Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Inventors


(When Runner’s World cut me loose as a columnist in 2004, I wasn’t ready to stop magazine work. This year I post the continuing columns from Marathon & Beyond. Much of that material now appears in the book Miles to Go.)

2007. Running, the act, didn’t need inventing. It came as original human equipment from – take your pick – the great master planner of the universe or by evolutionary accident. Our kind is designed to run, and only in the last blink of our history has this act become optional.

The activity of running, the modern sport and exercise, did need shaping. Inventors, innovators and instigators had to step forward to lead us where we are today. Who are they?

The question is timely because, as this column reaches print, it’s 40 years since Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon as the first woman pinned to an official race number. In 1967 a national magazine article previewed an upcoming book promoting running for fitness, Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s Aerobics. It’s 30 years since the first running boom peaked. In 1977 Jim Fixx’s Complete Book of Running was scaling the best-seller lists.

I’m old enough to have run and written through those revolutionary times. Boston 1967 was my first marathon, run as anonymously as Switzer’s was sensationally. That also was my first year as a columnist in a running magazine. In 1977, I resigned as editor of Runner’s World, foolishly thinking that book sales would free me from working at a real job, a la Fixx.

I’m better at reporting than predicting, so I can see now what was hazy to me 30 and 40 years ago: how big running would become in those years, how long that first boom would last (and it quieted in the 1980s before booming again, louder, in the 1990s), and who laid the early groundwork for all that we still have today.

Two major and separate streams – running for fitness and training to race – came together in the years 1967-77. The two greatest pioneers were Kenneth Cooper and Arthur Lydiard. Fittingly each had dipped his feet into both streams.

Dr. Cooper was a college miler, then he ran the Boston Marathon while in medical school. As an Air Force physician he began researching fitness, which led him to praise endurance activities such as running, which led to his best-selling book Aerobics, released in 1968.

This book inspired hordes of new adult-onset runners, because running was simple and time-efficient. Many of them reached Cooper’s prescribed amount – two to three miles, three to five days a week – and looked to go longer and faster.

New Zealander Lydiard exported fitness running, “jogging” as it was called then, to the U.S. by way of Bill Bowerman. Lydiard is better known, though, as a coach of Olympic medalists: three runners with three golds and a bronze among them, all coming from his Auckland neighborhood.

This coach turned away from the standard training of his day – almost all of it fast and on the track. His runners trained long miles on the roads and trails. Their success bred imitation, and soon runners everywhere were training longer and slower.

The two separate streams joined in boom years to flood the roads with runners. Cooper Aerobics graduates took the next logical step up, to low-key road races. Lydiard devotees found they liked training on the roads and began to race there, a welcome step down from the intensity of track.

Others are credited with igniting this boom – Kathrine Switzer for women’s opportunities, Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers for success at high levels, Jim Fixx and George Sheehan for their writings, Bob Anderson for his magazine Runner’s World. But they are at least equally products and beneficiaries of the boom.

The same could be said for the many other businesses, events and organizations that served this burgeoning community. Their further success would depend on how many boomer runners kept running, and for how long – in years, not miles.

Hindsight is always clearer than foresight. Which is to say, it’s easier to report a phenomenon 30 or 40 years later than to predict a trend as it happens. Here are my confessions of how badly I underestimated running’s 1967-77 growth and change at the time.

Take the Boston Marathon as one example of sea changes. I first ran there in 1967 and thought the field might be the biggest I’d ever see. Seven hundred of us started. Ten years later, despite qualifying times designed to limit entries, the number there was 10 times larger.

In 1967, I thought that Johnny Kelley might be the oldest runner I would ever meet. He was 59. A decade later Kelley still ran Boston and was far from alone in his age-group. This wasn’t a young-person’s sport anymore, and the ex-runner was an endangered species.

Two women ran the 1967 Boston, one with a race number that her gender wasn’t yet welcome to wear. While I applauded what Kathrine Switzer did, I thought she might have set back women’s running by embarrassing certain officials. Just the opposite happened. The best change of the boom years was the feminizing of running.

I thought in 1967 that American marathoners couldn’t compete with the best of the rest of the world. A U.S. man had won at Boston just once since World War II, in 1957. Fortunes changed.

Amby Burfoot won that race in 1968. Then between 1973 and 1977, four of the five men’s and five women’s titles went to Americans. I thought by 1977 that they would keep winning indefinitely. Then they were swept aside by the rising tide of worldwide talent.

Later. If you ask me now where running as a whole is headed, my most honest answer is the same one I should have given in 1967 or 1997: I don’t know but can only guess.

As you’ve seen, my crystal ball has always been cloudy. But if you ask where my running (now walking) is headed, the answer is easy: straight ahead for as long as possible, no matter how many others continue – or don’t.

I’m not unique. Many of you also know that you never want to stop. This will assure a good long run into the future that counts the most. Your own. You invented your running and will keep reinventing it.

(Photo: Dr. Kenneth Cooper produced the science that supported the running boom.)


[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, Running With Class, 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.]



Friday, July 12, 2019

The Outdoors


(When Runner’s World cut me loose as a columnist in 2004, I wasn’t ready to stop magazine work. This year I post the continuing columns from Marathon & Beyond. Much of that material now appears in the book Miles to Go.)

2007. A regular run of mine passes along a creekside path. On one side is a botanical garden, on the other a fitness center.

Side-by-side treadmills look out, through a floor-to-ceiling window, onto the creek and garden. Both treadmills are always occupied at the time I run past their users’ window to the outside world.

The treadmillers might be more fit than I am (and surely are younger, better dressed and better groomed). But I think while looking in on them that there’s far more to running than fitness, and they’re missing almost everything but their workout.

The run that touched off this column came on a springtime morning. The chilly air still carried a bite of winter, reluctant to depart.

But the day’s dawning came early enough now to let me see what I passed through and not just trust it to be here. This morning exploded with the sights, sounds and smells of the new season.

Treadmillers miss most of this. The climate and light inside their club never change. They hear the grinding of their machines, or the background sound of music and news. They smell only each other or the deodorizers that mask the aromas of human effort.

I applaud the treadmillers for their effort, which probably is greater than mine. But I wish they would step across the plate-glass window and experience the wider world of running outside.

Exercising indoors, and in place, is like watching the natural world pass by through a car window. You see it but don’t feel it. You’re apart from it, not really a part of it.

In the gym, every day is much like every other. Outdoors, no day is quite like any other.

I’m out every day of every week at dawn or before. I run most of those days. But even when the day calls for a walk, I’m still out at the same hour, in the same clothes and on the same routes, for the same length of time.

Running days never exactly clone themselves. Conditions of weather, qualities of light, varieties of sight and sound are forever remixing into something new. Without stepping outside, you can’t know exactly what freshness the day holds.

Later. This was one for my friend Norm Lumian, who died in spring 2007. He was one of life’s ultrarunners, running for more than 60 of his 78 years.

Post-polio syndrome gradually took away the use of his legs. Anticipating his future, he adopted an unusual routine in the late 1990s: a run one day and a wheelchair session the next. No one I met on the streets and trails of Eugene appeared to enjoy mornings more than Norm, even as the speed and scope of his runs decreased.

The retired college professor often phoned to “grade” my columns and to “assign” new ones. He said late in his life, “Why don’t you write sometime about the simple pleasure of getting outside for a run each day?” Assignment completed, Professor.


(Photo: Pre’s Trail, the greatest of Eugene’s great outdoors.)

[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, Running With Class, 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.]

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Music


(When Runner’s World cut me loose as a columnist in 2004, I wasn’t ready to stop magazine work. This year I post the continuing columns from Marathon & Beyond. Much of that material now appears in the book Miles to Go.)

2007. USA Track & Field has picked a fight that is probably unwinnable as well as unnecessary. The sport’s rulers want to take away runners’ iPods and other music-players. If we don’t surrender them voluntarily, we can be disqualified.

Good luck with that. I see confrontations coming, both physical and legal.

This ruling reminds me of how USATF’s ancestor, the AAU, used to act. It once barred woman from long-distance races, and occasionally tried to remove them physically or penalize them legally for defying this edict.

The rationale was safety. Women were delicate and needed “protecting” from efforts this extreme. Women fought back and finally won.

The iPod ruling also is safety-based. But race day, when traffic is controlled, might be the safest time to run with plugged ears. The worst time to wear one is alone on a busy street.

This anti-iPod action doesn’t sink to the level of sex discrimination. But it does make rule-breakers of runners who don’t need to be.

As with the women of 40 years ago, runners will find ways around this ruling. They’ll conceal their iPods from the enforcers or find a race that ignores the rule. They won’t stop the music, except maybe voluntarily.

Forcibly removing someone’s iPod strikes me as wrong-headed. But giving a runner good, positive reasons to leave it behind by choice on race day is worthwhile.

A young runner on my marathon team wasn’t aware that iPods weren’t allowed in his race (which wouldn’t have enforced the rule anyway). Tim Cole always trained to music, but on Eugene Marathon day he chose to go without – and won his age group.

Tim is uncommonly wise and well-spoken for 19. He said after that race:

“It was the first time I had run without my iPod. This came from advice from the first marathon runner in my family, my mom. The experience of the race would have been incredibly tarnished by such artificial sound.

“In hindsight it was the quickest three hours and 13 minutes of my life. After the marathon, many of my fraternity brothers asked me, ‘What did you think about during the race?’ The truth was I thought less than I expected.

“I did not need to escape. I enjoyed being right where I was.”

I own two different iPod models, and love their sound quality and portability. On the campus where I teach, I’m one of the world’s oldest iPod wearers. A student once joked as I fumbled at the buttons beneath a jacket, “What are you doing, adjusting your pacemaker?”

Music, from a computer library that bulges with more than 2500 songs, travels with me much of each day. But the sound goes off when I go for a run. Don’t want it then; don’t need it.

Later. The rare exception to the last line above was when I trained extra-long for a marathon. I didn’t have enough good thoughts to last all those hours alone and need some outside help.

But on marathon day I left the iPod in my hotel room. Wearing it would have blocked out the live voices of race day, the exchanges with other runners and cheers from the supporters, which sound sweeter than any song.

(Photo: Tim Cole goes Podless at the 2007 Eugene Marathon.)


[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, Running With Class, 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.]


Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Grief-Giver


(When Runner’s World cut me loose as a columnist in 2004, I wasn’t ready to stop magazine work. This year I post the continuing columns from Marathon & Beyond. Much of that material now appears in the book Miles to Go.)

2007. My college coach, Bob Karnes, died this summer. I’m glad I had the chance to apologize to him in print for the grief I gave him at Drake University, and to thank him for not writing me early off as a recruiting mistake and a lost cause. “Coach” (which I called him to the end, never “Mr. Karnes” or “Bob”) let me stumble around to find a way that differed from his.

I could write a month’s worth of tribute columns to Coach Karnes. But here I’ll limit his praises to a few brief tales that tell the type of man and mentor he was.

NOVEMBER 1960. Before my name had popped up on any other college coach’s recruiting radar, Bob Karnes from Drake University spotted me. He was the first – and only – coach to visit my hometown in a remote corner of Iowa.

This scored big points in my recruiting game, as I looked for a college that both wanted me and I, it. After that there was little doubt where I’d go – and not just because his would be my only full-ride scholarship offer.

MAY 1962. A scholarship isn’t a free ride. Athletes work hard and long for it. The school expects a payback for its investment, and a runner can feel pressure to perform.

I failed to perform. From one May to the next my mile time slumped by almost half a minute. I hit the low point of my still-brief running life and wanted to quit the school, quit the team, even quit the sport.

As soon as Coach Karnes’s team training ended for the summer, I stopped running for the first time in almost four years. For all I knew or cared at the time, this was an early and permanent retirement.

For a full month I didn’t run a step. My only exercise was recreational swimming. I spent the early part of that summer wasting time with friends and trying not to think about what might come next.

JULY 1962. Stranded at the pool without a ride home, I started walking those two or three miles. The walk broke into a slow run, then a faster run, which led to a plan that would echo through my running (and writing) for a long time.

I would start a “second career,” with a whole new set of records. I would never again let running be the job it had been the past year. I would run for myself, by myself and compete against myself.

The problem was working up the nerve to present this plan to Coach Karnes. He could appear intimidating with his gray crewcut, hawklike nose and the stern bearing of the Navy Reserve officer that he was. Now I had to tell him about my plan to reject his training system and give up the scholarship he’d bestowed, then beg to remain with the team on race days.

“Can I talk to you?” I quaked from the open door of his cramped office. He waved me toward the only available visitor’s chair and said, “What’s on your mind?”

Out rushed my ideas. I wanted to lay them all on the table before he could mount an argument. To his everlasting credit, he heard me out.

Coach Karnes could have shouted, “Out! I never want to see you again.” Instead he said, “Here’s my offer. You can try it your way, though I don’t give it much chance of succeeding.

“The deal is, you must run every one of our time trials. If you do well enough, you’re on the team for the next meet. If not, you stay home.”

Later. Over the next three years I qualified for almost every trip. My times were good enough to contribute to the Drake team’s results and to repay Coach Karnes for his kindness.

At graduation time he said to me, “Do you know what your problem is? You like to run too much. Losing doesn’t bother you enough. Your attitude will keep you running for a long time, but you will never compete up to your potential.”

He was right on both counts. I’ll always thank him for giving me the chance to find that out.

(Photo: Drake coach Bob Karnes tolerated my independent ways that diverged from his.)


[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, Running With Class, 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.]