The New Running Boom

We’re witnessing the largest resurgence of interest in running since Jim Fixx published his bestselling book, The Complete Book of Running, in 1977. That was seven years before Jim dropped dead while running at age 52, proving the notion that too much health and fitness can kill you. But that’s neither here nor there.

This time around, people are training for an optimal combination of endurance and speed. In fact, we’re seeing a renewed interest in fartlek. In Swedish, fartlek means speed play. The term refers to the practice of combining continuous training (for endurance) with interval training (for speed). I was a runner in 1977, well before I turned 52, and put myself at risk of being fit enough to die. When I ran, I’d choose long, straight roads and alternate sprinting with jogging between telephone poles along the way.

The impetus for this renewed interest in fast running is the historic and remarkable confluence of two political phenomena — (1) the declining restrictions that had been imposed at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and (2) alarming ascension of Cancel Culture. With more people, programs, speech, and thought being cancelled every day, you have to be pretty damn fleet-of-foot to stay ahead of that shit.

As an introduction to fartlek training, I recommend this:

  • During your longest run of the week, run a one-minute surge every six or seven minutes. Make the surge only about 15 to 20 seconds per mile faster than your normal long-run pace. Just make sure you maintain an overall pace fast enough to enable you to out-distance someone who might not like what you’re thinking or what you might be saying to your running partner.
  • At the end of each one-minute surge, return to your relaxed rhythm. If you’re comfortable wearing a cap while you’re running, you can affix one of these mirrors to the cap to see if any Cancel-Culture Warriors (CCWs) are gaining on you. If you’re not comfortable wearing a cap, just turn to look back over your shoulder once in a while, just to be safe.
  • If your breathing becomes excessively labored, reduce your pace until you get your wind back. Then make each of your faster intervals a little less aggressive. Make sure someone follows you in a car in case you need to make a hasty getaway.
  • If you die while you’re running, you should probably give it up and consider something a little less strenuous. Cycling might be good if you can pedal fast enough to stay ahead of the CCWs.

If the new running boom hasn’t yet caught up to you, it’s only a matter of time till Cancel Culture does.

As a public service, I offer “The Cancel Culture Rag” as a modest incentive to get moving:


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. Jeff, I think the antidote to (as opposed to the opposite of) Cancel Culture is the First Amendment. I don’t think we want to get into a can-you-top-this contest about who lied about what and when. And, at least so far, I haven’t found any evidence that Dr. Suess lied through his teeth.

    I also think the Founders built malleability into the Constitution through the Amendment process. As the blurb on the podcast says, “We honor the Constitution communally by extending its rights and values to all, including the most vulnerable members of our society.” Correct. And we do that through Congressional hearings and Constitutional, Amendments. First, of course, we have to parse and prioritize “the most vulnerable members of our society” (oh, boy) and determine whether they lack equality — or equal opportunity — under (uh oh) the law.

    • Please God, stop me from arguing with Mark….oh shit. I just can’t help myself. Dr. Seuss books were not put into re-publication by those who controlled his estate because they believed that those early books did not represent what Dr. Seuss had come to believe about himself and the world. It wasn’t cancelled. It wasn’t censored. I have a published book. If I or my heirs decide not to republished or reissue my book that is their right. This was the right of those who manage the estate of Theodor Geisel.

      Let’s be careful with how we represent things like this. My cousin put a meme on FB that talked about the censorship of Dr. Seuss. Within minutes, the comments moved from “how dare they” to “our world is so messed up we will never recover. What was a reasonably isolated issue that can be debated and researched all of a sudden became a movement of how bad our world is. You know what? People believe that, and then the ramp up the rhetoric. That’s why we’re where we are right now. On BOTH damned sides.

      Deep breath. Deep breath. Deep breath.

    • Carol, what if Mark wants to be argued with? If I decide to take my works out of publication, that’s my choice. If my heirs choose to take my works out of publication because of what they believe about my intents or what they think I came to believe about myself and the world, I’m coming back from the grave. My sons know I’ll do it, too. 😉

    • Yeah, I’m sorry Mark, but I’m with Carol here. I think the phrase “Cancel Culture” is the thing that should be canceled at this point. Because it just seems to me like an oversimplified way of characterizing what are often very complex and terribly subjective concepts.

      As I see it, “canceling” is just this generation’s word for boycotting (with the extra dimension of using technology to do it at scale), and people on both sides of the fence have been doing this for decades. For the side that initiates a boycott, it always seems righteous and necessary, and for the side that doesn’t agree with a boycott, it seems self-righteous and too extreme and maybe even a threat. And ultimately, both sides are right. And wrong.

      To be clear, while I make no bones about being liberal, I don’t agree with all things that get “canceled” by folks on my side of the fence. Maybe not even most. Too often, it’s an overcorrection. But I also appreciate that in many cases, it’s an overcorrection that’s happening because there’s been NO correction for too long. If somebody has gone without water for several days, their first instinct when water is available to them will be to guzzle as much as they can immediately. Even though that’s not the healthy or even most productive thing to do.

      Likewise, there are people in this world who have been thirsty for acknowledgement and representation and some measure of justice for far too long. And now they find that there’s a growing culture that’s open to seeing them and their pain. And so yes, sometimes they and the people who see them and empathize with them will go too far. Ask for too much. It’s human nature. But is it the worst thing in the world?

      For instance, does it really matter that no new copies of “If I Ran the Zoo” will be printed if the Dr. Seuss family believes that this will send a message of support to those who may have felt marginalized by it in the past? Because the book still exists. It’s still out there and easily available. Nobody is collecting them and burning them in piles. The government has not declared it a censored or illegal book. They’re just not printing new ones.

      Last but not least, I respect your opinion and your right to it. But I don’t see any merit in coining clever terms like “Cancel Culture Warrior” as a way to diminish people who have beliefs just as strong as yours, but on the other end of the spectrum. That kind of thing doesn’t serve anybody. It just puts more distance between people and perpetuates unproductive conversations. And to be clear, I would (and have, and do) say the same to anybody who came up with a clever name for you, based on what you believe is worth fighting for.

    • Randy, I think we’ve had enough communication to establish the fact that our mutual respect is not and need not be on the table. And I’m not at all troubled by the fact that we hop around in different ways:

      “An ‘ideology’ is like a spirit taking up its abode in a body: it makes that body hop around in certain ways; and that same body would have hopped around in different ways had a different ideology happened to inhabit it.” (Kenneth Burke, Language as Symbolic Action)

      But I am curious about why all of us are so seemingly afraid to disagree. Grandpa O’Brien, who was no less a philosopher than Kenneth Burke, loved to say, “That’s what makes horse racing.” I’m troubled that we’re willing to see six Dr. Seuss books in isolation, just as we were willing to see each of the books banned before it in isolation, just as we’ll see the next books banned in isolation, even as we ignore the abridgment of our right to speak and write our minds. As a result, the pool of literature shrinks, as do our minds. And people wonder why I call this The Great Homogenization:

      If my heirs or my estate or whatever bureaucratic monolith owns the rights to my written works after I check out decides to cancel something I published when I was 46, as was Dr. Seuss when he wrote If I Ran the Zoo, it would be no less egregious than if I were told I couldn’t say or write something today. I’d rather write to challenge than write to be agreed with.

      And lest someone ignore the mounting evidence and say, “It can’t happen here,” I offer 109 minutes of calling bullshit on that:

      If I decide to cancel something, anything, just because I disagree with it — rather than simply ignoring it — people damn-well better call me a Cancel Culture Warrior. I hope you and Carol would be among the first.

    • Okay fine, Mark. To misquote Val Kilmer from the movie Tombstone: “I’ll be your huckleberry.”

      I can’t speak for others, but I am by no means afraid to disagree. My life partner and I sit on the opposite side of many issues, and it doesn’t ever stop us from having spirited discussions. Disagreement is natural and inevitable. But how we choose to manifest our lack of agreement with one another is up to us. And I won’t lie, I’m put off by the tone of your article. It’s great that you respect me, but it doesn’t seem as if you feel the same about the people you’re writing about. I’m not a fan of lumping together people one doesn’t agree with into easily target-able groups. It feels a bit dismissive of the reasons why each individual person in that group might believe what they do. I’d much rather meet each person where they are, as a face and a mind, than see them as a faceless member of a zombie-like subset.

      Likewise, I do believe it’s important to look at each act of “cancel culture” in isolation. Because aggregating them in bulk and attributing them to one group, turning that group into The Bogeyman, and then making broad statements about how that group is going to be the downfall of society feels scary to me. Historically, too many bad things have happened when people do that. I’d rather address each instance on its own merits, even if it takes more time to do so.

      To be honest, I almost dismissed the link to the NY Post opinion piece as soon as I saw the title in the URL (censorship-of-dr-seuss-books-isnt-woke-its-cowardice). Because we’re not talking about censorship here. We’re talking about a privately-owned business making a decision it’s allowed to make about what to publish, whether we agree with them or not. (And if we don’t, then we are free to cancel/boycott them.) Also, I feel “cowardice” in this case is an unnecessarily inflammatory word. Again, disagreement is fine. But disrespect and dismissiveness is something else entirely. And the piece didn’t disappoint after that. Words and phrases like “jihad” and “left-wing academics” and “craven self-censorship” and “weasels” are used to characterize the people the author “disagrees” with. And then he wraps up with this …

      “The Left does not have a philosophy — what it has is an enemies list.”

      And yet, based on what the author has just written, it seems to me that the Left doesn’t hold the monopoly on enemy lists. His is simply less specific, and fits into a series of patronizing or outright insulting phrases. (Although I suspect he could come up with some specific names if pressed to.)

      As for The Great Homogenization, I prefer to think of it as people finally, after millions of years, figuring out that we’re all more similar than we are different. We all eat, sleep, live, love, shit, and die. (Not necessarily in that order.) For me, recognizing this, and then embracing and exploring the differences that remain, creates far more opportunities than it eliminates. I’m curious about why anybody would be so afraid of that.

    • Well, we might be getting somewhere, Randy.

      I’m the first to say — and to have written on this platform several times — that every stereotype breaks down at the level of the individual. That’s why you’re correct: I don’t respect the people I’m writing about because they’ve chosen not to act as individuals. Rather, they’ve chosen to act as groups, to buy into the lethality of identity politics. And each of those ever-increasing numbers of groups, coheres around something they don’t like. The result? Zombie-like subsets. I don’t like the idea any more than you do. It’s true, nevertheless.

      We also agree that naming groups Bogeymen has had historically ugly results. But I’m not at all certain how my being an advocate for free speech for all puts me at risk of joining the historically pernicious few. And how is that the few get to influence policy that deprives others of information, literature, children’s books, and now even cartoons?

      And I’m with you all the way that we’re more similar than we are different. But wouldn’t that argue for giving people access to all forms of expression — all tones, styles, and content — and letting them make up their own minds? I got an invitation to become a member of PINT (Pissed Irish Nationalist Troublemakers) — to decry the derivation of and to cancel the term, Paddy Wagon, and to cancel slurs like Mick, Harp, Bog Hopper, Shanty Irish, Mucker, Turf Cutter, et al. — but I turned it down. I live under a Constitution that guarantees people the right to say anything they want about my heritage, just as it gives me the right to ignore them.

      Embracing our similarities makes it a little difficult to explain the phenomenon of Cancel Culture, no? I’m afraid of The Great Homogenization because it’s not encouraging us to embrace our similarities. It’s encouraging us to (attempt to) nullify, ignore, or eradicate our differences by limiting the expression of individual personality. Pandora’s already opened that box. And we’re witnessing the self-defeating results.

      “If now and then we encounter pages that explode, pages that wound and sear, that wring groans and tears and curses, know that they come from a man with his back up, a man whose only defenses left are his words and his words are always stronger than the lying, crushing weight of the world, stronger than all the racks and wheels which the cowardly invent to crush out the miracle of personality.” (Henry Miller)

    • Actually, Mark, the blurb states that the guest “proposes” that “we honor the Constitution communally by extending its rights and values to all, including the most vulnerable members of our society.”

      And in terms of “malleability,” I used to teach my students that the Constitution was a living document – that it was written to adjust to the times. (Hence it allows Amendments!) No more. Not as long as the “originalists” on the Court run the show. Now we look at contemporary issues through the glasses the Founders wore, and the words that they wrote, as if they all had crystal balls in front of them.
      • Did the Founders really believe it was OK for people to walk into a Starbucks with a revolver on their hip? Is that was the Second Amendment says and what the Founders intended?
      • And the First Amendment? Whatever happened to you can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater? Nope, now it’s OK to call an entire group of people “rapists,” to tell a crowd to “shut him up” when a protester dares come to a rally. To lie, lie, lie even if the truth sounded better. It was OK for Rush Limbaugh to basically say whatever he wanted about whatever he wanted, insult whatever group or person he wanted because of “freedom of speech.” Is that what the Founders intended? And let’s give him the Presidential Medal of Freedom while we’re at it.


    • And what about those who won’t even begin with the Constitution as a starting point? The Founders were neither omniscient nor omnipotent. That’s why they wrote the Constitution. That’s why they built in checks and balances. That’s why they created a bicameral Congress. That’s why they separated Executive from Judiciary and Legislative. All we’re doing here is headed for a game of Can You Top This?

      • Did the Founders believe it was okay for people to spend decades in elected federal offices?
      • It’s apparently okay to call entire groups of people “racists”.
      • It’s apparently okay to resort to violence, on and off campuses (except in Washington DC) in response to stuff we don’t like.
      • Is it okay for Al Sharpton to say whatever he wants to say about whomever he wants to say it because of freedom of speech?

      We can’t get to the middle until we play by the same rules.