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

Fri, 07 Feb 2014 05:05:29 -0500

Bring Back the Run

(This piece is for my book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each Friday, this one from February 1989.)

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 by expert speakers, but something was missing.

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

Last July, 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, few days a week needed for a physical tuneup. They like their running too much to dilute it with other activities. They aren’t triathletes or biathletes, but monathletes.

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, now almost 40, writes in New England Runner magazine, “Old gentleman road hacks have existed since I was in high school.”

Derderian identifies the female counterparts of “road hacks” as “macadam madames," 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, adds Derderian, “running to lose weight, fit into a bikini, please a man, make a [political] 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 many of us live.

I’ve always lived there as a runner, but lately have been guilty as a writer of ignoring my own people. Magazine and book assignments have fallen mostly 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.


The timing of this piece was ironic. I was about to publish my book that strayed furthest from the core concerns of runners. It was a general-health text titled Training for Life.

Mark Covert’s streak of running days reached 45 years before a foot injury ended it in 2013. He smoothly shifted his daily activity to bicycling.

Like Covert, Tom Derderian now coaches competitive runners. Tom still races himself and still writes for New England Runner magazine.

In my teaching/coaching, we don’t take pre-run drills or post-run stretching as a group. We don’t talk about cross-training or supplemental sports. Nothing against any of these activities, but I still think the best use of our limited time together is to run it.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in three different formats: (1) in print from; (2) as e-books from and; (3) as PDFs for e-reader devices and apps, from Just released was Joe’s Team. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log (not an e-book), and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe (e-book only). The middle book of the memoir series, Going Far, is being serialized in Marathon & Beyond magazine.]

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