(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 final one in the series comes from 2017.)
THESE DAYS I write as I’ve long written. The first stop for the words is a page in an ongoing journal, and more often than not they go no further.
These writings almost always end at a single page. The frequency is daily, with no days off. The setting for this writing is an office at home that doubles as a bedroom for visitors.
Nothing here has changed much since I started writing these pages in 1959… No, that’s not quite right. I should say that this practice has circled back to how it began – before wordplay became a profession and an obsession, before the reporting took me far from home in search of stories, before I wrote in the offices of several different magazines.
The earliest writings were intended for my eyes only. Each day’s report occupied its own page (which held more white space than pen scratches and carried more numbers than words as I detailed the miles and minutes of that day’s run).
I started writing in support of my running hobby, and soon these were twin hobbies of equal standing. I wrote at a desk in a bedroom (except then it was where I also slept).
The habits aren’t much different today, only the setting. Then, as a 16-year-old, it was a small town in Iowa.
Now, in my Medicare years, it’s a mid-sized city in Oregon. The office in Eugene looks out toward the north and east, and if not for the trees and hills I could see Hayward Field and Pre’s Trail beyond.
Immediately outside the window is a space where a retired travel trailer used to rest and where I once wrote. My wife jokingly called it “the world headquarters for Running Commentary” (the one-man show of a newsletter that I still published on paper at the time).
When our son moved away, my office took over his bedroom. Then during a home remodel we added the office-slash-bedroom that I now occupy.
I made just one request during the planning of this room: built-in bookshelves. The books I’ve published now fill a cubicle two feet long, and the books I’ve edited occupy another space of similar size.
By far the most prominent feature of this wall of shelves, though, is the yearly journals. Their binders number almost 60 and spread across eight of the bookshelf slots.
I’ve long said that if a fire were to break out here and I had just a few minutes to save invaluables and irreplaceables, I’d head straight for the journals. They tell the real and full story of my life… the one that keeps growing every day I sit down to write again.
This is pure writing. I don’t write it on orders from an editor or publisher. I use no notes. I feel the eyes of no reader peering over my shoulder.
All of this might come later, or once did but seldom does anymore. For the first time in more than four decades I write regularly for no magazine.
I post regularly on Facebook, Instagram and several blogs. I keep a dozen old books and a few newer ones in print.
But the vast majority of current writing is unpaid and unseen again. It’s back to being mostly a hobby, as rewarding now as it was in the beginning.
THE WRITING has truly come home again, to a house where I finally feel very much at home. I’ve been here since 1992, but took a long time and a long and winding road to find this home.
I’d looked for one again ever since leaving my early hometown of Coin, Iowa. Over the next three decades I’d lived in four states, eight cities and towns, and 20 different houses (none longer than three years) before settling at the current address.
I’m not a hermit here that I once was. Even this house used to be a place to hide out and hunker down to write between trips.
I flew out of Eugene 20 to 25 times a year, to take the stage before running audiences and pretend to be famous. So much was I away, and so busy at home, that I played no role in Eugene’s large and lively running community.
Now I’m all but retired from the road. My travels have shrunk to three or four a year, nearly all of those for family reunions – with my real family and with running friends who feel like family.
Meanwhile I get out of my writing cave a lot more often – to teach running classes at the local university, coach marathoners through a local running store, help at several local races, and stand and cheer at many more. I’m home at last and loving it.
Photo: Pointing the way to runners from the Sunday team that I now coach.
[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.]