Random Thoughts During the Time of Coronavirus

One side effect of this interlude, for those of us who are staying home except for solo, well-distanced walks is that there is lots of time to culture-watch and think.

Here are my observations:

  • Some researcher needs to compare coronavirus statistics to residence type. Big apartment buildings have elevators and interior hallways. Smaller ones have exterior stairwells, typically shared by 4 units. Single family homes can be densely packed or more spread out. Based on this, it might be possible to tease out information on how contagious the virus is, outdoors, via brief, incidental encounters, at varying levels of social distancing. It would be a nasty data-crunching problem, but hey, that’s what supercomputers are for.
  • Smoking seems to be on the increase. I am astounded by the number of people I see smoking. And it’s not just people stepping out for smoke breaks. People are smoking while mowing their lawns, walking the dog, unloading groceries, etc., etc., etc.
  • Vaping seems to have vanished. Are people reacting to the concerns about lung disease and vaping by switching back to cigarettes, during the time of the virus?
  • People make an enormous number of trips a day to their cars. This mystifies me. Many if not most of them aren’t actually going anywhere. They just go to the car, do various things that do not involve getting in the car to drive, then go back indoors. This is clearly a piece of American culture that has bypassed me, all my life.
  • Similarly, parked cars often have people in them. I’ve learned to give them a wide berth because they often have rolled-down windows, and walking too close to a car is a formula for a surprise encounter. Often the occupant is smoking (see above), but sometimes they are fiddling with phones or just sitting. Perhaps this is how people do another type of psychologically necessary social distancing, and temporarily escape from being cooped up 24/7 with too many family members?

On second thought, maybe the last of these also explains all the trips to the cars. Any excuse to get some physical and emotional space. People also seem to be mowing their lawns frequently. I bet we are heading into a bumper year for landscape management.

Meanwhile, I’ve developed my own social distancing quirks. I’ve studied the neighborhood patterns and learned when people are most active. Walking at the warmest time on beautiful spring days, for example, is to be avoided.

And, rather amazingly, walking in sleet (which we can get in spring showers) is fun, invigorating, and feels remarkably safe.

It’s amazing how much you can learn and observe in a month (which is about how long I’ve been doing this).

Stay safe…observe…and stay sane.

Alberto Salazar’s Legacy

Note: This post was written nearly a week before Mary Cain published her experiences with Alberto and the Nike Oregon Project in the New York Times. This post deals entirely with the doping ban. My thoughts on Mary’s revelations are in a separate post.

Alberto Salazar in Eugene, 2008. Credit: Cal Hopkins.

Six years ago, I shared a bus ride with Alberto Salazar. It was the 2013 Chicago Marathon and we both had runners in the elite field. Security was tight, and the only way to and from the elite start was by bus. Going to the start, all went well, but on the way back, the bus driver got lost, winding up in a warren of underground parking garages. After several frustrating minutes, he halted. “Anybody want out?”

I’m not sure which of us was quickest to shout “yes,” but Alberto and I were first off the bus. I knew Chicago better than he did, and, with a bit of luck, led him through underground walkways and stairwells until we emerged near Michigan Avenue.

We were about a mile from the elite coaches’ viewing area, so we started jogging. Alberto was faster than me, but I’d spent the previous day scouting the finish, so I was the one who knew where to go. For about half the way, we ran companionably together. Then two black guys who’d gotten off the bus behind us passed by.

“Now the Kenyan coaches are beating me!” Alberto grumbled, and started to give chase—a problem, because the Kenyans were either going to somewhere other than the elite viewing area, or were going or were equally in the dark about how to find it. They overshot the turn in, with Alberto still trying to chase them until I managed to call him back and point him in the right direction.

Over the years, I’ve recalled this story many times. It is, quite simply, the quintessential Alberto Salazar story: funny at the time, but a microcosm of the hyper-competitiveness that would contribute, years later, to his undoing.

Continue reading Alberto Salazar’s Legacy

The science of running and aging

I wrote this article in 2009 for Running Times, and amazingly it’s still online. It’s also an evergreen topic: “The Science of Aging and Running: Why your body slows and what you can do about it.

Last spring, fresh into a new masters age group, I ran a 5K. Nothing unusual in that; I’d run spring 5Ks the year before … and the year before that … for quite a few years. The surprise was that I was 45 seconds faster than I’d been in any recent year. Age-graded, it was a massive PR.

Short course, I thought, but a couple weeks later, I did it again, then twice more. Friends were wondering about my training. “What are you doing differently?” they asked.

When I went back and looked at my training logs, the answer was surprising: I’d cut back my mileage. I’d done it simply because I was busy, but as the winter progressed, my speed workouts had responded. For masters runners, less is often more.

Aging, like injuries, is one of those things most of us prefer to deny...read more.