Eileen Barnes Corley’s eyes widened when the 6-pound, 1,225-page book landed with a thud on her table at a coffee shop this summer in Oyster Bay.
“Oh, my God!” she said, as she opened it at random, flipping through pages crammed with photos and text chronicling the people and races from the 1980s and 1990s. “There’s Joe Cordero,” she exclaimed as if looking at former classmates in an old high school yearbook. “There’s Lee DiPietro, there’s Barbara Gubbins. Wow, there’s Jeanne Peterson!”
Prominent Long Island runners, all. As was Barnes Corley, a resident of Syosset and one of the fastest female marathoners in the metropolitan area in the 1980s. They are included in this supersized book. “Glory Days: Still Running Against the Wind” might best be described as a long and detailed love letter to a sport and an era on Long Island — written by a man who was in the thick of the scene.
Maury Dean, now 79, taught English at Suffolk County Community College for 37 years. In early 2020, he retired and began splitting time between his home in Patchogue and his summer home in his native Michigan. As a contributor to regional running publications here and in the Wolverine State, he had thought about writing a longer-form treatment of the sport he loved and had excelled at as an adult.
“The story had to be told, somebody had to write this, and I figured I might as well do it,” he said. The pandemic helped. “COVID was not easy for anyone,” he said, referring to the stay-at-home orders in the spring of 2020. “This gave me a focus.”
The story that unfolds in “Glory Days” is a meandering one. And unlike most of the runners in its pages, it doesn’t seem in any hurry to get to the finish. The book also includes Dean’s own odyssey from Midwest rock-and-roll frat boy to Long Island running-writing professor.
Born and raised in South Detroit and Dearborn, Maury grew up a rabid Detroit Tigers fan and a passionate devotee of early rock and roll: Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. An indifferent student, he started his academic career at Wayne State University where, he admits, “I wasted my first couple of years in an ‘Animal House’-type fraternity.” In 1964, he transferred to Michigan State, where he met Toni Piazza on the cafeteria line. They married a year later. “She was an R.A.,” he said referring to the student resident assistants who serve as mentors in the dorms for younger students. “I was a J.D. . . . a juvenile delinquent.”
An exaggeration: While he did apparently spend much of his time in college drinking beer and playing rhythm guitar in various bands, Dean was a serious enough student that he was accepted into and completed a doctoral program at the University of Michigan.
He wanted to teach English and communications, so after stints at colleges in Detroit, he says, he went looking for a professorial job, as he jokes, “on an enchanted island.” Though there were no openings to be found in Key West, Florida, he saw an ad for a job in the English department of Suffolk County Community College and applied. “This was an island, too, and it sounded interesting.”
So, with Toni and their then-young children, the Deans of Detroit moved to Ronkonkoma. That was 1972 — the same year that Frank Shorter, a 1969 Yale grad enrolled at the University of Florida College of Law, won a gold medal in the Olympic Marathon in Munich, the first American to win the storied event since the 1908 games. It was the spark that helped light what would become the running boom that first swept the United States in the late ’70s. Inspired by Shorter and emerging research showing the health benefits of running, thousands of Americans began lacing up primitive pairs of Nikes (introduced to the market that same year) and jogging around their neighborhoods.
Dean was one of them. Having ballooned to 189 pounds at one point, he slimmed to a svelte 130 in part through regular, four-mile runs around Lake Ronkonkoma. “I figured that would do,” he joked. “I didn’t need to run much more.”
But again, he was swept up in a cultural tide. In 1976, the New York City Marathon, hitherto a mind-numbing event consisting of four laps around Central Park, became a 26.2-mile tour of the five boroughs. In 1977, Jim Fixx published his bestselling “Complete Book of Running.” A cardiologist in New Jersey, Dr. George Sheehan followed the next year with “Running and Being,” his own bestselling rumination on the physical and spiritual joys of the sport.
Dean took it all in. “I got the marathon fever,” he said. “I started keeping a training log and began running more seriously.” His runs grew from four miles to 20, and he began signing up for the growing number of Long Island races. He also started to meet a growing number of like-minded souls. “I became part of a fraternity-sorority of people committed to the active life,” he said.
As in other parts of the country, running on Long Island became a large and visible subculture. Races like the Great Cow Harbor 10k attracted 5,000 runners to Northport Village; first held in 1977, the race is still going strong, with this year’s edition on Sept. 17). The Long Island Marathon, launched as the Earth Day Marathon in the early 1970s, grew as well, adding a hugely popular half-marathon (13.1 miles) in 1984 as the running population continued to grow.
Dean was there for all of it — and became one of the fastest “masters” (over 40) runners on Long Island. And in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s — the “Glory Days” that Dean chronicles — it was all about going fast. And he was fast, well into middle age: For example, in 1996, at 53, he completed a 10k, 6.2-mile, race in 36 minutes, 45 seconds. That’s a pace of 5 minutes, 54 seconds, per mile. (He also ran a marathon in less than three hours — no mean feat at any age.)
Running continues to be one of the country’s largest participatory sports: About 50 million Americans engage in some form of running or jogging, according to a 2020 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Today’s participants (more than half of them female), are running for fitness, to raise money for good causes, to have fun — and, in the age of social media, to post finish-line selfies and pictures of their cool race medals.
In the testosterone-heavy “Glory Days,” the emphasis was on mettle, which was tested on the roads every weekend in myriad races of distances from 3.1 miles (5k) to the 26.2-mile marathon that sprouted up across Long Island and the metropolitan area.
“It was a different kind of runner back then,” said Mike Polansky of Plainview, who led what would become the Greater Long Island Running Club from a group of a dozen guys running around the track at Plainview High School in 1978 into an organization that today numbers 3,000 members. “Guys like Maury were competitive, they were driven, they were focused. There was much more emphasis on performance.”
“The atmosphere then was ultracompetitive,” agreed Mike Baard of Merrick, who notched many outstanding racing times during that period. “There were a lot of talented runners on Long Island, and it bred a seriousness, which in retrospect is pretty funny considering this was something no one was getting paid for.”
Racing stats by Ed Melnik
“Glory Days” captures those days in sometimes-minute detail: A major feature of the book is the 200 pages of race statistics, compiled for Dean by Ed Melnik, coach for the Greater Long Island club and a longtime competitor himself.
So, if you’re dying to know, say, who ran the fastest 10k times on Long Island, male and female, in various age groups, from 1981 to 2013, you can find them in the book.
Dean’s narrative, illustrated with photos and reproductions of the covers of regional running magazines and newsletters, sprints headlong into the history of the sport on the Island with a zest and almost breathless excitement that reflects his love and enthusiasm for the sport.
Still lean and fit, Dean continues to run, but as the subtitle of his book suggests, he’s not as speedy as he once was.
“I am neither a born-again running junkie nor some dude just jogging down the street,” he writes in the book. “Maybe I am a recovering Road Warrior, realizing how the stern reality of Demon Time just makes me get slower and slower, faster and faster.”
Completing his magnum opus, however, was as satisfying as a P.R. (personal record in running parlance). “I hate to use the term ‘proud,’ although I guess I am proud that I managed to get this done,” Dean said, “and write about all these great people and places.”
Readers who were part of it appreciate the jog down memory lane.
“I think it’s kind of cool,” said Barnes Corley, as she flipped through the pages. “Probably not a book you’re going to read cover to cover, but you can turn a page and say ‘Oh, I remember that!’ ”
“It’s an amazing project,” agreed Polansky. “Any page I open, I’m sure to find something interesting.
“Somebody who has never run, somebody whose hobby is bowling or gardening, wouldn’t have any interest in the book,” Polansky added with a laugh. “But I love it. My life is in these pages.”
A marathon of a book
“ ‘Glory Days’ is a guidebook for all of us who have ever run around the block — or dreamed about it, just for fun,” Maury Dean writes in the introduction to “Glory Days: Still Running Against the Wind” (Maxwell Hunter Publishing, 2021). “Here are a few memories, some homespun running stories, some ways to make you faster.”
Defying publishing wisdom that shorter is better, Dean’s book — a pastiche of running history, memoir and prescriptive training advice — is, at 1,225 pages (including the index), exactly the same length as the original edition of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”
At $35, it’s more than twice the cover price of a typical trade paperback. But since its publication in July 2021, Dean reports that he has sold 400 copies through Amazon, mostly to Long Island buyers, respectable enough for a local book of this heft — and hefty price tag.
“The reception has been good,” he said. “They’re getting their money’s worth, that’s for sure.”
With fall racing season about to start on Long Island, interest in “Glory Days” is likely to increase: It’s for sale at most running apparel stores in Nassau and Suffolk — and Dean plans to do signings and talks at area running clubs and road races from September to November. — John Hanc