Discover more from Beck of the Pack
The level of nonsense in the running media is largely structural, and isn't going anywhere until more people reject it
Big-time sports aren't as awash in Wokism as running is, mainly because those sports don't attract or nourish the same quasi-journalistic actors
I like to check out what’s happening in the NBA and Major League Baseball when those sports are in season. I was pursuing this habit through newspapers and magazines well before the Internet arrived and united global society in an ongoing campaign of mass fragmentation and privacy-surrendering. Some things don’t fundamentally change even when the faces and cities uniform styles do; sometimes this is refreshing, including the irony of finding something that’s been the same for decades “refreshing.”
I usually engage in this temporarily rejuvenating exercise though ESPN.com. Whenever I do, I take for granted the immediate splash of reliably useful information: Team standings in organized leagues, various individual and team statistics, trades, All-Star Game voting results, new injuries, playoff action, the annual player draft, and protracted record chases (e.g., 74 home runs or 403 three-point shots in a single regular season). I take these things for granted because they’re a part of every North American big-time sport.
These easily tracked and relevant aspects of big-time sports keep people interested, even people like me who don’t bet on games or root heavily for particular teams at this stage of their personal despair. And all of these factors are essentially absent from track and field as a whole, never mind from just its distance-running element (including the roads, trails, mountains, ultras, and cross-country).
All big-time sports are team sports, which for various reasons are enormous revenue draws. Cross-country and track and field are technically team sports, but adding together times or points achieved from a slate of individual efforts isn’t the same as a player taking a sly bounce pass from a teammate and dunking over a dumbfounded seven-foot-tall rookie center, or a pitcher shaking off (probably stolen) signals from his catcher and deciding to challenge Aaron Judge with a 98-MPH slider on a 3-2 count. In running, interactions between competitors are limited and predictable in nature—unless someone falls, which few spectators root for. And these interactions are practically choreographed; one person somewhat politely edges past another using the only possible path and means, and hopes to stay there until reaching a predetermined endpoint.
Without belaboring the point, running, compared to other sports, just isn’t that exciting to watch unless you know people in the race. But from a PR standpoint, running is also held back by not having a lot of meat between the bread of major competitions themselves in the form of standings and stats. Keeping track of season leaderboards in different events doesn’t have the same allure as monitoring formal team standings, and someone winning a given race is often sui generis: The win may be sweet, even a record of some kind, but in most cases represents the end of a journey and is not formally connected to the pursuit of similar accolades. The World Marathon Majors and its setup only confuse people.
Individual sports like tennis are less hampered in this regard owing to the rankings and tournament format that allow proper one-on-one matchups and the easy formation of longstanding rivalries at the top of the game. And tennis players can compete for titles many times in a given year, while pro golfers can and do even better play every weekend virtually all year if they have the means to shuttle themselves between tournaments. These sports are also inherently bigger draws than running; the first one is plain exciting to watch, while the second makes it easy to nap away Sunday afternoons on the couch.
The advent of social media killed so many things that it’s easy to forget that one if its victims was the meaningful runner interview. Before Facebook and Instagram, about all anyone could learn about a given runner was their times, except for the few pro runners who bothered with blogs or even public training logs. It also wasn’t easy before then to reach out to big-name athletes unless you had access to their e-mail addresses, but thanks to the private-messaging systems of Facebook et al., anyone could suddenly reach out to any runner with a social-media profile.
So, 2007 or so marked a turning point: Most runners began volunteering in real time the stuff people like me used to collect and send along for distribution in magazines, and the already minimal barrier between everyjogger and Olympic medalists practically disappeared.
Today, anyone with marginal Google-Fu skills can learn everything they need to know about anything important happening in running without consulting a single running-media source. If you know where a given race is or was, you can usually hunt down the name of the timing site and unearth the results. Anything of note happening at the world-class level is available through the wire-service-style media arm of World Athletics. You can get collegiate results from TFRRS, nothing more than an easily queried database.
That’s not a suggestion to evade the running media just to add work to your life. It just means that if they all disappeared, only the lazy would truly lose out. Their main job, since these outlets compete with each other, is to editorialize. And most of them are terrible at this to the point of basically dispatching streaks of ignited methane from their own asses and hoping for a lot of gawkers. They either can’t write clearly or can’t think analytically, attributes which tend to dim the glow of confidently proffered position pieces.
The corporate mainstream running media—now more or less down to the amazingly dismal publications Outside, Inc. still produces and Runner’s World—doesn’t employ many people full-time, and it employs almost no one who does anything good at all. Outside Online, Women’s Running, and Trail Runner are so aggressively, across-the-board awful that I’m just going to stipulate that and expect it to stick without revisiting any of my own commentary on anyone involved, because if I give one example of a demented “social-justice” salvo or outright lie from Molly Mirhashem, Martin Fritz Huber, David Roche, Erin Strout, Emilia Benton, Christine Yu, Elizabeth Carey. or any of the other irregular regulars there, I’ll start in on others and quickly run out of bytes.
On the other hand, anyone who wants to make a genuine living in 2023 as an independent running pundit, publicist, or media or meta-media figure (website operator, podcaster, newsletter impresario, social-media click-hound) either has to make legitimate elements of the sport more interesting or resort heavily to influencer-style bombast and drama-stoking and capitalize on the cultural chaos. And operating an ad-driven message board loaded with anonymous slime-sniffers, wannabes, undermedicated snipers, Wokish halfwits, and people who bitch about the message board they’re drunk-surfing on clearly qualifies as capitalizing on bombast, drama, and chaos.
If you imagine the coverage of a big-time sport as a circle, maybe four-fifths of it are nuts-and-bolts stuff and the rest could be considered drama or sidebar-worthy fluff. In these sports, most of the drama overlaps with events the public ought to know about, like athletes punching their girlfriends in the face in elevators or being suspended for violent on- or off-the-field actions like throwing baseballs at people’s heads, slugging fans, delivering late hits to 40-year-old knees, or totaling a car while on a 2 a.m. Molly run. (May track and field never experience an event like “The Malice at the Palace.”) So, almost all of that one-fifth of big-time sports coverage that’s dedicated to drama is reserved for meaningful drama. There is almost no room for Wokish nonsense, and the fan base doesn’t care.
In running, and in track and field broadly, this pie was maybe 60 percent nuts-and-bolts stuff and 40 percent drama until around 2015, when Wokism first began expanding beyond a sliver inside the “drama” portion. Now, at least 60 percent of running media coverage is drama, and most of this is entirely disposable—either Wokish yabbering about invented grievances or bad coverage of real drama (such as Shelby Houlihan’s suspension for doping).
The reason for this is straightforward: You can’t call yourself a professional or collegiate basketball, baseball, or softball player unless you are (or were) on a team. The same goes for tennis and most other individual sports. But anyone can "identify as" a runner, even someone who waddles through road races or at least part of the way through them. And sadly, various sessile grifters have chosen to do so, unleashing pernicious personality and mental disorders to secure trivial-to-middling financial gains and high status in a crowd no cognitively or morally intact person wants any part of in the first place. Not anymore.
Hence the incursion into running of figures who could never have gained purchase in big-time sports even under Wokism, such as 300-pound unapologetic cheaters and wide-assed open-faced racists like Latoya Snell and Alison Desir. These two are nothing but self-interested and alarmingly brain-dead firehoses of intentionally damaging noise, and the only thing keeping sane people from telling both of them to kiss off, especially Desir, as fear-based collective paralysis in properly rejecting bad ideas and ludicrous claims from people who happen to be olive-skinned, heavyset, ignorant, and popular among the daft and the bawdy.
If you find yourself nodding along to the idea that white people are inherently evil and incapable of not being racist, you are either a stupid person or sufficiently meek to have fallen into a flawless imitation of one.
Which, if you’re a white Democrat, is frighteningly likely. While two-thirds of black Democrats see sex as an immutable and hence valid concept, barely a quarter of white Democrats do. And the latter group enjoys planting SCIENCE IS REAL lawn signs throughout cities like Boulder.
Antagonistic hatemongers and posers need to be ousted from running because they belong nowhere at all. But companies and the media are busy ousting the critics of this mayhem instead, and because every one of them—their bold, loudmouth Instagram personas notwithstanding—is a pants-pissing coward who blocks their critics and refuses to support their arguments, there’s no real way to get at them other than speak bluntly about who they are and why it’s wrong to laud ugly assholes even when they have attained dubious but undeniable popularity.
These decadent and rapidly sickening bags of Cheez Whiz and ethanol fumes occasionally spend moments alone pondering their whole orientation to the world, and they can’t run from the reality of their character in these moments, even if shame-insights never change them for the better.
The incursion of bad-faith interlopers like these—along with countless ass-waggling, insipid-but-hot Instagram housewife-joggers, mostly from the Dallas-Fort Worth area—has made it easy for people to defocus from the central figures of the sport. Meanwhile, most elite distance runners are naturally attention-averse, so they tend to be low-key or unwilling participants in certain discussions, with their contracts often dictating what their mouths can say or their fingers can type.
It is apparently possible to make a living or partial decent living as a running-focused podcaster; I really don’t know. But I know that the popular ones are loaded with bullshit, often stuff from other podcasts in a rough circle of acceptably cool yawpfests. It’s not a Ponzi scheme, because people are getting what they are paying for, but it feels like a circular, self-sustaining, ultimately superfluous communication-mass. And in an environment with an especially high titer of liars, race-warriors, bitter old maids, hypocrites, cancellation-scalping huntresses, junkbox-ultramarathoners, deeply unhinged and annoying trans-activists, and people whose every third word is “like”—that last being another thing that hasn’t changed in decades—it’s to me an unlistenable mass.
I could pause here to evaluate a few of the indies—Letsrun.com, the Fast Women newsletter, the (partly) Phil Knight-funded Citius Mag middle-school multimedia project—from this perspective. But that’s kind of an ongoing game anyway. I have specific issues with some of the people behind some of these sites and should wait until I am somewhat free of transient grudges that for now threaten to intolerably bias my input in this area.
But the more I examine this mess, and the ambient cultural and business ethics in which it bathes, the clearer it becomes that more people than I realized are happy to cut corners, take advantage of financial lifelines not necessarily meant for them, ignore corporate or individual crookedness, succumb to Wokish threats, delete content (their own or someone else’s, such as on a message board or social-media profile), and otherwise not live up to their own or really any helpful standards in doing what they do to prop up their place in a sport that itself needs a lot of propping up at the pro level.
And zooming out, it’s hard to take anything about professional American running seriously with an asshole like Max Siegel as the CEO of USA Track and Field and a bevy of bent and cackling greed-heads in support roles.
Competent and ambitious sports journalists aim for other sports. There just isn't enough in running to forge a primary career from it without some kind of morbid angle. Letsrun’s reporting is usually great, but without its forum, it would probably fold or make little to no money. That site also got about $90,000 in eventually forgiven PPP loans in 2020 and 2021 combined, a pretty sweet deal for a distance-running site. Alison Wade of Fast Women can’t stand anything with a penis, yet she gladly takes sponsorship money for her newsletter from male-owned companies and male-dominated business interests. Chris Chavez’ fellating of Knight will keep Citius Mag and its gaggle of Letsrun-haters going for years.
Anyone with the willingness to take money from wherever it’s available will be able to stay afloat, and the consequences of this sourcing combined with the niche agendas of these various entities will continue to mar their work. But all of them are continuing to serve an audience whose still-alert members aren’t buying anything anyone is peddling.
Insincere yacking about climate-change action, crying about April Fool’s Jokes, jabs at hotness and at generally successful women from “feminist” harridans, blaming The Man for compulsions cheat and overfeed, green-lighting the feeblest of doping excuses by obvious dopers; it’s all here to stay, and individual scrambles for visibility and rent money in a collapsing global economy are never going to sum into the picture of a well-publicized sport. And for as long as Wokism is allowed to guide anything, and to further degrade and demoralize companies like Strava, Brooks Running, HOKA, and many others, anything affected is barely worth paying attention to—especially anything labeled “professional,” since that’s where the frauds feast first.