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

Fri, 26 Jul 2002 13:25:11 -0400

Who Are You?


For someone who makes his living and lives much of his life in running, I don't often spend long stretches of time with other runners. I see them for an hour at a time at talks, in classes and for an occasional meal or meeting, and that's about it.

My one yearly exception is Jeff Galloway's running camp at Lake Tahoe. There the runners spend as much as a week together, happily talking away almost every waking hour. There we are strangers only for the first few minutes.

My arrival at camp this summer brought hugs and handshakes from fellow returnees, and introductions to the newcomers. Most of the latter at least pretended to know my name.

Sandy, a tall woman in her middle years, didn't pretend. After we shook hands, she asked, "Who are you?"

I repeated the name. To which she said, "No, I mean who ARE you? I know you're here to speak, but what is your area of expertise?"

I gave her the simple answer about writing for Runner's World. She said, "I just started running this summer and have only glanced at one copy of that magazine."

My talk the next morning led off with the Sandy story. I repeated her "Who are you?" line without embarrassing her by name.

That's a very good question, I told the campers. Being here among runners for a week makes us all think about where we fit into this community. My answer depends on what day, or what time of day, you ask it.

What's my area of expertise? I can't name just one but am a generalist in running, with knowledge a mile wide and an inch deep.

The other speakers at camp are experts in one specialty or another. Jeff Galloway is king of the walk break... Dr. Gary Moran knows exercise physiology and cross-training... Dr. Dave Hannaford, foot and leg injuries... Bob Anderson, stretching... Greg and Gretchen from the Phidippides store, shoes and clothing... Sister Marion Irvine, herself as the oldest Olympic Trials qualifier ever.

I don't say that those specialties are all they know. Their knowledge isn't just an inch wide, but it's definitely a mile deep.

They supply the tools for success. I talk about the attitudes a runner needs for putting those tools to use. This is what I usually do as a speaker and often as a writer.

I told these runners about my magazine, newsletter and book work. But this is all vocational. It's possibly of slight interest to runners only because it involves running.

Runners meeting for the first time rarely talk about their own jobs. When the Galloway campers introduced themselves at the introductory session, no one mentioned what he or she did for a living. This reminded me of what one runner might say to the other when they meet.

First runner: "What do you do?" Second: "About four hours in the marathon."

First runner: "I mean, what kind of work to you do?" Second: "About 50 miles a week."

They don't define themselves to each other by the jobs they hold. They tell who they are by the running they do.

At camp I was asked, "Do you run yourself?" Fair question, since no one there ever saw me at the morning group runs. Yes, I run but chose to keep this as quiet time even at gatherings like this.

A better question: "What kind of running do you do?" When the answer says nothing about races, long runs or speed training, interest wanes quickly. Talk of all-easy running doesn't make for exciting conversation.

Yet when asked, "Who are you?" the title I wear most proudly is runner. Or if you care to hear a descriptive word, active runner or longtime runner.

I didn't come to talk to the campers as a writer or speaker or teacher or coach of running, but as runner to runners. In distance and pace, I'm less of a runner than many of them are.

What I brought to the discussion was what they might not have gained yet: decades of experience at making all the mistakes. Maybe I could help them learn some of the same lessons quicker than I did.

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