THERE ARE golf pros and tennis pros and even Frisbee pros, but running pros?
Not yet, but a handful of runners in the Washington are have left secure jobs to serve their sport as publishers and as purveyors of clothing and shoes. And some doctors have so many runners as patients that the sport has taken over their practice.
These full-time runners support one another's trades and professions. The kinship is such that they have joked about forming a commune.
"We figure if all of us lived on an estate, there's nothing we couldn't do, with all our skills," said Ellen Wessel, who recently left a high-paying job at HUD to start a clothing business for women runners. "As it is, we give one another a lot of emotional support. There are such ups and downs when you're starting a business."
Currently the running industry here clusters around Running Times magazine, a fledgling publication begun last winter by Ed Ayres, a proposal writer for an environmental and technology reseach firm. Ayres, 35, teamed up with two other runner, phil Stewart and Rick Platt, to produce a magazine serving eastern runners (Runner's World, a well-established national magazine, is published in California). Stewart, who participated in the Olympic marathon trials last year, took leave from the D.C. Recreation Department; Platt had been working as a postal employee in Williamsburg and writing a weekly sports column on the side.
"I've always had an interest in both running and writing, and I wanted to integrate the two," Ayres said. "For 20 years I though you couldn't make a living as a runner. You get indoctrinated with the ideal of amateurism; you can't get paid for what you enjoy. But this ethic os challengable. Only a few superstars can live their running per se - and we all know who they are - but there are other ways to have your cake and eat it too, without taking money under the table."
Running Times started on a shoertring in January, but circulation is now up to 4,000 and Ayres expects 8,000 by the end of the year. With virtually no experience in publishing, AYres and his partners have survived on poverty wages and worked man-killing hours to get the magazine out each month.
"Being runners gives us an advantage," Ayres said. "In all modesty, it takes a lot of endurance to do what we've done. We've been through many tough hours when most people would have given up. We've rewarded ourselves by promising that next month we'll get a few more hours of sleep each night."
Sprinkled throughout Running Times are ads for "Racquet & Jog," "Moving Comfort" and "Fern Hill Frames", business operated by full-time runners.
Bruce Robinson, like Stewart, is a national class competitor who participated in the Olympic marathon trials last year. Two years ago he was hired as a shoe repairman for a Falls Church athletic shop; last year he bought the resoling equipment from his employer and started his own repair business from his basement. He would pick up and deliver shoes from seven or eight athletic shops.
In February Robinson was invited to form a partnership with two brothers who were already operating a tennis shop in Bethesda called racquet & Jog. The shop took on a full line of running shoes and clothing, and Robinson now sells equipment from a special showroom, where his reputation as a top-flight marathoner attracts visitors from up and down the East Coast.
"Since I run myself, I can advise people on what's best for them,"Robinson said. "I tell customers not to buy something if I think it's wrong. For me, running is a way of life; I'm happy to be able to make a living at it. It used to worry that I'd be resoling shoes in my basement for the rest of my life. This is not like a regular 9 to 5 job. For most people, running is something they do for relaxation after work. For me, there's never a time when I'm not running or thinking about running."
"Moving Comfort" is the name chosen by two women marathoners for a line of clothing designed for women runners. Wessel and Valerie Nye, both of whom ran in this year's Boston Marathon, worked out the name and other details during a series of runs together over the winter and spring in April, after expressing frustration with their jobs and talking about starting a business, they bought a sewing machine and were on their way.
Moving Comfort's first ad in Running TImes brough inquiries from athletic shops in Boston, Cleveland and Wilmington, plus, "Dear Sister" letters from women delighted at the prospect of buying clothes from runners like themselves. Racquet & Jog has placed a second order and there are orders from shops in Boston, Seattle and Wayne, N.J.
"Our selling point is that we're runners as well as designers," said Wessel, who put her savings into the venture. "We're run marathons in our clothes. If a seam is a little bit off, you might not notice it at first, but after 15 miles it can be a problem."
"Fern Hill Frames" is a framing service operated by Dave Gottlieb, a 35-year-old runner who recently took leave from his job as a civil rights specialist for the General Services Administration. He supports himself by framing runners' awards and news clippings and by teaching business law and humanities at the Capitol Institute of Technology in Kensington.
But Gottlieb's real passion is helping others to start running. Last winter he organized a series of seminars for beginners for the D.C. Road Runners Club, and he hopes to develop a career as a "running evangelist" for corporations and government agencies interested in fitness programs.
"Running helped me to break out of the routine I was locked into," Gottlieb said. "Some people fit a routine; I don't. Running helped me catch up with what was real and reject the dumb stuff."
The RUnning Times masthead lists a "medical/scientific advisory board" that includes Dr. Gabe Mirkin, a sports medicine authority, and Dr. Myles Schneider, a podiatrist.
Schneider, who took up jogging soon after establishing his practice here eight years ago, treated his first injured runner in 1972. He soon began attending track meets and clinics, studying injury prevention and conditioning. Word spread of his interest, and joggers began beating a path to the door of his Annandale office. He estimates that now more than half of his patients are runners or athletes for whom running is important for conditioning.
Podiatrists were largely ignored by athletes and coaches until it was discovered recently they could successfully treat foot and knee injuries stemming from structural imbalances.For problem cases, Schneider designs "orthotics", plastic or leather devices inserted into shoes to correct the feet.
After spending so much time with runners, Schneider has decided to try a marathon himself this fall or winter. "I'm not going to rush it, though," he said. "I've seen too many others get injured."
Mirkin, who ran cross-country at Harvard in the 1950s and remains an active runner, has mixed feelings about his reputations as a runner's doctor. He sees from five to 10 runners daily in his Silver Spring office, but he refers the rest to podiatrists. He finds runners interfere with his specialties, allergy and dermatology.
"Physicians can't make money on athletes unless they treat them with pills or surgery," Mirkin said. "And what athletes need isn't pills but teaching, which is time-consuming."
Still, Mirking dreams of integrating his work and his sport. He is currently writing a book. "How to Be an Athlete," that will discuss theories of training, prevention of injuries, and the physiology of performance.
"I'm one of the few physicians around who has had every injury I try to deal with."