As many of you know, the protagonists in my stories are often distance runners. This isn’t by accident, but rather because running is a great activity for a fictional character for a few reasons. Allowing a character to go on a long run can afford him or her the opportunity to think, plan, improve physically, gain perspective, or even get involved in even more trouble. But, distance running characters are beneficial for other reasons. Here are five reasons I like my main characters to be able to go the distance.
1. THEY HAVE GOALS
Distance runners are notorious goal-setters. They are constantly trying to get past a certain mile or better their time. They will push themselves to the brink and then pour it on a little more. We all like to relate to characters who are looking to improve, or at least achieve a particular goal. A distance race can be a lot like a great book. As with running, even if the protagonist in a story comes up short it’s guaranteed something is learned from the journey.
2. THEY ARE A BIT CRAZY
Let’s face it – some of the best protagonists in books and film are a bit… off. When discussing distance runners, we are dealing with people who say things that demonstrate they are quite mad. They say things like, “It’s only a five-mile run.” Or, “Cool! I finally lost a toenail!” (Yes, that can really happen). And they utilize a strange brand of logic where a cure for fatigue is to go for a run. They may also decide a monsoon is just a great chance to try out their new waterproof running jacket.
Not to mention, I’m pretty sure distance running is one of the few endeavors in which grown men will put Band-Aids on their nipples and consider this act to be perfectly normal behavior.
3. DISTANCE RUNNERS FALL… AND RISE AGAIN
Talk to any experienced distance runner and you will hear a story about having to overcome adversity. Some runners took up the sport in order to overcome a personal crisis and others have had to conquer mental or physical challenges that affected his or her running. It could be a major knee injury, a stress fracture, a something deeply personal. Running in itself is an internal struggle that is much more than physical. There is a depth to the undertaking, and isn’t that what we want in the characters for which we cheer?
4. RUNNERS UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF A BATHROOM BREAK
I mean how many books or movies have a main character who goes twelve hours straight without using the facilities??? Runners know better. They plan things out, know where the possible pit stops are located, and fuel appropriately. Remember the show 24? In nine seasons, I think Jack Bauer went to the restroom one time. In fairness, he rarely ate or drank either. While I like the Jack Bauer character, the best characters plan out their refueling and relieving ahead of time. Sure, you can argue Bauer didn’t have a lot of time to plan before the next crisis hit. But, come on. It was Jack Bauer. He had to know trouble was around the corner.
5. RUNNERS LIKE COFFEE AND BEER
This is obviously a generalization, but one that is fairly accurate. Most runners love to wake up with a jolt of caffeine and they certainly don’t mind a cold brew after a long run. This is great for writing fiction (especially crime fiction) because we can all visualize a detective grabbing a third cup of coffee after a long night, or downing a beer while contemplating a case. You can argue that coffee and beer may not be the best for a runner’s health. You can try, but they won’t listen. They will simply run away and chances are they are faster than you.
And don’t worry about them going for a long run after drinking a few cups of coffee. They know exactly where all the bathrooms are located.
WANT TO ADD YOUR OWN REASONS? COMMENT BELOW!
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.
In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.
And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology