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

Thu, 16 Feb 2012 05:07:13 -0500

Pacesetters

RUNNING COMMENTARY 924

(I’m marking this newsletter’s 30th anniversary by revisiting one piece weekly from each year of the publication. This week’s is from January 1992. It also appears on Facebook on the “Joe Henderson’s Writings” page.)

Going outside to run wasn’t a big social activity for high school boys in the Midwest winter of 1959. I started running alone by necessity then. Now, in an era of choice, I still run solo by preference.

I’m a loner but never lonely. From 1959 on, I’ve taken support from a distance.

That year I started subscribing to the magazines Track & Field News and Long Distance Log. I read my first two books, one by Franz Stampfl and the other by Fred Wilt.

These writings told me I wasn’t alone. Other runners were out there training and racing – often alone too but not in isolation. Our publications linked us.

The runners who wrote and were written about didn’t know me then, but they became my extended family. They encouraged me, and I supported them. We were all in this sport together.

This “family” has grown through the years. I’ve gotten to know lots of its members, and try to stay in touch with as many as possible.

Running Commentary is one good link between us. It serves a different purpose than my work for other publications, which reach far bigger audiences but do it much less personally.

I know almost everyone on the RC mailing list. The newsletter’s intimate readership and informal tone make this the regular semi-personal letter I wouldn’t otherwise have written.

Steve Goldberg, a longtime subscriber from Chicago, receives it in that spirit. “I have always found it more like a letter from a friend than a commercial publication,” he writes. “I doubt if you can make much money on this publication, so I assume it is a labor of love.”

He’s right on both counts. I love this writing, and it doesn’t have mass appeal.

The meat of RC is the stories that we runners would swap if we got together over dinner or drinks. Those are stories about ourselves and about the people we know or would like to know.

I’ve thought a lot lately about these people. Maybe it’s the holiday season, a time to remember with thanks and gifts.

For whatever reason, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time looking back. One job has been to tidy up old records.

My memory was starting to fail. This wasn’t a symptom of early senility. It was system overload – too many facts to trust to memory.

So I put into computer storage all the races run, places traveled and pieces written. These printed out to 60 pages and left a pleasant side-effect.

For each fact typed, I saw a face and heard a name. Together they told what my next book should be.

I’m often asked, “How do you keep finding new material to write in books?” I half-joke about not needing to start over but just rewriting the first book for the umpteenth time.

The next one might be the freshest since the first. It could be unlike any of mine – not a “how,” “why” or “what” book, but a “who” book, a PEOPLE book.

There’s only so much one person can tell about techniques and philosophies, and I’ve had my say. My race reports often read like reruns.

But the cast of characters keeps changing. People come in endless and fascinating variety, new ones come along all the time, and old ones come up with new ideas.

This book could become a family album of sorts. It will tell of the people I’ve always liked to read about the most but have written about the least in books.

I might to call this one “Pacesetters.” But a better title might be “The Friendliness of the Long-Distance Runner.”


UPDATE: Twenty years have raced past since this article first appeared, and still no Pacesetters book has appeared. Glimpses of it have shown up in several other books, though, especially the Running Encyclopedia.

This plan isn’t forgotten, only delayed for the better. I’ve collected dozens more “who” stories for this book, now finally on the assembly line and bearing the working title See How We Run.

Steve Goldberg, the only person quoted in the column above, remains a loyal reader of these pages.


[I’ve published nine books on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com for reading on e-reader devices, smart phones, tablets and personal computers. All are minimally priced at $2.99 each. Those same books are available, with added illustrations, as printable and shareable PDFs from Lulu.com – also for $2.99 apiece. The titles: Long Slow Distance, Long Run Solution, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Starting Lines, Going Far, Running Home and Joe’s Journal, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe. The Run Right Now Training Log is PDF only, from Lulu.com.]

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