Back In The Saddle (And Top Posts for 2017)

I took a pretty extended break from posting here, and wondered, really, if it was something I was even going to do anymore. But I miss writing for no other reason than the joy of it, I miss chronicling my ups and downs in fitness and life, and I miss sharing the many many stories you send me about qualifying for Boston.

So, I’m back.

To celebrate, here are the top posts and pages for 2017

1. The Boston Qualifier Questionnaire – no surprise here, the page collecting the hundreds of stories runners have shared of their journeys to the Boston Qualifying Time remains the number one page.

2. Data Analysis of the Boston Qualifier Questionnaire – my analysis of the data on how you get a BQ.

3. About – the perennial favorite i.e. the what the fuck is going on here page.

4. David Goggins Inspired Body weight Work Outs – a collection of body weight work outs inspired by navy seal and all around bad ass David Goggins.

5. S-Town’s John B. Mclemore: A Reading List – a collection of all the books cited by John B in the incredible podcast S-Town.

6. 2016: My Year in Books – an overview of everything I read in 2016 (2017 coming soon!)

7. Fitness Habits of Disgraced Generals – a light hearted post on the fitness regimes of Generals Paterues and McCrystal

8. Milo of Croton – A resource page on the ancient greek wrestler for whom this silly project is named.

9. How I read 52 Books a Year – A guide to reading more.

10. The BQ(Q) Sage Canaday – Pro runner and all around nice guy Sage Canaday shares his story of the first time he qualified for Boston

100 Days of Milo: Day 19 — Classical Sources of the Milo Stories

This website as you may have notices it called Milo and the Calf. That’s after the story of the legendary wrestler Milo of Croton and his allegedly strength training regime of carrying a calf on his shoulders everyday, until it became a bull.

A fairly significant number of people find this site because they’re googling about Milo. So, to fill people’s need for a central place for all the Milo stories, and to fulfill my own curiosity about the wrestlers place in classical literature, I created this page:

The classical sources of the Milo 

As with all the resources and inspiration pages, its updated sporadically, so check back every now an again to get your Milo fix.

Top Ten Stand Alone Posts and Pages

Of the over 700 posts and pages on this website, here are top ten “stand alone” pages which are neither Boston Qualifier Questionnaire responses nor book reviews. Its a funny grab bag of stuff. Check ’em out below:

  1. Fitness Habits of Disgraced Generals
    A silly little piece chronicling the fitness habits of Generals McCrystal and Petraeus.

  2. The Egoist on the Fixed Gear
    Some thoughts on the bad behavior of some New York City cyclists.

  3. Divine Madness
    A resource page on the cult/new relgious community/running group also know as “the Community”.

  4. Running Heroes – The Six Women of the 1972 New York Marathon
    A short piece on the running activists who protested the 1972 marathon

  5. Milo and the Calf
    The story of Milo of Croton after whom this website is named.

  6. The Hero Brought Low: Representations of Milo in Art
    s the title says, a short piece on the way Milo of Croton has been represented in art.

  7. Phil Coppess – Hero to Working Stiff Runners
    An appreciation of the incredible amateur runner whose twenty year old course record at the Twin City Marathons still stands.

  8. 12 Thoughts on the New York Marathon Course
    An overview of the New York City Marathon Course

  9. Weight and the Marathoner
    On the role body weight plays in marathon performance

  10. Alex Honnold and the Viewers Guilt
    My thought on climber Alex Honnold and watching free soloing.

Milo: Brains versus Brawn

Classic’s professor Tom Stevenson has written a fascinating piece* parsing the ancient sources for a true record of how many Olympic wins Milo had – was it six… or seven? The whole article is worth a read, if ancient history is your thing, but this part from the introduction really stuck with me:

[Milo] became a famous symbol of brute strength, viz. a symbol of ‘brawn’ rather than ‘brains’. In this guise he appeared regularly in stories about the limits of physical strength, especially in comparison to athletic achievement. Writer like to dwell upon his human frailty in spite of his athletic prowess, and on his unflattering death.

As I read more of the ancient sources on Milo, this is becoming more clear to me.

As Cicero said:

What cry can be more contemptible than that of Milo of Croton? When he had grown old, he saw some athletes training on the track, looked at his own arms, wept and said these indeed are now dead.’ Not so, you idiot. It is you who are dead, for your nobility came not from yourself but from your trunk and arms. (Sen. 9:27)

When I wrote my post on representations of Milo in art, I think I was guessing at part of this – that Milo was in part a cautionary tale about hubris —  but I didn’t know the literature enough to see how he was both praised for his strength, and, perhaps, found wanting in intelligence.

I find it interesting that in modern mainstream fitness culture, it’s the story of the calf, not the wolves, that has gain resonance.

More on this, I’m sure, as I develop the classical resources on Milo page.

Painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvee

Painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvee

*Dr. Stevenson has been kind enough to correspond with me about this article and send me a more recent version published in the journal Nikephoros. If and when that version goes online, I’ll link to it.


Classical Sources for the Milo Stories

A collection of the classical sources for the Milo stories. More on Milo can be found here. 

On Saving Pythagoras and the Philosophers:

Milo, who was the most renowned of wrestlers, and lived in terms of intimacy with Pythagoras, who abode long in this city[meaning Croton]. They relate that at a banquet of the philosophers, when one of the pillars in the hall gave way, Milo sustained the ceiling while they all escaped, and afterwards saved himself. (Strabo, the Geography, VI, 12 trans. Hamilton)

Statue portending to represent Pythagoras

Critical of Milo for his reliance on brawns over brains:

Nothing can be more truly contemptible than a circumstance which is related concerning the famous Milo of Crotona. This man, when he was become old, observing a set of athletic combatants that were exercising themselves in the public circus: “Alas!” said he, bursting into a flood of tears and stretching forth his arm, “alas! these muscles are now totally relaxed and impotent.” Frivolous old man; it was not so much the debility of thy body as the weakness of thy mind thou hadst reason to lament, as it was by the force of mere animal prowess, and not by those superior excellences which truly ennoble man, that thou hadst rendered thy name famous. (Cicero, Sen. 9.27, trans, Melmouth)

Whoever has a reasonable portion of strength, and exerts it to the best advantage will feel no great need of more. Milo is said to have walked the race course at Olympia, carrying a live bull on his shoulders. Which would you rather have, strength like his, or a genius like that of Pythagora? Employ the boon of bodily vigor well while it remains; when it is gone, do not bewail it, unless indeed, young men should crave boyhood, and the middle-aged should covet youth. (Cicero, Cato the Elder: Or, a Treatise on Old Age 10.33)

Marcus Tullius Cicero

On Milo and the Wolves:

It is likely that, trusting to the same strength, he met his fate as related by some, for whilst making his way through a thick wood, he strayed considerably out of the path, when finding a great log with wedges in it, he thrust both his hands and feet into the fissure, intending to split it completely, but was only able to force it enough to let the wedges fall out, when the gaping log presently closed on him, and he, being taken as in a snare, was devoured by wild beasts. (Strabo, the Geography, VI, 12, trans Hamilton)

Milo and the Wolves

The Hero Brought Low: Representations of Milo in Art

There are two central stories about Milo of Croton – the story of his training with the calf, and the story of his death by wolf attack.  As I’ve searched the web for images of our man Milo to illustrate this website I’ve noticed a pattern.  Artists appear much more interested in representing the story of Milo’s death than they are in the story of his training.  I’m no expert on art, and my research into this has so far been limited to the google, but it does seems to clear that the training which made Milo the greatest athlete in Greece is rarely depicted, while the overconfidence which caused his death has inspired a number of gorgeous sculptures and paintings.

Painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvee, I wouldn’t mind having that kind of body in my old age.

What to make of this?  Is it simply that the struggle between man and animal is more visually stunning than the static image of a man with a calf on his back?  Or are we more drawn to the story of Milo’s demise because of the lessons it teaches us about hubris and overreach, especially overreach in the face of nature’s power?  It’s interesting to note that what gets Milo in trouble is thinking that he can rend a tree –  that is he believes he is stronger than nature itself.  When he cannot rend the tree, it is nature, personified in the wolves, which finish him off.  You may be the greatest wrestler in history, but you’re no match for the natural world.

Sculpture by Alessandro Vittoria, notice how old Milo looks.

Also worth paying attention to is how clearly Vittoria and Suvee portray Milo’s age.  He is no longer the young man with the calf in these pictures.  He is grey, old, even a little chubby in the Vittoria.  Perhaps he is not as strong as he once was and, unable to face old age, he reaches for too much and pays the price.

Sculpture by Pierre Puget

The Greeks loved bringing their heroes low.  Heck there’s a whole genre of theater devoted to it.  And, whether it is cheering for the underdog in a sporting event, or gleefully following the demise of Tom Cruise’s marriage, we too love seeing the mighty fall.  Looking at this tendency in a positive light, it reinforces our belief that one should remain modest.   Looking at it more darkly, it may be that we wish to punish those who have accomplished more than we have.  Either way, in art, the hero who meets a tragic end seems to resonate more than the story of the long hours spent attaining that status in the first place.  I’d rather it was the other way around, but I’m no artist.

This one, by Maurice Falconet’s is probably my favorite of the lot.

PS – If you spend any time googling Milo, you’re going to see this image

This is almost surely not a representation of Milo but rather a devotional offering left for Athena.

That’s almost surely not Milo.  This summer I saw the original of this sculpture at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.  Recovered from the lower slopes of the Acropolis, it is most likely a devotional offering made to Athena.  No mention of Milo is made on the description of the statute.

Milo and the Calf

There are many versions of the story of Milo and the calf. Today, I’ll use this one:

To become the greatest wrestler in Greece, to win six Olympic laurels in wrestling, Milo had to train like the rest of us.  His method?  Borrow a new born calf and carry it around Croton day after day, week after week, and month after month.  As the calf grew, so did Milo’s strength, until he was the strongest wrestler in Greece and could carry the now full grown bull upon his back.

What did he do once the bull was grown? He ate it.

That’s what we’re about here, carrying the weight, getting in the miles, doing the work, day in and day out, making small gains, occasionally dropping the calf, but always picking it back up.  It’s a simple enterprise – get better.  At sport, at life, at everything.