Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another Boston

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1990.)

BOSTON, LIKE its big brothers and sisters on the marathon circuit, is really two races. The media race you see on television and read about in national newspapers and magazines doesn’t much resemble the people’s race you can only see live and in person.

For the first time in eight years, I saw both races in 1990. I watched one on TV near the finish line and the other from the sidewalk, and had a hard time connecting the two events happening in the same place and only an hour or so apart.

Reporters at the Boston Marathon do what they must. They tell about a tiny minority of runners, because that’s what the majority of viewers and readers want to know.

This focus gives a one-sided look at the Boston Marathon. It makes front-runner matters (along with financial and legal/political matters) sound like everyone’s main concern.

The 1990 race raised again the ongoing argument over Boston’s record status. The sponsor’s spokesman, David D’Alessandro, commented on the national governing body’s rule that bars the Boston point-to-point course as a record site. He insulted the rule-makers who know running and care about it as more than a publicity vehicle for a company.

Joe Concannon of the Globe asked D’Alessandro what would happen if a world record were set that day. The Hancock official said, “I think the scenario will be that all the scientific guessers will take out their rulers and tell us why it is not a record. There will be about 17 people in the world who believe them.

“Whoever sets that ‘non-record’ will find themselves worth another $100,000 on the circuit. If someone runs a 2:05, the headlines will blare, ‘World Record Set at Boston’.”

Money and headlines: Those are the exact reasons why the rule-makers must guard the integrity of its record book. Records are worth too much to be broken cheaply.

I’d spoken out on this issue earlier, in the Boston Globe. As one local running organizer phrased his greeting on race weekend, “Your name is mud in this town.” I worried that a question/answer session at the expo would turn ugly.

But in an hour of questions, this one never came up. None of the supposed big issues did. No one asked how the media race might go; this wasn’t that type of crowd.

These were the paying runners. They pay their way to Boston, buy their shoes and subscribe to magazines. Their concerns differ from those of the paid runners, the sponsors and the reporters.

I watched the media race on TV, enjoyed it but felt as distant from it as if watching from across the country. As that race wrapped up, the other one was just starting.

I elbowed into a spot on the curb, two blocks from the finish line. Here, my name wasn’t mud. It meant nothing. I was just one more drop in the sea of faces that the runners saw.

While recognizing very few of these runners, I knew them all. I knew them by where they had come from in the last three or four hours (as well as in the training that had made this racing possible), and by what they were feeling now. Without knowing their names, I felt close to these people as they finished Boston’s other race.

CHRIS HAZEN is my Barbara’s son, and he had something to do with bringing the two of us together. In the mid-1980s, I spoke in a University of Oregon journalism class of hers. Afterward she came forward and introduced herself.

Then she said, “I have a son who does some running. Where can I find one of your books to give him?”

I handed her the one I’d used as a prop that day. “Here, let me sign this for... What’s his name?”

Chris was then a freshman at Boston University. He hadn’t competed on any high school or college team, but had run as far as a half-marathon during Outward Bound training.

In 1990, just before graduating from BU, he wanted to run the Boston Marathon without trying to qualify. He would jump in as a “bandit,” which is what local college students do there.

He asked me for a training program, but we never discussed how closely he followed it. On race day he started at sub-seven-minute pace and finished with 10-minute-plus miles for a total time of about four hours.

I thought this would have cured him of long-distance running. But as his work took him to Hong Kong, he joined the Hash House Harriers and another running club.

He announced, “Now I plan to run the Macau Marathon. I’m training well and would like to qualify for the 100th Boston.”

A tall goal, since as a 27-year-old male he faced Boston’s highest entry standard: a 3:10. Hoping he wasn’t setting himself up for disappointment, I sounded a note of caution. Even a time a half-hour slower than his goal would be impressive under the circumstances.

Chris might have taken my conservative tone as a challenge. His first communication with us after the marathon wasn’t the usual call or email.

Instead his told-you-so response was perfectly understated. He simply faxed his finisher’s certificate. I couldn’t have been more surprised, or pleased, with his time of 3:07:43 if I’d qualified myself.

Photo: My future stepson Chris Hazen became a Boston marathon veteran at age 21.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Aging Games

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1989.)

THE WORLD Veterans Championships is the closest an older runner can come to competing in the Olympic Games. Landing in Eugene in 1989, it was the closest an “Olympics” for elders would ever come to my home.

This was the greatest meet I’d ever seen, and I had seen a lot in 25 years of covering this sport. The size and spirit of this event moved me as no other had, including three actual Olympics.

Competition for veterans – or masters, as older runners are known in the U.S. – was still a young movement in 1989. These championships, which came to this country for the first time, were only 14 years old.

Like a child of that age, vets running was both growing and maturing quickly. We were just beginning to see what its adult identity might be.

In its short life, this arena had already produced three generations of winners. First came the new and renewed athletes who hadn’t competed since their youth (if then), started training for fitness in middle age and couldn’t stop with that. They created the first demand for separate veterans meets, and won most of the early prizes.

The new opportunities gave long-time runners in their 30s a new reason to continue. Soon a second generation of winning vets was born – formerly near-great athletes who won by outlasting the people who had outrun them in their youth.

Now a third generation was emerging – superstars who remained competitive until they reached vet status. The quality of competition had improved vastly because of them.

So had the quantity of competitors. The WVC had more than tripled in size, to almost 6000 entrants, since its first edition in Toronto.

But while growing bigger and better, these championships hadn’t forgotten their original purpose – to serve the athletes, not the interests of nations or fans. Vets entered the Worlds as individuals, not as national teams, and the athletes paid for their own trips.

This meet made room for anyone who wanted to compete, no matter how unwieldy the program grew. No one was turned away because of advanced age, lack of ability or overcrowded fields. Officials simply added more age-groups and races as demand warranted.

The medal-winners, record-setters and superstars weren’t the big news here. The top story concerned all these people who came to Oregon to compete – not to win, in most cases, but to do whatever their abilities would allow.

As the World Veterans Championships have grown, they’ve stayed true to the original Olympic ideal. The glory of World Vets isn’t reserved for the athletes who place first but extends to everyone who takes part.

Mr. Olympics himself, four-time discus gold medalist Al Oerter competed in Eugene. He said later, “I truly enjoyed it. This is what the Baron [de Coubertin] had in mind when he started the Olympics way back when.

“This is more like the Olympics than the Olympics. It’s the spirit of participation.”

One of the most emotional moments I’ve experience in sports came during opening ceremonies for the World Veterans Championships. I stood in a packed stadium as thousands of athletes marched in an Olympic-style parade.

“These are the elite of the planet,” commented my partner Barbara. She wasn’t speaking in athletic terms. “These people came from all over the world and have lived through wars, and in some cases fought them against each other,” she said. “They have lived through depressions and now have prospered well enough to pay their own way here.”

They also have been lucky enough to avoid disabling accident and disease, or strong enough to overcome them. These are the world’s best strivers and survivors.

GEORGE SHEEHAN ranked as one of the world’s elite – as a physician and father, as a writer and speaker – even before his World Vets race was run. Advanced prostate cancer, diagnosed three years earlier, now had robbed him more of stamina than speed.

So the longtime road racer chose 800 meters as his distance in Eugene. I turn the rest of this report over to him, as a column that he wrote while flying home to New Jersey after this race:

When I began running at Brooklyn Prep in the 1930s, I ran the half-mile. My running was limited to a few minutes of fear, followed by effort, then pain and then peace. The youthful middle-distance runner knows full well that the 800-meter race is an inextricable mix of joy and pain.

At 70, I returned to the races of my youth. Instead of getting old, I grew young, and in Eugene I was the adolescent living the adolescent’s dream.

The gun sounded, and I was running a world championship 800-meter race for men my age. It was enough to make anyone lose his wits, and I did.

The world’s best 800-meter runners of my age went out at flank speed, and I went with them. With a lap go I felt like I was finished, but I held on to pass the German and finish seventh in 2:48.2.

Later when I was flying home, still filled with this sense of being an old-young runner, I reviewed the tables that grade performance by age. How did my 2:48 compare with the half-miles I ran long ago as a senior in high school?

A quick calculation showed that my mark in Eugene was equivalent to breaking two minutes, something I never did at Brooklyn Prep. Somewhere over Iowa my eyes filled with tears.

Photo: “Mr. Olympics,” four-time gold medalist Al Oerter, remained competitive in his masters years.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Total Fitness

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1988.)

BEFORE YOU adopt the advice from any book, first judge the author’s qualifications and limitations. I named strengths and admitted weaknesses while prefacing my 1988 textbook Total Fitness: Training for Life. It reads in part:

I’ve practiced one particular fitness activity for all or parts of four decades. I’ve reported on the experiments-of-one of myself and others for almost that long. However, as I became more of a runner, my overall fitness slipped.

In my teens I took fitness for granted. It wasn’t a goal in and of itself but an automatic result of how I lived: working on a farm, eating wholesome local products, living slowly and quietly in a small town, walking or bicycling a paper route, playing a variety of sports.

I was 14 years old and already fit when running became my special sport. I never have run purely for fitness, but was attracted to it first for the excitement of competition.

I stick with it now as a relaxing recreation. I would have run 99.9 percent of the last 10,000 days even if it had done me no good physically. Whatever physical fitness it yields is a by-product of more immediate rewards from doing what I enjoy.

The running surely does promote fitness. Direct benefits include a well-tuned aerobic system and the luxury of eating my fill without gaining (much) weight.

Running also promotes good health habits indirectly. I’ve never smoked and rarely drink alcohol. Concerns over effects on today’s performance are more effective in controlling these vices than warnings about their long-term damage.

Having patted my own back, I now confess that my approach hasn’t been the best one for overall fitness. Dr. George Sheehan says, “Fitness is a stage you pass through on the way to becoming an athlete.”

The work of maximizing running results is too hard and too specialized to promote balanced fitness. So athletes often become less fit than moderate exercisers in terms of balanced development. I was less fit at my competitive peak than when I started running – and than I am now.

In my 20s, I practiced no supplementary exercises and no alternative sports. I paid little attention to diet except as it directly affected performance.

I accepted chronic physical fatigue and emotional strain as the prices of racing success. I regret none of this, but also know I couldn’t have gone on living indefinitely this overspecialized, overstressed way.

A more balanced approach replaced it in my 30s and 40s. Running-induced injuries forced the adoption of stretching exercises into the daily routine – along with the replacement of some runs with walking or bicycling. Unbalanced muscle development – strong legs under an atrophied upper body – led to adding small but regular amounts of strength training.

Nutrition-related health crises in my family, plus some late-blooming food intolerances of my own – inspired dietary changes. Running evolved from being a cause to a cure for chronic tiredness and tension.

My history reflects the story of the fitness movement in the 1980s. It has trended away from overemphasis on a single activity – be it aerobic, muscular, nutritional or stress-reduction – and toward total fitness.

The Total Fitness book takes a total, well-rounded, long-range approach. I hope to teach you its ingredients and their combinations faster than I learned them, and I hope you enjoy your results as much as I have mine.

THE SAME month as the Total Fitness book’s release in 1988, I shared a stage with Dr. Kenneth Cooper. His original Aerobics book, published in 1968, was the first I read that talked of running purely as a prescription item. He was the first person I interviewed face to face two years later in my new job with Runner’s World.

His approach to exercising for health and fitness won many converts, but I didn’t think in 1970 that it applied to me. I ran far more than he prescribed for health maintenance, and I had never run purely for fitness.

Dr. Cooper had implied early on that if some training was good, more would be better. After seeing an “overwhelming” number of injuries and burnouts in higher-mileage runners, he recommended running no more than three miles a day and five days a week. He stated, “If you run more than 15 miles a week, you are running for reasons other than fitness.”

At the time I and most of the runners I knew ran for reasons other than fitness – or at least in addition to it. We trained to race or to settle our nerves. Our running was just getting started at the point where Dr. Cooper asked us to stop.

Then, many more years after he’d written his specific fitness prescription and I’d first denied its application to me, we met at the 1988 Fitness Fest in Shreveport, Louisiana. “I’ve finally caught up with you,” I told him. “You were right for me after all.”

He looked puzzled at this opening, so I explained: “I now run a half-hour, covering no more than three miles, five days a week.”

Cooper smiled, then said, “I’m in my 28th year of running. I’ve run more than 23,000 miles and have no muscular-skeletal problems.”

He always followed his own prescription. I still cheated on it the sixth running day of each week by going longer (often much longer) than three miles or faster-than-normal pace, or both.

But for most of our runs we’d arrived at the same conclusion for different reasons. Dr. Cooper ran to stay fit; I to refresh, relax and rebuild between big efforts.

Photo: I finally came to practice in 1988 what Dr. Kenneth Cooper had prescribed for two decades.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Beginning Again

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1987.)

LOVE CAN come when you stop looking for it. It can come in the form of someone you already know as a friend but haven’t thought of as the future love of your life.

In late 1987, I wasn’t looking. I was scrambling to support two households, and failing. I filed for and was granted bankruptcy.

My divorce now final, I was a single dad to my two older children (who lived with me for school reasons) and had the third with me every other weekend. I’d turned in my only car when its lease expired and couldn’t afford another.

I’d had a couple of flings with local women since my separation, but these hadn’t led anywhere. I’d had a long-distance relationship with a much younger woman that had lingered for years, but we now were seeing that getting together mostly by phone would lead us nowhere. She needed to move on.

That Thanksgiving, which the kids spent with their mom, friends invited me to dinner without telling me that the woman of this couple was hatching a plot. She’d also invited Barbara Shaw.

I knew Barb casually. We had met at a University of Oregon journalism class 18 months earlier, when she was a grad student and I a visiting speaker.

When I started teaching there, we often met and talked in the hallways. She told me about her son, a runner, and I talked of my children. Neither of us guessed that the other was available.

“You seemed so married,” Barb would tell me later. I thought the same of her. I guessed that her husband would join us for Thanksgiving dinner.

She missed that meal, where I learned that she had no husband. The hostess, Karen Myers, made sure during our dinner that I knew this… and that Barb had missed her flight back from Hong Kong where she was visiting her son… and that “we’ll get together with her soon.”

Karen wouldn’t let this be an indefinite “soon” that might never come. She would check back with me about a time and place after my return from the Honolulu Marathon.

Honolulu was another down time. A monsoon drenched that weekend, further dampening my already low spirits.

I traveled alone to one of the worst places to go alone. I stayed in a top-priced hotel room, which was comped, and wondered if I could pay for meals, which weren’t covered. My speaking ended that Saturday, so I took a midnight flight home and missed seeing the marathon.

By then I’d almost forgotten about the makeup meal with Barb Shaw. But Karen Myers wouldn’t let it slide.

She called to ask, “Does lunch with Barb and me on Friday work for you?” It did. She also remembered that I was carless and said, “I’ll come and pick you up.”

We ate, we talked, then Karen made some excuse for not being able to drive me home.  “Can you take him?” she asked Barb. This too was part of the matchmaker’s plot to put us alone together.

We talked during the short drive about my being between cars. Then she volunteered, “I have a van that mostly sits in the driveway. Would you like to use it?”

This led to another visit, officially to look at the old Dodge that lacked a back seat. Looked fine to me, so Barb handed me the keys.

“As a thank-you, let me take you to dinner,” I said. This happened the weekend before Christmas. Neither of us called it a “date,” but it was.

We had taken 18 months from meeting to first date, and 18 hours until the second. (Thanks to my children for an assist on this. They were at their mom’s for the holiday, leaving me free to go out two nights in a row.) From then on we would be inseparable.

OUR FRIENDSHIP took its sweet time growing into a romance. But once Barb and I became a couple, we acted quickly.

In March 1988 we moved in together, along with my older two kids. She’d raised her own son Chris and stepdaughter Megan into independent young adulthood, and thought she was done with that part of her life.

Now she was willing to start over with my 14-year-old Sarah and Eric, 10, plus a handicapped frequent visitor Leslie, then five. We talked about really starting over, by having at least one child together, but wisely decided against it after projecting ourselves as parents of high school graduates while in our 60s. 

Money-wise Barb insisted that I dig out of my financial woes. This took awhile but finally succeeded (also thanks in no small part to the remarriage, in late 1987, of my first wife Janet).

By fall of our first year together we found a way, despite my blown credit, to buy a house. To prove to myself that I was solvent again, I soon bought a well-used Honda of my own to replace the van that I’d borrowed from Barb.

We celebrated one year together by taking our first joint vacation: to Hawaii. I couldn’t have hoped for a bigger, faster turnaround than mine since the last solo trip to the islands. My new travel partner made all the difference.

Photo: How (young) we looked the year we met.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]