NeologisticsRunning → RTtM

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Chapter 1:


Call me Fleety. That's the nickname my uncle Dick gave me when I was eight years old. It was short for fleet-footed. Dick called me that for roughly the same reason that four-hundred-pound oafs with necks thicker than their heads are called Tiny, and six-foot, eight-inch walking broomsticks are doomed to bear the moniker Shorty. It may have been a term of endearment, but it was not a compliment.

As a kid I hated being forced to run laps in P.E. class. We all did — even the boys who were good at sports. The most horrible experience in all my school days was learning in seventh grade that we would be required to run an impossibly large number of laps around the basketball court in gym class every day, all year long, until spring, when we would be timed to see how fast we could run a whole mile, or else vomit on the field in the attempt. The final test was a tribulation, resulting for me in an asthma attack.

Until I was well into adulthood, I rarely ran any distance for any reason. The only time I ever ran hard willingly was once when I was nineteen years old, on a bitter cold February night. I ran as hard as I could to my friend's house. This exercise, too, induced an asthma attack, which on this occasion was the desired result.

The next morning I was required by my draft board to show up for a physical examination. I had a note from my doctor (my pediatrician!) confirming that I had a long history of asthma.

"When was the last time you had asthma?" the examining officer asked suspiciously. "Last night, sir!" I replied truthfully. He scribbled something on his clipboard. The asthma kept me out of the army, one year before Vietnam flared up, when the government began sending any young man who could stand upright into a controversial and tragic war.

For many years thereafter, that was the only benefit I could attribute to running. I swam well in college, and enjoyed walking then and later, during the eight and a half automobileless years I lived in New York City. But I never ran at all.

In summer of 1972 I saw the television preliminaries and coverage of the Olympic Marathon, at which the great Frank Shorter won the gold medal. Before then I had barely even been aware that people did such things. I was utterly intrigued by it, and watched every second of what they had to show, but my interest was strictly as a curious gawker. Such feats were clearly the domain of masochistic one-in-a-million super-athletes, of which I was manifestly not one, and never would be. I remained untempted to take up running myself.

In July of 1977, at age 34, I was living in Searsport, Maine, on the central coast. One Sunday that month I was scheduled to give a lecture in Steuben, 65 miles further down east, and was invited to stay with a large, vibrantly healthy family in the area. During the summer months they turned off their water heater and would all carry bathing suits, soap, and towels to a stone quarry five minutes walk down the road to bathe. That's the sort of people they were. I joined them in this and enjoyed it immensely.

The wife, a woman in her forties, had seven children, and jogged daily with one of her sons. This scenario was by no means common in those days. I was so impressed by it that it inspired me to run myself the next day. It was only after working at it steadily for the first two weeks that I first learned an astonishing lesson: Running can be both beneficial and enjoyable! From then on I did it regularly for two or three years, then sporadically, then not at all once again. It was not until June of 1994, at age 51, that I started running in a way that permanently affected my life.

It's not my purpose to bore you with details of my uninteresting running career. The tale of how I lost fifty pounds, then started running 10Ks, followed by half marathons, and then marathons, has become commonplace in these days of the second running boom.

Nor will this book thrill you with accounts of my blazing speed, race victories, and age groups awards, for there is none of that to tell about. As a racer I compete infrequently compared to many runners who are deeply involved in the sport, and who seem to find races to compete in twice a month or more. Since January, 1996, I have run seven 10Ks, one 20K, three half marathons, seven full marathons, and one 50K.

At this writing the date is January 12, 2000. Less than two weeks ago I ran my way through the change of year from 1999 to 2000 in my first 24-hour race, for me a spectacularly successful endeavor.

I'm now 56 years old, I am and always have been slow, and I'm a little bit overweight. Hence I've appended this descriptor to my by-line: A slow, fat geezer with gumption.

The Original

Running Through the Millennium (which I abbreviate RTtM) was written originally as a series of over 100 messages cross-posted on two Internet email lists devoted to running: Dead Runners Society, and the Penguin Brigade. Installations took the form of elaborate running journal entries, containing more than mundane statistical data about distances run, paces, and related information, although there is indeed also much of that. They included personal reflections, anecdotes, and narrative about peripheral matters simultaneously taking place in my life.

People who call themselves runners are not merely running machines. Each of us is an individual human being with a life, personal circumstances, system of values, schedule, set of goals and aspirations, and God-given abilities, unique unto ourselves. Information about all of this is essential to understanding the working out of our running goals, because for most of us, running is not our single all-consuming raison d'être, nor should it be. Rather, running is simply another element that we make an effort to fit into the complex fabric of our lives. Baring one's soul publicly is risky, but can make for good reading when it works.

This project zeros in on my running and training experiences from mid-June of 1999, until the first week of January, 2000; thus the title, Running Through the Millennium. The oft-debated question of whether the year 2000 really constitutes the first year of the third millennium is covered within the journal proper.[1]

[1] In short — it does not.

Early in the series it became my intention, when it was completed, to rewrite the entire accumulation into its present form, deleting and adding material, and making it read more like a book than a series of email messages.

Naturally, this revision was made from the perspective of having already experienced everything written about, so there is no longer any suspense in my mind over what will happen from day to day. Nonetheless, I've left most expressions of anticipation in, because that's how it was originally presented, and because it makes better reading that way.

The Internet Running Culture

There are numerous email lists and at least one Usenet news group on the Internet that are devoted to running. I subscribe to three of the email lists.

Dead Runners Society is the parent of many of the best running lists on the Net, and is one of the best. Over the years it has grown into much more than a mere email list. It's a Web-based running club, and a government-registered non-profit social organization. Running gear emblazoned with the club's name and motto, carpe viam[2] is available. Many long-lasting friendships have developed within the group. More enthusiastic participants get together for encounters when they travel around the country, seeking to meet fellow runners they had previously known only by email. Every year there is a World Conference, where a hundred or more runners come for a weekend of running and healthy fun.

[2] Seize the road.

Penguin Brigade is a spinoff from Dead Runners Society. It was started by Runner's World columnist John "the Penguin" Bingham as an online training and support group for several runners partial to John's philosophy of running, in preparation for the Marine Corps Marathon. Since then it has grown to about the same size as Dead Runners Society, and provides essentially the same benefits. Its emphasis is on unreserved support and acceptance of runners of all categories and abilities, and thus has come to be preferred by many runners who are beginners or just plain slow, even though claiming alliance with the Penguins in no way implies that one is either slow or a beginner.

The Ultra List is devoted to the rarefied world of ultrarunning, running distances beyond the standard 26-mile, 385-yard marathon, an activity for which I've cultivated a deep interest this past year. Many of the list's participants are among the best-known ultrarunners in the US, and many are impressively well-informed in the scientific disiplines related to human endurance and performance.

The original RTtM series was not posted to the Ultra List, except for the Across the Years race report segments, because until the last few weeks it was not directly concerned with ultrarunning. In reality, though, the whole series, and therefore also this entire book, is about ultrarunning. Although I passed through the training and running of two regular marathons on the way to my 24-hour race, since January 1, 1999, it was my plan to run Across the Years. All my training for the whole year was directed toward that target race.

All the running lists I mentioned are beneficial in some respects. A great deal of intelligent information about running is passed on through them. Many participants publish race reports and even accounts of daily training runs. Each one of these lists is a source of unlimited and unreserved encouragement and support. I've personally learned almost as much from the lists about running as I have from reading the technical literature and periodicals. They have enabled me to remain essentially self-coached. The lists have given me the opportunity to get to know and communicate individually with a great number and variety of highly experienced runners in a way that would not have been possible for me otherwise. And when I've asked questions or talked about my own experiences, whether successes or failures, I've always received generous, informed, positive feedback in return.

Each of these lists has its own culture and profile. New subscribers may find that fitting in bears some similarity to watching a serial soap opera. It takes a while to become familiar with the characters, the regular posters, none of whom are particularly important or amazing in any Shakespearian sense, but as in a soap opera, before long we start to care about them. Unlike a soap opera, eventually we find ourselves becoming characters ourselves.

The Internet also has the news group rec.running, which I frankly don't care for. It's uncontrolled, impersonal, has no culture, and tolerates participants who are prone to posting raunchy material and starting flame wars. I stopped even downloading it years ago, and even before then rarely posted anything to it.

I Me Mine

In some styles of writing it's considered uncouth to talk about oneself. The nature of this book makes talking about myself unavoidable. The subject of this work is me — it's about my training, races, and experiences, and about thoughts I personally have had.

Therefore, I'm compelled to apologize in advance if the nature of the writing seems egocentric, overly filled with "I did this, and then I did that, this happened to me, and here is my plan." Be assured that it bothers ... ummm ... yours truly, too.

In the rewrite I've attempted to eliminate some of that, but because the book is entirely a first person account of an adventure, it seemed preferable to implement the style that I have, thus avoiding the use of the passive voice and expressions such as the author or the formal we as though I were talking about someone else. Notice the different effect of the following renditions:

This sentence was written by the author. very weak
This sentence was written by me. still weak
I wrote this sentence. strong and direct


Running is much the same from day to day. It's only natural, when writing about it, to relate that I ran so far in so much time, it felt this way or that, and it went well or not so well. On many days I just put in the work, and failed to become the recipient of any blinding insights or revelations over which to wax poetic for my readers.

It is often difficult to describe a repetitive activity in refreshing new ways. My biggest challenge in composing the original was to crank out new material in a continuous flow, not falling behind in updates. To accomplish this, my poor readers often had first draft material foisted upon them, just the bare narrative facts with little in the way of refinement and reflection. As writer William Safire likes to say:

First drafts are always stupid.

Ultrarunners say that the way to get through bad patches, when you're feeling down and want to quit, is to keep running until you don't feel that way anymore. Remarkably, this technique works! Sometimes it also works when reading literature that has become arduous.

In the words of a Chicago columnist:

"You find every facet of your obsession to be incredibly interesting. Other people don't."

Nevertheless, I do believe that if you hang in there on the reading, like an ultrarunner pushing through the tough parts with RFP,[3] you will find some rewarding moments in the pages that follow.

[3] Relentless Forward Progress.

Real Life

In the emailed version of RTtM, I made frequent reference to Real Life, spelled as you see it, with capitalization. Real Life is a catchall term that covers all the activities that are a part of our lives in addition to running. In my case it was also a euphemism, utilized in part to shield my private life.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

In the course of RTtM I mention certain people in a way that suggests that my readers already know them. Some readers of the running groups do, but likely you do not. Therefore, for the record, allow me to introduce you to my family.

Finally, I'd like to give credit to the Beatles. Why on earth would I do that? One day in late September, I used the title of a Beatles song for a section header. From that time until the end of the journal, I continued to use others of their song titles, when I could find ones that fit. This was a cheap but fun device for generating section headers, breaking up the text for greater readability. In some cases it may seem a bit of a stretch to find the connection between the title and the text that follows. In my mind there always is one.

People who know me are aware that at one time the music of the Beatles meant more to me than it does to most people. The reasons for this are the subject of a memoir I wrote several years ago, and possibly of another book sometime.

On a few occasions I use the titles of songs not authored by any Beatle. Please be aware that I do know the difference, and am not mistakenly suggesting that I attribute such songs to the Beatles.

The next chapter begins the revised version of the journal as it was progressively sent to the running lists.

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