(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 came from 2015.)
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO doesn’t go with me on my runs. That’s when I still resist listening to anything but live sounds. But NPR’s morning news is the last voice I hear before running and the first afterward.
At those times I used to hear a segment in the ongoing series titled “This I Believe,” now discontinued. Hearing these five-minute highly personal essays, I thought: I could write a book on that subject.
Then I remembered: Already did that. It was titled Long Run Solution (first published in 1976). That book was an extended version of what I believed while writing the book in the 1970s.
Thirty years after Solution’s publication I wrote an updated and much-condensed version for Marathon & Beyond – everything I believe about running in 100 words or less. A hundred per topic, that is, while totaling a couple dozen of those.
Rereading those pieces another 10 years later made me think: What if space had been tighter or the assignment stricter? Could I state my most fondly held beliefs in 25 words or less? I’ll try here, while also limiting the number of topics to the original 25?
I write here as my journalism instructors urged: in simple declarative sentences. They also gave a warning too often ignored: avoid first-person pronouns; keep yourself and your opinions out of the story.
No I’s, me’s or my’s appear from here on, but they’re implied. These are my beliefs. Adopt them, edit them or reject them, but think about what yours are.
1. “If you run more than 15 miles a week, you’re running for reasons other than fitness.” Kenneth Cooper said that, and he’s right.
2. There’s more to running than fitness. Running only to train your heart, lungs and limbs is as incomplete as eating only to exercise your jaws.
3. Training to race, and running for relaxation and meditation, begin where the exerciser stops. The early miles are warmup steps leading to the best part.
4. Limit the running to one hour a day, on average. Beyond that time, this hobby starts to feel like a second job.
5. Limit the hard days to one a week. This is all that most of us can tolerate, or can fit into life’s schedule.
6. Life is complicated enough without adding to the complexity when you run. Take a break by keeping the training simple, low-tech and low-key.
7. Race training balances three needs: long enough for your longest race, fast enough for the shortest, easy enough to recover from the hard runs.
8. We must run less than our best most of the time. Nine miles in every 10, and most days each week, must feel easy.
9. The long run means the most, by far, in marathon training. Take it and nothing else but easy runs and rest days, and you’ll race fine.
10. You don’t need to “finish” a marathon in training. Leave the final miles unexplored until race day, when it earns you a medal and a shirt.
11. A little bit of speed training goes a long way. Too much of it leads to dead-ends of injury and disappointment.
12. Limit the interval-training sessions of a road racer to 5K fast running, total. Limit the pace to that of a 5K race.
13. The best type of speed “training” is regular racing. You can’t duplicate the race-day experience, effort or excitement as well with tempo runs or intervals.
14. Racing is an unnatural act. Do it, but treat it as a prescription item best taken in small, well-spaced doses.
15. Race day is magical. It can spur you to run as much as a minute per mile faster than you'd cover the same distance by yourself.
16. Start at a cautious pace, and let the impatient runners sail ahead. Catch them later, when it's better to be the passer than the passee.
17. Frank Shorter said, “You can't run another race until you forget how bad the last one felt.” Forgetting is the last stage of recovery.
18. A good guide for recovery is not to run another race (or even to train long or fast) until one day has passed for each mile of the race.
19. “Winning is doing the best you can with what you’re given.” George Sheehan said that. Also, “Winning is never having to say I quit.”
20. You are good. There are no “bad” runners, only slower ones. You’re always way ahead of those who dropped out or never started.
21. Everyone in a race is not automatically a winner. You risk a loss whenever you race, but the only one who can beat you is yourself.
22. No matter how fast you are, running can always humble you. No matter how slow you are, running can always make you proud.
23. You never run alone, even when you appear to be by yourself. There with you is everyone who ever advised, inspired or supported your running.
24. Running interests evolve. Runners typically begin with fitness goals, graduate to chasing racing goals, then finally advance to running as its own reward.
25. Speed eventually drops, PRs become permanent, medals tarnish. All you can really hold onto is today’s run. All that lasts in running is the lasting.
Photo: Frank Shorter believes, “You can’t run another race until you forget how bad the last one felt.”
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]