Saturday, January 26, 2013

Running news roundup

A lot has been happening in the world of endurance sports, and since this is my blog, I would like to offer my take on some of the top headlines of late. If I were writing for a respected news outlet, I would be required to mention that this piece does not necessarily reflect the opinions of this organization, its sponsors or its affiliates. But let’s be real—this blog never has been, nor ever will be, a respected news outlet. And it definitely doesn’t have any sponsors or affiliates. So, I think I’m safe in that regard. Also, I would like to point out that I realize I have missed the window of timeliness on some of these items, especially by journalistic standards. Again, this blog is not a respected news outlet, so those rules do not apply. (Sorry, Mom and Dad—that journalism degree will come in handy at some point. I promise am fairly confident.)

A different kind of paid appearance: the Suzy Favor-Hamilton debacle

Look, I’ve seen Pretty Woman. I know there are a lot of Vivian Wards out there just waiting for their own Edward Lewis to whisk them away from a world of blonde wigs and cheap platform shoes in a white stretch limousine.

Suzy Favor-Hamilton is not Vivian Ward. She’s not the charmingly unrefined “hooker with a heart of gold” who dreams of a better life. She’s an Olympian with a successful real estate business, a $600,000 home and a loving husband and daughter.

A former world-class athlete voluntarily “going the distance” with the rich sleazeballs who frequent the high-roller tables at the glitziest casinos in Vegas? That’s not charming. It’s gross. And a little bit sad.

I’ve heard a lot of stories about has-been athletes unraveling in the wake of their inevitable retirement from professional sports. Ryan Leaf. Dennis Rodman. O.J. Simpson.

Those guys did some pretty terrible things, but as a former middle distance runner, I was genuinely rocked by Suzy’s admission. It’s usually male athletes who fall from grace after being “caught with their pants down” in the midst of some kind of crime or scandal. Suzy’s exposure was both more literal and more surprising.

As shocked and disappointed as I was when I first heard about this story, I found myself slowly drumming up some sympathy for poor Suzy. Why? Because something she said resonated with me: she missed the thrill of competition, and her double-life as a high priced call girl somehow filled that void.

Why she didn’t try filling that void with skydiving, base jumping, drinking tap water in Mexico or some other similarly-risky-but-less-morally-questionable behavior is beyond me. I miss the thrill of competition too, but I get my adrenaline fix by singing terrible country karaoke in bars full of drunk strangers. (If only Suzy and I had connected before this whole thing blew up—it all could have been avoided with a simple duet version of “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter!)

Also, for any other Olympic runners out there who are interested in leading secret lives as Vegas escorts, here’s a golden drop of advice: you might want to keep the whole Olympic runner thing under wraps. No matter how rich and successful they become, dudes will never stop bragging to each other about their “conquests”—even if they technically paid for them. Bedding an Olympian? You better believe that one’s gonna come out at next week’s poker night.


Speaking of getting caught with your pants down*, let’s talk about Lying Lance Armstrong.

I am well aware that technically, this story isn’t about running; it’s about running’s rude, less attractive cousin—cycling. But I think it deserves a mention because it centers on an issue that affects all endurance sports, including distance running: blood doping and the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Lance Armstrong’s recent Oprah interview—in which he confessed to using banned substances during his seven-year streak of Tour de France victories—dealt a heavy blow to athletes across the globe with highly disproportionate quads-to-biceps ratios.

I mean, if THE Lance Armstrong—a longtime proponent of sportsmanship who for years vehemently denied gaining any sort of unfair advantage through the use of banned substances—is actually a lying cheat, what does that mean for the rest of us? I feel like I’ve lost all faith in not only the purity of sport, but also in humankind in general.

The benefit of the doubt is dead to me. There is no longer any benefit. Benefit scammed thousands of people out of their life savings in an elaborate Ponzi scheme and then hightailed it to Mexico. Benefit borrowed your Mad Men season 2 DVD box set and then dropped off the face of the planet. Benefit ordered a dozen shots of Patrón on your tab and then slipped out the back door of the bar.

Now there is only doubt. Doubt in the legitimacy of every notable performance in distance racing. Doubt in the moral fortitude of my childhood heroes. Doubt in sportsmanship and the sanctity of honest competition. Of all the times I have been beaten in a race (not that there are very many), how many were true losses? I will never know. It’s not like Oprah is going to demand answers from every person who’s ever won a 5K.

It makes me sick to think of all of the social cause bracelets I have refused to wear out of loyalty to that original yellow silicone band. I politely accepted dozens of imposters—pink for breast cancer awareness, green for cervical cancer awareness, even blue for prostate cancer awareness—only to bury them at the bottom of my junk drawer.

Turns out, the only imposter in this sad situation is the man behind that rubber ring of hope. It’s a good thing Oprah is such a classy lady. If I had been the one sitting across from Lance when he dropped the doping bombshell, I probably would have kicked him in the nut.

Presidential run

Here’s a news item that further corroborates my longstanding theory that Maine is way too close to Canada for its own sanity, and that eventually it probably will just sort of quietly fade into Quebec.

Some crazy dude decided it would be super awesome to run from his home in Maine to the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. Total distance: 700 miles, or approximately 27 full marathons.

I don’t know about you, but my list of people for whom I would run 27 consecutive marathons is pretty short:

People for Whom I Would Run 27 Consecutive Marathons

1. Pat Sajak (assuming I have a spot as a contestant on Wheel)
2. Prince William (pre-Kate, obviously)
3. Carrot Top (if he was chasing me)

Sorry, crazy Maine guy—clearly my list is way too exclusive for an American president to make the cut.

In fairness, he did raise money for charity through his efforts, so I have to give him props for that. All I’m saying is that next time, maybe he could run to a Bon Jovi concert or something cool like that.

*I’m not really sure if that idiom applies here, but let’s just assume that at some point, Lance pulled down his pants to give himself a steroid shot in the derrière (that’s French for buttocks, since we’re also assuming that said offense occurred in France).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Treadmill time machine

I recently moved to a new apartment complex. For the most part, it’s pretty modern. We have high-speed Internet, covered parking, and even a free cappuccino machine in the main office.

But the first time I walked into the fitness center, it was immediately apparent that the majority of the landlord’s budgetary surplus was going toward complimentary espresso drinks. The purchase of updated exercise equipment clearly has been on the backburner ever since Americans stopped winning the Boston Marathon.

The first day I went in there, I stopped dead in my tracks and just sort of stared at the treadmill for a while. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to use it. I mean, it looked like it belonged in a Museum of Early Running, somewhere between a Kalahari bushmen hunting spear and Bill Bowerman’s waffle iron.

In case you don’t believe me, or you think I’m exaggerating, here is some photographic evidence:

As the daughter of an avid antiquer, I know that people don’t buy antiques to use them. People buy antiques to display them.

For some reason that I have yet to figure out because I was born after the Kennedy administration, filling your shelves with old, obsolete crap like hat pins and oil lamps creates an air of sophistication in your home that new stuff simply cannot provide.

So at first, I thought maybe this treadmill was meant to be a really big, really impractical decoration. But the more I thought about it, the less likely this hypothesis seemed. If it were a decoration, it would be presented as such—with a giant glass case or a perimeter of velvet rope or, at the very least, an informational plaque.

Also, a 30-year-old treadmill does not exude sophistication. It exudes cheapness. Not that I live at the Waldorf Astoria or anything, but you’d think my landlord could at least get some cardio equipment from this century.

Once I had determined that this relic from the running days of yore—the Landice 8700—was meant for actual use, my train of thought moved on to a new conundrum: was this thing older than me?

The more I puzzled over this question, the more it escalated from innocent curiosity to urgent quandary consuming my every thought. There was no possible way I could go on with my life until I knew for certain whether I predated the Landice. (This is a side effect of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Another side effect of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies is my constant need to fold things that are not folded, so please excuse me for a moment while I take care of the blanket that has been left on my couch in an untidy mess of microfleece…OK, much better. Now back to the story.)

I considered the possibility that the number 8700 indicated that the machine was manufactured in the year 1987, in which case it would, indeed, be older than I am. But a logical guess wasn’t good enough—I needed corroborating evidence.

As I searched the rest of the treadmill for more date-related clues, I was struck by yet another conundrum: what if we were both “born” in the same year—1988?

Luckily, I realized that this question had an easy answer. My birthday is January 2. Therefore, to be older than I am, the treadmill’s birthday would have to be January 1. And since January 1 is a global holiday, the chances of anything being manufactured on that particular date are very slim.

Furthermore, if the treadmill had been produced on January 1, 1988, it likely would have been assembled by a bunch of hungover factory workers, in which case its structural integrity almost certainly would have been compromised, and the probability of it surviving 20-plus years in workable condition would have been very, very low.

Anyway, after inspecting every square inch of the Landice, I found no further evidence of a manufacture year. So, like any good detective, I considered my context clues.

The treadmill is surrounded by fitness posters that obviously were inspired by the music video for Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical.” I could ridicule them at length, but really, the photos say it all:

The copyright date on the posters: 1986. Aha! I thought. Now we’re getting somewhere. I felt like I was smack dab in the middle of a classic mystery novel. (Nancy Drew #61: The Secret of the Old, Decrepit Treadmill)

Like Nancy, I am very observant—which is why I noticed that there is something not quite right about those ’80s fitness posters. In fact, they are downright creepy. Here, take a closer look at these shots and see if you notice it too:


Now this was beyond bizarre, and it was more than I could take. I had to get out of there. Maybe if I ran fast enough, my dreams wouldn’t be haunted by faceless aerobics instructors in Reebok high-tops.

Alas, I never cracked the case. Although it is difficult for me to accept the treadmill's symbolic victory over my wit and skills as an investigator, I have grown to appreciate the air of mystery surrounding the true age of the Landice 8700. It’s like Joan Rivers, but with less plastic.