(This piece is for my book titled Pacesetters: Runners Who Informed Me Best and Inspired Me Most. I am posting an excerpt here each week, this one from December 2007.)
DON OF A NEW AGE. We can’t see a Golden Age while it is happening. We can’t spot the greatness of an era until we’ve seen how far it stands above the years that followed.
Given a generation’s perspective, we now see the 1970s as the Golden Age of U.S. men’s marathoning at the Olympics. We can say the same for U.S. running writing, and in two cases the names of runner and writer overlap.
Look at all the Seventies yielded, and no later decade has: in Olympic running, Frank Shorter’s gold and silver medals at Munich and Montreal, plus the fourth places of Kenny Moore and Don Kardong. In best-selling writing (for all topics, the running books of Jim Fixx, George Sheehan and the Bob Glover-Jack Shepherd team.
These authors earned their success. They wrote well and delivered the right message at the right time, as running and running bookselling boomed together.
But I’d argue that Fixx, Sheehan and Glover-Shepherd weren’t the best writers the Seventies spawned. For quality and durability of their work, I’d go with Moore and Kardong.
They have more in common than their near-misses at the Olympics. Moore and then Kardong, a few years later, were Pacific Northwest-born, ran for Pac-8 (now Pac-12) colleges and were world-class in track before turning to the marathon, and peaked in the 2:11s.
And both broke into running writing in a magazine that I edited at the time. Moore first appeared there in 1970, and Kardong five years later.
How Don tells stories distinguishes him from his fellow fourth-placer. One isn’t better than the other; they’re just different.
When I first talked to Kenny Moore about rerunning his article, he was studying for a graduate degree in creative writing. He was in training for the career to come.
When I asked Don Kardong to write his first article, about his 1975 trip across the newly opened borders of China, he was working as an elementary schoolteacher. A career as a writer? You can’t be serious.
His apparent lack of seriousness, or at least inability to take himself and the sport too seriously, would distinguish his writing and endear him to readers. With Moore, you expected to be impressed by his thoughts and observations. With Kardong, you expected to be amused by his experiences and misadventures.
This isn’t to say that Don writes the way a slapstick comic performs. He’s no buffoon. His relaxed style features a gentle jibe here (often aimed at himself) and a clever turn of phrase there.
The writing appears to entertain Don as much as it does his readers. It seems to be his break from the serious contributions he makes to the sport and to his community.
He helped professionalize running as a co-founder of the Association of Road Racing Athletes (now known by the initials PRRO). He served as long-distance chairman of USA Track & Field and as president of the Road Runners Club of America.
Don’s writing pace has slowed of late, and not just because of competing obligations. Curiously, Runner’s World stopped assigning articles to this longtime favorite of its readers.
Now, finally, Don is back writing for a national audience. His column has appeared in each issue of Marathon & Beyond since early 2007.
Readers can again smile and laugh along with this runner-writer from the Golden Age. His work still glitters a generation later.
UPDATE. At home in Spokane, Washington, Don Kardong launched and now serves as fulltime race director of the Bloomsday 12K race. His writings are again absent from national running publications.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. 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.]