Saturday, April 17, 2021

What The Hell Is Wrong with People?

So often, I feel the need to show some restraint on this blog, but the more I look on social media, the more pissed off I become. The misinformation people spew makes me want to vent, uncensored and hard. It's difficult enough to understand the journalists, "experts," influencers, and former elite athletes who fib on a regular basis, but what I just don't get are the loads and loads of fans who cheer their shit on, especially when there are so many truly inspirational people to be found. 

Perhaps this need to constantly like whatever is filling up a person's social media feed stems from wanting to belong. It gives a person a sense of being part of a team. These days, the "it" team is The Elect. If you're not with them, you're against them and also a bad, morally corrupt person, but if you're with them, agreeing or even giving the appearance you agree gives you a sense of belonging. 

Initially, I was going to dive facepalm-first into the worst of the worst "influencers" on Instagram, especially one in particular who claims a healthy regimen is to "intuitively fast" (there's no such thing) from late evening until sometime in the afternoon the following day and then drink celery juice and shit before consuming what the fuck ever compost on toast meal of the day. Hey, if you choose to restrict and exercise, that's your right, but don't shove that crap in other people's faces and call it healthy. And don't post videos of yourself trying to exercise using poor form and tout that as helpful. It's not. It's potentially dangerous, in fact. 

I think I can address a few topics at once with a letter to my former self style post, a different one filled with more accurate advice than one I already wrote

Maybe this isn't so much a letter, just some truth I feel the need to spill.

Dear whomever this may concern or whoever wants to read it:

1. You can fuck right off if you feel the need to share your story and can't refrain from putting others down. For example, you're not a hero for avoiding an eating disorder and don't need to suggest that those who have one are weaker in any way. You were born genetically and biochemically lucky and were probably fortunate enough to be placed in environments that weren't conducive to developing one. Congrats on that. Same thing if you run well. Hard work goes into it, but success comes down to a combination of raw talent, hard work, and timing. Some good support and guidance can't hurt. 

2. I'm repeating myself, but eating disorders are not a sign of mental weakness. Some of the most successful athletes including Nadia Comaneci, Dara Torres, and Bahne Rabe, for example, suffered from eating disorders while they were competing at an Olympic or world class level, so stop with the bullshit that those who struggle are somehow not as mentally tough. Again, it's not that having a life-threatening illness gives you any kind of advantage; it doesn't. It's more that you can be both mentally tough and suffer from mental illness. Getting lost in an eating disorder makes everything more difficult and riskier. You have to be mentally tough just to survive the fucking hell of an eating disorder. Think about it. Your mind is so powerful that it's telling you to deny or get rid of the very substance that is life sustaining. Having this kind of illness is not about trying to gain some small advantage like a slight increase in VO2 Max. Increased injury risk, muscle fatigue, depression, and risk of death aren't exactly advantages.    

3. You can't tell if someone is sick by looking at her, especially when considering eating disorders. Plenty of people who struggle are at what most consider a "normal" weight. Mental illness is not visible to others. Don't pretend you can tell who has an eating disorder just by looking. Assuming will lead nowhere and reveal nothing. 

4. Coaches don't cause eating disorders. They can definitely foster an unhealthy or a healthy environment, but mental illness doesn't come down to one factor. That means a person can contribute to someone developing an eating disorder, but that's not the same thing as someone actually causing it. 

5. Stop promoting the idea that "strong" women don't get eating disorders and that "confident" women can look at numbers objectively. Fuck that. That's like me walking into an AA meeting and telling a group of alcoholics how amazing I am because I don't find myself unable to stop drinking when I start and have the willpower to just say no. If this is your response to someone who has an eating disorder, you clearly do not get it. You just don't. 

6. Puberty and menopause don't have to be events to fear. The more you tell everyone that your world gets turned upside down during these transitions, the scarier it is for young women. Stop it. Every single person is different, and you do not know how someone will react just because you experienced things one way or saw a few people go through some shit. Just let people have their individualistic experiences and stop trying to predict what will happen to someone else. Maybe instead of trying to terrify young athletes by telling them they will have a rocky transition through puberty, offer some guidance on how to manage through any major transitions. "Riding it out" tells an individual nothing, and it's a myth that performance has to drop during this time. I like what Elizabeth W. Carey and other experts have said about zooming out to see the big picture during this time, a concept others have copied, but it's useful advice. Also, don't plagiarize. That shit is bad.  

Here are some words of wisdom to help get through puberty:

  • Talk to your doctor 
  •  Talk to a therapist
  •  Get plenty of rest and listen to your body
  •  See a registered dietitian and make sure you are getting the right kinds of nutrients, especially minerals like magnesium, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • At the advice of Melody Fairchild, use this time to build strength by doing things like lifting weights and cross-training
  • Make sure you are still enjoying the process

7. Speaking to athletes, should you decide to "give up" and pursue something else. Good. You should always go where your heart is calling you, and if running isn't it, there is nothing wrong with that. Running is a sport that will always be there down the road if you change your mind. Don't be afraid to let it go, temporarily or for good. It's something you do, not who you are, and you don't have to force it. People have this warped idea that being a top athlete is the main goal in life. It need not be. 

8. I get tired of saying it, but developing an eating disorder isn't about being the fastest or most beautiful. These illnesses are so much more complex than that. Eating disorders are not fueled by dreams of "short-term success". Success might be a temporary byproduct of the initial phases of losing weight, but nobody lives the absolute hell of an eating disorder simply because she wants to run faster. Also, not all eating disorders lead to weight loss anyway. Weight might be one very small consideration of running, but so is muscle strength and leg speed. Remember, people who develop potentially deadly disorders have a genetic predisposition. Perhaps if you don't, you shouldn't speculate about the reasons why others get them, unless you have studied these disorders in-depth, not just on the Internet.  

9. Your observations and personal experiences are not everyone else's. 

10. You don't need to be so god damn fucking condescending to others who struggle. I think I already said that. Shit. I could have had ten points, but now I'm making it 11 because I need to say this again. 

11. Men, especially male athletes, develop eating disorders, too. This is not just a female problem. 

By all means, if it make more sense to like and amplify the words of the latest body-image guru of your choice, go ahead. The Internet is a fucking free-for-all, but maybe take some time to think about what feels right, deep down in your heart, before doing so.

Yours truly, 


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Know Your Audience

Lately, for the life of me, I can't seem to string together a coherent or interesting sentence. It's not so much that my interest in writing has waned; it's more that I become paralyzed by my limitations. And I'm tired. I'm questioning my grammar every step of the way, and I'm in a fog so deep that I seem to be making errors everywhere I type. It's probably no surprise to anyone that my vocabulary is not and never has been that of Cormac McCarthy or David Foster Wallace, and I'm often so afraid of fucking up in some way that my writing ends up rigid and plain. In all art, if you can look at writing as such, proper technique is the first step to creating something of substance, but what comes from the heart is where real brilliance emerges. This is true whether you're a runner, a mathematician, musician, or painter. Technique first, creativity follows. 

I'm just not there. I'm still in the corner practicing my scales. And just like I know I will never reach that wonderful moment of zen in running again, that feeling of being in the zone where pushing against the edge of what your body can handle transcends pain into a sensation of being connected and at one with the world, I will never achieve greatness in writing. I know that. On the other hand, what else am I to do? So I jog instead of run, and I allow my fingers to stumble across the keyboard, occasionally putting out content that a few people read. I suppose it's better than doing nothing. Still, it often leaves me frustrated and sad, wondering if I should bother. Perhaps I should stop comparing myself to what I used to do or what others can do and focus more on working the scales in a way that's more creative, an etude that's pleasing to the ear, so to speak, which is what my blog seems to provide, a place to work on shit.

When I first started this post a while ago -- I have a tendency to start and either not finish things or finish them much, much later --I was planning to write about my experiences after my first year in college when I transferred schools and what a wreck that whole scene was. Instead, something came up and I'm being pulled to change course. When the mood strikes, go with it, right?

I'm finally seeing more sensible takes on the topic of transgender athletes competing against women and girls. In a recent piece on LetsRun, Amby Burfoot states what I believe so many of us who don't land on one extreme or the other in the debate think when he writes the following:

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. 

Diving deeper into the article, I appreciate that, in addition to addressing both sides of the issue fairly, Amby clarifies that Caster Semenya is not a transgender athlete. She was raised as a girl from birth. Too often, articles are misleading readers when they bring up her name and then slide right into issues related to transgender athletes. Amby very clearly makes the distinction, and it's an important one. In contrast to the thoughtful approach Amby takes is the misleading article I just mentioned written by someone who fabricates stories. In her women always have the shit end of everything article (not the real title), Lindsay Crouse pushes the false idea that anyone who supports a ban on transgender athletes competing in women's sports is transphobic. She's not the only one suggesting this and worse. This is a tactic the left often complains the far-right uses. Present one side, insist your opinion is morally superior, call anyone who disagrees names or insult them, and, above all, don't listen to or interview anyone who doesn't support your idea 100 percent. 

In that same article, Crouse mentions how disappointed she is that 46 percent of women support a ban on transgender athletes but conveniently leaves out the last part of the poll that mentions athletes competing on women's sports teams. In other words, 46 percent of women polled support a ban on transgender athletes competing on women's sports teams. On social media, she pushes the same false idea that these types want a general ban on transgender athletes and are transphobic. Notice how deceptive it is to omit that last part, but lying by omission is nothing new in journalism. And people eat this shit up. They don't want a middle ground. For so many, the draw to be a fan of someone pushing this kind of dishonesty, for whatever reason, is there, and people cheer on those posting misleading content, no matter how bizarre or flat-out wrong it may be. 

After bringing up transgender athletes, Crouse had this to say:

Crouse, Lindsay

Notice how she tries to shame anyone concerned about an issue she just brought up by using the term “obsessed.” The post is just a weird way to shove one unrelated topic on top of another, but it's also another way to put down anyone who disagrees with her. Most people understand that humans can be concerned about two topics, even when one issue might be more pressing than the other. In aiming to shit on one group of individuals, those who express concern about transgender athletes competing in women's and girl's sports, she accidentally sprayed a bunch of innocent bystanders who simply follow the topic. 

Crouse’s latest schtick hits a little too close to home for me to remain silent. I'll be honest and admit that I can't fucking stand any talk at all about "pandemic weight gain." I find it unproductive and generally ignore all of it when it lands in whatever social media feed I'm viewing, but the message below really rubbed me the wrong way. People joke about eating too much cheese or drinking too much beer during the shutdown, and while not funny to me and most people who have struggled with eating disorders, it's not nearly as potentially damaging as Crouse's message. This is one of several of this nature by the journalist for the New York Times, too often focusing on body size despite being part of a group suggesting sports announcers should avoid all talk about female bodies. 

Crouse, Lindsay

In addition to disregarding individualistic experience, what I find so problematic with this kind of tweet is the subtle message that being at a healthy weight is about self-control. Actually, there was no mention of health anywhere in that tweet. It's about looking a certain way, being a certain size. She's not addressing the many possible causes of weight gain during a pandemic that include depression, stress, underlying health conditions, etc. Her focus is on looks only. That's another problem and makes the tweet appear a lot worse. Anyone who has struggled with any kind of eating issue, and she admits to having done so at Harvard, should know that "control" is a loaded term. These issues are always far more complex, and maintaining a healthy weight shouldn't be a huge struggle. If it is, there's often an unaddressed underlying issue that's contributing to some form of unhappiness or unhealthy relationship with food and/or body acceptance. In general, maintaining weight isn't about willpower or control. It goes much deeper than that.  

A blanket statement suggesting a lack of control is the cause of weight gain is as bad as claiming you can control an eating disorder by simply choosing to do so. I understand what she is trying to say and am not saying gaining weight is necessarily the result of an eating disorder. What I'm saying is that there's a difference between understanding and addressing the behaviors that lead a person to be at a certain weight and simply aiming to control your weight with blunt force without addressing any psychological aspects or issues around body acceptance, size, and weight. The latter is usually a recipe for disaster. If weight maintenance really were simply about showing more control and ignoring the emotional ties humans have to food and the other reasons why people overeat or restrict, fewer people would struggle. Can you see why it's upsetting when people blurt out statements without much thought?

What I believe she meant to say is that energy spent on looking a certain way -- and you could apply this to anything from applying makeup and dyeing your hair to dieting and lifting weights -- could be better spent elsewhere, and it might be freeing to let go of it all. But the message she is actually sending is warped and twisted in such a way as to shame anyone who has issues with weight. She suggests it's OK to gain weight but also implies that doing so is because of a lack of self-control. In this same scenario, those who do spend time working on themselves to be a certain size are frowned upon for spending too much time and energy on themselves. It's kind of a no-win situation she's presenting. There's also a valid point to be made in response to Crouse's take that if you need all kinds of self-control to stay at a certain size, it might be a size that's not right or not healthy for your body. Ultimately, though, decisions around weight and size should be left to the individual and her doctors and therapists, not people on the Internet. There's no right or wrong way to get through a pandemic no matter what your size or shape or appearance. 

Above all, remember that my experience will not be the same as yours. Plenty of people had no trouble moving about and adapting to a new routine or keeping an old one during the pandemic, and there shouldn't be any judgment around those who were affected one way or another. Surviving is the main goal, so however people manage shouldn't be of concern to anyone else. If it took reduced exercise and more comfort food, that's fine. If it took more exercise and eating more vegetables, that's fine, too. You do you, as they say. In general, we should show more compassion to everyone no matter what weight or body struggles people are facing. Who cares about someone else going up a size as long as they are healthy and comfortable with it? That should be the message and may have been had she not messed it up by throwing in assumptions about control.

I think people blindly like certain posts without thinking too hard about what they're really saying or how they might affect certain groups of individuals. In general, maybe a tweet like Crouse's wouldn't be so bad, but this is coming from someone who, not that long ago, wrote about a young woman who had an eating disorder. Her audience, I would assume, is made up of people who might be sensitive to this kind of comment.  

Now, why spend time picking apart random articles and posts? Because it matters what people say, especially those with a large following on social media who pretend to be advocates for any number of causes. What a journalist posts should be a lot more accurate and well thought out than what someone in the general public posts. It matters because people often take someone with credentials seriously and assume articles and posts are well-researched, not misleading blurbs intended to generate likes. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Sometimes Twitter Isn't So Bad

I started writing this blog post before the shooting in Boulder occurred. At the time, the topic I chose seemed more important or at least more relevant than it does now. I'm going to post it anyway, simply because I need to feel like I'm doing something other than work and worry. I've added taking care of my mom more full-time to my list of daily activities, so even though I'm happy to help her, I'm exhausted. I'm so tired, in fact, that in the last week I have put the milk in the cupboard, washed an ice pack in the laundry, showed up to an appointment a week early, and almost served my mom a carton of orange juice after putting a glass of it in the refrigerator. It's hard to focus after everything that happened. 

It turns out that three of the 10 victims in the mass shooting were acquaintances of mine. I also found out that a close friend of mine who is also my mom's nurse right now was there when it was happening. She pulled into the parking lot and decided it was too crowded and left right before the shooter took aim at his victims. There are so many stories like this, close calls instead of the unthinkable. Another friend of mine took the day off but usually goes to King Soopers for his lunch break right about that time in the afternoons. But then there are the 10 who didn't make it and all the witnesses who were there to see it. The community is still struggling to process it all.

One way to come together and help our community after this tragedy is to participate in this event hosted by Lee Troop:

And now for the less important stuff.

Sometimes Twitter can be a great place to hang out. Despite the often hostile environment that's filled with bullies and trolls, there are pockets of humor and inspiration if you look hard enough. I even find a little humor in deceptive journalists complaining about a lack of journalistic integrity, I've probably laughed harder in response to various tweets than I ever have looking elsewhere on social media. Lately, I've been following Holly and her eight or nine cats, especially Smol Paul. These kinds of accounts make me smile, but Twitter can also be a source of frustration, especially if you search hard enough, and sometimes I do intentionally go looking for accounts I know will upset me -- just to see, occasionally to interact, though it's rare to see any kind of debate coming from Twitter's wannabe famous profiles. For the most part, though, Twitter lands somewhere between the bowels of Hell and Fairyland. 

A little while ago, someone I admire and a fellow eating disorder survivor tweeted about a race announcer possibly saying something problematic, but what a contrast it was to the last time someone did this. Apparently, the announcer suggested runners at one school weren't allowed to eat doughnuts. Because it's not a funny statement in any way, people were left scratching their heads, and it was understandable that a few took the statement literally when it was merely a joke, possibly an inside one, that fell flat, missed its mark, and caused alarm instead of the groans it should have. In this case, I can understand the initial reaction of the OP, and I think many other people did as well. 

What's good to see is that nobody called for the announcer's head or tried to cancel anyone. The tweet questioning the event was carefully worded and invited a conversation. The only trolls seemed to be a few angry loudmouths who were criticizing the OP. Her post, though, was focused less on the announcer and more on the fact that doughnuts are perfectly fine to eat. It turns out most people agree, or so I thought. I'll get to that later. 

When a runner associated with the school in question politely explained that the announcer's statement gave the wrong impression about the team and coach, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. One might wonder why anyone would think that a coach in 2021 could attempt to impose such silly rules around food and diet, but not that long ago, there were coaches who actually did make absolutely ridiculous demands on their athletes and created absurd rules for their teams. In my book, I mention a lady whose coach banned her from the ice cream shop, claiming she was too heavy, despite the fact that she was running well and set a school record that lasted about 20 years in the mile. 

If you look at how people responded to the Krispy Kreme free doughnut giveaway, you start to realize how judgmental people can be when it comes to observing other people's food intake. Roxane Gay just wrote an excellent post about this. I can't really add to what she wrote and encourage everyone to read her post and her other writings. The Internet dictators who enjoy policing other people's diet and exercise programs are one of a few ways in which Twitter and other websites get ugly. Sub-elite runners mock the 30-minute-a-day joggers who buy products meant for the pros, and clean eaters frown at those who eat sugar and bread. It's clear to me that this kind of policing and judgment is not the same as an announcer describing an athlete's body. One is fueled by disdain and judgment whereas the other is fueled by observation and often admiration. Because the former is so prevalent and distressing -- some don't even realize they are doing it -- it's easy to see why reactions to comments about doughnut restriction can be exaggerated. We live in a world where finger-wagging at anyone who has the nerve to enjoy a cruller is so common. 

What I really appreciated about the OP who started the "doughnuts are actually OK" thread is that she allowed a conversation to unfold. Unlike those who shut down the conversation by calling anyone who disagrees names (idiot, transphobic, freak, Nazi, bigot, jerk, racist, etc.) or completely ignoring those who have a different opinion, the OP actually invited those who disagreed with her to engage in the dialogue. It was very nice and rare to see.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Boulder Shooting 2021

It's probably not the best time for me to be writing. My head has been in a fog for days on end lately. It's not that I have anything profound to add to the stories circulating about the shooting that took place less than a mile from where I live.  My thoughts are more with those who lost loved ones and those who were there, facing what will most likely be the worst moments of their lives, but writing might help me process what I'm experiencing. It feels really selfish to do so, but maybe if I get it out, I can stop my mind from spinning andsleep. 

My mom broke her wrist on Thursday. Considering her advanced age and the severity of the fall, she is doing incredibly well. I'm taking care of her, but in her usual stubborn way, she still does quite a lot on her own. Still, I'm cooking her meals and helping her with the little things. Because I knew she had an appointment on Monday morning, I did the shopping I usually do on Monday afternoon after work on Sunday evening. 

I have to admit that I'm much better at dealing with my own pain than I am seeing someone I care about in pain. Since my mom is 95, surgery wasn't an option, so, at her appointment, without any kind of anesthesia, the doctor manipulated her wrist into place before his assistant applied plaster for a cast. At one point, my mom yelped, but she tolerated the pain much better than I imagine most people would. Before we left, the doctor told us she could take Tylenol if she needed. 

When we got home, it was almost 1 p.m. I fixed her lunch and could see she was uncomfortable, so I went to look for some Tylenol. I vaguely remembered tossing some out a few months ago and assumed we didn't have any, so I told my mom that I was going to put a few things away and go to the store despite her protests, saying she didn't need anything. Since I missed going to the bank the week before, I figured I would stop there before going to King Soopers. Shortly before 2 p.m., I started gathering my things and got ready to head out, but I really did not want to go. There was no way I was going to let my mom suffer, though, but before I left, for some reason, I decided to check the cupboard again to see if I could find any Tylenol. And there it was, a bottle tucked away on one of the lower shelves in the corner. When I pulled it out, I said, "I found it!" and triumphantly held it up to show my mom. She said, "I know you would have gone if you hadn't found it, so I'm so glad that you did." 

About 30 minutes later, I turned on the television to see that there was an active shooter in the area, right where I would have been. We could hear the helicopters while watching the breaking news. I also got on Twitter because I knew Mitchell Byars would have the most up-to-date information. What I didn't expect to see was an update from the Roots Running Project stating that Maggie, one of their athletes, one whom I actually met at the King Soopers where she works in the pharmacy department, was safe but there. What a shock. I can't even imagine what she went through. 

Throughout the next couple of hours, my heart felt broken. I haven't cried and can't seem to fully process all of it. I'm numb. When I went by the store today, all the memories from my childhood flooded me. That was our store. That was where all the kids went and hung out. It was a safe place. Now it's where 10 people were murdered in cold blood. How can anyone process this? 

I can't even think straight. I'm not bothering to edit this. I mostly want to let people know that my heart and my thoughts are with everyone affected by this senseless act of violence. When I saw that the murderer was bullied as a kid, it made me angry. Nobody should be bullied and it seems to be a huge problem, especially in the United States. But jeez. Look at all the other people who were bullied or are mentally ill and don't go out and murder innocent people who were just going through their day. It is not an excuse. This guy had an assault rifle and planned this. He is a monster, not a victim. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Women's Day

With podcasts being so popular these days, it's not surprising that my conversations often start out with, "I was listening to a podcast the other day," but good podcasts make great conversation starters. The usual suspects in my list of favorites include Crime in Sports, Small Town Murder, Sword and Scale, Crime Junkie, and The Last Podcast on the Left. I occasionally listen to Sam Harris or spend time getting lost in one of those deep-dive podcasts that covers a single true-crime or newsworthy incident.

This past Monday, March 8th was International Women's Day, and I listened to the Crime Junkie podcast with Britt Prawat and Ashley Flowers. The episode was about Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping. Hearing her story made me think about her willingness to be vulnerable and her commitment to being honest. It also made me think about the contrast between someone like Elizabeth and those who stretch the truth in order to make a story more compelling or relevant. I've seen journalists pull this stunt, lying to support a viewpoint, appear more relatable, or to sound more interesting. 

A woman did this last week, in fact. After posting on Twitter about running throughout the pandemic, she wrote an article suggesting she hadn't run at all. What's strange about this is that it wouldn't have taken much effort to put together similar content without even stretching the truth a little. I guess she thought otherwise. I've also seen people alter their telling of past events in an effort to come across as approachable or more experienced. It's all lying in one form or another. I'm not talking about little white lies here; I'm talking about obvious deceit by many people from influencers, journalists, and social media personalities to athletes, politicians, and tv personalities. So many quotes by Tolstoy come to mind as I write this. He really did not like liars, but a more appropriate quote here is by Twain: "A little lie can travel halfway 'round the world while Truth is still lacing up her boots." This is even more accurate with the Internet.  

When the truth is presented from the heart and with good intentions, there's no need to add excess fluff, and it's not necessary to pull a complete storyline out of the blue. If making shit up is your thing, go into fiction writing, not journalism. In order to be relevant or interesting, you don't necessarily have to have a history as tragic but ultimately inspiring as that of Elizabeth Smart. Even minor anecdotes told in the right way can touch another human being. Most of the best running bloggers and influencers aren't loud and obnoxious fibbers; they're everyday honest people who just happen to have a way with words or have something important to share. 

One thing that stood out to me in Elizabeth's story was her admission that, in order to stay alive, she had to become someone she knew she wasn't. She was forced to engage in acts that went against who she is as a person, and she was forced to go against her core beliefs and her religion. If she hadn't, she wouldn't have lived to see her family again or eventually have a family of her own. There's a difference between not being true to yourself in order to survive and lying to get attention or because your ego needs some stroking. Elizabeth wouldn't have survived to tell her story had she gone against what her captors demanded, and ultimately, she wouldn't have been able to tell other victims of abuse, rape, kidnapping, and emotional torture her very, very important message: It is not your fault

In my book, I share some traumatic encounters I experienced with men. Already, in my head, I'm thinking I should clarify that what I went through wasn't anything like what Elizabeth and others went through, that I should minimize my experience. It wasn't a real rape; it was merely coercion. It still makes me uncomfortable when I think or talk about it. I have to tell myself to stop when I try to diminish my experience because it wasn't as bad or as violent as what others have gone through. It could have been worse. The incidents that happened when I was 13 years old I remember clearly. I don't remember what happened to me at the hands of some older kids in the neighborhood when I was a child, but to this day, I still carry tremendous guilt for what occurred, all of it. 

No matter how many times I tell myself it wasn't my fault, I was a child, part of my brain kicks in and insists that "I could have" or "I should have," or worse "I deserved it," so it was good for me to hear from someone who has been on a healing path since her rescue that victims need not go there. Elizabeth said that she was often questioned about why she didn't try to run or escape, and her response was not what I expected. She didn't have to explain herself. Instead, she began going back to all the things that could have been different, this incredibly long list that included everything from her parents locking the window that night and the construction company building the house differently so that it would have been more secure to her screaming or trying to run. After all, these little changes all throughout the years could have eventually prevented her kidnapping, right? But, she went on, none of that happened. Her stance is that it's not helpful to think about the many, many steps that could have possibly been taken differently. That will not help heal the trauma, and getting caught up in "if only" thoughts doesn't allow forward movement. It's done. It's over. 

In 2006, the #MeToo movement started online, but in 2017, after allegations against Harvey Weinstein went public, a new wave of awareness around sexual abuse flooded social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. Media coverage was widespread, and, before long, some critics of the movement claimed it had gone too far. Actors like Matt Damon and Bill Mahar insisted that different degrees of sexual misconduct should be identified, some kind of rating for other people's trauma. Not all abuse is the same, right? While I know this to be true on an intellectual level -- a violent attack at knifepoint is not the same as an inappropriate touch or suggestive comment said by a boss at work -- the concept of any kind of ranking at a time when women were simply trying to be more comfortable coming forward didn't sit well. It became all too easy for people like me, somewhere in the middle of violent rape by a stranger and uncomfortable comments by an acquaintance, to slip back into that negative thinking that what we went through wasn't bad enough to warrant compassion or even acknowledgment. 

The truth is, any kind of unwanted sexual attention is bad. I think most healthy people agree. #MeToo was supposed to be a chance for everyone, especially women, to be heard, no matter how big or small the grievance. Sure, there are different degrees of harassment, but that shouldn't prevent a victim from speaking out. It most definitely shouldn't cause those coming forward to be harassed and teased. I'm leaving alone the second part of this topic regarding appropriate action taken against abusers. In that case, yes, it's important to recognize the difference between a bad joke or a date gone wrong and more damaging abuse, but I believe this can be done without discounting the victims. 

Before I get too far off on this tangent, I want to go back to the start and explore the idea of a core identity because after trauma, however an individual defines that for herself, it's essential to rediscover and possibly even redefine it. When Elizabeth was being held captive, despite being forced to act in ways that were contrary to who she is, she never lost sight of her true identity. It's hard to say whether her kidnappers were driven to commit terrible acts because that's who they are deep down, monsters, or if it was due to other circumstances, upbringing, drugs, alcohol, religion interpreted in a harmful way, or some combination of some or all of the above. Fortunately, that's not for me to decide. Monster or not, the court deemed Brian David Mitchell competent to stand trial, meaning, from a legal standpoint, the guy chose to do this and wasn't driven by any kind of delusion, mental illness, or outside influence at the time. Who he seems to be, as Elizabeth herself stated, is an evil person.

When the topic of identity is brought up, people often think of self-identity. This is how an individual perceives him or herself, a perspective of the personal identity. Personal identity is broader and includes an individual's personality, beliefs, physical characteristics, gender, talents, aspirations, values, and other traits that make each of us different. What's interesting is how this can change in various settings. In other words, self-identity is fluid and can be affected by our surroundings. Who a person is as a youngster need not be who she is as an adult. I've mentioned before that clinging to part of an identity that's no longer useful can be a detriment to one's health. But there is a core identity, our true being that's separate from all of that. We can't help but be shaped by our experiences, yet there is something in all of us that is unchanging, unique, the foundation of who we are. 

More individuals are bringing up the difficulties that athletes face as they approach retirement or as their bodies change. It's not surprising that elite athletes who have faced severe injury struggle with their identity as well. This is why it is so important to be able to separate who you are from what you do. A new category of therapists has emerged to help athletes transition into retirement because this issue can be so problematic. In fact, I know of at least two runners who struggled badly as they aged and eventually killed themselves. While suicide isn't usually the result of one event, the depression that can occur when an individual is no longer able to perform combined with a loss of self can contribute to feeling worthless and suicidal ideation. 

I'm glad to see that both coaches and therapists are becoming more aware of the difficulties athletes face when they can no longer participate at a high level in their sport of choice. I think when athletes are injured and when they begin to contemplate retirement is the time when they need the most care and guidance. Anyone with talent can run and even run well, sometimes even under coaching that's not optimal, but it takes tremendous strength, courage, and patience to adapt and get through injury and major transitions in life. The more we can find coping strategies and keep track of some kind of core identity within each of us, the easier these major transitions could be. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Danger of Disagreeing

The other day, I jumped into a discussion on Twitter that addressed Colorado voters and Lauren Boebert, the representative of Colorado's 3rd US Congressional district. Someone tried to put the blame on all residents of Colorado for her winning Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, 51 percent to 45 percent over her closest opponent. I and a few others were trying to explain that the entire state doesn't vote in specific districts and that most residents of Colorado, including many of her own constituents, are unhappy with her representation. Hers is one of seven districts in Colorado, meaning that by definition only about one-seventh of the state's voters even had a say in whether she was elected, and has leaned strongly Republican for many years. 

Someone who couldn't seem to understand this started arguing with me, and, after just a few responses, he went berserk and started posting right and left, calling me a racist and a Nazi. I don't need to prove that I'm neither of these things by explaining my heritage (we're all mutts, as they say) or detailing whom I've dated in the past or who my friends are and have been. It's just a flat-out ridiculous accusation, especially if you consider what I was saying in the thread.

Oddly, or maybe these days not so much, this guy and I have the same general political viewpoint, something he didn't realize until later. His rampage started after I suggested that I and others in Colorado, including some Republican leaders, are not happy that an extreme right, gun-collecting Trump supporter with a shady past is in congress and possibly causing trouble. Claiming that even a significant fraction of Coloradans voted for her, let alone all of them, is like insisting people in Utah are responsible for the city council members elected in Nevada. It just doesn't make sense.

Like many online trolls, Boebert can't take criticism either, much of hers coming from the people who live where she actually was elected. The Twitter troll later put up a poll on his page saying he "got into it" after someone "came at him" and didn't realize he and this person were "on the same side" and had a list of possible actions to take to help him move forward. The whole thing was weird and unsettling, and someone else on Twitter pointed out that the guy's posts tend to be consistently inflammatory. However, the damage was done. Others who don't know me liked his Tweets that called me names without even knowing what the discussion was about. 

But I'm not the only one who experiences this kind of outlandish attack. See, the left extremists have become just as radical and full of hate as those on the right, and they're as quick to stoop to name-calling and lying, sometimes even more so.

Two incidents that occurred on social media recently demonstrate how closed-minded and quick to criticize and exclude others some individuals who claim to accept and even promote diversity are.

In the first incident, a writer, Kevin Beck, posted a piece celebrating diversity and referenced a well-written article in Runner's World. In the blog post, he praised four of the five individuals who were profiled in the RW article and the author herself. It really is a good article. The fifth person profiled in the article is an outlier, someone who has been in a position of both bully and victim and has been caught in at least one lie, among other transgressions. When the blog post caught the attention of people in a Facebook group where the link was posted, several of the members were quick to criticize Kevin rather than his article, one going as far as calling him a "crotchety old white guy." Others poked fun at his use of big words, claiming he uses a thesaurus excessively. 

I know the author and have for a really long time. Comments criticizing his work upset me far more than they affect him at all. That kind of vague criticism of the piece being too long or too wordy reminds me of the "too many notes" scene in Amadeus. For the record, in all the years I have known him, collaborated with him, and spent time with him, I have never, ever seen him use a thesaurus. Whatever you think of his writing style, which of course is not at all the point anyway, the guy's just really fucking smart, and, for whatever reason, I think that upsets some individuals. A few of the same people complaining about the blog post admitted to not having read the whole thing, which makes me wonder why they would take the trouble to comment at all, but everyone likes to be heard, even those who don't have much to say. There were plenty of people who were happy to read the blog post and even agreed with the content. Kevin told me he got more new sign-ups and subscriptions in the days after that post than after anything else he's published, so maybe not everyone has the same amount of trouble with big words.

As unpleasant as it is to see someone I admire and care about being called names, it's far more concerning to see at least one of these critics lie about him. In the thread in the Facebook group, the same individual who was the first to stoop to name-calling also claimed that the blog post was an "article written by a man who has pretty clearly stated over and over again that's he's uncomfortable with so called "social justice warriors" and diversity and longs for the good old days." All of this is a lie in one form or another.  

This same lie has been told off Facebook, too:

Kevin very clearly defines two different types of social justice warriors, one he supports, as he did in his blog post that ultimately caused some friction, and the other he does not because he sees those involved as not being authentic. Regarding the latter, he states, "SJW antics are invariably a power-attention-and-money grab, not earnest activism. This means that fragile alliances and bridge-burnings are inevitable and easily foreseen features of any relationships forged with such people, whether they call themselves influencers or not."

It's laughable, almost, that, regarding a blog post celebrating diversity, the critic wants his audience to believe that the author has stated over and over again that he's uncomfortable with diversity. When pressed, the critic ignored that particular part of his claim and simply went on to say that his usual response is "what I said is valid, so it's not my fault that trolls and bigots are amplifying and repeating it." Notice how quickly he tosses out loaded terms like "bigot," and, as others in the group pointed out, he tried to make something that was about ethics and morality entirely about race. He also accused the host of the Facebook group of treating a black woman differently but offered zero evidence, zero. Meanwhile, the host of the group presented evidence to the contrary. There is also no evidence that the author of the blog post ever made any statements about longing for the past. This accusation is entirely fiction. If you go looking hard enough for something you want to find, though, you will probably eventually find it, even if it's not actually there.

It gets worse. On one of the critic's social media accounts, he posted the content of an argument that unfolded in that same thread but very craftily left out the last few posts to make it look like he had the upper hand, when in fact he did not. 

Omissions like this are another form of lying. It looks like he wants to make it appear like he "won" as if a conversation is some kind of competition, which shows exactly what kind of person he is, not someone who is for inviting a civil exchange of words. Anyone who's into publicly putting down others in such a way that the ones involved aren't invited to reply is not the best example of a model for inclusivity. Then, he has the temerity to suggest that others who don't like Snell's lying and bullying could look the other way and claims, without any proof, that people want her to disappear, yet he looks pretty comfortable making public comments about people he could easily ignore. Why the double standard? 

For someone who talks about wanting to make running spaces inclusive, this individual sure is combative, arrogant, and not truthful -- that is not the best advocate for bringing about harmony in any space at all. Still addressing the string of lies in just that one sentence, the author of the blog post never mentioned the good old days, not in the blog post referenced or anywhere else, for that matter, and the critic never bothered to provide a single example. Whenever a person takes an "I'm right, you're wrong" stance without any evidence at all, there is no room for dialogue. 

People can criticize Kevin's flowery language and lengthy posts, but the truth is that he's bringing up topics that many others are too afraid to discuss, most likely because bullies and trolls who claim to be woke come out in droves to insult anyone with an opposing opinion. Fortunately, Kevin's skin is thick, so bullies and general critics who either don't bother to read the content, make assumptions about it without reading for comprehension, or just plain lie about him don't affect his drive to address difficult topics. 

The other incident involved a tweet criticizing an individual, the same ACLU lawyer I have mentioned before, for lying. The one posting about the lawyer was immediately called homophobic and a bigot, and only one person asked for more information before defending the lawyer who lied, claiming he had done great things. That may be so, but he has also attempted to damage the reputation of several people simply for voicing their opinions, and, again, he hasn't always been operating above board. This kind of scenario is the perfect example of shooting the messenger. 

Here's my problem with all of this. Online debate, even bickering, is one thing, and I think most people like the idea of a healthy or lively discussion. The hosts of the Keeping Track podcast, Alysia Montano, Molly Huddle, and Roisin McGettigan, do an excellent, really outstanding job of encouraging conversation. They are shining examples of how the running community can become more inclusive. In stark contrast to these women and others who actually invite a civil back-and-forth, are those who can't control themselves and immediately call others racists, Nazis, and bigots throw out some serious accusations, often without merit, and, in turn, look more like fanatics than those whom they are attacking. 

It's uncalled for to drag out such potentially damaging smears when simply expressing an opinion is an option. Not that long ago, an American was sued when he called some German officers Nazis because he was upset, not because they were acting like anything other than officers. Certain words shouldn't be used simply because a person is pissy. "Wah, I'm mad so I'm going to slander your name and attempt to ruin your reputation." What an awful approach to life. But that's where we are, and the more people respond to their unchecked anger with a string of hateful insults, the more division it will cause. 

Tricia Griffith of Web Suleths says that nobody should be allowed to make false accusations against another person and attempt to tear a person's life apart, but, for the most part, it's legal. You can call someone a racist, bigot, or Nazi online with little to no repercussions. I know this doesn't matter to those who live in a small online bubble among like-minded individuals who like to see bullies attack anyone, no matter the reason, but these types of bullies will lose potential allies because of their bad behavior. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Women's Running And Transgender Athletes

I'm going to drop a little trigger warning here and note that this post discusses transgender athletes, and some might find it offensive, even though it's not my intent to cause anyone harm. 


There's an image an author once described of a clean stretch of sand, no footprints, with the caption, "Do I dare?" Do I dare rock the boat, risk rejection, put myself out there, disrupt the sand or snow? Do I make tracks? I've been thinking about this post for a long time, years actually, but every time I go to write it, it's overwhelming. Where do I even begin? 

When I first started running, I had this naive idea that maybe eventually women could run as fast as men. I was a young teenager and occasionally beat the boys, but as I improved, I realized that a woman winning a race outright wasn't as simple as her training and working hard. 

When I set the record at the Pikes Peak Ascent (clean), my time placed me just slightly outside of the top 15 men that year. After being blocked by an arrogant guy on the trail for a short stretch early in the race, specifically because I am a woman -- actually a 16-year-old girl at the time -- I finished not too far behind Scott Elliott, who later went on to win the race something like eight times. We are both still listed in the top 20 all-time bests. If you look at the all-time records, the top woman's time is 2:24:58, while the man listed as 20th on the list ran 2:09:28. This is not unlike the comparison between men and women using flat marathon times. There is a gap between what the best men and the best women can run. On a side note, the woman who is listed as the second-fastest at Pikes was given a little slap on the wrist for using a fertility drug a few years earlier because she was trying to get pregnant at the time, and drug testing was implemented for the mountain race a year after the women's record of 2:24:58 was set. 

Over the years, it became more apparent to me that men have an advantage. There will always be "Yeah but," exceptions, a woman winning a race outright, especially in longer distances, for example, but generally speaking a man will almost always run faster than a woman, even if their training is basically the same. It bothers me that this is so, but it just is. Some characteristics that people don't often address when discussing the difference between men and women are lung, leg, and heart size. In addition to having more muscle mass and longer legs, in general, men's oxygen consumption is higher due to both bigger hearts and bigger lungs. And, of course, there is testosterone to consider. According to Healthline, by adulthood, a normal, healthy man will have a testosterone level of at least 300 nanograms per deciliter as compared to an adult woman whose normal range will be between 8-60 nanograms per deciliter. This article does a good job of going into the biological advantages men have over women and how testosterone plays a role. I'm sure readers can figure out where I'm going here, and I should note that in this post, I'm only addressing running, not other sports in which there are even more concerning issues when athletes with great physiological differences participate. 

Author Kathleen Megan mentioned the division transgender sports has caused among women's advocates. I'll add that the division is quite apparent in the general public, too. In one article, Kathleen quotes Donna Lopiano, sports consultant associated with the Women's Sports Foundation:

I don’t know of a woman athlete who doesn’t want trans girls to be treated fairly,” said Donna Lopiano, who led the Women’s Sports Foundation for 15 years and now runs a Shelton-based consulting firm that works with clients on Title IX and other sports management issues. “But the cost of treating her fairly should not come at the cost of discriminating against a biologically-female-at birth woman.

This is basically my stance. People are so concerned about not offending anyone in the LGBTQ community that many shut down and don't say anything. I did for years. Others who think that there should be a different way to approach trans athletes in competition are often discounted or attacked. Anyone who's not fully supporting trans women competing against the gender they identify with is called transphobic or worse. After recently saying that I donate to the ACLU because they support racial equality, I'm rethinking where I will put my money after one of their lawyers lied, posted questionable tweets, and also suggested on Twitter that trans women are biological women. In the linked article, Glenn Greenwald notes:

ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio decided to spew this extremely grave accusation about J.K. Rowling and Abigail Shrier, both of whom oppose the inclusion of trans girls in female sports: 

As I’ve written before, I’m not in agreement with those who advocate this absolute ban. I’m open to a scientific consensus that develops hormonal and other medicinal protocols for how trans girls and women can fairly compete with CIS women in sporting competitions. But that does not entitle you — especially as an ACLU lawyer — to just go around casually branding people as “closely aligned to white supremacists” who have never remotely demonstrated any such affinity, just because you feel like it, because you crave the power to destroy your adversaries, or are too slothful to engage their actual views.

Saying shitty lies about women aside, Strangio's take on biology is not accurate either. Kevin Beck will always get to the point more creatively than I, but I’ll press on here. 

There is a biological component when it comes to gender identity, but that isn't the same as addressing an individual's biological sex. I'm not suggesting that one should call those who identify as women anything other than what they prefer, but when it comes to competition, I would like to see fairness. I see quite a few people quoting an open-access neuroscience article from 2019 that states, "gender is multi-dimensional" without fully understanding what this means. It's complicated, no doubt, but, when it comes to biology and neurology, there is a distinction between sex and gender. In very general scientific terms, sex is based solely on biological factors including chromosomes (DNA) and gonads (testes or ovaries). Gender is far more complex and is based on how an individual identifies, how genes are expressed (epigenetics), and how the brain is influenced in the long- and short-term by experience and epigenetics. In short, one (sex) is determined by biology while the other (gender) is influenced to a degree by biology. There's a big distinction there, and gender identification is not the same as an individual being born with a specific kind of genetically determined advantage like a runner with exceptionally long Achilles tendons

Examining testosterone or the biological influence on gender reinforces the fact that transgender athletes who identify as female have an advantage, one that lasts over a year after hormone therapy has been implemented. Hormone therapy does not address other characteristics like lung size, leg length, and oxygen consumption. Recently, three young girls filed a lawsuit in Connecticut in an effort to block transgender athletes from competing in girls sports. One can imagine how difficult it must be for these youngsters to come forward with their concerns, simply asking for a fair chance in their sport.
From the Associated Press article, attorney Christina Holcomb states:
 “Forcing girls to be spectators in their own sports is completely at odds with Title IX, a federal law designed to create equal opportunities for women in education and athletics,” attorney Christiana Holcomb said. "Connecticut’s policy violates that law and reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women.”

When it comes to transgender athletes, what I would love to see is a solution, one that's fair to both biological females and those who identify as female. I think there's a way to do this, but I don't know if it will ever happen, partly because there's not a whole lot of excess money in running and also because most people take a win-at-all-costs approach to life, meaning few people want to have a civil conversation if you disagree with them. I find it shocking that many who claim to want inclusivity are so militant when it comes to others holding a different opinion. 

Some ideas that have been presented include:

  • Let it be a fucking free-for-all with everyone competing against each other with no divisions at all between the sexes. This wouldn't be fair, especially to biological women, and I don’t think it's really what most people want, though, oddly enough, this seems to be a goal of some.  
  • I think I saw this on the Ultrarunner Podcast Twitter feed at one point, though I could be mistaken, but the idea would be to compete as your sex; identify as your gender. As much as I agree here, this might not seem fair to trans women or trans men, for that matter. Unfortunately, trans men are so often left out of the conversation when it comes to competition in sports.
  • Measure testosterone levels, and make sure that trans women are competing with levels of hormones that are considered normal for female athletes. I also agree with this, but it seems like a tricky task in terms of privacy and implementation of testing. Also, this doesn't address physical characteristics that give transgender women an edge (see above).
  • Compete as how you identify but rank and award money in three or even four separate categories. For example, transgender women would compete against other women but would be scored separately and awarded equal pay for placement. This is actually my suggestion, but, again, it's unlikely when it would take money and effort to make these kinds of changes in sports.  

I honestly think that most people in the running community would like to see a solution that is fair to everyone. The problem is that bringing up transgender athletes is kind of like bringing up religion or politics. Few people are willing to see anyone else's point of view, and if you express even the slightest dissatisfaction with having transgender athletes compete against girls and women, be ready for some harsh criticism. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Words Matter

I'm in the process of moving things over here:

Earlier today, I saw that Oiselle posted the following on Twitter:

When we separate the athlete from the person, we are essentially saying, “You need to sacrifice your mental well-being to achieve success in the sports world.” This is not okay.

Since I had basically just written the opposite regarding separating the person from the athlete, I read the post several times before thinking, "What the fuck?" When I clicked on the link to the article Oiselle had referenced, I quickly realized that there was an error in wording. The bigger message is something I absolutely agree with and endorse, that of being open and willing to talk about mental health, and Karelle Edwards did a lovely job of sharing her story and encouraging others to do so as well. After all, according to a well-researched article published in 2019, "elite athletes experience broadly comparable rates of mental ill-health relative to the general population in relation to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and sleep disorders." There's no reason anyone in sports should be ashamed to come forward when close to 35% of elite athletes will suffer some form of mental health issue. It's critical that people in general, but athletes in particular, move away from any negative stigma associated with mental illness. 

The wording in the Oiselle post and article is an issue, though, and this is unfortunate because, as I said, the larger message is a very good one. I don't fault the author, really. Her overall concepts are spot-on; I fault those who published the article and then spread a potentially harmful message on social media. The Twitter post is misleading. The author's sentiments are actually fairly clear despite the error of suggesting "you can't separate the athlete from the person." Not only can you separate the athlete from the person, you absolutely should. What the author seems to mean is that one should take a holistic approach when dealing with athletes. Being allowed to show emotion, be emotional, show vulnerability, and support others in need is a healthy approach both on and off the athletic field. Integrating being human with the experience of being an athlete is not the same as being enmeshed with your emotions or tangled in your identity as an athlete, though. It's very, very important to be able to make the distinction, and Oiselle did not. 

To a degree, forming a positive "athletic identity" can be beneficial, but when it goes too far and an individual can't separate himself from that role, the label becomes problematic. A sport is an activity a person does, not who she is. In 1918, the journal of Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health published a study that suggested that adapting to retirement is more difficult for elite athletes than for the general public. When elite athletes are no longer competing at a high level, they may struggle to find a sense of purpose in their lives, especially if they haven't allowed for growth in other areas or if they are too wrapped up in their identity of being an athlete. When it comes to athletes, Malcom Lemmons cautions, "What they did in sports should never become who they are. And this goes for every athlete, currently playing or retired. Your ability as an athlete and the success you used to have should never overshadow your other abilities as a person." 

When I speak of the emotional, physical, mental, and even spiritual bodies of a person, I'm not moving into woo territory. This is just a more well-rounded look at the individual as a whole. My first college coach used to ask, "Are you physically tired, or do you feel like you don't want to do the workout?" Physically tired meant my legs were sore, I didn't sleep well, or I was drained and lacking energy. Emotionally tired could present as physical symptoms, but, in that case, we took a "warm up and see" tactic. If, after a warm-up jog, I was still fatigued, it was time for an easy day or a day of rest. If my body felt better, I could jump in the workout. The best thing about my coach was that he always looked at us as individuals first, athletes second. If you nurture the person, the positive results should spill out in all areas of life, including athletics. 

I don't want to take away from Edwards' necessary and heartfelt message of getting help and being free to open up about mental health issues; I just hope that everyone can be more aware of how much words matter. The idea that a person be allowed to be who she is in everything she does is a good one. The problem is Oiselle wording the social media post in a way that suggests merging identities, which can be very unhealthy and doesn’t appear to be what the author means anyway. A little caution on social media can go a hell of a long way. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Journalistic Integrity Part II

I'm not sure when newsletters went from publications containing actual written content to very short blurbs with a bunch of links to other people's work. There are certain bloggers I follow who post a lot of links in their content, and I generally like their posts. Bloggers usually don't try to pass their content off as articles or newsletters, though. Also, many in the blogosphere are often witty, thoughtful, and more interesting than many paid writers these days, myself excluded, though sometimes even I can squeeze out an ounce of wit. I just find it odd to see anyone marketing a newsletter as such when it's really nothing more than a short directory. Someone who does an excellent job of putting out an actual newsletter is Mario Fraioli with his The Morning Shakeout. I look forward to reading it each week because it's informative, tactful, and insightful. It should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads my musings that another writer I follow is Kevin Beck, specifically his blog Beck of The Pack. In addition to the brilliant writing, the content he puts out is also informative, honest, and hard-hitting. Oh, and it's often humorous, too. 

The truth is, I don't keep up with running news very much unless someone points me in a specific direction. I follow a few runners on social media and admire and am a huge fan of various individuals and groups in the running community, but I'm rarely up on the latest scoop until after the fact. Since I subscribed to Mario's newsletter, however, I'm a little bit more in the know than I was. 

While I'm all over true-crime podcasts, I'll admit that I find it difficult to listen to running podcasts for a variety of reasons, even though there are some good ones and a few great ones in an ocean of choices. I recently stumbled upon Ali on the Run and was pleasantly surprised that the episode I listened to kept my attention and made me think that I would like to hear more. Ali has a great speaking voice, and she's a fan of peanut M&Ms; what's not to love? Despite her up-with-people and everything's rosy outer appearance, Ali tackles challenging, even heated topics and difficult subject matter, including her own struggles with Crohn’s disease, in a surprisingly upbeat, thoughtful manner. It's a nice contrast to my own often somber tone, though I'd like to think my cheese review blog is a lot less serious. 

I bring up content by individuals I admire because sometimes I read an article related to running and think, "Holy shit! Is anyone else taking this the same way I am?"  I mentioned an article by Martin Fritz Huber that didn't sit well with me before, so I wasn't all that surprised to see that others took his more recent write-up (and not his first) on Tracksmith as unnecessarily unkind, sort of like giving a bad Yelp review for takeout during a pandemic when the restaurant you ordered from served an excellent meal but you imagine the whole experience would have been better if there had been a sprig of parsley on top. If you look at his previous articles that mention Tracksmith, it starts to look more like a writer with a personal grudge than an unbiased journalist. Some might find the Outside and Tracksmith partnership strange bedfellows after reading Huber's not so subtle jabs, a little nipping at the hand that provides nourishment.

From calling trail runners "lazy parasites" to avoiding payment due to writers to complaints by customers of unauthorized renewals and charges to the really big oopsie on Twitter to the other big oopsie regarding Laz Lake, Outside Magazine isn't coming off as above board and politically correct as they pretend to be. None of this affects me directly, but I cringe knowing I gave anyone associated with the magazine my time for an interview, especially someone who referenced an individual as somewhat of an expert in the area of eating disorders when she's not. As a result, Outside gave out bits and pieces of misinformation about eating disorders and implied having one makes athletes less mentally tough but didn't go on to explain the incredible success and determination of one of the other women referenced in the article who suffered from an eating disorder. Please note that I'm not suggesting any ridiculous ideas that suffering from a serious illness gives you an edge. I'm just pointing out that the article didn't do a very good job of explaining that an individual can be both mentally tough and struggle with an eating disorder. 

Opinion is continually posted as fact these days, though. My participation was before I knew how much the magazine had fallen from the time Jon Krakauer was a major contributor. Had I known how the final piece would read, I would have politely declined any reference to my name. Maybe I shouldn't be so judgmental since quite a few people find it's not a very fun place to work. This is just one of several publications making wrong steps in journalism, though. And sure, Outside isn't exactly a running magazine, but the publication sure covers a lot of running-related material. 

What shocked me was learning about Kamilah Journet’s experience both before and after her interview by Outside for the more recent Tracksmith article. Ali and Kamilah did a great job of being fair and keeping everything in perspective. I'll take a chapter from their book and hold my tongue since I wasn't involved, however, like Ali, I encourage everyone to read Kamilah's thoughts on Instagram. After doing a little research, I come back to my more recent post about a portion of the running community actually being rather exclusive, despite claims of being the opposite. If you're not among the few popular voices, you can easily get shut down, and even if you're easily liked and admired, it doesn't prevent criticism or subtle digs. I had to ask a few people to read another Outside article to make sure I wasn't being overly sensitive about it, but you can judge for yourself whether or not Huber, whose style might just be naturally condescending, is really doing Mary Cain any favors. Mary, who has a degree in business administration and a paid position as a community manager at Tracksmith, landed a role similar to Carrie Tollefson at Rebok at the end of her running career, only nobody said shit about that. At the moment, Mary is very sensibly and carefully returning to the sport she loves post-surgery  

It's also an interesting take by Huber to ponder how things would have gone if Mary had still been abused at NOP but had run well, implying that if you're running well, the abuse still isn't OK but young women will put up with it to get results. The problem with this kind of thinking is that many times, maybe even more often than not, a young athlete puts trust in a coach. Mary is 24 now, still young, and quite a few athletes who haven't trained under very many coaches before don't immediately recognize abuse for what it is. There are noted instances of partners in physically abusive relationships normalizing the violence as a coping strategy, so you can imagine how anyone might do the same in an emotionally abusive situation. It's not unlike someone stepping into an unhealthy relationship for the first time. There's a sense that something's not right, but it's overwhelming and confusing in the moment to sort through all that's happening. In Mary's case, she opened up about feeling alone and mentioned that she didn't receive support when she finally gathered enough courage and strength to talk about what was happening. She had already addressed why she and others in a position like hers stay or even want to go back to abusive situations. As Cain told The New York Times, "because when we let people emotionally break us, we crave their approval more than anything." 

The call is coming from inside the house!   

Outside isn't the only publication getting some pushback. Not that long ago, Fast Women took aim at a rather popular piece by the New York Times, for good reason; the opinion piece wasn't well researched. The New York Times had also just praised Salazar and NOP a few years earlier in an article discussing Mary, the teen prodigy. This article now has a disclaimer at the beginning. In general, this recent article in Runner's World among the best of the exceptions, the media have treated Mary awfully, relentlessly discussing her in every which way, even when she was a teenager. More often than not, outlets that address Mary's role in the running community or her past abuse at Nike -- I'm not saying alleged abuse because too many people have corroborated her claims -- insist on bringing up a possible comeback. Ups and downs happen in running. It's to be expected. The pressure on her to run a certain way seems oppressive, and I'm only watching from the sidelines. I remember when I was in college, all the times I was injured or sick and the articles in local papers that came out about my future. It was exhausting because I worried that I might not be able to get back to my top form. What many seem to be missing is Mary's new position of being an advocate and mentor. People can't seem to separate her from her running. 

Kara Goucher recently wrote a heartfelt post on Instagram about her worsening knee injury. It's not uncommon for top athletes to face injuries. Look at the world of football, boxing, gymnastics, and basketball. Aging and retired athletes often face tremendous and chronic pain. Athletics is demanding on the body, especially at the elite level. Training, competing, and always pushing beyond what's normal take a toll on the body. Sport is also emotionally and mentally challenging. Lorraine Moller cautioned against hanging on to your past identity when it's no longer working or useful, and you're being pulled or called to do something else. I wish I were better at letting go in my own life. It's also important for those observing to do the same. Continually focusing on Mary's next race or how fit she is or what times she's running doesn't fully allow her to be the spokesperson she has become. 

Whether or not she runs or competes is irrelevant. She has a message, an important one, and she should be heard no matter how fast she is or was or will be on the track. What some of us would rather see is that she be allowed to progress in her new role and eventually get to a point where she can do what she loves without pain, without pressure, and maybe even enjoy running again the way she used to before things got so difficult for her. With the right kind of support, and it sounds like that's what she's receiving at Tracksmith, maybe she can get there, and maybe we can allow her to. 


Monday, December 28, 2020

Pain and Pretzels

Every time I go to a certain store, I sort of pretend I'm not going to buy a large soft pretzel. I'm not sure why I do this, maybe in part because bread has become such a taboo item these days, and I contemplate whether or not I "should" eat the pretzel, thinking maybe I ought to choose something healthier. I try to look away as I walk by the bakery, and eventually take a quick glance. If there are any twisted knots left, I get a little thrill and run over to put one in a bag. If the shelf is empty, I'm always disappointed and reluctantly toss some salad or a can of soup into my basket. 

These days, it's not exactly guilt that makes me kind of weird about the purchase. I used to eat two bagels topped with peanut butter or cheese at a time when I was in college and never really thought twice about it. Back then, bread was still considered part of a healthy diet. I was also running a lot and probably needed whatever carbs I consumed. As it is, I really enjoy toasting the pretzel and eating it with cream cheese, butter, or fried eggs. It makes me content or at least not feel physically bad. Overall, it's a pleasant experience, however, there's this little part of my brain that questions it. I hate that the world ever heard of Keto, Paleo, Atkins, or whatever other fad diet is au courant because now we're all supposed to look up to Instagrammers who eat "clean," whatever the fuck that means, when it's much more enjoyable to take pleasure in eating. The mess of dieters on social media reminds me of terrible times in my life when I was way too rigid and uptight to eat what I craved and couldn't see that eating something outside of my comfort zone when I was hungry was better than avoiding all food if I couldn't get something that fit with my specific set of set rules. In some ways, I'm still too rigid, a bit of the old OCD going on, but I'm glad I'm suffering a bit less and not so uptight that I can't enjoy some fucking bread now and then.

Baked goods aside, I've been thinking about this blog post for years. An outline has been sitting untouched for far too long, but an incident that occurred recently prompted me to drag out the draft folder and take another look. This is really just a rant, not an exercise in writing, and it's probably not going to be very entertaining. In other words, read at your own risk. 

It goes without saying that this year has been an exceptionally hard year on almost everyone. Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances have lost people close to them, the majority but not all from COVID. As a result, this doesn't feel like the right time to drop this kind of post into cyberspace, but there's never really a perfect time. 

A little over a week ago, I had a colonoscopy that resulted in two polyps being removed. Everything should be fine, but I have felt exceptionally tired and run-down ever since. That same day, I got some not so good news about my foot. An MRI showed a ligament tear, tendon thickening, a trapped nerve, some swelling in various places, and a little cartilage wearing in the joint. Oddly, none of this is supposed to prevent me from running..well, jogging, but today, I was just tired, tired of my routine, physically tired, emotionally drained, and sick of dealing with the pain and my wonky gait. I started out on a little jog in the falling snow and kept stopping. My shoe needed retying. Everything hurt. I needed to stretch a little more. My other shoe needed adjusting. I didn't even get a few houses up the street before I just said, "fuck it," and walked home. 

In the last couple of months, I have given more serious thought to giving up running altogether. It's the only exercise I really like other than horseback riding, which is too expensive, and I haven't gotten anywhere near a horse in what feels like a lifetime. I'm not quite giving up yet, mostly because I feel like if I can get to a point where I can walk without pain or at least with less pain, I'll naturally want to run. At this point, both hurt. Suzy Hamilton and I talked once about what we would do if we couldn't run. We both agreed that we would become walkers or maybe hikers instead. I don't know where she stands on that now, but walking isn't much of an option for me at the moment. Even biking accentuates my imbalances. It all just feels wrong. 
Pain is considered a symptom of an underlying condition. In more technical terms, it has been described as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage." Physical pain and emotional pain can sometimes become intertwined. The pain of existing for some can feel like a physical ache or discomfort, and chronic physical pain can increase emotional pain. 

When I first got the results of the MRI, I wasn't exactly surprised. I knew something was wrong, but I still worried maybe the test wouldn't show anything. Going into my hysterectomy, that same kind of fear arose. What if it's all in my head? What if there's nothing wrong, and it turns out I'm just a whiner? But, to date, that has never been the case. 

What concerns me regarding this whole situation is that a few years ago, I saw a couple of alternative "healers" who suggested that I was creating pain, that there was nothing physically wrong with my foot. I put off getting an MRI because I assumed they were basing this knowledge about my body part on some kind of evidence, but what they were really getting at was a fancy way of saying, "It's in your head." I suppose looking at my foot, one would never really know all that was going on under the surface, but everything wrong with my foot isn't apparent at a glance. That's why there are other ways to access injuries. That siad, there are at least some ways of prodding and poking certain areas that should give a professional some kind of an idea about the type of injury a person has or at least make it apparent that the discomfort is specific to a particular spot and not in a patient's head.
I always thought that this post would be extra long and informative, full of facts about the difference between psychosomatic issues and injuries. I know that the mind is powerful and believe it can contribute to either making pain worse or alleviating it, but I can't even tell you how absolutely sick and tired I am of people who discount other people's pain. I'm very fortunate that I have recently worked with a few people, my podiatrist included, who have never questioned my pain. Insted, they have worked with me to try to find ways to help cope with it and alleviate it as much as possible. 

I guess my whole point in writing this is to encourage people to trust their intuition when it comes to pain. Most people, especially runners, have a good idea of what's going on with their bodies. Don't let anyone make assumptions about something you know to be real. I always come back to the idea that even if pain were in someone's head, shouldn't that also be addressed? Wouldn't that also be a symptom of something deeper? I mean, fuck. The way some so easily discount others really saddens me. 

If I opt for surgery, it will be my 13th. I'm not ready to face that yet.

I'm not bothering to proofread this. I'm too tired, and I've spent most of the day in bed.