Sunday, September 16, 2012

Run for the money

A couple of weeks ago, I was half-heartedly listening to a recap of college football scores while giving my toenails their last coat of polish before fall. I say “half-heartedly” because the level of artistry that goes into masking the grotesqueness of my feet requires a high degree of concentration.

When they started talking about ridiculous blowouts, my ears perked up and my foot flinched. In an instant, my impeccable paint job was ruined by an errant streak of Midnight Sapphire on my big toe. Why? Because there is one part of college football that has always fascinated me: money games.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, the simplest and least tasteful explanation can be delivered in a single word—prostitution.

Early in the season, powerhouse schools like to schedule an easy game or two to dust off the cobwebs, build confidence and impress their home crowds with a dominating win. To do this, they seek out smaller, lesser-known teams and pay them to get their asses kicked.

Small colleges usually have small athletic budgets, which makes this sort of deal extremely lucrative for them. Most don’t think twice about pimping out their football teams for 3, 4, even $500,000—or more. Then they put the players on a nice charter plane—compliments the opposing team, of course—and pray that they all come back alive and with the majority of their limbs (and cognitive function) intact.

The result? Scores like “North Carolina-62, Elon-0,” “Florida State-55, Savannah State-0,” and “TCU-56, Grambling State-0.”

In some cases, it’s almost sad. I feel for the guys on the losing side of the scoreboard. I don’t care where you play—if you’re a college athlete, you are a competitive person. And competitive people hate losing.

If it were up to them personally, I’m sure there are some morally grounded players out there who would refuse to lose for cash. Back in my days as a legit athlete, I probably would have agreed with them. But now that I’m just a lowly has-been, I would be willing to bend my ethical standards under the right conditions.

So that got me to thinking—what if they developed a similar system in the world of competitive distance running? I mean, think about it: when people watch world-class distance runners race other world-class distance runners, there is really no way of grasping just how fast they are moving. It doesn’t help that they all look like they’re out on a leisurely joggy-jog when, in fact, they are splitting sub-60s.

But if you threw in a race where world-class distance runners raced middle-of-the-road distance runners—former Big Sky Conference Championship bronze medalists, for example—the audience would be able to see just how good these Olympians really are.

Take Kara Goucher, for example—America’s Sweetheart of distance running. High school cross-country runners idolize her. They probably cheered her on during last month’s Olympic marathon. She finished just a hair over 2:26—a time that most men, even really good ones, could only dream of achieving—which was good for 11th place.

Except that in America’s eyes, 11th place is not good. It’s not good at all. In fact, you probably already forgot that Kara Goucher even participated in the Olympic marathon.

Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., we like winners—the bigger and more embarrassing the margin of victory, the better. The way I see it, there is only one way for Kara to avenge that 11th place disaster (besides winning gold in Rio, which probably won’t happen if Ethiopia still exists in 2016): winning a race by a laughably obscene margin.

That’s where I (or some other washed-up has-been) would come in. I could be the Grambling State to her TCU. I could sort of, but not really, compete with her and make her look really, really good. I could get her fans all fired up and give her a solid foundation of confidence for the rest of the season. All I would ask for in return would be a small* percentage of her race winnings.

So Kara, once you realize how incredibly genius this idea is, drop me a line. My inbox—and your comeback—awaits.

*Less than a majority** share.
**Between 1 and 49 percent.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Liar, liar, spandex shorts on fire

Fifty percent of runners admit to occasionally fudging their PRs, and the other half are liars.

Actually, I guess that makes all of us liars. Which is why it should come as no surprise that my opening sentence was, in fact, a lie. I totally pulled that statistic out of Sarah Palin’s brain thin air.

Some might argue that lying is simply part of human nature. When was the last time you made an honest statement about your weight? What about your age? Your salary? Average number of drinks per week? The number of fun-size Milky Ways you’ve eaten today?

But seriously, how many times have you rounded down a race time when someone asks you how you did? I remember the day I finally broke 2:14 in the 800 meters for the first time. Well, technically I didn’t break 2:14. I ran an altitude-adjusted 2:13.98. But that didn’t stop me from telling anyone who would listen that my PR was 2:13.

I ran my first half-marathon a couple of months ago. My real time? 1:28:34. But that didn’t account for water stops. Or my infamous Porta-Potty fiasco. Or time lost on turns. So really, my time was closer to 1:28. And if you adjust for heat and altitude…

I’ve learned that all Facebook statuses relating to run/race times must be taken with a grain of salt. I’m sorry, but when you claim to have run three miles in 17 minutes when I know for a fact that you gave birth two months ago, I’m going to call bullshit.

When I see you at a local 10K three weeks later, a teeny-tiny-intsy-weentsy-itty-bitty part of me will wonder whether your claim was legit, and I will momentarily fret over the possibility of being beaten by someone who, mere weeks ago, was carrying a full-grown human infant inside of her body.

Then I will beat you by four minutes and feel good about it. Later, I will feel guilty and stupid for celebrating my victory. (Although the real victory is that I can celebrate with a post-race beer without having to worry about it tainting my breast milk.)

The bottom line is that numbers are a slippery slope. But there are certain people in this world who aren’t afraid of testing that slope, even if it means collecting a few mud stains along the way. And those people are politicians.

Political figures are always up for a good lie. I think it’s their way of gauging the intelligence of their constituents. Some lies are vague and inconsequential. Nobody seems to care when politicians vow to “do the right thing,” or “fix the system in Washington,” or “create new jobs.” We all know that these guys, if elected, won’t make much headway on any of these promises.

Instead, they will probably father illegitimate children, misappropriate campaign funds or have extramarital relationships with White House interns. And then they will lie about it.

So, by way of deductive reasoning, if runners are liars and politicians are liars, then politicians who run must be ultra-super-duper-mega-liars.

When vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan claimed that he had run a “two-hour and fifty-something” marathon in a recent radio interview, runners everywhere perked up their ears with great interest. And skepticism.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know why Ryan’s statement raised so many eyebrows: because running a sub-three-hour marathon is hard. I mean, I barely dipped below 1:30* in my half-marathon, and I’m a pretty good runner**.

Unfortunately for Ryan, confirming the falsity of his marathon time was even easier than confirming the paternity of the Schwarzenegger housekeeper’s son. If Ryan really were a sub-three-hour marathoner, he probably would have been aware of a little thing called race results.

Why he thought he could get away with it is beyond me. Contrary to popular belief, runners are interested in lots of things besides running—including presidential elections. It didn’t take long for the government watchdogs at Runner’s World to call shenanigans on Ryan’s claim. All they had to do was dig up some old race results.

What really gets me is the degree to which Ryan exaggerated his time. Knocking off a minute or two is one thing. I could even forgive rounding to the nearest five minutes. But misstating your PR by more than an hour? That’s just plain dumb!

Ryan’s only saving grace is that (1) most Americans don’t give a hoot about marathon times, and (2) his lie has been overshadowed by even more egregious fabrications, such as Rep. Todd Aiken’s imaginative take on the female reproductive system.

Ryan might lose a few supporters in the running population. He might even inspire a new vocabulary word in the running jargon handbook. (“You ran a 19-minute 5K last weekend? You’ve got to be Pauling me.”)

But, for most voters, Ryan’s stretch of the truth probably won’t be the deciding factor when they cast their ballots in November.

* Has been confirmed by documented evidence.
**Questionable at best.