Book review: ‘Running on Third Wind’ a second look at top columns

Author's column in National Masters News began in August 1980.


Mike Tymn is my hero, and my envy. He lives in Hawaii, writes almost exclusively about masters running and — like one of those everyday-streak-runners — just keeps churning out marvelous slice-of-life vignettes. Year after year. National Masters News, from which these 72 columns were taken, has been his home base for more than 30 years. He’s also written for Runner’s World and Running Times, which makes him one of the deans of our craft (along with Hal Higdon). But this mini-bio tells you nothing about the charm of this anthology. It’s simply the cream of the crop of 350 columns. And what constitutes cream? Mike has captured the guts and heart of our sport, its stars and the culture surrounding them. He quotes his subjects extensively, doing justice to their stories.

The nitty gritty:

“Running on Third Wind,” self-published in 2009; 330 pages, softcover; $14.95 cover price; 15.222.9 cm (69 inches)

Organization:

10 major sections (“Running before the boom,” “Physiological Concerns,” “Legends of the revolutionary era,” etc.) with 72 total chapters, including interviews with 25 runners.

Who this book is for:

Masters athletes and fans, especially runners. But even general readers will appreciate the storytelling skills of Mr. T.

What I liked:

Everything. He reveals such athletes as John Landy (his youthful inspiration), Joe King (his road-running mentor) and dozens of other stars, including Gerry Lindgren, Jim Ryun, Bob Schul, Thane Baker, Wes Santee, Jack Foster, Priscilla Welch, Sister Marion Irvine, Norm Green and Ed Whitlock. He helpfully (and properly) appends “updates” at the end of many columns, sharing how the profiled athlete is doing today. His writing style is tailored to the tone of the subject. (Trust me, this isn’t easy.) So he’s not merely a great running columnist. He’s a great writer. Period.

What I didn’t like:

The columns are too short! They’re all about two or three pages. Each left me hungering for more details, quotes, instruction and atmosphere. But that’s the nature of the columnist game. Had he written everything he knew on his subjects, he would have burned out in 1985. I also would have liked this book to list the titles of all 350-plus columns he’s written for NMN since August 1980. Future scholars could benefit from this information.

Sample: From Chapter 29, “The Mile as a Microcosm of Life.”

People who have had near death experiences — “dying” and then coming back to life — often recollect things during the time they were “dead” much as Bannister recalled the moments after finishing (the first sub-4 minute mile). Those fully immersed in the mundane, clothed in the grossness of matter, slaves to materialism may not fully grasp or appreciate the analogies here. They likely do not understand that the willpower of which Bannister spoke is a function of spirit and that spirit is the manifestation of soul. However, for those willing and able to see it, the mile run can be one of life’s greatest teachers.

Bottom line:

Mike is the grandmaster of geezer running columns. Although he also writes for his local Honolulu newspaper, his profile isn’t high in the sportswriting world. This book should go a long way to correcting that deficiency. Buy it for yourself, your friends, your athletes. After you’ve read it, you’ll join me as a disciple.

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March 31, 2010

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