Wednesday, January 25, 2017

First Book

(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 1969.)

YOU NEVER know when you adopt a practice if it will last long or end soon. Dozens of training plans had come and gone for me by the late 1960s, but finally I was well settled into a way of running that came to be known as LSD.

I was content with where these long slow distance runs were taking me. The previous year had been my best yet as a runner, with most of the many races resulting in PRs (some of which would become permanent).

I’d also settled into a dream job in a dream place, at Track & Field News in the San Francisco suburbs. One of the earliest articles under my byline talked about a chance meeting with a near-Olympian.  

This piece quickly set in motion a series of events that led to my becoming known – deservedly or not, for better or worse – as Mr. LSD. Here’s how that writing started:

The four of us fidgeted as we waited for Bob Deines to arrive. Each of us three-hourish marathoners, about to meet this 2:20 man, asked one way or another, “I wonder how fast he goes in training?”

This wasn’t intellectual curiosity speaking. It was personal concern.

None of us wanted to suffer so early on a Saturday morning, yet none wanted to miss this chance to run – at least a little bit, even too fast to talk – with this marathon prodigy. He was the alternate for last year’s U.S. Olympic team and placed sixth at Boston in both 1968 and 1969, all before his 22nd birthday and his college graduation.

Our worries began melting the minute Bob walked into Jeff Kroot’s living room. He complained, “I’m tired, I’m hungry, and my foot hurts.”

We started to relax in his company. But that question still hung over us: how fast? Bob hinted right away that we needn’t worry, that he was in no mood for speed this day.

His choice to join us this morning was practical. “The last thing I want to do is run,” he said, “but I’ve gotta do it. And it’s easier to do it with you guys than by myself.”

Trying to sound nonchalant, I finally asked, “How fast do you plan to go?” He said eight-minute pace, then added, “This is what I do almost every morning – two hours at about eight-minute pace.”

I asked, “So what do you do in the afternoon, after your slow morning run?”

He said, “Nothing. I never train more than once a day. I’d rather get in one solid long run a day than two short ones. Besides, all that showering and changing is a big waste of time.”

He added, “I may not have the greatest training method in the world, and I don’t claim that it is. But I enjoy it, it works for me, and I don’t get hurt.”

At age 22 he already was among the fastest U.S. marathoners, but his running sounded as simple and enjoyable as ours. He ran twice as much because his level of success required it, and raced a minute or two per mile faster because he could. Yet he trained even slower relative to his racing times than we did.

THE TRACK & FIELD NEWS article excerpted above spawned another for Distance Running News, titled “The Humane Way to Train.” (A typo made it “Human.”) It traced the roots and rationale of long slow distance.

LSD, a term I used for the first time there, wasn’t my coinage. Browning Ross introduced me to it in his magazine, Long Distance Log.

The practice of long slow distance wasn’t my invention either. I borrowed and blended ideas that Arthur Newton, Arthur Lydiard, Ernst van Aaken and Bill Bowerman had already promoted.

These two articles drew a few letters, asking to hear more. They caught the eye of T&FN publisher Bert Nelson.

He called me into his office and asked, “Could you flesh out your ideas enough to fill a book?” I would, and could, and did.

I wrote at home, nights and weekends – quickly, banging out the manuscript (on a small portable typewriter that danced across the kitchen counter as I composed) in less than a month. T&FN’s books back then were typically short, few of them reaching 100 pages. Mine was pegged at 64, and to fill that modest quota book editor Ed Fox needed to use large type, many photos and much white space.

I couldn’t really call this a book. LSD: The Humane Way to Train was a booklet, even a pamphlet, in size. But it would lay a foundation for much of what, and how, I’d write for a long time to come. I also would need to defend what I’d written about LSD – often to people who had never read the original.

Photo: Bob Deines helped set in motion the writing that led to my first book – LSD: The Humane Way to Train.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from 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, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]


  1. Your book, read long ago, and LSD have been my guides through the ages. Even though I gravitated from running to cycling, the same principle applied. At 81 years old I still ride over 3000 miles a year.

    Thank you!

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Richard. I'm glad the book's messages moved you... and still do. At a few years your junior, I walk/run now but still practice what I once preached in terms of distance and effort.

  2. Digging through my old boxes of books, I found a pile of Track and Field New Press books. The best one in the bunch: Long Slow Distance: The Humane Way To Train. 1969. Still do long distance cycling and swimming and, like Richard, the same principles apply. Had to give up running after 60 years....back issues.

  3. Thanks, Haystack (do I know you by another name?). I couldn't have guessed, when that book was coming together nearly a half-century ago, how slow "slow" would become. For me, it's now walking more miles than running. But as you say, the old principles still apply.