Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The United States of Ass - Rant

My last post touched on some of the weaknesses of our culture. Let me say a few more things about this with an important concession. We call this complicating matters.

This (USA) is the best country in the world. This could sound really trite, simplistic, and insensitive (among other things). But it's true. I work in a profession (higher education) that has its big-time liberal tendencies. Believe me. And we have certain representatives of those liberal politics throughout our media saturated culture that give good voice to consistent cultural critique (sure, conservative folk criticize our American ways, as well, but I'm just stating the obvious about the American Left and it's historical criticism of various American industries, politics, etc.).

Despite all of that, this is a true land of opportunity. To deny this is idiotic. People still come from all over the world to build a new life, a better life than the one they had in whatever country from which they traveled. No denying this. Anyone I've asked (in higher ed., I come across A LOT of immigrants) says this is a great country. No question. End of story. We need to always remember this.

We need to remember this despite the fucking horrid political correctness deacons that would have us subdue our reasonable criticisms of other cultures' gross incivility. We have our corruption, our greed, our histories of racism and discrimination. But we, from my little hole in the ground, can be quite rational, civil and altruistic. Our military branches are great examples of this. I am more and more impressed by the students I have who serve. Their maturity is real and their sense of right and wrong steadfast. They best represent this country.

Unfortunately our pop culture gets all (most) of the headlines. We're better known for our Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen and Kim Kardashian.

I think Kim Kardashian is the most disturbing. . . I don't even know what to call it.
The I hate Kim Kardashian sites are out in numbers. Please visit one/them to vote? No, that doesn't sound right. Don't visit them. Don't even look at her. Never say her name.
What is she? Why is she?

This, unfortunately, is not what we see. We just see her fat ass and bleached skin.

Please go away.

Now that Le Tour is over, I don't have much to watch on TV, so maybe I'll go away.

Like my friend Tim, who has recently admitted that what he likes most of all about ultras is running at night because he feels more cut-off from the world than at any other time, I suppose I need to engage my running appetite.

I will, but I did hear back from the doctor today about my foot x-rays. No fracture, which sounds right, but a lot of swelling in the something plantar metatarsal area; and something about degenerative bone, which just means I'm getting old. I have been having pain across the top of my left foot, but I guess the swelling, the sprain, is in the plantar and the pain is just resonating to the top?

She recommends 2 weeks off. Nothing on the foot. And then back at it slowly. I have been dealing with this injury for 8-9 months. Have taken time off, but never completely. I will blog more about this because I had some other weird foot issues this past 8-9 months, so now it's kinda making some sense. Somewhere in there. . . Yo, Feet!

I have to keep lifting (loving that, thanks Lucho) and need to get my diet under control.
Holy shit.

I feel like Kim Kardashian's ass.

These Trends

Just finished cleaning my uzi.

Tiger Woods is physically deteriorating, which is the result of extensive use of steroids. That guy will go down in history as one of the biggest douche-bags for not only his sex scandal (which was hugely embarrassing and pathetic - would love to blog about that!), but, probably worse (since we're all so capable of forgiveness in light of one's "turn-around" defined by his/her #WINNING), because of his fall from the professional golf ranks. He's done. Jack Nicklaus' historic 18 majors will remain the standard and Woods, locked-in at 14, will just fade-out.

Certainly, people can attribute his fall to a mental/emotional state that's kept him from reaching that level of confidence that helped define his game. The scandal, the press, his ruined marriage to a seemingly classy gal and their lovely children. . . it's just too much for him. He's mentally fried and emotionally devastated.

Bullshit. The guy is over all of that marital/familial tumult. Hell, consider his values to begin with. He's not that devastated. He's already proved he CAN'T be. Sure it hurt. Did you see his caddy break-up? This guy moves-on as fast as a loser pervert hits on a diner waitress or a neighborhood teen.

He, like his buddy Alex Rodriguez, who's on the DL again and has already thrown-in the towel on chasing Hank Aaron's HR record (Sure Bonds surpassed Aaron, but Bonds is . . ..), is breaking-down. That's what steroids do. They're GRRRRREEAAAAT (Tony the Tiger voice pun intended) while you're putting-up those sick numbers, but eventually you gonna breakdown.

That will be an interesting lens with which to watch Lance age. I used to follow him on twitter and as of a year or so ago, he was training for an ironman. Then he wasn't. I'm not sure why he stopped preparing, but it wouldn't surprise me if he's physically not able to, especially given his standards of wanting to win a race like that.

Granted, different kinds of PEDs probably have different long-term effects. But many of these athletes start to breakdown physically. That's the way it is. Tiger fell out of the top 20 as of today. He's done. He's a cheating (on many levels) washed-up derelict. Long live The Golden Bear.

Like Tiger, I'm so sick of this economy bullshit. If you notice those few finance blogs on my blogroll, you'll see I'm just trying to tune-in to that cultural chart. Those guys are fairly tuned-in to the politics and economics of the world, as it affects their $$. This debt ceiling crap is basically just turning-out to be a lesson on how soft our President is and how completely incompetent is our congress. Enough said. There are no winners here. Our economy is a mess, and one could easily say it too is breaking-down from a long cycle of financial PEDs. In a year or so, I will be able to explain/critique all of this as a result of my home-schooling. In the end, anyone who says Obama put us in this mess is just a giant Boehner. But like I said, and most die-hard democrats would agree, Obama ain't the greatest leader. Period.

This global financial crisis is, well, global. The aforementioned blogroll has much to say about what is going on in Europe. They're in a heap of financial turmoil. Probably because they're having to be more realistic, for instance raising interest rates, etc. Hasn't happened here yet.

Let's generalize. Americans are just soft. On the trail running end of things, we have seen a fairly clear sweep of things in terms of the podiums of some of our big races. Roes' focus and determination (already chronicled) I think is on holiday, so that pretty much does it for our Euro resistance in that sport.

There was a discussion on a few blogs a while back after the NF50 in San Francisco. The issue was drug use. My take was why wouldn't it be an issue as purses get bigger, attracting more serios athletes. In Europe, the trail runners seem to be supported handsomely compared to similar type runners over here. Solomon makes my point given wins at WS100 and HR100. That'll be the trend, I'm afraid. Dakota Jones, Anton Krupicka, Dylan Bowman, Mike Wolfe, and whatever other young American you can find to compete in these bigger and bigger ultras most likely won't have what it takes to resist this Euro/international purposeful/professional surge of talent washing ashore. . .and dominating in these types of competitions.

Nick Clark is not an American in the way these generalizations go. He's a badass Brit who has put a very serious stamp on the scene as of late. Enough said.

And did anyone catch the win and beverageing by Mr. Darren Clarke at the Open Championship? He's an old dude who chain smokes and drinks like a fish. He won easily and stayed-up all night drinking. Came to the following day's press conference having not slept. Find the sound bite. Classic. Here's a pic pre all-nighter. Accepting the trophy. The Euros just know how to get things done. Generalizations. Often work.

Nick, Darren . . . either way, classic guys getting things done. In terms of golf, the last . . ..7 out of 8 majors? Have been won by non-Americans. Americans are just not getting it done out there. But an old Northern Irishman is, pint in one hand, putter in the other.

There are so many directions this discussion can go. I'm looking at the culture. The NFL and NBA are just so American and frankly, not that interesting. That's just me. Trail running, cycling, golf, tennis, soccer . . . the sports that I love are being dominated by Europeans. Expect it to continue, for the most part.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Was I Thinking?

Whatever you think you can do or
believe you can do, begin it. Action
has magic, grace and power in it.

From the Joel Zucker plaque

My last post about Tim's HR100 race essentially highlighted the risk involved in that particular race (the 2011 version specifically) and suggested that it might be worthwhile to interrupt our congratulatory hoots and raise-the-roofs in light of the gravity of the situation. To my point, he got all kinds of pats on the back for his efforts. Mine was definitely a marginal perspective (and I did say "Nice F-ing job, dude" as well).

As is typical of this human world, the majority voice gets its word heard most and pretty much colors the overall impression of whatever is being calculated; the minority view needs more evidence or must simply persist using all means of strategy and eloquence and might in the end catch a small share of the ears dangling out there in the wind.

My reconciliation of HR100 concerns a discussion of what I want to call mountain ethos or mountain creed. The mountain, needlesstosay, has its own culture. That culture has a language, values, histories, laws, competing regimes, kings and queens, etc. It's a culture. And the members of that culture have a natural way of seeing the world that is particular to that culture, the histories, values, etc.

This may seem obvious, but what Tim did, or what AJW did at Angeles Crest 100 in 2004, or even what Eric Skaggs did to his kidneys a few years ago (shame on him!) are all of them understood as inherent/germane to this lifestyle of the mountain. So, the congratulatory emails and blog posts for Tim and other runners and hikers and climbers that have met some manner of crisis are true to the mountain creed.

In fact, these kinds of disasters are expected; there is no doubt an understanding that people will suffer trauma during such adventurous events as mountainous 100s (any type of ultra or endurance race for that matter). I think my last post works as a concerned reader saying, "wait, that's not as cool as you all think. In fact, I think that sucked." But in the context of what Tim was doing and what all endurance athletes are doing, especially ultra distance mountain runners, what he did is fairly courageous and, well, amazing (okay, I said it). We might even venture to say that what he and others did in that race is par for the course.

Chris' comments that Tim excerpted in his HR100 Afterthoughts post speak to this kind of mountain ethos. I have to copy them here:

"I hope you made it back to civilization alight and are recovering well. I just wanted to tell you again how impressed I was with how you stuck in with the race, and more importantly, how you handled yourself when things went south out in Putnam. I was glad to be able to be around and able to lend a hand to you and JT, but the person that saved you was you. If you weren't as tough and as well-trained as you are, you never would have pulled off a 2 hour wander in those conditions. At that point when we had to turn around and head back, hoping to find a flag to get us back on track, I've never had a more sickening feeling in my gut. Most people, even having made it as far as you had, lose it right there and I pretty much figured I'd killed you with that wrong turn. That you had the guts to turn it around and keep moving at that point is what made for a successful close to the evening.

All that crap aside, great work getting after the run and sticking in to the finish. I'll let you draw your own lessons about what Hardrock is and what it isn't, but in my opinion, the guys like yourself, Mike Mason, Christian Johnson, and some of the other legit racers who saw their goals and expectations crumble but still pushed on for the finish help define what the run is all about. It's not Western States, and never will be."

Heavy. There is no bullshit there. There's a very clear view of the world shaped in those words.
That's just one particular example of the mountain creed at work, carrying-on despite all kinds of hell in the belly of that whale.

I pasted a picture of Chris McCandless in my aforementioned post. I said Tim's report read reminiscent of Into the Wild. I might have been stretching that some, but Tim's incredible candor about his self-perception, the role his own insecurities played in that Hardrock ordeal further that connection between McCandless and what some ultra runners put themselves through to finish.

But here I bring-up McCandless for the way Krakauer makes vivid an extreme version of this mountain creed. Krakauer defends McCandless. His book is an argument that claims the boy is more admirable than many experts think. In his account of the boy's fatal journey, Krakauer supports his argument with references to Jack London, Thoreau, Everett Ruess, John Muir, and even Krakauer himself in his bid to climb Alaska's Devil's Thumb. There are other references as well, all of them made to somehow suggest that what McCandless did is just part of the mountain or wilderness creed. And yes, as is the case with some of his examples, death is part of the ethos of the mountain, the mountain character.

I would say one of the big ethical arguments of committing to such brutal trials of man vs. wild is man and woman's willingness to die.

Granted, I think my previous post was legit and I loved the comments some readers left. But I think I stand corrected, so to speak. We might agree that Hardrock should undergo some genre scrutiny (should it be classified as "trail 100 miler?"), but in the end that's not going to happen given the heart and soul of the ultra running community. That would be way out of character.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hard(rock 100) to Grasp

I had so much fun blogging a couple of weeks ago in the aftermath of Western States, and really wanted to maintain some consistency in posting some of my neurotic thoughts on so many things sport. I've started 84 different posts in my head only to fail to get to the keyboard. But seriously, I've been slammed at work. Grateful am I!

My latest excuse for waiting to post is actually a good one: I wanted to wait until a friend of mine finished Hardrock 100. There was a lot of build-up to this race, at least in the small virtual space where I sometimes loiter on blogger and twitter. The Matt Harts, Karl Meltzers, Dakota Smiths and Irunfars of the world were making their ways to Silverton. Of course, Tim was on his way having gotten into the race officially at the llth hour, as were Sir Clark and Mr. Jamie, Joe Grant, another Solomon sponsored euro, Julien Chorier (who'd been touted during WS100 and else where), as well as a whole host of other runners and fans (I have virtually no familiarization with the women other than Darcy Africa and Diana Finkel appeared to be racing mano a mano for the win).

So, granted, there was certainly some buzz, but I was by far most interested in how Footfeathers would fair. I got to see and kinda feel some of his pain at the end of the SD100 about a month ago. He talked in his race report about how he'd definitely been running and ultra racing consistently leading-up to this race in the San Juan Mountains. He wasn't going-in that brand-spankin new; he's been living and breathing trail ultra (read some of his interviews), legitimately. Or so it seemed.

Definitely read his race report, all of it. The best word I can come-up with now is "troubling" (I say courageous, brave, resilient, and ballsy too; but this 2011 Hardrock sounds downright dark, especially from my friend's perspective).

I started digging the trail back in 2008. I found the Lucho/GZ tribe and have been pretty dialed-in ever since. I started with 25k southern Cali trail races with ~3k vert and lovely views of the Pacific or Vegas and that was about as much as I felt like going. I trained with some ultra folk, did some big training runs in the Lagunas of San Diego county, but had not and still have not toed the line for a 50k or up (which is all going to change, I promise).

But my point is that despite wanting at some point to run an ultra marathon, I thought the 100 mile distance was foolhardy. I felt like the distance invited too much potential for genuine trouble. Sure, some elites might have a go and let her rip for ~20 hours, but the mid to rear packer had no reason to be there creeping so close to that edge. "You want to do 100 miles (or 135 from valley to mountain top)? Fine. But take a tent and some camping gear."

And the cherry on top was a picture I saw on one guy's blog, capturing one of the "highlights" of his travels during Badwater, I believe, where he's laid-out in a chair at an aid station, both feet in the air like he's giving birth, with two crew members attending to his feet/socks/shoes, and another handful milling about with various gear and refreshment. In my own naviete, ignorance (yet competitive soul) I thought this is pathetic. The dire condition. The dependence upon all of these friends and volunteers. Wow. Not for me.

I have changed somewhat. The blogging has kept that possibility alive, of my own pilgrimage to run something really big. And helping (in whatever slight way I could) Tim at SD100 definitely got me thinking. I'm going to run 50k and 50mi and there's an outside chance I try a 100, especially the one in my own backyard.

But then there's a race report like Tim's. It's tough to reconcile. I know these trials and tribulations define us, create us. We grow through and because of them. Admittedly, I think this race is different. Hardrock seems otherworldly, brutally harsh. Troubling. I haven't talked to Tim other than a couple of texts and a comment on his blog. I'm confused.

My gut says no way was that worth it. The breathing problems, the danger on some of the passes, especially the one on which "Chris" totally saved his phucking life. I'm blown away by the recklessness of it. The rapids, the lightning. The wet feet.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I firmly believe that. But I doubted it for a second while reading Tim's report. Of course, there were many runners certainly who fared worse than he. His report, along with some of the photos made me think of Chris McCandless. Spooky.

I would love to do 100 miles in the San Juans. On a long weekend. With a lot of beer. And a beach chair at my own personal aid station at the end of each day.

God bless Tim and the other survivors. Seriously.

Stay-tuned for more: I'm wondering about a champion's true appeal. And, of course, the euros are coming? Wrong. They already own the place. . .