Why Is NPR Host Peter Sagal Always On The Run?

Dec 12, 2018

Peter Sagal runs without headphones. The host of NPR’s “Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!” says going headphone-free is his way of disconnecting from the news cycle. “We live in an age when people are constantly piping information into their brains," Sagal said.

Sagal is a serious runner and has run 14 marathons. In his new book, "The Incomplete Book of Running," he explains running has been his salvation from bullies, news and insecurities. Sagal was in Miami for the Miami Book Fair in November and he joined Sundial to discuss the book, his love for running and working on “Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!” during the Trump administration.

This conversation has been edited lightly for clarity.

SAGAL: You run because you need to get away from where you are, what you are, what you're doing. And what you find is actually a community of other people, which is actually more comforting and helpful and healthy than the isolation you thought you were going to get by going out for a run.

WLRN: When you're running it's without headphones?

It's amazing how much we are tuned out without knowing it. It's amazing how much we don't pay attention. I walk around Miami and it feels like this bizarre city of the future and there's like a lot to see here and yet everybody who I saw on the street walking over was deep in conversation with somebody -- be it a podcast or a musician or star or friend of theirs and nobody was looking up.

What's the correlation between your professional life, hosting the show and then this passion for running. Are they connected?

I try to separate them. A lot of people have been listening to me on the radio for literally two decades and they say to me 'I didn't know you were a runner' and that's because I never talk about it because no one wants to hear about running. And in a weird way it's not that they're connected but more to the point... I have a job where I have to sit and think all day. So for me the time that I run is actually valuable because it's a break from all that. There's something about running that I think is preferable because it's so natural.

You got back into running a lot in your 40s and I think about people in that age. What do you tell people about getting back into running?

I tell people that we all have a habit of comparing ourselves to artificial standards. Part of this is due to the culture. To us, runners, athletes, fit people are almost another species. There they are glowing on TV or on the cover of the magazines in airports and we look at that and say, 'well that's not us. That's somebody else.' And the great thing about running is anybody can do it. So you can be a runner. You go out there and you run to the extent and capacity and speed that you can and if you keep it up two things will happen: First, you'll probably become more in shape and lose a little weight. And secondly even if you don't it's fine. You're still out there running.

Do you ever think or worry about the day you can't run anymore?

I address that in the very end of the book because and I know a lot of people who tell me 'I used to run, but my knees gave out.' 'I used to run, but my hips' or 'I used to run, but arthritis.' And I say I will still find something to do that gets me outside and keeps me moving and that gets me away from everything else.