Friday, January 05, 2007

Can I Jump in the Mix

A few of you out there are familiar with my previous secret identity, Running Pol. Prior to the challenge to attempt a triathlon, Running Pol lived a double life engaging both marathon training and political issues. I had readers from both walks of life, and a few who share my passion for both. As triathlons entered the mix, I decided to leave politics and debate out of the picture. Well, mostly.

Sometimes, however, a situation requires attention. Nancy Toby posted an entry that has generated quite a bit of feedback. Oddly enough, it also generated some publicity. The author of the article to which she refers, Michael Boyle, caught wind of her post and a public relations campaign ensued. I'm unsure if everyone who posted a comment received e-mails, but the support team at Boyles' forum has sent me a couple, primarily aimed at defending the lack of communications channels with Mr. Boyle.

Mr. Boyle, showing great respect for Nancy's arguments, felt justified in posting a response on his column. Unfortunately, he didn't have enough respect to provide a link to Nancy's site. He then proceeds to throw logic flaw after logic flaw out in an attempt to defend his rather tenuous position.

Mr. Boyle provides this explanation for why Nancy responded negatively to his original post, "Oftentimes people read what they want to read. They interpret it through a personal lens. Nancy took my article as an attack on her and those like her." He assumes that a great deal of interpretation was done while reading his column. If there is, he must also note that every comment I've seen came to the same conclusion. Either we are all poor at understanding what we read, or his column conveyed the wrong message. The message I received, though take with a grain of salt, is that he feels women are constructed poorly for participation in running events. While I will agree that men and women are constructed differently, I've had my butt kicked in marathons by too many women, many of whom he would encourage to not even run.

Want a nice red-herring argument? Here's one from Mr. Boyle. "The reality is that whether you are male or female, endurance-athlete training can lead to overuse injury. My point is that the female body type puts them at greater risk. Was my article intended to be a chauvinist rant aimed at demeaning women? No, exactly the opposite. It was meant as a word to the wise."

Okay, first, anyone who approaches endurance training without a healthy respect for the risks inherent with any exercise may be putting themselves in jeopardy. His "word to the wise," however, isn't that women (and men) should exercise caution in training. He states that most women shouldn't run. His comment, not mine.

Did you like that logic flaw? Why not go for two. Another quote from Mr. Boyle. "Here is another interesting thought for which I have only anecdotal support. The running and aerobics boom of the late seventies corresponded directly with a huge boom in the practice of physical therapy. More exercise led to more injuries in our more-is-better world. People weren't happy with a run. It had to be a Marathon."

This doesn't even qualify as anecdotal. Without statistical analysis, we can't even be sure that his comments are correlated. He wants to claim that the physical therapy boom of the 70s is a result of the running and aerobics boom. While that might have a causal relation to poor mechanics, I would contend a significant amount of research would be needed to prove that. First, it is likely that both men and women were seeking therapy, pulling support from his "women shouldn't run" theory. Second, there are a great many other variables that might be the cause of the physical therapy boom. Factors such as marketing and new diagnostic techniques likely helped fuel the surge.

What is most interesting to me is that Mr. Boyle continues to hide behind his support crew. The e-mail responses I received from my comment indicated he is too busy to personally handle all direct e-mail. With all the red herring floating around his column, I shouldn't be surprised to see them in e-mails. First, you can still have an assistant sort through personal mail. Second, he is authoring in a public forum. If he is unable or unwilling to deal with feedback, both positive and negative, perhaps he should stick to coaching those who find his arguments valid. He's welcome to his opinion. He just shouldn't expect others to suppress their's.


nancytoby said...

Thank you for posting that cogent, intelligent response. How positively rare that is!

hak said...

Actually, I think there is some truth to what Boyle is saying. It is a matter of physics. At the elite level of any sport, you will see a particular and consistent body type.

Does that mean if I don't have a runner's physique that I should stop running?


It may mean that I am at a biomechanical disadvantage compared to others.

It may mean that I will be more prone to injury if I pursue that sport without some common sense and mindfulness.

I have yet to find anyone with my body type at any elite level of sport. I keep looking because I would love to find something where I can have a bit of biomechanical advantage. It would be a nice change of pace.

Boyle was using a bit of "shock writing" to grab attention and get some discussion going, and yes, publicity.

I once heard an African-American band leader counsel his students when one of them asked him about how to handle being called by a derogatory name.

"It doesn't matter what you're called," said the band leader. "It only matters what you answer to."


Iron Pol said...

Thanks, Nancy. And hak, I'll bet you'd find most agreeing with you. His comments on physics have some value. His approach, however, is a bit condescending. And he paints with too broad a brush.

Bigun said...

Probalby due to all that drinking he did while bar-tending as "Head Strength Coach" - no need to attempt an argument with fancy terms like "red herring" with this guy....

Ellie said...

Yeah, I tried to figure out a way to leave a comment and there wasn't a way, except to go to his main website and click "Contact Us." I had a biggie all written up about how I'm a 55-yr-old grandmother who's run 22 marathons in 20 years and done 2 Ironman triathlons (along with 3 separate other marathons) in the last 2 but then I thought, I guess it's anecdotal.... one old lady has managed to pull it off without multiple pelvic and knee fractures. It wouldn't prove anything.

I think, if someone has an opinion, there's not much arguing that will get them to change that opinion. Luckily I agree with yours, and Nancy's.... this guy doesn't know squat (get it? the exercise he says isn't any good?) about female endurance running.

Duane said...

Well this man wishes he could run like Nancy and the other women runners!

Deb said...

Great post Pol! I think Boyles response was unprofessional. Your are correct...if he writes in a public forum, position yourself to respond to feedback, and not through 3rd parties. His response was sharp and defensive. Poor form (running or not)!

Vickie said...

I guess my logical feeling about Boyle's response to women shouldn't run is then why do we have 2 legs just like a man? What about the female species of any animal?

IM Able said...

What I wonder also, Pol, is how Mr. Boyle would approach the question -- should traditionally disabled individuals be allowed to/encouraged to/rewarded for competing beyond a preconceived notion of their physical ability? Is it inappropriate, for example, for someone with a prosthetic leg to participate in a distance running event?

I wonder if I disagree with Boyle more on level of value, rather than logic. What is it that we (as athletes, individuals, competitors, etc) find *valuable* about these athletic endeavors? If you value a biomechanical perfection or at least its pursuit, than you may not find much wrong with Boyle's conclusion. However, if you find value (as I do) in the other personal, communal, and spiritual gains risked and achieved through sport, than you will likely find his conclusions...well...weak.

Thanks for taking the time to put this post out there.

~ Able

Iron Pol said...

Very well said, Able. And likely an accurate insight into the situation. I don't begrudge Boyle his view. In fact, I doubt many of those offended by his column feel he shouldn't have the opinion.

We mostly disagree with how he lays it out. Telling, instead of commenting.