Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Code of the Road


(This is 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)

February 2000. My, how you’ve grown, Bix and Portland! These were my two most recent races, and the first time in too long that I’d run each one. Since my last visits, the Bix Seven had tripled in size and Portland Marathon had doubled.

Please don’t misread what I’m about to say. I love seeing races fill to overflowing with runners, runner-walkers and pure walkers. I’m not about to say that only the fast few should race and everyone else should step aside and watch, because that would make a spectator of me too.

What must be said, though, is that crowds create problems. Running in peak midpack traffic at Bix and Portland, I saw too many infractions of race rules and violations of common courtesy. Minor wrongs grew into major disruptions when hundreds or thousands of people committed them.

In these crowds, too many runners acted like drivers veering to an exit ramp without looking or signaling. Running became a contact sport, leaving me with bruises to prove it.

This wasn’t the fault of race organizers, since Bix and Portland run as smoothly as any races in the country. Officials can only do so much crowd controlling. The crowds must largely control themselves by following a code of the road written into the traditions of the sport.

The problem is, newbie and once-a-year runners haven’t spent enough time in the sport to memorize this code. Most displays of bad running etiquette come from innocence or ignorance of these customs, not malicious intent.

So widespread is the problem that the Road Runners Club of America appointed Freddi Carlip to serve as “Ms. Road Manners.” She makes appearances to address these issues.

“The lack of manners seems to stem from ignorance and not using common sense,” says Carlip. “Many people entering road races don’t understand the mechanics of being part of a road race. I don’t know why we old-time runners were able to figure things out without being told, but it’s not the case today.”

Big road races resemble rush-hour traffic. Both move better and take you where you want to go faster when certain rules and customs apply. Observe them yourself and let others know, politely, when they stray from these the seven most important, and most often violated, practices of road racing:

If you don’t enter a race, don’t run it. Don’t be a bandit who steals services from runners who have paid for them. Don’t run partway “for training” and demean the full efforts of others.

Leave children, dogs and well-meaning friends on the sidelines. Baby-Joggers and leashed pets create hazards for the runners around you. So do supporters accompanying you on bicycles or in-line skates, or those who dash into the streets to hug or run along with you.

Start where you expect to finish. Know what the pace signs mean (it’s not how fast you could run a single mile in your dreams). Never start in front of the starting line or before the official starting time, which both give false results.

Run in a straight line whenever possible. Look before you veer (or spit, or blow your nose), and don’t change lanes unless you’re two steps in front of the nearest runner. If you take the increasingly popular walking breaks, walk to the side of the road.

Run side-by-side with no more than one companion. Don’t create a multi-person roadblock for the runners behind you, especially when your group stops as one for a walk or a drink.

Take out your own trash if you carried any bars or gels to consume along the way. Don’t toss down the wrappers as if mom would come along later to pick after you. (Drink cups aren’t your responsibility since the race supplies them.)

If you have a complaint about the event’s conduct, don’t address it to the low-level volunteers who are most visible. Don’t discourage them from ever wanting to work at a race again. Take your complaint to the race director – preferably in writing after the heat of race day has eased for both of you.

2018 Update. Freddi Carlip continues to produce Runner’s Gazette, one of the sport’s longest-lasting publications. It dates from 1976.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Garbage Runs


(This is 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)

February 1998. A few runners lead, and the rest of us follow them. For a short while early in my running life, I was a leader in some small-time races. Now I’m a follower, from ever-wider distances as age moves me back through the pack.

Slowing has its advantages. It puts me with a bigger and more varied group of runners than I once saw while trying to distance myself from all followers.

But following more and more people also has its down side. It shows me what everyone ahead left behind while passing this way earlier.

The leaders never see the gloves and garbage bags that overdressed runners discard in the early miles. Never wade through the drifts of paper cups at aid stations. Never – and here’s our latest environmental insult – find an energy-food wrapper glued to their shoes.

Runners like to think of ourselves as environmentalists. We want our air untainted and our ground uncluttered.

The casual messing up of our surroundings disgusts us. We get worked up over the bad breath of traffic and the smokers who toss aside their smoldering butts.

Environmental activists grow like weeds in the area where I now live, the Pacific Northwest. I don’t often join their chorus, but seeing evidence of the slob problem on my running routes does make me see red.

Once I found a discarded plastic bag alongside a forest path. Inside were the culprit’s name and address. I stuffed some of the garbage inside one of his own envelopes and mailed it to him with a note: “Don’t trash our trail!”

Oddly, these sensitivities too often shut down when runners line up for races. Suddenly we seem to expect mom or someone to clean up after us.

Runners who would glare or shout at drinkers who litter the roadsides with beer cans become litterers themselves at races. The latest and most insidious culprit among the marathoners that I follow is PowerBar and PowerGel packaging.

Please don’t think I’m picking on the products themselves. I mention these two by name because they are the leaders in their class of energy boosters.

I applaud Brian Maxwell for all he has done at PowerFood Inc. He’s one of us, a former marathoner and a good one, who has built a healthy business around the leathery bars and gooey gels.

I’m a latecomer to using them after spending too many years running hungry. The bars, which I adopted for races and long runs in 1994, worked well to reduce late-miles energy crises. The gels, which I started using later, work even better if only because they go down easier.

The longer the run, the more effective these products are. Marathoners in particular swear by them – and marathon directors swear at them, because of the resulting litter.

One director pleaded with me recently, “Can you write something that makes runners aware of this growing problem?” Happy to.

The problem isn’t with the products, whose manufacturers have to package them in something inedible and want to see it disposed of cleanly. No, we’re the problem. Runners who couldn’t imagine tossing a candy wrapper out their car window think nothing of dropping our gel or bar packaging along a race course.

But we drop our cups at drink stations, you might say. What’s the difference?

Big difference. Aid stations come at prescribed locations and are staffed with volunteers who clean up cups from the next hundred yards or so. They rake or kick the cups into a pile for quick collection.

Runners can rip into bars or squeeze down gels anywhere along the course. Then too many of us leave the wrappings behind – usually with no official workers stationed nearby. Even near drink stops, the sticky packets glue themselves to the road and defy easy pickup.

The solution couldn’t be simpler. We carried these energy products this far, in a fanny pack or (in my case) a sandwich baggy. How tough is it to stuff our garbage back where it came from?

2018 Update. My latest attempt at a marathon ended early, as a DNF. To avoid messing up the scoring when walking back near the finish line, I tore off the timing tag – and dropped it in the nearest trash can.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]






Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ain't It the Truth?

(This is 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)

February 1996 (retitled in the magazine). Journalists fancy ourselves as Seekers of Truth. But we often find “true” to be an elusive quality. We search in vain for the one truly right form of training or the one truly great shoe.

I’ve run – and written – just short of forever. And I still edit my training plans and still seek the perfect shoes. The never-ending search can be as exciting as any final discovery.

But runners also need some certainty, and the sport offers solid truisms to cling to while we seek the big and slippery truths. These truisms aren’t my discoveries. They reveal themselves to anyone who runs long enough. For instance:

The hardest step in any run is the first one out the door… You never know how a run will go until you’ve gone at least a mile… The real running begins after a half-hour warmup, and the run starts to seem like a second job after an hour.

Training courses are usually shorter than you want to believe… Runners round times down and round distances up… Time doesn’t pass at a constant rate; the harder the run, the longer a minute seems to last.

You never make up running downhill what you lose going uphill; same with tailwinds and headwinds… Even if you believe in walking breaks, you’re embarrassed to be seen taking them… You can’t run past a store window without sneaking a peak at yourself.

A ”jogger” is someone who runs slower than you do… Fitness is a stage you pass through on the way to becoming a “real runner” who no longer settles for merely staying fit… Drivers don’t see road runners smile because we’re too busy concentrating on not getting run over.

Once your search for the “perfect shoe” leads to the model you like, it will go off the market before you can buy another pair… Sports drinks and energy bars only taste good when you need them most… If you feel warm enough at the start of a run, you’re overdressed and will soon overheat.

Most running injuries aren’t accidental but are self-inflicted… Most injuries will respond to the treatment you least want to use: stopping the running that caused them… Racing a long distance on a hard surface at a fast pace is an unnatural act, which never stopped anyone from doing it.

If you aren’t scared before a race, you should worry that you aren’t ready… You’ll never find a port-a-potty without a waiting line on race day… No matter how fast you run your race, someone, somewhere will always be faster.

No matter how slow you go in this race, someone will be slower; you can’t finish last no matter how hard you try… “Official” times are rarely accurate, which is why you start your own watch when you cross the starting line… Races don’t feel worst at the end, but in the middle third where when the start and finish both seem so far away.

It’s more fun to pass than to be passed late in a race, which is another reason to start slowly… Your fastest races feel the easiest, because you trained for and paced them best… Not one runner in 10 can name any runner who finished in the top 10.

Most awards ceremonies last longer than the race they’re rewarding… You aren’t ready to run another race until you forget how bad the last one felt… If your mom says you look great, it means you’re overweight.

The older you get, the farther you once ran and the faster you once were… If you’d known when you were younger what you know now, you would have made different mistakes.

2018 Update. The truest truth might be that last one. No one can ever solves every puzzle.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]







Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Pacing Patiently

(This is 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)

January 2002 (retitled in the magazine). Distance running is one sport that requires doing less than your best most of the time. That is, you hold back now so you can keep going later.

You can’t run an early mile of a long race all-out, or you won’t finish. You can’t train your hardest every day without ever easing off or resting, or you won’t last long.

Running far requires that you pace yourself. Take that word “pace,” split it in half, add a few letters, and you have “patience.” That’s what pacing is, an exercise in patience.

Walking to the Portland Marathon start one year, I happened to pass a church. Chiseled in concrete on one wall was the line, “Run with patience the race set before you.”

Someone more religious than I told me later that these words are Biblical, from Hebrews 12:1. All I knew at the time was how wisely they speak to runners, especially on marathon day.

A marathon demands patience, as gratification there is long delayed. The race doesn’t start on race morning but months earlier with the decision to enter and the commitment to train. You spend more of the training days holding back than pushing ahead.

Even on marathon day the wait for your final reward is long, with many hours of running separating the start from the finish. The early miles feel too easy, but you restrain yourself then so the late miles won’t seem unbearably hard.

Even while pacing yourself well, you almost surely will run into what the British call “bad patches.” Your patience is put to its sternest test as you wade through and wait out the inevitable trouble spots – injuries, illnesses, crises of energy and confidence – that threatened to end your big effort too soon.

The lessons of pacing yourself patiently while training for and running marathons carries over to the race of your life – the one that you hope will have no finish line except the ultimate one. Here the right pace is one you can maintain indefinitely, through the good years and the not so good.

One year in a longtime runner’s life is like a mile in a marathon. You don’t run the first mile in six minutes if you’re planning to finish with an eight-minute average. And you don’t push the pace too hard in any season or year if you still expect to be running strongly next year, or a decade or more down the road.

Either in races or in life, you can push hard for a short distance or back off for the long haul. Rare is the runner who can handle an intense pace for a long time.

I’m into my 44th year as a runner. The length and pace of runs are nothing to shout about, but I take certain pride in the longevity because it isn’t always easy to maintain.

The past year and a half tested my patience more than any similar period had before. Without going into the gory details, I caught a long-lasting, strength-sapping illness last year.

Finally recovered from that, I fell on a sidewalk and did slow-healing damage to a hip. Running never stopped for more than a week, but the runs themselves were never shorter or slower.

Here’s where patience came into play. I couldn’t rush recovery but had hold back, do what was possible and wait for better days ahead. Pace myself, in other words.

Taking a long-term view is most important during and right after a bad-patch period. The urge is to break through the trouble – to pick up the pace and make up for lost time.

This is a time to stay within comfort-zone pace. Let progress come instead of trying futilely to hurry it.

The waiting isn’t as hard as it might sound, as long as you see hope for eventual recovery. One off day is an eye-blink in the life of a runner; it’s like a few steps in a marathon. One bad month is but a marathoner’s minute; one year, less than a mile.

Taking the long view of pace gives you patience, and with patience comes peace of mind. Fittingly that word “peace” is in Italian spelled p-a-c-e.

2018 Update. I’m into my 60th year of running, and now much more a walker than runner. If that’s the pace I need to keep putting in the miles, it’s good enough.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]