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

Thu, 24 Jul 2014 06:09:28 -0400

News Freaks

(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 week, this one from January 1996.)

Journalism and journaling share little more than their first eight letters. Journalism is a job, the gathering and writing of news about the feats and failings of athletes other than himself. A journal is personal, a record of its writerís own opinions and observations.

Iíve worked as a journalist since 1960. But even earlier Iíd become a journal-keeper. Over the years my published writings have become more journal-like than journalistic.

Now Running Commentary is becoming even more a journal. I'm dropping all hard news about this sport at its highest levels and writing even more a personal letter to readers like myself.

One reason is that the internet is exploding. The daily web supplement to Runnerís World and the e-mailed Race Results Weekly are reporting more news, much sooner than I could in my little once-a-month publication. Yet Iím doing more journaling that ever and want to make more room for it in the four printed pages.

Another reason for backing away from reporting on big-time running in the Commentary is that it had little to do with the world where I and most of my regular readers run. I still enjoyed reading about the stars, but also realize that many runners donít. They find this news oddly disturbing.

At my most impressionable age I devoured Track & Field News, Long Distance Log and anything else published about the sport. My young teammates didnít share this passion.

Instead they chose not to read these magazines. The news of better runners depressed them, as if it diminished their own efforts.

My buddies didnít understand the true nature of news stories. I knew it from growing up in a family of journalists and studying to become one myself.

Journalists-to-be learn a truism of this business in their first course: If dog bites man, thatís not worth reporting. But if man bites dog, thatís news.

Normal people and events arenít newsworthy; only the oddities are. News tells of the exceptions, not the rules.

The more unusual the story, the bigger it is. Sports lend themselves to this type of reporting, because standouts are so easy to see and dote upon.

Sports reports worship their winners... and spread the notion that only one athlete or team can win any event... and give the impression that to win anything you must win everything Ė the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the Olympic gold. Sports news suggests to recreational athletes that we must think, and train, and compete like those who make the headlines.

But theyíre not like us. This is their job. They play for pay and plan their day around this work, while we try to squeeze our sport around the edges of the workday.

They chose their parents well. They have the size and skill, speed and stamina to compete with the best athletes in their sport, while we lack the gifts to win anything more than a local award when only three people show up in our age-group.

Big-race winners are freaks, the one-in-thousands athletes who stand above almost everyone else who runs. Reading about them can be intimidating. You can feel pangs of inferiority on learning about athletes who train more in a day that you do all week, or go two miles for each one of yours when they race.

The cure for intimidation isnít to stop reading. Itís knowing HOW to read. Realize that these people have been written up because they are exceptional.

Admire the ďnews freaks.Ē Take inspiration from them. But donít let their uncommon efforts insult your common ones.

Take pride in your training, knowing that mega-mileage runners canít log one of your miles for you. Celebrate your racing, knowing that record-setting runners canít break any of your PRs.

Once you start thinking this way, the news stops disturbing you. The ďfreaksĒ of running can only lift you up, never put you down.


Iím sometimes asked, ďDo you ever get tired of writing about running?Ē Or, ďDonít you run out of topics to cover?Ē No and no.

Iíll tire of the writing only when the running becomes wearisome, and Iíll run out of topics only when I quit meeting new runners and having new experiences. None of this threatens to happen anytime soon.

One reason my running stays fresh after all this time is that I never know what surprise might wait around the next corner or in the next mile. The only way to find it is to keep looking.

One reason the writing stays exciting is that I never know when another good idea will pop up. It could come in the next line, or on the next page, or in the next story. The seeking can be as satisfying as the finding.

[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 Latest released was Learning to Walk. Other titles: Home Runs, Joeís Journal, Joeís Team, 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.]

Previous Posts