McFarland, USA – A Runner’s Review

Clearly I am not a movie reviewer. I’m just a guy who loves running, is a sucker for the underdog, and love to be inspired. As for McFarland, USA, in short, I loved it. Yes, it was predictable, and yes it was about Kevin Costner, but setting that aside, I really enjoyed the film. I wanted to see this film for the obvious reasons I’ve already mentioned, but I also wanted to see it because I have been bothered by the fake story about Hollister, CA. Unless you have been living under a rock, I like you, for the past ten years or more have seen hipsters and kids all over the country proudly wearing their Hollister hoodies and t-shirts, espousing the surf culture of that California beachside community. But like the restaurant chain, Noah’s NY Bagels, there is no such thing. Hollister is inland and landlocked. It is an agricultural community not that unlike McFarland, CA about three hours south, or its own neighbor Salinas, CA, the lettuce capital of the United States. There isn’t even a Hollister clothing store in Hollister, CA, but why let facts get in the way of a great story? So you can see why I was curious to see how Disney would portray McFarland, an agricultural town with a population somewhere around 13,000.
McFarland to Hollister
In reality, they did a great job. What I was most impressed with is that three of the seven runners in the film were actually from McFarland, giving them a chance to participate in the story of their own town and helping them to launch their own acting careers in a town that I would guess doesn’t have that many casting opportunities.
The running scenes were good but not amazing, the storyline was solid and the acting by novice and veterans alike was terrific and not overacted. It held my attention, entertained and inspired me for the entire length of the film.
All that said, there was one little thing that I couldn’t get past and the problem was that I kept seeing it in almost every scene. Carlos Pratts, who plays the character and fastest of the McFarland runners, Thomas Valles, is a thick, and I mean thick muscle bound athlete that looks nothing like a long distance runner.
McFarland to beach
Pratts’ character Valles is seen above, running at the front of the group amongst other thinner and more realistic running characters, except for character Danny Diez, who is purposefully overweight.
But here’s the real issue, Pratts’ character is timed by Coach White (Costner) early in the film, running through a farm while he commutes with a backpack on at a blistering 5:30 min/mile pace. Now anyone who runs, knows how hard it is to run with a backpack on, let alone run that fast. I mean, check out this guys arms and thighs in the photos above or below. There is no way that this guy is running that fast and winning the overall state championship against the legs and lungs of other more svelte runners – unless he’s running the 100 meter dash. If McFarland, USA was about wrestling or power lifting, Pratts would have been a great casting choice, but as an elite distance runner, he just didn’t physically fit the character’s needs and this oversight annoyed me greatly.
Pratts Valles
Here is what the real Thomas Valles looked like in 1987 when they won their first trophy:
McFarland Real Valles
McFarland Real Valles Trophy
Look at the size of Valles’ hips alone? Pratts’ thighs are larger. At a minimum, Pratts should have dieted down to portray Valles’ character more accurately. Yes Valles was ripped but he was lean and ripped, not yoked. Pratts is just thick, too thick for any of his running scenes to have been accurate or believable.  I will have to turn to my good friend Sandi to let me know how that type of a casting decision might have been made. Sylvester Stallone at 5’8″ and 159 lbs was more believable as heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Balboa. It would have been the equivalent to having Steve Prefontaine portrayed by actor Sean Astin (Rudy and Samwise Gamgee) in Without Limits. It just wouldn’t have worked, no matter how great the actor is.
But that’s it. And interesting for me, I read a number of reviews and comments in running blogs and online magazines and nobody else seemed to have picked up on this.
Now, what also intrigued me was the real story about the McFarland, CA cross country team and how that story was portrayed in the movie. And like so many stories, the truth is more impressive than even the film. In December of 1997, The Los Angeles Times published this article on McFarland after they won their 6th straight state title. I invite you to read it. It only made me feel more connected to the characters I had been introduced to in the film.
In short, I highly recommend the film, in the theaters or by watching it during your taper week before your next race. You’ll be better for having seen it.
Below are some other links worth checking out, after you see the film. Enjoy!


As if getting people to workout wasn’t hard enough, when people do, they are criticized for doing so.

Outdoor workout 1

The following article For The Hard Core: The Gonzo Grown-Up Playground Workout In 10 Moves was shared with me on facebook by a friend, knowing my enthusiasm for using the outdoor world to inspire me to engage in physical activity. I started reading the article to see how many of the exercises I already do, and would have let it end their with mild interest until I started reading the comments.

The dissenting opinions for doing this type of outdoor activities using the already available public areas included:

Public spaces do be long to the public, but the picnic tables are put there so people can picnic, the benches are put there so people can sit. Exercising on them puts wear on them and doesn’t let them last as long. There are plenty other ways to exercise outside without using these items in ways that could damage them.

1) benches are made for sitting. 2) picnic tables are made for eating. It’s one thing to exercise it’s another thing to be disrespectful of items that don’t belong to you. You jumping on either of these could break them.

I personally live in Japan. My city has a dedicated area at our parks to do basic workouts, our benches are also cement, and can’t remember if picnic tables are provided or not. I do know that here in Japan if you were doing things this person is suggesting you would get stared and frowned at, so this would never happen here. Here my opinion about not using these items for exercise is the majority opinion. You will find no Japanese doing this.

If they don’t belong to me then they don’t belong to the person who is using them improperly and they shouldn’t be abusing them if they don’t own them. When you’re jumping on the tables destroys them to the point of no use and they aren’t replace you know who’s to blame. They are put there with a purpose, that purpose is not being an ignorant selfish fool who can’t afford a $20 gym membership at planet fitness.

Thanks for making picnic food taste and smell like sweaty ass.

Outdoor workout 2


These comments were met, as you might expect, with a significant amount of resistance, confusion, and disdain. I would have written it off as the tirades of a troll but then I read this post from a self proclaimed authority:

As a former playground safety inspector I agree with James. The equipment is designed for children and structured for the average weights and heights of children. Additionally, wood picnic tables are subject to the influence of weather, so jumping on to wood tables designed primarily for eating is never a good idea. Wood weakens via the influence of moisture (e.g., rain, snow, dew). There are some benefits for working out in a park, but a 200 lb. man hanging off of children’s monkey bars over the long term doesn’t strike me as a good idea. Sheesh, just join a gym!

That said, I see their point….to a point. And my response is as follows:

Wow! My response is pretty simple, when we get to the point that Americans are filling the parks “misusing” the benches and tables by exercising with them, we will have saved $millions in publicly subsidized healthcare costs and rather than reprimanding or penalizing those from doing so, we should celebrate the reversal of a national crisis. I’m sure a few of those dollars saved can be used for the upkeep of those facilities. And I agree that people should use judgment, avoid jumping on things where people might eat, and don’t jump on anything with dog feces on your shoes, but everything else is fair game. I LOVE those doing Parkour and those who use outdoor facilities for their own health and also as a way to encourage others to embrace a healthy and active lifestyle. I lived in Japan as a child and I understand how people ,might look down on these folks, but that’s the great thing about America. People look down on most anything new, until someone does it the first time, and then someone joins in, and then another and then another, etc. Eventually even Japanese join in. It just takes awhile longer. If nobody took the first step to break a rule, then there would be no innovation.

What’s yours?



We should be angry


Listen, if you didn’t know you’re bein’ scammed, you’re too fuckin’ dumb to keep this job. If you did know, you were in on it. Either way, you’re out. ~ Sam “Ace” Rothstein


We should be angry because either our President lied or he didn’t understand his healthcare plan well enough to let us know that many people would lose their current healthcare policies. We should be angry because Republicans offer no solution to the problem, instead they simply say we don’t like what is there or offer half baked proposals so they can say they’ve offered an alternative. We should be angry because the President’s comment that people will now be able to keep their healthcare is also a lie because the only groups that will decide that are the insurance companies themselves and the state insurance regulators. So why are so many breathing a sigh of relief? We should be angry because many people have already either been cancelled or they have bought plans on the exchange for a higher cost because they believe they had no alternative to protect themselves and their families, and the President’s latest comments provide no explanation on what those people are entitled to do at this point. We should be angry because there is still yet another gap in coverage for those in states that decided to not expand Medicaid and for them, there is no viable solution. We should be angry because of all of the facebook posts over the past 3 months that opined one way or the other, and yet NEVER once did I read the facts as they have transpired. And all of this information was available, to all of us. There are no surprises here. All of this is easily known and understood just by reading the act. But I bet none of those who have posted how much they either love or hate the ACA actually read it or asked the simple questions such as, “what happens to current policy holders that hold policies that do not comply with the current ACA?”. That one question was all anyone needed to ask and answer that would have told you that these people would not be able to keep their insurance. But instead we turn now to the President and indignantly exclaim: “You lied to us!” Isn’t it our responsibility to be critical thinkers? Isn’t it our responsibility to find out things for ourselves? I am not defending the President’s actions, I am disgusted by it. To quote the Casino character, Sam “Ace” Rothstein: “Listen, if you didn’t know you’re bein’ scammed, you’re too fuckin’ dumb to keep this job. If you did know, you were in on it. Either way, you’re out.” But it doesn’t change the fact that De Niro’s character took it upon himself to be observant and to find out what was going on for himself. We didn’t do even that. And now we are here pointing fingers. We should be angry. But most of all we should be angry at ourselves. There is still much more to learn before this is all over. It’s up to us to learn it. Nobody else will do this for us.

SoulBashing – C’Mon Man Isn’t it time we stop hating over activities that get people healthy and active?


The first thing you notice when you stand outside of the SoulCycle studio in West Hollywood is all of the sweaty and visibly fatigued folks that emerge from the frosted glass doors. It sends a clear image, step inside and be prepared to work. The other message it sends to onlookers is that this is a place where I’m going to get a good workout in. Why wouldn’t I? Just look at them? Their Lululemon yoga pants and bedazzled electric blue waist coats barely cover how toned and fit they are!

So inside we stepped, me, my better half and our friend who regularly attends class there. Aside from setting my own bike up, I tried to hide my experience as a veteran cycling instructor as I wanted to get the full experience that a newbie would get. Under my saddle I found a pair of 1-lb weights cradled there. Our friend warned me that new riders trying to “show off” by using heavier weights would be unceremoniously ridiculed for their poor decision when they could no longer keep up with the workout. I asked the rider next to me what he used and he suggested I use at least two pounds. I chose the three pound weights to match his. Yeah, I know, I couldn’t turn off my ego entirely.

The other thing I noticed about the class was how close together the bikes were placed, and I mean close together, as in your face is in the butt of the rider in front of you and you are essentially rubbing elbows with the riders to either side.  I later found out that this is to share the energy between riders and it also serves to accentuate the choreography of the entire line of riders as they pop up and down in unison, making for a very energizing and sweat-flinging demonstration of solidarity. The class ought to come with a warning to avoid gas creating foods before riding. In short there is no personal space, and oddly it isn’t such a bad thing once you start going, probably because the heat and vapor haze in the room tends to numb your senses after a few minutes.

And then it began. No warm-up to speak of , we head right on into it. Jumps, more jumps and more jumps. Spin your ass off as quickly as you can – oops did I say that? No not ass, but the word Spin. That’s trademarked. The vast majority of the class is held out of the saddle save for a few moments where we spin (lower case word) free. Surprisingly the emphasis on the use of hand weights was grossly over advertised. We did Pilates-like arm movements for the duration of only one song, Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, which lasts for roughly four and a half minutes. Sound easy? Click on the link and the hold your arms out and pulse them up and down while watching the YouTube video and let me know how you feel at the end.Are you burning a huge amount of calories? Nope, but you are creating resistance to your delts and traps, etc and it’s better than sitting there with your arms at your sides as you read this.

So why all of the media attention? And why all of the criticism, like this article entitled How to Waste An Hour of Your Time in a Cycling Studio, by Jennifer Sage of the Indoor Cycling Association.

Is SoulCycle the indoor cycling alternative we’ve all been looking for? Does it create finely toned physiques and improve the health of its participants? Or is SoulCycle the devil incarnate or as one critique asserts is a complete waste of time and suggests that its mere presence and public popularity is contributing to ruining the industry?

So do I have a dog in this fight? No more than when providing an educated opinion on any exercise class or fad. Yes I’m a purest and I when I teach cycling I teach based on solid principles, but hey guess what, Spinning isn’t true cycling either, nor is Reebok Cycling nor are many others. Oh and by the way, Zumba isn’t dance but it doesn’t mean that taking the class is a bad thing to do. If you want real cycling indoors then climb on your rollers or Computerainer – it’s as close as you’re going to get. Indoor cycling attracts people from all walks of life and with varying goals, not all of which may agree with yours.

As I’ve gotten older I recognize that like most everything else in life, this argument can be solved by managing expectations, communicating those clearly, and then following through.

Here is my revised priority of what I like to see offered in the fitness industry and how I score SoulCycle:

  • Get people off the couch – Offer opportunities that inspire people with different objectives to embrace a healthy and active lifestyle – Check, SoulCycle is one such option, and hey guess what it isn’t the only one. SoulCycle appeals to folks who want to dance, do things as a group, and sweat. If the alternative is sitting at home on the couch watching Real Housewives of Atlanta, what is the problem?
  • Be safe, but don’t insist on policy without purpose – The goal is to keep people healthy and active once they embrace the lifestyle. Significant injuries prevent this. Base jumping without a parachute is probably not a good idea. Too many jumps or pedaling too fast – staples of SoulCycle – are not the end of the world. Be able to help participants avoid those harmful without casting a blanket to protect everyone against every possible scenario. Newsflash, always being safe isn’t fun. Some people don’t mind a few cuts and scrapes, others do. Again, manage expectations.
  • Use intelligent instructors – Notice I didn’t say “certified” instructors. Beyond basic safety and repeating what is in a training manual, instructors of any fitness discipline should be able to actually apply those learnings to a wide variety of situations and know when they can leave well enough alone, when they should offer alternatives and when they should strongly suggest that the participants don’t do something altogether. Jury’s out on this one, not just for SoulCycle but for every fitness discipline out there. In the 25 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve definitely seen my share of cowboys and crappy instructors that are successfully certified by multiple agencies, and that never seems to change.
  • Make it fun or make it extreme – Either is fine and both is great also, but you actually have to know you are doing it. You can’t go into a Zumba class and teach like Bob Fosse. You’ll make them cry and usually crying isn’t fun. Fun or extreme hardness are both equally effective at attracting participants and helping them to get off their assess. SoulCycle is flat out fun unless you are sitting or standing or jumping there being pissed off that the class doesn’t adhere to specific safety principles. That’s like being Ferris Bueller’s sister, and the only guy who liked her in that movie was Charlie Sheen. SoulCycle is also hard. Seriously, you try bouncing up and down on a saddle without hurting yourself. That’s hard.
  • Know your audience and tailor your class to them – As  group cycling instructor, you aren’t going to teach octogenarians in the same way you’re going to teach to members of Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda, a pro cycling team. So why argue that what one instructor does for one group is wrong?

My summary? If SoulCycle is inspiring folks to embrace healthy and active lifestyles AND isn’t sending anyone to the hospital, more power to you. Is it for me? Not sure. Like I said, I’m still a cycling purest and for me, 8 by 3-minute sprint intervals with 90 second recoveries still get me more excited than isometrics to Robin Thicke and bouncing up and down on a saddle while wondering if I chose the right food the night before. To each her own.


Hero, Villain or Man? Weighing the Deeds of Lance Armstrong

In August I blogged about Lance Armstrong after he “stopped his fight” against his accusers. Do you want to be right or do you want to do good? The Lance Armstrong saga finally comes to an end. But who really loses? Mistakenly and naively, I implied that the saga had come to an end. Obviously it hasn’t.

Friends have been debating the merits and demerits of Lance Armstrong with me on facebook and one person put it very succinctly by asking the question: “Is Lance a good person who did bad things, or a bad person who did good things?”

So I’ll leave it to you to weigh the scales of justice or as another intelligent friend of mine says, weigh a complicated situation. How many good things outweigh the bad? And if you are one of many who still admires Lance, what kind of deeds would have to have been in the bad column to tip the scales the other way?


Sometimes a mea culpa is not enough – Lane Kiffen’s statement to the USC Football Community

We’ve all made mistakes. Who hasn’t? When you do, it’s almost become expected that you will open the kimono and bare your soul to the stakeholders that matter in the “expectation” that they will forgive you and then all will be rosy again. Below is a statement by USC Football Head Coach, Lane Kiffen. The comments below show that sometimes just saying I’m sorry is not enough, especially when you’ve fallen short, not just on outcome performance but moral issues and integrity. My recommendation: if you are going to say “I’m sorry”, make sure you cover two critical imperatives:

1) know what you’re apologizing about, and

2) demonstrate that you are committed to addressing those issues.

If not, don’t even waste your breath saying those two words. Oh by the way, I apologize in advance for some of the language used in the comments included below. See, I covered the first imperative, but blew it already on the second.


“Believe me, I understand the pain, and what a loss means to the USC family. It looks like I don’t care, and I get that. But inside I’m suffering just like everyone else.”Lane Kiffin reflects on a season gone wrong:“I also know I owe the USC family something better. And we can do that.”
"Believe me, I understand the pain, and what a loss means to the USC family. It looks like I don't care, and I get that. But inside I'm suffering just like everyone else."</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Lane Kiffin reflects on a season gone wrong:</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>"I also know I owe the USC family something better. And we can do that."
Like · · Share · 33718028 · 31 minutes ago·

Obesity is The Government’s Business

I use running to check out or check in. I use it to become absent or to become present. I listen to my shoes crunching through the snow, to my favorite tunes or just to the world around me. Running, for me has become the only time when I can break away from the direct work responsibilities to expand my mind. To do this, I often listen to podcasts of a variety of types. This past Saturday while running in Mill Creek Park, I found myself listening to a local Youngstown NPR channel and to a rebroadcast of a February 2012 debate from Intelligence Squared US entitled Obesity Is The Government’s Business.

Granted by listening to this while running and while listening to National Public Radio, I’m already self selecting into a specific stereotype, and when I heard this was a debate, I initially reacted by thinking, “What is there to debate about?”. 78 million adults and 12 million children are obese. We spend more than $150 billion (with a B) addressing chronic and largely preventable illnesses, brought about from poor lifestyle choices and personal decisions. Of course our government has a role in solving this problem.

The panel for this debate was impressive with Dr. David Satcher, former Surgeon General and Dr. Pamela Peeke, WebMD’s Lifestyle Expert representing the Affirmative, and John Stossel, FOX Business News Anchor and Paul Compos, author of The Obesity Myth opposing government’s involvement.

The main point of Drs. Satcher and Peeke are that government has a role in providing an environment where everyone can participate in healthy and active lifestyle choices regardless of socioeconomic status – access to sidewalks, parks, foods, etc.  Those opposed to the motion argued that this was largely about awareness and anyone can watch Richard Simmons or P90X commercials and know that being overweight or obese is not a desirable trait in our culture and that the problem with government being involved is largely that 1) government has a lousy track record of making a difference in people’s behaviors, 2) that schools are having enough problem teaching reading and writing without asking them to teach nutrition, and 3) we are a free society and government shouldn’t be involved in the individual decisions of its citizens. They also put forth a few specious arguments such as the proposition that there is no evidence that obesity is unhealthy or responsible for rising heath care costs.

I was disappointed that there were a number of important positions that went unexplored in this debate including the fact that government is already involved directly in obesity when they subsidize commercially available packaged foods and factory farming of foods that contribute to this issue in turn making whole real foods more expensive and less accessible by comparison. They also did not fully explore the fact that rising healthcare costs are largely contributing to one of the most significant national defense issues of our time by throwing us deeper and deeper into debt. They also did not explore the fact that healthy people subsidize the poor decisions and bad behaviors of those who just don’t care or who selfishly have decided that somehow they are entitled to these as rights under our constitution. Why should my tax dollars go to support their bad decisions and how is that not a government issue?

What actually amazed me most of all is that the team opposed to obesity being government’s business actually won the debate. I’m not sure how to interpret this with so many facts and the preponderance of evidence weighing in favor of what many would see as common sense. Listening to this on the heels of the Newtown slaughter also reminded me that there are a lot of Americans who simply are willing to sacrifice a whole lot of lives to protect what they see as their individual freedoms and liberties. Similar to the debate on gun control, those opposed to government’s involvement really didn’t provide any alternative recommendations on how to actually solve the problem, only that whichever path is chosen, government should not be involved. Now I’m Jewish and my mother was first generation born in the United States and I grew up ever wary of fascist overzealous controlling governments that strip away the freedoms of its citizens in order to promote a particular point of view. So am I just naive? Am I ignorant? Must we always and forever assume that representatives of a duly elected government will always be looking for ways to harm its citizens? I’m not sure I buy it. I guess I believe that liberties and a government that actively helps its citizens can responsibly coexist.

In any case, do listen to the debate here: Obesity is The Government’s Business. It’s definitely worth your time while commuting or working out. It provides a good summary of the facts surrounding this extremely important issue in our country. Its an issue that won’t be solved any time soon, but must be solved to avoid a tremendous amount of suffering in the future. Interested in your opinion.



The 2012 ING NYC Marathon is Cancelled – What’s Next?

After a see-saw week of: is it on? Is it off? Tuesday it’s on. Friday it’s definitely on, and are you freak’n kidding me? Late Friday afternoon, the NYC Mayor’s Office released an announcement that reversed his previous positions and announced that the 2012 New York City Marathon is cancelled.

“We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event – even one as meaningful as this – to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track.” Bloomberg said.

I still stand by my earlier comments, that if the NYRR and the City could demonstrate conclusively that no resources would be diverted from the recovery efforts, and that includes no excessive burden on the part of FDNY EMS and other emergency workers, and if they could do it in a way that demonstrated that holding the event would actually accelerate and stimulate the response to those in need, avoiding further suffering, then they should hold the race. Barring that, they shouldn’t. They clearly couldn’t do this.

I have to assume that they wanted to do this, but to quote the famous line from Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

The outpouring of criticism from the community was immense with more than 50,000 fans joining a new facebook page entitled Cancel the 2012 NYC Marathon in less than three days. To put that into perspective, the NYRR’s own facebook page has only 37,000 followers and it’s been up for years.

In the heat of battle, I understand it’s hard to get your ducks in a row, and everyone is gun shy about saying the wrong thing, but decisions were made in a way that made the community feel that it was all being done for financial reasons and worse yet, it was being done in the dark. What the public could see was a mix of rumors and exaggerations and absent any formal statements, aside from “Don’t run in Central Park”, the community saw what they wanted to see, dead bodies still being found in basements, residents of Staten Island without homes and outraged, victims being kicked out of hotels to honor marathoners’ reservations, Borough presidents and other elected officials speaking out against the marathon, portable bathrooms setup and fenced off so locals wouldn’t use them in advance of the marathon, and two shiny new generators being used to support the marathon as opposed to powering up a hospital or darkened homes across NYC.

Generators wait in Central Park for Sunday’s running of the New York City Marathon. (Getty Images)

To me, this was the nail in the coffin of any opportunity to hold this race. The pictures of the two generators were used in online articles, television news coverage and every media outlet available. They became a symbol for the selfishness and lack of sensitivity that the NYRR has for its community, whether true or not. The poor response from a NYRR representative when asked about the generators use while so many people were still without power? These are from a private source and they didn’t take away from any being used for recovery. That statement only made it worse. As I noted earlier, I think the City and the NYRR could have won over the community by matching every action used to support the marathon with one to support the relief. Adding two generators for the marathon? Then donate two generators to the relief. Bringing out thousands of water bottles? Then donate thousands of water bottles to those who don’t have clean drinking water. Giving away race shirts? Then give them to the people who lost all of their belongings. Even after the race was cancelled, aside from notifying runners about the cancelled race, the only message sent out on the NYRR facebook encouraged runners to come to the expo to pick up their race t-shirts and goodie bags and to stop by the vendors booths – presumably to spend more money. I can’t help but feel that they just don’t get it.

As for the runners losing out? I think Olympic medalist and 2009 winner of the ING NYC Marathon Meb Kelflezighi said it best:

“I understand why it cannot be held under the current circumstances. Any inconveniences the cancellation causes me or the thousands of runners who trained and traveled for this race pales in comparison to the challenges faced by people in NYC and its vicinity.”

For the most part, runners understood that, but I was shocked to see so many runners posting comments asking for refunds of not only their fees but compensation for their losses and even one who wanted refunds of the merchandise she bought. Apparently, even the running community isn’t immune to selfish behaviors.

So what about the runners? It lightens my heart to see so many of them already jumping into the relief effort by volunteering in the City. As one runner who drove a truck of supplies this morning, Moffat Frazier posted:

“Back from volunteering this morning in the Rockaways…the devastation we saw on the way back left us speechless…I’m doing my part – donated clothes, food, money and time…make sure you get out there and do your part too…”

According to reports, the NYRR will provide guaranteed entry into the 2013 ING NYC Marathon to those who were registered this year. As for registration fees, the NYRR has a no refund policy, but Mary Wittenberg is on record as saying that they will be reevaluating this. Should you get a refund? In my mind, no. Not because you weren’t impaired, but because so was everybody else. That said, I think the NYRR would go a long way to help their badly tarnished reputation by both increasing the amount of money they donate to the recovery, as well as by providing some relief to those who raced. If 40,000 runners registered at $250 per person, that’s $10 million in fees that were collected by the NYRR for this race. Yes, some funds have already been spent, and yes, the NYRR relies on the revenues from the marathon for their annual operations, but I’m guessing something more than $26.2 per person can be either returned or donated to the relief. If it was me, I’d come up with a number and then give the runner the choice.

But for now, as has been throughout the week, communication from the NYRR is almost non existent and yesterday’s NYRR website full of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the marathon, has now been replaced with a homepage that only displays the image at the top of this post. Once again, communication seems to be lacking.

To the thousands of runners who are still in NYC and anxious to run, go for it. The beauty of running is that we lace up our shoes and walk out the door. We don’t need millions of dollars of support to get that amazing feeling. Spend your New York City experience volunteering and then head out for a run and experience New York City as only runners can. Most importantly, let’s get back to what New Yorkers do best. Getting things running again. You can help. I know you will.

An Open Letter to Mary Wittenberg and Mayor Bloomberg – The ING NYC Marathon – It’s Not Enough!

Mayor Bloomberg and Mary, please let me start off by openly stating that I agree with your decision for the marathon to go on, with a few caveats, namely that you can clearly demonstrate to the citizens of NYC and surrounding areas that resources are not being diverted from recovery efforts, and secondly that you go out of your way to respect and aid those who are still suffering. Mary, you know that I am a person with an opinion and ordinarily I insist on basing these opinions in evidence, but in this case, it’s pretty hard to find.  Transparency has never been one of the strengths of the New York Road Runners. So my opinions are based on what public information is there, as well as from the experience I had during the years I spent coaching and running the marathon training programs for the NYRR as well as my experience of living and working in and around New York City.

I’ve read that this year’s marathon is estimated to bring in more than $300 million in new revenues to the city. It will be a catalyst for spurring a return to tourism faster and it will open small businesses sooner. Getting ready for the marathon will also mean the City will work faster and recovery will occur faster. All of these are good things.

Critics have two major points. The first is that theses marathon efforts are taking valuable resources away from the clean-up and the repairs necessary in hard-hit areas such as Staten Island. The Post this morning and subsequent coverage on NBC cited utilities workers from Staten Island as well as hundreds of police officers being diverted up to Manhattan for the marathon preparations while at the same time hundreds of homes and thousands of people are without homes, food, clean water and the streets are being looted.

Address this point head on. Demonstrate to the public and show the evidence that resources are not being diverted.

Their second point is perhaps more damming. How can you hold a celebration of resiliency when police and fire fighters are still pulling dead bodies out of homes in the borough’s you’ll be running through?

The only thing I can say here is that everyone needs to start acting with a whole lot more empathy and sensitivity. It needs to go beyond appearances on The Today Show. Show through your actions that you value citizenship first. I know you are well intended, now let your actions prove this out as you go about putting on the most magnificent running race in the world. Make this a true RACE TO RECOVER.

You’ve pledged $26.2 for each runner running on Sunday or a minimum of $1 million. The Rudin family is committing an additional $1.1 million and ING Foundation another $500,000. This is $2.6 million dollars being pledged to relief efforts. Unfortunately, Mary, it isn’t enough. Start spending the money that has been brought in from runner fees, from sponsorships and even from your charity program. And let your staff know that good citizenship means that we think about the impact of every decision. Before turning the generators on in Central Park, you should have known that it would be seen as a slap in the face to those without power in Staten Island, Westchester, Rockland County and elsewhere. Just because they were private contractors and not city resources doesn’t make it any less offensive, and Richard Finn’s irritated attitude just goes to show you why so many people are upset and feel that the NYRR is out of touch with their community. Before powering those generators up, could you have paid for having an equal number of generators sent down to Staten Island to power up those homes?  What would it have cost you? Another $100K? Big deal. What else could you have done to actually help people now given your unique position in the NYC community? Here are a few ideas and I’m sure you can come up with many better than mine:

  • Put up a bulletin board on your website so runners this weekend can share rooms together, opening up more rooms for those New Yorkers who are in hotels and will get kicked out to honor runners’ reservations
  • Mayor Bloomberg, make a statement that New Yorker’s health and welfare comes first and hotels will not be penalized for helping people who have lost their homes
  • Every registered marathoner that comes into the City and donates their paid room to a displaced resident gets free entry into the 2013 ING NYC Marathon (You can still be cheap and just say guaranteed entry, they’d be just as thrilled)
  • Every registered marathoner who donates more than 6 hours volunteering gets guaranteed entry into the 2013 ING NYC Marathon – you require aspiring marathoners to volunteer at your races, this is the same but a bit more important
  • Set-up buses to take marathoners who want to volunteer to the areas where they can help
  • Make it simple for marathoners to know how they can help, where they can go, what they can do
  • Any money you are spending on the marathon, spend an equal amount NOW to help those in need.
  • Allow marathoners to have their registration fee donated to the relief effort, not $26.2 when you know they paid more than $200 for the right to run in your race. It’s almost embarrassing.
  • Commit the $500 you charge charities for each charity runner and put that to use immediately, not for elite runner appearances but for the citizens of your city

I know my ideas are based on imperfect or out of date information, and please know that I am writing this understanding how difficult of a position you are in. You both have the power to make things better, not just in the aggregate or at some point in the future, but now to individuals who are currently suffering. I do believe that you feel you are, but it isn’t enough. Make it clear to the marathoners coming into NYC that this year’s marathon is NOT ABOUT HOW FAST YOU RUN! It’s about an event with a national audience that can help to speed recovery, lift spirits, help the economy recover more rapidly and most importantly, can actually help those who need help by productively galvanizing the most able-bodied, fit and inspired community in the world – marathon runners!

This year, a ‘PR’ or Personal Record should have nothing to do with your running time, instead it should be measured by the time and effort you commit to helping those who need it.

I’ve read posts where runners coming into the city are being told, “run for those who can’t run”, and while this is well intended, it won’t actually help those in need. Give these runners an opportunity and the tools to help, really help – starting today! You know they will. Mary, you’ve always wanted the New York Road Runners to be the leader in running across the world. Here’s your chance.

A leader has to make tough decisions and this is a tough situation. You may be far better served to forget less about pomp and circumstances and spend more effort figuring out how you can use the power you have to turn your money, influence and close to 40,000 runner citizens loose on the city in a coordinated way to do what they really want to do – Race with Purpose!


Roger Goodell is a genius – Why keeping the NFL Replacement Refs is just good business

Last night ‘s Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks NFL football game ended with a Hail Mary pass by former University of Wisconsin and current Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson calling the wrong play in the huddle before scrambling to heave a near perfect 40-yard ball into the corner of the end zone…to be caught by…..

…..who cares. It didn’t matter who caught the ball because former Golden Domer, Golden Tate shoves the defender in the back with such force he sends him sprawling. Offensive Pass Interference, Easy Call, Game Over….or is it?

The ball flies into the end zone and Green Bay Packers defensive back, Jennings rises high to grab the ball, pull it into his chest along with Golden Tate’s arms, and comes down in the end zone, Interception, Easy Call, Game Over….or is it?

Heck no, the replacement referees can’t figure out what the call is and after missing the obvious pass interference call, decide it is simultaneous possession and award the ball and the touchdown to….Golden Tate. Game over! For real, well sort of, as they had to kick the PAT.

The press has gone wild, the fans and players are incensed and all I could think of was keeping these high school referees in the NFL is pure genius. Record numbers of fans and viewers are watching these games. So what if it isn’t to watch the football? The bottom line is that ratings are surging and the money is flowing in! Advertisers are thrilled! The NFL will be rolling in dough and didn’t have to pay extra to so called professional referees to do it. Brilliant!

This season is football’s reality TV equivalent of Snookie and The Situation and Honey Boo Boo. Even though you know you’re going to see something completely ridiculous and embarrassing, you have to tune in and watch, and that means more money for the league. The outcomes when the perennial best of the NFL plays the perennial doormats are completely in question because with these referees ANYTHING can happen. And people love to watch the unexpected.

So before you jump up screaming about how you want the professional refs to return, think about how boring it will be to see the Patriots, the Packers and Saints winning all of their games again. Everything Roger Goodell has done from the player lockout, to Bounty Gate to the replacement referees has been pure genius. He has done what Al Davis never could, established parity in the league where the outcome is always in questions and the fan is engaged for all 60 minutes…

…plus replays!

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