You are the Editor-in-Chief at Runner’s World

I started running regularly sometime within the past few years.  I’ve always gotten some kind of regular exercise, which usually meant hitting the gym a few times every week.  At some point I decided to go for the occasional short run as part of the mix.  I don’t know when or how the internal switch got flipped, but somewhere along the way running became something I took seriously.  As the Better Half can attest, I now get impossibly cranky if I don’t get to run a certain number of miles every week.  I certainly understand how being a runner can weirdly infiltrate a person’s sense of identity.

I also understand how challenging it must be for publications to approach the coming 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks and to figure out what to say and how to say it.  The event was so monumental and had such an impact on our country that I imagine editors from coast to coast feel like they have to say something.  Ignoring the subject completely is probably not a real alternative.

All of this appeared on my mental radar when I started leafing through the September issue of Runner’s World.  Its approach to the problem is to feature a series of short essays, each by someone whose running was somehow affected by the 9/11 attacks.  Of these, only the essay by the widow of a man on Flight 93 escapes feeling forced.  Her personal connection to the tragedy is undeniable, and the way she discusses why her loss spurned her to run feels sincere and understandable.  I wish they’d simply featured her and left the remainder off, as many of them read to me as randomly-selected and with tenuous connections to the attacks.

As much as I love running and find it personally meaningful and enjoyable, I can’t help but acknowledge that it’s pretty damn picayune from an historical perspective.  I wonder if trying to address something as epic in scope as 9/11 through the lens of something like running risks trivializing it.  But then, what’s a publication like Runner’s World to do?

What do you think?  If you had been in charge, is this the approach you would have taken?  Would you have broached the subject at all?  Is there a moral imperative to touch on the subject for any publication of sufficient readership, or would it be best if some magazines just skipped the topic entirely?  I’m curious to know your thoughts.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I have to agree with you. But I wonder how many editors doing 9/11 things will be doing them primarily to avoid having a small but vocal minority accuse them of being something something?

    • I am sure that the fear of being accused of something something is what prompts features like this. I can think of little argument for running an otherwise meritless essay like the one by the guy who ran the New York marathon that year. Hey, at least it acknowledges the day, right?

      But how removed from matters of historical import does a magazine have to be before it can say “Hey, not my ambit”? Is Cat Fancy obliged to somehow mark the anniversary of the attacks?

      • Is Cat Fancy obliged to somehow mark the anniversary of the attacks?

        I would have gone the Dog Fancy route, due to shorter lifespans. “September, October, and November 2001 showed a spike in people adopting puppies. Have you put your 9/11 puppy to sleep? Tell us your story!”

      • ” Is Cat Fancy obliged to somehow mark the anniversary of the attacks?”

        I dunno. Does Cat Fancy want the terrorists to win?

  2. My inclination would be to do nothing. It’s actually ridiculous. That said, maybe we’re in the minority. On 9/11, I was responsible for a website entirely unrelated to the attacks – it was the website of a non-civil service union. I did get angry emails from the union membership that we didn’t have a flag or memorial something-or-other posted on the home page, as most sites did at the time (which we didn’t because our server connection ran under the WTC, and was destroyed in the attacks).

    • My reaction to the whole piece was to recoil somewhat at its faux profundity and self-seriousness. I don’t understand how responding to the attacks by engaging in an activity that (as a runner I am perfectly willing to admit) is wholly self-serving is something that merits our respect, or even attention.

      • Why in the world would Runner’s World feel even the slightest obligation or need to say something about the 9/11 attacks? They have about as much of a connection to 9/11 as Chimney Sweeps or stained glass artisans, or violinists. This is one of the oddest things I’ve heard re 9/11. Narcissism (not you Dr. Saunders) can manifest so many odd behaviors and delusions.

        • That’s a stinger CC. I’m surprised you’re among the Bush Derangement Syndrome flakes. Has it ever occurred to you that this man, who you hate with such passion, was right? And this–“Obama’s greatest failure is his faith in the decency of humankind” is pure, saturated, unadulterated barf material.
          It oozes condescending elitism—the human race has now been reduced to one decent human being, our man-child president. If only we could all live up to the Bamster’s expectations we might be able to dwell in his rarefied, sanctified, ideological fortress. I don’t think so.

      • You’re a interesting gentleman, Dr. Saunders–sometimes even astonishing insightful. Loved your recent essay. It occurred to me that you might have one of the most difficult (and rewarding) jobs on earth, a pediatrician. To have to face family and loved ones as a bearer of bad news for one of their children. That takes an awful, awful, lot of courage which you must have in abundance.

        Way to go, you’re a true Mensch and the world is much better off with you in it! Tapfer, sir! Cheers, Heidegger!

  3. It would not have occurred to me to even consider trying to shoehorn geopolitics into a running magazine. Maybe that’s the reason I haven’t been offered a job editing such a magazine.

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