It's been a long time coming, readers, but it's finally here—the official release of my new book, Runners of North America—A Definitive Guide to the Species.
Today, I celebrate good times.
I describe RONA, as I've taken to calling it, as the book Jane Goodall would have written had she spent decades watching and studying runners in the U.S. instead of chimps in Africa. Also if she had spent that time ingesting mind-altering substances. Essentially it's a tongue-in-cheek anthropological examination of runners as a species unto themselves. Or, more specifically, as 23 distinct subspecies, including the Newbie, the Serial Marathoner, the Adventure Racer, the Elite Runner, and so on.
In addition to profiling each of these 23 types of runners, the book explores runner anatomy, psychology, eating and mating habits, and much more. It's fun, if I do say so myself.
Moreover, it is exactly the same size as my previous two Rodale books, The Runner's Rule Book and The Runner's Field Manual. So if you don't already own those other two books you will definitely want to pick them up, too, just so you can stack them in a neat, little pile and admire them.
See? It's like a layer cake of delicious running humor:
The first subspecies we meet in Runners of North America is The Newbie. I have reproduced that entry below, followed by the entry for the Newbie's chronological opposite—The Grizzled Vet. Thanks to Rodale Books for granting me permission to share these excerpts.
From Runners of North America—A Definitive Guide to the Species, by Mark Remy:
All runners begin as the common, unassuming creature known as the Newbie. Over time the Newbie will grow up and out of the subspecies, evolving gradually into another, more specialized subspecies, from Fitness Runner to Mom Runner or Trail Runner to Serial Marathoner. Even Serious Runners and Elites begin their running lives as Newbies.
However, not all Newbies “make it” and become full-fledged runners. For a variety of reasons, a Newbie may decide that running is not for her. And so her running life will end, just as it was beginning, and she will find another species to identify with.
Think of the Newbie, in these instances, as a caterpillar who becomes not a butterfly but a mountain biker. Such is the miracle of nature.
By definition the Newbie is new to running and therefore tends to be extremely self-conscious. This can be a good thing—i.e., insofar as it keeps the Newbie humble and encourages her to take things easy—but those Newbies who lack the capacity to harness these feelings and ultimately rein them in may soon find themselves giving up. Fortunately, this is the exception and not the rule.
Distinguishing characteristics: The Newbie is marked by his tentative gait, his tentative demeanor, and his tentative way of asking tentative questions. This is a positive trait with clear evolutionary advantages. (Those few Newbies who display absolute confidence in their running—how they do it, how often, how fast, in what shoes, etc.—have a habit of morphing suddenly from Newbie to Injured Runner, and then from Injured Runner to Former Runner.)
Appearance: The Newbie looks less like a “runner” and more like “a regular person who has bought some running shoes and isn’t entirely sure how to use them.”
Habitat: Specialty running stores, where she is asking lots of (tentative) questions and apologizing for them; suburban sidewalks, early in the morning or late at night, where she does most of her runs, so as not to be seen
Feeding behavior: The Newbie tends to eat well, not because he always has but because he has just subscribed to Runner’s World and/or bought a stack of running books and therefore suddenly has an abundance of recipes for beet smoothies and butternut squash soup.
Sounds: Panting. But happy panting.
Mating call: “Am I doing this right?”
Running style: You guessed it—tentative. The Newbie employs an easily identifiable shuffling gait, with shoulders hunched slightly forward as if he is trying to make himself as small and inconspicuous as possible. Over time, as his spine develops, the Newbie’s running style will evolve as well, becoming more upright and open.
When running with others, especially in races, the Newbie will often employ another style of running—a sort of “sprint/sag” strategy wherein she surges past her fellow runners, head down and arms pumping, before slowing to a near-crawl. Once recovered, the Newbie will repeat this process until she is no longer able to sprint, at which point she will shuffle along for the remainder of the run or race or just go get an iced coffee or something.
Again, over time this habit will diminish as the Newbie learns the concept of “pacing.”
Closest relatives: The Kid Runner; the “I’m Not a Real Runner” Runner
Enemies and threats: His or her own sense of self-doubt; doing “too much, too fast”; blisters
The Grizzled Vet
Encountering a Grizzled Vet is as close as you can come to traveling back in time and speaking with a runner from an earlier era, without employing an actual time machine.
These fascinating creatures are, as the name implies, old. They also tend to be deeply tanned, or to show the effects of decades spent deeply tanned. This means they are also creased in very interesting ways.
At the same time, the Grizzled Vet is strong and energetic. Often he or she can run you into the ground and celebrate afterward with a few one-handed pushups. The Grizzled Vet takes great delight in this.
You can punch a Grizzled Vet in the stomach with no apparent ill effects. In fact, the Grizzled Vet might insist you do so. “Give me your best shot,” the Grizzled Vet will say, slapping his own gut. “Go on. Do it.”
Whether you punch him or not, the Grizzled Vet may also say, “(Blank) years old, still hard as a rock.” The reason he will say “blank” is that he has forgotten his age. While the Grizzled Vet’s abdomen is in fine shape, his mind may not be.
Still, the Grizzled Vet’s love for running is as strong as ever. For this reason, he is a source of great inspiration for other runners, who often refer to him as "the real deal."
Distinguishing characteristics: Doesn’t have time for your bullshit Walkman or whatever that doohickey is.
Appearance: Grizzled; old; cotton race shirts; mischievous eyes
Habitat: Grizzled Vets love to race, so you will find them at just about any local running event. For an up-close look, linger after the race. Grizzled Vets, while relatively small in number, are heavily represented at postrace awards presentations, where they are sometimes guaranteed an award just by finishing.
Feeding behavior: The Grizzled Vet eats just like he always has, which is to say he eats what he wants, when he wants, goddammit. Before a race, he will have a cup of coffee (black) and a Centrum Silver multivitamin. The Grizzled Vet is the only subspecies of runner who refers to candy, pastries, desserts, and so on as “sweets.”
Sounds: Some Grizzled Vets make strange sounds while running hard, especially during a race. These sounds can range from “deep wheeze” to “severe moan” to “rhythmic grunt.” Or some unique combination of these. Don’t be alarmed. It may sound as if they are in distress, but usually they aren’t. Scientists theorize that Grizzled Vets use such sounds to frighten would-be predators, or to announce their presence to other Grizzled Vets within earshot.
Mating call: N/A. Almost invariably, the Grizzled Vet is either married or no longer interested in sex. Or both.
Running style: Aggressive
Closest relatives: The Serious Runner
Enemies and threats: Technology; themed runs (“Mud,” “Color,” etc.); anyone who runs a race with a phone