They’re Faster than You

by Kieran Healy on May 25, 2007

By all accounts not any sort of couch potato, Ogged is understandably distressed to look at the age-group records for his chosen event, the 50 meters freestyle, and find that he has to go all the way up to the 75-79 age group to find a time he would stand a chance of beating.

I have the related experience of having family members who are irritatingly athletic. For instance, my brother was on the Irish cross-country team and won a bunch of stuff in college. My sister-in-law ran the Chicago marathon in 2004—her first—and finished seventeenth. Worst of all, two years before I was even born my uncle won a marathon in Kaduna in a time of 2:15:03, then the fastest time ever run in Africa, and now more than thirty five years later still one of the the 20 fastest marathons ever run by any Irishman. (And also, to my knowledge, still the fastest marathon ever run in Nigeria.)

Elite athletes are different from you and me, and this is true even when, as in my case, you share a significant percentage of their genes. My sister-in-law once told me of the experience—common amongst top women athletes—of being out for a run and getting held up at a stop light. Some regular semi-fit guy out for his evening jog runs up alongside, and glances over. The light changes, and the guy takes off at an unsustainable speed because, obviously, it would be a violation of natural law for a woman to be able to run faster than a guy. Having gone through this one too many times, my sister-in-law adopted the strategy of just tucking in behind the guy and waiting to see what would happen. After a short while he realizes she’s behind him. He tries to go faster. He glances behind. She’s still there. A very short while later the guy, now beginning to boil in a self-made vat of lactic acid, starts making random turns down streets in a desperate effort to shake his pursuer. It doesn’t work. Eventually the guy grinds to a halt, she breezes by, he’s left gasping for air and maybe reflecting on his views on gender.

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1

ogged 05.25.07 at 4:02 am

Elite athletes are different from you and me

So true. In my younger days, I played basketball instead of swimming, and I was considered a “good athlete.” Then I played against some guys from major Division I schools (guys who weren’t even good enough to go pro) and was utterly at their mercy. No amount of training on my part could have resulted in anything like the strength or explosiveness they had. Which brings up another point about elite athletes: your examples are of cardiovascular fitness, mine of explosive power, and elite athletes are those people who obsessively develop one or two gifts to extremes, which moves them even farther away from normal.

2

lindsey 05.25.07 at 4:18 am

If it makes you feel better, I’d have to go up to the 80-84 range, and I swam for a good part of my life. Though I never was very fast, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

3

Anarch 05.25.07 at 6:24 am

I had a friend who was second or third string on the Carolina basketball team — I’m not sure he was anything other than a benchwarmer, tbh — and I got to watch him play a pickup game on the streets of Philly once. It was all fine and dandy until the kid he was playing busted one move to many. My friend narrowed his eyes, lined up and juked the kid so fast that I literally didn’t see him move; one moment he was drifting to the kid’s right, the next he was four feet behind the kid’s left shoulder for an easy lay-up.

I’ve never seen a person move so fast in my life, at least not live. It was unreal. And, while like ogged I was once considered a “good athlete”, I can’t even imagine being that good… and he wasn’t even good enough to play at UNC, let alone in the pros.

4

Kevin Rooney 05.25.07 at 7:48 am

Rollerblades.
Rollerblades make you 60% faster. (You can do a mile in the time it takes to run a kilometer).
BUT
unlike a bicycle, you feel like you are doing it.
For swimming, good fins.
Nothing you can do about team sports except admire. It is wonderful to witness.

5

mollymooly 05.25.07 at 8:00 am

If a male elite runner tried your sister-in-law’s trick with female casual joggers he’d soon get arrested.

6

Teddy 05.25.07 at 8:01 am

The only guy who should reflect on his views on gender after such an episode is someone who is so incredibly stupid as to think that every man is faster than any woman. But no one is so stupid. So, our “regular semi-fit guy” should actually continue believing that he is probably faster than the next female runner that he encounters.

7

Scyon 05.25.07 at 8:24 am

What teddy said. Your sister-in-law’s time would have been good enough to finish 235th in the male division of the 2004 Chicago Marathon. Of course the guy gasping for air my indeed be in need of some reflecting on his views on gender, but his views on gender in regards to athletic performance? Not so much.

8

reuben 05.25.07 at 8:39 am

If a male elite runner tried your sister-in-law’s trick with female casual joggers he’d soon get arrested

The world is of course chock full of female joggers attempting to prove their mettle against elite male runners, thus causing the males to act as did Kieran’s sister in law. Apparently these testosterone-charged, gauntlet throwing women used to drive poor Seb Coe to tears, and if rumour is to be believed, he did at least two stints in Wormwood Scrubs prison for running closely behind them until they tired. Steve Cram suffered too: he once got pressured into a race by a 63-year-old widow from Staines, who he proceeded to tail for 22 miles, thus wrecking his chances of winning A Very Big Competition the next day.

9

Z 05.25.07 at 9:07 am

Reading this post elicited mixed feelings from me. First, I reflected upon the incredible talents of professional swimmers, talents I know very well, having swam at a regional to national level myself. Then, I looked at those times and was thunderstruck: I too could not beat anyone before 75. Then I realized those times must be for the 50 yards dash, so I generously substracted 10% to my benchmark times for the 50 meters and felt good. Then I looked again at those times and realized that even on the day of my personal record, I would have barely beaten Jeff Farrell, who must be 70 nowadays. Then I gave some thoughts to vanity and time passing and declared myself depressed for the day.

10

Michael Mouse 05.25.07 at 9:16 am

Elite athletes are different from you and me

They might have certain real-life advantages (being, generally, physically faster, higher and stronger) but we’d beat ‘em hands down in, say, a race to add a new RSS feed to our favourite newsreader.

11

abb1 05.25.07 at 9:36 am

Maybe that guy just wanted to impress this sister-in-law (attractive?) woman, is it really a good reason to humiliate him? I sense a certain sadistic streak there.

12

ajay 05.25.07 at 10:14 am

Elite athletes are different from you and me

Yes; as your sister-in-law’s story shows, they’re cocky, egotistical little shits who use the ability to lift a slightly heavier piece of metal, or to run slightly faster round and round in circles, as some sort of proxy for innate worth as a human being.

13

Dan Hardie 05.25.07 at 10:15 am

I turned up at my local athletics club after a long lay-off from running. It was agreed I should run a few laps with the women middle-distance runners, and of course I led them easily round the track for the first five or six 800m reps. I don’t know if I actually said ‘is this as fast as you can go?’ but that was certainly what I was thinking. Then came the seventh rep and I came in last, wheezing and in agony. I had to walk, or rather limp, the final 800m. Nobody said a word.

When I turned up next week the coach said ‘Dan, you run with the girls again- you might want to take things a little gentler this time’, at which every single woman runner burst out laughing. Good lesson.

14

HK 05.25.07 at 10:24 am

Maybe that guy just wanted to impress this sister-in-law (attractive?) woman, is it really a good reason to humiliate him? I sense a certain sadistic streak there.

Why would it be humiliating to be beaten by an elite athlete? Or is it simply that the athlete was a woman?

15

Kieran Healy 05.25.07 at 10:26 am

It’s a tough old world, ajay.

16

Alex R 05.25.07 at 11:01 am

A little amusing to me that the fastest marathon in Nigeria was won by an Irishman, rather than someone from someplace a little closer by — such as one of the East African countries that provide most of the world’s top marathoners.

17

Mike Otsuka 05.25.07 at 12:02 pm

Looking at the swimming times, what struck me is how gradual the decline is up until the age of 95, at which point it looks like the dam finally bursts.

18

Slocum 05.25.07 at 12:05 pm

Elite athletes are different from you and me

My experience is that elite athletes are different in their sport (or something closely related), but may be quite ordinary in other sports. So great distance runners will probably also turn out to be excellent distance cyclists, too, but may be lousy at sports requiring hand-eye co-ordination.

I play basketball and softball with several guys who played American football at a high level (elite college programs). And these were speed guys, not huge linemen. They’re good at the other sports, but not amazing. An observer would not necessarily be able to pick them out of the rest of the team.

19

John Emerson 05.25.07 at 12:21 pm

“Then the fastest time ever run in Africa…..”

Times have changed, no?

20

John Protevi 05.25.07 at 1:03 pm

So great distance runners will probably also turn out to be excellent distance cyclists,

Actually, there’s very little crossover at the elite level between distance running (butt and hamstrings) and cycling (quads) due to the specificity of training. For less advanced athletes, there might be some generalized aerobic “cross training” effect, but that doesn’t come into play at elite levels.

Here’s a brief article on the subject.

You do, however, get a strong crossover effect between speed skating and track cycling (both big quad-intensive events). Think Eric Heiden!

21

Kieran Healy 05.25.07 at 1:07 pm

What teddy said. Your sister-in-law’s time would have been good enough to finish 235th in the male division of the 2004 Chicago Marathon.

That’s right. I don’t recall saying that she won, or that women athletes always perform just as well as men. On the other hand, more than thirty three thousand people ran the Chicago marathon in 2004. Finishing 234th put her above the 99.99th percentile of all competitors.

22

John Protevi 05.25.07 at 1:08 pm

Sorry, upon further review, Eric Heiden was a road cyclist, not a track cyclist. 1985 US Professional champion.

23

Nabakov 05.25.07 at 1:11 pm

“Elite athletes are different from you and me”

My experience of this issue is tennis-based. Hot shot junior player, represented my (very small Pacific country) internationally and then played the satillite circuit for a season and a half. You need both explosive energy and stamina in tennis but ultimately it’s not a unique physiology (though a toned one is necessary) but a mental attitude that seperates the elite 1000 or so from all the others in that game.

I gave up because the attractions of university life like sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were much more…um…attractive than practicing and training three hours a day, watching your intake of everything and early nights.

My contempories like Pat Cash and John Frawley stayed focused (tho’ Pat was rather partial to the odd jazz cigarette chased down by a cleansing bourbon and coke) because it was THE BIGGEST THING in their life. I just couldn’t wrap my head around that and so dropped out. Some fitful pennant tennis followed until I decided I was destined to be a gentleman not a player – and only then if the mixed doubles led to other ball sports.

Also agree with slocum about elite athletes not necessarily exclling at other sports. Ever seen a bunch of tennis pros on a golf course? I recall during one hack around, it degenerated into feral hockey/polo ‘cos we found our minds amd muscle memories computed and reacted better when the ball was in motion.

Fun anecdote time: Once played an exhibition match with John Newcombe and aced him beautifully twice to take a game. Like any other cocky 17 year old, I started strutted a bit. Even though Newk was hitting 40 and his best years well behind him, he did not take this well and got a certain glint in his eye. In the next game, he aced me three times in a row with a thunderous display of controlled power and perfect placement. Even though he was no longer a contender, he just couldn’t bear losing. Whereas I could. It’s a mind thing as much as a physical thing in some sports.

24

Hermes 05.25.07 at 1:26 pm

The story about your sis-in-law gave me a good chuckle in the middle of my tedious work morning, thanks Kieran! She sounds pretty awesome. As for mollymooly’s point, yes that is true, a male would soon get arrested, but that’s because, gender-roles being what they are, that male would be creepy in the eyes of society. His intention, the societal eye would surmise, would likely be to stare at her ass and perhaps follow her home or to a secluded location. Kieren’s sis was doing something socially counter-intuitive and with the *intention* of dramatizing a gender-transgression, resulting in what society would see as an amusing irony. The reason it is effective is because she initiated the sequence of events by *conforming* to her gendered place: falling behind the eager fellow. The passive fashion in which her superiority is eventually demonstrated to the guy is the subtle punchline that ameliorates the creepy/threatening aspect of the interaction’s structure.

25

Glorious Godfrey 05.25.07 at 1:41 pm

The moral drawn from the anecdote allows to recognize a very classical view of sports: character-building, occasionally humbling, the whole mens sana in corpore sano kit & kaboodle.

In fact, however, the lesson of contemporary elite sports, if any, is…

Better Living Through Drugs.

Performance-enhancing or not, everybody needs drugs.

26

Glorious Godfrey 05.25.07 at 1:49 pm

There’s this comic, Slaine, where they take a figure from Welsh myth, Afagddu, the extremely ugly son of Ceridwen and Tegid Foel, and present him as Avagddu, the dark side of Earth power. “The Earth Goddess…she had three children…one was the ugliest, most stupid and evil creature that ever existed…” He cannot be denied, however.

Regard #25 as the Avagddu-like sibling of #24.

27

Donald Johnson 05.25.07 at 2:07 pm

“I don’t recall saying that she won, or that women athletes always perform just as well as men”"

Far as I know, the only sport where the top women beat the top men is long distance swimming. But I might be wrong–I don’t have ( much) male ego at stake here and won’t be crushed if someone corrects me.

As for the sister in law story, that was slightly mean-spirited. The thing she should have done, unless she wanted to flirt with this guy, is just continue running at the pace and on the path she would have chosen if this guy weren’t there. Then it’s up to him if he wants to be humiliated. Personally, I’d have found it sexy.

I once had the experience of passing a fast young woman on a trail around the local state park and she clearly saw it as a challenge. She sped up and since it was near the end of my 6 mile run, I picked up the pace, going at nearly a sprint. She matched it. It was fun. Being literally chased by an attractive woman isn’t something that happens to me very often. (Just once, so far.) But if I’d tried to shake her, going off on side trails and she kept following and then blew by me I might have wondered if there was some desire to humiliate. And not because of the gender, because it’d be nasty if a guy did that too.

I might be giving the impression I am or was pretty fast, but I’m in ogged’s position. According to Bob Glover’s book on running I was about 60-65 percent as fast as the world class athletes when I was training at the 40 mile per week level. I took pride a few years ago in reading about a local 70 year old woman who could do a mile in 7 minutes and thinking “Heh, I’d leave her in the dust.” Maybe not now.

28

George W 05.25.07 at 2:18 pm

I always seem to run like that even when there’s nobody behind me.

29

LizardBreath 05.25.07 at 2:18 pm

Hrm. So, it’s meanspirited of her to deliberately pass him, given that she’s fitter and faster than he is. But his speeding up in an attempt to keep from being passed, and dodging away in an attempt to preserve the illusion that she can’t pass him despite the fact that he’s actually slower and less fit than she is is unexceptionable.

Yes, truly it is meanspirited and uncalled for when a woman humilates a man who is only trying to maintain the natural order in which all men are fitter and stronger then all women.

30

ajay 05.25.07 at 2:21 pm

hermes: The passive fashion in which her superiority is eventually demonstrated to the guy is the subtle punchline that ameliorates the creepy/threatening aspect of the interaction’s structure.

Those of us who have reached adulthood, meanwhile, tend not to feel the need to “demonstrate our superiority” to random strangers in the street.

Maybe I should. I could find random white English people in the street and shout “Hey! You there! Look at my wallet! I am richer and more successful than you are!”

31

ajay 05.25.07 at 2:22 pm

15: “It’s a tough old world, ajay.”

What on earth do you know about how tough the world is? You’re an academic.

32

Donald Johnson 05.25.07 at 2:33 pm

The really gender-transgressive sport is weightlifting. I mean if you compare the strongest women with fairly strong ordinary guys that you’d see in a gym. I just looked at the records to be sure my memory is correct and it is– there are 48 kg women who can lift more than twice their bodyweight over their heads.

This is something I’ve never quite understood. You’d think some 200 lb guy with large well-developed muscles would have to be stronger than a 105 lb person, but this is clearly not the case. All that muscle mass seems kinda wasted in ordinary people. What’s different about the muscles of Olympic class weightlifters? Is it 100 percent fast twitch muscle fibers or something else?

33

Kieran Healy 05.25.07 at 2:33 pm

Those of us who have reached adulthood, meanwhile, tend not to feel the need to “demonstrate our superiority” to random strangers in the street.

Yes, which is precisely the lesson this guy got schooled in, and the point of the story.

What on earth do you know about how tough the world is? You’re an academic.

You seem to be flailing a bit here, ajay. Surely you can do better.

34

Jake 05.25.07 at 2:35 pm

There’s a lot more technique to Olympic lifting than to run-of-the-mill powerlifting. A lot more.

35

Ken C. 05.25.07 at 2:43 pm

“he’s left gasping for air and maybe reflecting on his views on gender.”

Yeah, maybe. But your sister-in-law didn’t actually know his views on gender, did she? Maybe he was just trying to avoid that awkward pacing-each-other interaction, by getting ahead. But that would make it less fun to literally go out of her way to humiliate someone. Next time, I suggest she punctuate the gender-transgressive socially-counterintuitive amusingly ironic interaction by spitting on the sidewalk just in front of the guy as she passes him. Maybe then he’ll not only rethink his blinkered assumptions and his archaic views on gender roles, but stop beating his wife.

36

LizardBreath 05.25.07 at 2:47 pm

Ken, what’s humiliating about getting passed by a faster runner? If he’s dodging around for reasons of his own other than not wanting her to pass him, then she’s misinterpreting him, but he’s not humiliated by being passed. If his actions are directed at not getting passed, why is he doing that, and why is it humiliating for her to pass him anyway?

37

Scyon 05.25.07 at 2:51 pm

“That’s right. I don’t recall saying that she won, or that women athletes always perform just as well as men. On the other hand, more than thirty three thousand people ran the Chicago marathon in 2004. Finishing 234th put her above the 99.99th percentile of all competitors.”

Well I don’t recall accusing you of saying such things. But you did suggest that the guy your sister-in-law passed by should reflect on his views on gender because of this. As teddy pointed that would be only true if the guy believed that he could beat every woman, which he probably didn’t, unless he was exceptionally delusional. And the chances of the woman running beside you being an elite athlete are fairly slim. Therefore there is nothing inherently wrong with a guy believing he should be faster then the woman running alongside him.

On a different note…

To those that call the actions of the sister-in-law mean spirited, that may be kinda true, but she sure made sure that the guy in question had one heck of a work out. And she might have even given him motivation to train much harder in the future. So all and all, her actions did more to help the gent then hurt him.

38

Walt 05.25.07 at 2:51 pm

The comment “Your sister-in-law’s time would have been good enough to finish 235th in the male division of the 2004 Chicago Marathon.” is funny for so many reasons.

Everyone missed the important revelation. Kieran apparently shares genes with his sister-in-law. Either he’s a single-celled organism capable of DNA transfer, or Ireland is a lot more backwards than people think…

39

Kieran Healy 05.25.07 at 2:51 pm

Yeah, maybe. But your sister-in-law didn’t actually know his views on gender, did she?

It’s kind of sad. Many commenters are happy to say “Oh how mean of your sister-in-law to humiliate this poor guy” while cheerfully ignoring the initiating context that gives the story its point. She wasn’t running around looking for people to make feel bad. She was getting sick of guys trying to score a point off of her by taking off at speed from lights (and, elsewhere, trying to overtake her if they met at a crossstreet or whatever) in order to show how much fitter they were than some girl. They were, in other words, trying to assert their athletic superiority over her. But of course she gets all the shit because, hey, maybe the guy was just naturally a fast starter, or wanted to keep a safe distance, or was the President of NOW, or whatever.

40

Donald Johnson 05.25.07 at 2:56 pm

No lizardbreath, it’s likely the guy was a jerk, but not certain. Runners of all genders, in my experience, have a little bit of the competitive streak in them and I’ve seen it myself. Heck, I’ve sped up a little myself at times to pass someone in my younger days out of that sense of competitiveness, though now I try not to let my inner jerk come out so much and I’d never follow someone around like that just to establish for certain who is the superior athlete. Maybe he deserved it, maybe he didn’t.

I also see that I’ve inserted myself into one of those sorts of internet arguments I normally try to avoid–the ones where people get real heated about a trivial topic. To me this isn’t The Patriarchy vs. Human Rights. It’s “Don’t go out of your way, quite literally, to flaunt your athletic superiority.” You’re debating the first issue, which is important, and I’m standing up for the second, which isn’t. Time to bail out.

41

George W 05.25.07 at 2:58 pm

For Pete’s sake, it’s just a funny story.

You know Kieran, (and the rest of CT by proxy), whenever I get a spot of free time, I read my favorite blogs again and even begin to fantasize about blogging again myself. But CT always convinces me not to. The content is usually (with some pointed exceptions) much better than I could consistently come up with, and the comments demonstrate that, no matter how good, fair or even banal the content, some schmuck is going to get his dander up about it. As if the ‘natural order’ of the internet is that every tossed-off anecdote must be semantically deconstructed and parsed for correctness.

42

Kieran Healy 05.25.07 at 2:59 pm

But you did suggest that the guy your sister-in-law passed by should reflect on his views on gender because of this. As teddy pointed that would be only true if the guy believed that he could beat every woman, which he probably didn’t, unless he was exceptionally delusional. And the chances of the woman running beside you being an elite athlete are fairly slim. Therefore there is nothing inherently wrong with a guy believing he should be faster then the woman running alongside him

No. What’s at issue in this interaction is not some guy’s innocent and true cognitive belief about the overall distribution of men’s and women’s fitness. What matters is that the guy — like many guys — deliberately took off at what was clearly a much faster pace than he would normally be running at. Why did he do this? If he was just thinking “I should on average be faster than this woman” then there’d be no reason for him to take off like a spooked hare — his typical speed would have been fast enough, on average, to stay ahead of her. But of course this wasn’t what was happening at all. He just didn’t want to get overtaken by some chick, and tried to make sure it wouldn’t happen.

So the gender belief he should be contemplating is not one about the overall population of male and female athletes. It’s the one that led him to up his pace on his regular workout for no other reason than to stay ahead of the girl.

43

Kieran Healy 05.25.07 at 3:00 pm

And I’m done, btw. The gender concern trolls can go somewhere else.

44

Donald Johnson 05.25.07 at 3:05 pm

I actually enjoyed the post and meant my own contribution to the Deep Issue to be a moderate, in-between one, adding a lighthearted anecdote of my own, but it didn’t come out that way.

The main point of this post, I think, was the difference between ordinary people and elite athletes, which would be fun to talk about, but it looks like that’s been buried. I regret my contribution to the burying.

45

Scyon 05.25.07 at 3:07 pm

Well of course Kieran, most of the time when a female is beating a male in an activity in which the male starts with a natural advantage the male feels inadequate. It’s like being given a 20 yard head start in 100 meter dash and still being overtaken at the finish line. Unless you know that the female chasing you down is an elite class athlete you generally feel very bad if you lose so try to make sure you don’t.

Now if he knew how exceptional your sister-in-law is and still tried to pull this crap then he would without a question be somebody who at the very least needs a long period of reflection.

46

LizardBreath 05.25.07 at 3:10 pm

40: Runners of all genders, in my experience, have a little bit of the competitive streak in them and I’ve seen it myself. Heck, I’ve sped up a little myself at times to pass someone in my younger days out of that sense of competitiveness, though now I try not to let my inner jerk come out so much and I’d never follow someone around like that just to establish for certain who is the superior athlete. Maybe he deserved it, maybe he didn’t.

If he took off in a sprint because he’s just being competitive, rather than it being about gender, then there’s not a thing wrong with her taking up the challenge and passing him. Did he ‘deserve’ to be humiliated? Only in the sense that someone who gets in a race with a faster runner ‘deserves’ to lose. Possibly KH’s sister-in-law revealed her ‘inner jerk’ by responding to the challenge, but as you say, most runners have that streak.

47

Donald Johnson 05.25.07 at 3:18 pm

Lizardbreath, if it was between two males and one took off at a sprint and then realized he wasn’t faster and tried to veer off, the other guy should let him do so. Both would know who had won. Following around would be mean-spirited.

But I don’t want to keep this up. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that the guy was a jerk and deserved a little humiliation and may have benefited from it. I was looking at the thing from a different perspective, (the overly competitive runner’s perspective) and maybe I’m wrong.

I also want to apologize quite clearly to Kiernan for acting as a concern troll. It was a good post and darn it, the subject interested me before we derailed it.

48

LizardBreath 05.25.07 at 3:24 pm

Both would know who had won.

Here’s where the gender issue comes in — I think a woman who’s been physically challenged by a man gets a pass on wanting to win unambiguously, rather than letting the guy save face. Given that he’s challenging someone he’s expecting to be able to beat easily — as pointed out above, most men can beat most women — making the initial challenge isn’t just ordinary competitiveness, it’s being an ass about it. If you want to save face when you lose, you should pick on someone ‘your own size’ to begin with.

49

abb1 05.25.07 at 3:25 pm

She was getting sick of guys trying to score a point off of her by taking off at speed from lights…

Well, maybe this is exactly how the athletes are different; I don’t think I would’ve been annoyed at all, definitely not since my mid-twenties. If I play a game of, say, ping-pong against someone who seems upset when losing, I often let them win; what’s the big deal. Some drivers get annoyed when overtaken by a faster car, but most of us non-athletes don’t care at all.

50

greensmile 05.25.07 at 3:32 pm

this post gets my “best chuckle of the day” mark.

I entered a few amateur mountain bike races in my 30′s and 40′s and sometimes got trounced by “girls”. I was not surprised. My daughter used to leave me gasping at the 4000 foot elevation marker when we bike trekked.

51

Nat Whilk 05.25.07 at 3:36 pm

Kieran wrote: “On the other hand, more than thirty three thousand people ran the Chicago marathon in 2004. Finishing 234th put her above the 99.99th percentile of all competitors.

No, it doesn’t.

52

greensmile 05.25.07 at 3:37 pm

I will sometimes risk a crash just for the perk of passing another cyclist. Awareness that it is ME I am trying to beat eventually settles back but well after the fact.

53

ajay 05.25.07 at 3:53 pm

kh: “And I’m done, btw. The gender concern trolls can go somewhere else.”

But if they are elite athlete trolls, they get to stalk you home in a socially counterintuitive way, right?

54

Dan Hardie 05.25.07 at 4:01 pm

‘The main point of this post, I think, was the difference between ordinary people and elite athletes…’

Well, that, and maybe also the fact that it is annoying to have someone get competitive on you when you’re just looking to have a workout, and maybe also the fact that women have rather more experience of this than men do.

Which is why the (very nice, not at all jerkish) women of my running club rather relished watching me getting exhausted in front of them after I’d rather obviously disdained their efforts.

I’ve seen the same thing in all sorts of sports (machismo alert: including boxing gyms)- hard-acting guys attempting to demonstrate their superiority over any quieter types. It’s really not a bad experience to be taken down a peg or two.

55

Donald Johnson 05.25.07 at 4:04 pm

Just to add a couple of anecdotes to greensmile’s

When I’m on a long run, I try to run at a slow comfortable pace for 10 -20 miles like you’re supposed to. But if someone or something passes me on the trail–man, woman, child, squirrel, pronghorn antelope, F-18– I practically have to put myself in a chokehold to keep from speeding up. Or that’s how it used to be.

Now I’m this nice, consciously non-competitive guy. So a few days ago I’m doing a ten mile long walk. (I hurt my back and had to stop running for a week or so). I stopped at a water fountain and as I came back to the trail this old guy passed by jogging at what I’d guess was a 13 minute mile pace. I decided it would be rude to pass him just walking (it’s sort of humiliating to be passed by a walker if you are running) and finally, to my relief, he turned around. I went ahead a couple hundred yards and then turned around and had the fun of trying to catch him for 3 miles. (I think he speeded up).

It’s a jungle out there on the jogging trails.

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Donald Johnson 05.25.07 at 4:05 pm

Not sure what that crossed out line is doing there. Nothing was meant to be crossed out. I don’t know how to do that.

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todd. 05.25.07 at 5:43 pm

It’s from the “textile” markup. Something like “[dash][nospace]text[nospace][dash]” gets transformed into -text-.

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alienaway 05.25.07 at 5:49 pm

Gosh, am I an awful person for rather liking to pass (sometimes doing breaststroke or just kicking) those creepy show-off guys (and it has been always men) who, after much ostentatious stretching, bending, adjusting of goggles and whatnot are hogging the pool with their horribly important training, often despite the presence of elderly folk or kids who are trying for their first 25 m without stopping? By the way, I am speaking here not of sport club pools, but of plain old public ones.
Yes, I am female. Women can also hog the pool, but I have never seen one do the show-off bit.
The original topic was the difference between regular folk and elite athletes. Of course there is a huge physical component. One is quite fortunate if the chosen sport is perfectly compatible to muscle/body type. As some people mentioned above, without the corresponding mental set, you’re not likely to enter the realms of ‘elite’. Sport first, life later. But then, doesn’t the same hold true for ‘the best of the best’ other fields? True abiding dedication to the field of interest, often to the detriment of other areas of life. There must be some payoff. Money, recognition, prestige, fitness or just plain satisfaction of an incredible competetive drive? Anybody know some star athletes we could ask?

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Functional 05.25.07 at 7:21 pm

Who says this guy was trying to be macho, domineering, competitive, etc.? Maybe he was just showing off (not very well, obviously). Men like to show off for women. See peacocks.

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Bob Hutchison 05.25.07 at 7:22 pm

I have complete sympathy for your sister-in-law, though playing that game surely ruined her workout. I bet she doesn’t do that too often.

It isn’t just gender. I experience the same sort of thing in the pool, only with me it is due to age — as you can see from the 50yard freestyle times, in swimming being older doesn’t necessarily mean being a lot slower. In fact, the situation is so unpleasant, and dangerous, that I now only swim with Masters groups.

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thag 05.25.07 at 7:23 pm

ah, the irish and their natural athleticism. Sure, but it puts the pokey East Africans to shame.

what is it that Dean Swift said, that in London the handsomest men and the most beautiful women were all irish?

now in my case, I was never the fastest runner in the world–in my youth, this was–but I always prided myself on being an *efficient* runner. Efficiency is an under-appreciated virtue in athletes.

For instance, take your world-class milers, who do a mile in a little under 4 minutes.

Well, I could take that same sub-4 time, and compress the entire run into a little less than *half* the distance! And there those inefficient milers would be, straggling all over the country-side, while I was clocking the same time in a much crisper compass.

On my best days, I was so efficient I could get a full 4 minutes into a third of a mile.

But that was in my younger days, of course. I don’t know what I could do any longer.

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Donald Johnson 05.25.07 at 7:38 pm

Thanks thag. I knew this thread could be salvaged. I just didn’t know how.

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Steven 05.25.07 at 9:43 pm

“Far as I know, the only sport where the top women beat the top men is long distance swimming. “

There’s rock climbing, though it isn’t technically a competitive sport. Lynn Hill freed the Nose on El Capitan years before a male pulled it off (and that happened to be Tommy Caldwell with his wife Beth Rodden). Technique in climbing matters more than strength or endurance.

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Donald Johnson 05.25.07 at 10:44 pm

Didn’t know that about rock climbing. I would have guessed (incorrectly) that upper body strength and endurance would have been key.

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John Emerson 05.26.07 at 12:10 am

I would feel humiliated being defeated by a woman, but would comfort myself with the possibility that it was really a MTF transsexual displaying her innate maleness.

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gswift 05.26.07 at 2:42 am

“Far as I know, the only sport where the top women beat the top men is long distance swimming. ”

There’s rock climbing

Not really. You don’t really get many women climbing 5.14 and up, or bouldering above V10, etc.

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zebbidie 05.26.07 at 5:20 am

#51

Kieran wrote: “On the other hand, more than thirty three thousand people ran the Chicago marathon in 2004. Finishing 234th put her above the 99.99th percentile of all competitors.”

No, it doesn’t.

Quite right. Puts her above the 99th percentile, but not the 99.99th or even the 99.9th. I wouldn’t fuss, but I do so dislike people using “99.99th” as a superlative. It’s like using “infinitely” as a replacement for “much”. It just sounds stupid in my ears.

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Rofe 05.26.07 at 1:02 pm

Thag (#61) – one of the best comments ever ! Thanks, you made my day.

Cheers,

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Kieran Healy 05.26.07 at 1:26 pm

51, 67 — Yeah, I made a mistake. In this case finishing above 330th or so would put you in the 99th percentile. Big deal.

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thag 05.26.07 at 3:03 pm

rofe, donald j.–

i’m delighted you enjoyed my little story up above, but i assure you it’s not original to me.

just an old East African joke, i think, from days gone by.

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Nat Whilk 05.26.07 at 5:02 pm

Kieran writes: “In this case finishing above 330th or so would put you in the 99th percentile. Big deal.

I trust you will use the same standards of inconsequentiality when critiquing the innumeracy of others.

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Kieran Healy 05.26.07 at 6:40 pm

If the error is irrelevant to the point at issue, as here, then I will.

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ollie 05.27.07 at 7:40 pm

I am what my wife calls a “pretend athlete”; I compete in running races, walking races and in some open water swims. Frankly, as an athlete, I suck.
And, yes, the elite athletes are vastly more talented than I, and they do training that would put me in the hospital.

Nevertheless, I enjoy them. A female won the 100 mile walk that I had entered in the Netherlands in just over 19 hours; she beat EVERYONE, including the men. And she looked as if she were out for a little stroll in the park; as she lapped us repeatedly on the 4000 meter (2.5 mile) course, she’d yell words of encouragement.

So women beating me: no problem. That doesn’t mean that I won’t pick up the pace when I am out on a training walk and someone starts to overtake me; sometimes that is a sign that I am not putting as much into my workout as I should be.

And sometimes it means that they are just faster; then I let them go (you can tell as they overtake me while looking completely relaxed)

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aimai 05.27.07 at 8:05 pm

What a fascinating thread–especially the concern troll stuff about men and their feelings. To me the most interesting thing is that people who want to turn KH post into “how mean elite athletic women are” seem to have to agree with the very thing they are disputing.

Look, either the guy in the story is, or is not, using competitive running as a way to score points *over* or *with* a strange woman. Oddly enough, most women don’t find being *scored over* sexually attractive so to the extent that the concern trolls assume this is just a kind of adorable harmless flirting ritual (see.eg. peacocks as someone posted above) they have to already buy into the entire panoply of gender stereotypes that they excoriate the other posters for bringing to the fore. The male runners behavior makes sense in a world where men are pointlessly and annoyingly competitive with (to them) unknown and random women either to humiliate them or to try to come on to them. KH’s story says “yeah, but women no likey dat…and have a few tricks up their sleeves to refuse to be a bit part in some guy’s drama about himself.” I read the concern trolls comments as being fairly typical–KH’s sister in law should have been a lady about the challenge to her running prowess–she should have “just ignored the guy” because paying attention and then beating him was *humiliating* for him. And that’s not nice because….??? Because nice girls either *don’t notice* men coming on to them or don’t do anything to reject those advances in a harsh way? How very, very, victorian.

To paraphrase milton (?) “He for athletic prowess and honor only…she for athletic prowess and honor in him.”

aimai

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Solo 05.27.07 at 9:08 pm

Aimai, you assume that the man in the anecdote saw the sister-in-law as a female and only a female, and based his behavior on that assumption. That assumption is quite possibly incorrect. I know that back when I was a serious runner, I would try to run faster than anyone else on the road with me — part of being an athlete is being competitive. When you race competitively every weekend, you don’t want to see anyone going faster than you.

So when I was out running, I’d find myself speeding up a bit to keep pace with or go faster than anyone else on the road. Male or female, it didn’t matter. Young or old, it didn’t matter. If someone sped up to keep pace with me when I went by, no problems — why shouldn’t they? Maybe we’d race for a bit, and then one or both of us would fall back into our regular pace.

However, if anyone ever followed me around for an extended period of time, dogging my steps, following me around corners…then they’d be a creep. The sister-in-law is a creep, period. Trying to excuse creepy, antisocial behavior as “challenging gender stereotypes” is asinine.

Oh, and by the way, your assumptions that you know what the man in the story was thinking, and that you have some inside knowledge of his attitudes on gender…what are those assumptions based on? The fact that he’s a male, apparently, since you have no other knowledge about him. Congratulations, you’ve made negative assumptions about a stranger based on their gender. There’s a word for that, you know.

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abb1 05.27.07 at 9:18 pm

Strangely I begin feeling like I might enjoy listening to the Rush Limbaugh show.

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biggles 05.27.07 at 9:53 pm

well, getting back to the elite athlete concern trolling, i think the %iles are significant. why? because they represent the difference between being way good, and being world-class. your sister-in-law is within one order of magnitude of world-class, while a guy who can keep up with her is within two — but either way they could kick the butts of us ordinary folk.

bear in mind, these numbers are with respect to an already self-selected group of individuals. world class is generally rarer than 99.99 %ile.

my son’s IQ puts him somewhere in the region of 99.98%ile. one in 5000. which means that, for most people who ever get to know him, he’ll have the highest IQ of anyone they ever get to know (let’s not get into a quibble about whether IQ means anything. it’s a measurement. it measures something. that’s all.) but as i like to point out, if there were a professional sport whose primary qualifying talent were IQ, my son would have only a small chance of making the bigs. why? well think about it. how many openings are there in any given year in Major League Baseball? a couple of hundred? and how many males are there in a given annual cohort in the US? 2 million? So maybe one in 10,000 will get a shot. What’s more, most of those 200 guys will be gone within a year or two. The real elite — the guys who play MLB for 10 years or more — well, how many of their jobs open up each year? 30 or 40? And then, the elite of the elite — the guys who get their numbers retired? A handful a year. One in a million.

that is how elite the elite are. check out the NHL. you know those guys who are only there because they are goons? well, unless you’ve hung out with some very, very good hockey players, you’ve never met anyone who can handle the puck as well as the lowliest goon in the NHL.

someone told me a story about Mark Johnson when he was assistant coach of the UW Badgers Men’s team — that he could keep the puck away from a half-dozen of the Badgers at once, with the blue lines as boundaries. he’s a wizard. and you know what? he had a very ordinary career in the NHL. a guy like Bobby Orr would be able to keep the puck away from a half-dozen Mark Johnsons. (actually, you can find video of the actual Bobby Orr pretty much doing exactly that, during games.)

by the way, i was riding my bike home from work one day, and a guy on roller blades blew past me. i tried to keep up, but could not. he was clearly a speed-skater out for some summer training. who knows, maybe it was casey fitzgerald.

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leaf 05.27.07 at 11:13 pm

As a woman, solo fishing on the Trinity River, I’ve often been challenged by the male attitudes of priveledge. Most memorable was an instance when my tiny perch bankside was invaded by two men who moved into my physical space after I’d turned to my tackle box to change lures. When I turned back to resume casting, my obvious look of disapproval was met by one gentleman subtly exposing to me his side arm. Brave, brave Sir Robin!

Apparently his perception was that as a female, I should “give up” my plac to him. Instead, I placed my largest most ungodly lure on the line and proceeded to thrash the water, up and downstream, frighting every fish within 50 yards. I imagine after a life time of such interactions, women just may find these sorts of behaviors tiresome. Ya think?

But it was only after having described this interaction to my parents did the dynamics become clear. “If you’d been a man, they wouldn’t have let you get away with that.” said my father. If she’d been a man”, responded my mother, “they wouldn’t have placed her in that position to begin with.”.

Steelheading as a competitive sport? I think not. Obviously an attitude adjustment was in order.

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Matt 05.28.07 at 12:48 am

Some time ago there was a study done of joggers in–I think–Central Park. They concluded that men run slightly but measurably faster past a bench with women on them than they do an empty bench. (As for women running past men, or same-sex matchups, I don’t know.) It makes a certain amount of evo-bio sense, so perhaps the anecdotal male runner can shift some of the blame onto his anecdotal hardwired brain.

Another thing that might be–anecdotally–at work here is just not wanting to be in the vicinity of another runner. As an occasional trudger–it doesn’t make sense to call what I do running–around a very short indoor track, I notice everyone (myself included) doing a little pas-de-deux with our strides when one runner approaches another. There’s the speed we intend to go, and then there’s the unconscious reaction to other people in our vicinity, and they get mixed up in annoying little ways. When someone just slightly faster than me is creeping up on me, I find myself going considerably above my normal pace because it tickles some proximity warning in my brain to have someone coming up like that. Sometimes to the point where I’m going at the insanely blistering speed of a 10-minute mile.

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Donald Johnson 05.28.07 at 4:11 am

Well, I meant to stay out of this thread after my initial entry, but aimai’s post irritated me. Solo has it right, I think, though it’s probably best not to use sentences like “The sister-in-law is a creep” if you want to win friends and influence people. I made a similar mistake myself saying that her behavior was a little mean-spirited. Gotta be diplomatic if you want to convince people on the other side. On the other hand, the pro-sister-in-law faction thinks it’s okay to assume those of us critical of her behavior are Victorian male supremacists. Yes, that must be it. We couldn’t possibly have some other reason for finding her behavior objectionable .

This guy in Kieran’s story might or might not have been a jerk. You really can’t tell for sure just because Kieran tells the story the way he does. People on the jogging trail are naturally competitive –I’ve been casually competitive while out running with men, women, cars, and even thunderstorms. Cars–you see one ahead or behind you and you decide you’ll reach a given landmark before it reaches you. Thunderstorms– I did race a line of cumulonimbus clouds home once. I lost, but for ten minutes probably reached my full potential as a runner. I knew they were coming because the TV weatherman said so and thought I could go on my usual long run and enjoy the distant lightning on the horizon and beat them back easily. Turned out not to be the case. I guess those storms took me down a peg, striking a grand blow for the equality of weather systems.

The running story I told up above about the time I passed an attractive woman and we started racing could easily be retold from her perspective as an inspirational anti-patriarchal tale where a balding guy clearly going at a pace he couldn’t sustain (true–I was nearing the end of my 6 mile run and picking up the pace as I always did towards the end) had to show his male superiority by passing a mere girl, only to find that she could match him stride for stride. Boy, I must have had my delicate Victorian male ego crushed when it turned out I couldn’t lose her, even when I broke into a sprint for the last few hundred yards. Trouble is, I know the story from the male side and I enjoyed the whole thing and if the woman had been older (in my age range rather than probably 15-20 years younger) I’d have struck up a conversation afterwards, though given the age difference I didn’t. And I probably did glance back to see where she was–I can’t remember, but I’ve done that other times when I pass someone. The main difference from Kieran’s story was that I didn’t veer off onto side trails and have her follow me everywhere–then I would have thought that was um, really, really inappropriate. I’ve never done that to anyone or had anyone do that to me and if you ask me about such behavior I’m not likely to think it’s fine, no matter what genders are involved. But probably that’s just another Victorian male supremacist asshole trait, no doubt and if I criticize that behavior I’m just upholding the patriarchy.

Finally, maybe you nonrunners don’t know this, but there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, surprising about a woman being able to outrun a man. It might have been surprising, in, oh, the Victorian era. Yeah, the best men can beat the best women, but down here with ordinary mortals with a range of VO2 maxes, it’s expected that a really good woman can beat a fairly good man. I point this out because some of you seem to think we’re bothered that a woman beat a man openly. Oh horrors, pass the smelling salts, I think I’m going to faint. I’ve been in marathons–it’s not like there weren’t hundreds or thousands of women faster than me on those days. On my best day ever Kieran’s sister could probably beat me if she gave me an 8 mile head start. Or maybe even a bigger one–I’d have to know her time. If she wants to put me in my place if I happen to pass her on the street or the trail by picking up the pace and leaving me in the dust, go right ahead. I’d stare with admiration.

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Tony Healy 05.28.07 at 5:58 am

I think Kieran might have inadvertently embellished a pretty standard running tale. As many have pointed out, it would be strange for a runner to tail a stranger through several turns.

For a start, once the challenger turns off the course, it’s a concession of defeat. Both parties know this. There’s no need for the winner to continue following the defeated challenger.

Secondly, the challenger is usually so exhausted he or she takes the opportunity of the turn to slow down or stop, in which case Sarah would have run past.

Third, elite runners prize fast paths, and so are unlikely to turn on to slow side streets unless they have to.

Also, the scenario of stopping at the lights doesn’t ring true to this scenario. If Sarah had a faster cruising speed, she would have established this when both runners resumed running.

The scenario where these sort of challenges rankle is where a less capable runner overtakes or tries to overtake. That’s when the elite runner might decide to retaliate with a forced pace.

Also, in the situation as described, starting at traffic lights, it’s possible the guy was simply being polite by trying to go ahead, so that Sarah didn’t have to worry about some bozo trailing her.

And as many have pointed out, this isn’t a gender thing. As a male, I typically encounter a challenge each time I run during summer. On one occasion, that included a good woman runner, of which there are many these days.

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Richard 05.28.07 at 7:39 am

I was the runner in question. When I discovered I was being tailed I tried to get away in every way I knew how because I was afraid that I was going to get mugged or just plain beaten up again. If you don’t think a woman can be a threat to a man out there on the street alone, (a) you haven’t met me, and (b) you might want to have a think about your ideas on gender.

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ksk 05.28.07 at 1:21 pm

I think #81 and #82 summarizes the discussion even handedly.

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Ralph Hitchens 05.29.07 at 5:29 pm

Ogged, I feel your pain. Back in the late 80s I participated in a Masters swim meet in DC and — as the heats were seeded on entry times, not age — I found myself next to an elderly Masters legend, retired Maj. Gen. Kelly Lemon, a swimming star at West Point back in the 1930s who was blowing away the record times in the 75+ age group. Am I proud to say that I shut down that old guy in the 50-meter freestyle? Not hardly.

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Ralph Hitchens 05.29.07 at 5:31 pm

Why don’t I learn to google first and write later? The correct spelling of the legend’s name is Kelley Lemmon.

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anon 05.29.07 at 9:04 pm

I feel this tells us more about Kierans views on gender. That her sister-in-law was able to beat a randomly encountered male runner is presented as proof that elite athletes are different from the rest of us.

If her sister-in-law had beaten a female runner in an identical manner, I doubt she would think this such a memorable story.

(Reminds me of a line in The Plutonium Blonde: “I don’t fight women. If I win, it’s bad for my image, and if I lose it’s bad for my image”).

I once saw a picture of an early Victorian coal mine. Man digging coal with a pick, woman hauling cart full of coal. I wonder how many commentors on this blog could do either of their jobs 14 hours a day, on their diet.

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thag 05.29.07 at 9:13 pm

i think anon needs to learn something about kieran’s gender.

and about irish christian names, in general.

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anon 05.30.07 at 5:16 pm

I think thag is probably right. I can only hope that it is a mistake that has been made before.

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