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Book Review: Going Long

Posted Aug 17 2010 12:00am

A couple of administrative notes before today’s post …

First, I’m looking for a stray monkey. Mike who entered the Monkey Shake contest, e-mail your address to me at to claim your prize. You’ve got until midnight Thursday before I pick another winner, so get moving.

Second, you’ll notice the website veering in a somewhat bookish direction over the next few weeks; a review today, then a discussion in the near future that originated from comments on another recent post, and later … something I’m not officially talking about yet, but which could be very exciting, while simultaneously making my stomach churn. But that’s an explanation for another time; for now, let’s jump into the review.


In hindsight it seems foolish, but several years ago I had an identity crisis of sorts in regards to a certain national running magazine.

I had been a runner for more than a decade, and many of those years were spent in adulation of Runner's World, whose monthly arrival in my mailbox I awaited like a grade-schooler eager for his mail-order Magic X-Ray Specs (wait … come to think of it, that kid was me as well). Each month brought a fresh delivery of training advice and inspiration, and was always reliable for a healthy dose of mojo to help fuel my training. My affinity for the magazine steadily seeped into my identity: I’m a runner – I subscribe to Runner’s World.

Over the years, however, the magazine’s luster faded, as the pearls of advice I awaited gradually looked like others I had already seen, and the unique training articles seemingly blended into one another from month to month. Lose 5 pounds now! Finish your first 10K! Build washboard abs in time for summer! Stay fit after 40! Those once-fresh offerings began to grow stale, and I realized I wasn’t gaining tangible benefits from my subscription any longer.

I ultimately cancelled, but it took me a lot longer than it should have. Part of it was that identity thing: maybe if I still considered myself a real runner, I was obligated to subscribe to RW. Maybe I risked eroding my dedication to the sport if I lacked my once-regular pipeline of motivation and inspiration. (These are the kinds of things that seem important before you have kids.) Or maybe I just liked having the magazines on my coffee table for visitors to see.

Needless to say, I kept a soft spot in my heart for the magazine, and I was especially intrigued with an executive decision by editor David Willey in 2003 to support and promote long-form journalism: pieces that gave depth and feeling to a particular story, ones that the reader could absorb and carry with them long after reading the usual cookie-cutter training tips. The magazine already had a very talented stable of writers, and it gave them free reign to find compelling stories and tell them in an extended narrative manner that connected to the larger themes in life we all experience.

Such pieces are typically included in the magazine once per month, and they’ve helped raise the quality bar of each issue considerably. It’s not quite enough to make me a subscriber again, but it was sufficient to make me interested in a collection that was recently published by RW’s parent company, Rodale Press.

is a selection of the best long-form pieces from Runner's World, almost all of them penned under Willey’s tenure as Editor in Chief. As the subtitle implies, they encompass a wide variety of topics, including legends of the sport and unsung heroes, exotic racers and crazy adventurers. Above all, they describe exploits that anyone can relate to - in some ways uplifting, in other ways heartbreaking, but in almost every way interesting.

One of my favorite pieces is a an update by Steve Friedman on the remarkable life of Zola Budd, who at various times in her career was identified as a barefoot oddity, an elite distance runner, a symbol of social injustice, a world record holder, and a scapegoat of an entire Olympic host nation. Her mesmerizing tale didn’t end at the 1984 Los Angeles Games; it merely faded from public consciousness over a period of many years. Friedman’s portrait reveals how the same resiliency and determination that propelled Zola to great athletic heights also carried her through some of the most daunting life challenges any of us might ever face.

And that’s just one essay; the remainder are equally well-developed, providing the kind of insights and stirring the types of feelings that are becoming harder and harder to find in traditional journalism anymore. You’re certain to find one or two pieces here that speak to your soul; more likely, you’ll find several of them. Going Long should give you the same inspiration and mojo that the magazine itself used to give me so many years ago.

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