All Kinds of Runners
Bad Knees, the Marathon and Dividing by Two


People love to bifurcate  — to imagine the world divided in two — even when there’s no real division: Us against them, red and blue, night and day, zero and one.

The late-great American smartass Robert Charles Benchley said, "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't."

When I was on the track team, my Uncle Eddie told me that there were two kinds of runners in the world.  Runners that are running toward something and runners that are running away.  Eddie was a tennis pro who liked to tell people what to do.  As far as I was concerned, he didn’t know jack about two kinds of anything. 

Many years later, Eddie developed osteoarthritis in his knees, both of which he subsequently replaced.   Living up to its name, his “knee replacement hardware” was replaced at least once again.  You may ask, what kind of runner did that make Eddie?  One of many.

I pounded my knees as well.  But I still run on the originals.  Running was my game. I  didn’t have first place speed, but I was good enough to compete, and more importantly, I loved to run.  I ran for the joy, between things, to things and from things — teachers, police, bees, angry victims, finish lines, beauty, up hill and down, streaking the hall, 50 meter dash or 26 miles 385 yards.  I ran short and long distance from the time I could talk.  Through houses and back yards, school playgrounds, sandy beaches, Magnolia Boulevard to North Hollywood Park, up the flood control channels, and down the rock maze slopes of Joshua Tree — in cross country races, on LSD, marathons and mad dash sprints — I ran. I ran because I liked the feeling.  It was pure — the rhythm, the breathing and the rush. 

My running resume included a three-year stint on the Monroe High School Cross Country team.  Our weekly meets were held at Pierce College in Woodland Hills — the home of an infamous course with a 1.8 mile switchback 125 foot ascent that played host to the L.A. City Finals.

Pierce College opened in 1947 as an Ag school. By the time I was running, the college had 2,000 students, four hundred and fifty head of cattle, 250 head of sheep, 6,000 poultry and 250 swine.  The halfway point of the course ran right through the middle of what my team called “The Hog Farm.” On one unfortunate occasion, a sounder of swine crossed the course and collided with the lead pack of spike-shoed runners.  With squeals and blood a teammate went down.  Reaching the course’s finish line required a heart and knee-pumping climb up Puke’s Peak (some didn’t make it) followed by a steep descent with a U-turn at the base then a straightaway to the runners chute — the finish line.  Beauty.

I kept running for 10 more years.  Then one day I quit.  It was over.  I had enough.  My knees said stop.  I was an ex-runner.

Uncle Eddie stopped his game, too.  Now, he just watches — tennis, baseball, football, basketball, and on occasion, marathons.  In fact, Eddie was visiting New York City, just when Hurricane Sandy crashed in.  Instead, of being a spectator at the New York City marathon, he was stuck at the Hyatt in a Category 2 storm. Eddie, however, took that opportunity to show what kind of runner he was.  While others bitched about the cancelled sporting event, Eddie went to Staten Island with packs of supplies for the victims, just like 1000 marathon contestants did. 

I say good on him.  By his standards, Eddie was running toward something. 

But Eddie reminded me that with over 40,000 runners registered in the New York City Marathon it appeared that the other runners ran away.   “There you go again,” I said, “dividing the world in two.”

People like to bifurcate, but there are all kinds of runners.  

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast December 14, 2012

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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