Apropos of Running by Charles Moore

Subtitle: Introduction to Apropos of Running


Posted on January 11, 2024

By Olivia Baker

What makes a good family television drama? Think Parenthood, This is Us and the like. The story is fiction, but it is moving and relatable enough that it very well could be ours or the story of someone we know. It drives feelings of empathy as our favorite characters go through trials and triumphs in life that we've experienced and opens space for thoughtfulness and conversation as they go through those that we have not. It is in many ways nobody's story and everybody's story all at once. Apropos of Running, the memoir by Charles Moore is similarly stirring. The only difference is that this story is real.

I chose Apropos of Running for the 21st installment of Runners Who Read because I believe that, for many, it will read like a good television drama. As runners, walkers and joggers, we'll have many opportunities to relate to Moore's foray into marathoning at the age of 40 through the stories he shares detailing his training and racing experiences. Simultaneously, we'll be challenged to engage with the reality of the lack of diversity in distance running as Moore skillfully intertwines his personal journey as a Black runner with profound reflections on the societal landscapes he traverses running marathons all around the world. A timely read, Apropos of Running is sure to confront uncomfortable truths and spark deeply pensive conversations, but by the end it has the potential to leave us and the running community we love better for having read it.

Discussion Questions:

1. In a recent interview with Sheridan Wilbur, Moore characterizes marathoning and life: "It's totally cliché because people say it all the time, but marathons are a metaphor for life: Life is a marathon. You could relate running a marathon to almost any type of goal in life. It's like anything that requires consistency and commitment: raising a child, being in a relationship, romantic or even a personal friendly relationship. If you're a true friend, the great times are always great, but are you committed and consistent when it's not good for that person? It's like you're in a marathon in that relationship." Do you agree with this comparison or would you consider life to be more like a sprint?

2. What are you most looking forward to learning from this book?

Subtitle: How it Started…How it's Going

Chapters 1-7

Posted on January 18

By Olivia Baker

In this age of social media, one of the trendiest things you can do is post an update about how you've been doing. It's common to see posts on Instagram or Facebook comparing images from years apart reflecting upon how a given journey began and what the status of it is today, appropriately outfitted with the caption "how it started … how it's going." The first few chapters of Apropos of Running by Charles Moore could come equipped with that same caption as they delve into how he began running marathons and what running has looked like for him more recently. He does this through intertwining stories of his childhood and adolescent experiences with those of his first races.

As noted in the early chapters of the book, Moore was first inspired to run when he went out for a walk on a sick day and stumbled upon the New York City Marathon finish line. The experience of seeing people cross the finish line physically and mentally beaten down yet triumphant after having completed such a grueling task piqued his curiosity, stirred his emotions and presented the potential to find greater value in his life.

"As a younger kid and up through my marathon days, and even with all the success I achieved academically and professionally, I would compete to prove I was worthy and enough … Would my eventual foray into marathoning and nineteen finishes (more on all that a little later) finally give me the validation I needed?" (pg# 9) Moore wonders aloud as he frames his early running story. However, within the fulfilment of this general interest and yearning to prove that he is enough, Moore found much more meaning in running.

What began as a simple curiosity became an opportunity to honor his late father by giving money and raising awareness for chronic kidney disease by running the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in his training for his first NYC marathon. Something that started as a journey toward proving himself led him to physical challenges beyond merely running as he completed the Spartan Trifecta, a series of long-distance obstacle races. A single, internally motivated task became one focused not just on his individual success, but the uplifting of communities as he recognized the dearth of people of color in the marathons he ran and became inspired to speak out about it.

So, does he ever satisfy his interest and find that sense of self-worth in marathoning? Possibly. We simply don't know, as that question remains unanswered in a life story that is still being written. But one thing is for sure: In running, as with many things in life, the way the journey starts and where it ends up are often somewhat unpredictable but there is always meaning in the journey—and not always the meaning we are looking for—if we will leave ourselves open to finding it.

Discussion Question:

1. Can you remember what inspired you to participate in your first race? Is that initial motivator still what inspires you or have your motivators changed over time?

Subtitle: The Privilege of Marathoning

Chapters 8-14

Posted on February 1, 2024

By Olivia Baker

Throughout the middle chapters of Apropos of Running by Charles Moore, we see his motivation for running marathons shift from seeking to prove something to himself to desiring to show the world that Black people do run marathons. Driven by the lopsided participation statistics surrounding Black people and marathon running, he decided to embark upon a quest to run 13 marathons in 11 different cities over the course of a year from November 2016 to November 2017. Aside from the absurdity of running 13 marathons in 12 months, including two international destinations, the second thought that comes to mind is the cost of such a journey.

Acutely aware of the ways that cost can be a barrier, Moore regularly comments on how much he spends to run these races. He wonders aloud at a race in Italy: "Who gets to run around the globe? It is a heightened version of privilege…The assumption is that anyone can throw on a raggedy T-shirt and sneakers and run. But there are a few real barriers to running." (pg# 100-101). Among the expenses he highlights are the cost of good running shoes, race registration fees, and accessories, which can be in the hundreds of dollars each. Then there's the cost of travel for races, including lodging, transportation, and meals in a given city, for which he estimates in thousands of dollars. Finally there is the opportunity cost of time. Marathons take a long time to run, but many times longer to prepare for. To many, this can be the biggest cost of them all.

Consider that for a moment longer. A conservative estimate is $250 for gear, $1000 for travel, $50 for race registration, and many hours of prep time (priceless). That's $1300 for a first time marathoner! On a related note, a 2015 estimate from gobankrates.com that took into account similar expenses suggested that the average Boston marathon runner that year spent at least $1,667 to compete in the event. As Moore points out, recognizing these costs and acknowledging the privilege of running marathons is the first step to lowering the barriers to entry of the sport for everyone. Once we become more aware of the things that stand in the way of making running, and marathon running in particular, broadly attainable we can begin find ways to make the sport more accessible to all.

Discussion Questions:

1. Categorically speaking, where is the best place to start with regard to lowering the cost barriers to this running? Gear, race fees, travel, time/space, etc.?

2. What race location (marathon or other distance) is on your bucket list?

Subtitle: You've Got a Fast Car

Chapters 15-21

Posted on February 8, 2024

By Olivia Baker

Did anyone see Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs' performance of Fast Car at the Grammys last week? If you haven't, it is well worth the 5 minutes. Chapman's hit song, released in 1988, almost instantly became a folk-rock hit landing in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. Since then, it has been covered several times, but none as successfully as Luke Combs' 2023 country cover that reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the US Hot Country Songs charts. When it won "Song of the Year" at the 2023 Country Music Awards, Chapman became the first Black songwriter to earn such an honor. On one hand, that represents a big step for Black people in country music, but on the other hand the fact that it took until 2023 for such a first to occur highlights just how much is left to gain.

In country music as in marathoning, it is estimated that just over 1% of performers are Black and that percentage doesn't go up by much when you include all people of color (Watson, 2021, Redlining in Country Music: Representation in the Country Music Industry (2000-2020)). So for Tracy Chapman to come out of retirement for one night (she hasn't performed live in almost 10 years) to perform on arguably the biggest stage in music at the Grammys was a big deal to a lot of people and perhaps, as her hit song says, gave "the feeling that I belong" to a group that has largely been excluded and historically erased from country music. In a similar way, albeit on a much smaller stage, Charles Moore in the middle chapters of Apropos of Running reflects upon a few ways that simply showing up during his year of monthly marathoning made a difference for his community.

Safety. "How do Black Americans find safe spaces in which to run?...Although we are still working to answer it in practice, the reality is clear: Black Americans will be safe and comfortable running as more Black Americans start to run …" (pg#181-182). There is safety in numbers. When a group that represents a minority in a given space begins to show up in greater numbers, it helps to normalize the presence of that group in a space and in turn makes everyone in the group feel safer.

Representation. With regard to representation, Moore wonders what the next generation of Black children will think when they see him pass by at their local marathon. Will they think of him as just an anomaly or will they see a moment worth cherishing and claiming again and again? (pg#180). The hope is for the latter, and that those children would then be inspired to carry the torch for generations to come.

Joy. As Moore raced a marathon in Atlanta, it wasn't until mile 20 that came across a cheering group of about 100 Black men and women on the side of the course, the first such group he had seen the whole race. As he ran over to thank them for cheering, it became clear how much joy his presence brought them when they insisted on thanking him instead. Even for those who may not be marathoners, there is still great joy in seeing the way being paved for others in your community who will come next.

As a Black woman, it brought me a lot of joy to see Tracy Chapman on stage with Luke Combs at the Grammys and, if only for a moment, made me feel like there's a place for people who look like me in country music. While a simple performative gesture won't fix the systemic barriers to BIPOC participation in country music, or marathoning for that matter, it can accomplish the things listed above. Perhaps increases in safety can be measured, but though the impact of joy and representation cannot be easily quantified their effects are felt in the changing of minds and hearts. No matter what communities we represent, we all have an opportunity to create space for them simply by showing up.

Discussion Questions:

1. Where is the marathon equivalent of showing up and representing your community at the Grammys? Boston? New York? The Olympics? Somewhere else?

2. Beyond race, gender, religion and sexual orientation that are often referenced when we think of representing our communities, what other groups do you represent (for example, you may be a parent, you may be a pet owner, you might be a bird watcher, etc.) and in what ways do you think you could usefully show up for them in some way at your next race?

Subtitle: Time Well Spent

Chapters 22-28

Posted on February 21, 2024

By Olivia Baker

As Charles Moore discusses the final few marathons (and one ultramarathon) in his pandemic-delayed journey toward earning his six-star medal for completing all of the Abbott World Major Marathons in the waning chapters of Apropos of Running, he takes some time to reflect on the things he accomplished on this journey. Aside from the physical accomplishment of completing 21 marathons, a 50K ultramarathon and a Spartan Trifecta, a man who set out on his running journey with something to prove to himself came away with so much more.

To begin with, he inspired those around him to run. Six of his personal friends who had never run marathons and countless others in the cities he traversed were motivated to run because of his example. He pushed himself through depths of struggle he had never before experienced and came out stronger on the other side. Through heat and humidity, freezing rain, dehydration and other challenging conditions he persevered, finding a way to finish the races and learning the true meaning of adaptability in the process. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he gained perspective on race, racing, fitness, justice, and even time itself that he can actionably apply to all areas of his life.

Whatever the reason you began to run, walk or jog, most would agree that they have gained so much more beyond that initial goal (even if you haven't completed that particular goal). The immeasurable number of hours spent on the roads, trails and treadmills have all been worth it for the many lessons learned, fitness gained and friends made along the way. As Moore puts it in the final sentences of his book "I, too, realized that after earning my sixth star in Tokyo, my true learning and training had only just begun. There are more races to run and many more personal and life lessons to master—time well spent." (pg# 239).

Discussion Questions:

1. What is the most valuable life lesson you've been able to take from running, walking, or jogging?

2. What more are you hoping to learn?

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