THE EXTRA MILE

This Column Runs Off Into the Sunset

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Last month I joked -- joked! -- about the tiny space newspapers allocate to running, a sport enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of area residents and millions of Americans. Well, the timing is a coincidence, I'm sure, but this Extra Mile is now the Final Mile and the latest casualty in the shrinking world of newspapers. And please, don't inundate my editor (garciaruize@washpost.com) with unhappy e-mails.

Honestly, it has been a good run. This column started by stealing space from The Outside Line, a small-sport irony that could be appreciated best by outdoors writer John Mullen, our Post colleague who died in a kayak accident 3 1/2 years ago.

Running's low profile is not commensurate with any lack of respect, although it's difficult for those who don't participate to understand why runners do what we do. Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami took a stab at explaining the inexplicable in "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," a pleasant enough little book that eschews the philosophical nonsense of the "Running and Being" generation.

Murakami's memoir simply describes how and why running works for him, just as any one of us writing (without Murakami's considerable chops) about running would do. The surprise was that Murakami sounded like any other four-hour marathoner relating the ups and downs of training and racing through middle age. He had no profound or even particular insights.

What was special was the relationship Murakami enjoyed with running. It was central to everything important in his life, from his wife to his writing and his travels. And, as any runner knows, special does not mean unique -- we all find our lives richer for our efforts.

Busy schedules force most of us to run alone even though a group run is one of the sport's greatest pleasures. My particular exigencies, twin 6-month-old boys, have me on the road often late at night. And that's okay, even as I startle deer by moonlight, race alongside a freight train or just float through sleeping neighborhoods bopping with my iPod.

So we beat on, with the hope and expectation that short, cold days will give way to long, warm ones. Thanks for reading, and thanks also to my editors at The Post.

-- Jim Hage

hagejim@hotmail.com


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