Now in print
MY BEST RACE: 50 Runners and the Finish Line They'll Never Forget.
It's a simple question: what was the best race you ever ran . . .and why?
That is the question I posed to 50 runners, from Olympians and World Champions to courageous disabled athletes and middle-of-the-packers.
Featuring interviews with:
A preview of a review of my book from Rich Benyo, editor at
Marathon & Beyond.
(this will be published on their website)
My Best Race. 50 Runners and the Finish Line They’ll Never Forget
by Chris Cooper
Every runner who’s been at it a while can readily cite both a best and a worst race. For many of us, our worst race stands out more clearly than our best because many of us tend to learn more easily from failures than from successes: the more spectacular the failure, the more enduring the lesson.
Let’s face it: Unless you are perfection personified, you’ve had more failures than successes.
But a stunning success, whether accidental or well-planned, often stands out because it illuminates what amounts to a peak performance, a race where everything clicked and brilliance shone. It should be noted that a successful race does not mean that you have to win the race. If that were so, the rate of success at today’s mega-races would be pitiful.
One of the delightful aspects of My Best Race is that not all of the 50 racers who shared their best race with Chris Cooper won that particular race, and of those who did, it is often pleasantly surprising the learn that their best race was not necessarily the race they are most famous for.
In fact, in some cases, the best race occurred back in high school or college and not necessarily on the professional circuit. And, another aspect that keeps the book fresh, is that the author does not only deal with professionals. He presents a nice mix of pros and amateurs, and often the amateurs have better stories to tell than do the pros.
Cooper, whose previous book was Long May You Run: all. things. running, is a sub-3:00 marathoner and host of the blog “Writing on the Run,” so he is plugged into his subject and able to access some of the more accomplished racers in the sport. His book contains best races from Kara Goucher and Jeff Galloway, Zola Budd Pieterse and Scott Tinley, Marty Liquori and Craig Virgin. It is a virtual who’s who of running over the past four decades. But he balances out all of the star power with racers we’ve never heard of—until now.
The recreation of the prime races are long enough to give pertinent details, but short enough to sample a handful of them at each sitting. Cooper does a nice job of giving sufficient background on the specific runner while at the same time not slowing down the race in question. At the end of each race, the runner shares a simple piece of advice; none of them are especially profound, but they are all practical and easy enough to fold into our own running and racing. Things like: “Plan a strategy and don’t forget to execute that plan in the race. You can’t go into a race and just wing it.” That’s from Miguel Galeana’s account of the 2000 Chuckanut 7-Mile Foot Race. You’re right. I did not know who Miguel Galeana was and I had never heard of the Chuckanut 7-Mile Foot Race, but that glaring ignorance has now been corrected.
Although it was tempting to race through the book in a handful of settings, it was more enjoyable to read two or three race accounts at a time and let them ferment overnight before digesting a few more. Kind of like practicing self-control by eating only one handful of Doritos a day. The anticipation of the next handful is thereby heightened.
There are only a few areas of complaint:
At this time, the book is only available in a digital format. (It is published by Diversion Books.)
And Chris Cooper is listed as “editor.” In reality, Chris Cooper interviewed each of the 50 racers, and then wrote up each of the 50 race profiles, each of which flows well and is tightly drawn, so let’s call him the author. One sign of a good author is that the writing flows so easily that you’re never conscious of the author.
Being the Luddite than I am, I’m hoping that a publisher comes out with an ink-on-paper version, but in the meantime, you can’t go wrong listening in on these 50 stories of races both memorable and educational.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me . . .
Twelve months of running
Two car decals
* * *
In the Haiku tradition of Japanese poetry, a popular form consists of three lines and a total of 17 (5-7-5) syllables. Feel free to submit your own!
Where did summer go?
I just acclimated to
the heat. Now it’s cold!
Need to rake the leaves,
Or else go for my long run.
It's a no-brainer!
Fall means marathons.
Running twenty-six point two
will be life-changing
Falling Autumn leaves
are wet on my running trail.
That’s why it’s called “fall.”
A crisp fall morning,
And a run with an old friend.
Ain’t nothing better.
Year is going well.
I ran with no injuries.
Better knock on wood.
Running too much of a chore?
I know a good book!
Chris Russell of Run Run Live interviewed me about my new eBook and audio book on a recent podcast. (The actual interview begins at the 25:49 mark and ends at 51:20).
We discussed where the idea for the book came from, how I was able to get 50 runners (many of them household names in the running community) to agree to be interviewed, and the often surprising stories they told of what they consider the best race they ever ran.
For more Q&A about the whole interviewing and writing process, you can go to this previous post.
Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967. Since then she has run more than 35 marathons and at one time was ranked third in the U.S. and sixth in the world at that distance. After a successful running career, the author of Marathon Woman became an Emmy Award-winning television commentator and has been instrumental in creating opportunities for women in sports. Kathrine is also one of the 50 runners featured in my new book, My Best Race. We are fortunate for the time she took from her busy schedule for this exclusive Q&A with Writing on the Run.
1. Many know you only as the woman who broke the gender barrier in the Boston Marathon. For which of your many accomplishments would you most want to be remembered?
“Getting the Women’s Marathon into the Olympic Games and organizing a global series of races that got more than a million women out running. Those Avon International Running Circuit races that I created (400 in 27 countries) provided opportunity and empowerment for women. It also provided the data, physical performance, and international participation for the International Olympic Committee to see that women marathoners deserved inclusion. The Women’s Marathon in the Olympics changed world thinking on women’s capability.”
2. You have received many honors for your running, television work, and your contributions to women’s running. Which one specific honor or award is most meaningful to you and why?
“Probably a tie between the Billie Jean King Contribution Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1981 and the Abebe Bikila Award from the New York Road Runners in 2002. Neither had anything to do with crashing the Boston Marathon and everything to do with changing women’s lives for the better.”
3. When you were ranked sixth in the world in the marathon in the ’70s, what was a typical training week like for you?
“Harder than I can ever imagine today! I think I over-trained particularly since I was always sleep-deprived, but it paid off. Hard work was 110 miles a week, two workouts a day, easy in the morning and tough in the evening after work. Two times a week intervals on the track, such as 20 x 400. On Sundays a long run of 20-26 miles, each 6-mile segment 15-30 seconds faster. The last segment at race pace (about 6:30-6:40 per mile).”
4. What is your running like these days? Do you still compete?
“Absolutely! I say I don’t take competition seriously, but if I see a woman with gray hair ahead of me with 200 meters to go, she is dead meat! Seriously, I am not in any real competitive shape compared to many 63 year-old women, but often I win my age group (63) because there are sometimes few women in it, just like the old days! I ran my first marathon-distance race in a long time in March, a tough off-road mountain run (28 river crossings!) in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. I had stopped running marathons as they took too much time, but now some fascinating stuff exists that I don’t want to miss, so I got in shape for it. Well, let’s say I trained hard for it, but it is not the same body and I had to do a lot of 4, 4:30, and 5-hour runs to get through it. Plus a lot of naps, which just proves that marathon training does indeed take a lot of time.”
5. What advice would you give someone who has matured into an intermediate-level runner and racer?
“To not be afraid of being competitive and really laying it on the line. It’s fascinating to give all you have but the proviso here is that training is everything. You can lay it on the line in a race but you won’t see much improvement unless you lay it on the line in training. But, as I say, it is fascinating. It is not essential to be competitive, but it answers a lot of questions in your life.”
6. I know you have answered this question many times throughout your career . . . but I’ll ask it again anyway: Briefly, what was going through your mind in that historic Boston Marathon during the sequence when the race official approached you and tried to rip off your number?
“I was scared witless. He had come out of the blue and although I’d taken good-natured ribbing and odd looks before, I’d never experienced hostility like that. I was just 20, a girl really, and it was meant to be a reward from my coach (running Boston was a reward for proving to my coach in practice that I could do the marathon distance). Turned out to be an event where I had to prove to the world that all women could do it and deserved to be there. I was feeling a tremendous amount of pressure. I grew up in the course of 26.2 miles and got more determined with every step. It changed my life, and consequently millions of women’s lives.”
To read more about Kathrine Switzer, visit her Web site at www.marathonwoman.com. And to find out what Kathrine considers the best race she ever ran (hint: it's not the Boston Marathon mentioned above), you'll have to wait until September 3rd when My Best Race is released.
Congratulations to Jenny Simpson (silver in the 1500) and Molly Huddle (6th place in the 5000) for their performances at the just-completed IAAF World Track & Field Championships.
Both are among the 50 runners featured in "MY Best Race" due out September 3rd. According to Jenny, her "Best Race" was her gold medal-winning effort in the previous World Championship 1500, and Molly's "Best Race" was when she broke the American record in the 5000 meters in 2010.
I have unfortunately neglected to post anything new for awhile since I have been working overtime to finish up the manuscript for my next book. The working title is My Best Race: 50 Runners and the Finish Line They'll Never Forget.
For the book, I interviewed fifty famous and not-so-famous runners to talk about the best race they ever ran . . . and why. You will be surprised that many "best races" are not ones you might expect from the well-known World Champions and Olympians. And many of the stories involve races in which the runner did not win and did not necessarily post a personal best time.
Here is a partial list of the runners I interviewed for the book:
and several Achilles International disabled runners.
My Best Race will be in eBook and audio formats and published by Diversion Books on September 3rd. Stay tuned more more information.
The anthology by runners for runners that I wrote about previously is finally available. I was proud to be one of the contributors, especially since proceeds from the sale of the book go to The One Fund Boston, to support vitims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Learn more about The 27th Mile here.