(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 June 1998.)
FATHER ROSS. I didn't want to believe the news when it reached me third-hand. But the source was too good a reporter to pass along an unfounded rumor this terrible.
Browning Ross was dead. A cop found him in his parked car after his usual morning three-mile run near his home in Woodbury, New Jersey.
A heart attack was blamed for his death a day after his 74th birthday. He died doing what he had lived.
If asked to name the fathers of modern U.S. road racing, I’d think first of Browning Ross. He was a terrific runner himself. He ran in two Olympics, 1948 and 1952, as a steeplechaser... won the 1951 Pan-American Games in the 1500... placed second in the steeple and fourth in the 5000... won a national cross-country title and more on the roads than he could remember.
A runner only works for his own good, though, and Browning worked for the good of all who ran. He never sought glory for his publishing and organizing, never was widely celebrated for it, and probably never realized the breadth and depth of his contributions.
In 1957 he started a magazine. Long Distance Log was the first to link the small and scattered band of road racers. Without his LDL there might never have been a Runner’s World, because he showed the future publisher and first editor what was possible. The Log faded out, with never a bitter public word from Browning, as RW found its legs in the early 1970s.
In 1958 he arranged a meeting in a New York City hotel room that led to formation of the Road Runners Club of America. There would have been an RRCA without him, but it wouldn’t have arrived as soon or had the voice that his magazine gave the fledgling club.
He served as chairman of the AAU long-distance committee. He championed women’s running at a time when the AAU’s geezers wanted to keep the sport all-male.
I saw him at the 1970 national convention in San Francisco. He chaired the meeting at which an official called women’s marathoning “a lark for housewives with too much time on their hands.” Browning rolled his eyes at that.
Mainly, though, Browning Ross acted locally. He coached at high schools, he operated a running store, and always he organized races.
He might hold the world record for number of events conducted. From his 20s through his last days he averaged at least one race a month.
The May 1998 issue of Runner’s World honored him, for his ongoing race directing, with its Golden Shoe Award. This was one of the few times his picture ever appeared in the magazine to which he could claim parenthood.
In spring 1998 the South Jersey Athletic Club gave him a tribute dinner for lifelong contributions. Somehow his teammates knew that it was time.
Sadly my tributes were posthumous. I carried his initials on my cap bill in my latest marathon. I dedicated my next book, Best Runs, to him.
You see, he wasn’t just a father of the modern sport. He was one of my own running fathers.
His magazine, which I first read in 1959, turned me toward longer running. My first words in a running publication appeared as a 1961 letter in Long Distance Log.
He offered me, someone he’d never seen and had talked with only by mail, a job at his summer camp and a place to live in 1964. I’ve always regretted turning him down.
He greeted me at my first marathon, Boston 1967, and introduced me to Tom Osler. Browning promoted Osler’s mini-classic, The Conditioning of Distance Runners, that same year – which inspired my booklet, LSD, a term I lifted from the pages of the Log.
I owe much to him. We all do, and can make partial payment by remembering him.
UPDATE. Breaking into Long Distance Log took no writing skill or experience. All I needed in the winter of 1961 was a envelope and stamp for mailing a handwritten note.
It began, “I am 17 years old and a senior in high school. If it is possible, could you include a few articles about the training methods employed by such great runners as Johnny Kelley, Deacon Jones, etc., to give boys like me an idea of what it takes in training to be a good long-distance runner.”
Browning Ross printed this letter, not because it said anything special but because it helped fill space. That was the beauty of the Log. Anyone, writer or runner, could break in there.
The other magazine of the time, Track & Field News, was different. It had high standards even then, both editorially and in the performances it listed.
T&FN told of running at its best. The Log covered all of us – and I do mean all, right back to the last finisher and often even the DNFs.
At its peak the Log attracted about 1000 readers. Browning knew most of us personally, and we often knew each other because our names went to everyone else whenever we ran a road race.
We read to see our own names (though we’d committed the times to memory months earlier) and to see how our friends were doing. We read for their letters... and for tidbits on training... and for articles duplicated from other publications, exactly as printed originally... and for Browning’s own sly and wise comments.
Browning Ross logged out as a publisher in 1975. To honor him as co-founder of the Road Runners Club of America, that organization now makes a complete set of Long Distance Logs available on its website, rrca.org.
[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.]