(This is the 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)
October 1998. My favorite part of going on the road to talk is listening. That is, hearing the questions that runners ask of me at the end of my speeches.
I don’t have all the answers, or even a majority of them, but the pondering the unanswerable is still a worthwhile exercise. While flying recently to a race, I filled the time by listing sentences, each ending with a question mark.
Why, if people who run beyond 26.2 miles are called “ultramarathoners,” aren’t those who run less called “submarathoners”? Why, if we have triathletes and duathletes, aren’t running specialists called “monoathletes”?
Why are older runners called “masters” in this country, a term that denotes skill and not age, instead of the international “veterans”? Why does the public persist in calling runners the despised J-word, which is like referring to skiers as “sliders” or golfers as “swingers”?
Why haven’t we coined a better name than “half-marathon,” the only one known as a portion of another distance and by implication inferior to it? Why can’t we replace the half-marathon with a 20K, and maybe call it a “double-10” or “ultra-10”?
Why do we race by kilometers but still take splits and average our pace by miles, which sound slower and come up less often than the K’s? Why do we train by miles when kilometers would add up faster and sound like greater totals?
Why can’t we find a classier term for walking breaks than “run/walk” — such as “interval racing” or “Gallowalks”? Why, if walking breaks are so beneficial, do runners still run in circles while waiting for stoplights to change?
Why do so few races fall into the great gap between the half-marathon and marathon, when these in-between races are great training for either event? Why does cross-country remain a sport for school kids, when adult legs need the break from the roads more than young legs do?
Why do watches give times in hundredth-seconds when official times always round up to the nearest full second in off-track races? Why, if watches split times into hundredths, do runners talk of their own times by rounding them down to the full minute?
Why is your favorite shoe the one that just disappeared from the marketplace because it wasn’t popular enough? Why do so many of today’s finest running shoes come with the fat, round laces that don’t stay tied?
Why don’t more running shorts come with bigger pockets for carrying gel and bar snacks? Why do overdressed runners not remember that they’ll warm up during the run and then end up with extras clothes draped around their waist?
Why do runners who profess a belief in “listen to your body” take pain-killers to quiet the body’s messages? Why does the body lie about how good or bad it feels right before the run, or especially the race, begins?
Why, if male athletes are “jocks,” aren’t women athletes named for an item of apparel? Why, if women are equal to men in the races, the men’s results are almost always listed first in news reports?
Why, if “to finish is to win,” do finishers risk bodily harm to themselves and others to move up from 1002nd to 1001st place? Why, if “everyone’s a winner,” do races still keep score and give prizes to a few of the winners?
2018 Update. Twenty years later, half-marathons have proliferated. So why is the plural of that distance commonly called as “halfs” instead of the grammatically proper “halves”?
[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, Next Steps, 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.]