Many people who don't run marathons or need a GPS on their Asics probably pigeonhole Runner's World as a niche offering -- a publication slotted in the newsstand next to Sport Fishing and Sailing World.
A quick glance at RW's December issue may not dissuade them. Blurbs exclaim that beet juice increases nitrate levels and builds endurance, also advising that 4 x 1/4 mile hill repeats can help you stay in shape between holiday shindigs.
But give the mag a 26.2-mile examination, and it becomes clear: Runner's World does an admirable job of serving as both an enthusiast and general-interest publication. The monthly is well worth the $12 a year, even for non-runners.
Reason No. 1 is its continued commitment to lengthy, captivating, moving stories, coming when magazines are cutting budgets and publishers are concerned that an ADD public has little interest in them.
RW publisher Rodale, however, has the lucrative Men's Health in its portfolio, which perhaps allows it to continue with the top-notch journalism. Consider that each of the last three years, RW has had two articles apiece in the annual Best American Sports Writing anthology -- running not far behind venerable Sports Illustrated and well-funded ESPN publications.
Those winning pieces include the stunning tale of a runner with a prosthetic leg who was crossing Canada to raise money for cancer research before dying mid-journey from cancer himself. Then, there's the tear-jerker about a Colorado man who was so eager to run again -- or even just to walk his kids to school -- that he actually wanted a prosthesis and willingly underwent a partial amputation.
RW's December and January 2010 issues offer more marvels. There's December's redemption drama of an Olympic medalist now pursuing his college degree at 43, after becoming addicted to crack and going to jail (mistakenly) for kidnapping. Next month brought the touching story of a man finally bonding with his father through running after all these years, only to watch that end when dad got Parkinson's.
Yet, even as the mag offers up these stemwinders, its editors also dial up impressive wit and humor. Each month, there's a tongue-in-cheeker about the intersection of pop culture and running -- for example, a piece on the oft-clueless boss on "The Office" handing out Jello shots at mile 23 of the local marathon.
A Q&A with an anonymous "expert" offers sardonic advice. A recent conundrum was whether a reader should risk annoying his fiancée by doing the Honolulu marathon on their honeymoon. Answer: no, but it's not a no-brainer.
In January, there's a comical "A Few Rules to Run By" rundown. The high point is author Mark Remy scolding runners who can't let it go while waiting for the "Don't Walk" sign to change. "There's no need to jog in place ... like you have to pee," he writes.
In a December piece about icing injuries, editors endorse just going to the fridge and using a bag of frozen peas.
Beyond the clever, a monthly staple is editors' advice for beginners. Some advice to the editors: Kill it. The tips can be downright insulting to one's intelligence. "When you find great running pals, note their contact info so you can meet for future runs" was a January eureka. There is enough in the magazine for newbies to learn from without the rudimentary.
But as editors are mindful of neophytes, they cede no ground on serving true fans. Much of the mag's contents says to zealots: We speak your language, we will help elevate your runner's high.
Some of this may be using jargon, some calling on the greats. A January piece about running in a pool says the training is just as effective as using a treadmill for VO2. (That's aerobic capacity, not a potent version of the Canadian whiskey with the same letters.)
In December, 10,000-meter U.S. champion Amy Yoder Begley offers advice on avoiding injury: roll your feet on a golf ball each morning to stretch the all-important plantar fascia.
Further, every RW issues features ample reviews on running gear. The magazine even has its own "Shoe Lab" for testing shoes. A winter guide to the latest offerings proffers analysis worthy of a case study in a medical journal.
Again, there are those emotional stories. A December piece focuses on a trucker who led a sedentary life for two decades, but now stops for long runs on the road. A trail near a stop at the Illinois/Wisconsin border is a favorite route of his.
Also in December, contributor John Bingham writes about trying to reverse damage done to his body over the first half of his life by drinking and smoking. A devotion to running has reinvigorated his heart, lungs and "my soul," not to mention pride in being a model for his grandson.
That's enough inspiration before you put on the iPod and hit the streets. Then, come home and read more of those features that can rival not just the best sports pubs, but the best magazines overall.
Published by: Rodale
Web site: http://www.runnersworld.com/