Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 08 Nov 2008 05:53:36 -0500

Significant Others

RUNNING COMMENTARY

[rerun from November 1998 RC]

I work alone by necessity. This is the only way to write, in solitary confinement and not in a committee meeting room.

I run alone by choice. This is the only way to get done the uninterrupted thinking that is training for writing. Chatting away the miles would interfere with the idea-gathering.

I spend much of my day alone. But I'm not a loner, and seldom feel lonely. Runners wouldn't let me be that way even if those were my leanings, which they aren't.

My running friends talk with me often and at length. Some visit in person, but most cross long distances by way of phone calls, letters and e-mails. I know many of them only through their published writings, and visit a growing number of old friends only in memory.

Reading and writing let me reach out across space and time to commune with runners. I've done this for four-fifths of my life.

This practice began when I was a new runner, living on the outer fringes of the sport. Back then I almost never saw a big-name athlete or coach, but they came to my mailbox in smalltown Iowa by way of Track & Field News and Long Distance Log, and through books starting with those of Arthur Newton, Franz Stampfl and Fred Wilt.

People I never met taught me how to run. The stories they told didn't just inform me; they inspired me.

Later my career took me to the very center of the sport, where I ran the races that signaled the boom in running. I put together the main magazine that reported and spurred this growth. I talked directly with the people igniting the explosion.

Later still I've backed a few steps away from running's center, to a quieter place for doing my work. But from here I still keep in close touch with runners everywhere, and write about many of them.

My files bulge with "people" stories written for my diary, newsletter and an occasional magazine column. Until now, though, I've had little chance to preserve these stories between book covers.

Of more than two dozen books, only one has dealt with a person (as opposed to running practices and personal experiences). The exception was Did I Win?, a biography of George Sheehan that happens to be my favorite of everything I've written.

People stories have always been my favorite type as a reader. They give life to the times and techniques. They inspire as well as inform.

These stories still do all of that for me, even after reading them since the 1950s. The gap in my book writing is not giving proper credit and enough thanks to the people who are with me on every mile run and every line typed.

My next book's title will reflect my feelings for these people: See How We Run. Notice the pronoun: WE Run, not THEY. We are doing this together, whether we're side by side on the same course or reaching out across space and time for our companionship.

George Sheehan liked to say when he borrowed lines from other great thinkers, "We stand on the shoulders of giants." I like another analogy better: We take the relay baton from giants and carry it to the next eager hand.

My job in the "See" book will be to introduce the giants and their messages to you. I won't run-write as an unattached individual but as a relay man. I took the stick from these teammates with the understanding that it would next go to someone farther down the line.

UPDATE. Ten years later I still haven't compiled See How We Run. But I've written stories that might have made up that book. Many of them appear in the memoir titled Starting Lines, now being serialized on this website. You can find completed chapters at http://www.joehenderson.com/startinglines. Each piece honors someone who handed me a baton to carry and pass.

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