I’m Thankful

  • For people, near and far, who make time for the humble blog.
  • For late November sunlight.
  • For my family’s and my health.
  • For friends near and far.
  • For my daughter inviting me to run the Oly Trot with her. Her first “organized” run. We ran conservatively for the first 3.5 and then did our best East African impersonations for the last .5.

IMG_0774.jpg

Another of Alberto Salazar’s Runners Says He Ridiculed Her Body for Years

Someone should write a book. Something like “The MeToo Perps’ Painfully Predictable Non-Apologies”. Possible subtitle, “Their Inability to Understand the Harm They’ve Caused”.

Chapter 53, Alberto Salazar.

“My foremost goal as a coach was to promote athletic performance in a manner that supported the good health and well-being of all my athletes. On occasion, I may have made comments that were callous or insensitive over the course of years of helping my athletes through hard training. If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry.”

“On occasion, I may have. . .”

For shit’s sake, you either did or didn’t Alberto, so either don’t apologize or drop the tentative “may have” bullshit.

“. . . callous or insensitive. . . “

That doesn’t sound so bad. The most timid of adjectives given the allegations.  Why does the (alleged) perp get to label his behavior instead of the victims of the abuse?

IF any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made. . . “

Thus creating the suggestion that the problem is in their heads. In the initial draft his lawyers probably rewrote, I wouldn’t be surprised if he asked, “Why are they so damn sensitive?”

“. . . hurt by any comments I made”

The classically vague, non-apology apology. Salazar can’t bring himself to acknowledge anything specific that did cause significant pain. Again then, why say anything at all?

He wraps up his non-apology this way:

“I do dispute, however, the notion that any athlete suffered any abuse or gender discrimination while running for the Oregon Project.”

The ultimate power play, the abuser defining what constitutes abuse.

After a close reading of his words, it’s obvious that Salazar is more defiant than remorseful. Sadly, he has lots of company.

I Could Use a Sports Psychologist

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about my athletic self.

2019 has been all about good health and consistent training. Last Friday I ran my 1,000th mile of the calendar year, thus extending my 21 year streak of 1,000 miles+ running annually. As you age and it becomes impossible to set personal speed records, you have to find other ways to motivate yourself. My secret power is not having played contact sports growing up. My knees are golden thanks to golf and water polo. Being slender no doubt helps too.

I’ve swam farther this year than any other because I joined a Masters Team and went from swimming twice a week to three times. Despite that increase in volume, my splits aren’t much better because swimming is an incredibly technical activity and I haven’t improved my technique.

I hope to hit 5,000 miles of cycling by 12/31/19, which thanks to the sabbatical, is about 10% more than normal. A lot of the peeps I cycle with double that.

I ran a very good marathon a few years ago in Seattle. For me. Even somehow won my age group. I’ve ran a few halves since, including one in July, which also went well despite skimping on long training runs.

But despite the good health and all the cross-training, I haven’t competed in a triathlon for 5+ years, which I guess means I’m retired from the sport. I’m even trying to sell my beater triathlon bike.

I often think about returning to competition and this is where I need a sports psychologist. Friends still enjoy it and I know I could be very competitive in large, difficult races, not because I’m a burner, but because I’m slowing down less than my peers because I was never supe-fast to begin with and I have a very deep cardiovascular base from years of consistent cross-training. Also, while I’m not a burner in any of the disciplines, I don’t suck at any of them either. In contrast, almost every triathlete has a weakness*.

For some reason though, I just can’t bring myself to purchase a new bike, register for races, and show up on starting lines. Here’s how I imagine a counseling session with a pricey sports psychologist going down.

SP: So you’re thinking of returning to triathlon. What’s keeping you from committing?

RB: Aren’t we gonna talk about my childhood?

SP: No, frankly that would bore me.

RB: Well, for one thing I’m usually shelled at the end of training rides and I really don’t want to run off the bike anymore.

SP: Have you always been a wuss or is that a recent development?

RB: I think it’s rooted in my childhood.

SP: Never mind then.

SP: What else is holding you back?

RB: To tell you the truth, when I imagine best case scenarios, winning races, it doesn’t do anything for me. I think what if I swim, cycle, and run faster than a declining number of other economically privileged old dudes. And I conclude, so what.

SP: Often, as in life, in athletic competition the joy is in the journey.

RB: Did you learn a lot of cliches during grad school?

SP: Yes, lots of others I’d happily share if we weren’t out of time. Thank you for coming.

* truth be told, my weakness was the fourth discipline, transitions

bike.jpg

What Can We Do To Improve Young Adult Mental Health?

My first year writing students are 18-19 years-old. Here’s the prompt for their first paper:

     Irvine argues that people often lack a “grand goal of living” and a coherent philosophy of life because our culture doesn’t encourage thinking about specific reasons for living; instead it provides them with an endless stream of distractions. He contends you’ll most likely squander your life without a guiding philosophy. He adds that even if you have a “grand goal in living” and can explain its importance, it’s unlikely you will attain those things in life you take to be of greatest value if you lack an effective strategy that specifies what you must do as you go about your daily activities. Explain why you agree or disagree with Irvine’s assertions. Also, explain a few things you want out of life and why.

Irvine proposes an updated version of Stoicism as a guiding philosophy. Most of my writers find meaning in some stoic concepts, like the trichotomy of control, but generally aren’t down with Irvine’s thesis that they need a “grand goal of living”. Most argue they’re too young to have formulated very specific life goals, let alone one “grand” one. Often, they thoughtfully point out that a highly detailed roadmap doesn’t make sense given life’s unpredictability.

When it comes to what they want out of life, an increasing number want improved mental health. It’s difficult to overstate the extent of young adults’ anxiety today. When I listen to them describe their anxiety and depression in class and read about it in their papers I have two reactions. Overwhelming empathy and curiosity as to what the hell is going on.

The third episode of the Happiness Lab podcast with Laurie Santos, “The Silver Lining”, might provide a clue. It’s about our tendency to compare ourselves to others who we perceive to be the most well liked, the most social, the most wealthy, the most together, the seemingly most happy. The episode’s title comes from research into Olympic athletes that suggests bronze medal winners are much happier with their medals than silver medal winners because silver medal winners are focused on not having won gold while bronze medal winners are focused on everyone that didn’t medal at all. This concept, “point of reference”, partially explains why happiness can be so illusive.

A Cornell psychologist in the episode contends social media compounds this problem because everyone carefully curates their online image to appear artificially happy. Among other remedies, Stoics advocate for internal goals to counter our self-sabotaging “point of reference” tendencies.

The gravity of the situation has me convinced that there’s no one explanation to “what’s going on”. Another factor could be the pressure my (admittedly selective) students feel to have their adult lives figured out just as they’re beginning them—whether to go to college, how selective a one, how to pay for it, what to study, what internships and other resume building activities to pursue, whether to go to graduate school, which career path, which grand goal for shits sake.

Parents, intensely worried about the vagaries of the economy, and desperate for a return on their considerable college investment, think that if their young adult children just pick the right thing to study—nursing, engineering, and other pre-professional fields—and develop a detailed plan, their college graduate sons and daughters won’t end up living in their basements.

This was what I was thinking about when struck by a related idea during a recent run. This time of the year, in North Olympia, Washington, it’s pitch black when running before work. Most of the streets are not lit, sometimes there’s fog. My uber-headlamp provides about 20-25 yards of visibility.

North Oly roads roll with a constantly changing mix of gentle ups and downs. Picture ocean swells, the Palouse in Eastern Washington, or the Norwegian countryside. Normally, I realized during the run, seeing roads ahead tilt upwards plays with my mind. At least a little. “Here it comes,” I think, “this is gonna take a little more effort.” And then, “Okay, almost topping out, hang in.”

But on this pitch black, foggy, autumn run, there was no such internal dialogue because I COULDN’T SEE AHEAD. The only way I knew I was starting a climb was my breathing became more labored. “Oh, okay, climbing now.” Because I couldn’t see the road tilting upwards ahead of time, my mind was free of that small, subtle nagging dread of having to work harder. As someone whose prone to look too far down the road of life, I was digging running in the moment. Don’t tell me what’s ahead, let me just be present.

Freed of anticipatory dread, my mind turned to my students. They lament how their teachers, beginning in middle school, ask about their life plans. And how it continues through high school. And how their parents too often pressure them to have a plan.

Some of them end up crafting faux-plans just to stop the insanity. As a placeholder of sorts. Some, like a previous writing student, declare nursing upon entering college only to realize in the middle of our first semester seminar that they didn’t really like science.

Maybe we should give our high school graduates headlamps and encourage them to focus at most on the year ahead especially since life is fragile and no one is guaranteed a long life.

What if our message was this.

In the next year, while working, traveling, or going to college; focus on improving your health; nourishing your spirit; investing in new friendships; finding one way to make others’ lives better. Don’t worry unnecessarily about the mountains and valleys that lie ahead in the distant future. You’ll be okay. And if not, let me know how I can help.

Young adults’ mental health might improve.

 

 

 

 

The Deleterious Health Effects of Sedentary Work Cultures

One aspect of my privilege is my education which has enabled me to make a living without sacrificing my body. Roofers, welders, plumbers, farmers, house painters, construction workers, tree cutters, often aren’t as fortunate.

But I’ve noticed a pattern even among my fellow white collar egghead professors. A majority routinely sacrifice their health for the sake of their work because of a deep-seated intellectual bias that prioritizes the mind at the expense of the body. 

Simply put, most of my colleagues have been sedentary for decades. On top of that, generous people take turns providing unhealthy office snacks*. Most professors don’t make time to walk, hike, run, play tennis, swim, cycle, or lift weights because there’s always another lecture to plan, or syllabus or grant to write, or set of papers to mark, or conference presentation to prepare, or faculty workshop to attend.

I like my work and my university, but not nearly enough to sacrifice my health for it. One colleague of mine retired in May and died in July. I didn’t know him so I don’t even want to pretend his lifestyle played any part, but I fear too many of my colleagues will not get to enjoy as many post work years if they do not prioritize their health more than is the norm.

Today marks the end of the world’s longest academic sabbatical, mine. I normally work summers, but I took the summers of 18 and 19 off, the book-ends to my 2018-2019 academic year sabbatical. 15 months, huzzah! Someone call the Guinness Book of World Records**. I won’t be telling any of my colleagues what I’m going to tell you in the next paragraph because the sedentary nature of faculty life is so pervasive my athletic self lives deep in the closet***.

Besides the traditional, publishing a couple of articles, reading a bunch, and updating my syllabi, I also turned the knob up a bit on my regular swimming, cycling, and running volume. Por exemplar, I joined a Masters swim team and so far this year have already swam about the same distance as last calendar year. And SO WHAT if I did stretch and chill in the jacuzzi after some practices! Also, I’m on pace to cycle 5,000 miles this year and maintain my 1,000 mile a year running streak. I was fit when I began my record breaking sabbatical, today I’m a little more fit****.

Am I overcompensating? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’m under no illusions that my active lifestyle will guarantee any kind of post-work longevity because life is fragile. That driver on their cell phone could wipe me out on tomorrow’s ride.

But as long as I work as an egghead professor, I will dare to be different by making time to swim, cycle, and run. In particular, I will not sacrifice the quality of my life to the pervasive work culture of which I’m apart. Please, just don’t out me to any of my colleagues.

*Decent chance I have my first donut in a long time today. #glazed

**Could an educator-reader please tell me if teaching is like riding a bike, I’m afraid I may have forgotten how. Any tips?

***Except for one colleague-friend who follows my workouts on Strava. I should probably get him to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

****No, I haven’t just opted to not write about racing triathlons, I have in fact sold my time trial bike and stopped competing for reasons I’m not entirely sure. As I age, given the attrition of my peers, and my consistent training, I would do quite well. But when I envision best case scenarios, like winning races, I’m still not sufficiently motivated to toe the line. Is there a sports psychologist in the house?

bike

 

How To Transform Sports Television

Some tech savvy person in sports television is going to make millions as a result of reading the following few paragraphs. My decision not to apply for the patents myself is just one more example of my amazing selflessness.

Here’s the problem with televised running, swimming, and cycling races. Let’s take running as our primary example, but remember the same phenomenon applies to swimming and cycling.

The camera zooms in on ten East Africans mid-marathon and their 4:45 per mile pace looks almost effortless. What’s needed is some sort of computer generated avatar of a recreational runner superimposed on the same course to begin appreciating how insanely fast the elite runners are going. With smart televisions of the near future, we should be able to program personal avatars, whether we’re watching running, swimming, or cycling. I’d program my runner to hold 8 minute miles; my swimmer, 1:30 per 100 yards; and my cyclist, 20mph. Once programmed, we can sit back and marvel at how quickly and often we get overtaken.

Case in point. Last week a 22-year-old Ethiopian star, Yomif Kejelcha, broke a 22-year-old indoor world record in the mile, running 3:47:01 at a meet in Boston.

When I’m rested and running with purpose I can hold 7:40 miles for an hour or two. If I set my avatar for a 7:35-7:40/mile pace on the same 400 meter track at the same time as Keljecha, in just four laps, he would pass me for the second time just before crossing the finish line. Twice as fast. I’m no burner, but probably less slow than 85-90% of recreational runners.

Long story short, if you watched Kejelcha run four laps in the time it takes me to run two, you’d have a much, much better appreciation for his freakish speed.