When Jonathan Beverly was 16, he threw on his sneakers, stepped out onto the street and ran 16 miles at a seven-minute-per-mile pace. He did this without ever having run that long before and with surprising ease. This run, along with the prodding of a fellow runner, convinced him to do his very first marathon in May, five months later.
Today, Beverly has 26 marathons under his belt (including three in Boston) and is a writer, photographer and coach who has dedicated much of his life to the sport and craft of running. At over 50, the Nebraska resident continues to race and find ways to improve his runs and himself. In his book Run Strong, Stay Hungry, Beverly explores the secrets of 50 veteran racers who’ve spent their lives running and learned what it takes to avoid burnout over the years.
Interviewing names like Bill Rodgers, Deena Kastor, Pete Magill, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Roger Robinson, Colleen De Reuck and Dave Dunham, the book weaves its way through nine ways any runner can enjoy a lifelong, healthy running career while still improving race performance.
I recently caught up with Beverly to discuss the book, his own background in marathon running, which runners inspired him and what lessons impacted his own life. Although Beverly first began writing the book in 2016, he ended up writing another book before it was published. Often meeting with three to six people a week, Beverly spent around six months of time in 2017 interviewing his subjects before diving into four months of writing.
“What inspired me to write it was both personally getting older and feeling like I wanted to understand it,” said Beverly. “I had a lot of friends who were really good runners that had been doing it for a long time like Roger Robinson. He’s been going since he was a school boy in England in the ‘40s and had run with international teams, won world championships as a master, and is still out there enjoying running and competing. I wanted to find out his secret because I wanted to be one of those people.”
As Beverly began his search for answers, he started interviewing friends, friends of friends and Masters Athletes across the nation. “I tried to keep it purely based on finding principle things that were consistent among all these people,” Beverly explained. “The youngest [interviewee] is in his mid-40s, most of them are 50, 60, 70. The principles, those changed over time as I had gathered more interviews and analyzed them and tried to find places where they all agreed.”
One principle that stuck out to Beverly during his research and since writing the book was the idea of training by feel. “We really get stuck on this idea that it’s about the log, that you have to have 50-mile weeks, a 20-mile run and speed workouts at this pace because that is what your goal is,” explained Beverly. “Instead [you should] think of it as your body getting better and paying attention to it. And you do all those sorts of training exercises but they’re not a test every day and it’s not about whether you got that in.”
In his book, Beverly discusses what that means for runners and how time, distance and pace are essentially “arbitrary” in the long run. Lifetime runners knows that relying on always being the best at any given moment isn’t what keeps them running and isn’t how they stay healthy runners as they age. When time becomes an identity, Beverly noted that people begin to stop running instead of changing their mindset and looking at progress and mastery as guide posts for their runs.
“This week, is it easier to run 10 miles doing eight-min miles then it was last week?” asked Beverly. “That’s what’s more important than, ‘Did you do it?’ It’s actually about your body getting stronger and you need to pay attention to that. If you’re feeling good, go harder.”
When asked which athletes had inspired his own running career, Beverly quickly named Bill Rogers as one of his favorite champions. “He won Boston in ‘79 and I remembered watching that and then a year later is when I ran my first marathon,” Beverly recalled. He also named Benji Durden, a 1980 Olympic marathon team member and top ten US finisher six years in a row.
“He was this kind of quirky guy that seemed to train really hard and do well,” said Beverly. “When I interviewed him, I sort of expected him to say ‘That’s when I got really good and got the Nike sponsorship and coached.’ No he basically just ran hard and trained himself and ran a 2:09 marathon.” Durden is still running today, and has completed 50 marathons (all in different states) while battling cancer three different times.
Overall, Beverly says the biggest thing insight he gained from interviewing these veteran athletes is that joy comes from being the best that you can be. And that there is a difference between pleasure and enjoyment. “Most of society tells us that the goal in life is to get rid of all difficulty and find the easiest path. Everybody really wants to have their feet up watching football,” shared Beverly. “At best that’s pleasurable but there’s no joy in that, that’s not worth getting up in the morning for. Whatever you’re doing, try to be the best. Running teaches you that. There’s joy in applying yourself and doing something difficult and trying to do it well.”
If you’d like to read more about the secrets to enjoying a lifetime of running, check out Jonathan Beverly’s book Run Strong, Stay Hungry available below. For those in Boston for the marathon this weekend, Beverly will be participating in a book signing and seminar series. Find more information here.