Running logs show exaggerated mileage

EVANSTON, IL On a crisp Sunday afternoon last month, Lou Aurichio finished an out-and-back training run along a popular pathway that follows the Lake Michigan shoreline through a city park then onto the campus of Northwestern University. Measuring 5.4 miles, the route which starts and finishes at his house on Hinman Avenue, is one he runs regularly a couple times a week, year-round.

A week earlier, Aurichio agreed to have his favorite running route measured after being approached by someone from the Extra Miles Project. The research study, funded by the athletic shoe industry, is focused on the exaggerated distances that earlier smaller studies indicate many runners routinely enter into their running logs. But following that Sunday run, the 40-year-old attorney added six miles to the running log he maintains on his home computer.

"It doesn't make sense to me to suddenly switch to the 5.4 mile figure when I've been using six miles for years," he explained. "You have to battle some really stiff winds coming off the lake, so I figure that the effort is actually equivalent to six miles."

"Those are among the more common excuses I hear," said Jamie Rohrbacher, a recreational sociologist who directs the study. "Wind, hills, heat, cold. There are countless excuses, but relatively few runners who express a genuine willingness to reform the accuracy of their logs. Most of them are in denial and wish to stay that way."

Ellen Hirano ran several of her training routes with a rented measuring wheel, following a disappointing performance at last October's "Chicago Marathon", where she hit the "wall" earlier than expected at mile 19, barely finishing. "My long 20 mile runs were actually closer to 18 miles," said the Oak Park, Illinois graphic artist, who plans to run her second marathon next fall. "I've learned how important it is to measure my training distances carefully, rather than guessing the distances based on how long it takes me to run them, which is essentially what I used to do."

Asked what he hoped would be learned from the study, Rohrbacher nodded and said, "Well we know we have a problem with running log inaccuracy. We have no idea of the magnitude of the problem however. We also don't know how much of it is due to honest miscalculation versus deliberate lying and cheating. Once we gather all the data, and put it into a report, it will be up to others to decide how to address the problem."

Meeting with running leaders at the White House Thursday, President Bush said he was "deeply concerned," and denied rumors that his staff had recently shredded pages from his running log. At present, there are no legal consequences to falsifying the logs, which take many forms and are used by an estimated 70% of runners to keep track of training runs, races, and injuries. While some in Congress are advocating government oversight in the form of random audits and a schedule of fines, Bush, with Federal Running Administration Director Larry Chang, and a half-dozen running club presidents at his side, expressed his preference for an educational approach. He made clear that he would not support a solution that involved costly and intrusive regulation. All members of the group offered to make their running logs public within the next few days as a confidence restoring gesture.

Knowingly exaggerating run distances on a regular basis is a classic marker for a condition called Inferior Runner Complex, according to Chicago psychologist Kevin Rosengard. As one of only a handful of practitioners in the nation who understands the disorder, he said recently, "Let me put it this way. Crack addiction is easier to overcome. Unfortunately Inferior Runner Complex is difficult to treat, and alarmingly widespread."

At the time of his appointment last year to the Lost Miles Project, Rohrbacher, who has run since college, cried at a press conference while confessing to decades of deliberate false running log entries. "It started with half-a-mile here, a mile there," he explained. "And then, I don't know, it just like kinda snowballed to where I was fabricating entire training runs. My running log looked great, and my friends thought I was doing all this heavy mileage. But eventually I just couldn't live with the lies anymore."

Rohrbacher blames growing pressures of marriage and family for not being able to meet his weekly mileage goals during a 20 year period beginning in the late-1970s. "By 1999 the kids were grown and the wife had left. I was finally able to run more, systematize my log entries, and get them in order."

He proudly claims his running log has been accurate ever since he joined a twelve-step support group four years ago, but admits that the temptation to cook the numbers is always there. "Yeah, sometimes I think about rounding up my weekly total to the nearest five miles. But then in the end I do the right thing. I want runners to realize that when they pad their running logs, they're only hurting themselves. I don't want other's to make the painful mistakes I've made."

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