Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 14 Jun 1998 11:58:13 -0400

Balancing Act

(from RC 271)

He walked up to me after a talk in Chicago last summer and made a bold request for such a shy-acting man. Stewart Sims said, "I'm putting together a book about running and wonder if you'll write a chapter for me."

I have enough writing of my own to do without helping anyone else. But Stewart asked so nicely that I couldn't refuse him.

My plan was the recycle something already written, but he had other plans: "Would you summarize the talk you gave in Chicago?" It's the talk I've given, with little evolutionary change, for the past decade or more. Strangely, though, I've never written it all down as spoken.

So I typed at the top of the page where I was about to start the story, "Here's the chapter you requested. I'll just pretend to give the semi-standard talk." Typing it took only about an hour. That's at least triple my normal writing pace.

No surprise here. I've had 10 years of practice at talking out this piece titled "Farther, Faster, Fresher." It began:

Ask me for one word to introduce myself and I won't choose "writer" or "author." Even the word "runner" is inadequate. I prefer to think of of myself as "survivor."

And yet I never call myself "just a survivor," as if this were a consolation prize. I've come to realize that survival is the highest calling of a runner.

Few of us ever win any prize of note, and those prizes soon tarnish and gather dust. Press clippings, if we're lucky enough to earn such attention, eventually yellow and crumble. Pace eventually and inevitably slows.

All that lasts is the running itself -- the wanting to and being able to get up and do it all over again each day. I write and speak in praise of keeping going, as someone who has done that. We might not have the talent to outrun other runners, but we all can gain the skills and smarts to outlast them.

Survival as a runner is a balancing act among the three factors. In every day's phone calls and letters, and in all my travels, I hear these three posed as questions:

1. "How can I run farther?" Someone trying a first marathon usually asks this question, but it can come from anyone taking a major upward step in distance.

2. "How can I run faster?" This is the question from someone who has run some 5-K's and 10-K's just to finish and now wants to set PRs (personal records).

3. "How can I get over the problems I'm having from running farther and faster?" I hear this from runners who have overdone the first two factors while ignoring the vital third, which is recovery between the long and fast runs.

Next week I'll answer each of those questions from a 40-year runner's perspective.


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