A few weeks ago, I read Matt McCue’s An Honorable Run, which has had a lot of buzz this fall. McCue’s book is a memoir of his high school career in Iowa, his eventual decision to pass up a spot at Middlebury (where he would have been among the best on a relatively good Division 3 team) to try to walk on at the University of Colorado, and his relationship with both his coaches.
McCue makes no secret of his admiration for Chris Lear’s Running with the Buffaloes, a chronicle of Colorado’s 1998 season (was that really eleven years ago?) and that’s understandable; Buffaloes continues to fascinate and inspire high school and collegiate runners today, and to me its biggest mystery is why nobody has yet followed the path it blazed. (Someone needs to follow a women’s team, for example.) An Honorable Run reverently draws a lot of structure and voice from Lear’s book, but it’s not Running with the Buffaloes II.
For McCue, Colorado’s Mark Wetmore is largely quiet and off-stage, more like the Wizard of Oz than Vince Lombardi. For another thing, unlike the ensemble cast of Lear’s book, McCue’s journey is entirely his own, with the supporting characters literally just that. Only late in the book does a strong secondary character emerge.
It feels like self-absorption, but the reality is that McCue is pulling us along his own maturation process in the book, and the self-centered focus of the book is simply the way a teenaged boy thinks. The supporting characters crop up as McCue himself matures and starts recognizing them himself.
In the process he’s delivering a number of ideas which should be on the exam for kids who read Lear and want to be the next Adam Goucher. McCue underlines a point which should be obvious today, that it takes hardworking kids like Matt McCue to push talented stars like Jorge Torres and Dathan Ritzenhein to their best. (If you want more Meb Keflezghis and Ryan Halls, you need more Brian Sells and Scott Bauhses. If you want more Brian Sells, you need more Nate Jenkinses. And so on.)
In doing this, McCue provides a script for a life which may not lead to an Olympic medal, but still includes a meaningful running component. The idea of “an honorable run” is a direct echo of the idea of “fighting the long defeat” which Tracy Kidder ascribes to Dr. Paul Farmer in Mountains Beyond Mountains.
And in the end, An Honorable Run is to Running with the Buffaloes what Matt McCue is to Jorge Torres: not as fast, not as glamorous, but different and just as worthwhile to read and consider.