A love letter to running, from a librarian

Boston MarathonMy bio on my Twitter account is “Librarian. Writer. Runner. Dreamer.” For me, those things are all intertwined.

I love running for its own sake, and for the mental and physical health benefits I reap from it, but running has also helped me be a better librarian. Meeting people I’d never have a reason to talk to other than we both happen to love running and want company has helped me develop perspective and empathy. Training for and planning the logistics of long relay races and ultramarathons has taught me as much as any leadership seminar about how to work with teams and plan a project.

Watching the Boston Marathon coverage on April 16, I’ll admit I was relieved not to be running in some of the worst weather the storied race has ever experienced — and that’s saying something if you know anything about New England weather in April. Yet I also found myself falling in love with the sport all over again. Seeing an American woman take the win after a 35-year drought was amazing. Desiree Linden has been recognized on the front pages of newspapers, at an NBA game, on TV, and all over the internet, without unnecessary qualifiers like “female athlete.” Her historic win simultaneously elevated the sport of running and women’s sports.

Later that month, Library Journal published a piece by Steven Bell on using sports as a model for library leadership learning. In it, Bell writes:

One reason we tend to gravitate to sports for leadership examples, beyond our routine American sports obsession, is the team nature of most sports. Rarely do we get leadership stories coming out of the more individualized sports like tennis, wrestling, or golf.

It’s true that we’re more likely to get leadership examples from team sports, but over the past year, US women’s running has shown that individual sports have leaders too. Shalane Flanagan, who ended a US women’s drought in the New York City Marathon last fall, is famous for her encouragement of other runners.

After her NYC win, Linden congratulated Flanagan, who responded not with “thanks”, but “now it’s your turn.” And when Molly Huddle congratulated Linden after Boston, Linden paid it forward with “you’re next.” Succession is a crucial part of leadership and the US women are bringing it.

I loved seeing all the support the leading American women gave each other before, during, and after this year’s Boston Marathon. A skeptic might say it’s a PR move designed to lure sponsors, but I’ve seen it consistently over the years. From Meb opting not to drop out of the New York City Marathon when he was having a bad race, but instead finishing hand-in-hand with another runner, to eventual Boston winner Desiree Linden helping Shalane Flanagan catch back up to the lead pack after a portapotty break, there is ample evidence that there are kind and thoughtful people at the top of this sport.

As librarians, many of us practice what I call “hidden leadership,” without positions of direct authority. (I wrote about this in a column for the Journal of Library Administration.) Even if you are a cataloger working long hours in isolation or a solo librarian without a team around you — or, like me, a subject librarian working in a team of other subject specialists, there are still opportunities for leadership. You might not relate to the roles of head coach or star player, so the lessons on leadership from team sports might not be that meaningful for you. But seeing someone in a very individual sport (see: “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”) display leadership could inspire you.

I’m not saying every librarian should lace up their shoes and start running marathons (though I certainly encourage you to give running a try), but I think it’s a sport that our profession can relate to and learn from.

I also, being a librarian, have a couple book recommendations for you. You might enjoy them more if you have some experience with running, but I think they’re good enough to stand on their own.

Let Your Mind Run is a memoir by Olympian and American marathon record holder Deena Kastor. It includes accounts of her childhood, training, and racing, but also the techniques she learned and applied about mindfulness and positivity — and wonderful descriptions of places she’s visited.

Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is well-known to both runners and fans of Murakami’s novels. Though Murakami writes about races, much of the book centers on the experience of the run and how it ties in with his life as a writer.

Run Wild is not a perfect book, but a nice antidote to the first two, which focus on traditional running events. Boff Whalley (yes, of Chumbawumba fame) is a musician and trail runner. As someone who enjoys the occasional big city marathon, Whalley’s preaching about the excesses of these events wore on me, but I enjoyed his descriptions of running through the woods without gadgets and sponsors for the pure joy of it. I particularly enjoyed learning about how he fit in runs while on tour with his band.

2 thoughts on “A love letter to running, from a librarian

  1. Tara,
    I loved reading this! I hope to read at least one or two of the books you referenced here.
    Thank you,

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