Keep your splits to yourself

By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / July 7, 2009
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Runner’s World magazine: What about a race? Could you beat the president?

Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin: I betcha I’d have more endurance. My one claim to fame in my own little internal running circle is a sub-four [hour] marathon.

I know. You’re a runner. I heard that the first time you noticed my worn-out Boston Marathon jersey, wandered over and decided we must be blood brothers. Then, within seconds, you’d listed your times, referenced your ‘splits’ and told me you planned to run New York in November. I get it.

You’re a runner. Now stick a cork in it.

See, I’m also a runner. And yes, I remember that feeling of pride after completing my first half marathon in New York’s Central Park and that even stronger sense of doing the unthinkable as my legs limped across the finish line on Boylston Street a couple years ago. In public, all I wanted was a chance to tell my story (“boy, that last training run over the hills of Newton is a killer’’) or to proselytize about the sport or debunk the myths of running (“come on, that knee thing’s a cop out’’).

Then, one night at a party, I was blathering on about, oh, my iPod playlist for Sunday’s long run and it suddenly dawned on me. God, this is insufferably boring. I’ve become running’s version of a Promise Keeper.

And that’s when I quit. Not running. But talking endlessly about running.

You should too.

As running’s grown from a small sport enjoyed by a group of quirky freaks into a network of tweeting amateurs updating their online training logs, the sport has become saturated with running stories. Newspaper columns (“As I go into my regular jogging adventures, I usually enjoy nice scenery running along a nearby bayou where I live.’’ - Luciano Battistini, June 30, Katy, Texas, Times) and magazine features and, even worse, endless conversations at coffee shops, school drop-offs, everywhere.

I figured I’d call Runner’s World magazine to vent, particularly since they’re partially responsible for the flood of first-timers. As most publications have lost readers, Runner’s World has managed to add to its circulation in the last year. (It now stands at 688,504.) It’s also the only publication with a chief running officer on staff. That’s Bart Yasso, who admitted that there’s a lot more chit-chat about running than in the 1970s, when he first laced up.

“I have 2,287 friends on Facebook and they’re all runners, so every day, my update is littered with ‘I did this 3-mile run this morning and here’s where I ran,’ ’’ said Yasso.

Why so much sharing? Do you think John J. McDermott, whose skin peeled off his feet due to the black leather shoes he wore on his way to winning the inaugural Boston Marathon in 1897, would be tweeting his training runs?

I asked Yasso if he was annoyed.

“No, I get a kick out of it,’’ he said. “I mean, I work for Runner’s World.’’

Of course, RW is responsible for publishing one of the greatest reads of the running-porn era, a column entitled “I’m a Runner.’’ That’s where celebrities testify about the sport they love. That’s where Palin, in tight black running pants, ended up this month uttering such phrases as “Sweat is my sanity’’ and “I feel so crappy if I go more than a few days without a run.’’

Truth is, my favorite “I’m a Runner’’ has to be the one with a pre-scandal Eliot Spitzer, who provided this nugget as he ran for governor: “With this campaign, my days are longer, but I still have to run. I just get up earlier. My wife doesn’t mind when I slip out at 5 a.m. She just asks that I don’t turn on the lights.’’ (Or visit the Mayflower Hotel.)

These testimonies would have been unheard of back in 1976, when you would have been part of a select group of 25,000 people had you finished a marathon. In 2007, more than 400,000 people - the entire population of Minneapolis - finished a race. Back in the old days, you didn’t have Katie Holmes or Freddie Prinze Jr. or some bike-riding dilettante named Lance Armstrong clogging up the start line.

So do me a favor. If you want to run, keep it to yourself. Don’t skip out noticeably at lunch time, pop into the company shower, and stomp around the office with your running shoes and wet hair. Get up before dawn and punch out a few miles before the rest of the world wakes up. Just do your miles. Don’t talk about ’em.