The Way Of The Runner

THE WAY OF THE RUNNER
By Adharanand Finn
336 pp. Pegasus Books. $16.95.

Wikipedia defines ekiden (‘駅’, ‘伝’) as: “…a term referring to a long-distance relay running race, typically on roads.” (Respectively, the characters represent ‘station’ and ‘transmit’.)

Author Adharanand Finn’s convinced the Japanese are on to something. Worldwide, perhaps curiously, but still wholly, the running elite are respected. In Japan, a native with such skill is revered to an even higher degree, tinged with awe. Japanese viewing results for some broadcasts of marathons and ekiden races can be comparable to the Super Bowl. Maybe, instillment of the “team” mentality (e.g., ekiden) has something to do with it. Or, their willingness to seemingly work harder than any other people, from anywhere else in the world. Then again, the Japanese coaching methodology has a reputation for being particularly harsh, even brutal. Could that be the driving force?

In order to gain more understanding, Britain-based Finn enrolls his wife and children (willing participants, mind you) in a transcontinental locomotive journey to the land of the rising sun. Specifically, Siberia evoking thoughts of endlessness and doubt. Then, upon finally reaching Japan, they immerse themselves into Japanese culture (i.e., gaining housing and furnishing it, the Finn children attending school, all in a society generally regarded worldwide as closed off). Meanwhile, scribe Finn maintains an investigative focus, injecting himself into the Japanese racing scene. Striving to meet university and corporate coaches and teams of runners. Interviewing some of Japan’s best runners, as well as engaging locals considered to be core components of the Japanese running engine. The result, “The Way Of The Runner”, pulls back the curtain, leaving the reader more culturally enriched and better informed.

Finn had me captivated with his accounts of the Marathon Monks. Although the monks are intensely private, Finn gains access to their world. Legend has it, “…the monks of Mount Hiei run a thousand marathons in a thousand days in their quest to reach enlightenment.” (Later, it’s acknowledged the thousand days are not continuous.) Still, as of the book’s writing, it’s a feat accomplished by only 46 men over the last 130 years, in straw sandals, and a few have even done it twice. Then, if a monk succeeds at that, he spends the next 9 days in a dark room without food, water, or sleep. They don’t view running as an opportunity to race. Rather, the exhaustion effect produced by running enables an entry of a consciousness, or awareness, of what’s beyond everyday living. A new, healthier perspective of the big picture (so-to-speak).

Finn’s segue to several run improvement techniques kept me engaged. First, he righteously calls out Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run and the barefoot running techniques it espouses (although Finn opts for super-thin shoes). As a result, Finn personally reports faster marathon times. Then onto form, and the concentration needed throughout runs in order to avoid landing heel first. Next, squatting. In rural communities (e.g., Kenya), and Japan (due to their traditional toilets being nothing more than holes in the ground), mobility and strength in their feet and ankles, attributed to squatting, exceeds westerners. To Finn, exercising squatting carries benefits. “…practice squatting holding on to a door handle until I can do it unaided, and to walk around as much as possible barefoot.” Finally, Finn digs in on the benefits of muscle activation, courtesy a treatment he likens to torture. What appears to be simple finger press treatments produces intensely painful reactions. However, Finn equates the results to a “miracle”.

Lastly, a foray into Yuki Kawauchi’s background brings joy. (Was anyone not thrilled with his 2018 Boston win?) Kawauchi’s mentality flies in the face of the standard Japanese conformist streak. Self-coached, self-motivated, no agent, and with a full-time job in tow, he’s the “Citizen Runner” (an appropriate nomenclature considering the unbranded, scuffed trainers Finn eyes him wearing during the Fukuoka marathon). His race intensity endears him to running fans. “Kawauchi is a phenomenon.” He cherishes his freedom, spurning the Japanese corporate running culture, racing every weekend if he so chooses. During college, Kawauchi battled significant enough injuries that in his last year only one corporate team invited him to join. A snub that apparently didn’t go over well. Post college, his preference now to race, and beat, elite runners, all on his own. He’s not in it for the money but to, “…satisfy my own interest and my own challenge.”

Constructive criticism? Occasionally, throughout “The Way Of The Runner”, Finn lavishes praise on Alberto Salazar. Given Salazar’s 2019 and 2020 allegation and suspension plagued years, those pages haven’t aged well.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “The Way Of The Runner”: While monitoring an ekiden team, Finn notes the intensity of their stretching routine (static stretching for more than a few seconds), prior to running. It’s in stark contract to Finn’s Kenyan running adventure, as well as his English background. “In Kenya the runners rarely stretch before their morning run, while in Europe the advice is clear that stretching a cold body … can weaken muscles and cause injury.”

#Follow Adharanand Finn Here

Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir Of Thinking My Way To Victory

LET YOUR MIND RUN: A MEMORY OF THINKING MY WAY TO VICTORY 👍
By Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton
320 pp. Three Rivers Press. $17.00.

“Let Your Mind Run” reads as an even distribution of 2 offerings. First, Deena Kastor’s run background is immense. She impresses with expressing long ago details at a granular level. In particular, her ability to chronicle her abundant run history reaching as far back as childhood cross country with tremendous clarity. It’s reasonable to wonder if Kastor’s been writing this memoir for much of her life. Second, Kastor intends to get into the reader’s head. What I mean is, she offers lessons that preach the application of mindfulness of positivity to, really, any skill, any expertise. As this ushers in an understanding for the book’s title, “Let Your Mind Run” intends to push our collective ceiling’s higher by utilizing a potentially untapped, or little used resource (i.e. our mental approach). Of course, in these pages the “skill” is running, but the application’s at the behest of the reader (for example, “Let Your Mind Run” has pages dedicated to downhill skiing). In all, the intention being the reader’s run ability will be enhanced not just solely from what we glean from Kastor’s run history, but also an improved cognitive charge towards tackling that particular workout, hill, or race, etc.

However, the book’s chronicling of Kastor’s run history shines. As a child, Kastor tried various sports but running stuck. She wasn’t just good at it, she enjoyed it. Into her teen years, the races got longer and the victories piled up. Kastor takes great pride in reading her successes, both in track and cross country, as reported in the local paper. Her accomplishments had her traveling in her youth to several locales, namely: the cross-country national championships in Raleigh, NC and San Diego for the Kinney championships (i.e. the “pinnacle of high school running”). Her young running accomplishments (winning local and state titles) translated to a full scholarship to the University of Arkansas. Unfortunately, Kastor’s college running experienced turbulent times. After early freshman year progress, Kastor succumbs to injury (plantar fasciitis), and finds herself cyclically injured for several years. A sub par college running career invited heightened interests in other capacities (baking and creative writing). Upon college graduation, Kastor finds herself directionless. What would she do with her life? Still, at her core, Kastor loved running. Enter: the esteemed Coach Joe Vigil. “…there is no such thing as overtraining,” said Coach Vigil, “just underresting.” Wow. Terrific words.

Following through on a recommendation, Kastor contacts (Colorado-based) Coach Vigil. In short time, Kastor’s running in Colorado, and waiting tables at a local diner. Training at altitude pushes Kastor’s racing to a different level. (Forgive me, Kastor’s professional accomplishments are too numerous to list.) Winning cross-country nationals. Finishing sixth in one of the world’s premiere Grand Prix meets, Stockholm’s DN Galen. Then, following a 3rd place finish at the US 10K Classic outside Atlanta, Kaster’s subjected to offensive behavior among her Colorado-based teammates. Was it jealousy? Nonetheless, it appears even elites are subject to unkindness. These pages are of interest as Kastor seems to rely on her writings in an attempt to understand, in a sense, therapeutically. Moving on, the racing accomplishments continue (and in the midst of it all she meets fellow Coloradan and future husband Andrew Kastor). A bronze Olympic marathon finish. Winning the Chicago and London marathons. Indeed, Kastor’s running star burned bright. Then, disaster. A broken foot during the Olympic Marathon in Beijing. Would Kastor recover?

Please read “Let Your Mind Run”. It gets my thumbs up (👍), not solely because of it’s excellent accounting of Kastor’s race background, but because she teaches. She shares the details of her race build-ups, and this running reader benefited from it.

A brief return to the earlier mention of the book’s other discourse (in general terms): exhorting positivity, resiliency, feeling lighter, embracing growth, etc. Kastor, an avid reader, offers numerous literary references for promoting these traits. The book concludes with a series of exercises that are (per Kastor) “…designed for you to follow the same positive-thinking I used to reach my potential as an athlete”.

Constructive criticism? “Let Your Mind Run” can feel overrun with Kastor’s moments of blissful zen (e.g. kissing the trunk of a beloved crab apple tree). Then again, it’s also possible this view might stem from my present (less-than-sunny) disposition.

🏃‍♀️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “Let Your Mind Run”: Coach Vigil prefers infrequent racing, believing too many races in a season disrupts training. “Traveling and racing lowered weekly mileage, took you out of your routine, expended valuable energy, and directed your focus away from your goal.”

#Follow Deena Kastor Here and Michelle Hamilton Here

Run The World

RUN THE WORLD
By Becky Wade
288 pp. William Morrow. $15.99.

Envy. It’s the emotion I felt upon reading Becky Wade’s “Run The World” experience. As a new college graduate, Wade does an admirable job of chasing her interests and talents. She embarks on a year-long mission for the purpose of investigating running’s worldwide legacy as it’s projected from several cultures, and in the process walks (or rather, runs) in the footsteps of many historical run-based figures. Running accomplishments aside, her words had me hooked. As of the book’s writing, she’s a young adult that’s made remarkably good decisions in an effort to make the most her extensive abilities.

Wade’s awarded a “Thomas J. Watson Fellowship”. This provides the fellow with lean funding in order to travel “…the world independently in pursuit of a personal passion”. For Wade, whose athletic ability translated into a Rice University scholarship, that passion is running. Already performing at an elite level, Wade isn’t satisfied. Graced with early wisdom, it’s apparent she believes there’s room for improvement. Wade intends to glean knowledge from a number of world-wide running cultures, steeped in tradition in the sport, all the while globe trotting her way to even faster times. She succeeds and the reader benefits as well.

Wade’s itinerary begins in England and Ireland. It’s terrific timing with the 2012 Summer Olympics underway in London. Her Olympic marathon live viewing experience is shared. As they proceed through the event, it’s a pleasure learning more about the race strategies, and relationship, of Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher. Also, who knew a golden postal box exists in Teddington village to honor Mo Farah’s first place 10K finish? Personally, another learning moment was Wade’s experience with the informal cross-country-style competition “ParkRun” (a term I’d seen in passing but was unfamiliar with it’s background). Additionally, tracing the footsteps of the first sub 4 minute mile, by Roger Bannister, is a delight. Wade’s journey then jettisons to Switzerland. The descriptions of her Swiss-based run experiences are artistic. The environment her text illustrates, likened to brush strokes on a blank canvas. It’s lovely. Also (to be expected), exhaustive incline run efforts here are detailed.

The Ethiopia leg has a different tone. Moreso than Wade’s other excursions, this experience investigates more of the mental angle, in addition to the physical makeup of that region’s runner. Here, it seems deep thinking a planned workout holds less value. The notion of tracking distance or speed, the use of logs of any kind in earnest, goes wayside. Running in the heat while fully clothed is a commonality. Sunday’s are associated with rest, not long runs. Also, the topic of food is broached more intensely during this particular trip. A thoughtful consideration because, really, what does make those East African runners tick? Generally, more carbohydrate reliance than Americans consume, and less meat. Additionally, some of the world’s finest coffee beans, “injera”, and “kolo” (i.e., Ethiopian pancakes and trail mix, respectively).

In Australia and New Zealand, the reader gains terrific running history thanks to research into legendary coach Arthur Lydiard, and Olympic medalists Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, and Barry Magee. Wade’s running recount of the infamous Arthur Lydiard Waiatarua Circuit 22-miler reads well. In Japan, unfamiliar foreign customs are scrutinized such as: public bath houses in order to better heal post long run (and the necessary, awkward, nakedness), the expectation for actually stopping a run at every sign and stoplight, and lack of any right-side-of-the-road running rule. Move to Scandinavia where Wade focuses on the importance of saunas. They’re ritualistic in Finland, assisting with rejuvenation, and helps cope with the harsh winters (sweating it out on the treadmill’s my only close association). Also, the reader gains more knowledge of the famous “Flying Finns” and the sisu mentality (rough translation: strength of will, determination, and perseverance). Admittedly, my brief synopsis of each stop does little justice for Wade’s own recounts.

Notably, Wade’s humble. She doesn’t hide her experience of getting lost while running in Ethiopia (and, likewise, earning the nickname “Magellan” for similar college detours). Also, every travel leg ends with a recipe, specific to that culture, that’s had a positive influence on both her palate and run. Nearly every “foodie” should gain something here. Lastly, “Run The World” culminates with an elite runner’s California International Marathon race eve experience (i.e., Wade at CIM). Apparently, even elites aren’t immune to 3:15 AM pre-race jitters..

Constructive criticism? In comparing her writing effort to a long run, over the course of the entire body of work, Wade settles in, finding a groove. Less so early on, as the content can be a bit too mired in the minutiae of the trip at hand.

🏃‍♀️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “Run The World”: As multiple coaches have advised her on the matter, Wade advocates running barefoot as a means of rejuvenating tired legs. “…I’d give my feet, among the most sensitive body parts, the tried-and-true antidote of soft ground and uninhibited contact with the earth.”

#Follow Becky Wade Here

401

401
By Ben Smith
240 pp. Bloomsbury. $15.00.

Beware of “401”. What I mean is, the book’s author and subject matter, Ben Smith, compels you to believe a state of happiness, of true bliss, really can happen for us all. As did Smith, you just have to be willing to step into the unknown. To up and walk away from the present state of your life. Smith had it all (or at least what society generally dictates as that plateau of success). You know: married, big money job, big house, big car, paying into a pension plan, 2 holidays a year, etc. He jettisoned all of it. Some background is needed in order to understand the “why”.

Smith declares his early childhood to be a happy one. Loving parents and a brother he truly considers his friend. His father’s a member of the British Royal Air Force. His role requires travel, forcing Smith’s parents to enroll their children in boarding schools. This initiates Smith’s torments. In an almost a therapeutic sense, his words expose the brutal experiences he’s subjected to at these schools. Relentless bullying. At times, his peers subject him to physical abuse. While he does change schools, unfortunately, the poor experiences persist. Smith is driven to attempt suicide. True, Smith describes himself as something of a unique character. Not terribly athletic in his youth, he’s also gay (but has not yet come out), with a learning disability (dyslexia), and mired in depression. Keep in mind, Smith’s childhood schooling comes at an earlier time, when there was an emphasis to conform, as we’re now generally taught to embrace our differences. Instead, in these pages of “401”, if you don’t fit in, you’re an outcast, and treated accordingly.

Smith survives the schools, and enters society, but is now living something of a charade. He’s working the big money job, which fuels the typical mortgage and expenditures, and finds a wife. However, these accomplishments are masking a falsehood. The drum beats for Smith to be true to himself but he dulls it’s calls with cocaine, alcohol, and a 20 – 30 cigarettes-a-day habit. Smith describes himself as drifting. Merely existing. The lifestyle’s unsustainable. His wife discovers gay porn in Smith’s internet viewing history. She doesn’t divorce him because of it, but the experience leads Smith to seek counseling, resulting in his reconciliation with the truth.

Smith divorces, sells all of his belongings, moves on from his job, and decides he has nothing left to lose. He embraces altogether change. His running had been on the increase and, especially now, the miles help him cope, which brings us to the 401 challenge. Smith states, “I knew I wanted to do something that had never been done before, for causes important to me…”. The number four hundred and one being the number of consecutive, daily marathons Smith challenges himself to finish and in the process raise money for anti-bullying charities. By design this would also earn him the record of verifiable marathons run in consecutive days. Throughout “401”, aside from flashbacks of Smith’s background, the reader goes along for the ride so to speak during the trials of the challenge, along with anecdotes from those more deeply affected by his journey. What he sets out to accomplish is indicative of his character. Simply, Ben Smith is a good soul. Finally, the book is recommended reading for anyone intrigued but intimidated by the notion of running 26.2 miles. For the span of his challenge, Brown’s daily task has nothing to do with how fast he’s able to accomplish the distance (often stopping for a pint along the way).

Constructive criticism? By it’s end, the premise behind “401” felt over-extended. The journey’s minutiae perhaps too intensely focused upon. However, personally, whenever the subject matter is running-based, there’s rarely regret when the rhetoric run’s long.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “401”: Ben Smith refers to his runs as “filing time”. Upon a run’s conclusion, “…it felt like everything in my mind had been tidied up and filed away.”

#Follow Ben Smith Here

Running Man: A Memoir of Ultra-Endurance

RUNNING MAN: A MEMOIR OF ULTRA-ENDURANCE
By Charlie Engle
304 pp. Scribner. $17.00.

Generally, “Running Man” can be broken into thirds. The first being Charlie Engle’s upbringing and early adulthood. Engle’s adolescent years aren’t easy. His parents divorced when he’s 3. His father joins the Army and Engle doesn’t see him for 4 years. Residing with his mother in North Carolina, she’s active in theater work and social causes. Her involvement in the theater is accompanied by frequent cast parties at the Engle home. These parties expose Engle to drugs and alcohol. It’s in these early years that “…alcohol planted a little flag…” in his brain. His mother’s ventures briefly moves them to Attica, New York. Then, before the start of eighth grade, more instability as Engle goes to California to be with his father. It’s here Engle first finds success in organized sport (football, basketball, track, and cross country). Next, his father’s work requires a return to North Carolina living. While Engle’s athletic star continues to rise there, so too would instances of youthful rebellion. Once a candidate for a University of North Carolina (UNC) scholarship, his dalliances with poor decision making ends that potential. Sans scholarship, Engle still attends UNC. It’s in his early college years that substance abuse dominates (alcohol, cocaine). Engle drops out of UNC. He tries working for his father but fails. Enter: UNC student Pam Smith. Sans enrollment, Engle casually returns to UNC, they meet, and a brief courtship becomes an enduring relationship. Juggling different jobs amid continued substance abuse, Pam’s patience and love is a constant. Engle’s work takes him on the road. He rewards himself for a hard day’s work with further drug binges. Crack becomes another of Engle’s demons. Similar to the darkest times detailed by Catra Corbett in “Reborn On The Run” and of Dick Beardsley in “Duel In The Sun“, Engle bottoms out. Shady motels and drug deals. His car’s stolen, then found, then fired upon, decorated with bullet holes. There’s no shortage of ugly characters and circumstances in these pages. Engle turns to hope and prayer and, finally, feels the “…prison gate of addiction swing open.”.

Previously, in a half-hearted attempt to reach wellness, Engle’s flirted with running. He now goes all in. True, the many miles he runs assists him in keeping his substance abuse in check. However, his running greatness becomes fully exposed. Marathons give way to Ironman races and ultras. The running portion of “Running Man” focuses on a never before accomplished, coast-to-coast run across the Sahara desert. Also, multiple Badwater 135-mile top 3 finishes and dominate worldly race results are chronicled. My compact summary here isn’t intended to minimize Engle’s running achievements. Rather, consider it a reflection of the power of the book’s other, unrelated content. For Engle, once again, he’s on the cusp of turbulent times.

Have you ever taken out a mortgage? To accept Engle’s explanation, this act, so commonly associated with adulthood, responsibility, and potential for prosperity, is at the root of Engle’s next round of hardship. At the height of the mid-2000 mortgage loan scandals in the United States, Engle purchased multiple properties. Undoubtedly, like many, he rubber stamped the countless forms of related legal documents, or appointed someone to do it on his behalf. His downfall being, the income earned by Engle that those forms claimed existed (that Engle never actually declared but was inflated by predatory brokers), was not reflective of realty. For this, the IRS brought a fifteen-count federal indictment against Engle. Ultimately, he’s found guilty of 12 counts of bank, wire, and mail fraud, and sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. Engle’s prison recounts are a fascinating read. He must not only navigate jail life among white collar criminals but murderers and rapists as well. This period’s highlighted by a jailhouse “Badwater” run, taking place on the same date as the famous race. However, the incarcerated version would take place over 540 laps on a gravel track at a West Virginia lockup.

Constructive criticism? The title. Engle declares in the Acknowledgements, “…I did not want to write a book about running, but rather how running has shaped and changed me.” You succeeded, Mr. Engle. This book’s about so much more than just a “Running Man”.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “Running Man: A Memoir of Ultra-Endurance”: On the eve of his first marathon attempt (1989 Big Sur), well into the pre-race early morning hours, Engle ingested large quantities of alcohol and cocaine. A few hours later he still ran Big Sur, finishing in 3:30.

#Follow Charlie Engle Here

North

NORTH
By Scott Jurek, with Jenny Jurek
304 pp. Little, Brown Spark. $16.99.

In “North”, American ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, as well as his spouse Jenny Jurek (i.e., “JLu”), present impressive writing skills detailing their record breaking journey on the Appalachian Trail (i.e., “AT”). “Fun” is how I’d describe their tit for tat dalliances in these pages. Each chapter is divided into two. First, he chronologically recounts a memorable stage along the AT on his quest for the Fastest Known Time (i.e., “FKT”). Then, JLu, in the role of crew chief, presents her take on the same stage, in brutally honest fashion. When he performs well, she extends praise, and doesn’t shy away from being less kind when appropriate.

As North opens, it seems extreme ultra racing for 20 years had taken a toll. Father Time may have decided Jurek’s best running days (record 7 consecutive Western States 100-mile Endurance Run winner) are behind him. He’s struggling with life’s next chapter. Is he retired, or still racing? Is he more athlete now, or ambassador? Also, JLu’s recently experienced a miscarriage, at the time finding herself in medical jeopardy. Understandably, the couple struggles with this hardship. Jurek yearns for a new, different challenge. Spending much of his life in Minnesota or further west, he’s intrigued by his unfamiliarity with the east coast. He’s enamored by the notion of setting the AT FKT, and the opportunity such a journey would provide Jurek and JLu to personally connect.

Within a week into the 47 day journey, Jurek experiences great physical troubles (on his right side, Runner’s Knee, on his left, a laterally torn quadriceps). His AT progress is labored and slow. MANY reinforcements come to aid his pacing (both longtime running friends as well as strangers tracking his progress with the assistance of GPS tracking). He’s prodded forward by the encouragement of one friend, Horty, “Your body will find a way to heal itself. It has a memory. Your body will remember.”

Jurek impresses with his FKT ethic. There is no course cutting. With any step off the AT, he touches a marker, and reconnects with that same marker before further AT progress. On his feet sometimes nearly 20 hours a day, losing 20 lbs., protruding bones, and shaking hands, the debilitating abuse Jurek exposes himself to astounds. He becomes a shell of his former self. Also, Jurek’s mental state along the journey can be troubling. Nearing the end of his challenge, he miscalculates the number of remaining days available to him to accomplish the FTK goal and declares his surrender. (Quickly, he’s corrected by his wife and friend, Timmy, of the correct timeline, and that his goal is still possible.)

Constructive criticism? No doubt, upon covering 2,200 miles, much of it in isolation, deep and dark thoughts may creep in. However, most don’t choose a book seeking to experience a depressive account, and Jurek (also grappling with his early 40’s) can at times unleash his despair. “I had come face-to-face with the question that always, eventually, meets everyone on the trail (or on the highway, or in the office, or in class) as the initial thrill wears off and the rewards start coming less frequently. What’s the point?” In these pages, this mentality can appear in abundance, seemingly growing with each new stage of his AT journey. Ultimately, he’s repeatedly propelled forward by the simple notion: “This is who I am, and this is what I do.”

In North’s closing pages, with Maine’s Mount Katahdin on approach (Jurek traversed the AT northbound), his spirit’s are buoyed. However, there’s little time to linger. If Jurek is to achieve the FTK, it would be by a matter of hours. It’s also JLu’s birthday. At Katahdin’s base, with little time remaining, he announces he’s going for a birthday hike with his wife. Finally, consider first reading “Born To Run“. North is littered with references to it.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “North”: Spanning 1974 to the time of North’s writing, 11 people have been murdered along the Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, that tally increased in May 2019.

#Follow Scott Jurek Here and Jenny Jurek Here

The Long Run

THE LONG RUN
By Matt Long, with Charles Butler
312 pp. Rodale Books. $15.99.

The phrase “to rest on one’s laurels” is a poor association for Matt Long. Sure, like many, Long’s early background chronicled in “The Long Run” includes the occasional blip of middle age sedentary. Periodically, the former Iona college basketball player has relented to a more comfortable lifestyle. The nicknames “Beer Belly Matty” and “Fatty Long” were earned. However, these episodes don’t define Long for … long. With age forty looming, the future Boston Marathon Qualifier and Iron Man “Matt Long” changes his tune. Meanwhile, Long’s professional resume marks successful longevity as both a bar owner and New York City firefighter. His personal life reflects the values of tight-knit family Catholicism. One of nine kids, Long grows up attending private school, and memories of attending church and fond Christmas gatherings are recounted. From a relationship perspective, Long enjoys his bachelorhood. He maintains he’s on the search for the future Mrs. Long; however, in the meanwhile, he’s perfectly fine with playing the field. It seems Long’s life is moving along splendidly. Until, on December 22, 2005, he gets run over by a bus.

“The Long Run” can be grim. Bleak. Long paints a picture of hopelessness. It’s a nearly effortless task, really, as Long and Butler deftly describe the hardships endured. In December, Long was progressing on his bike, en route to meeting friends for a training stint at a pool. It was freezing outside. Long was relegated to his bike due to an ongoing NYC transit strike. A chartered bus 2 lanes to his left makes a fast and unexpected turn to the right, directly into Long. The outcome’s horrendous. Long’s found underneath the center portion of the bus, behind the front axle. He’d been gored by the bike’s seat post. Personally, the following words were a persistent consideration through to the book’s conclusion, Long was “…open from the base of my penis down to my anus, and my rectum had been torn.”. Also, a broken femur, tibia, and a shattered pelvis. The list of Long’s injuries is endless. In the first two days following the accident, he received 69 units of blood. His doctor’s initial assessment put the survival odds at less than 5%.

It strikes me that some criticism for “The Long Run” assails Long for his descriptions of his athletic prowess and casual dalliances prior to the accident. First, Long does share some bad with that good, making many references for his love of basketball, but more humble ability to play the sport. Regarding his romantic episodes, my interpretation was Long illustrating the young, vibrant NYC lifestyle he relished, and then, in a moment, gone. In it’s place, this person’s forced to carry, at all times, a colostomy bag, constantly filling with bodily waste (associated odor included). The bag was a result of a doctor’s attempt to stop stool from pooling in Long’s pelvis while trying to control the loss of blood. The doctor assessed Long would need it for up to 12 months but, also, he may very well need it permanently. For awhile, the book’s dark tone is attributed to “the bag”. So, indeed, a blistering fall from grace.

Physical and occupational therapy begins 18 days after the accident. The first steps are small. Trying to swallow. Sitting up in bed. Standing. Into May, progress was slow but real. Long begins walking, or more accurately, shuffling. On May 24th, Long, with colostomy bag in tow, checks out of the hospital and returns to his apartment. To assist Long, his younger brother, Eddie, moves in. While rehabilitation continues, depressive episodes settle in. It cannot be understated the many references to Long’s support group called out in “The Long Run”. Family, friends, co-workers, politicians, strangers, etc. This mass of people proves essential in Long’s recovery. Approximately a year after the accident, Long undergoes colostomy takedown surgery (i.e., removing “the bag”). The surgery was expected to take a couple hours but would last 13 due to unanticipated scar tissue. Ultimately, the surgery’s a success (although the preparedness for it and later rehabilitation are better left undescribed).

Long’s outlook brightens. His “shuffle” hastens. While still difficult to describe his pace as “running”, Long begins doing just that, albeit slowly. First, a 17:24 mile. Then, incredibly, nearly 3 years following the accident, Long finishes the New York City Marathon in 7 hours and 21 minutes. Finally, this “new” Matt Long was flourishing once again.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “The Long Run”: Muscles can atrophy without use in as little as a couple weeks. (A good reason to always remain vigilant in prevention of the common cold.)

#Follow Matt Long Here and Charles Butler Here