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Suzy Favor Hamilton -- An Attempt to Understand

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It's with more than a bit of hesitation that I offer some thoughts on the news of the day in the running world. The tendency to analyze the lives of people we do not know seems to me to be one of the most odious tendencies in contemporary culture -- it reduces lives which are always more complex than they seem and usually more incomprehensible than we would like to admit to simple and usually quite stupid narratives.

But I guess at a certain point, famous people are reduced to simple narratives. This is the price of fame.

Before you read this, I'd encourage you to read this piece written by Brooks Johnson, "But for the gRACE OF GOD." He actually knew Suzy as a person and athlete.

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"Fear? If I have gained anything at all by damning myself, it is that I no longer have anything to fear."
--J. P. Sartre

Can you imagine what it takes to be the top runner in the country? To stand on the line and beat all comers? To not just be good, but to be the best? What…

Hansons' Marathon Method and Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning -- the two aspects of marathon training

On the message boards at RunningAhead, there have been a ton of recent threads about the new Hanson's Marathon Method, most of them comparing it with Pfitz' "old reliable" Advanced Marathoning. One of the smartest posters on the board (the guy solves Rubik's Cubes while marathoning) bhearn put together a comparison of the different marathon approaches that is truly excellent. If you are looking to get more intelligent about your marathon training, bhearn's summary of the similarities and differences in these two fundamentally sound approaches wouldn't be the worst place to start.

The most interesting aspect of bhearn's analysis is his comparison of the total mileage done at various intensities in the two plans over the course of a training cycle. He breaks it down in terms of the classic physiological moments of VO2max, Lactic Threshold, and MP (sometimes called Aerobic Threshold.) I am stealing his chart and pasting it below:

HansonsPfitzingerVO2max28…

Two Takes on the Newtown Tragedy

It seems to me that there have been two primary types of reactions to this week's school shooting in Newtown as people struggle to make sense of this awful event. The first is a secular reaction: many people look to make sense of it in terms of certain social, cultural, or psychological problems. The cause of the massacre is our access to and infatuation with guns. Or perhaps it was a case of a mental illness inappropriately diagnosed and dealt with. This sort of explanation of the event turns us to re-examine our failures as a society and leads us to political debates about how to restructure society or certain policies in order to eliminate or reduce the chance of this happening again.

The second sort of reaction is a religious reaction. I have seen just as many people speaking about this event as an instance of pure evil, as evidence of our fallen condition, and of the original sin that will always plague humanity. The cause of the massacre is explained as a consequence of huma…

Baby News, and Some Reflections on Equality

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First off, apologies for the delay in posting. I have a good excuse, maybe the best excuse, as my daughter was born a little over two weeks ago. Since then I've been too caught up in life to reflect on it. I have been able to get out for a few runs, and man is it nice.

 One of my philosophical friends who is a mother herself, sent me this John Dewey quote when she heard of our good news, which I thought was nice:

"A baby in the family is equal with others, not because of some antecedent and structural quality which is the same as that of others, but in so far as his needs for care and development are attended to without being sacrificed to the superior strength, possessions and matured abilities of others. Equality does not signify that kind of mathematical or physical equivalence in virtue of which any one element may be substituted for another. It denotes effective regard for whatever is distinctive and unique in each, irrespective of physical and psychological inequalities…

Listening to the Body: Neuroscience and the Art of Training

If you want to frustrate a new runner and come off as an elitist prick on message boards, there is a quick and easy path. Tell them to listen to their body. Long time runners are always offering this little nugget of wisdom, and new runners are always saying: what the heck does that mean!

I think that neuroscience can help explain.

Neuroscientists have confirmed what we have long known -- that there is an important difference between hearing and listening. In this nice little piece by Seth Horowitz, a Brown University neuroscientist, we learn that the auditory sense is quantitatively almost 10 times faster than the visual sense. In other words, our reactions to what we hear are less processed and more instinctive than our reactions to what we see. Horowitz describes the auditory sense as the human "alarm system" that operates constantly, even while asleep.

To balance that constant guardedness, we have something like "volume control" -- a way of turning up importan…

Just Run, Baby!

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"He who lives as children live -- who does not struggle for his bread and does not believe that his actions possess any ultimate significance -- remains childlike. "

F. Nietzsche, "Daybreak"

"The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars." -- J. Cash


Back when I was in graduate school, one of my professors (a Freudian psychoanalyst whose primary mode of pedagogy was delicately nudging and spinning thoughts as, perhaps, a mineral collector does late at night, hopeful that an old crystal lit from just the right angle might gleam with a new shade of light) told me something that stuck with me. He said quite matter-of-factly after one of us had made some sort of comment about childhood: "Remember that childhood is an adult concept."

This professor's point was the relatively simple but often unthought truth that children have no need for the concept of childhood. Childhood is a concept constructed in response to adult life which therefore ma…

Mile Repeats as Religious Experience

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"There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others, in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God. In this state of mind, what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety, and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in the soul is over, and that of happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about, has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away."

-- William James, "Circumscription of the [Religious] Topic"

Last Wednesday, around 6:15pm at Rose Park track, as the long shadows of the afternoon had just faded into the half-light of evening, I had a religious experience.

Or at least I think I did.

The Rose Park track is a brand new state of the art red…

Blood in the Heartland: The Adidas Invite

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[Editor's note:]  I had just put on my flats for that most glorious of runner's runs, the October morning tempo. The brilliant fall leaves out my window brought to mind the flashing of spikes and the copper taste of hard effort that we runners associate with the season. I opened the door and was slammed by the stench of stale whisky. There was a bottle laying there with a note stuffed inside. In the bushes were scattered loose papers. Apparently the good doctor RVT had dropped by during his daily stupor and left me a gift.

I picked up the bottle, shook out the note, and deciphered the scrawl:

"If Weldon and Robert are too shaken by our Fear fiasco where we had to tell Various lawyers to climb back in their ambulances and read up on Defamation law, we can always shop this piece down our Purple Cow pipeline to fellow Eph Tim Layden at Sports Illustrated.  I'm sure they have a battery of lawyers bigger than Penn State's attorneys in the Paterno pool."

It took me a…

Race Report: 2007 Flying Monkey Marathon

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In anticipation of the best (and toughest) marathon around, the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon, which takes place in about five weeks, I thought I would publish an old race report that never made it up on the blog. If you don't know about this marathon, you have to visit the website and check it out. The marathon takes place in my favorite place to train in Nashville -- Percy Warner Park. It is sublimely hilly, nicely shaded, and a kind of shelter from the two things we deal with as runners in the city -- heat and traffic. 
These things are great, but what makes the race truly special is the community of runners that attend the race, the great potluck, the local beer. Race director Trent Rosenbloom pours a ton of energy into doing it the right way. It's a celebration of what we love about running -- namely, working hard then eating and drinking with friends afterwards. This report was not from my best race or fastest race -- just from an ordinary plain old race. Hope you …

Racing Season, Election Season, and the Role of Intuition in Making Some Sense Out of It All

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"In the great boardinghouse of nature, the cakes and the butter and the syrup seldom come out so even and leave the plates so clean. Indeed, we should view them with scientific suspicion if they do." --William James, "The Will to Believe"

One of the reasons I so admire James' view on things is that I think he's got his epistemology right. He understands that as knowers, thinkers, and understanders of reality we are vastly limited. Experience is pretty much chock full of uncertainty, vagueness, chance, and openness. Things hardly ever come out even or add up exactly. The truest confirmation of this fact is the feeling of pleasure that we get when our preconceptions about what's about to happen are actually fulfilled. If we were good predictors of the future and had a clear and firm grasp on reality, that satisfaction would be unwarranted.

The attitude of science -- by which I mean no more and no less than the attitude of intelligent inquiry -- is therefo…

Philosophy, Running, and Life Beyond Justification

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The question "what is philosophy?" is perhaps most expressive of the temperament and ambitions of philosophers. We are simultaneously proud of our ability to ask this question and ashamed that we have to ask it. We are proud of the question because it shows that we take critical inquiry so seriously that we apply it even to the very task of critical inquiry. And we are ashamed of the question because it implies that we don't really know what the heck we are doing, that philosophy is simply an expression of confusion. Which, of course, it is.

Like most questions, this one has many different answers. Speaking personally, I love reading and engaging in philosophy because it gives me a chance to think newly and differently. So, I tend to think of the task of philosophy as primarily imaginative and speculative. My favorite philosophers challenge ordinary ways of seeing, and give us new ways of approaching problems. This has probably been apparent in my writings on this blog.

On Running and Habit

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"The greatest thing, in all education, is to make the nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. ... For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague." --William James, Principles of Psychology, "Habit"


Runners are creatures of habit. What looks like tremendous willpower to the non-runner is (we secretly know) simply routine for us. We get ourselves caught up in the rhythm of training, and all of the habits we have set up carry us almost inexorably towards our goals. The difficulty of training is always only beginning and maintaining -- once we are out the door, we are guided by habit. In this sense, habit is the runner's best friend, especially as we embark on a project toward goals. To become a runner means establishing habits.

On the other hand, habit is the runner's worst enemy…

Paul Ryan's Marathon Lie -- Should We Care?

This blog is predicated on the idea that there is some bleed-over between the values and practices of running and the values and practices of life. This bleed-over has now caught the nation's attention with the whole Paul Ryan marathon controversy. Even Nobel-Laureate and (let's face it) Democratic party shill Paul Krugman, who I doubt has much experience with running, has weighed in with his opinion.

All of my readers will be familiar by now with Paul Ryan's lopping an hour off of his marathon time. Runners don't like this, especially because Ryan laid claim to the holy grail of recreational running -- the three hour marathon. We know what it takes to run under three hours in the marathon. It's a pretty sacred line to cross as flippantly as Ryan did.

Whether Ryan was oblivious to the sacredness of that line or whether he chose to say he ran in the 2:50s because of that sacredness is something we will never know for sure.

But here's the question that's been…

Lydiard, Thoreau, and Training as Vision

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Two quick things to draw your attention to, then some remarks on the role of vision in training.
1) A quote from Thoreau: "I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.
"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.
"Now put the foundations under them." --Thoreau 
2) A really neat 1…

Interview: Andy Anderson on his Grand Teton Speed Record

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Andy Anderson surprised the small world of speed mountaineering by setting two classic FKT marks in a period of two weeks, first on Long's Peak, then on the Grand Teton--just days after Kilian Jornet had taken almost 8 minutes off the mark. Make sure you read his account of his Long's Peak run. This interview focuses on his background as a runner and climber and his Grand Teton ascent.

Special thanks to Christian Beckwith of www.outerlocal.com and Meghan Hicks of www.irunfar.com for contributing questions to this interview. A huge thanks to Andy. Enjoy!

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LLD: What's your background with speed mountaineering/climbing/scrambling and trail running, the two disciplines required for a Grand Teton FKT?

AA: I started running in middle school and loved running and racing cross country in middle school, high school, and college. I was a terrible runner on the track. In reality I don't have that much speed, as Jeff, who out-kicked me in pretty much every race we ever ran, …