Thursday, October 28, 2021

Happy Halloween!

 Sometimes I write shit. Enjoy the short story. 


What’s in the Box? 

Ruth didn’t mind the long drive from her apartment in Fort Collins to Golden, Colorado where Cover to Cover, an old used bookstore was located. For a small fee, the locally owned shop was offering bulk buying options on selected titles. As stated in the going-out-of-business ad, for 75 dollars, anyone could get a decent-sized box and fill it with books of various genres. Ruth was planning to appraise, with a little help from Google, and then resell the goods online. The owners of the bookstore, Gabe and Kitty, were in their 70s and didn’t have much of an online presence for their shop, but word of mouth kept this little gem in business for over 30 years. Now they were retiring, selling the store, and moving to be near one of their daughters in Oregon. 

 She left Fort Collins early on a Monday afternoon in the middle of October. Colorado was in a beautiful period of Indian summer with extended warm days of intense mountain sunshine and blue skies followed by brisk dark evenings. The scenic route took a little longer, but it was a lovely drive and provided an opportunity for her mind to wander as her car rolled along the open road, mountains in the distance to the right and the city of Denver far off on the left hand side. Her hair flapped in the wind with her window rolled down, no radio or highway traffic to disturb her thoughts. Her boyfriend, Greg, was out of town, but she planned to give him a call on her way back, just to check in. For now, she was enjoying the meditative state driving put her in, no distractions, just her alone on the road. 

 The drive went smoothly, and it was just past 2 p.m. when Ruth found street parking and walked about a block to the bookstore. It was the first day of the three-day sale, but already, the shelves looked sparse. Gene was busy tending to the front desk, and Kitty was helping a customer on the floor but gave a nod and a smile when she saw Ruth walk through the door into the old building with its tall ceilings and bright artificial light. 

 The owners had known her for years since Ruth had been purchasing books from them since she started college at the nearby Colorado School of Mines nearly 10 years ago. When Gene finished organizing his station, he finally looked up to see her and greeted her with a big hello accompanied by a vigorous wave. Both he and Kitty were always kind to her. She smiled back and came over to talk before she began her shopping. Gene handed her a box and told her they could catch up later, that she should probably get busy picking out some books before all the good ones were gone. She smiled and took the box, adding, “All books are good ones,” and began perusing the shelves. 

There were still some great selections available, mostly paperbacks -- history, biographies, mythology, novels, religion, true crime, and more -- so it was no trouble filling the box. She even included a horror book and one on paranormal activity, genres that weren’t high on her preference list but would likely be of interest to someone looking to buy online. There were also two reference books that she selected. These were separate from the bulk box purchase and were considered rare and, therefore, worth more than any standard titles. Satisfied with her picks, she headed over to pay. 

 It would be the last time she would see Kitty and Gene, so she stayed and talked with them after making the purchase. Eventually, they all said their goodbyes, complete with warm hugs, and wished each other well before Ruth placed the reference books on top of the box, lifted the whole thing up, and headed out the door to her car. Gene, always a gentleman, offered her help to the car, but Ruth insisted she would be fine. He walked her to the door and held it open for her as she exited the store for the last time, a sense of sadness coming over her as she stepped onto the sidewalk and made her way to her car. 

 As she was putting the box in the back seat, a man called out her name. Still bent over, half in the car, she looked up to see Seth, a guy she had met a few years ago at Cover to Cover. They were both browsing in the history section, and Seth started up a conversation about a book he had recently read, a deep dive into the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. He and Ruth had gone out a few times after that, but it was during her last semester at school. They hadn’t kept in touch after she left. She thought it great luck that she would see him there that day, considering the closing of the store meant that it was unlikely she would visit the area in the future. Ruth quickly scooted the box over and tossed the reference books in the passenger’s seat before standing up to say hello. She was glad to see him and the two immediately caught up on what books they were currently reading and the favorites they had recently read. These kinds of conversations were not of interest to her boyfriend who preferred television over reading. 

 The afternoon slipped into evening as the two were chatting, so Seth suggested they have dinner before Ruth headed home, which she was happy to do. She locked the car, and the two walked a few blocks to Seth’s favorite little pizza parlor where they shared a double cheese with mushrooms. Seth had a beer while Ruth stuck to lemon sparkling water. 

 The conversation rolled along smoothly from topic to topic. To anyone looking at them, it would seem like the two were a couple on a date, both smiling and laughing, leaning toward each other to catch every word. They lingered after they finished eating, and Ruth eventually mentioned that she should get going. “I couldn’t persuade you to get some ice cream, could I?” Seth asked. “I wish I could, but it’s already getting dark. I have a long drive home,” she responded. She saw the look of disappointment in his expression, and she really didn’t want to leave. “What’s your number?” she asked and pulled out her cell phone to add him to her contacts. He brightened and offered the number. She reciprocated by giving him hers. 

They took their time strolling to her car, neither one wanting the evening to end. The night sky looked nearly black, but the stars shone bright against the dark background. When she went to give Seth a hug goodbye, he misread her signal and, thinking she was leaning in to kiss him, ended up bumping his nose against her cheek. They laughed and tried again. This time, as the hug drew out, it was Ruth who pulled back slightly to reposition herself and kiss him, just briefly. “I’m sorry,” she said and pulled back more fully. “My boyfriend…” she started but trailed off. “No, no, I’m sorry,” Seth said. “I shouldn’t have,” he added. She smiled at him and held his hand. “I better go,” she said. “Yes, yes. It was good to see you,” he said and awkwardly pulled away and gave a quick little waive goodbye before shoving his hands in his pockets. She smiled. “It was good to see you, too,” she said before she got in the car to leave. She eased out of the parking spot, catching a glimpse of the box of books in the back seat as she looked in the rearview before pulling onto the road. It had been a productive day. 

 The roads were even more quiet than they had been that afternoon, hardly a soul around, which was rare, even though it was later in the evening. Ruth was facing conflicting emotions. To keep from thinking too deeply about the evening and her attraction to Seth, she turned on the radio. She felt guilty, but the truth was, while she wasn’t exactly unhappy with Greg, she just wasn’t fully happy, either. Her boyfriend of six months didn’t live with her and there was no indication that the relationship was heading in any permanent direction. More importantly, they didn’t share the same interests, and Ruth was often bored around him. Their first encounter at a bar was a fluke, considering Ruth almost never frequented those kinds of establishments and was only there that night because a friend of hers insisted they go. Greg was persistent, though, and there was something about feeling desired that helped push her toward a relationship with him. 

 Seeing Seth was giving her second thoughts about everything. 

 As if he could sense what she was thinking, Seth called, the buzz of her phone startling her out of her ruminations. She placed the device on its magnetic holder and set it on speaker. “Hello?” she answered. Happy to hear her voice, he replied, “Hey. I’m glad you picked up. I wanted to tell you again how nice it was to see you. I don’t want to complicate things, but it would be great to see you again.” She couldn’t help but smile. “I’d like that,” she said. From there, they fell into conversation easily, both comfortable and engaged in whatever topic arose. 

They continued talking as Ruth reached an isolated section of the road. There were no houses nearby, just endless fields on both sides of her, open road ahead. “How strange,” she thought that out in the middle of nowhere, there was suddenly a stop light. She didn’t remember it on the way there, but, she figured, if she had driven through it while the light was green, it’s possible she wouldn’t have noticed. Easing her foot down on the break as she approached the light, she slowed to a stop. It was hard to say which she experienced first because they seemed to occur simultaneously, but all at once there was a bright flash of red light in the field to her right and a piercing siren-type noise that was so loud, it sounded like it was coming from inside the car. Seth’s voice was drowned out even before she screamed and clapped her hands over her ears. The noise that surrounded her was shrill, painfully loud and sharp to her ears, despite them being covered. And then there was silence. Ruth had an eerie feeling and glanced in the rearview. There was nothing but the box, still sitting there undisturbed. Everything was quiet and back to normal, almost. Her phone and the car radio were dead, and, oddly, she was still alone on the road. She looked up to see the light had turned green. 

 Still shaken, she took a few deep breaths and then slowly placed her foot on the gas. The car rolled on smoothly. The air in the car felt thick, oppressive, and musty. Something seemed off, and Ruth was finding it hard to catch her breath, so, despite the chill in the air outside, she opened her window a crack and turned on the heat. At this point, she knew she was spooked, scaring herself, but couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her. Probably in some kind of effort to keep herself calm, her mind tried to rationalize what had happened. It must have been a power surge, maybe coming from the stop light, she considered. The sound probably came from the radio. Maybe it was because of faulty speakers or a problem with the receiver. The battery in her phone was low when she left, so it had to be a coincidence that her phone died, she thought. But she wasn’t sure about any of these explanations, and none of them brought her any comfort. 

 Ruth was concerned that Seth would be worried, wondering what happened. She didn’t have his number committed to memory, so she couldn’t stop anywhere to call him. He would have to wait another hour or so until she got home. 

 As she drove, she thought it strange that there were so few cars on the road. Seeing one eventually passing in the other direction made her feel a little bit better. The night had turned colder to the point where she could see her breath. She shivered and rolled up the window. Even though she was not as afraid as she had been, she still had the uneasy sensation of someone watching over her shoulder. It was unsettling. She shifted in her seat and glanced in the rearview mirror. It was becoming a habit for her to look, half expecting to see something there. For a brief moment, she wondered if everything occurring was related to something in the box. It was a childish thought, she knew. Of course there was nothing out of the ordinary happening. All of this could be explained... somehow. 

 She continued along the road, the radio softly playing in the background. She hadn’t noticed when it came back to life, but she was glad the music soothed her. When she glanced in the rearview mirror again, she saw what looked like a shadow drift across the back seat. She quickly turned to look, but there was nothing, just the box sitting undisturbed. A wave of embarrassment washed over her. Whether it was a shadow or her eyes playing tricks on her, she realized that she was overreacting. 

 As a distraction, she fiddled with the dial on the radio, flipping from station to station, and finally landed on something she liked. Unfortunately, she soon hit a stretch of road where the reception was poor and she heard nothing but static. She turned the volume dial down low and waited until the speakers emitted a few squeaks and noises. It seemed the reception was returning within a few minutes, but the station she had found earlier was gone. Ruth flipped to the next station, and suddenly a song came booming through the speakers. She shrieked and quickly tried to turn the volume knob down to its lowest setting, but it was already low. Her hand shook as she turned the knob hard until it clicked to the off position. 

 Her ears were ringing, and she was still shaking from fright. Because she was so upset, she decided to pull over to compose herself. When she did, she abruptly got out of the car, opened the back door, and looked into the box. Nothing but books. She was safe. It was all just her mind playing tricks on her. There was nothing wrong, so, with a sigh of relief, she took a few deep breaths and got back in the car to continue her journey toward home. 

 Not even five minutes had passed before she caught a glimpse of what looked like a shadowy figure in the rearview. It was just a flash of something dark gliding across the seat as before, but this time it had more form. It was darker. She turned abruptly and looked, but there was nothing there. Ruth was on the verge of tears. How could her mind be playing these kinds of cruel tricks on her? Determined to ignore her terror and get home, she pressed on the gas and carried on down the road. The next time she glanced in the mirror, she was horrified to see a dark, wretched and distorted face staring back at her from over her shoulder. Terrified, she cried out, and the car veered to the right, slamming into and then over the metal railing on the side of the road. The last thing she heard was the sound of the metal-on-metal collision, and then everything went black. 

 Ruth woke up the following day in a hospital in Denver. She had been transported by ambulance after a driver came upon the crash scene, stopped, and called for help. Ruth’s car was totaled. It had rolled over the metal rail and out into the field. The doctors said that she was lucky, that she would survive with little to no long-term complications. Her arm was in a cast, a fracture of the ulna, and she sustained a concussion along with several other broken bones. There was no major internal damage, fortunately. She needed to rest, though. She had been through a tremendous ordeal. 

 Ruth spent most of her time at the hospital in bed. While she rested, she occasionally watched TV but slept more than anything. Her nurses got her up for short walks down the hallway and back. She still hadn’t called Seth or her boyfriend, but, apparently, both had tracked her down separately and called to check in with her nurses. Her main focus was on getting well, and she didn’t feel like talking to anyone. After a few days of rest, she was beginning to regain her strength. On her fourth day in the hospital, a nurse came into her room carrying a box and a bag of her belongings. Inside the bag were Ruth’s purse, her clothes, sunglasses, and her phone, the battery still dead. Ruth knew the box. “Get rid of it,” she begged the nurse. “I don’t want the box,” she added. “Don’t be silly,” the nurse replied. “I peeked, and there are some nice books in there,” she assured Ruth. “Get it out!” Ruth cried, twisting her face into the pillow. The nurse set the box on a chair near the bed. 

 Without saying another word, she grinned wide, a distorted, ghastly grimace, and left, closing the door tight behind her.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Body Talk

With the article by Ken Goe that recently came out about the alleged (I'm assuming it actually happened) body-shaming that took place within the University of Oregon track and field program, many individuals want to share their own experiences or comment on the matter, even if it means potentially triggering others.  

I can't wrap my head around the fact that some of the same individuals who are adamant that nobody should ever talk about a woman's body are careless when it comes to posting images of themselves with captions that describe their perceived flaws. I know Kara Goucher means well and I generally like and respect her, but, regarding a recent post, she's ignoring concerns about sending the wrong message. The bigger message, that looking a certain way doesn't have to dictate what a person can achieve, is important, but that's not what she initially said. And if you're at all sensitive to potential stressors on social media, this is exactly the kind of content that can be problematic. But fuck anyone who's too sensitive, right?

What Kara said was, "If you look closely, you will see I have skin hanging over the side of my shorts, there is cellulite on my butt and there are no rock hard abs on my stomach." She goes on to say how fast she ran despite all this and also complains about how focused everyone is on looks, after suggesting everyone look closely at her body. A good point coupled with potentially triggering content will never sit well with me or probably anyone else who has or has had an eating disorder. As one commenter suggested, how do you think seeing an image of a very fit and lean runner with a caption about skin hanging over her shorts and cellulite, real or imagined, makes normal observers feel? This did not sit well with me, either, and I should trust that my initial reaction of shock is shared with at least a few others. 

There was a way to word the caption and avoid upsetting anyone. Kara could have mentioned that she's a product of our society or struggled with her body image or that her body was so scrutinized by coaches and fans of the sport that she began to have self-doubt if she didn't look a certain way. Instead, she made a statement about cellulite and skin rolls when she appears visibly lean and extremely fit to anyone on the outside, and it comes off as not well thought out, though the majority of individuals seem to have gotten the point or cheered her on anyway. 

In a world of black and white thinking, one in which everyone claims to be right, we have lost all nuance and, therefore, the ability to have meaningful dialogue. This is thanks, in big part, to social media. The way people react to anyone even hinting at expressing a different opinion is extreme. Remembering how people associated with Oiselle treated anyone who expressed a different view years ago, I hesitated to reply to Kara's post but did anyway, saying that I appreciated the comment of someone who pointed out that the post could be triggering. I then tried to clarify what I assume is the deeper meaning.

Rare is the individual who can sit back and say, "I see your point." Instead, defensive responses -- I'm right. You're wrong! -- are encouraged and celebrated, and that almost always leads to a pile on. It's no longer about trying to find answers, it's about proving you're on the right team, even if it means lying or triggering or offending others. If you express an opinion that's contrary to the majority, be ready for some blowback. In this case, it turns out there was no need for me to worry, as my comment was quickly buried by the thousands of heart emoticons others posted in response to the original post.  

Regarding the article, some are so determined to show that they condemn coaches who are body-shaming athletes, they're denying science in the process, just flat out making up shit or ignoring facts. Even though I agree with those who claim that the system in place by coach Robert Johnson is flawed, I don't agree that you have to avoid reality in order to prove it. For example, it's true that a lower BMI can aid runners if you just look at physiology and nothing else. There's no reason to say otherwise. It just is, and it's not a judgment about anyone.  

A lower BMI generally leads to an increased VO2 Max. Some people refuse to acknowledge this, even though a greater VO2 Max usually contributes to better performance in athletics. An argument against bullying athletes to lose weight can be made, though, when you simply accept that damaging athletes emotionally is bad, period, and it shouldn't be done. Really, fuck that coach. But there's no need to pretend that anyone at any size at all can run competitive elite times or that the studies showing a correlation between VO2 Max and BMI are wrong. You can accept the results of these studies while pointing out that there's more to performance than BMI and VO2 Max levels and how the body is able to use and transport oxygen. Performance really doesn't come down to physiology alone, especially regarding weight and BMI. That's only one aspect of competition, but it is something to consider. The question that needs to be addressed is how to build programs that foster healthy athletes while still allowing them to be successful in sport. That kind of program should never include body-shaming but doesn’t have to ignore numbers completely. 

The DEXA scans use at the University of Oregon measure more than body fat. It's unfortunate that a coach would focus more on BMI and end up mistreating athletes while letting important feedback like bone density, which is also measured by the same scans, take the back seat. 

The article states:

Johnson contends his scientific approach largely removes human bias from judgments about athletes and allows the UO coaching staff to design workouts precisely tailored to each athlete’s needs.

“Track is nothing but numbers,” he says. “A good mathematician probably could be a good track coach.”

But in this statement, he removes important variables. Humans are complex, emotional beings, not computers or machines you can simply program to run a certain way, well, most of them anyway. The point is that if the mental stress of maintaining a certain BMI or a certain weight is extreme, it won't help an athlete run faster, nor will the physical stress of potentially not getting the right nutrients during formative years. Proper nutrition is especially important for young women who are menstruating, going through puberty, or experiencing growth changes that often require an increase in caloric intake in order for the one going through these experiences to remain healthy. 

I think most rational individuals will agree that a healthy approach to training younger athletes is to allow individuals some leeway. Numbers can be used as an effective tool for feedback, but who's to say what BMI is optimal for each individual? Two women who are the same height might run faster and be healthier overall at different weights and at different body fat percentages. Though personal observation is never the same as an actual study, I can't help but think about my time at BYU. Our cross country team had four runners near the top, all of whom could run close to the same time over a 5k course, but all were different body types and weights. That being said, the variations between us weren't extreme. None of us is 7-feet tall, for example. 

Coaches, both male and female, who are abusive are prevalent in the running community. It is and has been a widespread problem that's just beginning to be more formally addressed. I'm not sure how to respond to the additional information in the article, such as the bit about how OU has a "cozy relationship with Nike, which underwrites the funding for USA Track & Field and sponsors a high percentage of professional track athletes." I'm more concerned that an athlete was told by a nutritionist that she should consider lowering her body fat to about 13% from 16%. Aside from the fact that track programs need registered dietitians, not nutritionists who don't have the same qualifications, it's just absurd to think that this was a point of focus for the coaching staff instead of overall health, both physical and mental. You just can’t run as well if you're under too much additional stress. Running is hard enough as it is. 

Melody Fairchild had probably one of the most thoughtful and sensible responses I have read on the matter. She's someone who is working to make changes in the sport. Instead of complaining about it, like many of us do, she is taking active steps to improve the sport by setting an example as a coach and mentor. The world needs more Melody Fairchilds. She is such a positive light and provides hope when the world can feel so dark.   

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Injuries And Mental Health

Now it's my turn to struggle. 

The health care system in the United States doesn't completely suck all the time, just most of the time. Though some people in the field can be difficult to work with, there are also individual doctors and healthcare workers who can be nice or even helpful. I'm not referring to ER docs or anyone helping COVID patients. This relates to issues in the medical field in big, broad, general terms. The problem is all the bullshit a patient has to wade through in order to see anyone and not knowing if whom you're allowed to see is any good. Even when you find good doctors, scheduling is a catch-22. You can't make one appointment or get treatment without first having to schedule a different appointment, the appointment before the appointment, and since both appointments are booked at least a month out, waiting for months at a time in order to have anything even accessed is the norm these days. 

Before every visit to the doctor, therapist, or surgeon, you must fill out large piles of paperwork or sell your first-born child to the devil, which makes getting anything done difficult, especially for those of us who are childless and plan on staying that way. Even when you finally do get to see an actual person after moving mountains to get through the office doors, the result is often a shrug of the shoulders accompanied by an announcement that their department doesn't deal with your type of issue. Basically, nothing can be done. Cheer up, bitch

This spring, I was able to see my podiatrist after a long wait. He suggested surgery, something we discussed previously, but said that I could consider a different procedure if I wanted, one that looked somewhat promising. I mentioned to the office manager that I didn't want to lose the potential surgery date I was initially offered in June, three weeks from the time of my appointment, the one I waited about a month to get, but also wanted to consider the other procedure. She reassured me that the doctor always has openings for surgery and that, given how long I had been dealing with the issue (years), I shouldn't worry. She could squeeze me in if the other procedure I wanted to try first didn't work. 

So I did try it, and what a disaster that was, from the additional wait time, a month to get my foot looked at and another couple of weeks for the actual procedure that was far more painful and far less effective than I anticipated, to the conflicting messages I received about how things would go, it was all a giant mess. Plus, it was horrifying to see my foot expand like a blowfish, even with some warning shortly before the doctor administered the six shots with two vials of liquid each. How is it possible for one body part absorb that much fluid? Lastly, the constant nagging about payment when the billing office couldn't even bother to send an actual invoice, just a short and snippy email demanding PAY US MONEY NOW!!! was annoying. 

Shortly after I realized that donating about $1,000 to individuals who couldn't fix the problem was a mistake, I called my doctor to schedule the surgery, but he couldn't see me for another two months. In the meantime, I got a second opinion from a specialist in Denver who was excellent but couldn't consider doing any work on me because of my insurance. At that point, I called my doctor's office a second time and let the office manager know that I was requesting a surgery date, however, a month later when I finally was able to see him, the scheduling office let me know that he suddenly had no time. They said that he wouldn't be able to do the surgery until over a month later. During all these months my limp worsened, and in the week after seeing him, I developed a new, far more debilitating injury that has left me unable to walk. One thing leads to another, dominoes. At this point, I'm shuffling around as best I can, but I'm unbelievably disappointed in… no, angry at the way patients are treated.

When an injury is coming on, the desperation is intense. How often I've thought, "Oh no! I'll never be able to run again! How will I survive without running?" I hate this fear, and no matter how many times I realize that it's like jumping into a pool or a murky lake, tremendous anxiety followed by acceptance, I still freak out. It won’t kill me, even if the entire process is uncomfortable and depressing and the murky water seems to drag me down deeper and deeper before a release allows me to swim to the surface. I struggle. Every fucking time I fight it. It is survivable, though. Patience.

In sharp contrast to being ignored and cast aside by western medicine, alternative medicine more often than not provides almost immediate (within days) treatment. In this field, you will find far more compassionate and caring individuals if you look in the right places, however, there are a lot of quacks and scammers out there. Still, there are also plenty of individuals who actually want or feel driven to help others and who take extra time to do so. Sometimes it takes a team to keep a person off the ledge, and simply feeling heard can be an effective form of therapy, even if the physical issues linger stubbornly. And sometimes there's a little magic that happens, a tiny glimmer of hope with thoughts of a future with at least some painless moments. 

As most active individuals can imagine, I'm hurting more than physically and have experienced some of the deepest lows I can remember in a long time. The water pulled me under. I'm drowning, all while trying to remind myself that taking myself too seriously isn't helpful. As I get older, it seems the highs in life have tapered off as the valleys grow. I can't shake this feeling of being selfish, wrapped up in my own pain. It's difficult to be in the world and not want to curl up into a ball and avoid everyone. The frantic feeling of wanting to do something drastic has subsided a little in recent days, but for some of us or possibly many of us, ending things permanently will always beckon, sometimes softly and at other times more intrusively. Considering that option without necessarily having a plan to follow through is normal, even for people who don't struggle with mental health issues, suffer from clinical depression, or have chronic pain. Some of us just look at our "should I stay or should I go now" options more frequently and thoroughly. 

So often, I think how silly my thoughts can be when there are others who have endured far worse. Why am I so afraid to let go? Physical pain combined with emotional suffering isn't easy to navigate, though. I'm trying to ease up on myself for my reactions and force the dictator voice in my head into a corner. It's only partly working. Pain is such a strange symptom, and the way pain is perceived is even more bizarre. It's complicated, and in a weird way, pain is in your head because the brain is what interprets these kinds of sensations. That's not the same thing as saying "It's in your head," of course.

After all these years of no longer being a competitive runner and dropping out of the running scene, for the most part, I still get caught up in my identity as an athlete. It's even more difficult now because I can't throw myself into other activities as long as I'm hurting when I try to walk. I have short bouts of hope followed by overwhelming worry and grief that this pain may never go away completely. Everything I do outside of running or really jogging, aside from writing, which I haven't really been doing much of and don't feel like I excel at, involves being able to move, volunteering in a vet clinic, working, and helping my mom, etc. I'm doing as much as I can, but sometimes the shooting pain causes me to wince or even yelp, and favoring one side is wrecking the opposite side of my body, something the medical field doesn't seem to give a shit about. They treat one issue and one issue only. It's a challenge to get around and do normal everyday activities, and if I think too hard about it, I want to quit. This is not how I want my life to be, but neither is a life of burying myself in my own compulsions. 

When I was getting physical therapy or other types of treatments previously, many years ago, it was with the idea that I would be running and racing again. I could justify the expense, time, and effort (healing takes work) by thinking that I would do something memorable with running. Those days are over, so it's harder to feel deserving of treatment or surgery if I'm not going to be extraordinary in something. The truth and what mentors keep trying to remind me is that life is more about who you are than what you do, but, damn, my soul aches when I can't run. Then again, the battle with OCD is there, so running doesn't always serve me well. When I'm in a routine or fall into a compulsive rut, I panic at the thought of not moving outside. What would I do if I couldn't run? When I'm injured and have to force myself to stop fighting it, I go from thinking I just want to be out of pain to wishing I could just walk without pain to knowing that my real desire is to run again. Good or bad, running is an addictive sport. When treated in a certain way, it's like an abusive lover with all its ups and downs, but my god does it feel good sometimes. Other people have a different kind of relationship with their sport. 

Thinking about recovery from an eating disorder perspective, getting better from an illness or injury doesn't necessarily mean you have to go on to place in the Olympics. Despite the many heroic journeys shown in the media recently, the majority of us don't go on to become world-class, nor should we have to in order to be relevant and appreciated or feel deserving. What I'm having trouble with most in this injury cycle is an inability to redirect my attention elsewhere, because if I can't walk without pain, I can't really engage in the things I love to do. I say "love" meaning the things I feel compelled to do or the things I find rewarding. In that sense, I love my job. I love volunteering. I even love running, but in a "How to Be Perfectly Unhappy" kind of way. 

Like many people on the Internet, I can sit behind a computer screen and dictate what others "should" do in times of injury, relax, trust that things will get better, redirect attention elsewhere, go easy on yourself physically and mentally, and reach out for help, but my brain gets a little foggy and my thoughts a little frantic when I'm wrestling with what to do. I go back and forth, searching for a cure and handing out money to potential healers as part of that process followed by an intense desire to give up. It took me longer than I want to admit to write this, but I'm hoping it will be cathartic to put some words together since being productive is such a challenge at the moment. The only more positive experience I have had recently is spending time outside either collecting fruit from our trees or cutting down dead or dying branches with an extendable chainsaw. Who knew how satisfying that could be?

And today I walked from my car to work with a tad less pain. Do I dare become optimistic? Not after the walk back, but perhaps there's still a possibility for some magic to occur. Shit.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

When Your Mentors Struggle

Life can come at you hard at any given moment. Lately, a few people close to me have been pounded by extremely challenging events, deaths in the family, injuries, divorce, and other types of loss. It's hard to watch anyone you love suffer, especially when you see them slipping emotionally as well. 

Recently, my sister faced a string of upsetting events that started with the announcement of a divorce and, unrelated, ended with her having an accident at her home that landed her in the hospital. Fortunately, my nephew was home to help her, and, after receiving 18 stitches on her forehead, she is doing the right things by reaching out for help and taking care of herself throughout these added life challenges. Still, she has a long road ahead, and it's never easy to see someone you love in pain. Because it's a head injury, it's a lot more concerning than something like a broken wrist. 

Someone else I consider a good friend and mentor also survived a brutal accident and other hardships recently, but she is struggling more in other ways. I see her inner turmoil but can't figure out how to help, especially since her family has already stepped in to try to do so to no avail.  

It's always important to remember that mentors, teachers, idols, and athletes are human. Everyone hurts, struggles, gets injured, and has setbacks. At a time when I really needed, my mentor was there to fish me out of the coldest, darkest regions of hell and pull me through the flames to safer ground. That doesn't mean she's invincible or that I’ll never struggle again. It just means she was there and responded in a way that was beneficial to me when I called out for help. 

While you can throw a lifeline to someone who doesn't want it or isn't ready to accept it, be prepared that the response might not be what you hope for or expect. Despite being able to see when someone is restless and experiencing internal conflict, I'm not in a position where I can provide a potential remedy if the one struggling doesn't ask for or want help. All anyone can do in this kind of situation is continue to offer support, even if the offers go unaccepted. It's a tough position to be in, wanting to help someone who doesn't want the support. 

Regarding mentors, just because one might slip, it doesn't mean the lessons she taught are invalid. It's unrealistic to think that those who struggle can't give back to their communities or provide help to someone else. It's a shame that people, especially women, feel the need to present themselves primarily in one of two ways, either as superhuman and perfect or in a self-deprecating way, very little in between when that's where most of us live. The message on social media is that you either have to be flawless or you have to be a failure but funny about it. It comes back to honesty falling through the cracks because people would rather be viewed a certain way than be real and possibly vulnerable. 

The research that came out confirming that Instagram is harmful to the well-being of teens probably extends past the teenage years. More and more, I'm limiting social media in ways that allow me to avoid "influencers" as much as possible. These are generally not people who have your best interest at heart and consist primarily of those who flaunt their own warped relationships with their bodies and food or those who are out for a profit. Seeing that kind of content doesn't improve my mental health one bit. If anything, it puts me at risk for feeling bad or angry. 

This week, I find out if my 13th foot surgery is a go or not. If so, I'm actually hoping it will be number 13 and 14 rolled into one, but it's unlikely the doctor will do that. I don't like the idea of going under the knife knowing one surgery will only potentially resolve one of two issues, but patients don't always get a choice in how these operations go. Either way, the decision isn't easy. While I *can* run, I'm also experiencing terrible bouts of nerve and joint pain even outside of running, mostly when walking or standing, which makes volunteering at the Humane Society, something I find very rewarding, difficult. Obviously, the idea of another surgery has impacted my emotional health in a negative way. With uncertainty, I have to be careful about how critical my inner voice can become and need to work on decreasing the anxiety that comes with a lack of perceived control. As always, listening to my favorite podcasts keeps my monkey mind at least a little less agitated. I can tell I’m a bit all over the place here, but I think I’ll let it slide.

Last week, I tuned into an episode of The Science of Sport podcast that addressed the new guidelines released by the multiple sports councils in the UK regarding transgender athletes and their participation in sports. An article in the Guardian summed up their findings nicely:

"Trans women retain physique, stamina and strength advantages when competing in female sport, even when they reduce their testosterone levels, new guidelines for transgender participation in national and grassroots sport published by the UK sports councils will say..."

From the podcast, the key takeaway reiterates this idea that a large body of strong evidence (not one or two weak studies) shows that suppressing T levels does not remove the biological differences that create performance differences that males have over natural females. In other words, these differences are not like varying height in basketball players or arm length in swimmers, which was always a ridiculous comparison. The differences and ultimately advantages are far more extreme than that. 

What people do with this information is the real question, but it has been crickets from the running journalists in this country who have consistently demanded inclusion over fairness but falsely claimed inclusion is fair. In this case, either you believe the science or you don't. There's no denying it now, which is what many of us thought about the Houlihan burrito defense being shown to be unlikely after the CAS ruling came out, and yet that dead horse is still being flogged

Monday, September 13, 2021

Why Am I So Angry?

Because I already addressed the Shelby Houlihan case, and nothing has really changed after details of the CAS ruling came out, I'm mostly sidestepping the issue except to say that this write-up is one of the few that gets directly to the point. The way the loudest running "journalists" have handled the topic is atrocious, and I can't really add much to the conversation, at least not in any kind of scintillating way like Kevin Beck has. The whole thing makes me angry. 

Regarding all the sorting through the rubble that's occurring, though, what's shocking is the reaction of some Houlihan supporters who have harassed journalists like Alan Abrahamson for expressing what many of us feel about the situation, that someone needs to come clean. But even if that were to happen, which is unlikely, would that change anything? I doubt it. Look at cycling after the downfall of Lance Armstrong. People will always find ways to cheat, but fans don't like to see their idols knocked down or even called out. It's frightening how abusive people can be toward others who have a different opinion. Then there are those who just stick their fingers in their ears and look the other way, pretending nothing's wrong, which is fine, I suppose, if you're not a journalist. 

Erin Strout, who has boasted about muting people on Twitter, as if that's anything to be proud of, highlighted the fact that Houlihan had character witnesses testify over the fact that the athlete's burrito defense was more than a little unlikely before the writer set her tweets to private, which actually might be a good thing since fewer people will see the way she skews facts and is careless with triggering content. However, I'm not sure what the point of having a blue checkmark on Twitter and claiming the title of journalist is if you're too afraid to have a public voice. 

It's strange, but the fact that she took extra time to block me on a social media website is more bizarre than upsetting to me. I'm a female runner with a very long history in the sport, but she has a right to limit her audience to only those who fully back her. It's a bad look for anyone who's representing a publication like Women's Running, though. Blocked or not, nobody can see her tweets unless she approves it. I feel sad for anyone who continually boasts about her job as a journalist, usually by complaining about it publicly, the long hours, the work, the deadlines, the travel issues, yet feels it necessary to hide from anyone who doesn't agree 100 percent with her various takes. 

I guess I had more to say about that than I originally thought. 

Speaking of being angry, I experienced an unpleasant incident the other day while jogging on the trails. Two people were blocking a very wide and heavily used trail by walking side-by-side with their two dogs. I was coming up behind them and uttered two "ahems" in an effort to get their attention. Just when I was about to say, "excuse me," each one moved, she to the left and he to the right, so I assumed they had heard me. I went through the opening, ran a little longer, and then turned around to go back the way I had come. When I came upon the couple again, she started yelling at me, insisting I should have notified them that I was using the popular public path that they were hogging. In response, I pointed out that they must not have heard my efforts to do just that and later added something she probably didn't like but also may not have heard. 

It was a trivial occurrence, but it upset me. Initially, I brushed it off, but the more I thought about it, the more it pissed me off. Not that long ago, my mom fell, and I was rushing her to the hospital (she's OK now but broke her wrist) when some complete and total asshole ran a stop sign and then leaned out his window to make wild ape-like gestures and yell who knows what at me. Then he started in with the fucking games, driving 5 miles per hour and breaking hard on occasion specifically to impede my forward motion. I'm not a violent person, but I have never wanted to punch someone in the face so badly. Everyone is more on edge lately, though. It's not just me. 

Call it road rage or situational anger, I can see why there are so many horrific ends to minor incidents, though, as far as I know, it's not in me to actually go there. Still, the kind of anger I experienced in that moment made me realize how and why something that seems minor on the surface can get ugly fast. People's online behavior can be just as concerning, but I want to point out that there's a difference between someone calling out a person’s incompetence or lies and an individual being an actual bully who harasses others. Expressing opinions in a blog post about obvious bias and misinformation coming from journalists in the running community is not bullying. It's always odd to me how so many people who act pompous and arrogant are quick to play the victim when criticized.

While it's understandable to get angry at someone like the idiot who ran a stop sign who's very clearly in the wrong and intentionally being a piece of shit, sometimes determining what's right or what's not right isn't quite as clear-cut. It's also more difficult to call people out when their track record isn't 100-percent shitty and their unsavory behavior doesn't fall into the serial killer or road rage category. In fact, a few of the individuals I have scolded on my blog share similar views on many topics, but I can't bring myself to support or approve of anyone who intentionally misleads others, triggers individuals with sloppy content, or outright lies, even if we both like cheese.

In terms of how I look at information online, especially regarding running-related matters, things took a turn for me when I did a podcast on eating disorders with Lauren Fleshman and Ann Gaffigan that has mysteriously disappeared. For the life of me, I can't find a copy of it anywhere. Based on that interview alone, it's puzzling how Lauren is or ever was seen as any kind of expert in the field of recovery, but that seems to be how she's viewed. She has never fully addressed recovery in a compassionate or thorough way because she presents a flawed view of what others experience in the throes of severe illness. Her story seems to have changed since she participated in the podcast, but, despite the 180, it's difficult to understand her involvement with eating disorder recovery anyway. 

Whether or not she is aware of it, she has continually taken little swipes at those of us who struggle, subtly suggesting it takes the kind of mental toughness she possesses to avoid an eating disorder, thereby removing any emotional, genetic, or physiological component associated with these kinds of illnesses. I guess I'm just flummoxed by people's resounding support of her, no matter her behavior or what she says. On the one hand, she prefers recruiting athletes who haven't struggled with body image issues in the past, but on the other, she can be seen tweeting about Molly Seidel and her recovery during the Olympic marathon. It's a head-scratcher. I mean, Molly isn't exactly the kind of athlete Lauren suggests she would like to coach. I guess it's good that she can still cheer on someone who struggled, even if she prefers working with athletes who don't have any kind of history of eating disorders or body image issues, though, as I have stated before, I'm not sure how one determines this or why any coach would make this distinction. I'm just glad to see that Molly's coach didn't take that kind of approach with her. 

Regarding my own feelings during the podcast I now regret doing, it's not that I can't handle myself around opinionated people -- I grew up in a house full of them -- it's more that I wasn't expecting any kind of discord. I realize that not everyone is going to act in a way one might expect, but up until that point, every interview, podcast, and speaking event I had done that related to eating disorders was done so in an incredibly supportive, nurturing environment, a safe space, if you will, even if everyone involved had different ideas on recovery and different experiences. That was the first time I was caught completely off guard and couldn't quite figure out how to address someone skewing the facts. 

It left a really sour taste in my mouth, has bothered me since, and yet initially I tried to be supportive and search for some kind of greater good in the situation. It wasn't until recently that I couldn't bring myself to do that anymore, try to be accommodating and nice to people who don't deserve it. Misinformation never serves the public well. I won't condone it, especially if the content is potentially harmful to others and even if that makes me look like the bad guy in some people's eyes.

All this said, anger that grows doesn't serve the person who's holding it well. It clouds a person's perspective in other areas. I'm going to work on letting that shit go, but I'm not going to stop addressing liars, frauds, and cheats. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

A Late Take on Recent Events

I do this often, fall into a funk and take extended breaks from blogging and writing in general. It's why I'll probably never finish the novel I started, even though I now have the entire story in my head and close to 60,000 words down, most of which combine in some boring way but could probably be rewritten into something more exciting if I could find some motivation. While I didn't disappear completely, I wasn't very active on social media, not that I am anyway, but I reduced the time I spent on certain websites.

It doesn't look like I missed much by slightly limiting my time on the Internet. I opted to watch some Olympic gymnastics, equestrian, and track and field events during this period. The latter was entertaining if you suspended disbelief and depressing if you think about why so many runners are breaking records. Psst, it's not just the shoes or the fancy track. During this time, Lindsay Crouse got paid to recycle the same article at least three times, Lauren Fleshman cheered on a runner despite Molly not being the type of athlete she prefers to recruit because of the athlete's past struggles, and Latoya somehow got chosen to run the Boston marathon, even though over 9,000 others who qualified by running a specific time were denied entry due to field size limitations. Men and women in their 80s are forced to run faster than she does if they want to run the race, over two hours faster, in fact. In other words regarding all of this, same shit, different day. 

Several years ago, someone I know mentioned he had hired an editor-in-chief for his newly formed local publication. After reading the first story she wrote in her position, I couldn't understand how someone who knew so little about writing and editing could land a job like that. She had no prior experience, was far from a gifted writer, and knew very little about correct grammar. When I pointed this out, my friend told me that she got the job because she showed up. She presented herself well and was committed to getting the job, qualifications and talent be damned. She sold herself as someone more capable than she was, and that's all it took, though flattering the founder probably didn't hurt. My sister got a freelance writing job in a similar way, by showing up, but the big difference is that my sister, a talented writer with a Master's in English, deserved the position and did well. 

It's not in me to sell myself. I'm fascinated by those who consider themselves important for merely having an online presence or those who claim to be experts in an area when they're not. Feeling morose lately has a lot to do with seeing the kinds of people who get attention and rewarded online, mostly liars, cheats, and self-promoters lacking any real talent. Fortunately, hard-working individuals occasionally do get praise and recognition, too, but many deserving individuals are ignored. I think it's because it's all too much. 

There's too much information, not all of it accurate, being thrown in our faces, and the media make the situation worse by too often presenting opinion as fact. We get bombarded with conflicting ideas about what's inspiring when people celebrate athletes pushing themselves too far while simultaneously condemning those who did in the past. For the record, it turns out Simone Biles is no stranger to competing while injured. I'm glad she did what was right for herself this time around by not competing in certain events, but nobody should be shamed for decisions made under very different circumstances at a different time. I mean, Jesus Christ, the way Crouse continually rips on Kerri Strug, you would think she has some kind of personal grudge against the poor woman. 

I didn't watch the Diamond League events last night, but I saw that some individuals posted results on Twitter. While the usual suspects continue to lobby for trans and DSD athletes to run in women's races and focus on "naturally elevated" testosterone levels of those running or hormone therapy for those who want to run, they leave out a few important bits of information. I highly suggest everyone read this entire thread or this post or this one before commenting on social media about whether or not it's right for inclusion to trump fairness in sports. Like many others, I don't think it is. A trans athlete competing in women's sports, even one in her late 40s, will have an advantage over a cis woman, even after she undergos hormone therapy. I appreciate so much anyone who is honest and doesn't want to run unfairly, and my heart goes out to anyone in a position of feeling left out or unsure of how to compete fairly. Hell, with all the dopers who cheat, desperate for a secret edge, it's refreshing to see some people who would like the playing field to be equal.  

I keep saying this, but focusing on hormones, like testosterone, that affect recovery, healing, bone health, and, if everyone is honest, performance (just ask Lance Armstrong) doesn't address physiological differences between individuals born with internal testes or tissue or those born biologically male who wish to transition and cis women. Regarding general differences between the sexes, in addition to hormone levels, one must consider heart and lung size, leg length, and hip-width. And, as someone else pointed out, if testosterone is no biggie and everyone thinks it's OK that DSD athletes race in women's events with "naturally" higher levels, what's wrong with women doping to boost theirs into the same range? The whole thing is ridiculous, this idea that women must be inclusive, even if it's not fair to them, or else they face a huge blowback and even death threats

But support for DSD athletes running in women's races is widespread, at least among the loudest voices in running media, even though not everyone agrees that it's fair. Fast Women's recent Tweet makes it seem like World Athletics goes around and randomly assigns DSD classifications to unsuspecting women, which is not the case. I wish more people would read about the biology behind the differences in sex development. There's a reason for the classification, even if few are willing to address it. I still think there's a way for both DSD athletes and trans athletes to compete and possibly even compete as they identify while still being fair to women, but nobody has come up with a realistic solution yet. The closest I have seen is a race director who created an entirely separate category for anyone who identifies as "other", but, unfortunately, in that case, it meant scrapping the masters division. 

I know I focus a lot on certain publications and writers, but it's not just the running world that suffers from journalists who want to impress their peers more than they want to report the facts. I just notice it more because I follow running now and then, and I wonder how and why certain individuals got into the positions they did. I'm not sure how I feel about a journalist at the New York Times suggesting that nepotism might not be so bad. Is there a reason anyone would bring this up unprompted? It really makes me wonder. 

My neighbors on one side all got jobs through connections. Our family got jobs on our own merit. The ones next door boast about what they do and where they work. Everyone in our family tends to keep quiet. I'm thinking that their boasts wouldn't be so bad since they work hard and have some knowledge of what they are doing, but at least one of them also put down my sister for working as a flight attendant while getting a Master's degree. When my sister finished her degree and landed that freelance job I mentioned earlier, one of the ladies next door told her, "Oh good. Now you can get a real job." We all took some pleasure in knowing that, years later, my niece got a job all on her own with the very firm that rejected my neighbor's son, despite the guy having parents with the best connections, and yet none of us ran over to put anyone down or boast. We're not a mean bunch, but sometimes a little rare poetic justice seems fitting. 

Recently, one of the neighbors from that same family came over and confronted a friend of mine and his dog, accusing him of not picking up dogshit, which was really weird because 1. it's our yard and 2. there was no poop, not a single croton. The animal hadn't even farted. It just gets really fatiguing seeing others act so fucking full of themselves. Fine if you want to be part of the neighborhood poop patrol and monitor the excrement that comes out of the rear ends of pets, but don't come on our property and start creating shit out of nothing. Same thing in the running community. Stop trying to take a dump on women's running under the guise of activism. If you truly believe that testosterone doesn't make any difference and running races should be a fucking free-for-all, then do away with all classifications entirely, no age group categories and no male or female categories. Then let everyone know how fair that would be in major competitions that award prize money to the top 10 overall, no matter the athletes' gender or age. That seems to be where some people want to go. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

NCAR Surprise

Sometimes I get myself so worked up over a run, I psych myself out of even attempting. All the years of internal and external pressure come flooding back, and I have a hard time getting out of my own way. I wasn't going to time myself up NCAR road this year since my foot is sore with a few trapped nerves. I run with a limp, but I'm managing as well as I can. I went ahead and ran my usual course from the little library to the top of the big hill, despite my deep fears. 

Since I crossed over to the other side of the road at one point but finished where I normally do, I don't know if I ended up shaving some time off or if I would have run a little faster than the last two years anyway, but since it couldn't be more than a few seconds either way, I'm going to go with what the watch said, which was 20:31. It's very clear that I do not have any turnover, none at all, but my foot hurts less going uphill and I guess I have a wee bit of stamina left in this old body. 

I'm hoping for some good news on the 29th and still hoping I can escape surgery number 13. If not, I'll be glad to get these angry nerves out of me so I can run in less pain again. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Here She Goes Again

****Warning, Potentially Triggering Content with Mention of Behaviors, Fad Diets, And Numbers****

Whenever Lindsay Crouse comes up with a new opinion piece for the New York Times, I hold my breath, hoping for the best but not expecting it. I suppose audience members watching a child they know is unprepared walk up to the piano for a recital feel the same way. They want the kid to do well but know it takes practice and commitment in order to hit the right notes. What's surprising is that, unlike an out-of-practice child taking the stage solo and attempting to tackle a challenging song in front of friends and family, Crouse has help from a team. In her case, even with the aid of fact-checkers, she still manages to fuck up details. Worse, with all the attention she puts on women and mental health, she can't seem to wrap her head around what constitutes triggering content, or maybe she just doesn't care. She's not the only one. Erin Strout, after retweeting this bit of sound advice: 

decided it would be great to attempt to get a few laughs a few weeks later by posting this:

I get that she's not promoting the product and is actually agreeing that it's dangerous. She's trying to be cute or funny or relevant. However, I've mentioned it before that it's important to know your audience. A tweet like the above with no warning or caution preceding it is fine for the average person or if you're one of the many in the media who likes to shock others, but both Crouse and Strout have made an effort to gain audience members consisting of feminists, anyone struggling with mental health issues and eating disorders, and athletes. As a reminder, athletes are more at risk for eating disorders than the general public, so I find it incredibly frustrating how careless these two are, especially considering they write for larger publications. Is receiving a few likes, clicks, or views more important than taking the time to think about what might be triggering to someone suffering with a potentially deadly disorder? 

The simple solution for anyone who would rather be acknowledged than think of the greater good or how actions can be detrimental to certain individuals would be to stop pretending to be an advocate for recovery and simply post like anyone else. When you write about the dangers of eating disorders and point your finger at others, expecting them to be more thoughtful about what they post, you assume some responsibility as well. It takes effort to avoid promoting diet culture and unhealthy behaviors, to stop and think, "Am I helping or potentially hurting or triggering those who follow me with this content?" Is it really necessary to risk upsetting someone or worse, giving someone who's ill ideas just to get a few laughs or likes? 

If you don't understand the mindset of someone who struggles, it's OK to stop pretending you do. You don't have to take any pledge to do better and can post links to all the dangerous weight-loss devices and fad diets you want. This is the type of shit that drives me absolutely nuts. Does it mean nothing to these types that eating disorders kill more people annually than all other mental illnesses combined? If you want to target a specific audience, you really should be more aware of the sensitivities of its members.  

I will come back to triggering content later, but more often than not, Crouse's writing comes off as rushed and not well researched, an attempt to quickly get out anything on a popular topic. Hell, some of my blog posts are more researched than the essays she gets published. 

In two of her most recent pieces, she misleads her audience yet again. Some might not notice or care about the little details, but facts matter. They should anyway. In her article addressing Sha'Carri Richardson's suspension, she brings up Suzy Favor Hamilton and a few others in an effort to demonstrate that athletes also suffer from mental health issues, a topic that has been addressed in scholarly articles, books, and in other publications long before the year 2021, though people are more open about it now. Richardson, unlike many of her fans, has handled the situation with as much grace and maturity as humanly possible, especially considering most people in this country don't think marijuana should even be on the banned list. She is definitely someone to be admired in that regard. What Crouse seems to be saying but fails to in any kind of clear way is that there's a difference between actual cheating in order to improve performance and using a banned substance in order to help cope with life events. 

Addressing mental illness in athletes, Crouse writes, "Suzy Favor Hamilton, a nine-time N.C.A.A. champion, suffered from depression after she retired from her athletic career; it led to scandal after the revelation that she was working as an escort." But this is inaccurate. Suzy has said over and over again that she is bipolar. What happened wasn't exactly the result of depression related to an incident or her career coming to an end. It's far more complex than that. She was on medication that exacerbated her manic episodes. This wasn't exactly a situation in which someone was self-medicating, and depression didn't lead to scandal. If you're interested in reading a more accurate account of what Suzy was going through at the time, you can read my interview with her here, but, more importantly, Crouse is giving the wrong impression about both depression and what was happening in Suzy’s life at the time.  

Crouse adds: 

We don’t just expect our Olympians to be incredible athletes. We expect them to be role models and to adhere to impossibly high levels of self-discipline, work ethics, and sportsmanship that have nothing to do with their actual job. Women, especially women of color, face even higher expectations.

But those traits, things like self-discipline and work ethic, generally have a lot to do with being a good athlete. It's ridiculous to think otherwise. What she probably means is that in addition to being good on the field or on the track, some people expect athletes to also be exceptional role models and overall good people. Charles Barkley and Tonya Harding shot that unrealistic idea down some time ago, but I suppose not everyone got the message. Expecting athletes to be perfect in all areas is about as wise as expecting all rich people to be smart. Athlete or not, people are people, and those engaging in athletic activities don't always behave in the same ways. Not all athletes feel pressured to set a good example, but others feel compelled, either by internal and/or external forces, to be or appear perfect. It's crazy how often we forget that people, even athletes, are unique individuals. 

Always one to sprinkle more names of athletes appearing in the news cycle into her work, Crouse throws in Gwen Berry by saying:

Gwen Berry, a track and field Olympian who is facing criticism from conservative lawmakers for turning away from the American flag on the medal podium during the national anthem at the Olympic Trials, told me Ms. Richardson was being held to an impossible standard.

Well, at the moment, Berry is facing criticism more because of her past racist tweets and her attempt to joke about rape victims, but, offensive tweets aside for just a second, Richardson wasn't being held to an impossible standard. She was being held to the same standard as any other athlete. Regarding Berry, despite her past tweets and turning away from the flag, she has plenty of support, even from those who strongly and relentlessly condemn anyone who's male and white and looks like he possibly maybe sort of could be a racist. In general, athletes of color probably do face an imbalance in the way they are treated, but the ban Richardson faces is not an example of racial injustice. Banning specific swim caps, on the other hand, is a gross injustice, and hopefully, that issue will be resolved in a new ruling.   

Regarding drug testing, Crouse adds:

It’s becoming increasingly challenging to avoid banned substances and still live in the real world. (I’ve wondered how many of us mortals would pass a doping test if we took one today.)

That might be true in this country where more states have moved to legalize recreational marijuana, but if she's talking about tainted burritos or meat or even if she's only looking at THC, she might want to take a closer look at the levels required to test positive. Additionally, why are so few suspected cheaters caught if everyone is filling up on banned substances? The anti-doping system is failing but not because it's outing those who have drugs in their system. What Crouse probably means is that a few American female athletes were caught this year for actual violations or for skipping out on tests, so it must be the agencies in place that are at fault, not the adored athletes. 

After just implying that Olympians are not like us mere mortals, Crouse goes on to say in a different article published shortly after that Olympians are just like us by using one of the most extraordinary athletes she could find as her case in point, Simone Biles. 

In her opinion piece on Biles, Crouse once again can't help but focus on looks and comparisons, which isn't surprising considering she believes nobody can get past caring what others think, but she completely leaves out the long history of gymnastics and how both it and its athletes have changed over the years. 

Her focus is entirely on American athletes, and she doesn't care to include anyone before the 80s, as if the sport sprang up out of nowhere along with big hair and shoulder pads. As Lorraine Moller suggested in the foreword of my book, the early 80s saw a return to the age of Twiggy. Everyone was striving to be thinner in a cultural shift. At the time, someone like Mary Lou Retton was considered an outlier because, despite being lean, she looked different, more powerful than some of the other teenagers she competed against. 

Additionally, if you look at a chart of medal-winning gymnasts in the all-around event over the years, you see that women and girls competing are actually a lot leaner now than they were in the mid-70s and before. On average, they were also older back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It should be noted that in the mid-70s, an age limit was put in place that restricted anyone younger than 14 from competing. That changed to 15 in the 80s and lasted until 1997 when it changed to 16. Speaking of age, Oksana Chusovitina is in her 40s and still competing in international meets. How 'bout that? 

From Harvard Sports Analysis

Leaving out the history of the sport isn't the worst offense Crouse commits. As someone who has written about a young woman who struggled with an eating disorder and has admitted to having some issues herself, she should know better than to post the very dangerously low daily calorie content of a competitive athlete. Again, if she knows her audience, she should understand how detrimental it can be for someone struggling to see these kinds of specific numbers without warning. She could have just as easily said that the athlete restricted her calorie intake to the point where it became dangerous. There are countless ways to say something similar without using exact numbers. Or she could have put a warning at the top of the article. It's so fucking easy. 

Crouse also compares an adult Biles to young athletes still in their teens, as if they should also be posting images of themselves with drinks and boyfriends on Instagram. It's absurd to think what someone posts on Instagram accurately represents who she is in real life, but suggesting that posting a picture of pizza means she's completely happy and healthy is the most ridiculous thing I have read in a long time. Biles might be a great example of a well-rounded athlete and individual, but it's not because she posts images of food on social media. 

In addition to the somewhat bizarre takes she presents, Crouse also fails to get simple facts correct. She claims that Kerri Strug "tore her ankle" and makes it sound like a wild beast ripped the appendage from her body. No, it wasn't a "torn ankle," it was a sprained ankle with damage to the tendon. Why is fact checking so difficult for her and her team? 

In this article, as opposed to the previous one, Crouse seems to be pushing the idea that you can be a regular 'ole person and reach some kind of elite status. That's not typically the case, but that doesn't mean an athlete can't have balance. 

I remember talking to Suzy Favor about being an elite athlete. It would be nearly impossible to get to a top level without having the drive and desire to push yourself. It's often a balancing act trying to figure out how to not go too far, but being an athlete takes a lot of hard work and dedication. You almost have to be a little nutty and on the over-driven side to achieve success, and the most successful athletes tend to be those who are able to avoid going too far over the edge while still working hard. 

The one thing that Crouse left out that might have made someone as phenomenal as Biles more relatable is that she has ADHD and has had to take Ritalin since she was young. It's little details like that, not her posting pizza images, that let others know she's human and has the same kinds of struggles as others. 

Here. Now I'm all balanced and happy and shit. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Running Is A Different Sport Today

Or maybe I never knew how corrupt the sport was. 

I haven't been writing much lately. Opportunities to address current topics in the running world slip by, and I watch as others dive into blog posts or articles, some very well written and thoroughly researched and others simply words slapped together to convey an opinion. I missed offering my take on Shelby Houlihan and am glad in a way because I honestly think running is a lot like cycling these days and really hate that it has become that way. It's a depressing and frustrating topic. There are clean athletes, but probably more professional athletes than not are either stretching the rules of what's appropriate in similar ways to what Lauren Fleshman admitted to years ago or are outright using banned substances. To me, either you're the type who cheats or you're not. *There is no middle ground. When I was running at an elite level, I was hesitant to even take a regular multivitamin like Centrum for fear it might contain something that could possibly give me an edge, natural or not. It's silly, especially since testing wasn't what it is today, but some of us were so adamantly opposed to cheating, we didn't want to take any risks at all, none. Despite all my worrying, I was only tested once.

Back then, I assumed most runners had the same kind of integrity and was devastated when it came out that some of my idols like Mary Decker, now Mary Slaney, tested positive for abnormally high levels of testosterone. Now, you can find instances of documented violations in every event from the shot put to the marathon, and people cheat in mountain and ultra running, too. Larger amounts of prize money had something to do with the increased number of rule benders, but so many suspected dopers get away with it. Running has pretty much become what cycling is, a mess of cheaters and those who only cheat a little bit pretending to be clean. Worse, some of the dirty runners lecture others on clean sport. It's upsetting, but I'm more angry than sad, especially with the way the running media handles the topic. 

If you look at the more recent case of Shelby Houlihan, very obvious bias in the way her situation was presented is visible, especially in the United States. There's Burritogate, but there's also her shocking progression in running to consider. Perhaps improvement leaps like hers are unlikely but possible, but nothing about her tale of consuming tainted meat is plausible, from an authentic Mexican food cart serving not just offal but pork offal to ordering a carne asada and somehow being served and eating enough of the wrong ingredient to test positive, and not by just a little bit. The more she added to the story, the less believable she appeared. Her excuses were bad enough, but the way running outlets, other runners, and fans on social media jumped to defend her without any real evidence of her innocence was even more off-putting. These days, reporters' emotions are more important than facts. The Real Science of Sport is one of the few outlets that provided a rational take on the subject. 

I almost wish there were some kind of Black Mirror device that could out cheaters, maybe a probe that reads stored memories and gets placed on the head of anyone in a position to compete at the elite and sub-elite level or a pink dye pack hidden in boxes of banned substances that explodes, outing cheaters and their coaches or anyone who purchases the EPOs. 

Other than that particular distraction, the trials themselves were mostly a pleasure to watch. Kara Goucher did a fantastic job of announcing and made the races more interesting by peppering the commentary with thoughtful stories that showed her tremendous inside knowledge. Her genuine excitement was infectious, and it's obvious that she put a lot of hard work into researching the athletes and their events but is also a natural in her new role.  

In sharp contrast to the inspiring Olympic trials televised coverage and that of local papers covering the event was the biased reporting presented by several journalists who focused on their favorites, defended someone serving a four-year ban, and wrote about various elite runners competing who "failed" or "didn't succeed" or "missed the mark," as if qualifying for the trials is shit unless you advance to the games. A "winner take all" mentality in sports is one that I will never appreciate. It was nice to see at least some coverage that acknowledged the success of qualifying for the trials and, in some cases, making the final. Oddly, much of the negative-sounding coverage came from women's running magazines and their journalists. Somehow it doesn't surprise me that women who scream about how awful men are to women are actually unaware of their own transgressions against our gender. Even in pieces or posts on social media that were meant to shine a light on veteran runners who were passing the torch to the new younger crowd, the language came off as condescending and dismissive.

In other news, considering the frenzy that occurred when Mary Cain's story of abuse was publicized, I'm surprised that the response to her newly formed nonprofit organization that aims to assist girls in disadvantaged areas in New York has been lukewarm. I don't know if having a male coach has anything to do with it or if it's simply bad timing with so much going on in running lately, but I don't see why either would be a problem. The overall concept is a good one with athletes being paid a respectable salary, training in the mornings, and then working for the nonprofit in the afternoons and on weekends. I hope there will eventually be more enthusiasm. I'm also surprised that Addie Bracy's new book isn't getting more attention. I also hope this changes and she gets the recognition she deserves. 

*ETA: With resent events leading to more bans, I should probably add that most people are aware of the difference between someone who takes a substance or uses a given substance in the wrong way in order to improve performance (cheats) and someone who uses a substance in an effort to cope with a traumatic life situation or treat a health or mental health condition.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Women Are No Better

**Contains possibly triggering content related to fad diets, exercise, and weight.**

Underneath anger often lies sadness or fear. Other times, it's an appropriate response to that which is unjust.  -- Anonymous

I should do myself a favor by ignoring the hypocrisy and dishonesty, all the contradictions and inconsistencies that plague social media and the media in general, but what affects me more specifically is the deterioration of running publications. I'd probably spend less time in a state of anger if I could bring myself to look away, but I'm someone who was brought up to always try to do the right thing. Though I'm not perfect in many ways, having integrity is important to me, so when I see those who publicly stretch the truth or intentionally send the wrong message, it bothers me, even when it's something that looks minor on the surface. It would be easy to keep quiet or complain to friends and then move on, but ignoring wrongdoing doesn't feel right. Sometimes, it's better to take some kind of action, and writing is my way of addressing what I see as problematic.

General Dishonesty 

With the Olympics approaching, more people are commenting on the issues athletes face as they prepare to head to Japan where some hospitals are still struggling to treat COVID patients, and government officials are not exactly on the ball when it comes to rolling out the vaccine. Despite the uncertain state of affairs there, some women in the United States are complaining that mothers won't be allowed to bring babies to the Olympic track. If this were a general rule applied in the past and expected in the future, I would understand the upset, but we're in the middle of a fucking worldwide pandemic. That's it. The rule applies to the sons and daughters of all Olympic athletes, coaches, and officials, male and female. Nobody making this rule that isn't set in stone yet did so strictly to punish women, and according to the article people are linking to, "the IOC said requests to bring children will have to be resolved by individual countries’ Olympic committees." In other words, individual cases can be argued. 

The above posts point to a legitimate concern. Erin Strout and Lindsay Crouse are both journalists who remind others on social media that there's a pandemic going on, and rational people wonder if it's a good idea to travel to a place when the CDC is basically advising against it. But...

To note, Aliphine didn't become a mother before she became an Olympian. She qualified and then had her baby. The bigger issue is the contradiction between suggesting that's it's unsafe for the Olympic Games to be held at all, but then demanding the inclusion of babies and kids at the venue. Notice how Crouse leaves out the fact that this ruling is strictly in response to COVID. 

The above tweet is similar in its misleading take. It was in response to the tweet below regarding a volleyball tournament in Colorado. The restrictions were listed under the "2021 Crossroads Current COVID Procedures and Requirements." 

It's 100-percent dishonest to present these situations and omit the fact that the new rules are specifically in response to COVID. Safety precaution suggestions such as wearing a mask and avoiding gathering in close quarters or being in large crowds are fine when it comes to other people, I guess. Whether or not I agree, the rules were clearly visible on the website of the tournament. I can imagine how difficult it must be for new mothers in general and especially during a pandemic, but these guidelines are there for a reason, not to victimize women. Implying these are old rules specific to women is deceptive.

The Weight Game

Obviously, considering my history with an eating disorder, I'm probably going to notice potentially triggering content more than the average person, even if I'm no longer triggered by much, but I would hope that someone who wrote about an athlete who struggled with an eating disorder would be more sensitive. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Nor is it the case when it comes to women's running magazines, though one would hope some backlash might cause those in charge to be at least somewhat sensitive to the women with eating disorders whom they occasionally profile. The linked article is actually a very good one. I would definitely suggest reading it. 

Occasional good content aside, promoting weight loss is still more common than not in women's magazines. Back in the 80s, content in running magazines focused more on training and results. Today, a subscription to Women's Running Magazine offers you tips on diet, fitness, health & wellness, mental health, running, and nutrition, pretty much in that order. A subscription to Runner's world in 2021 offers you "exclusive access to the tools you need to become a better runner."  

From 2013- 2016, Women's Running Magazine was big on pushing diet plans for runners. If you subscribed back then, you would receive "even more weight loss tips!" You still get diet tips if you subscribe today, but they are often disguised as suggestions on how to "manage" your weight. 

In 2016, the magazine posted an article about weight loss that has since been deleted. They linked to it on their Facebook page with a comment about how great the "cough drop trick" is. This comment is referencing a suggestion to suck on a cough drop in order to curb your hunger. Think about that for a minute. In a world in which people like Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Tracy Tylka, Susie Orbach, and Geneen Roth encouraged or legitimized some form of intuitive eating long before the year 2000, a women's running magazine was publishing garbage fad diet tips in 2016, and they haven't stopped. Today, you can get advice about clean eating, diet and meal plans of all kinds, and lessons on how to eat a certain way or remove certain food groups. With all the information coming out about RED-S, does it make sense that an athlete should be trying to lower her appetite, especially after exercise? There can be serious health consequences from not eating adequately to fuel your activity level. 

In 2020, an article was published that taught readers how to manage their appetite, but if you look at the link, you can see it initially said "lower" appetite: 

Regarding tips to manage the out-of-control beast that is your hunger, the article states, "If you're feeling hungrier after increasing your training, it may be worth trying a few out to lower your appetite." Read that again. The idea is that if you increase your training and have the natural response of increased hunger, you should try to control that shit. I don't care that there are some additional sensible bits of information sprinkled throughout the rest of the article; I care that the bigger message to women is stated right there in the first paragraph: Don't trust your body. God forbid you end up giving in to your hunger. But body positivity! Just suck on a cough drop if you get hungry. Christ. 

Occasionally, a really good article will emerge among the typical reads that support diet culture. In 2021, they contradict their "control your appetite or all hell will break loose" stance with a much more sensible take about intuitive eatingManaging your weight is the new weight loss, though, and losing weight still seems to be the goal, even if you're cautioned to lose the weight sensibly. When the article is about mental health, there still have to be several mentions about the benefits of weight loss. In short, magazines, even those about running, always seem to showcase a mess of contradictory articles regarding weight, and tips about eating this or that way are constantly shoved in the faces of readers. It's almost funny that lists of articles about how and what women should eat are followed by one that suggests, "Can we just get back to how we innately learned to eat before there were any rules around our food and food choices?"

How does anyone sort through all of this contradictory bullshit? If you want diet advice of any kind, go see a registered dietitian. That's my advice.

It shouldn't be surprising that women's running magazines also present information on eating disorders, but it's odd that journalists who cover stories about those who struggle can't seem to understand what could be considered triggering content by the very individuals they profile. 

Strout, Erin

A constant focus on weight and size, jokes about binge eating, or suggestions about training that could easily be considered detrimental to anyone struggling with compulsive exercise are not helpful. In fact, it's insulting to that particular audience. I probably wouldn't address any of this if writers didn't aim to reach a specific audience. They want to be free to say whatever the fuck they want to get a few laughs or likes, any kind of attention, but also pretend to give a shit about those of us who struggle with eating disorders, compulsive overtraining, fear of not training, and body image. These types encourage fear around issues related to training, diet, and body, and they don't care to change or even acknowledge that what they are doing is harmful to some of their targeted audience members. 

Who Gets Support

I don't really like torturing other writers or being the critic's critic, but sometimes what I see makes me want to yell, "Don't make me be a bad guy!" I don't actually believe that calling out other people is bad, but it forces me to take a stance opposite that of the main running journalists and their followers. And these days, when you call out anyone, you automatically become the bad guy, even if you don't pop a guy's eye out of his fucking head. There's an old saying a friend shared with me, though, that if you don't want people to write criticisms about you, behave in a way that doesn't invite it. In other words, don't lie, don't cheat, and don't be an asshole.

I've already addressed transgender athletes, and Kevin Beck beat me to the punch when it comes to pointing out how journalists often skew the facts regarding intersex athletes. It's dishonest to address athletes who are intersex and fail to mention that the "genetic condition where she produces testosterone in higher levels than what is considered the normal range for women" is due to her XY chromosomes and the likely development of internal testes. Why would anyone leave that part out but to try to dupe her audience? Hell, the linked article doesn't even mention that Semenya is an intersex athlete. I'll repeat a quote from Amby Burfoot when he stated, "All clear-thinking individuals believe that transgender women and men should receive the same social, cultural, educational, financial, etc, rights as others. Not all agree about athletic rights." I would say the exact same about intersex athletes. I honestly don't have the answer when it comes to how to be 100 percent inclusive in sports without being unfair to either women or to intersex and transgender athletes, but intentionally misleading reporting is definitely not going to help. 

It's easy to want to support professional athletes no matter what their gender. Athletes work hard and most set a good example. Unfortunately, most professional runners don't make a living wage. Things have improved from the time I was running when we couldn't accept a dime or sponsorship, but if you're not among the very best of the best and even if you are, you might struggle financially. What's difficult to understand is the mad rush to support and sponsor influencers over athletes. Considering it's more about money, it's a little easier to grasp, but I don't get the overwhelming support around one influencer in particular who has lied, bullied others, and has suggested that she's in it for the money. When there are so many people in the world who actually want to help others and live an honest life, the crazy dash to fall all over someone who has no problem threatening others is bizarre. Seriously, how often does Latoya's name come up in articles, despite the fact that she is often the bully who plays the victim? 

Latoya Snell

Latoya Snell

Derek of Marathon Investigations is someone who has been criticized for simply calling out cheaters. He has also been praised by those who don't appreciate cheaters wrecking a sport. Unfortunately, he is also someone who has been harassed and bullied online, and he has been honest about how difficult it is to receive emails and comments relating to a situation in which someone took his own life. 

Below is a response from Latoya to Kevin Beck on Twitter. If you don't see how terrible this is, there's something really wrong with you. Who does more damage, someone pointing out that another person cheated, or someone really digging into a person's psyche by publicly throwing out false allegations in an attempt to shame him? Derek and Kevin aren't the ones who need to do better in this case, but despite this instance of clear bullying and another in which she told a person that she would "walk his dentures from his face", she's still sponsored by Hoka One One. Go fucking figure. 

Latoya Snell

In conclusion, it's really hard to stomach a lot of what goes on in the world today. Running used to be a way for me to escape or cope. As difficult and painful as my relationship to the sport has been, I still love it on some level. I just don't like seeing some of the more grotesque aspects of it like the dopers, the cheaters, the liars, and the bullies. I never thought running would be like this. I have to continually remind myself to look to those who are still inspiring and honest. They do exist. In fact, even though I have no real ties to New Hampshire, something that brought me great joy was watching the videos that put out. It's unfortunate they don't get more attention, but that's another story