(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 2004.)
ONE DOOR CLOSING allows another to open. My sudden parting with Runner’s World, after so long there, didn’t come as a shock to me. It felt more like a lingering death in the family – sad when it finally came, to be sure, but also bringing some relief that the waiting for the inevitable was over.
My column didn’t stay homeless for long – just days. Marathon & Beyond magazine editor Rich Benyo and publisher Jan Seeley would hand me their “On the Road” column after current columnist Barry Lewis’s term expired later in 2004.
This truly felt like a homecoming since it brought me back together with Rich. We’d never strayed too far apart since our first meeting in 1977.
On mutual friend Hal Higdon’s recommendation, Rich came for a job interview at Runner’s World. I helped hire him as my future replacement editor, where he served a term exactly the same length as mine had been.
When Rich bailed out of the RW offer after seven hectic years, he became co-director of the Napa Valley Marathon. He invited me there as a speaker in the early 1990s and has kept the invitations coming ever since.
We worked longest and most closely (if 500 miles apart and by email is “close”) on the biggest book either of us has written. We wouldn’t or couldn’t have done it alone, but together we produced the Running Encyclopedia.
We knew we teamed up well. Now, finally, we would get the chance to do that again with a magazine.
I would enjoy just as much working with publisher Jan Seeley. We don’t have a Benyo-length connection, but still a long and good one.
Jan served as an editor at Human Kinetics when I first hooked up with that Champaign, Illinois, company as an author in 1995. She co-edited, with husband Joe Seeley, the RRCA magazine FootNotes during its very best years.
Jan made me feel part of the M&B family even when I wasn’t a writer there. Our best “reunion” came each summer at the Dick Beardsley Marathon Camp in Minnesota.
The move to Marathon & Beyond felt like a homecoming in another way. M&B reads like the old Runner’s World.
My daughter Sarah reminded me how far today’s RW is from the earlier model. A co-worker of hers passed along two copies from 1976, which she read and then gave to me.
Those magazines were more about running itself as I knew and loved it, and still do. The stories were longer and meatier, giving readers more credit for knowledge and experience.
Marathon & Beyond knew we had something good going then, and still honored it. I thought of M&B as the “New Yorker of running magazines,” where Rich and Jan let the writers write in their own ways and at whatever length the subject required. I hadn’t felt so much at home, so wanted and needed, in years.
THE STAGE changed, but the tunes remained the same. When my column migrated from one magazine to another in 2004, my instructions from Marathon & Beyond editor Rich Benyo were simple: “Keep doing what you did before.”
Privately I asked myself while stepping onto this new stage: Do I really belong here? Readers were justified in asking how well I could speak to their interests.
What were my credentials, not as a writer but as a runner? They ran marathons and, for some, beyond that distance. Did I?
Well, no, not lately. My life as a marathoner had sputtered to a halt four years earlier, after four dozen finishes spread over four decades.
I wasn’t ready to say that the last one had been run. But the passing years have turned a probably-soon into a maybe-someday.
My life as an ultrarunner never really got started. I dropped out more often than finished those few races, all run by 1971.
Which returned us to that question: Did I have anything left to say to runners of distances now available to me only in aging logbooks?
I finally justified my new position at Marathon & Beyond by broadening the definition of “beyond.” It didn’t have to mean only “longer than.” The word could also imply “in addition to.”
Beyond could include runs other than marathons and ultras, the shorter training and racing that isn’t devalued by the long. Beyond also could include what happens after the long races are finished, when the knowledge of and appreciation for marathoning and ultrarunning don’t end at the final finish line.
Paul Reese, the grandest old man of the roads I know, once bristled when I referred to him as an “ex-Marine.” Colonel Reese corrected me by saying firmly, “There’s no such thing as an ex-Marine.” He explained that once you’ve had that experience, and Paul had it in three wars from the 1940s to the 1960s, it never leaves you.
Likewise there are no ex-marathoners or ex-ultrarunners. Once you join this club, you never really leave. The experience stays with you, to share with the runners who follow you on these courses.
Those who stand and watch also participate. If you’ve gone to a marathon to support the runners you knew, to wait for their faces to appear in the crowd, then you’ve been involved too. Standing and watching can stir your emotions in same ways that running does, and sometimes more.
We who stand and watch also serve. We cheer the runners who do what we once did, giving them support that we once received.
We show these passers-by that what they do does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. No one knows them better than one who has passed this way before.
Photo: Marathon & Beyond ran the good race from its first issue in the mid-1990s through its final one in 2015.
[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.]