Saturday, May 06, 2006

"She Wasn't Soft"

She ran 45 miles a week, biked 250, and slashed through 1,500 yards of the crawl in the Banos del Mar pool ... She wasn't tender, she wasn't soft, she wasn't sweetly yielding or coquettish, and she was nobody's little woman and never would be.

She stood there at the bar in her shorts and Lycra halter top, sucking an Evian through a straw while the sports fans furtively admired her pecs and lats and the hard hammered musculature of her legs, for all the world a babe. She didn't mind. In fact, it made her feel luminous and alive, not to mention vastly superior to all those pale lumps of flesh sprouting out of the corners like toadstools and the sagging abrasive girlfriends who hung on their arms and tried to feign interest in whawtever sport happened to be on the tube.

Those are excerpts from T.C. Boyle's excellent, wickedly funny story, "She Wasn't Soft," about an almost-elite female tri-athlete, her slacker, surfer boyfriend, and her arch-rival. The story is from his 2001 book, After the Plague, and one of the few good short stories I've found at least partly on running.

It strikes me as grossly unfair that there's a dearth of good contemporary writing on our sport. There are truckloads of novels and non-fiction books on baseball, golf, and football.

But running? Maybe enough to fill one of those cheap, canvas bookbags from your local public radio station as a thank-you for donating $50.

I know, I know, there's the much-vaunted novel, Once a Runner. But seriously? It's maudlin, self-conscious, and not very well-written.

Much better is Younger Than Springtime, by Greg Williams. Published in 1997, it's about a middle-aged man who cheats on his wife with a much-younger woman - and becomes a really fast runner as a result. Good satire. Here's the take from Kirkus Reviews:

A cautionary tale for aging boomers that mixes (with a heavy hand) myth, satire, and morality as it details a self-absorbed New York lawyer's brush with immortality. John Ashe is 50 years old, successful, and rich--but not happy. A partner in a prestigious law firm, he's all too aware of time's winged chariot as partners drop dead jogging, wife Elizabeth nixes martinis, and bran cereal becomes his breakfast of necessity ... and the running that gave him some pleasure is becoming increasingly painful as his tendons [flare] up. And John knows it's only going to get worse.

But then potential paralegal-hire Elena comes by for an interview--and his life changes as magically as any poor slob's in a fairy tale. Though she's only 22, John is infatuated ... The two are soon lovers, and John finds himself amazingly rejuvenated: He can eat, fornicate, and run like a young man. Furthermore, his hair darkens, his muscles tighten, and his cholesterol drops. The doctors think he may be suffering from "youthing," the result of an older man's sexual relationship with a younger woman.

John actually ends up winning the New York Marathon. Not bad for a guy old enough to have voted for Nixon, eh?! But then things go downhill from there ....


  1. Excellent topic, Bex. About time someone wrote about this! That last story sounds great...sort of a dorian gray take. Of course I'll need to do original research to see if the theory holds up... starts all of his podcasts with literary quotes of one sort or another, and one that really caught my attention was an excerpt from a Joyce Carol Oates story called "Running," which is now on my reading list.

    You can read Oates discuss running and writing here.

  2. Ooh, this is great! Thanks for the link! I'm going to look for more good running lit now ...

  3. I read an excellent running book last year. It's non-fiction, but the author talks about his life growing up in Nazi Germany. A great read.

    Unfortunately, I can't remember the title, and it's packed away in storage. So I'm a big help, aren't I?? The life of a homeless student :)

  4. Great idea, seeking out great running literature. Can I recommend a book I am 3/4 through, and will finish this week as I can't put it down. It's not fiction, but tales about fell running that evoke memories for me, and dreams in others. It's called "Feet in The Clouds" by Richard Askwith, and can be found at - Highly recommended.

  5. Hey there. Greg Williams here. I haven't thought about Younger than Springtime in a while but for some reason I Googled it today and came across your post about it. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.