Stinkfest…or, A Good Rant

Typically, when I run with RB after work I bring my running clothes into the office. They sit tight in the bottom of my filing cabinet, waiting to be called into action. It’s a nice routine. Today, I’ve had to alter the routine for the sake of the rest of the office.

There’s no nice way to say this…my shoes REEK. Just a natural consequence of rain and mud and muck, I know, and although I tried to alleviate the effects by drying them as quickly as possible with newspaper, this smell is one for the record books. I could not in good conscience submit my co-workers to that odor for an entire work day, so a pair of flip flops will transport me from the office to the parking lot and my waiting, banished shoes. I shudder to think of what that smell is capable of in the confines of my locked car. (I’m thinking the Seinfeld episode where the BO from the valet transfers from him to the car to Elaine and Jerry and can’t be stopped…yikes!)

There’s an article in the April edition of Runner’s World with a similarly foul odor. I hope you’ll forgive the corny metaphor. One of the great things about a blog is that it gives me the forum to voice my opinion, so I’m going to take advantage of this privilege now. The article has really upset me…it ranks right up there with my smelly shoes.

I’m speaking of “Forgive & Forget,” an article featuring Coach Bob Timmons that claims to tell “his story.” You can read this article on the RW website here. I cannot recall ever reading an article so negative and mean-spirited in RW before, and if this is the way the magazine is going it is certainly not a direction I will be following.

This article was first brought to my attention by a close family friend of the Timmons’. She had only read an exerpt of the article and was shocked by its contents. She requested that I read the entire article from a runner’s/writer’s perspective, and I was happy to do so.

I should probably mention for those who don’t know the history—Bob Timmons is an honored track & field coach from Kansas. He’s most well-known for coaching Jim Ryun to become the first high schooler to break 4:00 in the mile. He went on to coach at the University of Kansas for many, many years and built a cross country course (Rim Rock) on his own land.  He later donated the course to KU, and Rim Rock hosts a number of invitationals as well as the 5A & 6A state championships each year. In 1998, it was also home to the NCAA I & II national meets. As a high schooler, getting to run at Rim Rock was a dream come true. Can you imagine—a place built for running? Here, I saw a cross country meet taking place in Cleveland Park. The athletes were running on sidewalks. Sidewalks! That’s not cross country! (Trophy Wife, I know, will agree with me.) In his retirement, he also volunteered to coach the junior high girls’ track team at a small town. That small town happened to be my hometown, and Coach Timmons coached my 7th and 8th grade track seasons. I have an enormous amount of respect for him, which partly explains my outrage concerning “Forgive & Forget.”

 I say partly, because I believe that any reasonable reader and runner would have a hard time stomaching it. I wrote a summary of my objections to it, but it is extraordinarily long. Then, I felt like I was contributing to the problem by rehashing all the bad things that were said. If you’re interested in reading a detailed account of my objections, you can find it here.

Here’s a summary of the summary of things that I find objectionable in the article:

  • The language choices are extremely disrespectful. Everyone deserves respect, and a great man and hero of the sport like Coach Timmons deserves more than most.
  • The article is written by someone who apparently has no knowledge of running and is more interested in fabricating drama than telling the truth.
  • The article has no discernible purpose, except to disrespect and debase a good man.
  • The author abuses the trust of his interviewees and misuses their quotes. Most thought the article was going to be a tribute to Timmons and are upset with the direction the author took. Read the comments on the RW website for more detail on this.

And as much as I’d really like to truly rant and rave and throw things until I get all of this indignation out, I think the best way to conclude this post is with some stories about the Coach Timmons I know.

  • He played a big role in showing me the importance of pace. He did his best to teach 12, 13, and 14-year-old girls that an evenly paced, smart race would make running faster, easier. He made charts for each girl showing their split for each 200m of a race. I can’t imagine the patience or the time commitment involved for this…others would have declared it wasted effort, but nothing is a wasted effort to him if it will help someone else.
  • Each season, he had tryouts for every single event. What I mean is…everyone tried out for every single event. His rationale was that at we were too young to be pigeonholed in an event, and by giving us a chance at everything we (and he) could make informed decisions about what our best events were. As an obvious distance runner (no speed, jumping ability, or throwing prowess here!) I dreaded these first few weeks, but it’s an incredible philosophy that speaks volumes of his character. He’s here to help athletes discover their potential.
  • The only part of the “tryouts” I enjoyed was when the whole team ran a mile. Granted…98% of the team hated this trial with a passion. My 8th grade year, some oh-so-smarties decided to pull one over on Coach Timmons. To a person, they would jog the mile together. How would he possibly know that they weren’t trying? Oh, the ignorance of youth. The man had how many years of coaching behind him? He saw that one coming a mile away.
  • Surrounded by junior high girls, you can imagine that he heard a lot of complaining. High on the list was choruses of “Coach, do we HAVE to?” after nearly every description of the workout. He would always say, “You don’t have to, you get to.” This statement has stuck with me, and it never fails to generate a positive attitude where there was none before.
  • My senior year, he and his wife were in the cart that led the field. The grin on his face as he watched me win league was priceless. But then, he was just as happy when I was 11th at the invitational as a freshman, or when I told him about how much simply running at Rim Rock meant to all of us. Truly, it’s not the winning that’s important to him, it’s the victories of the spirit.
  • When I signed my letter of intent to run in college, I got a letter from him saying how happy he was that I was going to continue running.

9 responses

  1. I’m a new runner and had never heard of Timmons until I read the article a few weeks ago. It was pretty obvious to me that the author had an agenda and I was surprised that RW saw the need to publish it.

    I can understand your feelings since you actually know the man and I imagine that RW will get a lot of flack on this. I am waiting for the letters in the next issue. Why would a magazine that supposedly exists to promote the sport of running print an article like this?

    All I can say is that from reading the article, he seems like my kind of coach. I never have been much of a fan of coaches that polled the team to see what kind of practice we should have….

  2. I can’t say enough good things about Coach Timmons. I’ll probably keep adding to this post, because the more I think about it the more great memories come back.

    I’m not sure what RW was thinking, either. I have no idea what purpose they thought the article would serve.

  3. This whole thing is strange Megs. From a somewhat outside perspective (I always knew “who” he was but I never knew what he’d achieved or any of hte details) it seems like the purpose of the article is to document his mental and physical decline. Why would anyone want to focus on an aging man’s problems, no matter who or what he was before? I don’t get it.

    Obviously, from reading all the comments on the website, you are not alone in your anger or feeling that the author missed the whole point. If he wanted to question his training methods he did a poor job of doing so. He rarely focused on it at all, instead he used these sensationalized stories of workouts that I don’t think he even understood. I think you’re right that the author isn’t a runner and doesn’t understand running.

    I’m baffled as you are, as to why RW would publish this story. If the focus was supposed to be his training techniques the author did a poor job of focusing on that, if it was supposed to be his personal relationship with those that he coached the author did a poor job focusing on that. If the focus was supposed to be on how an accident and stroke have affected an 84 year old man…he didn’t even do a good job with that. I was disgusted by it on an entirely different level. For me, I have no personal memories or experiences with him, so it was disgusting to me on the level that a human being has just been degraded for all the world to see…for a health problem he can’t control.

    Don’t even get me started on the guy who provided all these wonderful stories and quotes. Everything he said and the comments on the website paint him as a petty self centered man.

    As for agreeing about sidewalk running…I do. And I agree that Rim Rock is a runner’s dream that I didn’t even fully understand when I was there. I had no idea he’d given it to KU, but it made so much sense that it made me smile when I read it.

    I think not only the letter to the Editor, but I think you should write your own story…from your own perspective. That’s something I would like to read and something I think you should send into RW as well. But that’s just my opinion! 🙂

  4. I feel sorry for Mr. Sharp. He said some very unkind things, but from what I’ve read he’s been through some tough times and is still suffering the consequences. It’s sad to see that, and to see what bitterness can do to a person.

    Coach Timmons will be defended, because he’s affected a good many people in a positive way. I take heart in that, and in the hard copy letter that is on its way to RW right now…and in the email addressed to Rodale Publishing’s Chairperson. I thought they should know how their mission of “inspiring and enabling people to improve themselves and their world” is being fulfilled. Gotta love the right to free speech.

    Matty mentioned a similar idea, D, and I’m considering it. I’m not sure that I’m the best person to write it, but I’d certainly be willing.

  5. While I’m not familiar with Coach Timmons I am familiar with Runners World, or was, I gave up on them years ago. May I humbly suggest you follow my lead and stop reading that rag.

  6. We don’t have a subscription, Scott just buys it occasionally for me because he knows (1) I like running and (2) I love to read. Such days are over, and the copies I found in the house are in the recycle bin now.

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