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

Tue, 29 May 2001 08:51:08 -0400

Book Boom


With both running booms have come companion boomlets in running-book publishing. It happened about 20 years ago, when races and bookshelves suddenly became crowded. And it's happening again.

To recognize two separate booms, we have to see a dip in between. The first running boom quieted in the early 1980s. The number of runners didn't fall, but the growth leveled off.

Two signs of recession appeared. The number of marathon races, which had jumped too high too quickly, fell by half by the mid-1980s. And the book market became so glutted with titles that most of them fell out of print without being read.

Running has boomed again. The count of marathons has rebounded to its peak high of 20 years ago. Running books again roll off the presses in impressive numbers.

History says this won't last. The second boom will quiet too before long. But let's enjoy the many choices while they last.

I'm enjoying the current crop of books and looking forward to those coming soon. Like major marathon schedulers, book publishers target two seasons -- spring and fall.

Scheduled for later this year are two books that excite me. The first is Marla Runyan's autobiography, No Finish Line: My Life as I See It (written with Sally Jenkins). Runyan, who as everyone knows by now is legally blind, was the highest-finishing U.S. distance runner at the Sydney Olympics -- eighth in the 1500.

George Sheehan wasn't the only skilled writer in his family. His son Andrew, who works as a TV journalist in Pittsburgh, authored for fall release the book Chasing the Hawk: Looking for My Father, Finding Myself. It's a sometimes unflattering look at Dr. George and an unsparing glimpse into Andrew's own descent into and recovery from alcoholism.

Out this spring are two sequels from the busy stable of writers at Human Kinetics. Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas follow up their Road Racing for Serious Runners by continuing the seriousness theme in Advanced Marathoning. Mike Sandrock's encore to Running with the Legends is his new book, Running Tough: 70 Challenging Training Runs.

John Parker both co-authored and published, through his company Cedarwinds, the life story of Anne Audain. Uncommon Heart traces the rise of the New Zealander from a child with deformed feet to world record-holder. More than that, though, she has lived the story of women's running's coming of age from the 1970s to '90s.

Tafnews Press, the book branch of Track & Field News, sent two new titles my way. Jack Hazen, multiply honored coach at Malone College in Ohio, wrote Training for Cross-Country.

Toby Tanzer expanded and updated Train Hard, Win Easy: The Kenyan Way. Its most gripping section comes at the very end, and doesn't deal with anyone from Kenya but with Tanzer himself.

While researching the revised edition, Toby took a side trip to Tanzania. During a run there he was attacked in a robbery attempt and nearly killed, but recovered to finish the book and run a 2:26 marathon the next year.

I saved perhaps the best of the latest books for last. At least it's the one I read most eagerly.

This is Marc Bloom's Run with the Champions (Rodale). He ranks, as well as profiles, the top 30 American distance men and top 20 women of the 20th century.

Marc prefaces the book by writing, "America has a rich distance history, perhaps the richest of any nation, and we need to remember that. Running a beautiful mile or marathon reflects on our national character.

"We were great once, and we can be great again. It's my hope that the examples of these 50 runners will help today's athletes grow and excel and aspire to run with the world's best."

National success in running goes through peaks and valleys, just as the sport as a whole does. Americans will peak again, as they last did about 20 years ago.

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