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

Thu, 26 Jan 2012 04:49:27 -0500

Bring Back the Run


(I’m marking this newsletter’s 30th anniversary by revisiting one piece weekly from each year of the publication. This week’s is from February 1989. It also appears on Facebook on the “Joe Henderson’s Writings” page.)

My turn to speak came last on a two-day program of clinics for runners. They heard talks on diet and drinks, on shoes and shoe inserts, on injuries and their care, on stretching and cross-training – or at the other extreme, on the business and politics, gossip and trivia of top-level racing.

All important topics, covered well by expert speakers. But something was missing.

“My subject is one you haven’t heard much about this weekend,” I began. “Running. The actual training and racing that we spend most of our time doing doesn’t get much attention anymore.

“We talk around the subject without saying enough about it. It’s time we put your runs back into running.”

It’s time for speakers – and writers – to address the biggest question first: “How can I run better?” The answer begins in the act of running – how far, how fast, how often – and not with side issues of who competes best or what else we do for fitness.

Mark Covert of Valencia, California, is a pure runner. He ignores the peripheral matters. and doesn’t attend clinics or read magazine articles if they don’t feed his main interest.

In July 1988 Covert completed 20 years without missing a day of running. He doesn’t have time, or want to make it, to do anything but run.

He says, “I don’t swim, I don’t bike, I don’t lift weights, I don’t stretch. I just run.”

He doesn’t run for his health or (since ending a career of national-class racing) to win races. He now runs mainly to keep running. He fits my definition of a “middle-class runner.”

Middle-class runners like to run too much to limit themselves to the few miles a day, a few days a week needed for a quick physical tune-up. They like their running too much to dilute it with other activities. They aren’t triathletes or duathletes, but MONOATHLETES.

Middle-class runners don’t just run IN races, but RACE them. Their race is an athletic contest, not a costume party. They race for times, not T-shirts.

Middle-class runners race for the purest of reasons: to test themselves. They show up at the races with too few frills to attract either of the other classes. The middle- class always shows up, providing the organized sport with its most enduring base of support.

This country’s first such base grew up around Boston, long before races went pro or became mass fun-runs. Tom Derderian writes in New England Runner magazine, “Old gentleman road hacks have existed since I was in high school [in the 1960s].”

Derderian identifies the female counterparts of “road hacks” as “macadam madams, a new species in the world of running that [also] evolved first in New England.” He applies these harsh-sounding labels lovingly.

His description of these women matches mine for middle-class runners. Much of it fits both sexes equally:

“They never were and never will be Olympians or national champions – even in their age groups. They race a lot. They race hard against their friends. They keep meticulous training and racing records.”

They are not, Derderian adds, “running to lose weight, fit into a bikini, please a man, make a feminist statement or get in shape. They will get no glory, yet they sprint to the finish. Every second counts. They are racers to the marrow.”

They want advice on how to train and race well. They don’t get much of that when running commentators focus on either the feats of the elite or the fitness of the exerciser, and lose sight of the middle ground where so many of us live.

I’ve long lived there as a runner, but lately have been guilty as a writer of ignoring my own people. Magazine and book assignments have often fallen outside my favorite subject area, which is sharing practical ideas with like-thinking runners. I hereby assign myself more articles aimed squarely at the heart of middle-class concerns.

UPDATE: Mark Covert, now living in Lancaster, California, and coaching at Antelope Valley College, has more than doubled the length of his running streak. He’s into his 44th year without a missed day.

Tom Derderian, now well into his 60s, continues to race often and well. He still writes for New England Runner and authored Boston Marathon, the definitive history of the middle-class runner’s “Olympics.”

I don’t run race anymore but coach runners who do. I don’t write much about elite runners or the peripheral activities of running, but mostly for and about the sport’s middle class.

[I’ve published eight books on and for reading on e-reader devices, smart phones, tablets and personal computers. All are minimally priced at $2.99 each. Those same books are available, with added illustrations, as printable and shareable PDFs from – also for $2.99 apiece. The titles: Long Slow Distance, Long Run Solution, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Starting Lines, Going Far and Running Home, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]

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