I was muddling along thinking while sleeping - I do that a lot - when it occurred to me that there was a reason there were so few novels about running. You could spend the next ten years reading books and manuals on every aspect of running from foot strike to hat attire for winter weather and still not exhaust the material available. New books on how to run, how to avoid injury, which shoes (if any) are best, VO2 Max, and the Daniel's Running Formula, which I consider to be the running 'bible' for performance. For us old school runners, Dr. George Sheehan is the runner's philosopher.
The common thread on all those books is an interest in running faster, better, longer, stronger. It's about the act of running rather than runners and, even when we move into biographical territory, as Christopher McDougall did with Born to Run, we tend to follow the running exploits of the runner instead of looking at the whole runner. Mostly, though, people want to run better, so the technical books sell and nobody tries to write novels around running or running themes.
Even John L. Parker's classic Once a Runner is focused on the training and racing aspects. The hero of the story, Quentin Cassidy, stays a one-dimensional character throughout. What Parker does nicely is show the inevitable blowing off of steam by the track team through the goofiness of their indoor Olympics, showing the touch of humanity that the book needed to stay interesting between the bits of running.
Parker originally had to self-publish Once a Runner, long before it was fashionable to do so. For all the success he's had with the novel and the follow-up, Again to Carthage, they've never been blockbuster hits. They're cult favorites for a self-selecting tribe of people that would rather run in the rain than veg on the couch. Or, at least, run first, then veg.
Novels about running are never going to be blockbusters like the Harry Potter series or Twilight. Those are about escapism, slipping into a mythical world. Running is grittier and more real in the sense that they reflect a different choice in this world, instead of offering a different world altogether. (Though I'm open to arguments that our feet can take us to places so pristine and pretty that it feels surrealistic.)
And publishers know that fantasy (not the genre, the concept) sells. Want to take on the Mob as a young lawyer? Read Grisham's The Firm. Want to play Quidditch? Off to Hogwarts you go. Want to know what it's like to love a vampire? Stephanie Meyers has an answer.
All those books were best sellers and made millions of dollars for the publisher. Novels about running would be lucky to break even in the traditional world of publishing.
Fortunately for us, that world is turning upside down right now and all the loose change from the pockets is dropping to the ground. And by loose change, I mean all those ideas and stories that are cool and inspiring and un-mass-marketable that still have an appeal to a core group of people, what Seth Godin calls a 'tribe.'
The barriers to self-publishing are gone and the stigmatism that accompanies it is fading. John L. Parker hand sold his books to running shoe stores and at meets, one book at a time. Today, we have Amazon and Smashwords and a dozen other ways of getting our stories out to the public.
So, why are there so few novels about running? Because until now, there was no money to be made and, like it or not, that determines what got published. But it's early in a new age of publishing and storytellers have more options.
A some of those storytellers will see their tribe and want to tell its story, all the little facets of it.
And, now they can.