I've been asked to write a few new essays for an April 2019 paperback edition of To Be A Runner. I'm flattered by the offer. TBAR sold well in its initial release, but didn't enjoy the robust sales of the how-to running books, so I was always hoping for a second chance. I'd been aiming for a modern version of George Sheehan's Running and Being, but was somewhat blue to learn that such a market didn't seem to exist. We are a nation of runners, with more men and women participating in this sport than any other — by far. But there is a deep division between the age-group runner whose goal is to finish a 5k or half-marathon, and the elite level racers who live for speed and suffering. My book straddled both worlds, which meant that neither side really embraced it as their own. Some reviewers thought it elitist, others thought there weren't enough workout plans, and still others were looking for a memoir, rather than a series of essays.
I love that book. I wrote it on a lark, while ghosting the bio of a billionaire. I'd taken that gig because the publishing world had crashed along with the rest of the economy and I needed to pay my mortgage. Simple as that. Sometimes writing is art but more often writing is commerce.
But as callous as that sounds, there comes a moment when the creative well demands its moment. So in the midst of writing that bio, I took it upon myself to write a second book at the same time. I felt like I was losing my way with words and had to write something that restored my passion. So I wrote about running. Every day, as a simple creative exercise, I sat down and wrote a simple essay about the sport I have loved since I was a boy. Each essay was written without pausing to self-edit or scrutinize the words too closely. At the end of a month, I had thirty essays. Each was about 500 words long. The next month was spent going over each essay, line by line, finding the soul of each piece. I tossed out the trite and the mean-spirited, electing to go for a more uplifting feel. I polished and polished some more, until the clunky stuff fell away and all I felt was flow. Then I printed out the entire completed book, placed it in a box, tied the box with a red ribbon, and FedEx'd the whole package to my agent (with whom I'd had a long agreement that I would never write a running book).
He liked it enough to sell it. The original title was How To Be A Runner, not so much as a how-to but as a metaphorical attempt to cross the emotional divide between the days we choose to step out the door and push our limits. To Be A Runner was more whimsical, and that's what stuck.
Sometimes, I write entire paragraphs in my head when I'm far away from my laptop or my yellow legal pads. Some part of my brain needs to analyze what I'm seeing and make a story out of it that will never be placed on paper. So while I was pleased with those people who understood TBAR, and wrote me warm letters about how it motivated them or touched an emotion they'd long forgotten; and though I couldn't understand those people who attacked the book with something bordering on contempt (this is the fate of all books, but it hurts more when the words come from a place of true passion); part of me was writing new essays ever since its pub date seven years ago.
I write about the people who wear their heavy Disney finisher medals the last mile of a race and then to brunch afterwards. I write about the guy who dressed up as Princess Leia at the Star Wars Half-Marathon. I write about the cross country team I've coached for thirteen years, and mornings like today, when they ran 1000-meter repeats in the pitch dark of a 5:30 a.m. practice, then went to the weight room before heading off to school. I write about my wife's friendship with her running girlfriends and the joy it brings to her face whenever they hit the trail together. And sometimes, I even write about me, and my struggles to stretch, meditate, and run a few slow miles, because no form of sweat is the same as the dopamine-fueled perspiration that flows during a good run.
So if you haven't read To Be A Runner, and perhaps know me only for my history projects with my famous co-author, check it out. Even if you're not a runner, there may be a line or a word that hits you in the sweet spot of your gut.
If you have read TBAR, thank you. I hope that you'll keep me in your prayers as I write this next generation of essays, then have a look when it comes out just in time for the Boston Marathon next year.
Will I be running that Boston? Nope. I had a thirty-year marathon career, which is quite enough for any man. Same holds for triathlons, mud runs, obstacle races, ultras, and pretty much all the achievement-oriented aspects of running. Coaching is where I feed my competitive juju. For me, the goal is just to be a runner the rest of my life, a solitary figure running the local trails at whichever pace feels best on a given day.
And that is more than enough.