Brad Fawley
Courtesy photo
Brad Fawley

The need to run comes from within

Brad Fawley’s novel ‘The Frontrunner’ — based on a lifetime of running — will launch at 118 Elliot

BRATTLEBORO-Brad Fawley has published his dream book - the story of his own dream to become an Olympic runner, a dream he back-burnered years ago.

Through his debut novel, The Frontrunner, though, Fawley takes the dream to the finish line as protagonist Russ Clayton beats upbringing, circumstance, and the odds to win - not only the gold, but also an indelible sense of self.

The local launch of Fawley's book, published by Green Writers Press, will take place Saturday, June 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. at 118 Elliot in Brattleboro. Fawley will read from the novel, sign books, and - the part he likes best - engage in conversation with whoever wants to talk about running, writing, and living well.

"The Frontrunner," says Green Writers Press founder and publisher Dede Cummings, a runner herself, is "about finding yourself through running."

Digging into psyche, motivation, spirit, and setbacks, the novel moves along well-paced in the pain-filled world of distance running through the life narratives of three young runners: Russ Clayton, an avid natural runner from Athens, Kansas, as the primary focus, and Sergei and Mishka Pushkin, twin Russian brothers training for the Olympics under strict government supervision at the core of a strong parallel plot.

* * *

Fawley, 69, was raised in a small town in central Ohio, where his parents, who were both World War II veterans and both very supportive, had settled after some peripatetic early years.

A star runner at Marietta (Ohio) College, where he did his undergraduate degree in biology and held every school record for long-distance running, Fawley was a two-time NCAA All-American at 5,000 meters and cross-country.

"I've been a runner since seventh grade," Fawley recalls, and a competitive runner through college. "I had a dream that after college I would find out what my capabilities might be."

Fawley was always interested in science, so he went on to Old Dominion University for a master's degree in oceanography, and he had a proclivity toward environmentalism.

"I tried to do grad school and train at the same time but that was impossible; something had to give," he said. So he abandoned high-end competitive running and its connected dreams.

"I still ran, but to train at the level I wanted to at least make the Olympic trials and the marathon, you have to run 80 to 100 miles a week," he said. "I just didn't have the ability to do that at that point."

He went on to earn a law degree at the University of Virginia Law School, and he focused on environmental law.

Fawley practiced at a Hartford, Connecticut, law firm until 1993 when, looking for a change of venue and small-town living, he took a position with Downs Rachlin Martin, a Vermont law firm with a presence in Brattleboro, where he was litigation partner.

Since 2019, though, he's been a "one-man practice - just me and my laptop," in which he works in litigation on trade secrets, copyrights, trademarks, patents, and environmental law.

* * *

Musing on the impetus behind the writing of The Frontrunner, Fawley says that even after his pivot away from high-end running when he was in his mid-20s, he still ran and still won.

But the years were closing in.

"Once you get to be 30, you're over the hill," he says. "Forget about it."

But along came the book, which he describes as "my idea of living that dream without actually doing it."

"At first, I thought 'Well, they are no epic movies about running,'" he says. "There's Chariots of Fire and a couple about a guy named Steve Prefontaine, a famous American runner," but that was about it."

Given that his wife, Anne Marie Howard, has had a three-decade career in television, film, commercials, and voice-overs, he felt the lure of Los Angeles.

"I thought, 'Well, I should do a screenplay,'" he says. He fired up some script-writing software, and he did just that.

According to Fawley, Howard read the script and said, "The running scenes were great, but what about the characters?"

"I said, 'I don't want to write about characters - I want to write about running,'" Fawley says.

With Hawk Ostby of South Burlington, writer of the Oscar-nominated screenplay for the 2006 action film Children of Men, Fawley continued to work on the screenplay.

Once he heard, though, the degree to which such work can be changed in production, Fawley pivoted. He'd write a novel. Then, if it did ever become a screenplay, he says, it would be clear what the real story was.

Fawley saw, too, that "there are not many books about running out there."

Thus, the screenplay became an outline for the novel.

"I've always loved writing; I've always written," he says, so producing The Frontrunner as a book made sense.

* * *

Some of the story, Fawley notes, is autobiographical: Russ Clayton, Brad Coy (Clayton's eccentric coach), and Russ's father "are all various versions of me - not so much in the running part of it, but the personal relationships are autobiographical in a sense."

Once the novel was completed, Fawley began the arduous process of looking for an agent with an eye toward publication.

He knew Cummings "just socially" then, and at the end of a long quest for traction with an agent, he turned to Cummings and Green Writers Press, which is based in Brattleboro.

"It's so wonderful that she gave me this chance," he said.

The Frontrunner not only gives insight into the body, mind, and spirit of a runner but, in 399 pages, it explores issues around parenting - or lack thereof - and of drive, trust, endurance, and perseverance.

At the same time, it looks organically and intensely at "what makes a champ," Fawley says. Is it nature or nurture? Science or spirit?

"What makes a champion tick?" he asks.

Fawley's protagonist hails from a small Kansas town and a high school lacking a long-distance running program. He's aided by a wise disabled veteran, a champion runner once himself, but he's hardly been shaped.

"You're a blank slate," says Brad Coy, the trainer Clayton signs on with. "A virgin not ruined by some other coach. Buck had his hands on you but I can reverse whatever damage he did. Nice guy but just another in a long line of coaching by the book […]."

Clayton's quest, his need to run, comes from deep within. In contrast, Fawley's antagonist, Yuri Grimlov of the Russian Olympic training program with whom Coy had competed years earlier, micromanages his young charges. He even dopes one of them routinely.

"They are the scientific, data-driven, dope-assisted approach to competitive running," whereas Clayton, under Coy's influence, represents the spirit-driven approach. One can't help but find deeper resonance in the contrasting cultures that spawn such different approaches: free will versus top-down authoritarianism.

Lessons abound throughout Fawley's novel - many through the rich metaphors he employs; some more overt, such as the wisdom imparted by his first coach, Doug, who "is like me," Fawley explains. "He didn't get to pursue his dream and wonders what could have been."

And there are the seven lessons Coy imparts to Clayton, the last of which Clayton hears just before he runs the Olympic marathon: "It's most important," says Fawley, "and that is the theme of the book."

That is, in Coy's words: "No matter what happens out there on the road today, the people that love you will always love you all the days of your life. You know who they are. Those people have no expectations. They just want you to be happy."

While the story ripples with love in various manifestations, it's not without grit - and pain. Even a non-running reader can feel it.

"It's not pain that keeps you from succeeding, it's the fear of pain - fear of what's ahead that holds people back, not the pain they're in at the moment. What chances are you willing to take? Willing to jump off the cliff? What holds us back is fear of failure, fear of pain."

Clayton's plot and its Russian parallel weave the three runners' journeys with ample twists and challenges, gratifications and victories.

In the last chapter, "The Bell Lap," "it all comes together," says Fawley.

* * *

Fawley lists the writers who influenced his writing: Ray Bradbury, Sinclair Lewis, and Willa Cather; Beat writers, especially Jack Kerouac and Albert Camus; Cormac McCarthy, John Updike, James Salter, and Ocean Vuong.

He has another book in the works as well as a sequel to The Frontrunner.

"It's outlined in detail, and there are two or three others I'd like to get to, but I get tugged back to this," he says.

In the meantime, The Frontrunner is "coming full circle," he says.

Now that the novel is out there, "Hawk and I are [once again] working on the screenplay," Fawley says. "The objective is to make a killer screenplay, and he knows production companies and - well, it's a moon shot."

Fawley's novel first launched at the Boston Marathon in April where, at the event's expo hall, he recounts, "hundreds came through, people bought books and ordered books, and sat to talk with me - for three days."

There, he got to meet lots of people like Olympian and former marathon record-holder Bill Rodgers and other key players in the distance-running world.

Having garnered "a lot of love from former Olympians and Boston Marathon legends like Rodgers and Amby Burfoot," Cummings says, The Frontrunner has earned a near-top Kirkus review and accolades from indie book reviewers.

Fawley has been asked to submit the novel to Track and Field Writers of America to be considered for its 2024 award.

No extensive signing tour is planned, but Fawley has been a guest on broadcast interviews and on podcasts; he's spoken with several groups about the book already and is eager to engage with more audiences - book groups, runners' groups, writers, high school students, athletes.

When he's not writing or lawyering, Fawley likes to work with his hands.

At the moment, he's building a soundproof booth for Howard's voiceover/audio recording work. (She has just completed the audio recording of The Frontrunner, to be released on various platforms on June 1.)

And family time is keeping him busy. His son, Russell, lives in Burlington, and his daughter, Caroline, lives in Maine and has just delivered Fawley's first grandchild.

And Fawley still runs. His favorite local routes are Green River Road and Jelly Mill Loop in Guilford.

"I'd like to compete again," he says.

No doubt he will.

* * *

The launch celebration of Brad Fawley's novel The Frontrunner takes place at 118 Elliot in Brattleboro on Saturday, June 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. Admission is free.

For more on Fawley, visit

ANNIE LANDENBERGER is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to these pages, primarily news and commentary about the creative spirit of Windham County and the region.

This Arts column by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates