Category: Cross Country

When I tell friends about going to track meets or getting up at ungodly hours to watch marathons online, I often get some variation of “But it’s so boring! They’re just going around and around/running for hours. How do you watch that?” I’m sure you’re all familiar with this phenomenon.  We all offer up the same “I dunno, it’s interesting to me, I guess” defense, in one way or another.

I’ve decided to take another tack lately, at least to open the door to an explanation. “Yeah, going to concerts is boring. They just do the same thing for hours.”

This is obviously stupid, of course. But think about the metaphor here. The drummer is just banging on drums for hours. The guitarist is just strumming along. The singer, just saying words in a musical way…for hours! Objectively, this is true. But anyone who enjoys concerts understands why you go. Every song has its own melody, its own nuance. Even within songs, there are twists and turns, new rhythms and chords, a solo here and there. The magic and the joy lies within those melodies, the beat, the changing rhythms, the mid-song key changes. Those words mean something different – a love song now, a revenge tale over here. Even when you’ve heard the song a hundred times before, each performance offers the possibility of a new insight, a new discovery, a new joy.

This is what running is. Every lap, every mile in a marathon, music is being made. There is art and science happening, right before our eyes. Runners adjusting to one another, forcing others to adjust, making decisions, revealing habits and fears and secrets about themselves with each surge or lead change. It’s a visual concert with a thousand possibilities every time you look at something new.

Today’s Boston Marathon is a wonderful example of this. New Zealand’s Kim Smith took an immediate lead and just poured it on from the start, stretching her lead out, mile by mile. One could say this was boring – just watching a skinny lady run by herself for over an hour. But every mile was a question. Will she continue to pull away? What is her plan? Is there a plan? Will the pack catch her – and if so, when? how? Will they speed up or will she slow down? On Twitter, there was discussion of her form; her arm motion is very ungainly, so it appears as though she’s flailing and suffering. But if you watched closely, you saw that it was an illusion; her shoulders and hips are perfectly still, the essence of good form. So it gave you something else to focus on…are her shoulders rising, is the set of her face changing?

Ultimately, she suffered some sort of calf injury that took her out of the race, but the degeneration as she struggled to fight through it – and the courage! – added even more drama. And then we were treated to a slugfest as Desi Davila and Caroline Kilel traded the lead, becoming more and more aggressive as the race wore on.

After two plus hours of watching women “just running”, we were treated to the answer to all the questions that had formed! The race came down to the last 200 meters, and at the end, neither woman had anything left to give, Kilel collapsing after winning the race and having to be taken to the medical tent. It was drama, love, passion, and pure guts at its most primal.

Of course, this isn’t for everyone. It’s like baseball, in that to truly get this, you have to start to understand the game before and within the game. Otherwise, a 0-0 pitching duel is boring – while someone who understands the subtexts realizes that every pitch is a story, every movement on the field contains a pathos revealing strength, weakness, opportunity. Without knowing those subtexts, it’s just guys throwing a ball at a stick and nobody scores.

Why draw all these comparisons? Because baseball is huge. People do understand the subtext. They do appreciate the pitching duel. And while a smartass comment and lengthy metaphor won’t convert the world, it serves to highlight the reality that to sell our sport to our friends and grow it, we need to teach the subtext. It can be done! Bit by bit, people do get it. Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay are our home-run hitters, and we can let them draw fans to the stadium…but we have to teach people, while they’re there, to appreciate every at-bat. We can build a new following for track, but we have to start thinking differently about how to explain it to those who aren’t already in the fold.


Well, it’s that time of year again – the leaves will turn soon, and it’s time to leave the road and start running trails.  I’m lucky to live in, um, or near, Seattle so I can join one of the largest cross country teams in the country, Eastside Runners XC Team.  For those of you paying attention, yes, I was on the team last year, but only ran one meet and then the “incident” happened.  I suspect this year will be a bit more rewarding, what with 50 pounds less on the frame and a bit more speed in the legs.

Last night was our first team meeting, where we got to mingle a bit and cover the bases – team captains, who and how to pay, team uniforms, how to register for races, etc.  I am pumped!  I love track, but there’s something so unique in XC – the changing terrain, different challenges in every race, and given the time of year, you can deal with anything from heat to sub-zero temperatures.  It’s a sport for the hardy, with the added benefit that you tend to run in beautiful locations.  And entering a new age group, the 40-49 division, opens up some new competitive territory for me.  Let’s face it, the odds of me competing with 25 year old guys running sub-15:00 5Ks are slim.  But if I can get under 20:00 consistently, I should at least be able to help my age-group team score, and that’s what it’s all about.

Now, onto something a little more serious…

I’ve been following the World Championships in Berlin, and the women’s 800 meters has an unusual bit of intrigue – the gender of the gold medalist has been called into question.  Apparently, she improved her PR quite suddenly this July from 2:04 to 1:56, and when the IAAF saw photos of her, they asked South African officials to investigate her gender.  See why here or here.  I think, visually, there appears to be a legitimate question, and the rapid appearance of dominant ability in this person is at a minimum suspicious.

But here’s what concerns me.  This is an 18-year old kid, however the gender issue is resolved.  Why was this released to the press the day before the final?  Why not just keep the info behind the scenes until the IAAF has their answer, and then release it?  Does this person deserve no dignity?  Even the IAAF officials, from their statement, don’t believe this is a case of fraud, but rather of someone who may think of herself as a woman but not, biologically, be one.  And this 18 year old kid has had this played out on global television.

Watching her face prior to the final, filled with defiance, and the lack of any joy after winning a world title, just broke my heart.  Even at the medal ceremony, it was obviously bittersweet at best.  If she turns out to be clean of any doping issues and biologically female, what good has been done here?  We’ll have someone whose crowning achievement, what should be a moment of unsurpassed joy and pride, has been stripped by a public whipping that no one deserves.

Of course, if she has doped or is biologically a male, the question of fairness is moot – she doesn’t deserve the medal.  But that will still not change one salient, oh-so-important fact: this is an 18-year old kid, who will carry what’s happened this week the rest of her life.  Are there no adults in the IAAF or the media who could’ve thought better of this?