So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Three Tomes To Tempt You To Trot

A metal baker's rack sits an arm's length from the bathtub (directly across from the commode) in the main bathroom of our house. At any one moment, six-to-eight books and magazines, which my wife and I are reading, can be found filling the middle shelf. Her reading preferences usually lean toward Wired magazine, techno-geek tomes or science fiction...oh, and a copy of Robert Heilbroner's "The Worldly Philosophers."

Occasionally a catalog from Kiefer Swim, Bike Nashbar, or Road Runner Sports will spend a brief (one bathroom visit) stay on the rack. Sporting goods porn, we call it. My latest reading materials are the two major John L. Parker novels, "Once A Runner" and "Again To Carthage," and an anthology of Tim Cahill short stories. Cahill is not as good as Hemingway, but I can more readily find a laugh after a day of work with the former than the latter.

There was a time I didn't have a television set, which meant I did a great deal of reading when not working, eating or sleeping. If not for the painful fact that sporting events are televised I could probably live without a television. Reading is more fun. Books allow the reader to think. At their own pace. It's fun to have the ability to backpedal a page or two, or to a particular passage which catches ones' attention.

One of my "summer vacation" athletes is in the "honeymoon" phase of running. She's gotten past the high school crush version; it's all for the team, the heartbreak can happen at any moment...and when it does it's earth-shattering. She asked during a warm-up jog last week, about good running books: "I've been looking for good running books since I've been on vacation. Are there any books you would recommend?"

So I promised I'd scribble a short list of fiction and nonfiction works which I found inspiring; one of those books which makes you want to lace up the shoes and go out for 30 minutes after a particularly good chapter. Here's my "very" short list...

1. "Once A Runner," John L. Parker Jr.

The American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, "all philosophy is a footnote to Plato". All running fiction is a footnote to Parker, especially this work, first published in 1978. My college cross-country team used to spend summer morning runs discussing, in cabalistic tones, which Parker character aligned with which former Florida Track Club member. Not long after that summer we began to meet some of the runners who inspired the characters... When we sat in a running seminar during the spring of 2001 Parker would not say directly which real life runner inspired what character, however, "Bruce Denton" and I tapped a keg together while working the road race the next afternoon. Nicest guy you'd ever meet.

If you find a first edition which is in good condition for less than 150 dollars, purchase it. Otherwise, the second edition, printed by a publishing house in Australia, will serve.

2. "Again To Carthage," John L. Parker, Jr.

Rare is the sequel which meets fan expectations. Runners are not only discerning consumers, they get Pavlovian, if not rabid, when the rumor mill begins to grind. A "promotional trailer" video posted on YouTube had the crowd wondering whether someone was going to turn Parker's "doppelganger," Quenton Cassidy, into celluloid. We were soon disappointed to learn this was a film and cinematography project rather than the answer to our fevered dreams (ah, but it did look good). It's probable that Parker took three decades to write a tome, which does to road racing what "Runner" did for track-and-field, because of the 'how do I follow THIS?' feeling each time he sat with his journal books and typewriter. I was delighted to see more real-life runners show up in this fictional work, including some of my dearest running friends and former coaches. This work also answers one of the best running trivia questions nobody knows: "Who was the last American to win the Olympic gold medal in the 5,000 meters?"

3. "Running With The Buffaloes," Chris Lear

I ran track during my last year of high school and cross-country during my last year of college. Both occasions were similar in the fact I had time to spare during that semester, as well as that the coaches were willing to let another guy come out and play. The dynamics of a track team and a cross country team are stark: Sprinters have their own little cliques, weight specialists kind of do their own thing. Distance guys are looked upon as freaks or guys who aren't fast enough to sprint. Even buses were segregated that way. Cross-country is like slog through muck and mire with a little band of brothers/sisters; long, hot road runs in the summer, and 15-passenger van trips in the fall.

Lear captures the "Saint Crispin's Day" feel from Shakespeare's "Henry IV" throughout the entire book, touching on the personalities and idiosyncracies of both athletes and coaches. He also looks at the highest levels of collegiate competition, as the Colorado teams train, bond, travel and compete in the 1999 NCAA national championships.

These three works are only the tip of the inspirational iceberg for me. I've loaned, lost and re-purchased copies, read and re-read these books on a yearly basis, because there's always a little something which jumps out and grabs your attention.

Are there any books which make you want to go for a run, or are an absolute must-read the night before a big race?


Anonymous said...

and you should include ... "An Honorable Run" by Matt McCue ... Matt was a walk-on for the Buffalos ... very inspiring read.


Michael Bowen said...

Great! Thanks, Coach.

I'm almost ready for a couple new reads...almost done with "We Have Met The Enemy: Self-Control in the Age of Excess" by Daniel Akst. Not too bad a piece of work.

Something more entertaining than reading rulebooks. ;)