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

Fri, 2 Aug 2002 09:04:04 -0400

My Favorite Book


Long Run Solution, my 1976 book, was a sprinter. Title aside, it started fast and finished early.

The book sold well its first two years, as all running books did in the Jim Fixx-inspired sales boom of the late 1970s. Then it stopped selling, as all running books did in the Fixx-inspired glut of the early '80s.

Today hardly anyone remembers LRS, now long out of print. Two exceptions are a current Runner's World editor and a former one.

Bob Wischnia contacted me last year about writing an article based on this book. "It was your best," he said, "and today's runners need to see what you wrote there."

Nothing ever came of this 25th-anniversary look at the book because I was finishing a new one at the time. That was the Running Encyclopedia, written with Rich Benyo.

Rich recalls Long Run Solution from his early days at RW. Now the editor of Marathon & Beyond, he asked recently if the magazine could reprint the book in three installments. He too called it "your best."

That might be too strong a word. In topic and tone, none of mine matches Did I Win?, the tribute to and biography of George Sheehan.

But that really was George's story, which I transcribed for him as he looked over my shoulder from his next life. Of the books that tell what I myself know and love about running, LRS is my favorite for these reasons:

-- LRS was my first real book. The earlier four were all booklets, none longer than 96 pages. They were training for the book that runs at least twice the length of any before it -- which gave it that much more depth.

-- The book is my clearest statement of how I feel about running. Much of what I've written since is touched on here, and most of these feelings have changed little in the meantime.

Long Run Solution wasn't perfect, or even as good as I like to remember it. Before agreeing to its Marathon & Beyond revival, I reread the book for the first time in years. Some of the wording is embarrassingly rough or laughably outdated.

The book needed another editor, but at the time I edited my own books. That's like a doctor trying to perform surgery on himself.

In the style of a generation ago, the only singular pronouns used were masculine: he, him, his. That doesn't work anymore when nearly 50 percent of runners -- and readers -- are women.

I bragged of my then-nearly 20 years of running. Now every other runner I know has continued as least that long.

I portrayed myself as a grizzled veteran at 33. Now I have a child (stepchild, anyway) that age.

I talked of seven-minute mile training pace as "easy." Now I'd strain to race a single mile that fast.

But the book also talked of reserving an hour a day for ourselves, for the pursuit of happiness as well as health. This I still preach, and practice.

Another reason Long Run Solution became my favorite book was its timing. My PRs had hardened into concrete by then, and I'd recently survived my big injury scare (and resulting surgery). The time had come to decide what to do the rest of my running life.

Naming LRS as favorite might sound like a knock on the 15 or so books that followed, but not really. They served purposes, just as races do after the last PR is set.

There is value -- even a certain nobility -- in keeping going after we've peaked. Which is the message of the book: Do what it takes to run long, not in miles but in years and decades.

(Ten favorite paragraphs from my favorite book will occupy this space next week.)

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