Preview: Joe’s Journal

(From the Introduction) Jobs, like races, have finish lines. These seldom come at exactly the time you expect or hope. But whatever the result, you accept it and move on because the only other option is to give up for good.

My job as a columnist for Runner’s World lasted much longer than I ever thought it would, 33 years in all. But I knew that it would end someday, and it did with a phone call during Christmas week 2003.

David Willey, the new editor, was charged by his bosses at parent company Rodale with redesigning Runner’s World. We can argue whether the choices were the right ones or not, but they came anyway.

He called me in December to say that my RW column had “run its course” and would breathe its last in the March 2004. This wasn’t simply an out-with-all-old step. The remaining columnists, Amby Burfoot and John Bingham, weren’t far behind me in age and were also long-timers with the magazine.

The new editor made me the same offer as the other columnists – notably Jeff Galloway, who accepted. That was to keep writing occasionally in other parts of the magazine, such as feature articles and how-to columns with multiple contributors. I declined, so the decision on my leaving was mutual.

I said no to the new role because I’d been trained and spoiled by columns, which are personal letters from writer to reader. That style isn’t a good fit outside the boundaries of the column.

I’d already submitted my last column. So the only chance to sign off was on the magazine’s website, where I wrote:

“From my RW finish line this is good-bye to you readers. I never took my page for granted and always felt honored to talk to so many of you this way. Thanks for lending me your eyes and thoughts, and for sometimes sharing your agreements and disagreements, through the past 250 straight months of columns. Keep running and reading.”

The demise of my Runner’s World column didn’t come as a shock to me. It felt more like a lingering death in the family – sad when it finally came, to be sure, but also bringing some relief that the waiting for the inevitable was over.

I wasn’t long without a writing home. Marathon & Beyond magazine took me in. Rich Benyo and Jan Seeley, M&B’s editor and publisher, would hand me their “On the Road” column after current columnist Barry Lewis’s term expired in midyear.

This truly felt like a homecoming since it brought me back together with Rich. We’d never been too far apart since first meeting in 1977. On mutual friend Hal Higdon’s recommendation, Rich came for a job interview at Runner’s World. I helped hire him as my future replacement editor, where he served a term exactly the same length as mine had been.

When he bailed out at RW after seven hectic years, Rich became co-director of the Napa Valley Marathon. He invited me there as a speaker in the early 1990s and has kept the invitations coming ever since.

We worked longest and most closely (if 500 miles apart and by e-mail is “close”) on the biggest book either of us has written. We wouldn’t or couldn’t have done it alone, but together we produced the Running Encyclopedia. We know we team up well. Now, finally, we had the chance to do that again with a magazine.

I would enjoy just as much working with publisher Jan Seeley. We don’t have a Benyo-length connection, but still a long and good one. Jan served as an editor at Human Kinetics when I first hooked up with that Champaign, Illinois, company as an author in the mid-1990s.

Later Jan co-edited, with husband Joe Seeley, the RRCA magazine FootNotes during its very best years. Jan made me feel part of the M&B family even when I wasn’t. Our best “reunion’ came each summer at the Dick Beardsley Marathon Camp in Minnesota.

The move to Marathon & Beyond felt like a homecoming in another way. M&B reads like the old Runner’s World. My daughter Sarah reminded recently me how far today’s RW is from the earlier model. A co-worker of hers passed along two copies from 1976, which she read and then gave to me. Those magazines were more about running itself than about general fitness. The stories were longer and meatier, giving readers more credit for knowledge and experience.

Marathon & Beyond knows we had something good going then, and still honors it. I think of M&B as the New Yorker of running magazines, where Rich and Jan let the writers write in our own ways and at whatever length the subject requires. The writing is deeper and purer here than anywhere short of a book.

This book, borrowing the title “Joe’s Journal” from my current M&B column, collects my columns written between 2004 and 2011. During those seven years I passed my 50th anniversaries as both a runner and a writer on running.