Running as social commentary: Take a Knee


Journalist Annette John-Hall of WHYY’s Newsworks talked to me about taking a knee at a race, last weekend. Here is her story.

Salient quote from another race participant: “You know, it doesn’t affect me, so I don’t feel any need to protest.” That’s my point: when unarmed African Americans are killed by white Police who rarely face consequences, we all need to speak up. We can’t talk about liberty and justice for all without speaking out against egregious acts of injustice.

WHYY’s Newsworks coverage

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On Taking a Knee During the National Anthem


I have always practiced respect for the flag of the United States and the Star-Spangled Banner. I can remember being a young kid, standing in my living room, hand over my heart, while the national anthem played on television with an American flag waving on the screen. I could not have been older than four.

     Through years in Scouting, I learned and practiced the rules of proper flag etiquette: when, where, and how to display the flag, fold and store the flag, and when necessary, retire the flag. I participated in Memorial Day services at the local cemetery, searching for veterans’ graves to mark with small American flags. As a trumpet player, I often played Taps during Memorial Day ceremonies.

     In junior high and high school marching band, I played the Star-Spangled Banner at so many games and ceremonies that I can still play it by memory. I can’t hit the high C any more.

      One of the first purchases I made after buying my home was an American flag to proudly display on appropriate holidays, in appropriate weather.

      In the stands at sporting events, I have always stood during the national anthem, facing the flag with my hand or hat over my heart. I get annoyed at fans who ignore the ceremony altogether. I was proud to teach my pre-school son how to stand for the national anthem. I remember getting choked up the first time I demonstrated the right way to stand for the anthem.

      I participate in running races and triathlons throughout the United States as a recreational endurance athlete. Many races have some rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner before the race start: sometimes a recording, sometimes a band, and sometimes sung by one of the race participants. I get annoyed when other racers leave their hats on, keep talking with their friends, adjust their shoes, or post one last selfie before the race begins.

      I ran the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon. While preparing for the marathon, I asked the two living veterans in my family to help me with details of our family’s history of service in the Marines. Some I knew – the three brothers who served in the Marines and Navy in World War II – but I wanted to be able to honor all our family’s Marines through my marathon. In the lead-up to the race, I posted pictures and details of each of the Marines and I carried their names with me during the marathon.

      I hope to participate in the Army Ten Miler in 2018 with one my family’s living veterans. If we get into the race I will honor all my family members who have served in the Army throughout our history, going back to the American Revolution and the Union Army during the Civil War. I will also honor my wife’s relatives who served in the Army. My father-in-law, whose family fled Nazi Germany in 1939, served in the U.S. Army in Italy during World War II. One of my wife’s uncles parachuted into France on D-Day. Another of her uncles served in the Army during peacetime.

     At every race, I thank as many service members and Police officers guarding the course as I can. I shout thanks from across the street. I give them high fives when they’re within reach. Walking back to the train station after my last two Philadelphia marathons, I gave my race medals to officers to thank them for their support and protection.

      When Colin Kaepernick began kneeling for the national anthem, I heard his message to draw attention to an American crisis: the unhalting killing of unarmed African Americans by Police officers, who are not held accountable by their superiors, by their unions, or by the courts. Although seeing someone not standing during the national anthem still rubs my skin the wrong way, I know that political commentary often is meant to do just that. It’s meant to foil our self-constructed blinders and make us think about what someone is saying and why they are saying it.

      The act of taking a knee is an act of respect. When a football player is seriously injured on the field, players on both teams take a knee in quiet respect until the injured player leaves the field. Before and after games, players take a knee for the coach’s talk. In sports, as in many houses of worship, taking a knee is a gesture of attention, humility, and indeed, respect.

     I first thought of taking a knee earlier this year while standing in a crowd of runners, waiting for the start of a half-marathon on a southern university campus. The school’s ROTC students provided the color guard while a runner sang the Star-Spangled Banner. The crowd of around 1,100 runners went through the range of ways of passing time as the anthem played. I wondered what would happen if I took a knee in the midst of the crowd of mostly white runners in a conservative part of a conservative state. I decided to remain standing, as always, hat over heart. I needed to think more about this – what it meant to me, what it meant to others, what it meant to the discussion about police killings of unarmed African Americans.

      Why now, and why this issue? What about the humanitarian crisis and devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands? What about the looming threat of nuclear war with North Korea? Like many Americans, I am doing what I can on many issues. I am not ignoring those issues or the people affected. Neither am I using them as an excuse to ignore an ongoing crisis. When the crisis in the Caribbean ends (or another diverts America’s attention), unarmed African Americans will still be killed without consequences for the vast majority of their killers.

     By taking a knee, I speak for myself. I take a knee because I do not accept the fact that unarmed African Americans die at the hands of Police (usually white Police) who most often go unpunished. I take a knee because I cannot be content to express my outrage on social media or to elected officials who are unable or unwilling to stop this. I take a knee, not to take away from the brave athlete who followed his conscience despite the risks, or the others who followed, but to add my voice to theirs. I take a knee because this is not only a black crisis, this is an American crisis. I take a knee because when white Police go unpunished for killing unarmed African Americans – when white elected officials and Police call protesters “a pack of rabid animals,” “ingrates,” and “degenerates” – when white fans are offended that black players are interrupting their entertainment – that is a white problem. I take a knee because I believe Dr. Martin Luther King’s words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I take a knee because I when I recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I want to believe the words, “with liberty and justice for all.”

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Broad Street Run 2017


Sights and sounds inside the 2017 Broad Street Run

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Paris Marathon 2017


April 9, 2017, I ran the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris with 57,000 of my closest friends. Full race report coming (probably after the semester ends), but for now, here’s a 10-minute video of my highlights.

Video: Paris Marathon 2017 highlights

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New life for Philly Tri? (don’t bet your Zipps on it)


The Philadelphia Triathlon was one of the most exciting short-course races in the mid-Atlantic. The local race owners and directors were triathletes. They were in it because they wanted a solid triathlon on their home turf. They brought in a title sponsor that had triathlon in it’s DNA. From the hopping race expo and packet pick-up to the field of big name pros (Craig Alexander once set the course record here), the weekend was always a highlight of my tri season.

And then the local crew sold the race to Competitor Group. Competitor is not a triathlete: it is a business. It’s not in it to bring a great triathlon to the local scene – it’s in in to produce a McDonalds-ized version of triathlon with the cost control of mass production. Competitor Group ended prize purses (why spend the money?), which ended the excitement of being on the course with the big kids. Competitor ended local branding, so all the shirts and medals were exactly like those of every other Competitor triathlon. Given the paucity of the most recent expos, Competitor must have cut amenities and benefits for local tri-oriented businesses, while also jacking the cost of expo space, so even the expo was a sleepy, perfunctory version of its former self. Competitor Group even stopped paying for USA Triathlon officials to oversee the race, opening the door to more dangerous bike courses with no worry about penalties for drafting and lane blocking.

I have no problem with a business trying to make money. The healthier the business, the stronger its product can be. Think about Rev3. Now that’s a model of a business producing some great triathlons, with over-the-top customer service and attention to the individual athlete experience.

Back in Philly, the Olympic distance race went from more than 1,800 triathletes under the original, local producers, to fewer than 800 under Competitor Group. If Competitor Group was trying to make money on the Philadelphia Triathlon, it failed. Bigly.

When Premier Event Management announced in December it had acquired the Philadelphia Triathlon from Competitor Group, I was almost jumped up and danced a fartlek. But then Premier Event Management explained that it has been the local producer of the Philadelphia Triathlon for the past five years, under contract with Competitor Group. So who sent Philadelphia Triathlon to the ICU? Was it Competitor Group’s oversight, or Premier Event Management’s production? Were the cost cuts coming from Competitor Group, Premier Event Management, or both? Was Premier simply following direction and producing the race from a set of directions, or was it making its own cost-revenue decisions, on top of Competitor Group’s? Was it adding a handful of Xanax to the two bottles of cheap vodka?

Stay tuned, June  24 and 25, when I’ll be doing a double, with the sprint on Saturday and the Olympic distance, Sunday. Why? Because the Philadelphia Triathlon is the only tri close enough that I get to ride my bike to the race and back home, afterwards. Am I expecting a better event than in recent years? No, not really. But I’m willing to be surprised.

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Octoberfest 13.1 Jawn


Gotta love http://www.uberendurancesports.com. Mega sized gingerbread finisher “medal” imported from Germany,  and age group award (5th,  M50-59) is a working hygrometer (hair, old school)  also imported from Germany. Oh, and post-race food included brats, potatoes, and sauerkraut. All this,  for a small race price.

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UNSECURED: the ruse of marathon security


It’s been three years since the Boston Marathon bombing killed three spectators and injured 264 others. Since then, officials at major marathons have instituted stringent, new security measures. From bomb-sniffing dogs to metal detectors, runner-only zones, and clear plastic bags for runners’ extra clothes or gear, the focus on security can be intense. It is also misplaced and ineffective in preventing havoc.

In September, a would-be copy-cat narrowly missed harming scores of runners at a local 5K on the Jersey Shore by placing a bomb in a trash can along the race route. Officials say an unrelated delay to the start of the race saved hundreds of runners from passing the trash can as it detonated. The next day, a major half-marathon took 12,000 runners through the streets of Philadelphia. Hundreds of uniformed Police lined the route – all watching the race. They were watching the runners – their backs to thousands of spectators – even though there is no history of race participants causing harm or mayhem, anywhere in the world.

Before the start, most runners strip down to thin layers. It’s pretty hard to hide anything under most runners’ race kits. Major marathons tend to happen during the cool months, with morning temperatures often in the 20’s to 40’s. Because spectators are standing still, sometimes for hours, waiting to see their friends or relatives in the race, they’re wearing coats, hats, gloves. That’s why the Boston bombers blended in. They looked just like everyone else. And the Police weren’t watching the spectators.

Major marathons require thousands of volunteers at the start and finish line areas and along the course. Marathon volunteers have near total access to the runners. At most races, volunteers have no security checks, no screening, no proof of ID, not even a name on a list to be verified. They don’t hand over their backpacks for examination. Most volunteers walk into their roles with no official orientation. They just show up race morning and get a minute or two of “training” from another volunteer. They’re not trained in observing crowd behavior, how to spot someone acting strangely, how to spot a suspicious bag – they’re not even told that they should.

If race directors really want to protect the tens of thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators at major marathons, they need to focus on the most vulnerable locations and moments of the race. First, the start corrals, where runners are packed like sardines. Runners are focused solely on the challenge ahead. They are nervous. They are fidgeting with their shoes, clothes, and watches. They are not on the lookout for dangerous people or objects.

Race directors need to post trained, diligent volunteers at the entrances to the start corrals, or they need to post paid security, or Police. Runners are required to wear race bibs with their individual race numbers, clearly visible on the front of their bodies. This makes it very easy to make sure no one gets into the race’s most vulnerable zone without the credible appearance of a legitimate runner. As it is, at most large races, just about anyone can walk right into any start corral, unchallenged by untrained volunteers.

Race courses are porous. There is no fence along most of a marathon course. Anyone can jump into the middle of the crowd of runners at any time. At prime spectator locations along a course, thousands of spectators can be packed together, like they were at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Everyone is watching the runners flow by in the street. No one is watching the spectators. Remember: the Boston marathon bombers looked like spectators, not runners.

After finishing the race, runners gather in recovery areas to reunite with family and friends, retrieve gear bags, and refuel after the race. Although not as tightly packed as in the start corrals, recovery zones have thousands of tired runners, along with families and friends. They are not on the lookout for dangerous people or bags.

There is no way to prevent every imaginable attack on crowds of runners or spectators. But for race directors and security officials, an important first step would be to spend less energy on disarming runners – who have no history of causing mayhem – and more energy on the non-runners along the course.

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