If you’re not familiar with her particular brand of self-deprecating humor and leave-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat race reports, head over to Angry Runner’s blog. Bring a beverage.
I recently chatted with her about her dark past as a racewalker. And other things. Enjoy!
Q: You have been running for-freaking-ever. Maybe even longer than me. When did you start?
A: I ran my first race in 1985? It was a kiddie one mile I ran while my father was doing a 10k. I don’t remember much other than the fact that my mother ran with me and we were slow. The next time I ran a race my father ran along side me and he told me to go faster. It was then that I learned that running was supposed to hurt, at least if you’re in a race…
Anyhow, I did a bunch of those – not very seriously – while trying and failing at some other sports. I didn’t run a 5k till 1991, and I ran cross country that fall for my middle school team. I quickly learned that actually running more than here and there and remembering that “hey, this hurts!” moment and learning to deal with it could make you run a lot faster. It’s a good lesson.
A: People actually keep track of that shit? Because I can’t tell you off hand how many races I ran last YEAR let alone in a lifetime. Vaguely curious, I just checked Athlinks and they’ve got 151 listed dating back to 1992. And that’s only a small percentage of them considering how many dinky backwater races I did in the nineties (before the age of digital results.) It also omits the many many many high school cross country/track races I ran and the 19 times I ran the Thanksgiving Day race near where my parents live…
So, um, a lot. And seriously, do people try and keep TRACK of that shit? I hope they’re getting something out of it…
Q: I have no idea what people would get out of it! But people seem to like to talk about it so…ahem.
Anyway. Obviously you’re a pretty experienced runner, but I heard a rumor that you can also probably walk a 5K faster than most people can run one. What’s that all about?
A: Ah yes, the rumors are true. I have a dark past as a racewalker. Before I elaborate, what do YOU picture when I mention racewalking? You can be honest – I can take it. (That’s what she said.)
Q: Um, short nylon shorts and terrycloth sweatbands? I have no idea. For some reason it seems super retro, even though I know the sport is alive and well!
A: I don’t know how “well” it is in North America at this point, though I also don’t think racewalkers had nearly as bad a rap back in the day where Americans were reasonably competitive.
Anyhow, I went to high school in NY where racewalking is an event in the indoor state meet. I also lived close enough to the Canadian border to get CBC coverage of track. I remember watching some racewalking and thinking I could do it. II don’t remember the impetus other than being (1) bored and burnt out; (2) knowing my wonky form wasn’t too far from a racewalking stride; and (3) wanting to go to states in indoor track and knowing I wasn’t fast enough to qualify running.
My first attempt was at the indoor state qualifier. I won and was DQ’d in my first attempt (1996) and frankly, I had no clue so whatever. I then did a 5K at the Empire State Games that summer and went slightly faster than I expected, though I still kinda sucked and didn’t really know what I was doing. But I decided I liked it and that it gave me a break from running – and there you go. The love for a secondary event was born.
Q: Being DQ’d must have sucked. So apparently there are pretty serious rules. What are they?
A: That DQ was kind of meh. I was inexperienced so I wasn’t stunned. There was another that makes me angry to this day, but that’s neither here nor there.
But the rules are this: one foot always has to be in contact with the ground and one knee always straightens. The actual wording is very specific. Racewalk courses are usually 1000-2000 meter loops with judges positioned all over. (They also rotate, but the specifics of that aren’t all that important.) They can caution you if you’re “lifting” or if you have a bent knee, or they can just write out a red card. You can get two of those in a race and still be okay but if you get a third…you get tossed.
The DQ that bothered me came because I was trying to kick on a downhill and must have caught some air because three judges carded me in the last 200 meters. (Though a look at video footage showed that one wasn’t actually looking at me when he filled out the card – THAT’S what really burns me. Pretty sure the guy just didn’t like me.)
Q: Sounds like an asshat! So is racewalking harder or easier than running?
A: The downside to judged events is there is, well, judging. Racewalking is harder. A lot of people hear it and assume it’s what old blue-haired ladies do around the mall. Or asshats go on letsrun.com and start threads like “WHY R RACEWALKERS SO DUMB” and start throwing shit around. I don’t get it. Because of the specific bio-mechanics involved, you have to do a LOT more of it to really be good at it.
I never did it full time for more than a week or two out of my “season” (I’d usually run half of mileage) so I never got anywhere near my potential in the event. But you’ve really got to focus on (1) not fucking up your form; (2) figuring out how to move faster within the confines of what you’re allowed to do (think: breast stroke in swimming); and (3) really having to set aside time to work on efficiency/turn over, or suffer.
Q: Like it’s a combo of skill/fitness as opposed to just straight fitness. (Also, no one who posts on letsrun shaves or gets laid so I always just assume they don’t know anything about…anything.)
A: Yeah, that’s fair to say. And for me, frankly, I’m probably a better racewalker than I am a runner which is why I stuck with it as long as I did. I never had to work a whole lot to develop the form and at this point I’ve had more than one person tell me I “run like a racewalker.”
And you’re so dead on about the letsrun crowd. They’re dickholes with skinny man syndrome. Though that does remind me of an indoor race-walk I did once…two letsrun high school types entered the race in costume. Like, pink spankies, wigs, shit like that. I remember turning to the girl next to me and asking her if we should be offended.
Q: Well, at least they weren’t wearing running skirts!
A: Sad but true: They weren’t invented yet. YES, THERE WAS A TIME BEFORE RUNNING SKIRTS.
Q: I’m sure “Angryrunner hates running skirts” must be one of your most popular search terms, and not just because I spend an hour a day trolling your blog with that one. You’ve gained quite a following over the last few months, people seem to love your hate!
A: Yeah, I’ve definitely seen more traffic lately. And that running skirt post is still one of my most popular, and it’s got a fair number of “YOU SUCK ELITIST BITCH” comments. People have gotten there by googling about running skirts, hatred of running skirts and fucking in running skirts. But that was my first “hit.”
And it’s funny, because when I started my blog I had set out to provide a slightly “different” voice – not sure whether or not anyone would read. Because really, there are 50 billion blogs out there where you can read about how happy someone is or how they have the best husband in the world or how they had oats for breakfast again. That’s cool, but it’s just kinda played out. Maybe other people are starting to vary their reading habits because I’ve had a lot of new blog subscriptions lately. To that end, you’re actually my top referrer of all time. More people have found me from your blog than anywhere else, which I think is kind of fun.
Q: Or else it means that they come to my blog and become enraged enough by my half-drunken prattle to click on “ANGRY RUNNER” links. In any case, it’s a win-win situation!
A: Agreed! A match made in…something. A bar? Yes.
Q: You seem to sort of play in an in-between space here in blogland…you’re half satire, half legit running/training/racing talk, half entertaining random rage…oh wait, that’s too many halves. But you are obviously a little different than the average running/fitness/whatever blogger. And you’ve chosen to keep you identity relatively anonymous, which is sort of unusual. Any advice for bloggers who want to break the mold?
A: Well, for starters, I suppose it’s probably a good thing to figure out what you want to do.
If you want to make money from your blog, I think you have to be pretty safe. Think network TV. Specifically, say, CBS. CBS does well in the ratings because they crank out a lot of “safe” material. Procedural shows that attract a dedicated audience. Mindless Chuck Lorre sitcoms with programmatic laughs. Lots of people watch “Two and a Half Men” and “NCIS,” and that’s cool. But these shows don’t break any boundaries. They’re not horribly original. They just manage to create a formula that a lot of people like and stick with it. Good on them.
Too bad *I* don’t want to watch that crap. I’m a big advocate of shows that are different, which is why I’ve long pulled for “Arrested Development,” “Sopranos” and “Parks and Recreation” (watch that one, people). There are a lot of pieces of these shows that people who like the other familiar ones might like, but it’s…a different context. Paced differently. Not in the same mold.
And if people can get out of the habits of watching the same things again and again, they might agree. Of course, with that comes the risk of writing to an audience that expects more of the same…see also, why “The Office” has gone downhill.
This probably sounds pretentious as all fuck but that’s not my intention. What I’m getting at is you can really try to get readers by writing what a lot of people write and posting on the blogs that a lot of people read saying the exact same things. Or you can offer similar stories…but make them different. Hence by whole “Angry Runner” concept. Yes, I’m generally a cynical pessimist, but I don’t *actually* run around calling everyone a fucking cunt all the time. The blog gives me the power to do that. My name isn’t attached because, well, I’d like to be able to apply for jobs and not have this indexed in a search. (O hai, future employers! I like to call people fat cunts!) And because it gives me freedom to be more HBO and less CBS.
(I should mention that I don’t flatter myself to be as talented as the writers on that show, lest anyone misjudge my intentions with that analogy!)
Q: I know you have a lot of people who ask you if you’re really as mean and sarcastic in real life as you are on the blog. I’m pretty sure the answer is no, having shacked up with you that one time….but just for reference, if you had to compare yourself to a TV or movie character, who would it be? And you can’t say Dexter because it has to be a chick (otherwise everyone will think you are a dude again).
A: This is something I think about all the time. No, seriously. I do. But there is a specific breakdown.
Q: OMFG. BRB, I need another glass of wine.
A: I know, it’s sad. I watch way too much TV.
I’m at least 50% George Costanza. Sorry, but it’s true. Which means I’m also a bit of Larry David since George Costanza is more or less Larry David. So to this end, I really am kind of a sarcastic, evil, bitch…but as I’m more George than Larry, I’m also a loser who never gets her way so it’s ok.
10% Liz Lemon for her “if you’re looking for a beard, I don’t do that anymore!” comment alone. And many other things. But the mix of general neurosis is dead on. Make it 20% Liz Lemon actually. No, 15%.
10% Elaine Benes as I am the smug, sarcastic chick who has just as much contempt for the people around her as her male counterparts.
….so we’re up to 75%
15% Lisa Simpson. I am not nearly as big a perfectionist or as smart, but some of her quotes are dead on (“I know this obsession with thinness is unhealthy and anti-feminist…but that’s what a fat girl would say!”) and the more miserable parts of her childhood have always hit a little too close. (True story: I can’t think of that fucking “You Are Lisa Simpson” note the substitute leaves her without getting a lump in my throat.)
The last 10% is kind of a toss up. 5% Dexter for his basic misunderstanding of a lot of basic emotions everyone else seems to get (though I swear I don’t kill people), but also another 5% of House, at least from early seasons as I gave up on the show last year. I’ve always enjoyed watching a character who embraces self loathing to the degree that I do, but fuck…he’s a hell of a lot more successful than me.
Q: Um, most of those are men.
A: I KNOW THEY’RE DUDES, but blame Hollywood and the fact that most writers can’t write good female characters. (Obvious exceptions exist, particularly on “Mad Men”…or you know, Leslie Knope. PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH PARKS AND REC!).
To that end, maybe I should become a television writer…I think I could make an awesomely self indulgent show centered around a female antihero….
Q: Sigh. Okay.
One last question. I know you’ve been nursing a bum leg for a couple of months, but any exciting race plans on the radar?
A: I will be running the Boilermaker for the 20th year in a row. I have no idea what sort of shape I’ll be in since I’m not sure exactly how much fitness I’ve lost, but since my last race streak stopped at 19 in a row I’ve got to make this one happen. Steamtown will be my fall marathon, so hopefully I’ll be back to where I was for that.
Thanks for the chat, AR!
Next up: more nerdy booze talk. Stay tuned!