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

Wed, 25 Sep 2013 07:07:51 -0400

Running Commentary

(This piece introduces a book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each Friday.).

Imagine training up for competition, really training and not just fun-running, but then having nowhere to race. Before long you’d wonder: why train that much and that hard? That’s how I felt about my writing in the early 1980s. I did plenty of “training” (the private writing) but had little chance to “race” (go public with the best of it).

I’d been spoiled in the 1970s while working for Runner’s World. As editor there myself, I could write on any subject and at any length, and the magazine would print it unchanged (even when it needed help).

Then I went to work for a new magazine called Running, which positioned itself as the literary journal of the sport and featured the fancy phrasings of big-name writers. My low-style writings didn’t fit that formula. What little of mine that sneaked into remote corners of the magazine was inserted to humor me. So heavy was the editing that the stories may still have read fine, but they weren’t mine anymore.

A writer wants to be read, even more than to be paid. No matter how humble the outlet or how small the readership, I needed someone to say, “I saw what you wrote.” The only way to do this was to build a writing home of my own.

This never would have happened without help. My first push came from Jon Anderson, a 1972 Olympian and 1973 Boston Marathon winner. He now published, with his father, a weekly lumber-industry newsletter and advised me on creating a similar publication on running.

Next came an essential assist from Tom Mills. He worked as an agent in the music business but was branching into sports when we met, during my lobbying efforts to win acceptance for a women’s marathon in the Los Angeles Olympics. With that event now in place, Tom said, “I’d like to work with you on a writing project.” My reply: “Your timing is good. I’m thinking about starting a running newsletter.” Tom: “Let me see what I can do.”

He contacted Ed Fox, the Track & Field News publisher. Ed was willing to test-market what was now known as Running Commentary. Only 170 people liked it well enough to pay in advance for a publication that didn’t yet exist. Ed said, “This isn’t enough to make it worth our while. But if you want to go ahead on your own, we’ll send you the checks to get you started.”

The newsletter started as a twice-monthly, later went monthly, then finally settled at weekly. It carried a subscription fee at first, to cover printing and postage, then became free when it went online. Its staff always numbered one, so no one else ever assigned or accepted articles (or rejected or changed those that should have been).

Circulation remained so small that my bosses at Running and Runner’s World (where I returned after the upstart magazine folded) and Marathon & Beyond (the last home of my magazine column) never saw the Commentary as a competitor. In fact, the newsletter served a testing ground for most of my material that wound up in the magazines and later in books.

The newsletter that started in January 1982 became the longest-running outlet for my writings, outlasting three different magazine assignments. I retired the name Running Commentary in 2013, after 31½ years and 1000 issues. However, hundreds of articles from those archives remained to be mined for another book. See How We Run is that book.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Notice the pronoun in that title: See How WE Run. It’s not a “they,” about runners we could be only in our wildest dreams. And it’s not an “I,” another memoir of mine (which I’ve already written, three times over). The “we” signals that we’re in this together, whether we’re side by side on the same course or reaching out across space and time for our companionship. My job here is as it always was in Running Commentary: to write for and about all of us.

Throughout its long life, RC consistently served a different purpose than my work for other publications, which reached far bigger audiences but did it much less personally. The newsletter’s intimate readership and informal tone made this the regular semi-personal letter that I otherwise might not have written.

Steve Goldberg, a longtime subscriber from Chicago, received the newsletter in that spirit. “I have always found it more like a letter from a friend than a commercial publication,” he wrote. “I doubt if you can make much money on this publication, so I assume it is a labor of love.” He was right on both counts. I loved this writing (and still do), and it didn’t have mass appeal. It was never judged by how well it would sell.

The meat of Commentary was the stories that we runners would swap if we got together for a long run, or over dinner or drinks. See How We Run combines my favorite articles from the newsletter years. They appear in the order written and with an update at the end of each piece.

About the subtitle: the end date of RC in 2013 minus the start in 1982 doesn’t equal 25 years. That’s because I stopped adding new columns in 2007 and started posting book chapters – for four different books-in-progress. So RC’s active life as a true newsletter did span a quarter-century.

The only two ground rules of selection here: (1) a piece has pass the test of time, speaking as clearly to runners in the 2010s as it did when written, and (2) it had to be written originally for RC readers, even if it migrated later to magazine or book pages. This is how it read as a “personal letter,” before other editors came between us. Now if I can just catch those pesky typos without that help.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in three different formats: (1) in print from Amazon.com; (2) as e-books from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; (3) as PDFs, readable on Kindle devices and apps, from Lulu.com. Just released was Joe’s Team. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Learning to Walk (not an e-book), Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log (not an e-book), and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe (e-book only). The middle book of the memoir series, Going Far, is being serialized in Marathon & Beyond magazine.]

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