ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Many listeners will recognize our next guest from the NPR show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! But Peter Sagal is not here to talk about the 20th anniversary of the news quiz. Congratulations on that, by the way.
PETER SAGAL, BYLINE: Thank you very much.
SHAPIRO: Peter is here to talk about his other gig, one that pays even less than public radio.
SHAPIRO: He is a serious runner with a regular column in Runner's World magazine, and he has a new book out called "The Incomplete Book Of Running." Peter, thanks for being here in the studio.
SAGAL: It's my pleasure, mainly because I can gaze into your deep brown eyes.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Peter...
SHAPIRO: ...How many marathons have you run in your life?
SAGAL: I have run 14 to date.
SAGAL: (Laughter) You just came right with that. I never thought I would ever run a marathon even when I was a younger man and running for exercise. Marathon - that seems crazy - 26 miles.
SAGAL: Exactly, yes. Oh, and I know because let me tell you; it's the 0.2 that gets you. When I turned 40 some years ago, I was transfixed by the panic that people who are turning 40 often have, which is, oh, my God, I'm turning 40; that means I'm going to die.
SAGAL: And I said to myself, well, I know; I will run a marathon, and thus I will not die. And it doesn't make any sense, but it has worked so far. What was unusual and unexpected in my case is that when I finished the marathon, instead of saying, OK, that's done, now I shall buy a sports car or go trekking in Nepal, I said, I wonder if I can do that faster.
SHAPIRO: There are a couple things you point out about running in this book that I had never thought of before. Like, runners don't talk about the greatest athletes in the sport. They talk about each other and themselves.
SAGAL: Yeah, it's a little weird. I technically have raced Meb Keflezighi, the finest American runner of our generation, twice. And yet at the same time, those of us who do run really don't pay a lot of attention to the people who are best at it. And that is I think because this is something that we do by ourselves and for ourselves. And what people are looking for out of running is much more complex than merely a winning time.
SHAPIRO: You write, to simply run makes excellent sense. To run a marathon is to go beyond sense.
SAGAL: That is true.
SHAPIRO: That rings very true for me.
SAGAL: I remember once - I think it was after my second or third marathon. And I came home, as I often did in those days, as if coming back from the war, you know, limping and miserable. And my then-wife said to me, why do you do this when it hurts so much? And I said, I think that's kind of the point. And certainly there was a time when, like a lot of people, I thought that suffering was the point because our lives are pretty comfortable compared to, well, to any other time in human history. We don't even have to walk anyplace if we don't want to.
So I think that for a lot of people, to actually do something difficult, to physically suffer is in a weird way to feel alive, to rise to some challenge that you might feel is missing. But I have actually I think grown away from that perspective that suffering is the point.
Running long distances is not an opportunity to see how much you can suffer but to see how much you can prepare, to see how much you can apply discipline and practice and mindset. I've come to think of it as a much more meditative endeavor with the rewards of meditation, of mindfulness, of being in the moment you're in rather than gritting your teeth and seeing how long you can stand it.
SHAPIRO: And you don't even run with music or podcasts.
SAGAL: I don't anymore, certainly not in races. And that's also part of the whole mindfulness thing. A lot of people - I mean, I've met people who say, well, I can run, but I can only do it on a treadmill while watching movies 'cause it's so boring. And nobody else talks about any other kind of activity as if this is something I love to do, but it's so terrible I can't think about the fact that I'm doing it; I have to...
SAGAL: ...Distract myself. And so with apologies to people who might be listening to us now while on a treadmill, I honestly believe that to the extent that we can, we should be mindful of what we're doing, including something that seems mindless like running.
SHAPIRO: Your personal record for a marathon was three hours and nine minutes.
SAGAL: Yes, it was. I'm so glad you brought that up because otherwise I would have had to.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) You did it at age 46.
SAGAL: I did.
SHAPIRO: And you write in the book, I had shown at least to myself that time and age are not walls but fences, and fences can be jumped. That was 2011.
SHAPIRO: It's now 2018.
SAGAL: It sure is.
SHAPIRO: Do you still believe that time and age are fences that can be jumped?
SAGAL: What I was trying to do with that race is I had started seriously running at age 40, which is when according to all the studies your athletic performance begins to decline no matter what else you do. And it became very important to me to see if in fact I could at least delay that. And I did it. And it remains inspirational to me. But now that I'm some years older, I know that kind of time is behind me. So my emphases these days are different. I'm not running as fast as I used to or as long as I used to, but I'm still doing it almost every day.
And I think that in the future, although I will run until somebody or something stops me, I'll be doing it for different reasons. And those reasons will have more to do with getting out of my head, where I spend way too much time, and getting outside, where I don't spend enough time, and trying to unplug maybe and just be, which is something that's become increasingly hard for all of us.
SHAPIRO: Peter Sagal, host of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! and author of the new book "The Incomplete Book Of Running," it's been great to talk to you. Thanks for coming in.
SAGAL: Great to talk to you as well.
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