Monthly Archives: October 2009

Marathons and Plodders: Why Not?

I didn’t run this morning. I went around and around in a circle for 50 minutes on the elliptical trainer instead. But I expect I’ll hit the concrete Saturday and Sunday for my early a.m. running tour of the neighborhood.

00000116A_0654I’d rather be in New York Sunday — running the New York City Marathon with some 40,000 others. I gave up on that idea about 10 years ago. Why? Well, a couple reasons.

For me, training for a marathon became too difficult. Trying to build mileage to the point where you were spending your weekends (or weekdays) doing 15-mile or longer runs before the race was just too much.

The run itself — for most people like me — is difficult. Let’s face it. You get to 20 miles — and you still have a 10K to go.

And after completing three marathons (Columbus, Marine Corps and Pittsburgh) now more than 20 years ago, I didn’t want to take the chance of finishing near the end of the pack — or not finishing at all. Not everyone shares that concern — nor should they.

To finish a marathon under four hours, you have to maintain a pace of about 9 minutes a mile. Last year, according to an article in the NYT, 44 percent of the runners in the Honolulu Marathon finished in more than six hours — with some stopping to have lunch along the way. Woot.

In New York, last year about 20 percent of the field finished in more than five hours — and the race officially ends at 6:30 (although the timing will continue past the eight hour mark).

So what? Well apparently this is becoming  an issue among race directors and marathoners — pitting the so-called hard-core runners against the runners against the joggers against the walkers and so on. Here’s from the NYT article by Juliet Macur, “Plodders Have a Place, but Is It in a Marathon?“:

Every weekend during this fall marathon season, long after most runners have completed the 26.2-mile course — and very likely after many have showered, changed and headed for a meal — a group of stragglers crosses the finish line.

Many of those slower runners, claiming that late is better than never, receive a finisher’s medal just like every other participant. Having traversed the same route as the fleeter-footed runners — perhaps in twice the amount of time — they get to call themselves marathoners.

And it’s driving some hard-core runners crazy.

“It’s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours,” said Adrienne Wald, 54, the women’s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, who ran her first marathon in 1984. “It used to be that running a marathon was worth something — there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?’ ”

“How low is the bar?” I won’t pretend to have an answer to that — if there even is one. People run a marathon — or pick any distance, running or walking — for a variety of reasons. And I’ve always considered these events to be a celebration of life — of setting a goal and working toward accomplishing it. Beyond the elite runners, you’ll see a lot of smiles and a lot of personal stories unfolding among the thousands who work their way through Central Park to the finish line on Sunday, regardless of the time on the clock.

In my three marathons, I finished in 4:05, 4:11 and 4:28 (give or take a few seconds). So maybe that qualifies me as a plodder. Who knows?

What I do know is that I would love to have the opportunity — and stamina, mental and physical — to run another marathon.

So good luck to all who are running the New York Marathon Sunday.

And unless you’re getting paid for the 26.2 mile self-propelled trip through the Big Apple, don’t worry about the time.

In the long run it doesn’t matter.


Swine Flu: Clogging the Web

Rainy mornings, Wednesdays and chasing the belt on the treadmill. Wonder if there is a song — or a poem — in all that? Probably not. But it sure is gloomy here in NE Ohio.

Two former Cleveland Indians Cy Young hurlers will have a go at it in the opener of the World Series. (Remember when baseball used to be played in the summer?) The Cavs got thumped last night in the season opener. (C’mon folks — come in off the ledge. It’s only one game.) And the most popular outdoor activity these days appears to be standing in line for the nonexistent swine flu vaccine. Woot.

The issue with swine flu is no laughing matter — although I’ll admit to poking some of the medical pooh-bahs about it in previous posts. Here’s reality: people have died, there appear to be plenty of people sick now with more to come, and people are confused about what to do, if anything at all.

And here’s another potential problem. The Government Accountability Office reports that as the swine flu spreads workers and students who stay home may overload and overwhelm Internet networks. Here’s from Cecilia Kang, writing in The Washington Post:

The Government Accountability Office reported earlier this week that if the flu reaches a pandemic, a surge in telecommuting and children accessing video files and games at home could bog down local networks.

And if that were to happen, it is not clear whether the federal government is prepared to deal with the problem, the GAO said.

The Department of Homeland Security is in charge of communications networks during times of national emergency. But it doesn’t have a strategy to deal with overloaded Internet networks — an essential resource to keep the economy humming, and residents informed and connected during a pandemic, the GAO said. Furthermore, the DHS hasn’t coordinated with agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission to create guidelines for how telecom, cable and satellite providers can minimize congestion.

Such confusion “would increase the risk that the federal government will not be able to respond rapidly or effectively if a pandemic quickly emerges,” the GAO reported.

If nothing else, the entire situation involving swine flu demonstrates how difficult it is to communicate — and to achieve some level of understanding on complex subjects. And to the extent people are confused, scared — or ill, certainly — and don’t leave home, then we may have a disruption in how many of us communicate with each other these days: online.

Stay tuned.

Big Issue: What’s Wrong with Washington?

Lot of big policy fish in the skillet these days. The health-care public option — is back after the lobbyists and other gasbags declared it DOA a week or so ago. The administration has declared swine flu a national emergency — but good luck getting the vaccine. And the Prez is pondering whether or not to send more American men and women into the dark hole that is Afghanistan.

Yet as I was circling the neighborhood this morning at 5 a.m. it struck me that none of these issues matters as much to most people inside the Beltway these days as this — What’s wrong with the Washington Redskins?

Let’s face it, the Redskins are in worse shape than the nation’s economy.

The Redskins (2-5) got thumped by Philadelphia last night for their third consecutive loss. The fans are booing team owner Dan Snyder as though he were a Wizard of Wall Street cashing one of the mega-bonus checks. And coach Jim Zorn has been stripped of his duties for calling plays — with a newly hired consultant, Sherman Lewis, now directing the offense. By the way, that seems to me to reduce Zorn’s role to the equivalent of being a piano player in a whorehouse. Nice to have around — but not essential. I digress. (And I apologize for lifting that line from someone/someplace that I can’t even begin to remember.)

Full disclosure: I could care less about the Washington Redskins. That’s true for pro football in general — except for in late December when the whether is foul in NE Ohio and the Pittsburgh Steelers are on their way to another Super Bowl ring. Then I’m in.

But people do care — about the Redskins and sports in general at all levels. For professional sports, not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s a sense of community, aligning yourself with others and caring about something that you are really not directly a part of. (That, by the way, separates for me professional from college and high school sports.) Maybe it’s social networking in real life — sharing experiences with friends, family, business associates and so on. Maybe it’s just a way to kill time in front of the tube or on Twitter.

But people take pro sports seriously — and the debates over the Redskins in DC and elsewhere these days are every bit as contentious as the now long-forgotten health-care town hall meetings.

For instance, here’s the take of Steve Hendrix, writing in the WaPo, “As Redskins fumble, some fans are saying, See ya“:

Dave Hoskins did something a week ago he had never done in eight years of going to Redskins games: He didn’t go to the Redskins game.

A self-proclaimed team “addict” for 30 years and part of a season-ticket group since 2001, the Bethesda contractor woke up Sunday, looked at the likely poor weather and the likely worse game and just bagged it.

“Last weekend was the first weekend I decided to do something else,” he said. “I watched most of it on TV, but I wasn’t going to sit through that misery.”

In most cities, a few thousand fans skipping NFL games during a bad season wouldn’t be remarkable. But in Washington, the empty seats reported recently at FedEx Field have raised a question long unthinkable in Redskins Nation: Are significant cracks appearing in one of professional football’s most rock-solid fan bases.

OK. I don’t have a solution for the Redskins here. Maybe they are too big to fail — and warrant a federal government bailout.

But if that plan does start to emerge, I only ask that the DC pooh-bahs consider that things may in fact be worse outside the Beltway.

Anyone watch the Cleveland Browns lately?


Sleeping on the Job? Why Not?

I’ve enjoyed hitting the concrete early a.m. for the past two weekends. And I’m not sure whether my new shoe insert is helping, or I’m just adapting to the pain. Whatever. It’s good to get up, scan the online media and time-suck sites, and look forward to heading out the door.

While on my own journey around the neighborhood, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Northwest Airlines jet that missed the Minneapolis airport last week by a 150 miles or so. Oops. And this isn’t just a — “my bad” — moment for the pilots. It raises some scary and important safety issues — as well as some that touch on our national security post 9/11. I don’t like flying these days under most circumstances, but I know for sure that I don’t want to look out the window and see a flock of fighter jets giving me the thumbs up.

OK. Were the pilots asleep? At least one says no. I heard him say that to an NBC news reporter this weekend. Hard for me to believe that the pilots weren’t asleep. I guess we’ll see.

In any event, as long as everyone in the cockpit isn’t sleeping at the same time, is napping such a bad idea? Before the Northwest Airlines debacle, I opined on the subject of napping, suggesting consideration of a federal mandate that would allow everyone to catch some zzzzzzs at work or at school and so on.

And for once I’m not a lone douche bag shouting in the wilderness about an important issue. For instance, Andy Pasztor writes on, “Latest Air-Safety Idea: Naps in the Cockpit.” Joshua Freed and Harry R. Weber look at the issue in this AP story, “Could pilots take a nap make flying safer?

I recognize that it will be a tough sell to convince passengers that it is OK for the pilot to be napping behind a locked door while the plane is moving ahead to what we all hope is its intended destination.

But I’m not sure it is such a bad idea for the airline industry — and it’s one that should be extended to the workplace in general.

The National Sleep Foundation says that 30 percent of the nation complains of disturbed sleep patterns. Will napping solve that problem? No. Insomnia — whether for a night or a long period of time — is a serious issue, one that presents serious medical and other risks.

Yet the benefits of napping are real — and well-documented.

Sleeping on the job? Sure — why not.

Teacher Training — Mediocre?

I was in DC Wednesday, taking a flight from the Akron/Canton airport. And fortunately I returned to Akron/Canton. I thought about that when I heard the incredible — and scary — story of the Northwest Airlines flight that missed Minneapolis by 150 miles or so. Wonder if the pilots were texting? I digress.

My trip to DC involved a meeting that touched broadly on education and jobs. And no matter how you cut it, as a nation we are failing a generation of young people who either drop out of high school, or graduate without the education or skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. Lot of reasons for all this — but more and more I see the fingers of blame being pointed at classroom teachers.

Wish I could accept that and move on. But nah. Much more involved here than classroom teachers — and there is plenty of responsibility and blame to be shared inside the classroom, in our homes, and in every community — rich and poor — in the nation. And saying that, teachers really do make a difference in the lives of young people. It is a difficult job — and not the most rewarding, financially.

Anyway, Education Secretary Arne Duncan raised an interesting issue in a speech yesterday essentially about teacher education and training. Here’s an excerpt from a NYT story by Jennifer Medina, “Teacher Training Termed Mediocre“:

During a speech at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Mr. Duncan said that too often the schools of education were simply seen as a “cash cow” for universities, because they are relatively inexpensive to run and have high enrollment.

“By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom,” he said.

I’m sure there will be plenty of debate over the “mediocre” charge. And I can’t speak for the quality of teacher training overall, but I wrote a story (“Teaching Teachers“) for a recent issue of Kent State magazine about Kent’s teacher education program and my view is that it is a solid approach — with good results.

But there is one exception at Kent — and elsewhere.

It is difficult — maybe impossible — to prepare teachers for the discipline problems they will face in the K-12 classroom.

Here’s from a WaPo article by Jay Mathews based on an advance copy of Duncan’s remarks:

Duncan’s speech points out two major deficiencies in education school teaching with which most critics would agree: They do a bad job teaching students how to manage disruptive classrooms, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, and they don’t offer much in the way of training new teachers how to use data to improve their classroom results.

Managing disruptive classrooms. That’s a key point often overlooked in the debate about the quality of education — and the ability to prepare students for work, college and life beyond the classroom.

Is teaching education mediocre? I expect in some — perhaps many — cases yes.

But the reality is that no matter how effective the training is teachers can’t solve all the problems they face in the classroom — and that students bring with them each and every time they step into a classroom.

I give Duncan credit for raising this issue. It’s an important one, without easy answers.

And ending the week on a more pleasant note, good luck to everyone running the New York City Marathon Sunday. I know that is something I won’t be able to do now — but gee, it sure is a nice thought heading into the weekend.

Update: Oops. New York City Marathon, in case anyone cares, is next weekend. OK. I’m losing it. And I can’t even blame it on my late afternoon meeting with John Jameson — since I posted this orignially early a.m.

Will You Retire — Or Not?

I made it outside on the concrete again this morning for a five-mile run at 5 a.m. Quite pleasant, actually. This is the time of year in NE Ohio when you can catch some nearly perfect running conditions in the early morning: mild temps, no wind, perfectly clear sky. And the stars far outnumbered the headlights. Woot.

I wrote yesterday about exercise and my belief in the value of keeping active. That was in the wake of the news about the deaths of three runners during a half marathon in Detroit Sunday. I was thinking about that again this morning — yet with a different twist: working for as long as you can.

We are entering the period when the first wave of the Baby Boomers — me and millions of others — were expected to quit working and fade off into the sunset, looking for the early-bird food specials and the world’s softest yogurt. Not sure that is going to happen for a variety of reasons.

First, the economic meltdown has had a chilling effect on retirement savings (see Business Week, “The Retirement Dilemma: Keep Working?“) and on the expectations of those already or soon-to-be retired. And many of the 77 million members of the Baby Boomer generation — perhaps 25 percent — now say they will delay retirement. (See USA Today, “For Boomers — recession is redefining retirement.”)

Second, there is growing evidence that working — like exercise — keeps you healthy. For instance, here’s from an article in the NYT this morning by Tara Parker-Pope, “For a Healthy Retirement, Keep Working“:

Many people view retirement as a time to stop working. But new research shows that people who take on full- or part-time jobs after retirement have better health.

The finding is based on data collected from 12,189 men and women over a 6-year period. The participants, who were from ages 51 to 61 at the start of the study, answered questions about their employment history, experiences after retirement and their physical and mental health.

Researchers from the University of Maryland found that men and women who kept working after retirement had fewer major diseases or disabilities than those who quit work, according to the study published this month in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Retirees benefited whether the work was a full- or part-time job, self-employment or temporary.

Wow. Who would have considered this years ago? Both running and working are good for you.

Might as well keep at it.

Marathons: Run Till You Die?

I had two good runs over the weekend. Five miles in a cold drizzle early Saturday morning. Another five miles on a crisp, clear Sunday morning. This morning I hit the elliptical trainer, a concession to a nagging foot and leg injury. But hey. I’m still moving. Even if it is just in a circle. Still, I wonder how dangerous it is to engage in any vigorous exercise?

I was thinking about that Sunday night after hearing reports about three men who died while running a half marathon in Detroit yesterday morning. (Early reports indicated that two of the runners may have been attempting the full marathon.) And no one — at least at this point — knows what caused the deaths.

And stating the obvious, the deaths are tragic — for the runners, their families and friends. It’s also scary — for all us who get up every morning (afternoon or evening) and hit the pavement, grind away on one of the trainers, bike, swim, whatever.

For those of you who know me or read this blog, you know I am an avid advocate for the benefits of exercise, physical and mental. During the past 30 years or so, I’ve run more than 30,000 miles, completed three marathons and a half dozen or so half marathons. And I believe most “experts”  would opine that the value of exercise trumps the risk of sudden death or even serious injury.

Yet I know there are no guarantees. There is some risk involved in everything. But if you look at the statistics, the chance of dying while running in a road race — at almost any distance — is almost nonexistent. For perspective, here is an article from Runner’s World and another from the Detroit Free Press online.

And one of the best articles I have read on this subject is by Amby Burfoot, a world-class runner and longtime writer and editor on these subjects, in Runner’s World, “Special Report: Are Marathons Dangerous?

So my take on all this?

Given a choice, I’ll continue to run as often and as far as I can — and take my chances.

I expect that most will do likewise — despite the stories about an occasional tragic death during a road race.

Running — and participating in road races as a weekend warrior — is a celebration of life. Don’t believe me? Go to the finish line and watch the reaction of those completing their first race, walking or running.  And from that time on, no matter how many you’ve done you don’t take the accomplishment for granted.

And my friend Walter used to tell me when we were complaining about something during our long runs together — “run or die.”

Good advice.