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

Wed, 4 Dec 2002 17:20:26 -0500

Writing History


Keith Dowling is an unlikely historian. He's at an age (33) and stage of his life (marathon PR of 2:13:28 this year) when his best races are ahead of him.

Yet Keith looks back fondly at a time he never knew as a runner. He told me, "Someday when I have kids or if I ever coach, I would like to point to my running library and say, 'Don't read anything published after 1975'." He was no more than six years old when those books were written.

Keith made my month by asking where he could find copies of Booklets of the Month. Runner's World issued 48 of these single-topic pamphlets between 1971 and, yes, 1975.

I edited that series and did much of its writing. But I published no full-length book before the Dowling cutoff date.

Long Run Solution, the first to weigh in at 100-plus pages and still my favorite, came out in 1976. (Marathon & Beyond will revive this out-of-print book in three segments, starting in the next issue.)

What writers most want from their work isn't a big paycheck; that's a bonus. We most want to be read, preferably a long time after the words go into captivity.

Paperless writing, in e-mail and on the Web, is gone with the flick of a mouse. Newspapers go out with tomorrow's trash. Magazines stay around only until the stack on the coffee table grows too tall.

Books last the best. They aren't thrown away but go onto display shelves or from reader to reader in a most active form of recycling.

Someone like Keith Dowling, who was still mastering his ABCs in 1975, now can give his highest marks to books written that year and earlier. Nothing could make an author happier.

This tells you why I like books so much, both as a writer and reader of them. They have this sense of timelessness.

Keith Dowling wasn't the only one to make my past month. Eric Steiner made it even better by conducting my first lengthy interview about the production and preservation of running books.

Eric sorted through my ramblings to produce a concise and coherent article for Northwest Runner magazine ( Here are answers to a few of his questions:

"WHO AMONG running writers have you looked to for guidance over the years, or simply fawned over?"

As a writer-speaker no one approaches George Sheehan as my role model/mentor/father figure/friend. I knew him before he was THE George Sheehan, so never held him in awe.

My first reaction to Hal Higdon was more fawning. He was already an established writer and running celebrity when I met him as a 16-year-old and he was an old man of 29.

Kenny Moore is my age-mate, but I look to him as the elder statesman and epitome of running-writing talent. All of us writers in this sport do. He's at work now on a biography of Bill Bowerman, which promises to be terrific.

"I HAVE a dog-earred copy of Jog Run Race. When you sat down at the typewriter in 1977 to write that book, did you ever imagine that you'd still be writing books 25 years later?"

Never. Like a marathoner who vows "never again" at the finish line, I've completed each book by thinking there will never be another. The feeling passes.

"WHEN I first read Jog Run Race, I never dreamed that we'd be talking for an article in Northwest Runner. I'd like to ask you about dreams. What goals are on your horizon?"

Mainly I'd just like to keep doing what I'm doing for as long as possible. I turn 60 next June and have given no thought to retirement. Some people would say I've been "retired" for the past 25 years, since leaving the Runner's World office to write at home.

I wrote before anyone paid me to do it, and would keep writing if the income dried up. It's as much a hobby and a habit as a job.

"WHAT'S YOUR next book, which will be the 23rd you've written or co-authored?"

The second edition of Fitness Running, written with Eugene coach Dick Brown, is finished but isn't due out until next March. No next one after that is in the works now, but I know there will be one if any publisher asks for it.

With a couple of exceptions, I haven't really written books. Articles and columns from the magazine and newsletter have accumulated until I said, Hey, there's a book here. Some type of next book keeps building, week by week.

"WHAT ARE your five favorite running books -- aside from your own, of course -- and why?"

"Favorites" doesn't necessarily mean best written or best selling, but most influential -- with the writer delivering the right message at the right time. In the order read, my five classics are:

-- How They Train, by Fred Wilt; what dozens of runners really did in training.

-- Commonsense Athletics, by Arthur Newton; the true father of LSD.

-- Run to the Top, by Arthur Lydiard; the single book that changed training the most.

-- Dr. Sheehan on Running, by George Sheehan; his first book-length examination of "Why run?"

-- Serious Runner's Handbook, by Tom Osler; he packed in the most great advice per page.

Keith Dowling, please note: Only the last of these books came out later than 1975.

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