Thursday Things

1. Has anyone else seen this video?

I watched it on Sunday, and I have Thoughts that you, my poor, semi-captive audience, will now be subjected to.

In case you haven’t seen it, the basic premise of this video is that the girl, Michelle, has never run more than three miles at most at once. She (or BuzzFeed?) decides she wants to train for a marathon in 10 weeks. BuzzFeed hooks her up with a personal trainer, and 10 weeks later, she runs, **SPOILERS AHEAD** and finishes the L.A. Marathon, BQing by five minutes in the process, which, if you follow BQing, should be more than enough to get her an entry in 2018, should she want one.

Thought #1: I did not, for one second, actually think she’d make it through training. I was FLOORED that she not only made it through training without getting injured, but also made it through the entire marathon without blowing up. I mean, for goodness’ sake, she BQed! Most runners I know who’ve been doing this running thing for a very long time have never BQed!

Thought #2: I think this video is problematic on SO MANY LEVELS. I could write a thesis, I could do a dissertation, on the many ways in which I find this video problematic. Behold:

Problem #1: The implication that 10 weeks is a sufficient amount of time to train for a marathon.
I take so much issue with that implication, I’m personally offended by it. While I don’t think there’s anything magical about training for a marathon in 18 weeks like I’ve done over the past four marathon seasons (with the arguable exception of last year, when I ran a marathon during week 15 of Chicago Marathon training), I think those eight weeks you’re losing are pretty damn significant. Which eight weeks are you going to shave off? Your cutback weeks (of which there are only five, plus taper, to begin with during an 18 week program)? The first eight weeks of building? The final eight weeks of your highest mileage plus taper? If I took a serious, critical look at my marathon training schedule, I would feel comfortable skipping the first three weeks IF–gigantic, neon sign, IF–I had a really, really solid base going into marathon training and knew that I could easily do a nine mile run. Heck, I would say that I have a solid base right now, at this exact moment in time, since I’ve been half marathon training since the end of January, and I STILL wouldn’t feel comfortable signing up for Grandma’s Marathon (which is just about 10 weeks from now).

Problem #2: The implication that 10 weeks is a sufficient amount of time for train for a marathon if the longest distance you have previously run in your life, ever, is “Maybe 3 miles?”
Not “three miles a day,” not “three miles as my long run,” three miles, ever, period, MAYBE. Every year at the start of marathon training, CARA says something along the lines of, “If you’re not doing 20 or so miles per week right now, and/or your long run isn’t at least six miles, you should probably seriously ask yourself what you’re doing here, because we really don’t think you’re ready to be here.” Now, I know CARA isn’t the final word when it comes to training, but I think that’s pretty solid advice. If you’re not running at all, if you sit down in an interview at the start of your training and say, “Running is just one of those things I’ve always avoided,” maybe, JUST MAYBE, you’re 1) not ready to run a marathon at all 2) aren’t ready to get ready for a marathon in two and a half months.

Problem #3: The implication, put forth by before and after pictures, in addition to before (but no after) body stats about weight and percent body fat, that you need to run a marathon to get in shape, or that marathon training even is a good way to try to get in shape.
The before and after pictures in this video might just be the most mind-boggling part of all, because somehow, this girl started marathon training with a normal body and normal skin tone and came out bronzed, with nary a rogue, running-gear induced tan line to be seen, with a flatter stomach, and most bizarrely of all, bigger arm muscles (?!) than she started with. I’m no body building expert, but to my understanding, it does not involve the hours upon hours of steady state cardio that marathon training almost always entails. I would think running a marathon would actually be a terrible way to try to lean out, given how common it is to gain, rather than lose, weight during marathon training. Running a marathon is a great way to lower your resting heart rate, but it is hardly the best way to go about losing weight, especially when you consider how much more you need to eat to fuel your training, and how many of those calories need to come from carbohydrates. In the article accompanying the video, Michelle says she could “could eat (within reason) whatever I wanted and didn’t gain weight!” which is both such an enormous misconception and so enormously false that it makes me want to scream. Marathon training is NOT a license to eat whatever you damn well please without any consequences, even though everyone who hasn’t ever run a marathon seems to believe that, and, in fact, it’s that very misconception that is the reason why so many people GAIN weight during marathon training. And look, if you decided to marathon train for the sake of your bucket list or whatever, fine. Eat whatever you want during marathon training. I certainly do, because I’m not in it to lose weight. But don’t tell people they can eat anything (within reason, not bothering to specify what counts as “within reason”) in the same breath that you tell them marathon training will help you get skinny, because those two things are completely incompatible with each other, and anyone who knows anything about marathoning will tell you that. This might have been my biggest point of outrage with the entire video/article.

Problem #4: The implication that if this girl can go out and run a marathon on next to no training, so can you, BuzzFeed Video watcher! And you can qualify for Boston while you’re at it!
The video starts out with Michelle’s coach, Erik Steffens, mentioning that he ran the L.A. Marathon a couple years ago and BQed on his first try. While this does check out on Athlinks, what he fails to mention is that (also according to Athlinks), he was a DII collegiate runner, so it’s not like his L.A. Marathon, despite being his first marathon, was his first rodeo. So, if you were to watch this video with no background and no research, you’d walk away thinking that it’s totally reasonable that you, too, could go out and run a marathon AND qualify for Boston in the process. After all, 100% of the people in the video did it! Why can’t you?

To the video’s credit, it does acknowledge that only 10.4% of runners qualify for Boston. What it doesn’t acknowledge is that most of those Boston qualifiers either 1) worked their asses off to BQ, some for years or 2) Have no trouble BQing on a regular basis because they’re already in the upper echelons of running to begin with–elites, local elites, etc.–because they either have a ton of natural talent, or they have been training at a high level for years, or, quite often, have both a ton of natural talent AND have been training at a high level for years. If you don’t know anything about Boston qualifying, I don’t know how you’d walk away from this video not thinking BQing is a routine thing everyone eventually does at some point during their running career.

Problem #5: The implication that any of this was a good idea.
I don’t know why anyone thought this was something necessary to pursue. It’s not like the L.A. Marathon is the only marathon in the world, or even the only marathon in California for that matter, that you could start training for in the beginning of January. I don’t know why training for a marathon in 10 weeks seemed like a better idea than training for a marathon in 16 weeks (San Luis Obispo), 17 weeks (U.S. Bank OC Marathon), or 20 weeks (Mountains 2 Beach), if you’re looking for other marathons that you could get to in about three and a half hours from Los Angeles. Is training for a marathon in 10 weeks challenging? Absolutely. But so is training for a marathon in 16 weeks, or 18 weeks, or 20 weeks, or any longer length of time.

Thought #3: Look, I think it’s great that Michelle could bust out a BQ in 10 weeks. I’m super impressed and definitely wish I could do that, too. But I also think BuzzFeed has a responsibility to, at the very LEAST, be more clear about Michelle’s baseline fitness (she was a professional cyclist for nine months in 2015) AND to point out that what she did is neither smart nor safe for someone whose fitness isn’t high enough to join a professional cycling team. She ran six days per week logging 45-70 miles per week, which, if you started from scratch, is just BEGGING for injury. I’m, admittedly, pretty cautious about mileage (both for the sake of my body and my mind, neither of which like running more than three days per week), but I’ll be honest: I watched this entire video waiting for her to get hurt, and I couldn’t believe it when she didn’t. This video was obviously meant to inspire people to go after crazy fitness goals, and while I don’t think that’s inherently a bad thing, you ABSOLUTELY need to put a disclaimer on that if the person you’re using as your guinea pig to achieve a crazy fitness goal is already crazy fit to begin with.


2. I’ve started taking pictures with my new camera!


And, after a whopping 10 minutes of taking pictures with said new camera, I already want a macro lens. Haha. Even in my point and shoot days, I was always drawn to macro photography: super closeups of flowers, leaves, and the like. You can fake macro photography with a point and shoot, or even decently well with an iPhone, but as I quickly learned on Tuesday, if I want to replicate that with my SLR, I’m either going to need to adjust my shooting expectations, or I’m going to need a macro lens.

I also realized on Tuesday just how much I have to learn about my camera to make the most of it. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever used an SLR, but it’s the first time I’ve ever had one to use whenever and however I want, and as I was taking pictures on Tuesday, I realized I don’t really know what I’m doing, in no small part because while I recognize a decent number of photography terms (f-stop, aperture, etc.), I don’t really know what they mean or how to make the most of them. I imagine educating myself will help dramatically, so I’m going to need to carve out some time to revisit that photography book I mentioned in my last post, or, at the very least, actually read the manual that came with my camera 😛

3. While we’re (sort of) on the topic of plants:


Look! The cacti in my terrarium are growing baby cacti! I’m hoping that’s a good thing…? Haha. At the very least, they don’t appear to be dying, so I consider that a victory.

6 thoughts on “Thursday Things

  1. I also had SO MANY THOUGHTS when I watched that video. When I first saw the image still they chose for the “cover”, I thought “Oooh! Another person who ran a great marathon time using strength training!” And then when she said ,”45 is my LOWEST mileage” I was aghast. I was hoping it would talk about her entire training regime, and, while they hinted that she had cut out a bunch of foods (ice cream, cookies, and who knows what else), they didn’t talk about anything else or even HOW she got to 70 miles a week. Or if she was doing cross-training/strength training.

    Also, yes, she clearly had an incredible fitness baseline. Especially if she was a professional cyclist. My personal anecdotal evidence is that a good fitness baseline in any kind of fitness will help you run a marathon. But, yes, make that clear in the video.

    Mainly, I want to know what their goal of this video was. Is it just to be clickbait for Buzzfeed (which, let’s be honest, is mainly their goal)? Was it to make money from advertisers? Was it to try and inspire people? I’m confused about what it’s purpose in life is.

    Also, I found it a bit ironic that she said she finally realized she was running the marathon for herself and not to please other people. Um, you’re doing this as part of your job! If that isn’t the definition of doing something for other people I don’t know what is.

    Although, I fully admit that I did tear up a bit when she cried at the finish. Because, man, I know that feeling.

    • I found the end really touching, too. I certainly can relate to how she felt!

      I’ve got to imagine the primary motivation for anything at BuzzFeed is to drive traffic, since that seems to be the ultimate point of any content-focused website, especially a free one that depends on advertising for revenue. But again, why did it have to be 10 weeks? I don’t think anyone, or at least anyone who isn’t familiar with marathon training, would’ve been less impressed or less intrigued by 16, 18, 20 weeks. That still doesn’t sound like that much time! (Even though anyone who’s done a training program that long knows otherwise haha).

      And I don’t know, ESPECIALLY after finding out that she was a pro cyclist, the whole thing just felt deceptive. The impression I’ve always gotten from most of these “BuzzFeed staff tries to do x, y, or z” videos is a vibe of, “Look at what happens when normal people just like you or me do something hard!” But it’s not fair to put Michelle in that “normal people” category at all, because normal people aren’t fit enough to compete at a professional level in any sport. And it would’ve taken so little for her to expound on her fitness background in the video and just be more forthcoming about the fact that just because SHE has the endurance and fitness to pull this off does not mean that MOST people have the endurance and fitness to pull this off, at least not in the way she did it.

  2. What also gets left out of these “omg can you believe my amazing results?!” stories is that the reason the gains are so quick and impressive is that she is benefitting from the first-timer effect. There’s a reason that when people train for marathons for the first time they suddenly start crushing PRs in shorter distances without really trying. It isn’t because they’re just that good at running, it’s because they’re doing something they’ve never done before so of course they’re going to see rapid fitness gains in a short amount of time. It’s a great feeling but as we all know, it doesn’t last. Also, you really have to take it with a grain of salt when people boast about their amazing achievements on seemingly little effort. Many times they are downplaying how much work they actually put in, or hiding other contributing factors (in this case, Michelle’s already high level of fitness). The first thing I thought of was when Caroline Wozniacki ran the 2014 NYC Marathon in 3:26 with 13 miles as her longest run. Only 13 miles?? Yes, but she’s a freakin professional tennis player!

    That said, I didn’t get the impression she was trying to encourage others to train like this or imply that because she did it, anyone can! I think she was just telling her story. And we all know that awe-inspiring stories get more publicity, so there you have it. Yeah, it can be obnoxious when someone comes along and puts in half the effort for twice the results. But there will always be those people in life who don’t have to work as hard and get to take an easier road to success. Is it fair? No. But, what are ya gonna do? They won the genetic lottery, good for them. But I always say that having to work long and hard and consistently for something makes it so much more satisfying in the end. I know someone who runs Boston every year because she’s fast enough that she can basically roll about of bed and qualify. Meanwhile, a friend of mine ran Boston 2016 after trying 11 TIMES to qualify. I remember thinking how special it must have been for her because of all that she had to go through to get there and how she never gave up on a goal that took her 10 years to achieve.

    Long story short: don’t get down on yourself, and try not to be mad about the video. We all take different paths to get from point A to point B, and anyway the video was more about using sensationalism to generate website traffic and adoring comments from people who think that BQing is the be all end all of everything than it was about trying to be informative or educational. Just my $.02.

    • I see your point, and to be fair, she trained MUCH harder in 10 weeks than I ever train in 18, so I can’t really get bent out of shape over her having such a better marathon time than I’ve ever had (though honestly, most people in any given marathon have better marathon times than I’ve ever had haha.) It just really bothers me that the video doesn’t give any indication that she likely went into this with an above-average level of baseline fitness, and, while it’s obvious from looking at her that she’s not wildly out of shape, if you JUST watched the video or JUST read the article, and didn’t do any further research into this girl’s life at all, you’d have no reason to think she’s as fit as she clearly is. It feels deceptive to me, especially since that little bit of information would’ve been so simple to include, and I think that’s why I’ve had such a strong reaction to the video.

  3. Ugh this video. I basically had all the same thoughts and concerns as you, and I’m floored by the fact that this runner newbie woman did not injure herself in any way. I mean…I would probably end up at the hospital. It’s certainly impressive and I teared up a bit at the end when she finished (because that feeling is just ❤ ), but I felt like the entire video was so misleading. Did she strength train? How did she get those physical results (i.e muscular definition)? What sort of fitness background did she have? How was her diet? It was all just very wtf to me. But alas, I wish I could do something like that without worry and end up with a BQ!

    • Exactly. I don’t need to know the nitty gritty details of her training–if you’re only going to take 13 minutes to tell me about how you went from never running a race at all to running a marathon, you don’t need to get bogged down in the details of how many intervals of what distance you did on Monday, February 20–but there was clearly SO MUCH left out of this that it makes me frustrated by the whole thing. And the stuff that was left out would’ve been so simple to include, if not in the video, then at the very least in the article on BuzzFeed: what kind of diet she was following, even in a general sense, what, if any, cross training she was doing (according to Twitter, she was also filming a video where she and four others trained like professional dancers for a month, which is also sparse on details, but involved no fewer than three rehearsals per week, at the same time as she was doing all this marathon training. That means, since she was running six weeks a day as well, she was doing three two-a-days for at least a month.), just ANYTHING at all that would be a little more upfront about what went into this. I think that would’ve made me feel a lot better about this video.

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