S02|E04: There's No "i" in Team

When you walk a trail in the woods, have you ever wondered, how did this get here? Who carved this path? Chances are a team of hardscrabble men and women worked tirelessly to make sure the paths you follow blend right into the landscape. This week we find out why one such trail crew, known as the 'TFC', is the stuff of legend. Also, running and completing a marathon is an amazing achievement that is the culmination of many hours of hard mental and physical training. But can you really claim you finished when you collapse just a few yards from the finish, or is that cheating. And we'll finish it off with a heartwarming story of the ultimate gesture of sportsmanship from a place called Ushuaia, Argentina known as the "End of the World". 

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Part 1

Anothah Boston Cheat

Ari Ofsevit is a guy from Boston fueled by an intense, nerdy love for sports. The day after running this year’s Boston Marathon, his face was all over the cover of the Boston Globe and on all of the network news channels, but on the internet, people were accusing him of cheating. This is Ari’s story.


Part 2

WTF is TFC?

When you walk a trail in the woods, have you ever wondered, how did this get here? Who carved this path? Was this stone staircase always like this? Nope. Chances are a team of hardscrabble men and women worked tirelessly to make sure the paths you follow blend right into the landscape. In this story, we find out why one such trail crew, known as the 'TFC', is the stuff of legend.


Part 3

Don't Cheer For Me Argentina

In 2008, our host, Sam Evans-Brown, won the biggest ski race in Argentina, the Marchablanca. For him that was the whole story, but for the skier on the second step of the podiuma former Olympian named Martin Bianchithat race marked a major turning point in his life. 

Check out the highlights from the 2016 Marchablanca: 


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Special thanks to Martin Bianchi for giving Sam the big win and the opportunity to be a bus graphic celebrity in Argentina. Also thanks to Luis Antonio Perez for playing the part of Martin in our story; Weldon Johnson, former Yale runner and the co-founder of Let's Run; and former TFC members Kyle Peckham, Natalie Beittel, who are assembling a book of stories from the crew, and Barbara Whiton of the Trail Crew Association. Thanks as well to Rob Burbank of the AMC and Cristine Bailey of the National Forest Service, for setting up our day out on the trail.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-603-223-2448. Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

This week’s episode includes tracks from Blue Dot Sessions, Podington Bear, and Tyler Gibbon. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from these artists.

Episode 14: These Shoes Were Made for Mocking

(and that's just what we'll do.)

Producer Taylor Quimby has been defending Vibram FiveFingers shoes to naysayers for years. When people see him wearing them while he’s on the trail or out for a run, they tend to have a pretty visceral reaction, and that reaction is typically disgust. So what is it about these glove-like shoes that makes people so upset?

 
 

The Real Reason So Many People Hate FiveFingers™

It’s a hot July afternoon, and I’m hiking up Kearsarge Mountain in New Hampshire when a woman on her way down says, “Ugh, don’t those hurt your feet?” She didn’t stop or look me in the face so I could tell she didn’t really want to hear my answer–it was just passing commentary on my choice of footwear.

After seven years of wearing Vibram FiveFingers, I’m pretty used to fielding questions (or enduring insults) about them when I hike, but I’ve never been able to adequately explain how a general phobia of exposed toes turned into a mean-spirited backlash against Vibram enthusiasts back when the company settled a class-action lawsuit in 2014.

Until now. Here’s my four-point theory on why so many people came to abhor the FiveFingers toe-shoe.

We've blurred this runner's feet for Jimmy's sake.

We've blurred this runner's feet for Jimmy's sake.

Like Crocs or PT Cruisers, a good deal of the hatred for Vibrams has nothing to do with their functionality – for these anti-foot-fetishists, the real problem is the independently segmented toes. One colleague of mine referred to Vibrams as crossing “the uncanny valley of feet”. I’m guessing she means they look too much like feet and nothing like feet at the same time.

But people aren’t just disgusted by toe-shoes. Runners who leave their toes entirely exposed are subject to ridicule too. “I don’t have the psychological insight to figure out what it is about naked feet that freaks people out,” says Christopher McDougall, author of the unofficial barefoot bible Born to Run. “I’d be running down the street in bare feet and people would roll down their windows and go berserk: ‘You forgot your shoes! Put your shoes on!’"

“Dude, it’s not my penis. These are just my toes.”

 

When the FiveFingers first became popular, Outside Magazine contributor Jon Gugala was working at a running store. He says that fitting customers for Vibrams was a long and frustrating process, and one that rarely ended in a sale.

For these reasons Jon says, “there was a special place of hatred at least for me and a lot of my coworkers for the FiveFingers at the time.”  What was most infuriating though, is that the presence of Vibrams brought lots of people with little to no running experience into the store. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, except…

Many non-runners who came into Jon’s store with an interest in Vibrams did so because they had read Born to Run. The book, an adventure story about a tribe of spectacularly gifted Native American runners, proposes a theory that the human foot evolved to run long-distances.

The modern running shoe, McDougall says, has allowed runners to develop terrible form–a factor that he think contributes to high rates of injury for the sport. It’s a position that he’s stuck to, even after the barefoot running craze ended a couple years ago.

“When things go wrong with the human foot,” he says, “it’s because we strap on the crazy inventions by mad scientists and think that they’re going to actually improve what our foot has naturally evolved to do.”


In other words, people who wear running sneakers (most everybody) are doing it wrong. McDougall’s philosophy is what many non-running, Born To Run-reading customers were spouting when they entered a shoe store to try on Vibrams for the first time. Not surprisingly, many...

Photo credit: Logan Shannon

In the words of Jon Gugala: “You work at a running store, so you think you know more than the average person about running, so when people try and call you on that based on a book that they read, your ego gets hurt. So maybe you take that out on a helpless product like FiveFingers.” Jon says he actually really loved wearing the Vibram FiveFingers for a time, and went so far as to recommend that everybody try them at least once. After a nasty bout of plantar fasciitis though, he gave them up, and when Vibram settled the class action lawsuit in 2014, he was among those who gleefully lashed out against all of those finger-wagging barefooters.

 

Despite being one of the targets of that backlash, I totally get it. In fact, it reminds me of my relationship with kale. I have nothing against kale, but when I hear people talk about kale like it’s going to cure cancer, boost IQ, and solve the control debate, I call bullshit. And that makes me want to eat less of it, even if it makes for a decent smoothie. The thing is, I really shouldn’t be annoyed with kale. I should be annoyed with the crazy kale-heads who act as though it’s the galaxy’s most powerful super-food.

I get the backlash…but I still like these shoes.

What’s Good for the Goose Foot, Is Not Always Good for the Gander’s Feet

TAYLOR IS A VERY GOOD JUMP ROPER. 

TAYLOR IS A VERY GOOD JUMP ROPER. 

Vibram Fivefingers aren’t the panacea or silver bullet that the company may have claimed them to be (an idea likely spread by Born to Run, unintentionally or otherwise) but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good option for some runners.

Dr. Jonathan Roth, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon, recently did a literature review of studies on barefoot versus shod (as in, with shoes) running, and found that the two styles seem to have two different injury profiles. He found that, whereas barefoot style runners may suffer fewer injuries to the lower legs and knees, they may be more prone to injuries in the foot and ankle. Depending on a runner’s individual injury profile, switching to barefoot or cushioned shoes could be the right thing to do. And if you’re relatively injury-free, don’t bother switching at all.

“People are so different, that what may work for one person may not work for another,” Dr. Roth says. “You should really take each person as an individual and look at their mechanics, look at their foot shape, look at their injury risk and where they’re prone to injuries, and adjust accordingly. Just like with diet, you really have to be more personalized with not suggesting one thing for everybody, but really take a look at the whole.”

It’s advice that’s unlikely to get you on Good Morning America or to the top of the New York Times’ best-sellers list, but it may just put your mind at ease when it comes to whatever you’ve chosen for your feet.


Outside/In was produced this week by: 

Taylor Quimby, Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, & Logan Shannon

Theme music by Breakmaster Cylinder 

Photos of Sam are by Greta Rybus unless otherwise noted.

Episode 11: Anothah Boston Cheat

Ari Ofsevit is a guy from Boston fueled by an intense, nerdy love for sports. The day after running this year’s Boston Marathon, his face was all over the cover of the Boston Globe and on all of the network news channels, but on the internet, people were accusing him of cheating. This is Ari’s story.

The Boston Marathon, has a long, well-documented history of cheaters.

Of course, there was that most famous of marathon cheaters, Rosie Ruiz, who hitched a ride on Boston subway 10 miles into the race. But cheaters abound: there’s this armchair investigator who claims to have found at least 47 people who cheated back in 2015 by taking someone else’s bib, or by taking short-cuts in their qualifying marathon. There’s also the thriving online marketplace, where people say they’d be willing to spend as much as $5,000 dollars to get their hands on someone else’s starting number.

And this year, once again, a high profile Boston marathon finish is being called into question.

The racer in question is Ari Ofsevit. And he’s a friend of mine.

After the race, I was very surprised to see Ari was all over the internet.

I was then doubly shocked to learn that beneath every story written about Ari and in a forum of a website called Let’s Run internet  commenters were calling for him to be disqualified.

When Runner’s World noticed the online muck that was swriling around Ari’s story whenever it was posted, they stirred the pot, posting a second article about the reaction to the first article, inviting readers to “engage” on the question.

“So, there are people who say you cheated,” I said to Ari, when I interviewed him.

Ari responded with an exasperated snort.

With cheating you have to have intent,” he said, “People were saying things like, he shouldn’t have accepted the aid from those guys. Well you know, I didn’t have the opportunity to say that because my brain was not functioning.”

Today's episode of Outside/In (which I encourage you to listen to, instead of reading… I promise, it’s better) is the story of my friend Ari, his fifteen minutes of fame, and the bigger question: what’s a race like the Boston Marathon for? 

What Happened?

If you want to hear this story straight from the horse’s mouth, with an impressive dose of profanity mixed in, you can read Ari’s account of why he thinks he collapsed just before the finish line of the race. What’s below is my abridged account.

His preparation for the marathon the day before was pretty reasonable - despite making a transcontinental flight the morning before the race. Ari hydrated, he slept in his own bed, and he woke up before his alarm.

And that day, Marathon Monday, was gorgeous weather, 65 degrees and sunny. (Though Ari, who hates running when it’s hot, calls it “sneaky warm”.)

The first 17 miles Ari felt great and was on track to beat 3 hours. He says he was drinking every water stop. But as the race wears on he started to slow down, though he said it was nothing unusual.

“Most people are going to feel lousy on those hills,” he said.

He’s slowing down: from 6 and half minute mile pace, to 7 minute mile pace… to mile 26 when he’s up to nearly an 8 minute mile.

But he turned the corner onto Boylston street, and then end was in sight.

“I remember thinking, “Alright legs, go,” Ari said. That thought was the last thing he remembers before waking up in the intensive care unit four hours later.

Did he finish?

Ari got to within 200 feet of the finishing line before collapsing with a body temperature of 108.8 degrees. At this temperature, doctors told him he had a 30-minute clock ticking toward organ failure and brain injury.

ari did pretty well... right up until the very end of the race

ari did pretty well... right up until the very end of the race

Two runners helped him across the finish line. And first responders dumped him into a tub of ice. This actually led to an over-correction, and when they sent him off to the hospital he was actually hypothermic: his body temperature had dropped to 84 degrees.

Ari didn’t break the 3-hour mark, but he did get a time: a  very respectable 3  hours and 3 minutes. You can find his name, and his time on the results. He finished in 1848th place - and like all finishers, he got a medal.

Once his story started to hit the media, first on the cover of the Boston Globe, and then later on the network TV channels, certain parts of the running community started grousing.

“To me, it would have been considered, he should have been a DNF,” Jay Curry told me. DNF is runner-speak for “Did Not Finish”.

Curry is an an OR nurse, a cyclist and a triathlete. He’s never done the Boston Marathon, but he has done ironman triathlons: that’s where you have to run a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112. I found him through a Facebook comment he left underneath one of the articles about Ari.

“It kind of takes away from the sport, if anybody can just pick him up and carry him across the line  or I could jump on a bus and say, Jeez, I’m kinda tired right now, I’ve got two miles to go I’ll just call a taxi and take a taxi to the finish line and be considered a finisher.

Jay says he has no ill-will toward Ari, and doesn’t think he deliberately cheated. But he’s steadfast. Ari did not finish. And Jay’s not alone. For every 10 people who celebrate his finish as a story about good sportsmanship and community - there are one or two that say, nice story, but he should be disqualified.

Albert Shank a Spanish teacher and marathoner from Arizona is another.

“You’re toeing the line running the same exact course at the same time as these elite runners from Kenya, and Ethiopia, and the United States and all over the world, and I think you should be subjected to the same rules as they are,” Shank told me in a phone interview.

When it comes to this question of whether he deserves to be considered a finisher, there’s a legitimate point being made. If Ari had been in first place, he definitely would have been disqualified. This actually happened in the Olympic marathon in 1908. Dorando Pietri, an Italian, had to be helped to his feet by the course umpires when he collapsed five times in the last 400 meters. The second place finisher -- an American -- protested, and Pietri lost his gold medal.

Ari has done a lot of races... a lot of races.

Ari has done a lot of races... a lot of races.

What's a race for, anyway?

But there’s a big difference between an Olympic athlete , and Ari Ofsevit. Hell, there’s a big difference between the front of the Boston Marathon and Ari Ofsevit.

“I understand that there are folks out there in the world that, a rule is a rule is a rule, and I get it… god bless ‘em for feeling that way,” said Dave McGillivray, the race director of the Boston Marathon, one of the people who very well could have disqualified Ari.

The rules are that runners accepting aid from others “may” be disqualified, not that they “shall” be disqualified. Typically, the routine is that another competitor submits a complaint, which the race jury considers. In Ari’s case, there was no complaint… at least no official, not-in-an-internet-comment-section complaint.

“It was a gallant effort, and I feel he earned the medal. Let’s move on,” said McGillivray.

In reality, there are two races going on in Boston, with two different sets of rules. One of those races -- the elite field -- is really only about who is fastest. The other, is mostly just a community building event. One that would be totally ruined if you militantly disqualified thousands of people who did things like take water from someone other than an officially sanctioned water-stop.

Some of the complaints circle around the prestigiousness of the Boston Marathon. It’s really a tough to race qualify for, and so many people register that in 2016 more than 4,500 people who made the official qualifying time still got turned away.

Because he finished, Ari will likely qualify for next year’s marathon and he could be taking a spot from a runner who finished the race on his own two feet.

Take it up with Meb

So who gets the final word? I’m going to give it to Meb.

Meb Keflezighi -- olympic silver medalist, winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, and general goodwill ambassador for the sport of long-distance running --  actually tweeted a photo of the guys carrying Ari across the finish. That tweet was above, but here it is again.

You’ll notice, Meb didn’t write #ObviousDQ.