Au revoir, Running Times
Last Friday was a sad day in the world of competitive running as Running Times announced it was ceasing publication of its magazine after the January/February 2016 issue, which I imagine will be dropping in stores and mailboxes any day now. While in some ways a competitor to the media outlet I work for (see what I did there?), Running Times has always been one of my favorite running rags. I’ve been reading it for more than half my life. I first picked up a copy at Boston’s Logan International Airport as a soon-to-be high school freshman in the summer of 1996 en route to a family vacation in Europe. This memory has stuck with me because I had absolutely zero interest in running at the time. I vividly remember reading about marathoner Bob Kempainen and seeing an ad for Michael Johnson’s sweet Nike Air Max’s (which I eventually convinced my parents to purchase for me), but I still have no idea why I picked it up off the rack. Call it fate or what have you, but it sparked an interest in the sport that continues to excite me to this day.
Fast forward almost 14 years later when Running Times published my first magazine feature, which still ranks as one of the biggest thrills of my writing career. A few months prior, I had left my full-time job managing a running store to pursue a career as a running writer and RT was one of the publications that I wanted to carry my byline. I can still remember the thrill of getting the green light on my first feature assignment from longtime editor-in-chief Jonathan Beverly, along with the subsequent shock of receiving an incredibly marked-up first draft back from him a few months later. Once my 27-year-old ego got over being crushed, I realized he was just really good at doing his job. Jonathan took a decent story and pushed me to make it a great one. That’s good editing and one of the things that separated Running Times from most other running magazines in circulation. “I do think this kind of back-and-forth with an editor is what sets top magazines apart from wanna-be’s,” Beverly explained to me in an email on Oct. 9, 2009. “We all need outside eyes to see where we’re getting bogged down.”
Despite catering to a very small segment of the running population, Running Times has long had a reputation as a top magazine in its space, with well-reported features, informative columns and strong coverage of the high school, college and professional sides of the sport. Rodale—Running Times' parent company, which also owns Runner’s World—felt that the potential to grow a readership amongst the competitive crowd was limited at best, hence the recent decision to close its pages.
"As we continue our company's transformation, we are focusing on our core business and areas with the greatest growth potential,” the company said in a statement.
Translated: A magazine devoted to competitive running is not a big moneymaker for us. But Runner’s World and other properties revolving around the general running population are, so that’s where we’ll focus our efforts.
It’s no surprise to anyone reading this that it’s a tough time for print media in general, even legacy publications like RT which have been around for four decades or more. Along with a declining circulation, ad sales aren’t getting any easier to come by these days, so the folks at Rodale decided to cut their losses in an effort to enable the juggernaut that is Runner’s World to “broaden its ambitions”—whatever the hell that means.
The folding of Running Times isn’t without precedent amongst other niche endurance sports-focused publications. In 2010, Rodale pulled a similar move and folded Mountain Bike magazine’s resources into its broader Bicycling publication, and in early 2014, my employer ceased publication of Inside Triathlon, transitioning its content into a category on triathlete.com. Earlier this year, Dirt magazine closed its pages, much to the disappointment of core mountain bike enthusiasts, but its website still exists. I can’t speak to the economic benefits of these moves, but it’s safe to say the identities of the aforementioned titles have more or less faded into the background.
Running Times will continue to live as a category on RW’s website—but not as the standalone entity it was up until a year or two ago—and keep reaping the traffic benefits, however minimal, RT readers send its way. And, to some degree, it will also help fill the competitive niche that is typically a gaping hole Runner’s World’s online wheelhouse.
That said, I’m curious to see if the Running Times brand continues to have any sort of active online presence that exists to serve the needs and desires of core runners, or if it all just eventually gets rolled up under the Runner’s World umbrella and lost in the beginner’s shuffle. Time will tell, but in the meantime, I’ll miss picking up RT in print. The competitive runner’s world will be a little harder to navigate without it.