You May Know (Issue #1): Mark Remy

From time to time I get an idea in my head that buzzes around like a bee trapped in a mason jar. For the most part, my ideas tend to stay just that, ideas. Frozen to a momentary consciousness and then gone nearly as fast as they entered my brain. But, some stick around and become kernels of something. Some of those ideas are realized immediately (and without much oversight), a stream of thoughts transposed from the mind straight to the medium. 

But other ideas stay trapped, baking until the veritable souffle in my noggin' has risen and then out comes a delicious and savory idea - Great. Now I'm hungry.

My idea I plan to share with you was born one day as I was scanning through my social media newsfeeds. I follow a lot of personalities who are runners but certainly don't limit it to just running. Some are business owners, others are writers. Some personalities make running their life, but do it as inspiration to other runners, as well as some are television/digital stars. 

I thought to myself, "How can these personalities, seemingly pressed for time from their day jobs, keep disciplined about running? What is it about running for them? Release? Exercise?" As I wondered I searched for sources that told their stories. However, I wondered, what if I just asked them? So I did.                      

And they responded. 

I'd like to share their stories with you, and so this will be the first in a four-part series entitled, "You May Know" where I will share with you the stories of fellow running personalities. The questions are mainly focused on running, but hey we can only talk about running so much, so there are a few extra bits in there. 

I'd like to start the series with someone who I've found as a true inspiration of both running and writing. While I may scribble, he takes the act of writing and moves it to another plateau. A true triple threat; wit sharper than a Ginsu knife, humor slyer than The Atlantic. Faster than ... well, a double threat I guess.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Mark Remy.

Mark, #1285 on the right, has never been that far back in the pack in his life. (From an episode of "Portlandia.")

Those of you who don't know Mark, he's kind of Mo Rocca, Ira Glass and Mark Twain (without the accent) of the running world. An accomplished author, Mark used to be a staff writer of Runner's World quipping about the nuances of the sport in his "Remy's World" column. Since moving on (he still writes guest articles), Mark has completed books about running, websites about running with his Dumb Runner venture and even waxed philosophic about the state of the state.  Recently, Mark just released his latest book, "Runners of North America: A Definitive Guide To the Species." Let's just put it this way about Mark, when we running writers have exhausted our topics on races, shoes, losing motivation and race signs, Mark is just getting started. 

Like many of us, I had first read Mark's column in Runner's World. Being a lover of all things asinine I took immediately to his work and we've struck up a pretty good relationship through social media. Occasionally, we'll get stuck in a game of trying to outwit each other on Facebook, where I usually see the losing end of the battle as I go for broke and descend into blue humor as a last resort. Ever the professional, Mark goes for the throat with a Noel Coward-esque reply, leaving me on the mat - as I write this post I see he's already acknowledged a weak moment of mine on Facebook regarding a post about my love for smooth jazz. 

Meeting a writing heavyweight.

I started things out easy to get Mark comfortable with the conversation. The proverbial question of what running means to you? 

MR: "I consider myself very lucky, because for much of my adult life running has helped me out in two huge ways—personally and professionally. On a personal level, I value running for the same reasons I imagine you and your readers do: It keeps me fit and trim, helps me clear my head, provides a sense of purpose and structure even when those things feel lacking elsewhere, and so on. It's also introduced me to some very good friends and taken me to some interesting places, both of which I might have missed out on otherwise. 

And somehow along the way I've managed to earn a living through running, thanks to my job at Runner's World. (I was on staff there for about 9 years and remain a contributor.) That's a pretty rare thing, and I try not to take it for granted."

 

Many of us have our running origins clouded in mystery. And just like us, Mark happened to fall into running through a sidedoor and hasn't looked back since. 

MR: "I never intended to become a runner, per se. Beginning in high school and continuing throughout college and beyond, I was a road cyclist. I dabbled in racing but mostly focused on centuries and other long distances. I was a hard core cycling geek—Greg LeMond posters on my bedroom wall, glued to the Tour de France on television each July, etc. 

Then one winter, home from college for the holiday break, I got a temporary membership to the local YMCA and began running on their indoor track to stay in shape. Through that I met a local runner, an older guy who ran and raced a lot. He sort of mentored me. Shortly after that I signed up for a 15-mile Valentine's Day race, did fairly well, and thought, Well, that was cool. Maybe I should try a marathon. Which I did. I wound up running a 3:15.

After that, it was all over. I was a runner."

 

Of course, being a well-known entity in the running world, certain demands will call Mark away from his running routine. While at Runner's World, the running came without much thought. But, as Mark moved out to the west coast, his priorities and scheduled shifted.

MR: "When I worked full time at Runner's World, it was easy—running was built into the daily schedule. By which I mean, coworkers would literally show up at my office door at noon with their running gear and get my ass out on the road.

Since moving to Portland and going freelance (which happened in July 2014), it's been a bit more challenging. In theory, I have more time than ever to run. In practice, I run a lot less. Mostly that's because I no longer have people showing up at my door every day at noon to drag me out. But partly, I think, it's because my head is just in a different place. Running lots of miles just isn't that important to me anymore. If I get out a few times a week, I'm good. I'm also biking more nowadays—shortly after moving here I sold my car—so that's good too.

Today a typical week looks something like this: Sunday, a long run of 10-15 miles with Portland Running Company, a local running store, usually a trail run in Forest Park, which is gorgeous; Tuesday, an early morning run of 5 or 6 miles with a buddy who lives nearby; Thursday, I lead PRC's "Thirsty Thursday" run, a 5-to-6-mile evening run followed by beers at a nearby bar; and one or two days in there I'll join my wife, Sarah, for her run, i.e., a few fairly easy miles."

 

Speaking of a family affair Mark goes into greater detail about running with family and the running aspirations of the Little Remy's. 

MR: "Sometimes! (See above.) We do have a jogging stroller, but I don't use it as much as I expected to. Sometimes I'll take our daughter, who's 5 1/2, on a little "run" where she jogs along beside me for a block or two. Or we'll race around the playground, which she loves. Our son, age 3, doesn't show much interest in going for runs in the stroller. Not sure why."

 

Now, if you have ever come across Mark's work, you'll see trends appear. Themes that drive a hard line between the most passionate die-hard runners and pastel, velour-clad joggers - who tend to find themselves in sticky situations - as Mark likes to point out. 

MR: "I've had some fun with this topic over the years, as my longtime readers know. So I guess I'd say that my "humor writer" take on jogging v. running is that jogging should be avoided at all costs, unless you enjoy finding dead bodies, being assaulted or involved in accidents, or otherwise figuring prominently in police reports. 

My actual, personal take on jogging v. running—"What's the difference? Am I a jogger or a runner?" etc.—is that the whole thing is silly. None if it matters."

 

Well, that was a diplomatic answer, Mark. But, let's get into the sexy stuff; races and distances. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Mark's favorite race held as much prestige as I hold his writing.

MR: "Favorite race has to be the Boston Marathon. No question. There's just nothing like it. I've run Boston seven times, and every single time I got goosebumps. As a runner, in my opinion, the only thrill greater than walking to your starting corral in Hopkinton is making that final left turn from Hereford onto Boylston Street, seeing the finish line in the distance and being engulfed in the noise of the crowd. More than once, I've teared up after making that turn."

 

Surprisingly, though Mark's favorite distance was not that of the mighty marathon, but still a challenge to many of us.

MR: "Not sure if I have one favorite race distance. I guess if I had to choose I'd go with the half-marathon. Especially at this stage in my life, at age 46 and with a wife and two small kids, I think the half-marathon distance is perfect. It's long enough to be a challenge but not so long that training for it overtakes your life and leaves you feeling broken."

 

While not currently on the race circuit, Mark is looking forward to traveling for a few destination races. One city he's planning on visiting soon, Bend, Oregon is one I've visited numerous times and love it for its wonderful outdoor and rustic atmosphere. Outside of that it's just more settle time to enjoy the fruits of nature. 

MR: "Near term: Run (not race!) the Bend Half Marathon in Bend, Oregon. I've never been to Bend, so I'm looking forward to that. Longer term? I don't know. Nothing right now, race-wise. Generally speaking, my goals are just to remain healthy and keep running."

 

Lastly, as some of you know I have recently moved to the Pacific Northwest from the east coast. Mark had done a similar move a few years earlier - I've reached out to him a few times pre-move to get his take on his perspective here - and has loved it ever since. I was genuinely concerned for him at first, given Portland's eccentric nature to his upright, self-respectable stature.

MR: "Ha! Let's just say I feel very "at home" here in Portland. It's everything I imagined, and more. Recently I saw our 3-year-old son literally hugging a tree. Seriously. So, yeah. We're pretty happy with our move."

 

As you can see, Mark has a way with words as much as he does with the road. I'd like to thank him for the time he's given me in writing this post and shall toss up a sweet, sweet plug for his new book just released this week: Runners of North America: A Definitive Guide to the Species

As always, Mark knocks it out of the park with this book - catch an excerpt here - but, just make sure you keep your eye on the weight of the book. Some say it reads heavier than it weighs. 

The next installment of "You May Know," will focus on a truly great business maven, who's diehard passion for athlete's rights, dedication to craftsmanship and inclusion of community has gained her a passionate and committed flock of fans. 

I hope you enjoy the stories as much as I do writing them. 

Until next time. Run fast. Run smart.