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

Sat, 09 Jun 2007 05:32:53 -0400

Routes of a Revolution


(Third in a series of articles, begun in RC 677 and written as if the year were 1977. Nike assigned and then declined these writings for its marketing campaign during the re-release of several shoe models from that era.)

Two major and separate streams -- running for fitness and training to race -- came together in the past decade to produce Running 1977. Two of the founding fathers, who both get credit for this revolution and earned it, are Kenneth Cooper and Arthur Lydiard. Fittingly they had dipped their feet into both streams (as had Bill Bowerman; see RC 678).

Dr. Cooper was a college miler, then he ran the Boston Marathon while in medical school. As an Air Force physician he began researching fitness, which led him to praise endurance activities such as running, which led to his best-selling book Aerobics, released in 1968.

This book inspired hordes of new adult-onset runners, because running was simple and time-efficient. Many of them reached Cooper's prescribed amount -- two to three miles, three to five days a week -- and looked to go longer and faster.

Lydiard is the New Zealander who exported fitness running, "jogging" as it was called then, to the U.S. by way of Bowerman. Lydiard is better known, though, as a coach of Olympic medalists: three runners with three golds and a bronze among them, all coming from his Auckland neighborhood.

This coach turned away from the standard training of his day -- almost all of it fast and on the track. His runners trained long miles on the roads and trails. Their success bred imitation, and soon runners everywhere were training longer and slower.

The two separate streams joined in recent years to flood the roads with runners. Aerobics graduates took the next logical step up, to low-key road races. Lydiard devotees found they liked training on the roads and began to race there, a welcome step down from the intensity of track.

Others are credited with igniting this boom, but are at least equally products and beneficiaries of it. Breaking the gender barrier at the 1967 Boston Marathon lit a promotional fire under Kathrine Switzer, and she has done more than anyone to create new racing opportunities for women. But a critical mass of women had to jump into the fitness-running stream before they could think of entering a race.

Frank Shorter inspired multitudes of Americans to try the marathon when he won this event at the Munich Olympics. Bill Rodgers later did the same with his wins at Boston and New York City. But if not for a mass leap into the Lydiard-instigated stream of road training, Shorter and Rodgers might not have stepped into road racing.

Jim Fixx's Complete Book of Running, sensational as its sales have been, didn't cause the running boom but rides its crest and might spur it to new heights. Fixx himself is a boomer, having come to the sport via the Kenneth Cooper route -- to lose weight and control the heart disease that "runs" in his family. Fixx now shares the best-seller lists -- for all topics, not just running -- with George Sheehan and the team of Bob Glover and Jack Shepherd. The wrote good books, but also had great timing.

The same could be said for the many other businesses, events and organizations that now serve this burgeoning community. Their further success depends on how many of 1977's runners keep running, and for how long -- in years, not miles.

(Concluding in RC 680.)
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