Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Worlds

(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 1970.)

ERAS DON’T usually divide neatly into decades. In any year January 1st is normally just another day following December 31st. But by a pair of coincidences no two days ever marked greater turning points for me than the last of the 1960s and the first of the 1970s. The first came from Kansas, as Bob Anderson arrived on the new decade’s eve in a U-Haul truck that bore the entire operation of his magazine.

Bob had made his first-ever call to me that fall. His voice came low and slow over the phone as he said, “I’m looking to make a move and would like to check out your area. We have almost no races for out-of-school runners back here, and northern California sounds like paradise.”

I invited him out for a visit this fall, not suspecting that his plans for me went beyond continuing my writing for Distance Running News, which I had done since 1967. “The draft is after me,” he said right after we exchanged greetings. “I need someone to take over the magazine while I’m in the Army, and you’re the obvious choice. Interested?”

Of course I was. “But you realize,” I said, “that the Army has its hooks in me too. The Reserves could call me to active duty.”

He said, “That’s a chance we have to take.” And we took it, to the benefit of both.

Turns out the draft would adopt a lottery system and Bob would draw a lucky number that freed him from military service. I would never serve more than weekends and summer camps.

Now, as the 1970s began, I was about to leave Track & Field News to team up with Bob at his magazine. He would have an editor who could free him to run the business of his magazine, which would have been a fiasco in my hands.

The magazine had a new name: The Runner’s World. “World” sounded grandiose for an operation this small. But notice the apostrophe in “Runner’s.” We aimed to cover whatever touched the individual runner, and I outlined our reach in my first editorial for RW.

The main line there: “It’s less important to us for one person to break four minutes in the mile with 50,000 people watching than to have 50,000 running eight-minute miles with no one watching.” This would be my central theme as chief propagandist for the magazine: get people running and keep them running, no matter their pace.

Bob Anderson also signed this editorial, but the thoughts and words were mostly mine. He didn’t always agree with me, but didn’t censor me here and wouldn’t later.

ONE WAY to find what you’ve long sought is to stop looking for it, letting it come to you when the time and place are right. I’d gone so long without a girlfriend that I had all but given up ever finding one. I had many friends who were female, but they viewed me as a buddy or a brother, nothing more.

By happy happenstance this drought ended as the new decade began. I welcomed the 1970s at the Midnight 10K race, where a gunshot joined the fireworks to set us off in the first second of the new year.

No year ever started further out of character for me than this one: to be awake and alert hours past my usual bedtime, to be racing in the dark, to be blind-dating afterward, or maybe not.

My running pal Jim Howell had a girlfriend named Barbara Allardyce. She had a younger sister who was between boyfriends at the moment. Knowing I was unattached, Jim schemed to put me in the company of his future sister-in-law.

“Janet is coming to the race with us,” he said. “Afterward there’s a party at her parents’ place. You’re invited.”

If this was a date, it was an odd one. I didn’t call 20-year-old Janet to make any plans. Though we both knew of the matchmaking plot, we exchanged only the briefest of “nice to meet yous” before the race and “see you laters” afterward.

Driving her to the party would have been strange because she was going home. Instead I went to my home to shower, then drove out into first hours of the 1970s, to the address Jim Howell had given me.

When I arrived, Janet was playing hostess. She did no more than nod to me across the crowded room.

An hour passed before we found ourselves together in the kitchen and finally talked. By then it was four o’clock in the morning. I left without asking her phone number.

New Year’s Day, Jim Howell invited me to watch football and eat party leftovers with him and Barbara. She greeted me with, “Well, how did you like her?”

I confessed wanting to know her better but doubting that my awkwardness the night before had impressed her. “You never know,” said Barbara with the smile of already knowing what her sister thought.

“Call her. Here’s the number.”

That call set in motion a quick series of life-altering events. Before the year was out, Janet Allardyce and I would share a house with Jim and Barbara. Less than year after that we’d be married.

Photo: Gerry Lindgren (left) and Mike Ryan shared the first cover of the newly renamed, relocated and restaffed magazine. Gerry later signed this copy.

[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, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]

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