Radio Host Riffs on Running
NewsBook Festival of the MJCCA

Radio Host Riffs on Running

Closing night of the Book Festival featured Peter Sagal, host of NPR's weekly news quiz, “Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” who released his book, “The Incomplete Book of Running.”

Kevin Madigan is a senior reporter for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

NPR’s Peter Sagal discussed his book, "The Incomplete Book of Running," about his life as a runner.
NPR’s Peter Sagal discussed his book, "The Incomplete Book of Running," about his life as a runner.

The final night of the 2018 Book Festival of the MJCCA featured an author who many have heard, but seldom get to see in person. Peter Sagal, 53, has been the host of National Public Radio’s weekly news quiz, “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” for 20 years. His appearance at the book festival Nov. 18 coincided with the release of his book, “The Incomplete Book of Running.”

The title is a riff on the best-seller, “The Complete Book of Running” by Jim Fixx, the man who first kicked off a huge running boom in the 70s. “According to his own legend, Fixx was an overweight, chain-smoking editor in New York who decided he was going to die young if he didn’t do something about it,” Sagal told the audience. “So he started to run, become an evangelist of running, wrote the book on running, and that really was the spark that set the running movement aflame.”

Sagal first spotted his father’s copy of Fixx’s book as a teen and began leafing through it “long before I thought I could even run a block,” he said. “I would revel in all the promises it made. Running was supposed to improve your health, longevity, your mood, and your sex life, which was an abstract concept to me at that time. There was something about those promises that started me running, though I still grapple with their truth and exaggeration.”

The punchline, as Sagal puts it, is that Fixx went out one day in 1984 for his usual run and dropped dead of a heart attack at just 52.

“I found out that even though he was a big advocate for health, he never went to the doctor,” Sagal said. “I meant this title as an homage and a sly joke, but I also meant (my book) to be a kind of sequel. It’s about running, it’s about the changes that it promises, but they don’t work out quite as well as he promised they would.”

Fixx invented what Sagal calls social running. “Prior to Fixx, people ran for only two reasons: to win races or as conditioning for some other sport. Running was something you did to improve your health in order to do something else. The Fixx message was that running was something you did in and of itself, and the evolution of his message was: ‘You don’t need to win a race; you don’t need to be training to be boxer or a football player or whatever it might be.’ His whole argument was: ‘Just do it for its own sake.’”

Sagal has several ways to tell if someone is a runner: “You know you’re a runner if you haven’t done it for two days and you start to get antsy; if you’re stuck in a car and see someone running by and you wish you were them; if you read about someone’s marathon time and you feel both admiration and envy.”

You don’t need anything to become a runner, or to learn any skill, according to Sagal. “You are literally, to borrow a phrase, born to run. We became the dominant species on this planet by annoying our prey to death. When you start running, you’re not so much changing into something else – a runner – you are actually becoming what you were designed to do. And the more you run, the closer you get to that innate nature of what it is to be human, which is to move slowly but determinedly across distances. That’s what we humans are good at.”

read more: