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

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