Michael Huber manages marketing/communications for the NYS Writers Institute based at the University at Albany, and has been an adjunct professor at the University since 2008. His courses include Public Affairs Journalism, The Rise of Fake News, and Digital Journalism. He previously worked in several newsroom positions at the Albany Times Union, leaving in 2017 as the website's interactive audience manager.

Running down a dream

By Michael Huber

“It is the brain, not the heart or lungs, that is the critical organ.”   

-- Roger Bannister

I will never run a marathon. I don't want to. I have a better chance of walking on the moon than running 26.2 miles here on Earth.

So why did I sit through an hour-long talk about running?

I attended the Albany Book Festival on Saturday, Sept. 14, not only because it's my job, but to experience those serendipitous moments when writers speak of their passion and it sparks a connection that you could not foresee.

It happens over and over again with these Writers Institute events.

Matthew Futterman is deputy sports editor at the New York Times. It must be a grueling job. I remember my time at the Times Union newspaper, seeing sports reporters and editors shuffling into the office in the early evening and grinding out pages well past midnight. Since college and professional sports play their games on weekends, that's when sports editors are bound to their desks. How does Futterman finds the energy to write books on the side?

During his talk at the book festival, he shared stories of his lifelong love of running and his new book, Running to the Edge, an informative history of America's long-distance running told through the life's work of Bob Larsen, one of America's greatest running coaches. By looking at Larsen's history from unheralded high school coach to celebrated guru, Running to the Edge explains how a select few athletes persevere through grueling training sessions in order to compete at the highest level. 

Matthew Futterman at the Albany Book Festival on Sept. 14, 2019. The image on the screen shows him at the finish of the cold, rainy Boston Marathon in 2018. (Michael Huber / NYS Writers Institute)

In his book, Futterman quotes Larsen, “When you think you are running hard, run harder. Try to keep running harder for longer than you think you can, bringing your body and your mind closer to the edge, that moment when the ritual becomes the revelation.”

I listened and heard a more transcendent message: What if I apply that lesson to my work? Or practicing guitar. Or being a good dad.  “When you think you are working hard, work harder. Try to keep working harder for longer than you think you can, bringing your body and your mind closer to the edge, that moment when the ritual becomes the revelation.” 

Runners, couch potatoes, and everyone in between, we can all learn from Coach Larsen: “[Make] every mile and every minute count as much as it can … Because if you do that up high [at altitude], where it is hardest, then, when you come off the mountain, you feel the power and you begin to imagine doing everything that once felt like a dream.”
 

Futterman, sports editor, author, 23-time marathon runner, husband and father, ended his talk with these inspiring words: "I believe running and the run is a means to understanding what is inside someone’s heart... Please, never never never underestimate the power of your heart." 


That's the magic that happens at these Writers Institute events.  I may not -- correction, I most definitely will not -- pound out 130 miles a week during marathon training. What I learned from Matthew Futterman's talk applies to even more Olympian goals. 

Running to the Edge transcends the the sport of running. Futterman's talk on that September Saturday propelled me -- and other attendees, I'm sure -- to consider our effort, our tenacity, our determination. Like the crack of a starter pistol, Futterman's Running to the Edge signaled it's time to move. Quickly.

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