Rediscovering a National Monument

Forget the politics. Just go camping on public lands before you decide what should be done with them.

On a secluded, arrow-straight stretch of northern New Mexico U.S. Route 285, beneath the volcanic arch of San Antonio mountain, a sign appeared within the last two months: Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. When we saw the new marquee, Jen and I nearly swerved off the road with surprise. We discussed the sign for a few miles, wondered if we’d misconstrued it, and flipped a U-turn—Artemis, the Airstream, and all—to go back for a better look.

Since moving to Santa Fe from Denver over a decade ago, we have driven this lonely stretch hundreds of times, back and forth to visit family and friends in Colorado. I love this part of the state, its scraggly, empty, finch-green sage prairies punctuated by San Antonio’s jade slopes of gamble oak and ponderosa. Never, though, did I realize it was a national monument.

If you haven’t heard, 27 national monuments are under reconsideration. I’ve visited many of them over the years—Aztec Ruins, Bandelier, Bears Ears, Canyon de Chelly, El Malpais, El Moro, Giant Sequoia, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hovenweep, Kasha-Katuwe, Marianas Trench, Organ Pipe Cactus, Organ Mountains, Petroglyph, Rainbow Bridge, Vermillion Cliffs, and White Sands—and I’ve still taken them for granted. But seeing that sign, and knowing that this was a place so close to home that I didn’t know existed, made me realize I can’t take them for granted forever. Jen and I couldn’t stop that morning, but we vowed to return.

It turns out, President Obama only named Rio Grande del Norte a national monument on March 25, 2013. The land earned its designation for the mighty laceration of the Rio Grande Gorge, which cuts the surrounding flatlands like a jagged lightning strike, as well as for the countless petroglyphs, pit houses, and stone tools leftover from ancient civilizations. The area is also home to numerous hot springs, and a profusion of wildlife, including elk, deer, pronghorn, and bear. At 242,455 acres, it’s a significant swathe of wilderness, though it’s barely a raft on the sea of New Mexico open space—just 0.3 percent of the state’s total area.

Rio Grande is one of the national monuments up for review, with an eye toward trimming or revocation. For me, the thought that these lands, which were set aside for me just a few years ago, might be diminished or rescinded before I even get a chance to use them, is kind of like inheriting an Airstream from an old eccentric aunt, then having it totaled before you step inside. The Department of Interior sought public comment to help determine the monuments future up through July 10.

A few weeks after we saw that sign, Jen and I rolled up to Rio Grande on a smoky, sizzling Wednesday afternoon for a few nights of early summer camping. At the visitor center, the ranger on duty and the volunteer ranger walked us through the map of the monument, lingering over details of the place. Yes, the campgrounds are great but the two recommended a few spots for dry camping with better views. No, they didn’t recommend dragging Artemis up the switchbacks at Taos Junction, much less at the farther north Wild Rivers crossing. Yes, Rocky Mountain bighorns had recently been reintroduced to the gorge from the high country, though the likelihood of spotting them was low.

“Are you worried that the monument might be reduced or defunded under the review?” I wondered.

“Phphphphtttt! We think about that every day,” the volunteer told me. “It would be a travesty. But people wouldn’t even know what they are losing. So yeah, we worry about it.” Then she added, “I can say that because I’m a volunteer.”

“Do the new signs on 285 have anything to do with the reconsideration of the monument?”

“I can’t say for certain. They’ve been putting up a lot of kiosks,” she said. “But it’s certainly not a bad time to get the word out. We’re popular, but it never hurts to be more popular.”

From the visitor center, we dragged Artemis up County Road 567 and, despite the rangers’ warnings, made it to the top okay, though barely. Then we barreled across open-country to a spot that Jen had spotted on Google Earth. Amid a sea of sagebrush, the land seemed to crack open, and we perched our camp overlooking a thousand-foot drop to the Rio Grande River. We sipped bourbon on the overlook, and, skepticism aside, I spotted a bighorn while glassing. The night was warm and silent, and mule deer picked their way through the green understory when we set up our coffee perch the next morning. It was a peaceful and perfect camp. 

I didn’t realize until I visited, but I had been to this place before. I’ve mountain biked the far rim, levitated over a section of the gorge in a balloon, and soaked in the hot springs more than once with friends. I just never realized that place was a national monument. Perhaps that lack of recognition is these wild lands’ problem right now. If more people plowed through the sagebrush ocean, spied ungulates hidden in the greenery, and camped under a spray of ivory stars knitted in a black quilt firmament, as we did, it’s difficult to imagine that support for them wouldn’t swell. 

What I know for certain is that Rio Grande del Norte is quiet, open, stunning high desert. I don’t care about the politics of it. I just hope that we’ll be able to pull Artemis up to that rim for years to come and sleep under dark, silent skies.

Can Western States Stop Doping in Trail Running?

With their new drug testing policy, race organizers hope to lead ultrarunning’s anti-doping charge—but the sport still has a long way to go

On May 24, the Western States Endurance Run announced via press release that its 2017 running would include post-race drug testing for the first time in the event’s 44-year history. While this development might feel long overdue in today’s increasingly competitive ultra scene, it also heralds a loss of innocence for road racing’s rugged cousin. All Western States entrants who don’t want to risk ending up as accidental drug cheats will need to have familiarized themselves with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s extensive list of prohibited substances well in advance. When the runners complete their 100-mile journey on the Placer High School track later this month, several elites will need to put their post-race exuberance on hold to provide a urine sample.

How effective can such measures be? A one-time piss test feels rather quaint in the post–Lance Armstrong era. Indeed, when compared with the elaborate anti-doping programs of organizations like Union Cycliste Internationale and the International Association of Athletics Federations (both of which bet heavily on expensive out-of-competition testing to catch dopers), the Western States initiative feels like a symbolic act. By requiring all athletes to be registered, governing bodies like UCI and IAAF can, at least ostensibly, force all competitors to comply with standardized anti-doping rules. Of course, the system only has a chance if national governing bodies and anti-doping commissions do their part. But that’s precisely the point. Even with its purported $8 million budget, IAAF anti-doping is hardly an airtight operation, to say the least. So what does Western States hope to achieve with far fewer resources (and no official governing body for the sport) at its disposal?

I put that question to Western States race director Craig Thornley in a recent phone call. When I referred to the race’s testing initiative as “low-key,” he begged to differ.

“This is not low-key testing by any means,” Thornley said. “We’re doing the WADA International Standards for Testing Investigations (ISTI). It’s anything but low-key. We’re definitely making a statement that we want to deter performance-enhancing drug use. We don’t want our sport to end up like track and field or cycling.”

Be that as it may, Thornley recognizes the importance of a more extensive anti-doping infrastructure and that no single event can protect a sport’s integrity on its own. In other words, keeping ultrarunning clean will require a collaborative effort.

“We’re hoping that other races will join forces with us,” Thornley said, before adding, “It’s pretty hard without a governing body to implement out-of-competition testing. We’re going out on our own on this. We’re not naive and thinking that this is going to catch everybody, so in some sense, yeah, it’s symbolic, but we hope that this is just a first step in establishing more widespread drug testing systems in the United States for ultras.”

It’s worth emphasizing that, at present, drug testing on the U.S. ultra scene is still very much in its nascent phase. Thornley cited Colorado’s Ouray 100 as a rare example of a race that does do some testing, but even there only top finishers are tested for a handful of substances, like HGH or EPO. (Ouray director Charles Johnston designates a portion of the race’s modest budget to enlist the services of a local drug-testing company.) Western States will distinguish itself by testing for all WADA-banned substances. According to a recent Runner’s World article, the race consulted officials at the Abbott World Marathon Majors about their anti-doping program.

Unlike the world’s premier marathons, where top runners are lured to the starting line by six-figure race purses and appearance fees, there is no cash reward for winning a major ultra like Western States or the Hardrock 100. The few ultras that offer prize money, like Run Rabbit Run in Steamboat Springs, give paltry sums compared with big-name road races. At first glance, it might therefore seem unnecessary for a race like Western States to shoulder the logistical and financial burden of implementing an anti-doping program. However, as Thornley was quick to point out, the prestige of the race means that a top finish can lead to sponsorships and other potentially lucrative opportunities for athletes. Emphasis on potentially.

If anyone was still holding on to the illusion that a race without prize money automatically results in a clean field, that bubble should have been burst last summer when Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc top finisher Gonzalo Calisto tested positive for EPO as a result of the UTMB’s in-competition drug testing. (There is no cash reward for the winner of Europe’s vaunted ultra.)

What this effectively means for Western States is that doing nothing is not a viable option. Though they may be years away from having a workable out-of-competition testing system, ultras have at least one significant advantage vis-à-vis their better-funded and more bureaucratically structured USATF or IAAF counterparts: Races like Western States and the Lake Sonoma 50 can make their own rules about who gets to compete.

Instead of drawing criticism for readmitting former drug cheats, events that don’t depend on external organizations to administer doping-related bans have the flexibility to implement a real zero-tolerance policy. That’s precisely what Western States did. Its recently amended Performance Rule 18 stipulates: “Any athlete who has been determined to have violated anti-doping rules or policies, whether enforced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), or any other national sports federation, is ineligible for entry into the Western States Endurance Run.” It’s a nifty move that de facto enables Western States, which currently doesn’t have the wherewithal to create its own out-of-competition-testing, to “use” testing programs of other organizations. An interesting consequence is that athletes serving temporary bans from IAAF races—like Kenyan marathoner Rita Jeptoo, whose four-year ban for EPO use expires in October 2018—would be barred from Western States for life.

If a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy seems harsh, remember that elite-level athletic careers are short and chances at glory are fleeting. The clean athlete who finds out eight years after her Olympic race that she was racing against dopers doesn’t get a second chance either. Why should clemency be granted to those who knowingly broke the rules?

Rest assured, there will always be those who will try, despite sincere efforts to discourage would-be dopers.

Earlier this year, I spoke with professor Charles E. Yesalis, a former consultant to USA Track and Field and the Drug Enforcement Administration who has been involved in the doping debate since the mid-1970s. (In addition to publishing more than 100 articles on the subject, he has testified in front of Congress six times.) Yesalis said he knew of instances in bodybuilding where all that was at stake was a $10 trophy. People would still cheat.

“What you’re dealing with is human nature. I think it’s innate in humans to want to prevail, to win,” Yesalis said. “The time expenditure investment that you make for the probability of zero dollars coming back to you—you say, well, if I’m going to do all of this, at least I’m going to win the $10 trophy.”

Can a Coed Olympic Relay Actually Work?

In an effort to be more inclusive and entice more viewers, the 2020 Games will feature a mixed 4×400

On Friday, the executive board of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) revealed further details about the program at the 2020 Games in Tokyo. The addition of five sports (baseball, surfing, sport climbing, karate, and skateboarding) had already been approved last summer; the most recent update announced 15 new events—part of a continuous effort to court younger viewers and rejuvenate the Olympic brand. Along with three-on-three basketball and BMX freestyle cycling, the Tokyo Games will double the number of mixed-gender events, from nine to 18. For the first time ever in Olympic competition, the two flagship sports of the Summer Games—swimming and athletics—will include coed relays: a 4×100-meter medley mixed relay in the pool and a 4×400-meter mixed relay on the track.

“For the I.O.C. to make this happen is one step short of extraordinary. Somehow, Thomas Bach, the I.O.C. president, and his stodgy cronies have succeeded in creating a new look for the old Olympics,” New York Times sports reporter Juliet Macur wrote on Saturday in response to the news.

It’s certainly a radical move for an organization not generally known for taking risks. Hence, it’s worth considering what the IOC might be hoping to achieve with its new program before determining whether a mixed-gender track race can live up to the hype.

Broadly speaking, some level of innovation is always necessary for athletic events to stay relevant. Sports leagues are constantly tweaking the rules and format of competition, both as a response to perceived spectator demands (e.g., introducing a shot clock to enliven a basketball game) and as a public relations maneuver (the NFL’s barring of helmet-first hits to demonstrate its sincere concern with player safety). The IOC’s latest announcement probably falls more in the latter category, especially since the biennial five-ring bonanza has had a rough time recently. It hardly takes a marketing guru to realize that it’s not a terrific look when an event espousing globalist idealism is increasingly associated with rampant corruption, and only cities in countries with semiauthoritarian regimes want to host. Against this backdrop, the changes to the Olympic program are a clear attempt to tout a more progressive message. In the press release, IOC President Thomas Bach says he is “delighted that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will be more youthful, more urban and will include more women.”

According to the IOC, women’s participation is expected to be at 48.8 percent in Tokyo, up from 45.6 percent in Rio and 44.2 percent at the London 2012 Games. The bulk of this increase in gender balance will come from sports that were disproportionately male in the past and men’s events that have become women’s-only or mixed events—specifically boxing, canoe, rowing, and shooting.

In athletics, on the other hand, the addition of the mixed 4×400 obviously won’t change the male-to-female ratio. But track and field is an Olympic discipline where both sexes have been pretty evenly represented in recent years. (Ever since Beijing 2008, the only men’s Olympic athletics event that doesn’t have a female counterpart is the 50-kilometer race walk.) Rather than improved equality, the introduction of this new event falls into the “entice more viewers” category, and no one will dispute that track and field could use a little help on that front.

But will more viewers actually be enticed? For one thing, the tight scheduling of Olympic athletics poses a problem. All track events typically take place in a nine-day period during the second half of the games. Since many of the best men’s and women’s 400-meter runners will already be committed to running heats and finals in their individual event(s) and relays, it’s unlikely that they will want to add a mixed relay (and the attendant risk of injury) to an already crowded race schedule. As a consequence, the biggest 400-meter stars might pass on the opportunity to run the mixed race—de facto rendering it a “B-team” race. That’s not how you drum up interest in a competition. The editors behind the running fan-site LetsRun.com didn’t mince words when expressing their opinion:

On the other hand, a mixed 4×400 race has the potential to be an intriguingly tactical affair compared to traditional relays. The only stipulation is that a team consists of two women and two men and that each athlete runs a lap—the order in which they do so is left up to the teams. Strategic decisions have to be made about whether it’s preferable to try to build and maintain a lead—for example, by having faster male runners run their segments before the last lap—or to let opposing teams get out ahead and then chase them down in the home stretch. Along with the spectacle of watching elite men and women competing directly against each other, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the same race, a mixed 4×400 sets the stage for some pretty thrilling victories.

In practice, this may play out in a way that simply underscores how much faster the men actually are. (The Olympic qualifying standard for men in the 400 is 45.40, more than two seconds faster than the women’s world record of 47.60—a mark that has stood since 1985 and is more than a little suspect.) Anyone who has participated in or witnessed a 4×400 relay probably has some sense of how good it feels to pull off a huge comeback win and how disheartening it can be to surrender a large lead. In a mixed event, opportunities for the former will fall disproportionately to men, while women will be far more susceptible to the latter.

So, is it a good idea? Watch the mixed 4×400 from the recent IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas and decide for yourself:

Why We Love the New Polaroid Snap

A snapshot in the hand is worth two in the cloud

“That’s a great picture,” the man said in slangy Cuban Spanish, looking at the small screen on my DSLR. Drained from a day of shooting in the hot Caribbean sun, I took the ego stroke in stride and thanked him and his friends again for the portrait while packing my camera bag.

“So when will you give it to me?”

The words stopped me in my tracks. This was Cuba in 2012. I was on the move from Havana to Trinidad, and there wasn’t exactly a Kinko’s on every block. Still, the man had made a simple request: a copy of the photo he had helped me create—proof, from his end, of our chance encounter.

(Courtesy of Polaroid)

It was that humid conversation in the Caribbean that led me to instant photography and the Polaroid Snap. Unlike the classic Polaroid of our parents’ past, the Snap is simple and streamlined, about the size of an iPhone 6 when in a Lifeproof case. There are three simple filters, a USB-compatible port for quick recharging, no shooting modes, and no built-in flash. Polaroid may have updated its look with a mini-SD port to upload snapshots to a computer, but the camera still has its signature feature: a built-in printer that spits out a photo in less than 20 seconds.

The Snap immediately changed my entire camera quiver. Where I once stored a pancake lens or an external hard drive, I now throw the pocket-size hip shooter into my everyday camera bag. When things get a little tense on the street, or when someone seems unsure of the stranger with a zoom lens, out it comes.

“Hey, I’d really like to give you a photo.”

Shock usually gives way to curiosity, and when I hand over a physical photo, the guard falls. The image quality (10 megapixels) is nothing to write home about, but the act leaves an immediate impact.

Where people once shooed me away, they are now more than willing to let me take another photo or two with my professional camera. Better yet, it starts a dialogue and leads me to places I never thought to go.

In the Xinjiang province of rural China, I took a portrait of a boy on a pair of ancient wooden skis. After handing him the snapshot, he showed our party the ski hills around his house, sliding along with his friend in the woods where descendants of Genghis Khan once hunted deer and fox. In the colorful caves above Granada, Spain, I used my last bit of film on a Romani man who proceeded to give me a full tour of his five-bedroom cave dwelling, introduce me to his wife and dog, and proposition me on a rental property in a neighboring cave.

It’s impossibly expensive to give everyone a photo (film costs about $1 a picture), but weird little moments like these make instant photography well worth the price of entry. At just under $100, the Snap has been a savior for my travel photography, and because the film usually comes in a pack of ten, the medium has forced me to stop, set up, and enjoy what I’m shooting. More important, it’s taught me that while I’m busy taking it all in, it doesn’t hurt to give a little something back.

Why Athletes Should Eat Local

How to best fuel your body based on where you live

Athletes constantly think about food—not just what they eat but also where that food comes from. Although eating local—consuming products grown within 50-to-100 miles of where they’re purchased—has long enjoyed popularity, eating native foods, or those indigenous to the area before transporting seeds and crops was possible, has only recently gained more traction. Doing so nearly guarantees that you get foods in their most nutrient-dense form and with higher levels of antioxidants, says Hilary McClafferty, co-director of fellowships in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona. Read on to learn how to create the perfect performance plate in every part of the country.


Southwest

The desert is full of plants and trees that function as nutrient-rich food sources, says Chad Borseth, retail manager at Arizona-based Native Seeds/Search. In cuisine across the region, you’ll find the fruit and pads (nopales) of prickly pear cactus, beans from mesquite trees, tepary beans, chia, chiles, piñon nuts, corn, and amaranth (a grain similar to quinoa).

How Athletes Benefit: Nuts, chia seeds, and complex grains are known for their superfood-like status among endurance athletes. But the rest of the Southwestern loot provides nutritional benefits as well. Tepary beans are packed with protein and iron to help athletes feel fuller longer and provide long-lasting fuel, and one serving of prickly pear provides ten grams of quick-digesting carbohydrates, McClafferty says.

The Meal: Cactus Enchiladas (Recipe from Native Seed/Search)

  • 8 cleaned prickly pear pads
  • 3 to 4 cooked cups of tepary beans (or any beans)
  • 2 cups enchilada sauce
  • 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

Boil prickly pear pads for three to five minutes. Drain. Mash beans and spread on each pad. Layer in a flat casserole dish. Cover with enchilada sauce and top with grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until beans and sauce are warm and cheese is melted.

Tasty Tip: Use red or green chiles (or both) to add spice and flavor to your Southwestern meal. Heat also means capsaicin—a proven metabolism booster—for an added benefit.


Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is known for its abundance of berries. Plus, Omega-3 filled salmon and more than 500 species of seaweed live in the Alaskan waters just off the coast. 

How Athletes Benefit: In addition to being full of Omega-3s and protein, salmon contains potassium, an electrolyte that helps prevent cramping, says Barbara Lewin, sports nutritionist and owner of Sports-nutritionist.com. Berries contain polyphenols—plant compounds that contain antioxidants—like immune-boosting vitamin C to help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness. Lewin adds that the iodine found in seaweed helps regulate thyroid and hormone production, which is critical in energy maintenance. 

The Meal: Blueberry Balsamic Glazed Salmon (From The Wholesome Dish)

  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • 5 to 6 springs fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 4 salmon filets
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a small sauce pot over medium heat, add blueberries, thyme, sugar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Boil for 15 minutes. Preheat oven broiler to high. Pat salmon filets dry with paper towels. Sprinkle both sides of fish with salt and pepper. Place fish skin side down on aluminum foil–lined baking sheet. Brush thin layer of glaze onto salmon, and place fish under broiler for three minutes. Brush additional layer of glaze and repeat. Serve on a bed of seaweed. 

Tasty Tip: Spread lingonberry jam on your favorite bakery-bought bread. “They contain some of the highest amounts of quercetin, which studies show may reduce your risk of lowered immunity after intense exercise,” Lewin says.


Midwest

Thanks to a farm-friendly climate and proximity to the Great Lakes, options abound in this region. Pile your plate high with wild rice, trout, morel mushrooms, tart cherries, leeks, black hickory nuts, and plenty of fresh berries like blueberries, wild strawberries, or low-bush cranberries pre- and post-workout.

How Athletes Benefit: The hickory nut, similar to a pecan, is filled with healthy fats that promote satiety, Lewin says. The fish oil found in trout helps reduce inflammation, muscle soreness, and joint stiffness after a tough workout. It’s also rich in vitamin D (great for athletes who live in an area where the sun doesn’t always shine) and Omega-3 fats. Wild rice has double the amount of protein found in brown rice, making it an excellent choice for athletes looking to build lean muscle mass, Lewin says. Don’t forget to add the leeks, since they contain prebiotics that aid in digestion and are jam-packed with antioxidants.

The Meal: Trout Baked in Foil (From New York Times Cooking)

  • 4 small rainbow trout
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut aluminum foil into four squares, each three inches longer than your fish. Oil the dull side of each foil square and place trout, skin side down, on each. Season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, combine tomatoes, garlic, one teaspoon olive oil, and salt and pepper. Spoon over trout filets and place one or two sprigs of thyme on each. Fold up foil loosely and crimp edges together to make a packet. Place on baking sheet and bake for ten to 15 minutes.

On the side, serve wild rice, leeks, morel mushrooms, and a mixed salad of assorted berries, black hickory nuts, and greens.

Tasty Tip: Lewin recommends a tart cherry juice spritzer—equal parts cherry juice and club soda—to aid recovery. It’s refreshing and can help reduce muscle damage, pain, and inflammation.


New England/East Coast

Easy access to water makes oysters, crab, and cod affordable and accessible here. Fiddlehead ferns, ramps (wild onion), and low-bush blueberries grow native in New England as well. Although potatoes didn't originate here, they’re well matched to the stonier, rougher soil of the East Coast, says Larry Pltecher, owner of Vegetable Ranch, a certified organic farm in Warner, New Hampshire, so you’ll find plenty of nutrient-rich spuds in this part of the country.

How Athletes Benefit: Cod is a source of lean protein and selenium, a trace mineral that supports the immune system and cognitive function. Add a baked potato to your dish to replenish potassium lost through sweat and provide quick energy to speed recovery after a tough workout.

The Meal: Baked Lemon Cod (From What’s Gaby Cooking)

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
  • 4 cod filets
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 teaspoons zested lemon peel

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a shallow bowl, mix lemon juice and butter. In a separate shallow bowl, mix flour and seasonings. Dip filets in lemon juice mixture and then in flour to coat both sides. Place the prepped fish in a 13×9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Drizzle with remaining lemon juice mixture. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until fish just begins to flake easily. Broil for last 60 seconds. Garnish with parsley and lemon zest.

Serve with baked potato and stir-fried ramps and greens.

Tasty Tip: For a sweet snack, grab a handful of low-bush blueberries, which are rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin. “It helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body,” Lewin says.


South/Southeast

It’s not all deep-fried and Cajun-inspired food down South. This region has its share of fruits, vegetables, and seafood. In the Southeast, you’ll find Seminole pumpkin, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, grits, and cabbage palmetto. In the South, you’ll find wild plum, elderberry, crawfish, and pecans.

How Athletes Benefit: Lewin loves using Seminole pumpkin with her athletes. It’s a good source of beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body and can help strengthen athletes’ immune systems.

The Meal: Seminole Pumpkin Soup (Recipe courtesy of Chef Don Splain, executive chef at Food and Thought in Naples, Florida)

  • 1 5-pound Seminole pumpkin
  • 6 ounces dried boletus mushrooms
  • 8 ounces hearts of palm
  • 6 wild onions
  • 4 wild leeks or wild garlic
  • 3 to 4 cups water, plus 1/4 cup
  • Pinch of salt

Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds with a spoon. Prepare seeds for roasting by removing the pulp and spreading seeds on a sheet tray to roast later. Place the squash, cut side down, into the roasting pan. Roast at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Add tray with seeds to the oven and roast with pumpkin for another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, simmer one cup of water. In a bowl, pour water over the mushrooms, letting them soak. Slice the wild leeks and wild garlic crossways. Place them, along with 1/4 cup water, into soup pot. Heat until aroma and flavor is released, then turn off heat.

Remove mushrooms from the water, saving water for mushroom broth. Remove the pumpkin and seeds from the oven while chopping hearts of palm. Scoop the pumpkin into soup pot and add 3 to 4 cups water. Add mushrooms and mushroom broth and cook on medium-high while stirring and chopping pumpkin to reach desired consistency. Add salt to taste and hearts of palm. Garnish with pumpkin seeds.

Tasty Tip: Sunflower seeds may be tiny, but they’re rich in vitamin E, protein, and other vitamins and minerals. Lewin suggests eating them raw or roasted as a stand-alone snack or adding them to salad dishes.

Into the Heart of Patagonia’s Secret Archives

Our writer visited the 10,000-square-foot facility in Ventura, California, home to thousands of products-cum-talismans, and came away with more than just an appreciation for the brand’s gear heritage

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On the morning after the 2016 presidential election, I skirted the Hells Angels’ former Ventura, California, headquarters, and tapped on a barred door attached to a graffiti-tagged cinderblock warehouse. The 10,000-square-foot facility—a former food canning operation, whose address I am not to reveal—houses the Patagonia Archives, a project recently launched by the clothing company to chronicle its storied past. No signage betrayed the identity of the building’s occupant, or hinted at the work that was taking place within, because the Archives are not open to the public.

Photos from the Archives

Some of the treasures Brad found inside

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Longtime Patagonia employee Val Franco tipped me off about the Archives. She was hired in 1973 by the founders, Yvon Chouinard, and his wife, Malinda, to run the company’s first sewing operation—the same home-grown shop that launched the Patagonia brand in 1976. She is one of five archivists whose collective tenure exceeds 100 years. Of the five, Franco, 64, and Terri Laine, 61, are the Archives’ only full-time employees. Their mission is to curate and protect anything ever sewn, snapped, hammered, stamped, or scrawled within or about Patagonia and Chouinard Equipment, from the present back to 1957, the year Chouinard paid cash for an Alcoa drop forging die, and began manufacturing pitons in his parents’ Burbank backyard. “It will never be done,” Franco said of the Archives, “but you want to give it your best effort to get it undiluted. Because when I die, and when we’re all gone, you’re gonna get a second-hand story. We have an amazing opportunity to get it firsthand right now.”

The company has not publicized the project, although the archivists have been quietly inviting friends and family to bring their Chouinard and Patagonia-branded products “home,” where they will be catalogued, exhibited, and stored. (I’d hear that expression frequently during my visit.) Although Franco and Laine will not pay for these items—they say they have no budget for such things—they would rather see these products housed in Ventura than, say, moulder, forgotten, in a dank garage, donated to Goodwill, or sold on eBay, where a Chouinard-Frost Piolet can fetch in excess of $500. The archivists—in addition to Franco and Laine there are Karen Frishman, 59, Cheryl Endo, 50, and Rafael Dunn, 40—do not begrudge their friends and former patrons their eBay lucre. But anyone who totes their trove home, they say, will be photographed and their stories will be recorded. The way Franco and Laine explained it (and the evidence of this was plain) is that the satisfaction of gifting a well-used rack of Chouinard Lost Arrow pitons, for example, and sharing their histories, far exceeds their resale value. Franco deems storytelling so critical to Patagonia’s institutional memory that she is videoing donors—members of the dirtbag tribe—as they share their reminiscences of the company’s early years. The sooner these interviews are captured, Franco told me, the better, because the problem, as she sees it, is that Patagonia’s oldest friends, and those of Chouinard Equipment before it, are dying. Most of Mr. Chouinard’s former climbing cronies are in their late 70s or early 80s. The climbing legend, Fred Beckey, who recently visited the Archives, is 94. Another recent guest, past president of the American Alpine Club, Jim McCarthy, is 83. Chouinard is 78. “We want to get them before they're no longer with us,” says Franco.  


But for the famously media shy Malinda Pennoyer Chouinard, Patagonia’s eldest and best record keeper, there would be no Archives. (She did not agree to an interview for this story.) “She’s the one who’s always kept one eye on our history,” Yvon explained in a prepared quote, his only response to my request to interview him. Climber and writer Doug Robinson, who has known the Chouinards since 1969, remembers Malinda as the organization’s social catalyst. “Before there was a Patagonia, Malinda knew there was something brewing by the scruffy goings on in the Tin Shed and beyond,” he said, recalling how she began stuffing scrapbooks with photos and clippings nearly 50 years ago.

If Malinda was the curator of the company’s heritage, then Cheryl Endo wanted an archive of a different sort to address a persistent problem: Patagonia’s next-gen clothing designers were reinventing features that had been invented decades before. “So a lot of times we’d be talking about something and I’d be standing there going, oh yeah, we did that in 1993. You should look at this pocket. They’re like, ‘What!?’” 

(Terri Laine)

As early as 2007, Endo was reading about Levi Strauss’s clothing archive, and in 2014 she pitched the concept to her bosses. They bit. They recruited Rafael Dunn, the digital content manager, Franco, who had been assembling a Patagonia oral history, and Laine for her design savvy. “We’re tinkerers. We had no budget, no facilities, and not really any resources,” says Dunn, “so we were trying to make do with what we had.”

They toured corporate archives at Nike and Eddie Bauer, among others. They took the advice of Rick Shannon, director of the Department of Nike Archives, or DNA, who advised them to begin by collecting as much inventory possible. They placed bins around campus and asked people to donate the detritus occupying desk space, crawl space, or wherever. Endo recalled how Vincent Stanley, the company’s director of philosophy, whose tenure dates back to the early ‘70s, fished an old garment out of the trunk of his car and presented it to her. “He throws this jacket at me,” she remembered. “It’s like this old, broken down fleece.  Turns out that this was the fabric that Malinda found at the California Merchandise Mart that was originally marketed as toilet seat covers. It was one of the original pieces that started the company.”

Donations straggled in from outside the company, too. Ric Hatch, who was a sales rep and later became the company’s director of North American sales, gifted a box of samples dating back to ‘79, as did the ‘70s climbing ace and former sales manager, Henry Barber. “It’s still sort of by organic word of mouth,” Franco says. “What’s happening is that people are depositing their garage storage with us. And we’ll take it.”

Of Yvon, Franco has asked virtually nothing—not even for an interview. Hatch, who now lives in Flagstaff, traveled to Ventura to donate his motherlode. “I asked Yvon if he had been to the Archives,” Hatch told me, “and he said, ‘Nah, I don’t need to go over there, that’s the past.’  It was like he didn’t want to have anything to do with it.” Chouinard has since visited the Archives, is said to be supportive of the project, but doesn’t spend much time there.

It could be that the sight of a warehouse packed with seven decades of his company’s makings discomfits Chouinard, given his disdain for stuff in general. After all, he has publicly angsted about being part of the environmental problem himself. This, even as he was morphing a humble blacksmith shop into an enterprise that today generates the better part of $1 billion in annual revenues and employs nearly 2,000 globally.

What did I expect to find in the Archives? Stuff yes, but mainly the culture instilled by the Chouinards, the brand identity an outgrowth of their ideals, which academic historian Kerwin Klein likened to Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog. “Chouinard seemed to me to have this evangelical, self-contained vision: a homemade Sixties style of politics built from semi-libertarian, semi-progressive, and entrepreneurial values,” Klein told me by phone from the University of California at Berkeley.

I became aware of Chouinard and his companies many years ago when I began to climb, and then later when I sold his wares while working at a San Diego outdoor outfitter to support that climbing habit. Even then, the brand was elevating the word “dirtbag” to an honorific, which came to stand for a renunciate of the popular culture, a picaro who lived to climb or surf, was penniless but happy, understood through voluntary privation that less was more, and would eat cat food if need be to sustain the sporting life. (When he was young and poor Chouinard ate cat food, not to fulfill some Romantic notion, but because he was hungry.) The company’s collateral and catalog, especially, celebrated this dirtbag trope to spectacular effect and its brand of marketing shaped not only the outdoor industry but also leaked into the general culture. Chouinard, the iconoclastic warrior-athlete, a Cassandra concerning the world’s fate, but a Prometheus in his crusade to unfuck it, built Patagonia in his own image, which was precisely why I’d sojourned to Ventura. I wanted not only to peruse the Archives, but also to glimpse how the brand might have influenced my own path.


It was Terri Laine who opened the door. I slipped inside, and the pall of cinderblock gave way to a quiet and carpeted anteroom exploding with color. Opposite the doorway six or seven banners with the Fitz Roy logo arrayed in royal blue, purple, red, umber, and black: “Pataloha;” “Gettin’ Dirty Since 1973;” “Committed to the Core;” “Patagonia Kids” spelled out in mountains, surfboards, and rivers.

“Take a look around,” said Laine, a soft-spoken photographer and visual display artist who rows crew on the weekends, serves on the board of Los Padres ForestWatch, and who has worked for Patagonia for 31 years. 

The walls of the room were festooned with photographs in composite frames, most from the 1970s and ‘80s, and a few from the ‘50s, all of which painted a picture of the company’s beginnings and adolescence. One, from 1986, pictured five of Chouinard’s friends, the “Do-Boys,” clad in kayaking attire after a 3-day first descent of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River. This photo was most remarkable in that Chouinard’s close friend and sometime business mentor, the late Doug Tompkins, is pictured grinning and rubbing his hands together, almost as if chilled. (Tompkins, the founder of the North Face) died in 2015 of hypothermia while on a sea kayaking trip in Chile with Chouinard and others.) 

Signs of the company’s environmental activism lay everywhere. In the recess of a window casement was the company’s mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” A “1 percent for the Planet” pillow reposed on the sitting room couch. (Chouinard co-founded the organization.) Miniature bales of organic cotton were stacked next to a Trivial Pursuit-like board game used to educate employees about organic cotton’s benefits over the pesticide-laced variety. 

I backtracked to a cocktail round and found a spiral-bound book bearing the title, Patagonia History: A Collection of Memories from 1957 to the Present, compiled by Malinda Chouinard, Vincent Stanley, editor. Inside the volume I found a treasure: a letter from the late Yosemite climber Chuck Pratt, whom Royal Robbins, one of his cronies, once described as the best writer to come out of Yosemite’s Golden Age. In the letter, Pratt describes a 1961 road trip that had Pratt and Chouinard hitchhiking and hopping freights across several western states, and doing three weeks of jail time in Grants, New Mexico and Winslow, Arizona. “It is a tale of rat-fucking such as you never heard before,” wrote Pratt as prelude. 

I followed the path of the anteroom as it doglegged right, and found a window to the main warehouse that yawned under an enormous curved roof supported by bowstring trusses: the 9,000-square-foot great belly of the Archives.


"When people ask me what I do I tell them I’m a seamstress and that my materials are people,” Franco said, as she and Laine walked me into the Archives. “So I’m a connector of people and things. I know I won’t be able to finish anything I’m doing right now because I’ll be retired, but hopefully we’ll have enough in place that the next generation can take it up and keep it alive.”

(Terri Laine )

It was back in ‘73 when she strode into the Great Pacific Iron Works to see a Mr. Chouinard about a possible job, the bundle of keys that hung from from her leather belt jingle jangling. Franco, then 20, was working as a school counselor, but had been sewing for most of her life. She was a Ventura native, the youngest of nine kids, had never spent a night outdoors, never climbed a rock, never used skis, never traveled out of California, but she had one thing Chouinard did not: sewing chops. He’d been pounding out pitons for 15 years at miniscule margins, but had got it in his mind to make his own clothing, which he knew he could sell at “keystone,” or a 100 percent markup, but he needed a lead seamstress. He offered Franco $3 an hour—twice what she was making teaching school. She grabbed the gig. 

We entered the main space, with its imbrication of bays and sub-rooms stacked with tables of ephemera: catalogs, company newsletters, posters, garment sketches, hangtags, decals, a stacks upon stacks of photographs. Scattered about the rooms rolling garment racks were pregnant with all manner of clothing from ‘76 onward, especially vintage fleece. A garment rack packed with vestments of purple, teal, green, blues of the ‘80s, reminded me of stuff I either owned and have since gifted. Here was a linked chain of Chouinard D-shaped carabiners like the first ones I’d bought from a veteran San Diego climber. Garlands of Hexcentrics and Stoppers dangled from frayed Chouinard gear slings, much like the ones I purchased 28 years ago to support a climbing addiction. These objects, all of which were stamped with the diamond C, weren’t just tools—they were talismans, signifiers of how far I’d come from an overprotective Midwest upbringing. 

Back in the go-go ‘80s, those who threw themselves headlong into the climbing lifestyle were still few. My parents couldn’t fathom my motives when I jettisoned a professional gig to move to the Eastern Sierra to live the life. Patagonia’s catalogs, however, always featured a gaggle of folks making the same choices. The meta-message of those slicks? Follow your Muirian muse and eff ‘em if they can’t take a joke. At the same time, Chouinard had dissed latecomers like me and the entire generation of climbers who had come before, in “Coonyard Mouths Off,” an essay in the ‘72 edition of Ascent. “What was once a way of life that only attracted the oddball individual is now a healthy, upstanding, recreation pastime enjoyed by thousands of average Joes,” he wrote. “The climbing scene has become a fad and the common man is bringing the Art down to his own level of values and competence.” 

I glimpsed some of the company’s clinkers, too: a pair of soft shell climbing pants that had pilled so badly on a multi-day ski tour I did that the bottom came to resemble the texture of a chia pet. The Ultima Thule, its design copped from Don Jensen, which required an engineering degree and the patience of Job to pack properly. The Foamback cagoule, Chouinard’s attempt to replicate Gore Tex, and by all accounts made users feel like they were lounging in a steam shower. I also saw short-rise pants I had worn whose front pooched like a codpiece and back cleaved my bum into two asymmetrical loaves. I leafed through recent catalogs whose athletic models were so uniformly blanched, lean, and young, I wondered whether Patagonia realized that the lack of diversity contradicted its censure of monocultures. 

Franco and Laine later toured former Patagonia designer Richard Siberell through the Archives. Each time Siberell, who has also designed gear for Simms and Arc’Teryx, came upon one of his past products, he talked about the people who had inspired it. “God you guys,” he said to Laine and Franco, a touch of awe in his voice, “this is like the real deal. I had no idea you were this serious about this. I had no idea.”


After my mother died some years back, I was charged with the grim task of dealing with her household possessions. I might have hired a company to sell the stuff off, but that seemed like shortchanging a process that might allow me to parse her life, item by item, and thereby gain insight into who she was. Here, after all, was a completed archive; it had taken her seven decades to accrete the stuff, and if it wasn’t my mother, it was certainly of her. 

I became an anti-archivist, cataloging, and dismantling, and then dispersing the home’s artifacts back into the world. In this manner I made my way through every item in every closet, cupboard, vitrine, dresser, and desk drawer, which included but was not limited to photographs, memoranda, bills of lading, old Daytimers, bills, correspondences, receipts, ledgers, catalogs, artwork, newspapers, marketing collateral, blueprints, furniture, emails, and boxes upon boxes of clothing—and absolutely no gear. Combing through the house and conjuring a memory of its significance was emotionally draining work. At the end of each day, I’d decant a couple of fingers of whiskey into a tumbler and numb out.

Little by little, I dispossessed the home of its goods and shipped them off to gather new meaning elsewhere. With each leaving, my mother’s archive became hollowed out, until one day everything was gone and so was she. Her stuff, of course, wasn’t nearly as significant as the stories they contained, most of the artifacts hinting at a life that centered on knitting together family and friends. Like Patagonia’s Franco, she was a kind of seamstress who weaved relationships. Connectedness had been the culture of her home. I began to understand how her interest in the lives of others connected me to her, and influenced my chosen vocation as a storyteller.

“Culture is not something you create intentionally; I think culture is something you grow,” Vincent Stanley told me. “So the value of the Archives is that when we don’t have very many people around from the early days the Archives helps create a bridge to the founding.”


Plenty of companies have established archives or museums to capture institutional memory, and an entire industry has arisen to help staffers build them. In terms of self-celebration, some corporations have gone huge: think Hershey, Pennsylvania, the entire town a paean to the chocolate company founded there. 

I wanted to understand how a mature corporate archive operates, so I called Nike’s Rick Shannon. When he launched DNA in 2006, he had 25 years of paper records to work with, but little else. He now employs 20 full-time staff that manages 200,000 assets in a 150,000-square-foot facility. Today, the DNA headquarters itself functions like a library. Employees can view the collection online and request a portfolio of documents, along with a showing of the physical items in one of several Rig Rooms, with specific themes. The staff works up to three days to assemble a display. “They use white gloves,” said Shannon. “The trick is to not treat the objects as historical, but to place them in context that gives them relevant meaning today.”

If that’s true, then Franco and Laine, who eschew white gloves, appear to be on the right track. Miles Johnson, Patagonia’s creative director, and a frequent user of the Archives, worked at Levi’s before coming to the company. “I mean I use to paw over that stuff at the Levi’s archives because it was really, really important to get every detail exactly spot on, right?” He’s doing the same at Patagonia. “You’re not reinventing the wheel, you’re tweaking and you’re moving things around, and you’re finding ways to keep the image of the brand alive.”

If an archive is an embodied form of institutional memory, then it should be said that archives can be shaped to reinforce a kind of selective memory. And memory, of course, is malleable. 

“One thing that has impressed me about Patagonia was the desire for control,” Klein said. Klein is both a longtime climber and a specialist in the history of both alpinism and California’s mass culture. He also studies the artifacts upon which historical narratives rely, as well as the prevailing philosophical traditions informing them. He has studied the role of memory in constructing history, and in past conversations he’s told me how unreliable memory is: how we start with the end in mind and cobble together the past based on what we want to believe in the present. 

“So there’s a sense in which history is necessarily always constructionist and retrospective, right?” he told me some years back for a piece I wrote for Alpinist magazine. “And it’s informed by this sort of end that it’s driving toward, the objective, and by the sort of setting in which that objective emerges.” In other words, we construct the stories that bring us comfort, and they have little in common with reality. Ask a Patagonia stakeholder to recount their history with the company, and they’ll likely deliver a message that’s both flattering and entirely unreliable. “Oral sources tell us not just what people did, but what they wanted to do, what they believed they were doing and what they now think they did,” writes the academic historian Alessandro Portelli. 

And what about mere stuff? Stories reside in them, too. I had watched how Richard Siberell reminisced each time he came across one of his designs, each object liberating a past memory, like Proust’s famous madeleine. And might not a Lost Arrow piton be inhabited by the skill of the blacksmith who forged it, the bravery of the climber who hammered it into rock? Up in the Sierra foothills, where I live, a tattered Chouinard gear sling from the ‘8os sits on a shelf in my home. The label is frayed, the seatbelt-like webbing tattooed with grime and stained with chalk and sweat. No longer a tool, it’s become a totem.

My reasons for coming to Ventura had as much to do with the house that the Chouinards had built as the one I had created for myself. I had apparently quaffed the Kool-Aid in my youth, listened to the ironmonger-ragman-dirtbag visionary as he preached from the heights. He and his wife had reprogrammed my trajectory, damn them. And judging by the 10,000 square feet bursting with stories, I apparently hadn’t been the only one.

Have something to donate? Contact Franco and Laine at archives@patagonia.com

The Only Travel Shirt You Need

No matter where you are, there’s a use for Kamakura’s oxford button-down

When Brooks Brothers first started selling oxford shirts, it couldn’t have known that it would inspire countless imitators, all of them hoping to put their own spin on a nearly perfect design. One of them is a small Japanese brand called Kamakura, the maker of the light blue oxford shirt I sometimes wear for days on end while traveling.

(Courtesy of Kamakura)

Kamakura took everything that made the oxford shirt iconic and improved on it. Instead of the traditional stiff, heavy fabric, Kamakura uses a smoother, finer two-ply cotton. While oxford shirts are usually synonymous with a wide cut and a tall collar, the Kamakura’s slim silhouette and high armholes enable an especially wide range of motion while delivering a superior fit, with none of the irritating nylon stitching found in cheaper shirts. It’s thin enough to stay breathable and soft enough to rest cozily against my skin, which makes it wearable in most climates. On airplanes, I’m fussier than the toddler sitting behind me, but I never find myself sweating or shivering or writhing uncomfortably in my seat while I have it on.

Not long ago, an airline misplaced my bag, leaving me with only the clothes in my carry-on. I wore my Kamakura oxford for the next three days out of necessity, but I soon realized that it looked just as good tucked as untucked, with jeans or trousers, under a sweater, and, of course, with a jacket and tie. The elbows don’t tear and the buttons don’t crack, so the Kamakura is durable and versatile enough that I now pack it on every trip.

A Brief History of the Sub-4-Minute Mile

Another high schooler just went under four, which inspired us to trace the milestone’s roots, starting with Roger Bannister

In early June, Reed Brown, a Texas high school senior, became the tenth U.S. high schooler in history to run the mile in under four minutes. In so doing, he joined a once-exclusive club whose membership has doubled in the last three years.

Once upon a time, the four-minute mile seemed as elusive as the two-hour marathon barrier is now—particularly for a teenager. When Lukas Verzbicas accomplished the feat in 2011, he was only the fifth high school athlete to go sub-four since Jim Ryun first did it in 1965. Now, including Brown, five high schoolers have done it since 2015. (This is all the more astounding when you consider that not a single high schooler managed to break four from 1967 to 2001.) 
 
And it’s not just the kids who seem to be running faster these days. According to a Track & Field News list, 487 Americans had run a sub-four-minute mile as of June 3, 2017, and 2016 was the year with the most new additions to the list (27), followed by 2015 (24), 2013 (23), and 2012 (also 23). At this point, it’s almost more surprising to hear about prominent male American distance runners who haven’t gone sub-four. (Not that we’d ever needlessly expose such accomplished athletes as Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, or Dathan Ritzenhein, but…)
 
In honor of this recent glut of middle-distance speedsters, here’s a brief chronology of notable dates and accomplishments in the history of the sub-four-minute mile.


May 6, 1954: Paced by his friends Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, 25-year-old medical student Roger Bannister runs 3:59.4 on the Iffley Road Track in Oxford, England, becoming the first human to run a sub four-minute mile. (The track has since been renamed the Roger Bannister Running Track.)
 
June 21, 1954: Less than six weeks after Bannister’s historic feat, Australian John Landy runs 3:58 at a track meet in Finland, throwing down the gauntlet.
 
August 7, 1954: The Empire Games in Vancouver, Canada, pits the two titans against one another in an event billed the “Miracle Mile.” Bannister outkicks Landry to win the first race where two men run under four minutes. Unfortunately for Landry, the moment when Bannister passed him on the final turn is immortalized in a bronze statue.
 
June 1, 1957: Don Bowden becomes the first American to go sub-four, running 3:58.7 in Stockton, California.
 
June 5, 1964: Jim Ryun, a 17-year-old junior at Wichita East High School in Kansas, becomes the first high schooler to break the four-minute barrier. He would do it five more times before graduating, and still holds the second-fastest time ever run by a high school athlete (3:55.3). Ryun, who went on to win an Olympic silver medal in the 1,500 meters (Mexico City, ’68) is also the only American to hold the world record in the mile during the sub-four era.
 
August 12, 1975: Twenty-one years after Bannister’s transcendent run, John Walker of New Zealand becomes the first man to break 3:50, going 3:49.4 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Apparently, it took some time for the feat to sink in. In an interview, Walker recalls:  “It wasn’t until I got back to the hotel room and settled down with a couple of beers that the phone started ringing from all over the world—then I realized what I’d done.”
 
July 17, 1979: Future IAAF president Sebastian Coe sets a new mile world record (3:48.95) and initiates what would become a decade of British dominance in the mile. Coe later lost and regained (and then lost and regained again) his record to arch-rival Steve Ovett. Between the two of them, Ovett and Coe went on to win six Olympic medals at the ‘80 and ‘84 Olympic Games, in the 800 and 1,500 meters.
 
July 7, 1999:
At the Golden Gala track meet in Rome, Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj (3:43.13) narrowly edges out Noah Ngeny (3:43.40) of Kenya, when the two men run what remain the first and second fastest mile times ever recorded. A year later, Ngeny returned the favor by pulling off a huge upset and passing El Guerrouj in the final meters of the 1,500-meter Olympic final. Consolation for El Guerrouj: two golds (1,500 meters, 5,000 meters) at the 2004 Olympics. Also, seven of the top-ten fastest mile times ever run.
 
May 25, 2001: At the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, Alan Webb, a senior South Lakes High School in Virginia, runs 3:53.43 to break Jim Ryun’s 36-year-old record. As a professional, in 2007, Webb went on to set the current U.S. mile record: 3:46.91.
 
May 27, 2017: At the Prefontaine Classic, 16-year-old Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen (3:58.07) becomes the youngest person ever to run a sub four-minute mile. Remarkably, he had two older brothers competing at the same meet, both of whom also ran sub-four. 

Why It’s Nearly Impossible to Quit Racing

For the sub-elite running class, it can be hard to decide when those five a.m. 15-milers are no longer worth it

For the past several years, New York–based runner Greg Cass has wanted to run a marathon in under 2 hours and 30 minutes. That would be outside the feasible range of most recreational runners, but with a current personal best of 2:30:44, Cass has already come tantalizingly close. He’s still in his early thirties—the prime age for most marathoners—so it’s probably only a matter of time before he gets there.

Then comes the difficult part.

“A big question that always comes my way is: How did you get started into running?” Cass, who didn’t pick up the sport until after college, told me when I interviewed him last year for an article on competitive amateur marathoners.

“But the more I’ve thought about that, the question that I think is bigger for me is: How do I get out of running? Not because I want to, but because, ultimately, if I run a 2:29, will I be satisfied with that? Or will I say, ‘That’s a good time. Should I run a 2:28?’ This journey is as long as you want it to be.”

Where does the journey end? To some extent, it’s a question all runners who care about their finishing time have to ask themselves—from the aspiring Boston qualifier to Meb Keflezighi. But there’s an argument to be made that the issue poses a particular dilemma for the likes of Greg Cass and those “sub-elites” who occupy the no-man’s-land between earning a spot in the first corral at Boston and qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials. These are the people who have no plausible shot at a professional career and yet compete at a standard that requires enormous discipline and sacrifice to maintain. If you’re a pro or collegiate runner, that sacrifice is easier to justify—there’s the external pressure of keeping a sponsor or a scholarship. The sub-elite athlete, on the other hand, has to decide for him- or herself when the five a.m. 15-mile threshold runs and ascetic living are no longer worth it. However, once you’ve reached that level of commitment, chances are good that it will have become an essential part of your identity (see: the social media profile of pretty much any sub-elite runner), which makes it harder to voluntarily give up.

Your identity is also conditioned by the company you keep. For Blue Benadum, a 2:23 marathoner who, at age 37, knows he’s nearing the end of his career as a competitive amateur, bidding adieu to serious training would also impact his social life, such as it is.

“All of the people in my life right now—all of my buddies­—are the guys that I go running with at six in the morning. The problem is that you start to create this dynamic with your friends where there’s this whole expectation of: ‘What race are you going to do next?’” says Benadum, who ran the Chicago Marathon last fall (his 59th marathon) in 2:27:05.

Benadum was a dedicated surfer for ten years before he took up running at age 26, and it’s a sport that he thinks he can eventually have a more casual relationship with. Not that he wasn’t competitive with his fellow surfers, but the nature of the competition was less rigidly quantifiable—it was just about who could ride the biggest wave. In distance running, there’s always the subtle tyranny of the clock; your athletic self-worth is measured in minutes and seconds. (Benadum’s Twitter profile: “59 marathons run (from 3:14 to 2:23).”)

To non-runners, the way certain devotees fuss about their personal bests can seem borderline pathological. After Peter Bromka, a sub-elite-caliber runner based in Portland, Oregon, first ran under 2:30 at last year’s Boston Marathon, he documented the occasion with an essay titled “9,000 Seconds.” Reading it, one gets a sense of the degree to which Bromka was emotionally invested in his arbitrary (and definitely nonremunerative) goal: “Since last fall when I turned my attention to Boston I’ve run for over 200 hours…And I’ve asked so much from my wife and my baby boy. Those hours were spent selfishly investing in my goal, for this day…tears running down my face.”

While achieving a new personal best can provide a sense of validation for an ostensibly thankless pursuit, it’s also unlikely to make it any easier to walk away from serious racing. If anything, the opposite is true. Earlier this year, Bromka returned to Boston to improve his marathon PB by nearly a minute. He wrote another essay, called “Prove It.”

Of course, hanging up the racing flats isn’t any easier for top amateur runners who are forced to “retire” because of injury. After running track at Ohio University in the early 1990s, Tina Husted had a stellar second career as a nationally competitive marathoner two decades later. In 2014, at age 42, she came within two minutes of qualifying for the Olympic Trials with a personal best of 2:46:56 in the Philadelphia Marathon—her third sub-2:48 effort of the year. Not long after that, however, Husted suffered a disc herniation in her back. She hasn’t been able to do any hard training for more than a year, and it’s looking more and more like her days as a competitive marathoner might be over. Letting go has not been an easy process.

“I don’t think anyone understands what it feels like to have been really good—one of the top runners in the state and [as a masters runner] in the nation—to go from that to not doing it anymore. It probably took me eight months [to come to terms with it]. I kept hoping that I was going to be able to work through it,” Husted says.

Even though she’s well aware that every athletic career has an expiration date, Husted regrets having to quit when she did. She still runs regularly, and the ease with which she’s able to click off eight-minute miles makes her somewhat wistful about her latent potential. “It’s frustrating because I know, cardio-wise, I could do it!”

All the same, Husted is grateful for having had the chance to experience an athletic renaissance at an age when most pro runners have already retired.

“To me, it was just a gift,” she says. “Even now, just thinking about it makes me feel very nostalgic—a little sad, a little happy—all those emotions that go along with something that just was a huge part of your life.”

Anyone who thinks that sounds like a somewhat melodramatic assessment should speak with Blue Benadum. Rather than one big debilitating injury, Benadum’s main challenge of late has been finding the desire to dedicate hundreds of hours toward a chance at incremental improvement. The realization that he doesn’t have the fire he once did has been spiritually taxing, to say the least.

“When you’re looking back, and you know what it feels like to put it on the line every year, day in and day out, year after year, when you know what that commitment is like, and you’re that person that does that, to not have it is such a weird thing,” Benadum says.

So when is it time to pull the plug on competitive racing?

“I don’t even know what the right answer is. I just know that it scares the shit out of me. It’s a tough question for me.”

5 Food Label Myths, Debunked

Thanks to a shrewd food marketing industry and slick packaging schemes, we’re overpaying for products that make major health claims with little real nutritional payoff

In May, the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) released survey data that revealed a harsh revelation about us typical grocery shoppers: We’re pretty much clueless. Whether it’s about what’s healthy, what’s safe, or what’s better for the planet, our decisions are largely guided by complicated nutrition advice and a savvy food marketing industry rather than recommendations grounded in science. All this confusion means we’re spending way too much money on things we think are good for us but in reality offer negligible benefits.

We looked at the results of the IFIC survey to see which nutrition labels are influencing our perceptions—and to offer advice for not falling prey to them.


LOW-FAT

The Perception: Something that’s lower fat has fewer calories, so you can eat your favorite foods—like yogurt or cheese—with less risk of weight gain.

The Reality: Low-fat doesn’t necessarily mean fewer calories. In fact, you’ll likely end up eating more than you would with the full-fat alternative simply because you think you’re making the smarter choice and because fat leaves you feeling fuller longer, so it takes less of it to satisfy your hunger. Any calories that you are in fact saving are likely just added back in as sugar, which helps to salvage the taste and mouthfeel of whatever’s left once you remove the fat.

The Verdict: If you’re about to buy something because it’s labeled as low-fat, read the nutrition facts and ingredient list to determine what’s making it palatable.

ALL-NATURAL

The Perception: Foods with this label are better for you and the environment. It’s basically like eating organic without the hefty price tag.

The Reality: All-natural labels try to capture the crowd who aren’t quite willing to make the jump to pay for organic but still want to feel like they’re putting something good into their bodies. But all-natural is not the same as organic. The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate organic foods and have strict guidelines on what qualifies as such. All-natural foods, however, remain unregulated, so there’s no guarantee that the product actually has fewer modified ingredients or cleaner production practices than a conventional option.

The Verdict: Either buy organic—preferably locally sourced—or save your money and buy foods made with healthy, whole ingredients and without any fancy labeling.

VITAMIN-FORTIFIED

The Perception: Vitamin-fortified foods are healthy because they provide essential vitamins without the need for a supplement.

The Reality: Many brands add vitamins to foods that are inherently unhealthy—cookies, candies, chips, and other snacks foods—and call them nutritious. This vitamin craze has affected purchasing behavior: A study of more than 5,000 grocery shoppers showed that when presented with two snack options—one healthier, whole-food-based option and one vitamin-fortified option—consumers were more likely to buy the latter, without scrutinizing the ingredient list. This is a problem because those added vitamins don’t make up for the empty calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats acting as their vessel.

The Verdict: Get your vitamins in foods that should have them, like fruits and vegetables.

GMOs

The Perception: They’re not good for you. So you shop at natural-food stores and always buy the foods labeled as “non-GMO” at regular supermarkets.

The Reality: The GMO battle rages on, with farmers, industry giants, and agricultural biotech firms all making their case either for or against GMOs. But the science remains murky: There’s no definitive take on what GMOs are actually doing to the body and the environment. Some people argue that foods that are genetically modified in any way often last longer, have higher levels of antioxidants or vitamins, and might even taste a bit better. Research shows that consumers who don’t know much about the GMO debate will actually pay an upcharge for products that boast these qualities. It’s only when they’re introduced to the controversy—typically through some sort of marketing or PR campaign—that they balk at buying foods with modified ingredients.

The Verdict: We’re all still pretty confused. Try to pay less attention to any sweeping generalizations in either camp. Instead, focus on looking at a food holistically for its health benefits rather than fixating on one item from the label.

ORGANIC

The Perception: Organic foods are healthier, safer, and better for the environment.

The Reality: The USDA gives its stamp of organic approval to products that “rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.” For produce, that means the soil has to be pesticide-free for three years; meats must be antibiotic- and hormone-free and raised in conditions that emulate their natural environments; and 70 percent of the ingredients in processed, packaged goods must adhere to these parameters. Organic foods enjoy tremendous popularity among the health-conscious crowd with more disposable income to spend on their food. The most recent USDA data values the industry at $5.5 billion, with sales up 72 percent since 2008. Consumers believe that just being labeled as organic implies a slew of health and environmental benefits—most of which can’t actually be guaranteed. Even when the first national standards for the organic label were issued by then Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, he made it clear that “the organic label is a marketing tool, not a statement about food safety or a value judgment about nutrition or quality.” The label remains marred in conflict over how it may alienate smaller farmers who practice many organic methods but can’t afford to keep up with industrial agriculture, how it does or doesn’t adapt to new farming approaches like hydroponic growth, and how it suggests these foods are healthier and safer than conventional alternatives without definitive evidence to support such claims.

The Verdict: This isn’t to say that there’s no value in buying organic. But you shouldn’t make it your go-to based on assumptions that it’s unequivocally better for you, safer, and more eco-friendly. If you want to go organic, stick with local farmer’s markets and community gardens to support your local economy and small-scale farmers and to cut down on transportation pollution.