The Olympics in the Age of Internet Outrage

On Thursday, the USOC picked Boston as the American contender to host the Olympics in 2024. Somehow they were able to do this despite the alleged massive, huge, giant outcry on the social medias.

Now there are lots of weird questions about why the USOC picked Boston over Los Angeles or San Francisco (OK, really over Los Angeles, because even though I was massively hoping for San Francisco or for a joint L.A.-S.F. California bid, that was never going to happen — the internet was even more certain of that). And, I personally am of the opinion that Boston is not going to win the games. They clearly could not beat Rome or Paris or Istanbul or Berlin in a fair fight. Of course, the Olympics bidding process isn’t a fair fight and the U.S. will definitely get an Olympics before NBC’s TV contract comes up for renewal. So, who knows.

But, what really fascinated me was that as everyone started (or kept) speculating, one of the things story after story repeated was that Boston would have to overcome all this opposition from the public. I mean, there was a Twitter account against Boston2024, for Chrissakes, a Twitter account!!

So widespread was the certainty that public opinion was being reflected online and that the internet public opinion could stop the Olympics from coming to the U.S., that I heard it cited in conversation as a reason Boston won’t get the games. I saw this argument in papers and on other social media accounts commenting on the opposition’s social media accounts. (To a degree, it did manage to stymie the San Francisco bid in the sense that everyone knows anything is a hassle in San Francisco.)

And, yet, when I went to the NoBostonOlympics twitter Friday afternoon (after the selection announcement and after all this press, when presumably it would have had an influx of supporters), it had 560 followers. You know who has more Twitter followers than that? Me. Maybe my opinions should single-handedly shape public events.

The account now has about 1,800 followers after more coverage of its opposition efforts. And, you don’t need to convince me that how many followers something has is not the best indicator of anything. But, the fact remains that there was barely an internet movement against these games — until we gave them a platform to become one. (For comparison, the NoSF2024 twitter has about 100 followers and the organization is made up of about four people who know how to work the media, and still they got significant coverage in Bay Area news. Despite actual polls suggesting public opinion was very different.)

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Olympics is going to move forward if no one wants to host it. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about if the cost and burden of hosting the Olympics is simply not viable in a democracy. But, I don’t know if that’s the right question.

People having a voice isn’t a problem. Some people’s voices being artificially inflated until a few sound like a mob is a problem.

The internet has been wearing me out lately. (Like, really, really wearing me out. And, boring me with its over-the-top predictability.) And, I love the internet. When people ask what I do for work, sometimes I just say, “The Internet.” But, I will be the first to tell you that the internet is home to as many problems as solutions. It tends to magnify our worst tendencies and make it easy to rush to judgement. It works in favor of those who do not deal in nuance. It often misreads tone and fails to grant the benefit of the doubt. And, it creates mobs where there have not always been mobs. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been forced to, because over and over again the internet mob creates just one version of the truth. And, perhaps, I often agree with the mob right now, perhaps I’m ideologically aligned with strident liberalism, but what happens when the mob is wrong? What happens when they’re not wrong, but just don’t deserve to be the only voice? What happens when I don’t agree with them anymore, when the mob turns on itself?

I love the Olympics too. I do. Despite all clear-headed skepticism about how it is packaged and sold, I love it. I think there are lies within the games, but that the competition at its heart is one of those capital T Truths. I believe that the Olympics can cost a city money, but I think it can also bring a city a lot in return. I know that there are changes that need to and must be made to how the Olympics run (like athletes being paid better), but I hope those things don’t fundamentally change the Olympics.

And, I really hope the internet doesn’t ruin the Olympics.

From xkcd of course.
From xkcd of course.

Boston Marathon: My Plan


Tomorrow I will be running some of this route. I will not be running all of it. I will, likely, jump in (with my official bib that I paid for, but without the timing chip so nothing get’s messed up) and run some part with some friend near the middle or end. I feel like people may think or do think I’m doing something bad in doing that, but I don’t really see how it’s any different to run the first six miles or a random six miles. If I get up early and catch the bus to the start and then run the farthest I’ve run in a month (7 miles), then I’ll end up somewhere out in the suburbs having to wait for an injury shuttle back to the finish. It sounds much, much better to take the T out, cheer some people, run some distance without hurting myself MORE, then take the T back home.

So, hopefully, that works out.

Everyone keeps Instagramming and Twittering their Boston experiences. My experience so far has been: out late in Harvard Square drinking and eating cookie sandwiches with Melissa, sleep almost none, run 5 miles along the river (with every other person in Boston), spend a stupid amount of time figuring out the Hubway bike share, lunch with Courtenay, hang out with Ilyce, dinner with Vishal and Deanna, exhausted time for bed. I also spent maybe 10 minutes total at the expo to get my packet and number. I walked into the other half of the expo — the half where they sell shit and give away shit and talk about shit — and I just wasn’t in a place where I wanted to do that. I thought I was. I thought since I’m not running, it’ll actually be more fun to do all the random stuff you can’t really or shouldn’t really do before a race you actually care about. But, I just wanted nothing to do with any of it. And, my foot was hurting — my other foot, the one that hasn’t hurt in months.

So, tomorrow, I will cheer, I will run some, I will swim some, I will finish some work, and I will go to the after-party in the evening and lie outrageously about how fast I ran the whole marathon. Too fast for you to see me.

Boston, Blah, Blah

I leave for Boston on Saturday morning. I haven’t checked the weather. I haven’t looked at the race info. I haven’t written my obligatory facebook and blog posts about what it all means to me. I just am having a hard time getting excited. Partially, sure, it’s because I can’t (or, rather, shouldn’t) run the race. And, I was looking forward to actually getting to run the whole course this year and enjoy the atmosphere/excitement and hang out with every person on the planet who is doing it. I wanted to finish. Since I can’t do any of those things, I’ll basically just be a hanger-on, a fan, which is fun too — but not the same as actually being inside the locker room. Partially, though, I’m having a hard time whipping up a frenzy of emotion because everyone else is doing such a good job getting all whipped up on their own.

There are people who have very real connections to this race. There are people for whom it means a great deal or who genuinely struggled to deal with what happened last year. And, I’m not begrudging them their feelings. But, does it automatically mean a great deal to everyone or, if we’re honest, aren’t some people jumping on an emotional bandwagon that isn’t theirs to hijack?

I was reading some article about Jeff Bauman — probably in Runner’s World, though really there have been so many about him — and in it his fiance talked about how, with all the press tours and visits and interviews, he wasn’t keeping up with his physical therapy that he actually needed to get better from his injuries. She said that she definitely would not be running the marathon this year, maybe again some day, because they had gotten overextended and needed to focus on their own lives again. And, then, I read the story in our local paper about local runners going back to run Boston this year — of which I am sure there are lots of similar stories in lots of similar papers — and the article kept calling all of us who were there last year “survivors.” And, we’re not. I’m not. It wasn’t ours to survive. And, it’s not our right now to trot out the truly injured and make them our symbols of survival.

I have a hard time whenever a spectacle is made of what is, at a base level, very individual pain for the individual people who suffered. I hope those individuals are getting whatever they need — whether it is emotional support or money for medical bills or simply being left to rebuild. And, I know that if it was me whose life and loved ones had actually been affected by the bombs at the finish line, I wouldn’t want my suffering to stand for anything or mean anything larger to everyone. I would be a little pissed if people kept telling me we all run together, because we don’t. We run near each other and next to each other. We run shoulder-to-shoulder, but we run alone. We can only ever run on our own.

Boston non-finishers will get to race Boston Marathon 2014. I kept emailing BAA back and saying I didn’t count as a non-finisher, because my lack of finish had nothing to do with anything that happened — and I didn’t want a finish medal or time or special treatment. It looks they got it, since this only applies to those who reached the halfway but couldn’t finish.

Despite CNN saying otherwise (and what hasn’t CNN gotten wrong), interest in running Boston 2014 is actually at an all-time high. [Because I may need to take six months off or get surgery to fix my foot, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to qualify for Boston before September. And I want to go back next year and finish what I started. Then, I realized my Chicago time from October qualifies me (!), so that’s one problem solved.]


Boston Marathon: Race Report (or How to Reconcile Things)

(Note: OK, yes, shorter posts again soon. Sorry.)

I’m back in California now and here things are less as singularly-focused on possible attacks — fewer police obviously, fewer evacuations and transit shut-downs. There’s also less of the ‘we’re all in this together’ thing here outside of the running community. In Boston and on the endurance sports internet, everyone wants to know how they can help and how they’re all going to stand together and not be afraid, but I don’t know, fear is ok sometimes. There’s been lots of insisting on wearing race shirts to represent and show solidarity, lots of going out for 4.09 mile runs (because that’s what the time clock said) or 26.2 miles or the 5 miles left that people weren’t able to finish.

These kinds of things are not really my kind of thing. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with them. You should do whatever you feel you need to do, but I have a hard time with those sorts of public displays. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good rousing insistence that we will come back stronger and it’s not that I haven’t teared up more than a few times, but if I think about what would help me if I was one of the people in the hospital or one of the people who’s loved ones had died, then I don’t think it would be a bunch of strangers running. But, maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know.

There is a memorial tribute shirt being sold by Adidas with all funds going to the One Fund Boston, or you could just donate to One Fund Boston — which is supposed to go directly to the people who need the help the most. Or, maybe you can ID these ‘persons of interests’ for the FBI. Not that any of those things would necessarily make me feel better. Maybe running would.

So, basically, I have mixed feelings. Those mixed feelings extend to the actual race as well, before everything went to hell. I feel bad that I dropped out. Everyone after kept asking me if I finished and when I finished and did I not get to finish because they stopped me, but I kept having to say, ‘No, I just quit.’

I didn’t love the race, though. I wasn’t wowed by the crowds and I felt miserable most of the 10.5 miles I ran. It was sort of like when everyone told me I had to race the Wildflower Triathlon, it’s soooo much fun, so I did and hated it and didn’t sleep because of all the crazed yelling and just kept thinking, ‘I’ve seen drunken crowds before, this isn’t that exciting.’ But, I didn’t even make it to halfway in Boston, so now I feel like I have to finish, I need to give it a second shot.

Here’s a picture of Rachel and I before the race at Hawaii House:

I look like a midget.
I look like a midget.

The cortisone shot worked. My foot didn’t hurt — though it may come back and I may have to deal with that at some point (it even started to twinge from all the walking around in Boston). But, what did hurt during the race was everything else.

I had thought the first half of the race would be easy. I am fit and the first halves of marathons are always suppose to be easy, right? And I think everyone kind of agreed that the wheels were going to come off sometime between 15 and 20 miles and I’d just have to hang on. The question was how much and when.

But, Friday I went for a four-mile run, with a couple strides and a mile slightly faster than race pace, and was crippled with pain the rest of the day: hamstrings, glutes, IT band. While I limped around Saturday, I started to suspect I might not be able to do this.

It seems not having run outside in four weeks other than a few 20′ runs to test the foot, left me not totally prepared to run outside.

I don’t love the whole EXPERIENCE of big races like this. It’s fun, but never puts me into that race zone/killer instinct place — which I was definitely counting on to get me through things. I caught a ride with Rachel in the morning after sleeping 45′ that whole night and hung out in a fancy mansion for 2.5 hours. That kind of hanging out, without a real warm-up, throws me off. I sort of started to doze and zone out. And, I couldn’t figure out what to eat. I don’t know. I just felt weird.

I started running right on pace (7:06s and 7:08s) and staring and staring at my watch. I probably should have felt the crowds more and gotten into, but I felt nauseous from the beginning. Sometimes the best races you never feel good. At least that’s what I told myself, but by mile six I was running 7:15-7:20s and having a hard time doing that. It wasn’t hard the way trying to run a 5K is hard, but I was pushing way too much for six miles into a marathon and I knew it. I stopped staring at my watch and decided I needed to just run a more sustainable pace if I wanted any shot at finishing, so I did a few miles at 7:30-40. But, it didn’t help. My feet were burning the way your feet burn after 20 miles. My hamstring felt like it was ripping and my IT band on the other leg was pinching in my knee. My legs felt like lead. Basically, I felt like how the last six miles of a marathon feel — but I was only eight or nine miles in.

I even thought about how everyone says it’s such a great experience and you should just enjoy it, so I thought I’d just finish and have fun. I ran another couple miles even slower, but I wasn’t having fun. At 10.5 miles I bee-lined to the med tent, stopped, and said, “I want out.”

I think this was at 10K, when I realized this was not going to end well.
I think this picture was at 10K, when I realized this was not going to end well.

I think if I hadn’t missed the couple of long runs I had on my schedule or if I had only had to water-run and Alter-G for 2-3 weeks or if I had gotten the cortisone shot earlier and had more time to get my legs under me or if the race was shorter, maybe I’d have been able to pull it off. I felt really bad about myself after because I’m pretty sure I could have gone a few more miles at least, maybe I could have slogged out a walk/shuffle finish in something close to four hours. But then I’d have gotten to the finish maybe 30-45′ later than I did, which wouldn’t have been good either, in any way.

I’m not sure what to do now. I can’t decide. I have mixed feelings. I feel like I should run, but I don’t know if I want to. I don’t know if I should try and capitalize on what was some very good fitness four weeks ago or if I should just rest. I haven’t done anything since Monday; Tuesday I was crippled from running the 10.5 miles (which suggests that yeah, my legs were not ready for a marathon).

I don’t know. I’m sort of at loose ends.

Heading Home

Bags go unclaimed after the race. From Slate.
Bags go unclaimed after the race. From Slate.

I’m about to head to the airport and head home. Brian and I – since we had nothing else to do – went to Paul Revere’s House yesterday and walked part of the Freedom Trail, but at least one of the landmarks was being evacuated when we got there. So, it was a weird outing.

There’s still some odd details of the events I’m not quite following (and obviously bigger picture things, of course), like how one girl said she was able to get on the subway an hour or so after the attacks but before they shut it down, yet ten minutes after the explosions the stop we tried to enter was being evacuated, or how news reports keep saying it happened just after four hours into the race. Four hours into the race was just after 2 p.m. I was standing there just after 2 p.m. I would have had to have walked through that devastation and not noticed. It was really just after four hours into the race for the people that started at 10:40 a.m.

It also turns out a lot of the news reports from Monday — news reports from very credible places like The Associated Press — were just wrong. Not in a fear-mongering, panic kind of way. But, just wrong. Like, cell phone service didn’t get shut down; it just sucked with all the people trying to make calls. I know, of course, that news reports immediately after events are notoriously unreliable, but when The Boston Globe says that police are saying they’re safely self-detonating a third found bomb at such-and-such intersection after clearing the area, why wouldn’t I believe that? (It wasn’t true, apparently. But what is truth.)

In the aftermath of most disasters, I find myself on the side of logic and calm rationale thought. Let’s not jump to conclusions, let’s be reasonable, no declarations of coming back stronger or staying united at the same time we descend into finger-pointing and racial profiling, let’s all just do what we can to help each other get through this. But, this time, I found myself getting annoyed with the heavy-handed condescension from people in other places to be reasonable and not jump to conclusions and remember that so many people die around the world everyday, this is just one attack. They might be right, but this time I was annoyed.

I was in a store once where there was a small fire in the back. It was put out quickly by an employee and everyone was fine. As that happened, though, there was a stampede of people panicking, trying to ensure that they got out, screw everyone else. I didn’t see that happen here — with far more at stake. Yes, there are reports that one victim was mistreated because of suspicion completely unfairly cast on to him. And, that is terrible. But, for the most part, people were calm and reasonable and did what police told them to and stayed out of the way (or helped in whatever way they could help) and came to each other’s aid. It seemed to me — not in a journalist, outside perspective way, but actually here — that people did about as good as they could have done.