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

Thu, 12 Jun 2014 05:35:37 -0400

Views from Outside

(This piece is for my book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each Friday, this one from July 1992.)

“You’re over there,” said the blue-coated security guard as he motioned with his head toward the cheap seats. I went there without protest to watch the Prefontaine Classic track meet in Eugene.

This is progress. Just a year earlier another blue-coated guard had stopped me here to demand, “Where’s your pass?”

I’d come to Hayward Field only to watch the meet, but had intended to mingle with the athletes, coaches, officials and reporters at work there. Not having the right ticket to enter the privileged zones, I retreated to the sidelines.

He can’t treat me that way, I grumbled silently. Doesn’t he know who he’s dealing with?

He knew. To this burly young guard I was just another trespasser to keep out of the sport’s inner circle.

I’d long imagined myself an insider. I’d written and spoken for the masses of runners, but had thought like one of the elite.

I never had the speed or drive to be a top athlete. But my writing hand and speaking voice took me where my running legs never could.

My pen and mouth earned airplane tickets, stays in fine hotels, waived entry fees and free shoes. I met the best athletes in the business and enjoyed most of their perks with little of their work.

I’m not ungrateful for these past benefits and won’t turn them down in the future. But I’m beginning to know my place. I’m finally becoming more of a runner like you.

Last school year I worked outside of sports for the first time. I taught full-time as a visiting prof in the University of Oregon journalism school and traveled little.

I even (gasp!) bought running shoes and paid entry fees. In other words I finally did what most of you have always done.

When I didn’t meet the elite every other weekend, the news from their side of the sport lost some of its urgency. I let newspapers and magazines go unread for longer than a day, and sometimes forgot to tape track and road races from cable TV.

Warnings that track is a dying sport and that sponsors are deserting road racing didn’t raise great fears in me. Nor did I lead cheers for South Africa’s readmission to the world athletic family, or the latest drug bust, or for the possible restructuring of U.S. track’s governing body. These matters of business and politics weren’t big concerns of mine this past year.

Reporter friends still called to gossip about these events. I told them, “I’ve never felt so out of touch with what’s happening in the sport.”

But that’s only partly true. I fell somewhat out of touch with big-time running, but at the same time never felt more IN touch with the sport as you know and practice it.

You already knew what it took me a year away from the top to see: that 99 percent of the running news deals with one percent of the runners... that big business and hardball politics mainly concern that one percent... and that the main concerns of the other 99 percent are simpler and more personal.

Now I’m back to watching full-time what goes on at the sport’s inner circle, and will keep telling you what I see there. But my sense of where I belong has changed.

Once the blue-coated guard put me in my place at the Pre meet, I settled down to watch what went on across the fence. I enjoyed seeing the faces and sensing the speed without needing to cross this barrier. At last I felt more at home in the crowd on the outside looking in.

UPDATE FROM 2014

That year off the major-league running circuit changed my views of the sport in several ways. Later I stopped reporting news of the best runners’ latest triumphs… then stopped contributing (not entirely by choice) to running’s largest magazine… then quit speaking at the country’s biggest races.

Eugene, Oregon, was then and still is my hometown. In 1992 it was a place to isolate myself while writing and to fly out of for speaking. I knew very few runners here.

Now I teach and coach (and only incidentally write and almost never speak) in Eugene. I’ve finally come home to my hometown, and come to know local runners by the dozens.


[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 for e-reader devices and apps, from Lulu.com. Latest released was Learning to Walk. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, 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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