I started reading "Runner's World" magazine when I was about 13 years old.
I wasn't the target audience, for sure. I was a shy, awkward and chunky kid, but somehow, somewhere I picked up the magazine. Probably the Colby Library, but I can't be sure.
This was in the late 1970s, and the country was in a running boom. Bill Rodgers was winning marathons left and right, and people were become more aware about the deep benefits of exercise, particularly cardiovascular endurance style of exercise.
The magazine introduced me to the writing of George Sheehan, a cardiologist who wrote these breezy, philosophical columns for the magazine, and from there I started reading his books. Sheehan gave running a great importance, but also wrote about how running could be fun, an adult version of play. To him, that was as necessary as the fitness, and I was swept away by that notion.
Even though I was regularly reading about running, I wasn't regularly doing the activity itself. It was hard and embarrassing, and I found it as difficult to develop a regular running habit as it was to say no to Grandma's homemade donuts and cookies. So I became this chunkier kid who was fascinated with running, but never really a runner himself. When I was 16, I joined the track team and went through this brutal period of getting in shape, being embarrassed at races and shedding weight as if it were ice cream at a summer picnic.
Running wasn't quite as romantic as the magazine and Sheehan made it out to be. It was a lot harder than they ever described, and they never really seemed to speak to me, a slogger. But I never stopped reading, even if at times I stopped running. I tore through Jim Fixx's "The Complete Book of Running." I read everything by Sheehan.
It continues to this day. Right now I'm reading "Alberto Salazar's Guide to Road Racing," picked up at the library. It's good. Full of practical advice, and even a bit for a runner like me, writing encouragingly of "clydesdale" racers.
You'd think that I would get sick of it, but I don't. After all, running is the simplest sport in the world; anybody can do it. But the details of the sport, from training to technique to nutrition, is endless. And I just find it fascinating.
So I'll keep on reading, and hopefully, keep on running.
My top 5 running books, in ascending order:
5. "Running with the Legends," by Tony Sandrock. This book's subtitle is "Training and Racing Insights from 21 Great Runners." I loved this book because it introduced me to Emil Zatopek, a Hungarian runner who dominated post-World War II Olympics.
4. "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," by Haruki Murakami. The Japanese novelist talks about endurance running, and how his obsession with it helps him write.
3. "Running With Lydiard," by Arthur Lydiard. Lydiard was a terrific Australian coach in the 1950s through the '60s and maybe even into the '80s. In some ways, he the developer of the modern runner, espousing easy running for fitness, and sophisticated running plans for competitive athletes. This is an older book. I read it last year and found it to be completely relevant to me today.
2. "Pre," by Tom Jordan. Jordan was a sports writer who covered the great American 5,000 runner at the University of Oregon. The book describes a completely mesmerizing athlete who viewed competition as performance art. Loved it.
1. "The Four Minute Mile," by Roger Bannister. Bannister has got to be one of the most gracious and humble athletes ever to reach the world stage. The thing about the book I loved is how, despite being able to compete at the highest level, Bannister still believed running to be a sideline. He took his medical studies much more seriously. And his description of his training regimes, guided by his own scientific mind and intuitional sense, is terrific. He's a great writer, too, by the way.