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

Thu, 06 Mar 2014 12:04:06 -0500

Different Days

(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 May 1989.)

Two opposite forces keep drawing me back for more running. Each run resembles all 10,000 that have come before. Itís like visiting an old friend I never tire of seeing.

And yet each run is still a little different than any other. Itís like a meeting a stranger Iíll never see again.

All runs are similar, but no two look exactly alike. Even when their content reads the same on diary pages, they differ in style.

Even for a compulsive like me who does exactly the same amount five days out of seven, the runs themselves vary widely. The possible combinations of weather, light, course, pace and feelings (of energy, enthusiasm, fitness and pain) are infinite.

Each run is a return to the familiar, and yet each one is a trek into the unknown. At home, running favors the former. Away from home, it tips toward the latter.

Iím a frequent flyer who averages two trips a month. Air travel is an act of faith, beyond the need to believe that tons of metal can stay afloat on a cushion of air.

You take off with no assurance of when youíll land, where, what running conditions youíll find there, or if your luggage will arrive at the same time and place. My tips for travelers would start with the most obvious one: donít ever trust your running shoes to the bag checkers, but take them onto the plane with you.

One bad experience taught me never to check this one essential item again. They lay in customs at Toronto for three days while 1 suffered with borrowed shoes in Montreal.

Carry-on shoes served their purpose three times in one recent 30-day period. In that month travel surprises tested my abilities to hold onto the old and adapt to the new.

Wildly shifting weather conditions forced some rapid adjustments. Running temperatures spanned 100 degrees, from Midwestern cold to Hawaiian heat, and precipitation ranged from liquid to solid.

A flight home from Clinton, Iowa, should have lasted only until midday. It ended at midnight, after 20 hours of plane breakdowns (twice), weather delays and missed flights.

That day I roamed the hallways of Denverís airport while a blizzard raged outside. I wore running shoes but street clothes, and pretended to be rushing to catch a plane.

Two weeks later the flight home from a short vacation on Maui Ė where the running was heavenly Ė should have ended before midnight. A missed connection extended the trip until the next noon.

United Airlines paid for an overnight stay in San Francisco, but the next morningís unscheduled run there wasn`t an exotic tour of everybodyís favorite city. The only runnable road from the airport hotel passed between the roar of jets on the runways to one side and the rumble of freeway traffic on the other.

On the next trip my plane was due to land in Moline, Illinois. The fog that diverted us from there reached the alternate airport in Peoria before we did, and we finally landed in Chicago.

United had to pay for another overnight stay. Instead of taking the scheduled morning run with a group in the town of LaSalle, 100 miles away, I ran around another airport hotel.

Around is the right word. After trying a few dead-ending roads, I finally gave up trying to escape this maze and just circled the parking lot.

The diary lines for each of these travel days show the same length of run. They don`t tell any of the differences, because to do that would have made a mess of the page.

To some degree every day is different from any other. You come to expect the unexpected and to accept imperfection.

A few days (like those on Maui) are perfect, but most are not. Sometimes you run in paradise, but more often in airport hallways, on frontage roads or through parking lots.

Thatís the story of life on the road, even when that road starts at your front door. You either adjust to the ever-changing conditions or you donít run much, or often.


My count of running days now sits somewhere north of 16,000. I rarely travel on business anymore, but have replaced those trips with vacations. These most often lead to Mexico in winter.

The small coastal town where we stay is paradise in most ways, but the running there is marginal. Using the main highway would be suicidal. Side streets are ankle-threatening cobblestone, and littered with unleashed dogs and their droppings.

I run there (or slow to a safe walk) to get to the special places beyond Ė smooth streets and long beaches. Thatís how it is with all running. We endure the bad spots to reach the good.

[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 Joeís Team. Other titles: Home Runs, Joeís 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 Englehartís 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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