Revised, new: 2012 print edition
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"You've read Once a Runner dozens of times. You've practically memorized The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Now, add Hap Cawood's The Miler to the list of must-read running classics...
"The Miler is more than just a running novel. The story is as much about the struggles of a coal mining town and the maturing emotions of adolescence as it is about inspiring races, though The Miler has its share of gut-wrenching glory runs...You don't have to be a runner to appreciate Cawood's colorful, well-developed characters and simple, down-home story line."
-- Will Harlan, Editor, Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine
"I have read a few fictional accounts of running and most stay uncomfortably close to the facts of running to the point there is nothing else. However, The Miler doesn't fall into that trap, and that is what makes the story so appealing and an enjoyable read...Pick up a copy and enjoy the love, mystery, grief and exultation yourself. And you'll find a little of The Miler in you."
-- Emmett Rahl, A Running Experience newsletter.
"The Miler is a little gem of a novel about family, friendship, small town life in the 1950s -- and, oh yes, running...an unpretentious but excellent novel with a deeply satisfying ending. Highly recommended."
-- Jim Grodnik, Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders newsletter.
"...(A) deftly written coming-of-age novel that captures the color of 1950's Appalachia as well as the excitement and inner psychology of competitive running."
-- Jim DeBrosse, Dayton Daily News
"There are numerous surprises in Hap's book, experiments and hidden depth that all seem to work, and belie the familiar surface of a story about growing up in the mountains. It is at once a coming-of-age story, a sports story (with numerous races chronicled as JJ becomes a one-man track team for Harlan), a portrait of a place and time, and something more: a sensitive exploration of an interior life in all these contexts. Highly recommended.--Tony Russell, Charlottesville, Va., author and poet
For more reviews, click the
Hap Cawood taught English and coached track in his birthplace, Harlan, Kentucky in 1962 after graduating from Union College (Ky.) He also taught and coached as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone. In the 1960s his fiction appeared in motive magazine and the 10th Annual Edition - The Year's Best SF, (Delacorte Press, 1965, Judith Merril, editor). During his career as an editorial writer and editorial page editor for the Dayton Daily News, he received for his editorials the SDX Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Walker Stone Award from the Scripps Howard Foundation.
The Miler cover by Dan Holihan.
The high school has no track team. No track coach. No running track.
But Jeremiah James—JJ—is driven to run, impelled by a recurring dream of a Cherokee runner a century before. When the loneliness bears down on him, he draws on the memory of an energy that comes to him in rare moments, unsuspectingly.
This steady, moving surge didn’t feel like the caffeine charge I got from Mother’s morning coffee. It didn’t feel like the adrenaline that trembled my hands when I gave a speech in school assembly. It didn’t race the heart. It had no fear; it came on full and sure and ready. It didn’t want to eat or sleep or study. It wouldn’t even be satisfied to dance a fast beat all around, as glorious as that would be. In me this power had to run.
When he's not running, he's a regular kid, the grandson of a long-since-killed gunslinger in the coal-mining town of Harlan, Kentucky.
Mother told me how Grandmother Martha Tate James—Ma for short—cared for Dad as best she could, occasionally sending him to the homes of various relatives. Ma was said to have been beautiful, but the only pictures we had of her where when she was older—a round-faced woman wearing a dark dress, not smiling her thin lips for the camera. Mother said Ma was suspicious of men who courted her after Grandpa was killed. Ma turned away suitors by telling them, "I can ride better than you, I can shoot better than you, and I don't need your money." Word of that got around.
Two years after Grandpa Dannon was gunned down, Robert Andrew Mason, who stood confident and handsome in the scratchy old photograph in Dad’s memento file, came courting. He told Ma, “I can ride better than you, I can shoot better than you, and I don’t need your money.” So Ma married Bob Mason. They gave birth to my Uncle Clyde, who as a young man went to the World War I front in France where he got gassed, which wasn’t the way people fought in Harlan County.
He befriends a loner who likes to think he is Zorro and struggles with his attraction to a precocious girl as young as his little sister Sarah. As he tells his story, Sarah records hers in her diary.
Sarah's Diary –June 3, 1955
I asked JJ why boys spit. He said some girls spit, but he couldn't name any girls who did. We only spit if we have something bad in our mouths, like bugs. The boys who play baseball like to spit. Baseball is so boring. Maybe that's why they spit.
Mischievous, curious about the past and the life beyond, he is at heart a distance runner, a miler who longs for the showdown...
By the end of the second curve… Lynch breathes hard and throws a heavier thud into his leaps, so on the straightaway I get around him and pass the group, push ahead of Bobby Dodd and edge up to the front-runner from Fleming-Neon High. Fleming-Neon doesn’t want me to pass as we go side by side across the halfway mark. Approaching the turn, I don’t have room to fold in behind him, where Dodd follows close, so I run at Fleming-Neon’s shoulder and resolve it’s time to let loose whatever I have stored up from all those drills…
I gun into the curve. Fleming-Neon shrinks back enough to give me space in front. I take it, round out the bend and wait for Dodd to exact his revenge.
Halfway down the backstretch, Dodd arrives. The race is on.
This guy is good, I give him that. This guy is good.
... and the reach.
The gun pops Somerset into the final lap with no slowing down. I am seven yards back from him as I shift to the second lane to pass Dodd.
Dodd fights me off before we get to the curve. I am hurting earlier than I expected, given the speed, but I want this chase, down to my lungs and bones I want it, and I hear no cheers or footsteps outside the mind-sound of my desperation.
Across the seventh bend I see Somerset pulling away from us. Jenkins moves a few feet further ahead of Dodd. These guys are serious, serious, serious! I can't just keep a strong pace and expect to run down Somerset. I have to kick now, whether I'm a kicker or not. I drive the legs harder against the tension, relieved only by the machine feeling of speed itself as I come up to Dodd, closer, closer, and pass him not easily but by inches enough, and start my advance on Jenkins at second place. Halfway down the back straight I overtake Jenkins and edge over to the inside lane, wondering how much Somerset has left at this pace. I don't even know how much I have left, my body is wrenching so, from the legs and gut on out, but I have to go after Somerset, six yards ahead, now down to five, with Jenkins and Dodd chopping close behind me, all of us in a wild pack after each other with Somerset at the point.
Into the last curve I sense the slight centrifugal force of the lean and take from it enough hope to pull closer to Somerset. Halfway around the bend I ratchet up to within five feet of him, the closest I’ve been since the starting gun set him off without so much as a wave goodbye. We sweep onto the last straight where I push with whatever I have left over, if I can just lighten the heft of the armor forging in my chest and legs – Move, you guys, move; stay with me. The strangling of my thighs and calves tells me that my legs cannot do more, so I ask them to not let up, at least not let up.
Somerset glances at me and grinds on. We sprint, but I’m not gliding; I’m wringing the movement out of me, willing it, begging it out of the clench and hurt and burn because I see Somerset unyielding, and I hear what’s behind me, closing in. Dodd, my fellow predator, pulls alongside me for the kill.
A year into his running, JJ is drained by a harder crisis.
Finally, full force, I was in a race to a finish line I couldn't see, and I didn't know how to win it.
An unlikely coach finds him alone on the field and trains him to take on the unfolding mystery of his life and the challenge of Time itself.
"Tomorrow I will have another question for you: In running, what do you want?”
“I can tell you now. I want to win.”
“Is that all?”
“That’s kind of basic, isn’t it?”
“Kind of. . . Think about it.”
That's when he finds out how far he can run.
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