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 that someone I know wrote. 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

Monday, May 31, 2021

We Didn't Actually Disappear

One of my biggest regrets in life, aside from taking a very short trip to the West Coast not long after recovering from viral meningitis for an awkward and anticlimactic encounter with someone I never should have been in communication with in the first place, is leaving Utah after my first year in college. I turned down so many opportunities including full scholarships from schools all over the country, and instead, I chose to leave a good thing and attend CU Boulder on a partial scholarship. I don't regret the friendships that developed or those that deepened on the cross country team, but I regret not staying in a place with a nurturing coach and environment. It's so strange how little decisions have the potential to dramatically change everything, good or bad, not to mention events beyond our control drastically affecting us, too. 

When I transferred, there were plenty of good runners on the team already, and CU was supposedly far superior to the school where I went, at least according to the people who worked there. Administrators made me repeat classes when there was no need, none whatsoever, and It was becoming more obvious to me that at CU, I was just not important. I thought running around fourth place on the cross country team at BYU had already taught me that I was no longer a "big fish in a little pond," especially in shorter races like the 5k, but at least in Utah, I still felt like an integral part of our team, an individual with scoring potential and the potential to go places in running. In Colorado, I was about to become as unimportant a varsity runner as could possibly be. The more I slipped into fatigue and eventually the role of generic runner, nothing special, the less I liked running and the more I struggled. My results reflected my unhappiness. 

Sometimes I look back and wonder what the hell I was thinking, but I convinced myself that I wanted to be training in my hometown. The reality was that everything in my life revolved around my sport, and I had really come back to run in the mountains. What was pulling me back was some unfinished business relating to a particular hill south of Boulder, a possible record attempt that I couldn't resist, and I had some training partners and my former high school coach willing to work with me, at least for a while. Realistically, I had a shot at taking down the women's record at the Pikes Peak Ascent by a substantial amount. My plans were to do it all: cross country, road racing, track, and mountain running, and for a little while I did. Where I was excelling in one area, running, I was failing in another, life. And then I got Giardia, and everything went to shit, literally and figuratively. 

Leading up to that crappy moment, though, I had a redshit year and ran pretty well unattached. The following summer, I spent most of my training going up big mountains: Grays Peak, Mt Elbert, some big bald 14er with an old mining road that climbs right to the top, Longs to the boulder field, and a few others that weren't quite as tall. Oh those summer days! My goal was to run as close to or, based on my training runs, possibly under 2:30 and, instead, I struggled in one of the worst races of my life. Somehow, I managed to squeeze out a 2:53 for a very disappointing 7th place, so incredibly far off my goal. I tried to avoid getting too down on myself, but it was impossible, and then my high school coach pulled away, leaving me even more depressed. 

Before that ill-fated race day, I won a bunch of races, set a course record or two, and was competing with the elite crowd. My confidence took a beating after missing the record at Pikes, but, in no time, I had to put my attention on cross country and track, which wasn't easy. Who knows how things would have played out had I not gotten sick and possibly won the race. 

Despite initially running well outside of school events my first two years at CU, I didn't run to my potential on the team and was growing very tired. I never felt fully recovered and was entering a phase of catching every illness around me. How I wish to whatever deity could change the past that I had stayed with a coach who was sensible, kind, and who could coax me into doing the right thing. Coach Shane at BYU was the equivalent of a horse whisper for overzealous runners, and I thrived under his guidance my first year in college. 

Coach Quiller at CU, on the other hand, was an exceptionally nice person, someone who was always kind, but a good coach only for those who could handle generic workouts, a lot of volume and speed work, and not a lot of feedback. In the end, I was on the team and friends with some of the women there but not part of the team. It's true that I carried excess baggage wherever I went and wasn't ready for that kind of environment. Coach Shane could always relieve some of the burdens I carried. Coach Quiller ignored them. That said, he was not a bad guy, just not the right coach for me. I imagine things would have been even more disastrous had I attended a school with a coach who was both unsympathetic and not a right fit, and there were plenty of those out there. Still, I was struggling. 

The typical narrative of standout high school athletes who don't go on to the Olympics or to win a bunch of national titles, according to those watching from afar, is that we disappear, but this isn't really true. This mentality stems from a very unhealthy "winner take all" perspective or possibly from the equally unhealthy situation in which those who want to feel superior put others down or erase them entirely. In fact, most former high school standout athletes go on to fill other roles, and some even find success in their sport out of the spotlight. It's such a destructive take, this idea that if you don't go on to constantly win more big races and achieve tremendous success, you fade away into nothingness. 

How realistic is it, percentage-wise, to find ongoing success in a demanding sport? How many great high school soccer players, football players, swimmers, or baseball players go on to find excellence in college and beyond? Are they supposed to? Do those who don't also disappear? Define success. Also, think about how long an average career of any top athlete really is. It's rare to see someone like Lorraine Moller who competed in multiple Olympic marathons throughout her time running. That doesn't mean those with a shorter period in the spotlight aren't notable. Look at Daniel Komen, for example.    

Years ago, an Olympic coach told me that distance runners can generally expect to compete at a high level for about eight years if they're lucky. With sneaky ways of doping, improved gear technology, and new methods of training and recovery, it's possible to stretch that, but, in addition to needing a working and mostly injury-free body, athletes must find ways to keep the fire and the desire to compete, a mental edge. People often look at the Olympics as what should be the pinnacle of every athlete's career when very few athletes make it that far. In fact, more college football players are drafted into the NFL than athletes who qualify for an Olympic team in a specific sport or event like swimming or running. For many, other races or an event such as the Olympic trials is the final goal. The point being, going to the Olympics is unlikely, even for some of the absolute best athletes. 

Like many other good athletes, I was probably never going to make it to the Olympics, even if I had chosen a different path and my career had gone better than it did. Also like so many other good runners, going to compete on a world stage was a dream, but a far-fetched one. Mountain running wasn't an Olympic sport, and I never had much leg speed. It's possible that under the right conditions, I could have developed into some kind of professional athlete if we were eventually allowed to accept payment or become an Olympic hopeful, and, had I stayed at BYU, my chances would have been much better. My body probably wasn't cut out for a flat marathon, and my 10K time would have had to drop from 35.04 to something much faster. Qualifying for anything shorter was a near impossibility. I just wasn't that fast in shorter distances. 

But when I think about the people who say I was washed up and disappeared, I can't say I fully agree. Despite all the injuries and terrible illnesses, and there were plenty, I still had some stand-out moments. And considering the severity of the illnesses I faced, I'm surprised I was able to run at all, let alone race. 

In my first year in college, I was 2nd at TAC junior nationals. In 1986, I was 3rd at the Vail Hill Climb and may have won it at some point after that, but for the life of me, I can't remember. I have a blue ribbon, but it doesn't specify what it's for. Not being someone who kept track of times and places combined with not having race results on the Internet back then is a problem when it comes to accuracy. 

The following results I found in an old scrapbook my dad had. I placed in the top 10 in the Diet Pepsi 10K. In 1988, I ran the Pikes Peak Marathon. Throughout college, I consistently ran 36-38 minutes for 10K road races at altitude. When I was invited to run in the elite field of the Bolder Boulder, I managed to run under 37 minutes on a scorching hot day after developing severe blisters on my feet about halfway through the race. I must have looked funny taking the turns extra wide, but I had to find a way to prevent pressure on my feet and possibly popping the blisters. When I was almost through with school, I ran a 36:36 10K in California knowing I didn't feel well but not knowing I was dealing with walking pneumonia. Against all odds, I ran a 36:31 at the Bolder Boulder in 1993. That part of my life was such a haze of illness and struggling that I don't even remember the details around that and many other races. 

At some point, I ran or really jogged a marathon in 3:49 or so. In my 30s, I ran under 21 minutes for a 5K. I also ran a 6:14 mile in 2003 and a 6:32 in 2004. Before that in 2001, I was 13th at the Mt. Evans Ascent. I won the Aspen Mountain Challenge hill climb in 2003 and came in 2nd a year later. This was during a period after almost dying due to complications related to anorexia but before getting sick with viral meningitis. Then there were all the foot surgeries. 

These aren't great achievements. I know that. Despite some wins in very small races and age group showings, my running resume looks even worse after 2005. But I'm grateful that I was able to run at all, all things considered. I write of these races and times not to brag -- I'm actually embarrassed about most of them -- but to point out that I didn't disappear, not entirely. I didn't even really disappear from my sport. I'm still here, even if I'm invisible to most. And despite all the troubles I faced, I never really blamed my coaches. Some environments are not good for some people. That's not to say that there are no bad coaches; it's more to point out that not every instance of an athlete struggling is due to an abusive coach. Then again, some coaches really do encourage unhealthy behaviors in their athletes. 

In a recent Outside Magazine article, the author profiled a young athlete who experienced hardships at the University of Arizona. I'm not here to deny or discount her experience. It was somewhat similar to mine and many other athletes, but, her story aside, the article itself fails in a few areas. As a result, it does a disservice to the athletes who were brave enough to share what happened to them in less than ideal athletic programs. For instance, to say, "Cain’s story was pivotal. It helped reframe what many young female athletes feel is a personal shortcoming—that they aren’t cut out to run competitively—as a systemic and cultural problem instead." is misleading. 

The issue was never athletes feeling like they weren't cut out to run competitively, at least that's not the message I got from reading what the athletes featured in the article said. The bigger issue is athletes knowing they are cut out to race or at least wanting to but facing outside and internal conflict. Additionally, alleged abuse by college and high school coaches is not a new story and wasn't back in 2019 when Mary Cain's story was brought to light. In 2018, for example, an article came out that addressed allegations of years of abuse by the track and cross country coach at the University of Washington. It wasn't just women who came forward in that case. Anytime there is a power imbalance, there is the potential for abuse, but not everyone defines abuse in the same way and misconduct can be perpetrated by both males and females. The article made none of this clear.   

Instead of addressing realistic solutions to toxic running environments that harm both men and women, the Outside article, like that in the New York Times regarding Cain, is framed in a way that's set up to blame men, specifically male coaches. I've addressed this issue before. What I find strange is the omission that in 2018, the Arizona team was guided by a male head coach and a female assistant coach, which suggests that merely having a woman present isn't going to solve every problem. 

At CU, we also had a female assistant coach, and yet the environment at BYU was far, far healthier despite the lack of ovaries guiding us. The article is one of many that suggests men are to blame for any athlete who overtrains or has an eating disorder, but in the case of the main athlete profiled, she came into a program already suffering from an eating disorder that developed in high school. Absolutely, the environment can contribute to individuals thriving or suffering, as I pointed out above, but it's not about male versus female coaching; it's about individuals, their makeup, and the overall environment. In a perfect world, every track and cross country program would have qualified male and female coaches, therapists for emotional support, registered dietitians, and physical therapists. 

It's unfortunate that Cain's voice is almost completely drown out by others who push the false idea that hiring women will solve any problem. She has a better suggestion that change begins with education. I've already rambled more than I intended here, but it's hard for me to understand the tremendous approval of a pro athlete previously saying we should look at numbers on a scale objectively followed by this article with the message that weighing an athlete is ineffective and harmful to athletes. People blindly support both takes without acknowledging the contradiction. It's hard to imagine productive progress considering these kinds of inconsistencies. Regarding numbers and certain comments, people will respond differently, and if you have an eating disorder, it's almost impossible to look at either with objectivity. That doesn't mean everyone should change for you or that numbers can't provide useful information. 

These days, you can't even call an athlete fit, which is such a bizarre take. Asking others to stop giving out compliments or offering neutral comments because these statements are taken in a negative way by the receiver doesn't actually help heal whatever causes a person to mistranslate what others say. "Fit" can be applied to anyone, really, from a bodybuilder to a person walking down the street. It doesn't secretly mean "thin" unless you apply that incorrect meaning to the word, and if you do, it's up to you to figure out why. On the rare occasion when someone might associate thin with fit, maybe show some compassion by realizing we are all products of our society. Perhaps when the pendulum has been held tight, it swings too far in the opposite direction before settling on some kind of more reasonable norm, but right now, it's a little concerning to see the kinds of unrealistic demands people are making while possibly thinking it's real activism. It's not. In some cases, it perpetuates an unhealthy way of viewing the world, that enemies are all around you, that men are bad, and that anything they say is a negative. 

Below is one of my favorite excerpts from "Out and Back" by Hillary Allen. I wish more people had this kind of drive for integrity. These days, it just seems lost in a world of journalistic lies, bias, and condemnation: 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Coaches And Gender

I recently stumbled upon the FleetFeet journal after Dr. Paula Quatromoni DSc RD linked to a post about body acceptance, one that was nicely written and informative. That led me to check out a few other posts, and I noticed a definite contrast between what's being written there and what you see on the pages of blogs and magazines presented by the usual suspects. Tracksmith also has a journal section that contains inspirational stories, and it's surprising that these bits of free information aren't circulated more in the running community. 

When you compare Mary Cain's write-up in Tracksmith about her comeback after double hip surgery to the one that Lindsay Crouse wrote, it's unfortunate that fewer people are promoting Cain's account of being forced to sit out of running due to injury and instead favor a partly fictional story about someone temporarily giving up running during COVID. I'm not saying made-up stories have no place or can't be useful, but, as a reader, I feel duped when I find out that a piece presented as an actual account isn't factual. 

While reading Crouse's story, I recalled some of her tweets about running during the pandemic, how many running shoes she had gone through that she had lined up at her door and the number of miles or type of workout she ran on a given day. Logging at least some of her exercise on Strava made it easy to verify her truth stretching. In addition to being honest, Cain's story offers more in terms of advice and takeaways, especially for athletes. Instead of a "just do it" approach, Cain offers valuable tips about the benefits of listening to your body and having patience. She and her coach, John Henwood, and the rest of her support crew seem to be aware of the importance of pulling back when needed. Crouse's story, on the other hand, contains other inaccuracies. She suggests that "When you're tired, you need rest. But if you're in a rut, you need to nudge yourself into action," but this doesn't address those in a rut of doing the same routine, something that can easily happen during a pandemic when people are seeking structure in a long stretch of limbo. In that case, it's not so much action that's needed but a change, any kind of change. Rest might also help. 

Recently, Fast Women covered a conversation between several female coaches that Women's Coaching Collective members could pay to watch. Based on the interview, Shalane Flanagan did an excellent job with her considerate responses, really impressive. I found it disappointing that Lauren Fleshman mentioned that she recruits athletes who have untapped potential, those who are healthy and didn't "fight their body" previously. I'm not sure how she accesses this, but it's her right as a coach to choose whomever she wants to mentor. Remember, though, mental illness doesn't show on the surface and eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. What's more problematic than someone not wanting to bother with those who struggled -- it's understandable and I'm fortunate that my first college coach and then later Bobby McGee didn't turn me away when I told them about my eating disorder, injuries, and OCD struggles -- is the misinformation she presents, just so breezily, as if it's fact. 

When Lauren states that women are capable of being terrible and abusive coaches, she suggests we look at statistics that point to men leading the charge of offenses, but there are no statistics that show this. How would that even be measured? Who defines what's toxic or abusive and how does what men do and say compare to the abuse women inflict on their athletes? What's the supposed ratio and how would we find it? As far as I know, there are no statistics showing that men are more abusive coaches, even though it's likely that more men are on the list of coaches who have been cited for misconduct. One should note that the list, yes there actually is one, does not include all sports and has women on it, too. If there are actual statistics, I'd love to see what they really suggest. Observation, speculation, and a few prime cases that landed in the media do not make any kind of formal study. Given the fact that there are more male coaches overall, it would make sense that more men are called out for abuse, but women are cited for the same types of abuse. Lauren goes on to suggest that women can create safer environments for athletes, but any environment change depends on the athletes and the coach and those involved with the program. Outside Magazine took a similar approach and pointed to more female coaches magically leading to a safer environment. 

Need a reality check? Take a look at other sports, most notably ballet, dance, gymnastics, basketball, field hockey, swimming, softball, and volleyball. Ballet has a long, long history of female-led programs and also some of the most notoriously physically and emotionally abusive teachers and mentors on record, but despite dancers and former prima ballerinas coming forward in the United States and elsewhere to expose detailed instances of weight shaming, hair-pulling, slapping, and other forms of physical and emotional abuse, anti-nurturing methods are still in use by many women today. Things are very slowly changing in most sports but simply hiring more women isn't necessarily the answer if power issues aren't addressed at a deeper level. 

It's interesting to note that those who are abused can sometimes fall into a pattern of abusing others, and there's no guarantee that a female in a position of power won't abuse her role as a mentor. While the majority of sexual abuse against minors is perpetrated by males and most victims are female, when discussing toxic masculinity, people seem to ignore the fact that women in teaching and mentoring positions account for at least 10 percent of reported sexual abuse cases when the victim is a minor. Obviously, this lower estimate (some say it's as high as 19 percent) doesn't include the many cases that go unreported, and boys are less likely to report abuse than girls. The point is that boys can be and often are victims, too. Women are also perpetrators, and their victims aren't always boys.  

Don't get me wrong, in general, I'd love to see more female coaches in sports and think the right ones could potentially lead to healthier athletes, but it's unrealistic to think that simply adding more women will solve all abuse issues or eliminate toxic environments. Men can create a healthy, nurturing environment for young girls and women, too. That said, I agree with Melody Fairchild who states that young girls need more healthy role models. It's a matter of finding the right kinds of role models, preferably both male and female. I found that FleetFeet once again provided a much more balanced and accurate assessment of the topic of female running coaches. Overall, what they post tends to lean more toward problem-solving and accuracy than pointing fingers, lying, and blaming. And it's free content. 

I come back to what others have also suggested that the answer is more about educating both athletes and coaches to recognize abuse. There should be some outside resources for athletes when they feel the need to reach out. The Center for Safe Sport and other organizations are providing one avenue for athletes. Many institutions are now using a form of "coach effectiveness training" for both younger and older athletes. It turns out that a more positive approach to coaching often leads to better results and happier athletes anyway, so it's possible that a trend of more caring and compassionate coaches will continue. And, ultimately, I believe that really good coaches can take on challenging cases and lead a person to a better place in life. It's not all about performance. 

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.