I must say – what a revelation.
It’s not so much the writing and the story as it is the ideas. Textually, the book is similar in style to the ubiquitous John Feinstein’s chronicling of some season, tour, tournament or team, but the writing is much more urgent and bold. No, that’s not a knock at Feinstein or even a compliment for Lear, but it’s clear that Lear understands what and whom he is writing about.
Perhaps that knowledge is what separates Lear from most running writers or sports scribes. Take me (or Feinstein) for instance. Though I played sports all through my school days there’s no way I’ll ever be able to fully understand what it’s like to play in the Major Leagues, NFL or NBA. Where I might have it over most writers is that I know what it takes to train every day for months and years without an end or feedback in sight, but as far as the actual competition at the highest level of the sport I get paid to watch, I have no idea.
Lear, in writing about the Adam Goucher-led University of Colorado cross-country team of the late 1990s, understands a lot of what it takes for greatness because he was an All-American runner for Princeton and an Olympic-caliber miler who packed everything he owned into his car and moved out to Boulder.
Moving to Boulder might be the clichéd runner thing to do – like an actor moving to New York or Hollywood – but the odds of “making it” are probably much lower. The good thing about forays to Boulder is one returns home in much better shape than when they left.
Anyway, the real star of Running With the Buffaloes is Colorado coach Mark Wetmore. A post-modern Lydiard devotee, Wetmore is a sharper, more grounded version of Bill Bowerman and the younger John Kelley. The difference might be that when all is said and done, Wetmore could turn out to be the best distance coach ever.
Certainly such superlative border on hyperbole and are often trite, but in this day and age Wetmore certainly has things to worry about that his predecessors could never have imagined.
Yet like Bowerman, Wetmore is direct and unabashedly honest. A favorite passage is when Wetmore waxes on with Lear about what it takes to be a good runner and holds himself up as an example.
“If I came out for my own team, I’d cut me. I have no talent.” But a lack of talent can be made up for by an overabundance of courage. “You’re not gonna die,” he says. “This isn’t jousting, but some people are petrified. They can’t do it.”
In other words, if it hurts run faster.
Runners and running fans surely have heard of the cult of Lear’s book, but simply calling it a cult classic hardly seems right. Is it a “cult” classic simply because it deals with a supposed fringe sport? Probably. But Lear’s book is the rare running tome that is worthy of the effort.
Better yet, instead of the comparisons to Feinstein, the book is better served being compared to David Halberstam’s The Amateurs.
In making that comparison, Running With the Buffaloes goes on the short list of greatest sports books ever written.
On thing that stood out to me in reading about Wetmore’s training methods in relation to my own training is that I am on the correct path. From my approach to my ideas regarding weight training, weight, mileage, type of mileage and how that mileage is obtained, as well as and everything else, it looks as though it all jibes with a lot of Wetmore’s theories.
Nevertheless, just the thought that I can put together a training program that someone like Wetmore might offer to one of his runners is a big confidence builder.
So too was today’s hilly half-marathon that I covered in an easy 1:31:14. It was my longest run since the marathon on Nov. 12 and should put me on the right path to re-starting a training program in a couple of weeks.
So soon? Well, yeah. I decided that I am better when I focus on one marathon a year. That way I can gear an entire year of running and training for one goal and one race. By doing this, it alleviates some of the pressure in other races and helps me look at the bigger picture.
Therefore, my race of 2007 will be the Steamtown Marathon on Oct. 7 in Scranton, Pa. Steamtown, for those who don’t follow the sport, is known as a runner’s race and one of the fastest marathons in the country. If I can’t get a good time running Steamtown, well… it better be windy.
But if Steamtown is more than 10 months away, why do I have to start training again? Well, I get bored if I don’t have something to keep me sharp and focused so I’m going to run the National Marathon in Washington, D.C. on March 24. That’s sooner than I’d like, but I have a pretty good base and it shouldn’t be too hard to tune up even if I start as late as the New Year. Besides, the National Marathon comes early enough in the year to give me the chance to run in some races I never get a chance to because they come to close to Boston or at the beginning or end of training cycles.
The only drawback is all of the summer training, but oh well… it’s always hot somewhere.