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

Sun, 25 Apr 2004 09:46:43 -0400

Running Long


(This piece will introduce my next book, whose manuscript Barnes & Noble has accepted for publication in late 2004 or early '05.)

I was born to run, as we all are. We come with long legs for a reason, and that is to cover ground on foot -- sometimes short distances quickly and sometimes great lengths slowly.

Running was required of everyone once. Now it's an option that only a small minority of us ever exercise after childhood.

I'm a product of two families that ran by choice. My father and two of his brothers were runners in high school and college. One of my mother's brothers ran in his youth and well into old age, and the other brother of hers was an early coach of mine without either of us realizing it then.

My parents were married on the weekend of the largest track meet in the Midwest. The men talked more that day about the Drake Relays than about the wedding.

My dad took me to track meets before I was old enough to count the four laps of a mile. He never told me to take up the sport. But after I found it on my own, he made sure to see most of my big races for the rest of his too-short life.

I'm now older than Dad ever got to be. A half-century has sped past since I ran my first timed mile.

I've gone from pre-teenager to elder as a runner... from the 1950s to the 2000s... from Iowa to Illinois to South Carolina to California to Oregon... from student to farmhand to soldier to editor to writer to author to teacher... from single to married to father... from single parent to married again and now to grandfather.

Running has been my one constant through all these changes. But the running hasn't always been the same.

I've gone from miler to ultramarathoner and everything in between... from track (outdoor and indoor) to cross-country to road... from sub-five-minute-mile racing to 10-plus... from the back of the pack to the front and gradually back again... from all-fast training to all-slow... from healthy to injured and back to health again (many times).

Running all these years in all these ways has taught me lots of lessons. Many were painful at the time, but the worst mistakes can teach the best lessons. Since I've made every possible mistake in running, I have compiled quite a catalog of lessons from them.

Everyone does this. It's what living and learning are about. It's why the elders say, "If I'd known then what I know now, think how much better I would have done."

We can't go back and rewrite our past, but we do get a second chance. That's by passing on our lessons to the young, pointing out how to avoid our early mistake-making.

I get to do this multiple ways: by teaching college students to run, by speaking to audiences of runners, and most of all by writing about running. The writing can reach the most runners for the longest time.

My writing was predestined, just as much as the running was. I was born to write, as surely as to run.

My parents were both journalists. Dad worked for magazines, Mom for newspapers. (The journalism gene remains strong in our family, with two of my siblings working in this field, along with a daughter and niece of mine.)

A written record of my running, in diary form, began at age 16. A newspaper that employed my mother hired me to write sports at 17.

Writing has stayed with me ever since. But again, as in running, consistency has blended with variety.

I've written for a small hometown newspaper, a college paper and a statewide daily... about news, all sports, my favorite sport and the distance-running branch of this sport... for the magazines Track & Field News, Distance Running News, Runner's World, Running, RW again and now Marathon & Beyond... in booklets and books, of my own and in concert with other authors... and almost every day in my private journal reaching from the 1950s to the 2000s.

I've written personal, practical, technical, historical, statistical, biographical, physiological, psychological and philosophical reports. My favorites among these are the writings that teach the reader a lesson in avoiding or correcting a mistake.

The book, titled Running Long, is a memoir of lessons learned in a lifetime of running and writing about it. The chapters can't protect you from making all or any mistakes of your own. My hope is that you'll make fewer than I did, that you'll learn these lessons faster, and that they'll take you further than I've gone with them.

Running Long is a collection of advice on running long distances. It's also about another, better meaning of "long": your enjoying, as I have, a long run of years in the sport.


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