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

Thu, 19 Jun 2014 05:41:32 -0400

Above Bored

(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 1994.)

Bob Carman was one of the first adult runners I ever met. He ran primarily on the roads, in an era when few did. He ran as a way of life, not just as a means to a racing end at a time when the race was the end-all for most runners.

Carman was then a college professor who, at 32, seemed ancient to me at our first meeting. At 20, I wondered about his secret for running at such an advanced age but didn’t dare ask him at the time.

Years later, while compiling a booklet called Road Racers and Their Training (published in 1970), I finally asked. “How do you avoid getting bored with your running?” was how the questionnaire read.

Other runners gave specific and sometimes detailed answers. Carman simply wrote, “I’ve never found running boring.”

His line comes back to me whenever I hear the boring refrain that running is a bore. It appeared most recently in my hometown newspaper.

A recreation writer took a swipe at one form of running to promote another. His story dealt with the serious fun-havers of the Hash House Harriers, who called themselves “drinkers with a running problem.”

The writer asked, “Do you feel your running life getting a little boring? Are you finding yourself stuck in the same rut, running the same route with little or no variation, time after time?

“If you’re like many people, your running routines probably fall into the ‘same time, same station’ pattern like that comforting yet bland feeling you get from watching the same old reruns on TV.”

Outside observers of running, former runners and even some minimal-miles runners will nod in agreement. They’ll tell you, “I never run/used to run/only run a little because it’s sooo borrring.”

The non-runner mistakes our look of concentration for boredom. The lapsed runner works too hard to get fit again and mistakes discomfort for boredom. The casual runner stops after a mile or two, mistaking this warmup phase (which can be mildly uncomfortable and therefore “boring”) for real running (the good part that starts where this person stops).

People who talk the most about running being boring are those who run the least, or not at all. Those who run the most miles, or years, use the B-word the least, if ever.

I’ve never run big mileage but have kept touring my neighborhood for a long time. I’m the “same time, same station” runner that the local newspaper writer described. I run the same handful of routes repeatedly, at the same hour of the day.

I find the sameness of this routine to be, to borrow this writer’s word, “comforting.” Yet the runs themselves don’t have the feel of “old reruns on TV.”

They are as different from each other as snowflakes or fingerprints. No two ever combine their details in exactly the same way.

Weather changes from day to day, and light conditions change from season to season. Energy and excitement levels dictate changes in pace. People met, places seen and things thought all change each day.

Each run combines the familiarity of a routine with the surprises of a new day. This mix leaves no room for boredom. Bob Carman came to that conclusion long before I ever thought to write about it.

UPDATE FROM 2014

Dr. Robert Carman became a noted mathematician and physicist, a professor and textbook author. He died in 2011 at age 79.

His wife Lyn was among the earliest women marathoners. I met her at a marathon in 1963 (well before Roberta Gibb and Kathrine Switzer ran Boston). She finished that mountainous race. I didn’t.

Marathoners of a half-century ago were like the ultrarunners of today. They were few in number and ran to the then-outer limits of distance.

Even the people who ran shorter distances thought them a bit (or a lot) odd. Bob Carman was one of the few, and one who knew already what others of us were yet to learn.


[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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