Tag Archives: runner

It’s Sad, and So Damn Pointless

Running is usually such a positive and uplifting sport that the occasional sad story gets, I think, an unusual amount of attention. Not just in the running community, but even in the national news.

In the “sad” category I include runners who die during an event, or leave us too early due to disease (R.I.P., Gabriele Grunewald), and also those who are disqualified or banned due to cheating. I include cheating because while it’s a human failing as opposed to a physical one, it’s just as pointless in the end.

The most recent example is Dr. Frank Meza, who was disqualified from this year’s Los Angeles Marathon after evidence surfaced that he’d cut the course. The story is doubly tragic because shortly after his disqualification, he was found dead in the Los Angeles River. The cause is not official as I write this, but it may have been a suicide.

This story baffles me. Dr. Meza was 70 years old, a lifelong runner, former high school track coach, and mentor of Latino students. People who knew him speak of the positive effects he’d had on them and the community. In his sixties he began to run marathons in under three hours – a mark of prestige at any age – and at the 2019 LA Marathon he finished in 2 hours 53 minutes, a record time for his age group. By all accounts, a real “feel good” story, right?

Except he may have faked it. And not just at this marathon. His 2015 finishing time was also under investigation, and the California International Marathon disqualified him twice, then banned him. He denied all allegations of cheating, and agreed to run a future marathon with an official monitor. But his death ends any chance to clear his name.

I don’t know if Dr. Meza cheated, or if he did, at how many races. But the preponderance of evidence suggests he was not as fast as his finishing times indicated. If so, I have a simple question that we may never know the answer to:

Why?

Cheating is as old as competition. I get that. The prestige that comes from winning can tempt people to reach for it any way they can. But Dr. Meza wasn’t attempting to win the marathon, qualify for the Olympics, or get sponsored. We’re talking about an age group award, which comes with nothing other than a hearty handshake and maybe a paperweight or similar tchotchke. Even setting an apparent record age group time wouldn’t have meant lasting fame or fortune.

Some of my more notable age group awards. (Yes, that is a roll of toilet paper on the right.)

Was it worth exposing himself to the scrutiny that would inevitably follow a record time? Was a fleeting mention buried somewhere in the LA Times worth risking his lifetime reputation of community service and inspiration to others? Was his ego that fragile that he couldn’t accept being anything but a champion?

For an amateur runner like Dr. Meza, or me, I find cheating to be especially pointless. For the real competition is not against others, but ourselves. Even with the support of crew, coaches, or other runners, in the end your performance is based on your own training, ability, and desire. It’s wanting to know how good we can be, or to break through what we thought our limits were, that keeps us going.

Sure, cheating hurts others if you take away an award or recognition that rightfully belongs to someone else. But mainly you cheat yourself. Even professionals do. Does Lance Armstrong ever wonder how good he could have been if he’d raced clean? I bet he does. But no one, including him, will ever know. And that’s a shame.

Perhaps Dr. Meza’s wife, even if inadvertently, summed it up best. “Running was very important to my husband,” she said, “and now unfortunately he won’t run marathons anymore.”

And that’s sad.

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Lifestyle Makeover: A Runner’s Dietary Analysis

My eating habits have improved since I started running, but exceptions remain. I have a fondness for pastries, and no desire to curb my enthusiasm for dark chocolate. But I can pass up fast food, white bread, and sweets of lesser quality without a qualm.

My “willpower” amazes people at times.

“What are you worried about?” they ask me. “You run so much, you’ll burn it all off anyway.”

Runners hear this a lot. There’s an element of truth in it, but it’s not the entire story. Sure, I burn a lot of calories. But the quality of those calories is just as important as the quantity.

Case in point: the photo below shows what we ate at a D&D session recently.

Yikes.

I can indulge on occasion but not regularly, even if I ran marathons three times a week. Food like this is dense in calories but low in nutrients. So most of what I eat is high quality, with lots of fiber and micronutrients.

Yet I wanted to know if I couldn’t do even better. Was I lacking some key vitamins or minerals I needed as a distance runner? And was I taking in enough to maintain weight without losing muscle? So when my wife signed up with a local nutritionist, I signed up too.

The results were surprising.

We began by discussing my goals and training. The nutritionist is familiar with runners and with my gym (Body Specs), so she understood the type and intensity of my physical activities. Then she gave me a food diary to fill out for three days. Everything I ate and drank, the precise amounts, and the date/time of consuming it. Oh, joy.

The three days included a D&D gaming session, but I figured it would balance out since another day was a Saturday long run. Except it was a home football game, and one of our club runners has a tailgating station. I indulged in what I liked but restrained my portions, helped in part because I’m not usually hungry after a long run.

The carrot balances out the nutrition, you see.

I turned in the food log, figuring that was that. Not quite; she asked me for more information. A sample:

On Thursday can you let me know how much cereal you had. 2.5 cups? How many pecans, and about how much milk and type? What brand of pumpkin ginger bar? On Friday what type of breakfast muffin was that?

This was going to be more detailed than I expected! I provided what I could, including a recipe for the muffin (Morning Glory) I found online I hoped was close enough.

Here are the highlights of her analysis. First, the quantity:

  1. I need an average of about 3,100 calories per day to maintain body weight. This was higher than I’d expected. According to the USDA, an active 55-year old male needs 2,800 calories per day. I must be “super active” then.
  2.  My average intake? About 3,100 calories per day. So without any scientific dietary plan or calorie counting, I’m covering my caloric needs exactly.

This explains why my weight remains consistent, varying only about five pounds from peak race season to recovery periods.

What about the quality of the calories? Going in, I was supplementing vitamin D, but also calcium/magnesium/zinc, figuring I might not be getting as much as I need. Here’s what she found, based on my food log:

Turns out I’m doing just fine with most nutrients. So what did she recommend I change? Not much, actually. Keep supplementing the vitamin D, and add fish oil to get more omega-3 fatty acids.

And as for the pastries and chocolate? Here she surprised me once more by telling me her “80/20” rule: We need to eat well, but also enjoy life. So make 80 percent of your diet high quality, and the remaining 20 percent can be treats.

No arguing with my nutritionist!

Coming up: I mentioned my wife also got a nutrition analysis. She’s okay with me sharing her results on this blog, so I’ll share it with you. Interesting similarities and contrasts. Stay tuned!