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

Fri, 3 May 2002 08:52:45 -0400

Out of Work


Some of my best friends are editors. They are the people who make their living by polishing other people's writing.

Editors run in my family -- father, sister, daughter. I've done some editing myself but now am more an editee.

As a writer I appreciate the many editors who have made me look better when my writing goes public. But this doesn't mean we don't sometimes quibble over word changes.

I've spent a career trying not to use certain words. I cringe when they show up under my byline.

"Workout" is one such word. I don't like it and don't write it. When an editor inserts it, I ask that the simple word "run" replace it.

This happened recently when a proof copy of an article came to me littered with "workouts." I requested and received all the changes.

But we both forgot to re-edit a sidebar that went with the article. All the unused W-words landed there -- one in the headline and five more in just two published paragraphs.

Why does it matter? Because how we describe an activity shapes our view of it.

I haven't thought of running as work since high school. A coach named Hi Covey taught me to use a different word.

Covey, my home state of Iowa's most successful coach, thought of "work" and "workout" as "dreary words that call up negative images. If I talked all the time about how hard running is, who would want to do it?"

Later the first great master runner spoke much the same sentiment -- only he substituted the word "training" for "workout." Jack Foster said, "I don't train; never have. I don't think of running as 'training.' I just go out and run each day, and let the racing take care of itself."

Foster added in his book, Tale of the Ancient Marathoner, that "most of my running is pleasure running. The success I've had from it has been almost accidental, not planned.

"It has to be a pleasure to go for a run, looked forward to while I'm at work. Otherwise no dice."

Note here that Foster made a clear distinction between his work -- the job where he earned his paychecks -- and his running. His runs had to be hard, or he wouldn't have run a 2:11 marathon at age 41. But they weren't "workouts."

Work implies doing something because you have to do it but don't really want to. It suggests putting up with a distasteful task now so you can earn a payoff later.

But what if that payday never comes, or it's smaller than expected? Would you feel all your time and effort had gone to waste?

Jack Foster wouldn't have thought that. As well as he raced, his running wasn't vocational. Rather than always working toward some distant day, he ran for today and let whatever happened tomorrow happen.

Running isn't a second job. No one pays us to do it or forces us to do it.

Running is a hobby. A challenging hobby, to be sure, but not work in the way we usually define the word.

We could take vocabulary lessons from other sports. Basketball and baseball, tennis and golf aren't worked; they're PLAYED. You don't work out or train for recreational skiing, hiking, biking or swimming; you just do them.

America's all-time greatest running coach talked his athletes out of thinking of their runs in terms of hard labor. Bill Bowerman told about a banker friend of his "who doesn't feel he has 'worked' a day in his life because he enjoys banking so much.

"A banker must practice banking virtually 12 months a year. Runners must do the same with their running.

"If they don't do that and don't enjoy it, they're never going to reach the top. Well, they may not reach the top anyway. But if they enjoy the running, they are getting one of its biggest prizes."

When you run, don't be like a worker who counts the hours till quitting time, the days till the weekend, the weeks till vacation, the years till retirement. Always working toward distant finish lines may mean missing the fun in being where you are now.

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