at all McDougall's fault.

These people, you see, were doing it wrong. They all made the switch from shod-foot running to barefoot running too quickly. Their feet were not ready for full-time barefoot running. 

Due to the evil cushioned running shoe with all of that unnatural heel lift (like Dennis Kimetto's shoe), their foot muscles had atrophied and their feet had forgotten how to strike the ground naturally and properly. (Aside: I can only imagine the atrophied, unnatural mess Dennis Kimetto's feet must be!) 

You see? The injuries were the fault of the cushioned running shoes left back at home in the closet! 

I told you McDougall was smart -- smart enough, anyway, to know the old polemics trick of insisting on the very opposite of the truth.

Born to take a slap shot to the nuts?

The barefoot argument is something like insisting that male hockey players go onto the ice without cups so that their balls can become reacquainted with how they were naturally meant to receive a slap shot.

I would like to propose that, just as men were not born to have their testicles struck by a dense little disc of vulcanized rubber traveling at 95 miles per hour, humans were not born to run on tar or cement or any surface anywhere near as hard.

To the extent that people are "born to run," we're born to run on forgiving, unpaved surfaces. Human evolution has not yet caught up with our road and highway departments. It's still lagging by a few million or so eons. 

Of course, we were born to use our brains to invent useful tools, such as axes, spears, space shuttles, and running shoes. You don't have to be brilliant to understand the truth about running shoes. As a matter of fact, I can explain it to you in simple caveman language. Here you are:

Foot soft. 
Road hard. 
Bare foot on road hurt. 
Put cushion between foot and road. Foot hurt less.
Even on soft ground, cushion good.

At least it spurred product development, right?

Right, right...because of the barefoot running movement, shoe companies had to open up their R&D minds and try all sorts of new shoe designs they would not have otherwise tried, and that's a good thing!

Really? Aren't we digging deeply for that one? Maybe to make ourselves feel better about having been duped by a fad?

What's a product shake-up worth, if it comes with misinformation, dangerous products, and broken feet? Do product developers really need all of that in order to do their jobs well? I don't see much good in the reactionary shoe-design nuttiness that barefoot running unleashed. 

I see good in Adidas' sanely holding the course. I see good in its keeping 23 mm of shoe under Dennis Kimetto's heels and 13 mm under his forefeet.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dress for Success on Race Day

Road racing involves a certain amount of psychological warfare. And a portion of that psychological warfare involves the way we clothe our bodies on race day.

Our race-day clothing says a lot about who we are and how fast we are. And by deliberately controlling the messages our clothing delivers to the racers around us, we can increase our chances of having a fulfilling race experience.

In order to help you think creatively about the power of race-day clothing (both warm-up wear and race wear), I've put together some descriptions of a few different looks.

Note: While tats, piercings, eye-catching hairdos, and facial and body hair can also play a significant role in your pre-race appearance messaging, they are beyond the scope of this article.

The Racing Beast Look

Let's begin with the look of your typical, veteran road racer -- from the masses of club runners right up to elite runners. 

This "Racing Beast Look" sends a confident, assertive message to the runners around you: "I'm at home here. I know what I'm doing. I'm going to beat you."

This look is achieved with: a running singlet (all the beastlier if it bears the name of an exclusive running club); short, split racing shorts (some prefer Lycra); and racing flats.

The classic Racing Beast look says "I know what I'm doing, and I'm going to whup you."

This look can be souped up with accessories such as: calf or arm compression sleeves, sport glasses, and a running hat, perhaps turned, jauntily, backwards, although this can also suggest "tri guy/tri gal."

For men, a running hat can also sometimes suggest "I don't want you to see that I am going bald." This is a wild-card message that can work for you or against you. Interpretations can vary, from "This guy races insecure," to "This guy is pissed off about hair loss, and is going to kill me." 

So you're rolling the dice with that one.

The Naked Racing Beast Look

And here we have a similarly assertive message delivered with a minimalist, I'm-from-the-jungle accent.

Essentially, you execute this race-day look by toeing the line wearing nothing but racing flats and short racing shorts (men) or two small pieces of Lycra (women). No singlet. No hat. No watch. No nothin else.

The message you're sending? "I am an uncivilized beast, and I am going to make all of us hurt."

Oh, and the colder the weather, the more effective this message can be, although there is a point at which psychological gains are not worth the performance losses due to hypothermia.

Some vain, middle-aged jackass trying to don the Naked Racing Beast look.

The Hobo / Racing Beast Look

Here's the first in a series of race-day dress approaches designed to disorient the competition with a head fake.

To enlist the psychological power of the Hobo / Racer look, you warm up in clothing that makes you look like a hobo who has never been anywhere near a road race and is undoubtedly near this one to sneak access to the post-race food.

Then, just before the gun goes off, you strip down to your racing shorts, club singlet, and the rest of your usual "Racing Beast" garb.

Having already sized you up and dismissed you as a non-threat, the competition will be hit extra hard (emotionally speaking) when their pre-race nerves are combined with the realization that a previously dismissed foe may not be dismiss-able after all.

Oh shit! This guy isn't a hobo! He's a racing beast!

No need to worry about this guy. He's just pretending to warm up for the race, so that he can steal a bunch of bananas and bagels from the food table when we turn our heads, right? Think again. Under those clothes, is... 
...this not-to-be-dismissed Racing Beast.

The Nonthreatening Nonrunner Look

This is yet another approach designed to surprise and disorient others with your running ability after they have dismissed you as a non-threat.

This one is simple: try to dress in a way that suggests "unathletic" or "nonrunner" -- perhaps a librarian who has recently established a routine of running 20 minutes per day for his or her health and is now trying a road race for the first time.

Tube socks and eyeglasses help. Do not wear short shorts, a singlet, tiny Lycra, or racing flats for this approach. Cheap workout clothes from Target are good (e.g. Champion brand).

The author executing the "Nonthreatening Nonrunner" look on race day. Note the tube socks and spectacles. This dress message could have been made even more powerful with the use of black, rather than white, tube socks.

Again, the purpose here is to send the competition over an emotional roller coaster, from... 

"I don't think Leonard the Librarian will be giving me much trouble today...heh, heh, heh."


"Oh, man! This bookworm is flying! I'm in trouble!"

The Over-dressed Novice Look

And here's one final look meant to mislead the competition into underestimating you. This one is ideal when race-day temps are in the 40s.

What you do is you dress as if for an Antarctic expedition. Wear tights, warm-up pants, warm-up jacket, neck warmer, bulky winter hat, and ski mittens. 

The experienced racers there will, of course, dismiss you as a novice. You can then knock them off their game by stripping down to shorts and a singlet just a minute or two before the start.

Or, if you can handle the heat, you can sprint off with the lead pack dressed as you are, like Sir Edmund Hillary. Throughout the race, the other leaders will be expecting you to fade, but you never will. You'll just finish 14 pounds lighter.

The Silly Look (Aggressive Version)

The purpose of this look is to make a glorious victory all the more glorious. And it delivers one of the most aggressive clothing messages in road racing today.

What you do is you run a regular, competitive, non-themed race that does not call for a costume. But you do wear a silly costume (animal, superhero, religious figure), and you beat the pants off of everyone there.

Before the gun goes off, as you toe the line, your clothing says: "I am a horse's ass who does not know enough to stay out of the way of real runners."

Once the race is underway, however, and you have reached the two-mile mark with a half-mile lead, your clothing delivers a distinctly different message:

"I am not just going to beat you today. I am going to humiliate you. All of you -- dressed in your club singlets and racing flats -- will be beaten today by someone in a chicken suit."


A 1:06 half-marathoner delivering one of the most aggressive clothing messages in road racing today.

The Silly Look (Passive Version)

Now we shift gears, with a very different sort of clothing message, one that runners use to excuse themselves from competition and its attending stress, hard work, and pressure to perform.

This more common version of "The Silly Look" is simple. You wear a costume (perhaps with costumed friends) in order to declare yourself a "fun runner," rather than a competitor.

In other words, this look says: 

"Look at my tutu!" [or antlers, or antennae, or Nixon mask]. "I'm here just to have fun! LOL! Ha ha! I'm not trying! I'm not trying! I'm not trying!"

Okay. Got it.

The Other-sport Look

Finally, we have what is essentially "safe-haven" clothing for athletic-but-non-running folks who want to claim their rightful place in sports, just not this one.

Imagine, for example, that mom has brought Suzy to her gymnastics meet, and dad (an accomplished golfer highly respected by the guys at the club) has been railroaded into bringing Kyle to this damned 5K middle school fundraiser.

Kyle is too young to run the race alone. And none of the boy's flaky, little friends have shown up. So dad has to run with the boy -- an exercise that will have dad exhausting and embarrassing himself in front of neighbors. And shelling out 50 bucks to do it.

Dad can find some comfort, however, in dressing for golf rather than road racing. This typically involves a country-club-branded windbreaker, golf hat, golf visor, golf shirt, and/or golf shorts.

To put a fine point on his messaging, dad could even slap a golf-related bumper sticker onto the back of his shirt or jacket (e.g. "I'd rather be driving a Titleist").

Metal golf spikes can further ensure a resounding clothes message, particularly on a paved road course. (Use caution, as your footing may be compromised.) Also, immediately after the crack of the starting pistol, it doesn't hurt to yell, "fore!"

And, what, exactly is the safe-haven message that this particular "Other-sport Look" delivers? 

"This road may be your turf. But my turf grows on the 7th at Augusta. And you don't want to meet up with me there."

NOTE: The "Other-sport Look" can be employed not just by golfers, but also by tennis players, polo players, stock car racers, et cetera.

Find Your Look

So there you have it -- eight different approaches to race day dress. But don't limit yourself to just these looks. Use your imagination and all your clothing resources to deliver the race day message that works for you.

So long as you display your race number, don't bend your timing chip, and don't expose so much of yourself as to break the law, the sky's the limit.

This post was published as an article on the awesome running website

Friday, March 27, 2015

The People Who May Pass You

One of the great things about running is that all kinds of people can get pretty darn good at it, so long as they put in their miles.

One of the bad things about running is that you can put in quite a few miles, start to think you're getting pretty good, and then get passed by all kinds of people.

Here's a little list of some of the people who may catch you by surprise and kick your fanny out there on the race course.


Ever see a speed walker? Ha, ha, ha! They look pretty funny walking like that, don't they?

Cross paths with a good one, though, and you won't think speed walking is so laughable. Take, for example, the winning walker of last year's Seacoast Half Marathon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Adrian Blocki walked a 7:04 pace for 13.1 miles, for a 1:32:31.

Blocki didn't just win the walking division. Of the 1,125 people who ran the race, he beat 1,096 of them. That's right. Only the top 29 runners beat this walker.


Oof. This one can be painful for any adult. Painful to experience. And painful to witness.

There isn't a much sadder sight in sports than an old three-sport-varsity letterman -- once the town hero -- sprinting for the finish line of a 5K fundraiser, red faced, belly bouncing, and unable to catch the 5th-grader dashing effortlessly ahead of him.

Later, in the food tent, the old jock may tell buddies and family members that he "let the kid win." But you'll know what you saw. And you won't soon erase the memory. Or the lesson learned: little kids can be fast.

Look at me, with my shades, my goatee, my club singlet.... pretty bad-ass, huh? Too bad I'm being stalked by a 10-year-old. Seriously. He is 10. Couldn't he have entered some kids' race somewhere? Why'd he have to ruin my race photo?

Robotics Team Captains

Yeah, racing with competence does not necessarily require a heck of a lot of...well...hand-eye coordination, athleticism, or cool.

If you're used to hopping into new sports, and doing well right away, because you are a gifted, confident athlete, you could be in for a humbling surprise when the guy who captained the robotics team and brought LARP to your high school goes flying by.*

*My apologies for perpetuating stereotypes about those with penchants for robotics and LARP. By all means, exact your revenge by beating me in road races and by leading successful professional lives in STEM fields and the theater arts, while this pathetic old runner goes blogging on and on.... (Who even blogs anymore?)

The Elderly

Can you say "demoralizing," young lady? I'm sorry, but it's just the nature of our sport. There are some fast old folks out there, and they will pass you if you're not ready, no matter what your age.

And by "old," I don't mean people in their 50s or 60s -- the fastest of them are still winning road races.

I'm talking about people in their 70s and even 80s. If you haven't trained enough, you could be passed by someone who voted for Eisenhower and retired from his or her career a quarter of a century ago.


Does anything deflate an overly confident road racer like getting passed by a sleeping infant?

Yes. Getting passed by a double stroller bearing two sleeping passengers and the optional mesh stroller bag swinging like a hammock and bulging with Gatorade bottles, spare diapers, a box of wipes, and running clothes peeled off mid-race.

Oh man, that hurts. And it happens. So look out. There are some fit and fast fertile folks out there.

Little Women

Everyone knows that the best distance runners -- men and women -- tend to be little and slender. But I emphasize little women here for macho newbies with extra thick skulls. That's right, macho man, you need to understand this: little women can whip your ass in this sport. So get your ego ready.

Maybe you've known some female jocks in your sporting circles? And they were strong women who could help you move, say, a pool table?

Forget about that. The most lethal women in this sport are whippet thin. And the less they look like someone who could push your truck from a ditch, the more you need to be ready for a first-class whuppin.

Not-so-little Women and Men

Just when you think you've got this sport figured out -- about little, slender people being fast -- a chubby racer will come up alongside you and drop you like a moldy cucumber from the bottom of the fridge.

We owe this fact to a rare genetic occurrence: 1 out of 625,000 chubby people is born with a VO2 max rivaling that of a fully-doped Lance Armstrong.** And 1 out of 125 of these people discover their genetic fortune and take up running.***

Should you cross paths with one of these portly assassins, godspeed.

**A fabricated statistic, but I think it's true.

The Differently Abled

Okay, it wouldn't be right for me to joke about this one. But I wouldn't be a good journalist if I didn't cover this point, so I have to tackle it. (Did he just call himself a "journalist"?) There I go, joking again when I shouldn't. But back to our topic.

When I was first getting into racing, I was in the middle of this race -- the TK O'Malley's 10K, down on Boston's south shore -- and this guy came hobbling past me with this incredibly awkward gate that had his whole body plunging down low and to the side with every other step.

One of his legs was a lot shorter than the other, and it didn't move well. It looked withered and rigid -- stuck, at the knee, in a partially bent position. But...

This. Guy. Was. Fa. Lying!

Or so I told myself then.

Hang in. It'll Eventually Work for You.

But let's end on a positive note.

Even if you are, for whatever reason, taking a beating right now at the hands of speed walkers, children, strollers, and LARPers, you do have something to look forward to.

Keep putting in your miles and eventually you will be the old man or old woman featured in younger racers' you-won't-believe-who-passed-me stories.

I'm proud to say this post was also published on the fantastic running website