Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Running Ransom Road: A Review and Interview with Author Caleb Daniloff

There's pretty much universal agreement that running is great for physical fitness.  Less appreciated is how running strengthens mental fitness, albeit in ways elusive to measure and highly individualistic.  There's no better example of this than a new book entitled Running Ransom Road. It's about the personal journey of author Caleb Daniloff, a recovering alcoholic (he prefers the term "former drunk"), took as he turned to running to help battle his addiction.   He decides to  revisit the different cities from his dark past, his "sinning grounds" as he calls them, by running marathons and other distances races in each place as an attempt to further heal himself and those around him. 

What raises this book above a standard self-help memoir is Daniloff's highly poetic writing style, razor sharp observations, and astute personal assessments.  Of course, it also doesn't hurt that his early upbringing was hardly ordinary.  The son of US journalist Nicholas Daniloff, who was assigned to cover the Soviet Union for US New & World Report in the early 80's, Caleb Daniloff spent his teenage years in Moscow during the cold war in the early 80's until his father was arrested in 1986 on espionage charges by the Soviets.   (Nicholas Daniloff was eventually allowed to return to the US.)  It also helps that three of his sinning grounds are Boston, New York and Washington, home of marathons heavily steeped in running lore.

But where the book really stands out is with memorable description of how running enabled his recovery with passages such as "My stride started to gain fluency, my feet acting as metronome.  The repetition became less monotony and more a rhythm of nothingness, like a Buddhist chant, my head humming with open space".    Daniloff also captures each race with great imagery, such as describing  the teaming masses assembling before the New York Marathon, noting "There was no way you couldn't feel small, like so many plankton inhaled into the whale's mouth."   Through it all, Daniloff includes brief flashbacks which serve as cracks through which the reader catches glimpses of his former life.  You won't find too many sordid tales in these flashbacks, but they are effective in not only what they reveal, but also what is left unsaid and alluded to, leaving the reader to speculate what dark places Daniloff  had actually gone to.

It's a book sure to resonate with runners, especially those who used running to help them through difficult times in their lives.  And certainly those dealing with alcoholism and other substance abuse issues will also find reassurance from someone they can identify with.  Of course, any story well told with unique insights about being human has universal appeal.  As Daniloff engages in a slow march every few weeks at each of his marathons to break the four hour finishing time barrier, we see whether one attains the personal goals they've set for themselves isn't what's important.  It's what you gain from the act of reaching for them.

I caught up with Caleb Daniloff during his book tour, both over the phone and through e-mails, to discuss his latest work.  Here's what he had to say.

Q: How do you find people reacting to your book?
Daniloff: So far, so good.  A lot of readers, including runners, are reaching out and identifying themselves as having battled with alcoholism or other demons or just dealing with difficult times in their lives.  The greatest reaction so far was from a mother who has a son struggling with addiction and currently in prison. She really wanted to send him a copy of the book, but prison rules required it come directly from the publisher. So we arranged for that. She was incredibly grateful.

Q: A lot of people tell me they hate running, or think it’s a necessary evil they need to do to keep in shape.  How are non-runners responding to your writing about running’s therapeutic effects?

Daniloff: Most people recognize that following some form of passion has a therapeutic effect and most people recognize the mind-body connection of regular exercise. But yes, lots of people do find running boring and repetitive, so it’s sometimes hard to explain to them how the repetitiveness and increased exertion over time is where a lot of cool things can open up. But I can see how some runners might say, “It’s a running thing, you wouldn’t understand.”  There’s something mesmerizing about the rhythm--the pounding feet, sawing arms, heaving lungs.
Q:  Can you explain some of these “cool things” that arise from the repetitiveness?

Daniloff:  Creative thought for starters. Plenty of images and lines for the book bubbled up during a run. Even things that I’d never have thought of sitting still at my desk; seeing a stubborn problem in a whole new light. There’s a real clarity. You can access greater depths of feeling for people in your life, for the world around you.
Q: I’ve always felt that success in running requires a willingness and tolerance for self-abuse.  Do you think the self-loathing you describe in your alcoholic past factors into your running?

Daniloff: I think in the beginning, running was more like self-punishment.  Running was fairly painful in the early years and I was welcoming of that pain.  Over time as running became less physically painful, and the mental element of running helped mitigate the self loathing, the shame, the guilt, the insecurities. I used to think if I run a marathon, then I’ve really come out the other side. But there always more “other sides” to come out of. That’s just life.
Q: Is it a sense of accomplishment that mitigates the self loathing?  I have to say some periods when I ran my best races and fastest times correlate pretty well to difficult times in my life, and my dad once told me, “You always run your fastest when you’re running away from something.”

Daniloff:  Your dad is probably right. Yes, the sense of accomplishment gives you the confidence and boosts your self-esteem, which can mitigate and soften negative feelings you might be harboring.  Running also allows one to indulge in the feeling of running away without actually doing so. And at the same time, it reminds you that you can’t run away from your problems. Your head is always going to be on your shoulders.
Q:  You’ve completed marathons in your old “sinning grounds” and earned redemption.  What’s next for you, running-wise?

Daniloff:  I’ll be running the Philadelphia Marathon in a couple weeks, and would like to run the Boston Marathon in 2013. I now run one marathon a year, but have no real time or distance goals at the moment.  The idea of running South Africa’s Comrades Marathon (a 56-miler) pops up in my mind from time to time.
Q: Have you thought of doing shorter races, like cross-country or 5 and 10k’s?

Daniloff:  I’ve run a couple 5Ks, but I like the challenge of the longer races where it’s about more endurance, not speed, at least for me.  I also prefer the longer races because I don’t want the run to end so quickly.
(An advance copy of Running Ransom Road was provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the purposes of this review.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Where have I been lately?

Bear Lake, UT in the early morning.  Couldn't run by it since
my arm was in a sling at the time, but was invigorated
by the early morning walk to its banks.
No doubt most of you are losing sleep, staying up all night, wondering what's happened to me as the posts here have slowed to a trickle.  OK, even though you haven't, plenty has been going on in my world lately.  In the past nine days I have:
  • Undergone shoulder surgery on my left shoulder to rid it of it's nasty habit of popping out of its socket at inconvenient times.
  • Gone to Bear Lake, UT for three days on a job related meeting.  My boss has a rather dim view of me blogging on all hands meetings.  Go figure!
  • With my wife, packed up all our stuff, loaded it on a van, and moved from Belmont, CA on the San Francisco Bay Peninsula to the South Bay's Campbell, CA.
Needless to say, I haven't had much time for blogging, and my left arm hanging in a sling isn't the greatest situation for writing blog posts.

Not to worry, there's several projects in the works you'll see here in the coming weeks..  As for beer and running, the blog is going to take a decidedly South Bay turn.  I'm writing this sitting no further than a mile from the Los Gatos Creek Trail, and a fifteen minute walk from the Sonoma Chicken Coop, and their brewing alter ego Campbell Brewing Company.   Across the street from the Sonoma Chicken Coop is this new, nifty Belgium cafe I just discovered called Byr of Belgium featuring a very solid line-up of Belgium beers.   And our front door is literally a stone's throw from Fermentation Solutions, a home brew supply store I shopped at many times.  So while family and work matter largely drove the move to Campbell, the beer and running side of the equation unexpectedly fell into place quite nicely.

I think I'm going to like it here. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Beer of the Month: Ahwahnee Amber Ale from Mammoth Brewing

It's no puzzle that Ahwahnee Amber and
Yosmite National Park are interlocking.
The sheer cliffs, the towering water falls, and the overall surrealistic landscape of Yosemite all speak to us.  For some, Yosemite declares the overwhelming power and beauty of nature.  For others, it reminds us of a need to preserve our environmental treasures for future generations.  But for me, the grandeur of Yosemite whispers "Hey, there's a Mammoth Brewing brewski just around the corner with your name on it!"

So our Beer of the Month is one enjoyed on a recent weekend trip to Yosemite, Ahwahnee Amber Ale from Mammoth Brewing.  (Outside of the National Park, it's known as Real McCoy Amber.)  Now Mammoth makes a couple of pretty good IPA's (Epic and 395) and their Hair of the Bear Dopplebock is one of the best Dopplebock's I've had.  But the day I spent long five miles and 2,000 vertical feet hiking of The Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, and then up to Nevada falls, the Ahwahnee Amber at the bottom tasted like sweet nectar.

There's really nothing fancy about this beer, and that's what's so good about it.  Just lots of toasty malt, with a little nuttiness, and a smattering of earthy hops combine to create a smooth, drinkable pleasure.  Ever since I discovered Mammoth Brewing 2 1/2 years ago on my last tip to Yosemite, the brewery and it's iconic landscape have become intractably linked.  And I just can't leave without showing you a few more Yosemite pictures.  Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ode to my Garmin Watch: Breaking 40 minutes in the Theta Breakers "10k"

Finishers milling about at the Theta Breakers 5k and 10k
Maybe this post going to sound like a commercial for Garmin GPS watches, but I don't care.  A few months ago, I saved up a bunch of "thank you" points on my credit card and got one of those Garmin watches that indicate how far you've run using GPS.  Perhaps in part I was motivated by my last big race, a half-marathon in San Francisco last April where the first few mile markers were clearly wrong and I had no idea what my pace was.   This proved to be a killer in the half-marathon as I ran out of gas miles before the finish line.   I'm a pretty anti-gadget runner, but had to admit if I had one of those fancy GPS watches at the time, the half-marathon would have likely gone a lot differently.

It wasn't until today that I finally had a chance to use it in a race at the Theta Breakers 10k.  The race is in it's 27th year, and is put on by the Stanford University chapter of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority to raise money for Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, which provides court appointed representation of abused and neglected children.   The picturesque course starts next to Stanford Stadium and twists and turns through the university and surrounding Palo Alto  neighborhoods. 

And wouldn't you know the Garmin watch came in handy about a half mile into the race.  After we all take off and run all  the way around Stanford Stadium, I look down at my watch and see my current pace is 5:45.  Considering I was hoping to break 40 minutes for 10k which is about a 6:25 pace, you might say I was going out a wee bit too fast. So I backed it off, but still came through the first mile in a way too ambitious 5:58.

At each critical turn in the race course, there was a helpful and enthusiastic Kappa Alpha Theta sister holding a glittery arrow showing everyone where to go.  There were also cheerful Theta's spaced out at each mile of the course holding signs saying things like "4 miles!!!  You can do it!".  Except according to my Garmin watch, each mile marker was actually about a block or two beyond where the actual mile mark should be located. 

My trusty Garmin watch letting me know the "10k"
was really 0.2 tenths of a mile longer than 10k
So instead of having no clue of how fast I was really running, I came through mile 2 at 6:24 (right on pace), and then an uphill mile 3 at 6:39 (yikes!), and doubt set in as to whether sub-40 minutes was really in the cards.   Hope returned on a downhill mile 4 (6:16) and another slightly downhill mile 5 (6:26).  Pushing hard the last mile to beat the 40 minute 10k goal, I crossed the finish line at 40:37. 

Bad news for the sub-40 quest?   Not really.  The course was actually 6.4 miles according to my Garmin watch, and so the effort was equivalent to a 39:16 10k.  Mission accomplished!  And instead of going home dejected with a "slow" time, I discovered I'm not as slow as I thought, thanks to my new fancy Garmin watch.  (And no, they aren't paying me to say that.) 

And forgive the bragging, but this earned first pace in the male master division, never mind that few old guys show up for sorority races, and the fast old guys were probably running the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in San Jose that day.  At my age, you realize there are only so many small victories left and it's best to just savor them in the rare moments when they occur.  With a beer, of course.

Another shamelessly posed photo of my sweaty 1st Male Master Finisher certificate,
a frilly bag with a gift card to a fancy San Francisco eatery, and a celebratory beer.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Session #68: When Does Novelty Cease?

For this month's Session, Tiffany at 99Pours asks us to write about novelty beers.   Here are my riffs on the subject.

In the 50's, Elvis Presley introduced novel innovations in music to the world.  About the same time, Alvin and the Chipmonks released records using novel recording techniques.  Both Elvis Presley and Alvin and the Chipmonks won multiple Grammy Awards.  Elvis is still Elvis.   Alvin and the Chipmonks are still unlistenable to anyone over the age of seven.  Somewhere between Elvis Presley and Alvin and the Chipmonks lies the interface between timeless innovation and perpetual novelty.

Beer is no different.  Chile beer is one novelty beer that many feel has not only overstayed its welcome, but should never have come over in the first place.  And yes, chile beer is often a stale lager with a jalapeno pepper thoughtlessly dunked into it, a beer gimmick resulting in an overpowering and undrinkable mess.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  One of my favorite beers is Devil's Canyon's Hades Habanero, where a deft touch of the habenero's transforms an earthy underlying amber ale into a lively concoction.  And this year I experienced the pleasure of Green Chile Ale from De La Vega's Pecan Grill & Brewery in Las Cruces, NM, a beer where local green chiles are carefully put on a pedestal of light malt to be celebrated in all their glory.  I also experienced a beer brewed with fennel of all things, Almanac's Spring 2012 Bière de Mars, and found it sensational.   Somehow, these beers made with habaneros, green chiles, or fennel  don't seem like novelty beers, but examples of innovative brewing with unusual and local ingredients.

Of course, there was a time when the ubiquitous IPA was a novelty beer.  Just a few decades ago, an IPA in America was either a rare British import, or was handed to you by a shaggy homebrewer with a devilish glint in his eye.  And as IPA's caught on and became ordinary, the new novel became uber-hoppy double, triple, and even quadrupal IPA's, as brewers engaged in a hop-driven arms race.  Until there was nowhere else to go and a few breweries got the bright idea to release Gruits, beers without any hops, but often flavored instead with spices and other exotic additions.  And it was novel.

Well, sort of.  For the first 5,000 years of brewing history, the Gruit ruled, as hops first started showing up in beer around 1400 AD.  Seems like as long as beer is continually reinvented, there will always be novelty beers.  They just may be standard beers from our past, or of the future.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Touring Four Innovative California Breweries

(An edited version of this post was published in the Oct/Nov 2012 issue of Adventure Sports Journal.)

This isn't a museum.  It's Anchor's Historic Brewhouse
(Photon courtesy of Anchor Brewing)
There’s revolution going on in this country, born largely in California that has nothing to do with music, politics, or some insanely great gadget.  It’s a revolution in beer, a beverage that’s existed for over 5,000 years of human history that continues to be reinvented to this day.    Large breweries run by multinational corporations producing unoriginal light, flat tasting yellow lagers are dramatically losing market share to a growing fleet of smaller independent breweries concocting a wide variety of rich, flavorful, and unique brews.   People are enjoying the endless flavor combinations and possibilities of beer and becoming more aware about where their beer comes from.  California breweries are major pioneers of this movement.

Unlike most businesses with tightly protected company secrets, many breweries happily throw open their doors to let you experience their sights, sounds, and tastes.    You can tour four of California’s leading breweries changing the way our nation experiences beer, and here’s what you’ll find.

Go to Anchor Brewing and you’ll see a piece of San Francisco history.   The brewery is housed in a four story Depression-era brick building in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood.  Visitors meet in brewery’s tap room, with its classic carved wooden interior and old brewery photographs, which include Janis Joplin happily enjoying an Anchor Steam.    The brewery itself, with its old copper kettles and brick interior, looks like something out of a museum, but is where all of Anchor’s beer is brewed today.

The tour starts with recounting of the tumultuous history of Anchor Brewing.  It’s one of the oldest breweries in the United States, dating back to the Gold Rush-era in San Francisco.  It survived the 1906 Earthquake and Prohibition, but nearly went out bankrupt in 1965 before Fritz Maytag, a recent Stanford graduate from a Midwestern family of prominent dairy farmers (think “Maytag Blue Cheese”)  learned of the imminent demise of his favorite beer and purchased 51% of the business.

While saving the brewery, Maytag carefully studied brewing methods from the brewery’s earliest period, when San Francisco breweries were known for their “Steam Beer” fermented in open vats often on roof tops with the cool San Francisco climate providing natural refrigeration.  It’s a brewing practice that had long been abandoned, most likely due to the likelihood of wild yeasts and other airborne microbes ruining a batch. 
Maytag developed a system of open shallow vats in a more controlled environment to replicate brewing technique, and today every drop of Anchor Steam slowly ferments in these vats.   A highlight of the tour is catching a glimpse of these vats, which had long been a brewery secret.     As brewery spokes person Candice Uyloan describes, “These fermenters are an important part of our unique brewing history and represent a marked difference from the vertical tanks found in other breweries. Except for the occasional hot day, we still simply use the naturally cool air from San Francisco's foggy coastal climate.”

After viewing the brewing equipment and bottling line, the tour concludes back in the brewery tap room where visitor can taste between 6-8 Anchor Beers, depending on the season.   Uyloan adds “We would like visitors to leave knowing that every Anchor beer comes from the hands of people who love and are dedicated to what they do.”

Tour Information
The brewery offers two tours a day on Weekdays.  Tour reservations are taken up to six months in advance and dates fill up quickly, often weeks in advance.  Call 415-863-8350 for more information and to make reservations.  Admission is free.


Tiny, rustic Booneville, with its 1,000 residents, looks like a typical small town, but is like no place on earth.  It’s home to an eclectic group of artists and some of the finest Pinot Noir growing land in all of California.   It’s also the source of Boontling, a quirky, folk language of the region that sprang up in the late 1800’s.  Boontling is largely defunct, save for a few dedicated local practitioners keeping the language alive.  This includes Anderson Valley Brewing, located on the Southern edge of town, which names their beers after Boontling phrases and place names. 
Don't let all those controls in the Anderson Valley Brewhouse fool you,
none of them actually work.

 Anderson Valley’s current brewery went online in 2000 after outgrowing its previous location in central Booneville.  The open 30-acre brewery grounds also include a Frisbee golf course, a tap room, a field of hops growing up a series of a vertical support lines, and eight goats used to “mow” part of the grounds.

The Anderson Valley Brewery tour meets in the tap room and proceeds into the Brew House, where the first thing you’ll see are three gleaming copper brew kettles recovered from a defunct German brewery.  There’s an equally impressive looking old world control panel that looks like something Captain Nemo used to pilot the Nautilus, but if you look carefully, a smaller, more modern electronic controller is actually used to control the brewing equipment.

“We like to educate people on the brewing process,” explains Rebecah Toohey, Anderson Valley’s Tap Room Manager.  “During the tour, we go over the history of the brewery, as well of each step we take to brew our beer.”   This includes a trip to the hop freezer.   There’s nothing more stimulating the walking into the cold air of the hop freezer and deeply inhaling all the fresh, piny hops Anderson Valley uses for beers such as their Hop Ottin’ IPA and Poleeko Pale Ale.  Visitors also get to go up on the brewery roof and see the solar panels which generate about 40% of the breweries electricity, while learning about the many other environmental initiatives that are part of Anderson Valley’s commitment to its unique region.

 Tour Information
Tours start Daily at 1:30 and 3:00 pm, except between January and March, when they only run Thursday-Monday.    The tour costs $5, and include two beer samples from the tap room, and a $5 coupon for any purchase over $10 in the brewery gift shop.  Call (707) 895-BEER for more information.

Lagunitas is first and foremost about having a good time.  And everyone working at Lagunitas seems to be having one, as all the staff at the Lagunitas Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary has an genuine, infectious  enthusiasm for the place.  The Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary serves food and often features live music.  Tours guides announce the start of each tour by clanging a bell and waving a small, crudely written card board sign above their head.  Anyone who wants to join simply follows them out into the brewery.
Ryan Tamborski discussing Lagunitas's Barrel-aged Brews
Brewery tours typically have the aura of a high school science field trip, but as tour guide Ryan Tamborski tells the story of Lagunitas founder Tony Magee, he works the room like a stand-up comic.  “In the early days, there was a problem when Tony Magee flushed yeast into the community septic tank.  Does anyone know what you get when you flush yeast into septic tank?  Coors Light!”  Indeed, there’s plenty of entertaining stories behind many Lagunitas beers, and most involve either marijuana or owner Tony Magee thumbing his nose at various authorities.   The tour guides are master story tellers, and the Lagunitas Brewery tour is the most entertaining hour I’ve ever spent at a brewery.
But behind the goofy humor, one also witnesses a relentless capitalism. Lagunitas is one of the fastest growing breweries in the United States, available all over the country, and commanding high prices on the black market overseas.   Ryan happily showed off the shiny state-of-the-art equipment Lagunitas recently invested in to meet this exploding demand, and well as telling us Lagunitas’s plans to open a second brewery in Chicago at the end of this year.    Sure, Lagunitas is a place to have a good time, but touring the place also reveals how much hard work and commitment must go into creating the good times.

Tour Information
Mondays-Tuesdays 3:00 pm, Wednesday at 3:00 and 5:00 pm, Saturdays 1:00, 3:00 and 5:00 pm 

Call 707-778-8776 for more information

Sierra Nevada is where to go to learn a lot about beer. 

“We have a very technical tour, “explains Marie Gray, Tour Coordinator for Sierra Nevada.  “We get a lot of questions from beer craft drinkers who really want to know more about beer, so we do our best to answer them.  It’s a lot of fun, and we meet a lot of great people out there.”
The dignified splendor of Sierra Nevada's Brewhouse

The tour takes over an hour and carefully goes over every step of the brewing process.  It starts in the mill room, which prepares the malted barley for brewing.  Next in the Brew House,  large room with impressive copper brewing kettles, visitors can peer into to see the mash through glass windows.  You can actually sample a taste of wort, the liquid full of extracted sugars from malted barley, used in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to understand how the hops and fermentation transforms the sweet liquid into beer.  There is also an invigorating trip to the Sierra Nevada hop freezer room as well as overhead views of the bottling and canning lines.

 In addition to brewing, visitors learn plenty about Sierra Nevada’s legion of environmental practices.  Climbing up to a catwalk above the brewery, you’ll look down on no fewer than 10,763 solar panels adorning the roof.    Guests also discover that hydrogen fuel cells provide approximately 50% of the brewery’s electricity needs and that Sierra Nevada actually paid to extend a railroad line a few miles to so that rail cars could roll right up to the brewery, eliminating the CO2 emissions from trucks transporting supplies those last few miles.

At the end, there’s a tasting of eight samples of different Sierra Nevada beers at the brewery tap room, and even this is used as an opportunity to educate.  “We try to make it an educational tasting, where people learn to enjoy the different aromas and flavors of beer,” explains Marie.  “In the end, our guests walk away with a really good experience.”  

For those more interested in Sierra Nevada’s environmentally sustainable practices, the brewery hosts Sustainable Tours on Fridays, Saturday, and Sunday the focus on Sierra Nevada’s environmental initiatives.  There is also beer tasting at the end of this tour, but is held in an outside garden, weather permitting, and consists of four samples.

Tour Information
Tour Hours:
Monday – Thursday: 11:00am 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm 3:00pm & 4:00 pm
Friday and Saturday: 11:00am 12:00 pm, 12:30pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 2:30pm 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 4:30pm & 5:00 pm
Sunday: 11:00am 12:00 pm, 12:30pm, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 2:30pm 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm
Phone:  530-899-4776




Monday, October 1, 2012

Jason McElwain is Our Hero

As a father of an autistic child, I know people with autism display lot of obsessive behavior, odd quirks, and repetitive motions.  That sounds a lot like running.  This difference is, most runners have the social communication skills and control over their behaviors people with autism lack.   But let's face it, we're all a little weird, so perhaps there is a little autism in all of us.

Eight days ago Jason McElwain, who is diagnosed with autism, ran 3:01 in the Rochester Marathon, finishing 15th and qualified for the Boston Marathon.  This is not the first time he's made news in athletics.  His astonishing performance at the end of a high school basketball game where he hit 6 three-pointers in the span of just 4 minutes created a viral video sensation back in 2006.

As impressive as that hoops feat was, I always suspected there was a good natured fix to ensure he score some points in what might have very well been a meaningless game at the end of the season.  In the video, you can see the opposing players aren't making much of an effort to block his shots.  It seems likely that he was sent into the game to get a basket or two against an accommodating defense, ending the season with a nice feel good story for the local paper.  When McElwain unexpectedly started draining three-point shot after three-point shot in this scenario, that's when the game tape went viral.

Nobody shortened the marathon course for Jason McElwain.   He ran the course faster than all but 14 of 574 race entrants in a time that's pretty impressive for someone his age, autism or no autism.  What few knew back in 2006 when he was an internet basketball sensation is that he was also a member his high school's cross-country team.  And not as team manager or token backup, but one of the  4-5 fastest runners his team relied on to win meets.  Given that he never set foot on the basketball court until the very end of the season, you have to figure Jason was actually a much better high school runner than he was a basketball player.

And that makes a lot of sense.  Basketball requires a lot of communication and spontaneous creativity, things people with autism struggle with.  On the other hand,  people with autism often prefer highly organized and structured daily schedules, just like a lot of runners do.   People with autism often prefer spending hours in isolation like many runners on long solitary runs.   Many autists engage in usual activities many view as quirky and weird.  How many times have you been asked, "You mean you actually enjoy running?"

Many will say Jason McElwain ran a great marathon, overcoming his autism.  Perhaps he ran a great marathon because of his autism.  Either way, let's celebrate him.