The Rise Of The Ultra Runners


By Adharanand Finn
272 pp. Pegasus Books. $16.75.

It’s my humble opinion, author Adharanand Finn leads an enviable life. The cover jacket (see above) of his third foray into the running genre gives off a powerful, influencing vibe. For me, it carries sway like a Star Wars movie theater poster. Part research mission, part memoir, all engrossing, Finn’s latest push deviates from the path of his past works (ie, associating a region, or culture, and it’s relationship with running). For example, “Running with the Kenyans”. Instead, “The Rise Of The Ultra Runners” focuses on a particular running subdivision, or classification. It’s about the dedicated people that run incredibly long lengths, and what makes them tick. Of course, he’s commissioned to do it, and receives substantial backing from his wife and family. Enviable, indeed.

Finn’s now well established his methodology for aggregating the details of his works. Basically, he declares himself the preverbal experimental lab rat, putting his quite capable running prowess to the test against the matter at hand. Here, that’s running super far, super fast. He intends to race the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) mountain ultramarathon, giving some purpose to his pending travails. Notably, one doesn’t just register for the UTMB. It’s required to gain enough race points through qualifying trail races over the previous two-year period. So, on goes Finn, racing the likes of (but not limited to) the Oman Desert Marathon (165km), the San Francisco based Miwok 100k, and the “100 Miles Sud de France” in the Pyrenees. That said, a couple other experiences more so piqued my interest: South Africa’s Comrades Marathon and the 24-hour Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 24-hour Track Race in London’s Tooting district. Accordingly, therein I expand.

The world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon, Finn champions Comrades race history (it was a WWI veteran’s idea for rekindling the grand physical achievements of war time experiences). Starting in 1921, in more recent decades it’s also served as a uniting force for South Africans, boosting what participants have in common, and in doing so, at least temporarily, shelving that country’s past racial tensions. A host of medals are dangled for race finishers. Among them the “Wally Heyward” medal for completing it’s 90km distance in < 6 hours, but finishing outside the top 10 (understandably, making it a rare medal), and the “Bill Rowan” medal for < 9 hours. While racing, Finn entertains with a group (ie, the “bus”) experience, shepherded by a pace lead (ie, the “driver”), who nearly, metaphorically, kicks a passenger off. Also, the heart breaking nature of the race’s 12 hour cut off is successfully transferred. Try comprehending running since dawn, yet not fast enough, and being only meters away. Close enough to watch the officials turn off the lights. It’s a tragedy.

Finn’s Tooting-based 24-hour Track Race starts simply enough. The plan is to run for 25 minutes, then walk for 5 minutes, and make silly faces at the wife throughout the entire track-based run. Reality settles in approximately halfway through the race. Increasing body aches and burning sensations has Finn contemplating quitting. Further, the race offered no UTMB race points, rendering it arguably meaningless. Hours grind on, as does Finn, but with burgeoning focus on the agony of it all. Also, debuting a new pair of shoes at the race wasn’t terribly wise. Finn’s a pro. Mention of it’s happening seems silly. However, credit him for admitting it. Every runner has the occasional silly lapse. Next, Finn declares his body broken. Kaput. The effort’s gone futile. You get the idea. Yet, he ambles on. Then, one foot in front of the other, turns into more of a hustle. His feet start responding better to jogging than walking. He generalizes this experience in revival as moving from darkness to light, referring to it as “self-transcendence”. In the end, there’s 13 DNFs and Finn’s 28 out of 32 finishers. How many miles did he run? Read “The Rise Of The Ultra Runners” to find out!

Constructive criticism? The book can be a bit scattered. While Finn’s intent is to provide the reader an ultra running education, his methods can be all over the board. To be fair, the subject’s scope is huge, and Finn perhaps intended to harness it all with his UTMB drive. Still, my suggestion being, is delivering ultra running matters as it relates to so very many physiological disciplines, racing on a worldly scale, and highlighting his personal and professional happenings as it relates to the genre, just too broadly focused?


#DidYouKnow courtesy “The Rise Of The Ultra Runners”: At least one famous race monitors the progress of it’s participants via means of stealth? A portion of Finn’s book is dedicated to discussing cheats in the ultra world. Interestingly, the Comrades Marathon deploys undisclosed timing mats to ferret out “… the multitude of people who try to claim that they completed the famous race when instead they hopped in a car…”.

#Follow Adharanand Finn Here

Why We Run (formally: Racing The Antelope)


By Bernd Heinrich
304 pp. Ecco. $12.69.

“Why We Run” gets a thumbs up (👍) rating due to it’s uniqueness. That said, it takes more than just being different to rise above this site’s many run-based book reviews. Author Bernd Heinrich has a Ph. D from the University of California, Los Angeles. He’s a naturalist. A biologist. A professor. His high level of intelligence is indisputably conveyed throughout “Why We Run”. (Yes, in an attempt to “keep up”, I found myself re-reading several passages.) Also, accomplishing a 2:22:34 marathon PR, Heinrich’s a lauded runner. In all, the book stands out because of Heinrich’s method for delivering all those traits, both knowledge and skill, therein.

Heinrich’s humbleness is appreciated. He doesn’t claim to be either especially intelligent, or fantastically fast. Except, in both cases, he has every right to stake those claims. He can also lay claim to an extraordinary life lived. As a child, his family flees post WWII Germany for Maine’s western forests. It’s a different time. Days spent shoeless and shirtless, darting around that New England’s forest region. You get the sense there’s a vacuum of human interaction, resultingly the wildlife is often referenced as Heinrich’s friends. That said, as an older gentleman now living out his life in the same locale, it’s fair to guess he prefers that area’s isolation. His father, an entomologist, generally doesn’t earn Heinrich’s heart-felt praise, largely refraining from ever shining him in a kind light. However, a begrudging child to parent respect is conveyed. What he does embrace is his dad’s profession in zoology. The reader gains an understanding for how his childhood interests expound to greater things (ie, for work his parents take leave for Africa leaving Heinrich to be raised at “Good Will School”, he gains a reputation there for embracing his time in the outdoors with wildlife, and earns praise for his high school Cross Country racing). Then, Heinrich turns it up a notch. He parlays high school running success into study at the University of Maine and joins that institution’s Cross Country and Track teams. However, early on, Heinrich hurts his back weight lifting, consequently moving him to greater academic focus. That scholastic-intensive leap then leads him to ultimately seek a Ph. D, studying “extrachromosomal DNA” at UCLA.

“Physiological”. It’s a term often found in these pages. “Why We Run” now turns it’s focus to Heinrich’s preparations for racing the 1981 Chicago 100K. It’s his run improvement methods that sets this book apart. He simply isn’t satisfied with the typical experiments runners engage during race build up (ie, trying different fuels, or gear, or sleep patterns, etc.). What does Heinrich do? He extends his extensive knowledge for how different insects and animals perfect their endurance and speed mechanisms. For example, how a camel’s hump impacts it’s ability to weather great heat, or how different bird species fuel themselves for world wide travel as the seasons change, as well as the tree frog’s methods for regulating the all-night stamina needed when calling (ie, croaking) for a mate. Frankly, the examples just presented do little justice for Heinrich’s in-depth investigations, both in terms of total species analyzed, but moreso the discourse transition he makes to a highly academic-based conversation that not infrequently had my head spinning. Now the “why”. Heinrich’s intent is to turn these knowledge dumps of different animal physiologies into the reader’s gain. As in, parlaying those animal abilities for great stamina and velocity, to humans (where applicable, of course).

Constructive criticism? This is a reach (indicating just how very good the book is), but perhaps “Why We Run” could be more forthcoming with it’s journey into academia. The common reader’s likely in for something far different than he or she has ever experienced with other run-themed books. It’s a challenging read! My suggestion, or question, is could greater awareness be extended for what we readers are really in for upon making this literary selection. Frankly, it’s unknown to me how this could be accomplished. Perhaps some form of caution on the book’s cover declaring it’s contents to being intensive, university-level jargon (I’ll repeat, I’m reaching).


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Why We Run”: Some members of the Maine-based “Penobscot” tribe are (or at least were) designated runners, their purpose being to chase down deer and moose. These “pure men” were prevented from any sexual activity. It was thought that any transgression would impair their breathing, as well as make their testicles clack when they ran, warning the deer.

At the end of these posts I commonly share the means for #Follow -ing the author. Unfortunately, I’m unable to locate any Bernd Heinrich social media handles. Instead, perhaps this article will provide further insight for those eager to extend their Heinrich learnings.

Running With The Kenyans

Running with the Kenyans

By Adharanand Finn
304 pp. Ballantine Books. $17.00.

Simply repeating a line from “Running with the Kenyans” seems like a less than ideal way to delve into my synopsis. Unfortunately, towards the book’s conclusion, author Adharanand Finn provides a summary that’s just a little too appropriate. “For six months I’ve been piecing together the puzzle of why the Kenyans are such good runners. … I list the secrets in my head: the tough, active childhood, the barefoot running, the altitude, the diet, the role models, the simple approach to training, the running camps, the focus and dedication, the desire to succeed, to change their lives, the expectation that they can win, the mental toughness, the lack of alternatives, the abundance of trails to train on, the time spent resting, the running to school, the all-pervasive running culture, the reverence for running.”

The point is, there isn’t any one thing. You see, getting to the bottom of the Kenyan’s running mastery is Finn’s Kenyan-bound mission. The fact that there’s the added opportunity to expose the experiences of travel to Africa and the culture therein to his young England-based family, whom he easily convinces to come along for the ride, resolves any hesitancy for green-lighting the trip. (Oh, to be a member of the Finn clan. This isn’t the first time the group was transported to a distant land: “The Way Of The Runner“.)

The core of Finn’s Kenyan running deep dive comes with his Lewa Marathon (Nairobi, Kenya region) experience. Early into his Kenyan journey, Finn assembles a race team (all Kenyans plus one Finn), titled the “Iten Town Harriers”. The team’s talent level has great range, with Finn hoping to keep up with it’s slower members. To his credit, he does and then some, finishing the famously hot race (can reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit all year round), whereas some of his teammates DNF. His race buildup discoveries include a new found appreciation for the Kenyan meal frequently powering it’s runners: ugali, as well as the healthy exclusion of unavailable fatty western foods (ie, cheese, burgers, pizza, etc.). Also, a somewhat successful run relearning (moving from landing heel strike to forefoot first), and experiencing training at (high) altitude. To say Finn returns a better runner is an understatement, going on that Fall to finish the New York City Marathon in 2 hours 55 minutes. Conversely, not terribly long before his Kenya experience, Finn was a 47 minute 10K runner.

This post’s opening paragraph alludes to the hardships experienced by young Kenyans in their formative years. Suggestions abound in “Running with the Kenyans” pointing to the Kenyan’s high resistance to adversity. A couple related passages struck me, giving evidence as to why these runners may be less physiologically impacted by brutal running conditions. First, school-related stories of children being beaten for either low marks, or barely missing a class’s starting bell (of course, their only means of getting to school on time is running there swiftly). Also, boys of the Kenyan “Kalenjin” ethnic group are subject to a circumcision ceremony, in front of an audience. Any sign of upsettedness by the boys during the procedure and from that day forward they’re deemed a coward without respite.

Constructive criticism? Hmm. As it relates to this matter, nothing obvious comes to my mind. Perhaps a bit too much re-hashing of the barefoot running thesis already presented thoroughly (and then some)  in Christopher McDougall’s “Born To Run“. Although to his credit, Finn does give McDougall proper credit.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Running with the Kenyans”: Do you qualify the author’s first name as unique? Per Finn (born in the early 1970s), his parents were hippies, accordingly declaring their allegiance to a 13 year old Indian guru named “Maharaju”. Crediting Maharaju with the strong feelings of peace and love enveloping them during this time, they resultingly named their son “Adharanand” (the name translates to: Eternal Bliss in Sanskrit).

#Follow Adharanand Finn Here

Running With Sherman

By Christopher McDougall
352 pp. Vintage. $16.95.

Let’s get this right out of the way. “Running With Sherman” is not 352 pages of a guy running through the woods with his donkey. That said, it IS a persistent theme, building towards a goal, and throughout the book distributes the spotlight. It’s that last part that, for me, is where I’m driving my initial considerations. Author Christopher McDougall has a propensity for crafting his words into parallel, like-minded silos. Or rather, running together multiple talking points (subjects) that merge throughout his books, all in support of the main subject (in this case hustling with a donkey). Likewise, his work “Born To Run” presents a similar technique. Before jumping into those other themes, let’s delve into some “Running With Sherman” background.

McDougall shares his origins early on. Associated Press reporting abroad turns to freelance magazine writing in Philadelphia, PA. There he meets his future wife, Mika, at a social gathering. The pair desire to put roots down and raise a family but struggle financially with gaining home ownership. Creative thinking’s required and they ultimately find their dream, albeit 90 minutes outside Philadelphia in the Southern End (aka, Pennsylvania Amish country). That’s not to say the McDougall family takes up the Amish culture (i.e., no electricity, no tractors, no zippers, etc.). Instead, more of an alliance is forged with their neighbors, with each side bringing to the table the benefits lacking from the other side. In these pages, “Running With Sherman” characterizes the McDougall homestead as good, simple living. However, life gets more complicated upon Sherman’s arrival, coupled with McDougall’s big idea.

With considerable convincing a good Samaritan gains Sherman freedom from a hoarder, and he’s transferred to the McDougall homestead, joining a fleet of other farm animals -but to date, not a donkey. Upon Sherman’s debut, McDougall grapples with uncertainty and concern. He’d endured a dilapidated lifestyle. McDougall said, “Worst of all were it’s hooves, so monstrously overgrown they looked like a witch’s claws.” It’s not so much that his prior caretaker’s heart wasn’t in the right place. Nonetheless, he wasn’t properly taking care of the animal (e.g., poor diet, no exercise, physically a mess). Slowly but surely, as Sherman’s nursed to better health, a notion that initially flickers for McDougall only keeps burning hotter. The Leadville Pack Burro race. McDougall learned of the event while visiting Leadville, Colorado a decade earlier. Now, he’s having visions of he and Sherman taking part.

Concurrent talking points, or themes, was earlier mentioned. Like, mentally and physically rehabilitating prisoners, as well as children and adults recovering from crimes, by working with animals. Also, the exploits of an Amish-based run team (all while running in long pants, suspenders, and full-length dresses, of course). Or, what running can do to benefit those suffering from depression (i.e., endorphins and dopamine). In addition, the positive impact of equine therapy on a young person suffering from epileptic seizures, as well as others struggling with autism, and PTSD. By no means are this paragraph’s examples all-inclusive. That said, nearly every instance does return the reader to Sherman’s progression towards Leadville.

Constructive criticism? A bit of hyper focus over, a donkey’s hyper focus over, a puddle in the road. What does that mean? The book’s an entertaining read. Please pick up a copy of “Running With Sherman” to find out!


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Running With Sherman”: Praise is offered for Coach Eric Orton‘s Thirty-Second Drill. McDougall explains, “…first, you warm up with an easy two-mile run. Then you sprint for thirty seconds, and jog lightly to recover. Repeat, alternating sprints and jogs, …” Stopping the workout’s suggested when, between repetitions, your legs feel less springy and recovery becomes labored. The drill’s purpose? Fixing biomechanics. We tend to right-the-ship when sprinting. Alternatively, our form gets sloppy at a slower pace.

#Follow Christopher McDougall Here


By Meb Keflezighi with Scott Douglas
256 pp. Rodale. $15.99.

The question occurred to me repeatedly throughout “26 MARATHONS”. How best to review a run-based book that consists of an introduction, then 26 chapters (reflecting every occasion Keflezighi raced the distance), and an epilogue? Ultimately, I’m going with mimicking the book’s style. First, some Keflezighi notables in running, writing, and life. He’s meticulous. The details he provides suggests a well maintained and detailed log book chronicling his race career. Also, he gets hurt. A lot. That said, I’m not going to declare Keflezighi injury-prone. Perhaps it more so sheds light on the destructive nature of marathon training at the professional level. Finally, he genuinely comes across as a smart, good human being. The term “altruism” comes to mind. Whether it be grooming his personal or professional relationships, or concern for the well being of strangers, Keflezighi cares. Without further ado:

1. 2002 New York City Marathon (9th). Keflezighi finishes his first marathon thinking, “I don’t ever want to do that again.” (We all know he had a change of heart, thank goodness.) After taking the lead, Keflezighi hits the Wall. Mentally, he struggled with the distance. In all, Keflezighi declares he needs to improve his pacing.

2. 2003 Chicago Marathon (7th). A trip to his native Eritrea re-energizes Keflezighi’s post NYC mindset. There, he witnesses people’s hardships to survive. Comparatively, Keflezighi decides complaining about his marathon experience to be poor form. On to Chicago. With the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials in mind, Keflezighi decides his goal at Chicago would be to beat the Olympic “A” 2:12:00 standard. Nothing more. So, placing at Chicago was not a consideration. He avoids the Wall, finishing in 2:10, and decides marathoning can be fun.

3. 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials (2nd). Some people declare their goals aloud. That’s not how Keflezighi rolls. Instead: underpromise and overdeliver. Meanwhile, Keflezighi’s training for the Trials is hampered by tendinitis in his right knee. Then the flu. On race day he considers himself grossly undertrained. Still, into the race, Keflezighi finds good fortune, making (at the time) his second Olympic team.

4. 2004 Olympic Marathon (2nd). In order to avoid a charging dog while training, Keflezighi’s forced to maneuver in such a way that tweaks his right knee, resulting again in tendinitis. Fortunately on race day, the tendinitis never reared it’s head. In case you’re unfamiliar, the following episode made waves as at the ~22 mile mark. A defrocked Irish priest known for disrupting events, ran from the sidelines, and pushed the race leader (Brazil’s Vanderlei de Lima) into the crowd. While de Lima was able to resume, speculation exists if it cost him the gold. Stefano Baldini of Italy and Keflezighi then chased down de Lima, with Keflezighi finishing in 2nd.

5. 2004 New York City Marathon (2nd). Outside of another outstanding marathon finish, there’s few highs and lows for Keflezighi.

6. 2005 New York City Marathon (3rd). Marathon #6 was supposed to be in London of the past Spring. Instead, Keflezighi has another run-in with a dog, aggravating his Achilles. Then, he ruptures his right quad while racing at a 10K World Championship in Helinski, Finland. (See what I mean about getting hurt a lot?) Still, Keflezighi heals quickly in time for a strong NYC finish.

7. 2006 Boston Marathon (3rd). Keflezighi goes out too fast and hits the Wall in the Newton Hills.

8. 2006 New York City Marathon (20th). Think: Murphy’s Law. With the race approaching, Keflezighi deals with a hurt hamstring and the flu. Then his luggage gets lost on the trip to NYC. Then food poisoning.

9. 2007 London Marathon (DNF). The only DNF of Keflezighi’s marathon career. While training for London, he develops a massive blister on his left foot, requiring hospitalization (it burdened Keflezighi the rest of his career). During London the left foot wound throws off his run form, impacting Keflezighi’s Achilles. He calls it a day at mile 16.

10. 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials (8th). Calf and hip pain impact Keflezighi’s performance. More notably, his training partner Ryan Shay dies at the same race, leaving Keflezighi distraught.

11. 2009 London Marathon (9th). An MRI reveals the hip pain Keflezighi endured during the 2008 Trials to be a pelvic stress fracture. While rebuilding his body, and attempting to again race, Keflezighi then injures his hip extensor muscle. With extensive therapy, training resumes. Ultimately, Keflezighi PRs in London (2:09:21).

12. 2009 New York City Marathon (1st). A perfect training season produces a perfect race result.

13. 2010 Boston Marathon (5th). Patellar tendinitis impacts training for Boston (Keflezighi slips and lands on his knee while clearing snow off his car). While the knee comes around by race day, he ruptures his quad during the race.

14. 2010 New York City Marathon (6th). Pre-race, a solid training season. Still, his body doesn’t fully execute on race day. Keflezighi’s age now 35.

15. 2011 New York City Marathon (6th). Keflezighi mistakenly races with a Breathe Right strip lodged in his left shoe. He doesn’t stop to rectify the issue out of concern for lost time. Then, stomach issues (vomiting) start at mile 20. Still, while he PRs in 2:09:13, his left foot (to be precise, toe) is now an infected mess.

16. 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials (1st). Coming off NYC, his left foot injury results in an abbreviated training window. Nonetheless, the injury heals as is indicated by this finish.

17. 2012 Olympic Marathon (4th). During the race, Keflezighi’s given the wrong water bottle. Then stomach cramping. His now regular left foot problem comes calling as well.

18. 2013 New York City Marathon (23rd). While training, a tear of the left soleus. Also, a hard fall deeply gashes his knee. Keflezighi feels beat up going into the race. Then, hip-flexor issues at mile 19.2 force a stop-and-go pace the rest of the race.

19. 2014 Boston Marathon (1st). We all know about this result, right?

20. 2014 New York City Marathon (4th). 40 mile per hour winds happen on race day. Keflezighi arrives healthy but short on fitness (his usual left foot issue required healing coming out of Boston). At the race, when the leader surges, Keflezighi “…wasn’t able to change gears quickly enough.” Keflezighi’s age now 39.

21. 2015 Boston Marathon (8th). In the 2nd half of the race, Keflezighi repeatedly vomits, resulting in brief stops.

22. 2015 New York City Marathon (7th). With 10K to go, aggressors start pushing the pace to a sub-4:30 mile. Quickly stressed, Keflezighi backs off. Ultimately he finishes in 2:13:32, setting the U.S. masters record.

23. 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials (2nd). After a conservative 15 miles for the lead pack, Tyler Pennel increases the pace to 4:52. Only Keflezighi and Galen Rupp keep up. At mile 20, Pennel falters. Rupp and Keflezighi pull away (finishing in that order).

24. 2016 Olympic Marathon (33rd). Acknowledging it’s his last Olympics, Keflezighi and family soak up the experience (although still arriving on race day in what he considered to be peak performance). Halfway into the race, Keflezighi’s starts throwing up due to hard running in the Brazilian heat. More vomiting occurs, again and again. Finally reaching the finish, which was slippery, Keflezighi falls, and does a few push-ups to the crowd’s delight.

25. 2017 Boston Marathon (13th). At the 12 mile mark, the lead pack, which Keflezighi had been a part of, starts pushing the pace. Keflezighi’s unable to cover the move. Physically, he’s just wiped out.

26. 2017 New York City Marathon (11th). Before the race, a repeat trip to Eritrea gooses Keflezighi to race a final time. At age 42, he feels good at the start. Then at mile 21, Keflezighi again has heat-related troubles and feels the urge to vomit. He acknowledges his “…body was more affected by adversity once I was in my forties.” Keflezighi treats the final miles as a celebration of his career.

Constructive criticism? Nothing, really. Just be aware, some may consider the book’s writing style to be unique. It’s not so much the more familiar… coming-of-age delivery that gradually runs it’s course. Instead, it’s specifically about “26 MARATHONS”.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “26 MARATHONS”: During his professional career, immediately prior to a race, Keflezighi would typically toe the line weighing in at 121 lbs.

#Follow Meb Keflezighi Here and Scott Douglas: Here

Finding Ultra

By Rich Roll
400 pp. Harmony. $17.00.

As a highly functional alcoholic, Rich Roll maintained some semblance of success in his young adult years (graduating from Stanford and Cornell Law). Then, in his early professional career, Roll’s ability to keep his alcoholism in check became undone. Whether it be prison, homelessness, or even death, every possible outcome was plausible. However, for Roll, this precarious position wasn’t always the norm. True, when he reflects upon his formative years, he refers to himself as an awkward child. Friendless and nonathletic, he was cross-eyed, and as such wore an eye patch in an effort to correct the condition. A sense of early salvation does arrive, courtesy the pool. Swimming is Roll’s natural physical talent. He was spurned by his school’s social scene and lacked any desire to assuage the matter. Instead, Roll choose to be all-consumed by his studies and swimming. It was strictly, “…studying, sleeping, training, and racing.” This dedication culminated in acceptances from the likes of Harvard and Princeton. However, he would ultimately be swayed by Stanford’s palm trees, despite the university offering no swim scholarship (instead, “walk-on” status). Notably, it was this time in Roll’s life that would mark the beginning of his near total downfall.

Alcohol. Roll receives an introduction to it while touring colleges on swim-related recruiting trips. He embraced it’s effects. Drinking puts him at ease. The social awkwardness that had always been a part of Roll’s existence vanishes. Of course, the rigors of maintaining Stanford’s studies and swim athletics, with a steady reliance on the bottle proves a poor mix. A week before his first Stanford swim meet, an inebriated Roll breaks 2 ribs while leaping over rain-slicked aluminum bleachers at a Stanford football game. He summons the strength to still compete in the meet, and competes well. However, for Roll, it’s the beginning of the end. Ultimately, he drops off the swim team, yet still manages to graduate. Now, largely listless in life, Roll follows his father’s career path as a lawyer. Lacking any enthusiasm for it, his next step was paralegal work in New York City. Roll’s lack of fondness for the job doesn’t deter him from applying, and being accepted to, Cornell Law School. (A brief segue here. Roll is clearly highly intelligent. “Finding Ultra”, which he authored, is fundamentally well written.) No surprise, even with with his demons in tow, Roll also manages to graduate from Cornell. Throughout it all, he describes himself as a “…drunken wanderlust”.

The subsequent years, marked by boorish drunken behavior (ie, poor job performance, multiple DWIs, etc.), take their toll and Roll hits rock bottom. He cycles thru Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with fleeting success. Finally, his father calls him out, demanding he see a psychologist. Ultimately, this puts Roll on a path to healthy living. He enlists for an extended stay in a treatment facility, getting his life in order. Then, seeking happiness, Roll quits his job, sets up his own law practice, and finds true love (“Julie”). What follows next is an even more remarkable transformation. With his alcoholism in check, poor life choices remain. Namely, his subpar diet and lack of exercise. A moment of fear ensnares him (gasping for air while simply climbing steps), setting off what can best be described as a rebirth. Roll goes on to become, as he describes, entirely “Plantplowered”, as well as a x2 Ultraman Finisher. Roll also accomplishes what’s described as the EPIC5 (5 Hawaiian-based Ironman triathlon finishes in less than 7 days). In no way should my lack of deep dive into these accomplishments take away from their grandeur. Amazing feats to say the least.

Constructive criticism? The reader is expected to take a considerable leap. What I mean is, the book evolves from Roll, having access to great resources in his young life to do great things only to come up markedly short, to his basically re-branding himself as a life-coach. A sense of preaching occurs in the book’s later pages. Eat only plants. Shoot your TV. Do only what you love and have faith everything will work itself out. Replace self-seeking acts with servitude. That said, give Roll credit. First, for providing full disclosure into his unfortunate past, then eliciting what can best be described as opting in for the cleanest possible lifestyle. It deserves acknowledgement, if we were all to embrace Roll’s present day life choices, the world would be a better place.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Finding Ultra”: While once embarking on a 130-mile bicycle ride at 4 AM, Roll nearly froze due to a lack of proper cold weather gear, as well as becoming delirious, a result of miscalculating caloric intake. His sad state was cemented with an overdrawn ATM card. Without the necessary supplies he was forced to dumpster-dive behind a restaurant, eating old, half-eaten fries, onion rings, and cheeseburgers. (The precariousness of his position deserves consideration, given Roll’s strict vegan diet.)

#Follow Rich Roll Here

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Marathon Man

By Bill Rodgers, Matthew Shepatin
336 pp. Thomas Dunne Books. $28.99.

“In order to win the race, sometimes you have to go a little berserk.” Perhaps you’re familiar with this phrase? It’s source is “Marathon Man”. This top tier run-based book, written by Bill Rodgers and Matthew Shepatin, checks all the boxes. Many similar books struggle with describing the achievements of it’s author (or subject) while keeping said person’s ego in check. Not so here. Rodgers is a humble pleasure. The period prior to Rodgers’ running glory consists mostly of episodes of the average youth and you may very well relate (albeit, in his childhood, his running prowess is clear). However, when the time comes to turn the page, to leverage the natural talent he’s been gifted, Rodgers flips the switch and his focus becomes fully engaged. Many of the book’s chapters are split between his passing miles in the 1975 Boston Marathon and his coming of age. For both his running and personal life, Rodgers shares his peaks and valleys.

Much of Rodgers’ notable life experiences are touched by his older brother, Charlie, and friend Jason Kehoe. The “three musketeers” grew up together. Prior to the start of the 1975 Boston Marathon. Charlie dashes to the local hardware store and returns with gardening gloves for Rodgers’ pre race frozen fingers (later, as the day warmed, Rodgers refused to part with the gloves). After college, all three were granted conscientious objector status to the Vietnam war, requiring them to find work that (in some way) contributed to the interests of the nation. As two young adults trying to establish themselves in Boston with questionable success, Kehoe and Rodgers further bonded during this time. His running greatness not yet realized, it’s easy to relate to Rodgers’ young adult years. Much later, the three manage the “Bill Rodgers Running Center” store in the Cleveland Circle locale.

As stated previously, Rodgers’ background interjects as the 1975 Boston race unfolds. Regarding those 26.2 miles, “Marathon Man” reads as if Rodgers is taking you along for the ride. It’s enthralling. Each passing mile more fascinating than the last. Notably, “Marathon Man” makes it’s clear Amby Burfoot has endeared himself to Rodgers. While both attended Wesleyan college, Burfoot takes the younger Rodgers under his wing, advocating him to embrace his running talent. Rodgers wins 1975 Boston (2:09:55). Burfoot, the 1968 Boston winner, ran it in 1975 as well, in 2:21:20. In doing so he actually bested his 1968 winning time. Burfoot credits his 1975 time with his desire to reach the finish as quickly as possible in order to better experience Rodgers’ victory.

Personally, a re-occurring thinking point was that Rodgers could have produced 2 books here. First, the coming of age/1975 Boston Marathon thread. Second, the non-Boston running experiences (also included in “Marathon Man”) are just as enjoyable and there’s no shortage. Four New York City Marathon victories. His battles with running great Frank Shorter. Racing the Fukuoka Marathon. Running the Silver Lake Dodge 30K in “ratty jeans” (and finishing 3rd). Rodgers’ impact on both the Greater Boston Track Club and the infamous Falmouth Road Race. Winning the bronze medal at the World Cross Country Championships in Morocco (only the second American man to ever medal at the World XCs). His Olympic accomplishments. Joyfully, “Marathon Man” contains so much, the list seemingly endless.

Constructive criticism? Rodgers chasing butterflies in fields is a popular talking point. Literally. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher. It does seem to encapsulate his general life perspective. Not in an aloof or distracted way. More so easy-going, and embracing a sense of bliss. Rodgers’ vantage is one of good health and, fortunately, can be contagious.

For balancing his running with a 9-to-5 job, the 2018 Boston Marathon champion Yuki Kawauchi has been referred to as “citizen runner”. Think of Bill Rodgers as “everyman runner”. While driving to countless New England road races he purposely takes side roads to avoid the Massachusetts Turnpike due to his inability to pay the tolls (in Rodgers’ heyday, instead of cash, race winners were awarded a blender, or a table, tires, a bike, etc.). He’s experienced two divorces. Also, Rodgers discloses he finished his last running of the Boston Marathon (2009) in 4:06. Of course, his history is filled with overwhelming greatness but, at times, it can also be plainly average. For this, Rodgers is so very relatable and embracing.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Marathon Man”: In the 1907 Boston Marathon, near the Framingham train station, Canadian Tom Longboat was forced to leap through the open door of a passing train, and out the other side, in order to keep up with the lead pack of runners. The train severed the pack from the remaining runners. Longboat eventually won.

#Follow Bill Rodgers Here and Matthew Shepatin Here

What Made Maddy Run

By Kate Fagan
320 pp. Back Bay Books. $16.99.

The book’s jacket declares the conclusion to “What Made Maddy Run”. Turning the pages, the progression to Maddy Holleran’s demise is certain. A futile longing for any alternate conclusion was a constant in my mind. Examining the events preluding the breakdown of this beautiful, brilliant, and wonderfully athletic person can be distressing. Coming out of high school, Holleran’s light shines with a sky’s-the-limit intensity. In shockingly little time, promise turns to tragedy. As with every suicide, only so much can be retrieved from the victim’s mind. Author Kate Fagan performs this investigation in admirable fashion, bringing to light social media’s ability to misdirect, and compels every parent, friend, and neighbor to strive for better awareness of each other’s mental health.

“What Made Maddy Run” maintains a balance. Fagan shares the consequential events she’s able to glean from Holleran’s text and Instagram posts, as well as family and friend recounts. That discourse is complemented with broader, culture-based discussions, profiling different aspects of our society which contribute to the proliferation of suicidal tendencies. Also, there are similarities in the backgrounds of Fagan and Holleran. Here, Fagan enlists these parallels, perhaps in attempt to make Holleran’s woes more relatable, thereby bringing greater exposure to her demons.

Holleran graduates high school on the upswing. Her youth had long been about preparing for the next chapter (college). She succeeded academically but it appears her athleticism garnered greater acclaim. She loved soccer and excelled at it, specifically finding joy in the team-based aspect of the sport. She’s recruited by Lehigh University and verbally commits. However, when soccer is out of season, Holleran maintains her fitness running track, and in the second half of her high school career it’s her running talents that stand out. Her fast times earn the attention of Harvard and Penn. She would never attend Lehigh. Instead, the Ivy League allure leads Holleran to Penn.

In college now, this period would be the antithesis of her high school experience. Overwhelmed by the demands of competing at the Division 1 level, Holleran loses her lust for running. In the classroom, Holleran had difficulty adjusting to the concept of being graded on a curve (whereas, formally her grades were based directly on her individual performance). Her confidence erodes. Thinning, Holleran shows the physical impacts of stress. Upon fall semester completion, the girl that arrived at Penn, smiling and light-hearted, returns home depressed, clearly unhappy.

Holleran discusses potential solutions with family and friends. Transfer to another school? Take a semester off? Holleran’s unclear whether doing so equates to a cure-all, but believes quitting track is her best option. She returns to Penn post winter break. Positive and forward looking, she tries enforcing a new mindset. Also, she meets her coach, Steve Dolan, and delivers a well-rehearsed notice for ending her track participation. Dolan responds with overtures intended to sway her back to the team. Holleran’s compelled to remain. Shortly thereafter, the new mindset would give way to darkness. Sadly, this time, Holleran surrenders to her demons.

Quality, constructive comments aren’t always easy to discern and “What Made Maddy Run” deserves this designation. Oddly, an impression related to the book’s font size was persistent. It’s enormous. Is that a silly critique? Perhaps it’s intended to attract young adult readers? At least it’s friendly to the farsighted reader. While the book is 300+ pages, you may may feel underwhelmed if you value quantity. Quality on the other hand? Running for a copy of “What Made Maddy Run” is recommended.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “What Made Maddy Run”: In a testament to it’s highly regarded place in the running community, the novel “Once A Runner” is referenced in these pages. Holleran’s coach assigns it to her to read over winter break. In turn, Holleran references a portion of it to Dolan in her attempt to explain her intention to quit track, notably the “fatigue-depression” state she asserts to running.

#Follow Kate Fagan Here

Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness

By Suzy Favor Hamilton
304 pp. Dey Street Books. $15.99.

Do you know anyone with bipolar disorder? Personally, this was an important consideration while progressing through “Fast Girl”. Bipolar, or manic depression, can produce shocking behavior. Defined as “a mental condition marked by alternating periods of elation and depression”, those words don’t seem to sufficiently paint a bipolar person’s potential careless, narcissistic actions. Undoubtedly, some will damn author Suzy Favor Hamilton for her acts that make the book anything but dull. Strive to avoid this prosecution. Having observed the deeds of a bipolar person, who is very much a part of my life, did help provide perspective. “Mommy’s brain doesn’t always work right,” Suzy’s husband, Mark Hamilton, explains to their young daughter. It’s a simple, accurate declaration.

In her early years, Hamilton, a three-time Olympian, manages her mental afflictions with running. One of 4 children in her family, her brother “Dan” matched her high energy output. This would not be the only likeness between them (i.e., bipolar). During Suzy’s childhood, Dan’s poor behavior generates greater social problems, retaining more of his family’s concerns. Dan successfully gains medical help, managing his behavior with a drug cocktail. However, his battle would ultimately end in great sorrow. Dan, ceasing his meds, decides to take his life.

Hamilton’s natural inclination to run results in success on her middle and high school’s track and cross country teams, obsessing to win at all times. She earns a U.S Junior Nationals win, leading to bigger aspirations for her athletic career. Earning full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, more running excellence occurs in college and Olympic dreams abound. During this time, Hamilton exhibits bulimia (eating disorder) tendencies, believing there to be a link in starving herself and winning races. Her college career would consist of nine NCAA track championships (at the time the most for any athlete). During her college career she also meets and later marries a University of Wisconsin baseball player (her husband, Mark). Post college, Hamilton signs on to numerous endorsement deals, highlighted by Reebok. Her focus is now the Olympics. She competes in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 editions.

Her Olympic appearances now behind her, “Fast Girl” segues to it’s more scandalous content. Hamilton gives birth to a daughter and she and her husband set up a real estate business. However, the venture doesn’t hold her focus (although Mark does leverage it to provide a source of income for the family). Instead, Hamilton finds herself cratering in postpartum depression. That depression ignites Hamilton’s still undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which is unintentionally further boosted by a drug (Zoloft) meant to manage the depression. A wedding anniversary trip to Vegas is life altering. Hamilton proposes that an escort tryst would be a welcome addition to their well-played romance. The experience puts her on a path of no return. Hamilton decides the escort life is for her, becoming fully employed in it’s shady dealings. “Fast Girl” expounds on this very dark, seedy period in Hamilton’s life (i.e., for mature readers only). Ultimately, Hamilton is outed by a reporter from “The Smoking Gun” website. She, and her family, are dragged through the ordeal of exposing Hamilton’s double life to the public. A suicide attempt results in a hospital stay for Hamilton, which finally produces a bipolar disorder diagnosis.

Throughout it all, Hamilton’s husband is aware of her actions. He strives to hold their family together and provides some semblance of normalcy for their daughter. (Mark deserves consideration for every humanitarian award in existence.) Their extended family, of course initially shocked by the news of Hamilton’s boorish behavior, chooses forgiveness. Credit Hamilton for her willingness to tell her story and desire to now assist others with mental health education.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness”: During a 1986 NCAA track and field 10,000 meter championship race, Kathy Ormsby, a top college runner, found herself fledgling in fourth place. Her response was to veer off the course and jump from a bridge resulting in paralysis. In “Fast Girl”, Hamilton shares Ormsby’s example as another instance of dark, depressive tendencies.

#Follow Suzy Favor Hamilton Here

Born To Run

By Christopher McDougall
304 pp. Vintage. $16.00.

The Google search: “Born To Run fiction or nonfiction” populated before I could finish typing it (i.e., it’s a popular question). Of course, I know it’s non-fiction, but it can read alternatively. Highly descriptive in a storytelling sense, the book paints scenes in a manner I more closely associate with fiction. There are two related tales in these pages, woven together. The Mexican Tarahumara Indians, also known as the Rarámuri (the Running People), are investigated for their running prowess. Their highly successful ability have little, if any, footwear assistance, and the virtues of their technique are extolled. Meanwhile, under debate are the utilities that man has become reliant on (shoe inserts, excessive soles, convoluted nutrition remedies, wonky coaching methods, etc.), taking us away from our ancestral means, and the resulting harm we’re doling out to ourselves.

“Born To Run” didn’t particularly engage me in the first several chapters. In these early pages a number of introductions occur for people that are further associated with different nomenclatures. This can be frustrating. In Mexico, author Christopher McDougall is in search of Caballo Blanco (a.k.a. the White Horse, or rather Mike Hickman, alternatively Micah True, “Shaggy” as well, etc.). McDougall considers Caballo, whose homeland straddles the US-Mexico border, as a bridge to the Tarahumara Indians. McDougall tells the story of these people and their wondrous running ways. They live a secluded life in an isolated locale known as the Copper Canyons. It’s an incredibly dangerous place and McDougall goes to great lengths to impress upon the reader that the hostile journey required to reach it (e.g., drug cartels, gangs, and treacherous environment) is just as perilous as the seemingly haunted destination itself.

McDougall moves to the infamous Leadville Trail 100, telling terrific tales from it’s enthralling background. For instance, Leadville running legend Marshall Ulrich improved his finishing times by having his toenails surgically removed. “They kept falling off anyway,” Ulrich said. Leadville helps explain the association between Caballo and the Tarahumara. During the 1990’s, the Tarahumara were coaxed into racing Leadville several times. At 50 miles, racers are allowed pacers and through a chance encounter, Caballo would come to pace a Tarahumara runner and a relationship was established. The Tarahumara found success in Leadville; however, the ensuing tense reactions, between organizers and the representative of the Tarahumara, stressed and alarmed the foreigners. Their response was to retreat to their secretive world and not return.

Caballo’s running skill is cultivated by the Tarahumara, and he extends these teachings to McDougall. Caballo also divulges to McDougall a grand plan. If the Tarahumara would not return to America, the Americans would come to the Tarahumara for a grand race. Caballo actually convinces ultra star Scott Jurek to join. Together, McDougall and Caballo further assemble a team of misfit, albeit successful, ultra runners to make the trek to the Copper Canyons. However, questions persist. Will the Americans survive the journey to the race? And will the Tarahumara agree to compete?

“Born To Run” segues to a minimalist running discussion. Barefoot running is heralded. Blame for poor stride and lower back pain are connected to cushioned soles. A convincing argument is made for associating knee injuries and weak feet with soft shoes. Our natural movements are being bastardized by those hefty Hokas. The topic takes a significant deep dive, and is none too kind to the shoe industry in the process, but to surmise: Humans are designed to run without shoes. The topic of HOW you should be running then becomes an extension of the discourse. What the Tarahumara do is described as “body art”. “No one else on the planet has made such a virtue out of self-propulsion,” McDougall’s coach said. The reader is then taken back in time, running with cavemen, and chasing wild antelopes over great plains.

The finale is laid bare. The Americans arrive in the Copper Canyons and the Tarahumara are game to run. The great race is a pleasurable passage, particularly Jurek versus the elite Tarahumara. “Born To Run” needs, and deserves, patience. While it does pick up speed as it progresses, it’s not a quick read. Most importantly, it delivers a quality contemplation, and might have you pondering which run gear items are truly essential, or just plain snake oil.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Born To Run”: No United States runner qualified with the 2:14 standard for the 2000 Olympics (Rod DeHaven did participate in the games, making the 2:15 “B” standard).

#Follow Christopher McDougall Here

Ultramarathon Man

By Dean Karnazes
295 pp. TarcherPerigee. $14.95.

Some books are deep dives. We’ve all reached for a lengthy read, scanned it’s heavy, thought provoking content, and debated whether or not the present time was appropriate for embracing the offerings of said book. “Ultramarathon Man” offers a care free pass from such considerations. It’s chapters are fun, easy, and it reads fast. It’s a good match for the person with the perpetual hectic schedule, who accuses their daily planner of thieving potential reading time.

From the seventh and eighth grade track team to an early mid life crisis moment (age 30), Dean Karnazes uses running as a means of finding a more purposeful, noble path in life. He wins a California State Long-Distance Championship (1 mile) and contributes as a freshman to a varsity cross-country championship. I love a good cross-country story, and radical nosebleeds stemming from physically bruising race conditions only added to my interest. However, the running accomplishments from Karnazes’s youth were fleeting. He puts his running ways on pause, stung by the hurtful criticism of a coaching mentor. Fifteen years would pass, with Karnazes expressing regret for occasional acts of debauchery during the span. Notably, it’s in this period that Karnazes is shaken by the accidental death of his beloved sister, Pary. The tragedy compels him to make better life choices. Later, it’s memories of Pary that help propel him through countless miles.

Moving to adulthood, running remains on hold as Karnazes finds success as a marketing executive. Inevitably, the drum beats of potential adventure garner more attention than the enticement of any corporate advancement. A 30th birthday reckoning with general lifestyle unhappiness gives way to an all night running bender, setting his life on a new course. There would be no return. “In the course of a single night I had been transformed from a drunken yuppie fool into a reborn athlete,” Karnazes said.

Impressive running accounts now ensue and become increasingly grander in scale. A sub 9 hour fifty mile race qualifies Karnazes for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. At that 100 mile recounting, Karnazes shares a compelling episode of nyctalopia (night blindness), brought on by low blood pressure and the bright light of day. A sub 24 hour Western States finish is followed by a couple Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathons (the first attempt resulting in an undoubtedly rare DNF for Karnazes). Next, a marathon distance run finishing at the actual South Pole provides a glimpse into weather conditions that truly prohibits running (or any outside exposure for that matter). Finally, a Calistoga to Santa Cruz (CA) 199 mile relay run is chronicled. Normally distributed among 12 person groups, Karnazes tackles the race as a team of 1. For perspective I recommend visiting Google Maps and entering the two locations.

Narcissistic criticism is not scarce for for this book. To which I ask: What do you expect? This is Dean Karnazes’s accounting for running achievements to which the vast human population (aside from a percentage so minuscule it likely cannot be calculated) has no aptitude. He’s run 226.2 miles in a single instance and, yes, that’s earned him the right to embellish. That said, unpretentious acts are a welcome inclusion to “Ultramarathon Man”. In particular, Karnazes’s charitable contributions to children battling life threatening diseases, the Special Olympics, environmental causes, as well the focus he applies to his own children, making clear that quality time is extended to them in abundance.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Ultramarathon Man”: It’s advised during Badwater’s 135 mile race to run on the white line edging the roadside. The line can reflect the day’s brutal heat, decreasing the likelihood of runners’ soles melting.

#Follow Dean Karnazes Here

Once A Runner

By John L. Parker, Jr.
304 pp. Scribner. $17.00.

As “Once a Runner” is regularly heralded as the greatest piece of running fiction ever produced (and I am, of course, a runner), the novel naturally held a reservation on my “to-do” list. Written in 1978, Parker’s Afterword acknowledges that some elements of “Once a Runner” harken to an earlier time (1960’s, Vietnam era). Objectively, I found it’s theme entrenched in it. Tones of the segregated, dim-witted South, the political connotations of that long ago era, and it’s resulting protester’s mentality, all run rampant. Personally, I don’t favor time spent dwelling on this unfavorable chapter in our country’s history. However, more specifically, Parker’s running discourse works for any time.

This is the story of hero runner Quenton Cassidy, attending (Florida-based) Southeastern University. A miler at heart and member of the track team, as Cassidy’s star is on the rise he’s taken under the wing of Olympic medalist Bruce Denton. Cassidy’s political ambitions then go awry when his protest of the university’s crackdown on the student body’s liberal ways results in his expulsion. With Denton’s assistance, Cassidy secludes himself in a remote cabin, focusing singularly on running with the goal of beating the greatest miler in the world (New Zealand’s John Walton) in the upcoming Southeastern Relays. However, the expelled Cassidy must first find a way to gain entry to the race…

Torturously, it takes a significant portion of the novel to establish the characters. Further, Parker’s excessive descriptions of events as well as Cassidy’s deep thoughts left me frustrated (prepare for tedious talk of Cassidy’s “demons”). Also, criticism for Parker’s promotion of excessive training (blood in urine), and condescension of the common runner (anyone not approaching 4 minute mile range), is warranted.

Clearly, Parker (a former track team member for the Florida University Gators and 4:06 miler) know’s the running subject. The novel has a cult following. Apparently, you can regularly find “Quenton Cassidy” registrations at races across the country. Perhaps you’ve seen or heard the phrase: “The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials”? It’s origin traces to “Once a Runner”. “You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years.” Personally, a favorite addendum to the novel involves Parker’s efforts to sell it. Publishers initially wanted nothing to do with it. Parker’s response was to start his own publishing house and print 5,000 copies, selling it at races, and making deliveries to book and run stores (asking only that they repay him for copies sold).

Google “Once a Runner” and you’ll find fast evidence of it’s fan allegiance (over 100,000 copies sold). The tale does improve after a slow start (I’m glad I didn’t give up on it). Again, Parker’s knowledgeable discussion of running grants it at least a satisfactory status (you know, like pizza, even when it’s bad it’s pretty good). Perhaps the concept of a fictional run-based read has something to do with my trepidation. What I mean is, aren’t most runners constantly striving to learn and improve our run abilities? Personally, that has me seeking more teachings in the form of truth (i.e., non-fiction). It’s this line of virtuous thinking that’s holds my allegiance and is likely why I’m humored by the novel’s dramatic conclusion. It revolves around an instance of “banditing” and attempts to paint it in a noble sense.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Once a Runner”: In case you align yourself with the cult of “Once a Runner” devotees, the novel spawned a sequel “Again to Carthage” (2008), as well as a prequel “Racing the Rain” (2015).

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

By Haruki Murakami
192 pp. Vintage. $15.00.

While the athletic accomplishments Haruki Murakami shares are both entertaining and reputable, it’s fair to say “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” was not intended to raise the bar of renowned running achievements. However, where I do find Murakami setting a standard is with his writing style. It’s easy to interpret his thoughts from his words. There’s a tangible, successful transfer of skilled oratory range to his eloquent writings. (I envision Murakami as talented a speaker as he is a writer.) This ease of comprehension enhanced my ability to recollect much of the book’s contents well after reading the Afterword. He’s poetic. Murakami’s words left me recollecting the smell of ocean salt as he’s telling it, seeking warmth for his interpretation of a cool New England’s autumn morning, and with a salivating mouth for one of his ritual post run beers. Likely, anyone with an interest in reading, or more accurately, writing, has in the past found themselves wanting to emulate a certain style. Admittedly, I wish I could write like Haruki Murakami.

Murakami is quite the worldly traveler. His memoir (mostly) spans Boston, Hawaii, Athens, New York City, and throughout Japan. These pages are as much about his professional experiences as they are of sport (a well received overlap as I’m often keen on learning how others find time to both run and pay the mortgage).  In his early post college years, Murakami owned a Tokyo-based jazz club. Lacking a business background, he still found a path to success. Hard work and some family business acumen on the part of his wife played roles. From here he sets course to fulfill the far flung notion of writing a novel. It doesn’t necessarily seem he’s against his life as a club owner. More so that Murakami is necessarily attracted to the idea of being a novelist. He writes 200 pages and sends the work to a magazine’s new-writers competition. His expectations can be surmised by his decision to forgo making a copy of his work before parting with it. But no matter. Murakami wins. He juggles the club and writing for awhile before forsaking the prior and wholeheartedly embracing the later.

While writing has it’s place in this book, it’s the word “running” that’s in the title. His informal Athens marathon recollection kept me engaged. In Pheidippides-like fashion, he covers the Athens to the town of Marathon distance (albeit nearly faltering due to heat stroke). Next, his sixty-two mile ultra run brought pause to my future considerations for going past 26.2. Although not for what he endured during the race. Instead, Murakami expresses a trauma-like effect in the wake of the experience, directly diminishing his drive to run. As in, if you associate Murakami’s running passion with a horse, by the end of the 62 miles he had beaten the animal to death. (Time heals wounds and later his call to run is revived.) Those with a curious interest in triathlons may find satisfaction in his plain talk of the matter. Unexpectedly, Murakami traverses the (non-running) intricacies of swimming and biking. In general, his athletic wisdom is refreshing in that he doesn’t instruct the reader how to perform better in running, biking, swimming, etc. Instead, he describes what has, and has not, worked for him. He professes his lack of desire to better anyone’s athletic accomplishments (aside from his own). A recurring theme throughout “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” reflects upon Murakami’s increasing build to the 2005 New York City Marathon. Oddly, few words are devoted to the actual event (but his talk of many other races and triathlons brought me satisfaction).


#DidYouKnow courtesy “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”: When running our knees are burdened with supporting 3 times our body weight (as each of our steps gives thrust, propelling ourselves). Notably, our soles do lessen the stress. Still, as Murakami contends, knees are not replaceable. (Not easily, anyway.)

#Follow Haruki Murakami Here

The Incomplete Book of Running

By Peter Sagal
208 pp. Simon & Schuster. $27.00.

“The Incomplete Book of Running” speaks well to the stereotypical middle-aged male, married with 2.5 kids, and runs to find peace (there certainly are a lot of us). Based on the number of occasions I found myself Googling definitions, Sagal is a true wordsmith. In a therapeutic sense, he uses these pages to navigate the divorce proceedings he’s processing. The title, “The Incomplete Book of Running”, is appropriate. It’s a scattered collection of (mostly) running-based topics. Throughout, Sagal invokes his great wit and wisdom, successfully illuminating a path to better wellness.

There’s no shortage of Boston-themed running in “The Incomplete Book of Running”. While Sagal has run it previously as a qualifier, his 2013 journey as a guide is detailed (Team With A Vision). Next, Sagal reflects upon Jim Fixx’s 1977 book “The Complete Book of Running”, encapsulating it’s discussion of running’s bare essentials (at the time, $20 to $40 run shoes and a pair of shorts were sufficient). Sagal continues to impress with his charitable run accomplishments, detailing his award as top fund raiser in the “Cupid’s Undie Run” for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. He ponders if the $4,000 raised is actually his top running achievement.

A consideration for running without headphones is introduced, then detours into a non-running related subject: Why our Constitution works. After reading it twice I’m still not certain why it’s discussed. Nevertheless, I found it interesting but can understand why some might question it’s inclusion. Next, Sagal takes us through his experience of the Boston Marathon bombing. His vivid descriptions did much for my mind’s imagery of that fateful day.

Reflecting upon both healthy and unhealthy choices, Sagal is forthcoming with his travails of proper weight management through food selection and running. Earlier in life he survived, what he now believes, were episodes of anorexia. Presently, he’s much more at peace with his diet, as well as his physical self, and to the betterment of the reader he shares with us how he arrived at this tranquility. Next, a running accident is shared (Sagal breaks his back due to a car collision). Also, he describes how troublesome GI issues have impacted his running.

Moving on, an endeavor from which Sagal gained a helpful dose of perspective is detailed. He volunteers to discuss his Boston Guide experience and runs with a group of visually impaired students. As a result, Sagal is compelled to re-assess his own troubles. Later, the internet hawks come after Sagal for banditing 20 miles of the Chicago Marathon. Anyone with an opinion on the matter (e.g., @MarathnInvestgr tweets) will be engrossed in this content as Sagal weighs the severity of his sin.

Sagal’s knowledge of training plans is shared. He forgoes the “Run Less, Run Faster” plan (run every other day, off days consisting of cross training, providing time for the body to heal) for a more aggressive plan in a marathon PR push. By 11+ minutes he succeeds, finishing Philadelphia in 3:09. Finally, the book comes full circle as Sagal runs the 2014 Boston edition. He’s compelled to return after the bombing. Sagal contemplates the dangers of running as he had witnessed a death due to cardiomyopathy in Philadelphia. The odds are incredibly small but real. Realizing he’s running Boston that very day, Sagal decidedly moves on from this train of thought. Afterwards, he tells the tale of Jacob Seilheimer’s entertaining Boston (bandit) run. With no running background, and 3 month’s before the marathon, Jacob would drop his weight from 450 to 360 lbs. Jacob doesn’t start the race until all registrants had already done so and finishes in roughly 8 hours. Further details of Jacob’s background are revealed: Lyme’s disease and a brain tumor leading to surgery, radiation, and chemo. The cancer would later return. It’s difficult to not cheer for Jacob.

Darker days now seemingly in the past, a new house, finance, and adding a couple dogs to his life have buoyed Sagal’s outlook. While suggesting his PR attempts have been put to rest, running continues to play a critical role in Sagal’s life.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “The Incomplete Book of Running”: At the 2013 Boston Marathon, a runner and her wheel chair bound daughter were shielded from bomb shrapnel by a relative that was banditing the race.

#Follow Peter Sagal Here

Reborn On The Run

By Catra Corbett and Dan England
240 pp. Skyhorse Publishing. $24.99.

Catra Corbett found a path. It was necessary, of course. The alternative was death. That path (or trail) was discovering ultra running and runners will surely enjoy it’s discussion in “Reborn On The Run”. However, Corbett’s brutal life experiences, which seemingly both feed into and are produced by her list of maladies (depression, anxiety, addiction, anorexia, and suicidal thoughts) paces the ultra topic. Without filter, she shares her darkest days and explains how running helps illuminate the way to a better life. Her discourse in ultras brought delight to this reviewer. The physical and mental challenges a successful ultra runner needs to circumvent are artfully described.

In Catra’s 20’s, life circulated around working at a salon and Goth scene clubbing. She loved club dancing and it was also a means of staying lean. Meth gave her the ability to do it endlessly. At times, meth could lead to hallucinations and later she connects that to ultras. When ultra peers raced 75+ miles and started seeing demons in the darkness, she could relate. Returning now to her pre-running former self, Catra’s drug addiction spirals out of control and she’s arrested for selling. The experience of jail shakes her to her core. She moves into her mother’s house and begins the slow climb to normalcy. At this time she finishes high school (as Valedictorian, no less).

In “Reborn On The Run”, Catra’s early life struggles dominate the initial chapters. The running subject mingles with these troubles and increasingly holds the focus as the book unfolds. Ironically, Catra hated running in her childhood years but ultimately it’s her savior. First, however, more personal troubles would be divulged. Upon reading of her father’s early death (heart attack) and molestation at the hands of a family friend, one easily associates Catra Corbett with the title, “survivor”.

On to recovery, 3 mile dog walks would lead to a 10K and road marathons. She runs past the clubs she would formally visit while on meth. Her running focus has now eclipsed that low point in her life. Her desire to run becoming increasingly insatiable, trail marathons follow and then ultras. Also, she credits running with helping her stay connected to her late father, who shared an interest in the sport. The magnitude of Catra’s ultra successes, as well as lessons learned in the sport, are now presented. Her eating disorder leads to difficulties with proper nutrition and, of course, blisters would have to be overcome. In particular, bladder infections would be an Achilles heel. While tough times persist (a divorce as well as more deaths including her mother and sister), Catra’s ultra-based conversations are thoroughly enjoyable. A long list of experiences are shared (Western States 100, the John Muir Trail, Bad Water, a trek across the continental U.S., and more).

“Reborn On The Run” has it’s share of grammatical (autocorrect?) errors. Don’t let that preclude your selection of this book (her recounts of connecting with nature on the run has me considering ultra registrations). However, it’s an occasional nuisance.

Catra Corbett has run hundred-milers a hundred times and a few two hundred milers. She’s an overall winner of The Razorback Endurance Race (100 miles) in San Martin, CA. As she ages, Catra’s now setting comparable goals. Running forty-eight straight days upon turning fort-eight, running fifty hours upon turning fifty, etc. Running’s been good to her. It’s saved her. Clearly, she’s been reborn.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Reborn on the Run”: The Western States 100 was a horse race before it was a human racing event. In 1974, while horses were competing in the event, Gordy Ainsleigh was the first to do it on foot, completing the 100 miles in 23 hours, 42 minutes.

#Follow Catra Corbett: Here

Running Is My Therapy

By Scott Douglas
288 pp. The Experiment. $19.95.

“Running Is My Therapy” delves into the therapeutic link running provides those dealing with depression and/or anxiety. It does so at a level intended to embrace all individuals. Without declaring his greatness, author Scott Douglas is a great runner. Don’t let that intimidate you. Early on he succeeds in conveying the notion: if you run, you are runner. His words are comforting as he explains how running can ease the aforementioned afflictions by way of both scientific study and his personal experiences. Like antidepressants, it’s unknown exactly how running helps. However, Douglas goes about connecting the dots in such a way that it’s hard not to believe. As in, no one can prove fewer greenhouse gas emissions helps curb global warming, but…

Douglas doesn’t limit the book’s direction to running’s impact on solely managing depression. He discusses in depth running’s impact on overall brain health. The expectation is not that every reader is both a runner AND impacted by depression (but if that’s the case for you then all the better). Douglas acknowledges his depression but lack of anxiety and this may well be the reason depression holds much of the book’s focus. That’s not to say anxiety is not discussed as an entire chapter is dedicated to it. Without yet enlisting antidepressants or therapy, Douglas discusses how running and better lifestyle choices can improve your mood (ie: run exertion level, time of day to run, running in natural environments, social connections, diet, sleep, etc.). Moving on, he also describes some potential side effects of each of the more widely regarded antidepressants available. What’s appreciated in this book is just as Douglas shares his robust research on the different topics, you also get his personal accounting when the matter applies to him. Also, the reader will better understand the potential of both professional and non-professional talk therapy. You’ll become familiar with the terms Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and mindfulness (“Stop looking at your damn watch and just run!”) and how they can lessen depression’s severity. Finally, a discussion of maintaining run goals at all times will keep you moving forward even when you may not have a race on the calendar.

In conjunction with running, Douglas goes about describing the many tools available for tackling depression. He references numerous scientific studies to support the logical conclusions of these different tools. In my view, it seemed “study-heavy” at times as I found myself re-reading this information in order to make sure I fully digested the science he’s conveying. However, maybe that’s my deficiency (and not his problem).

It’s refreshing that Douglas doesn’t try to represent running as the cure-all for maintaining mental health. He calls out this point making sure to declare running’s impactful limits. He also makes it deeply personal. Douglas describes in detail the different arrows in his own quiver he uses during his depressive episodes and why they may, or may not, work for others. If you’re like me, his accounting for his troubles will have you considering some experiences in your life. A pre read cursory look at “Running Is My Therapy” seemed to confirm my anticipation for this book. I eagerly jumped in and found this was an incredibly appropriate read for me. I’ve never been medically diagnosed with, nor have I ever sought treatment for, depression. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t wondered. As Douglas explains, for some, running is enough to manage depression. From a very early age, running has always made me feel better. Per Douglas “a healthy mind (or soul) in a healthy body” is Asics translated. Coincidentally, I’ve only ever worn Asics. Perhaps “Running Is My Therapy” will put your mind at ease, too.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Running Is My Therapy”: Alberto Salazar once ran the Falmouth Road Race with such exertion that he was administered last rites.

#Follow Scott Douglas: Here

Duel In The Sun

By John Brant
224 pp. Rodale Books. $15.95.

Curious is how I would summarize my pre-read thoughts for “Duel In The Sun”. Marathons are long, but how could the 1982 Boston Marathon fill 200+ pages? Well, multiple journeys would ensue. The deliberations of that Patriot’s Day are woven in and out of the life experiences of Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. The 1982 race discussion never strays far (the individual chapter number illustrations reflect the long shadows cast that day). However, this book’s center stage is also shared by what occurs prior to that Hopkinton start and beyond that Boston Finish. As book contributors, both Salazar and Beardsley offer sincere, honest accounts.

One comes away from this read accepting that Dick Beardsley is a cup is half full kind of guy. That said, he describes Salazar as a non-braggart and welding a simply honest persona. However, Salazar’s pre Boston words give pause to that status. “…well, the facts are plain; I’m the fastest man in the race.” Beginning in childhood, it’s Salazar’s work ethic that persists. However, as his physical prowess had not yet arrived, he was his own greatest challenger. Dealing himself repeated anguish. Charging towards athletic goals before his body was ready. That mentality fueled a fire. As his physical maturity caught up, the fire raged on. Further, in those rare cases that his physicality did not warrant top seed, he would outwork an opponent. His pain-threshold beyond comprehension.

Post 1982 Boston, Salazar is broken. The extreme stress of that day would illicit both a physical (asthma) and mental (depression) change that hampered his running ability for much of his remaining prime athletic years. He sets out on multiple journeys attempting to resolve these maladies and eventually discovers a modicum of relief (Prozac), leading to a 1994 Comrades Marathon victory. Trying to fend off injury, his self-prescribed buildup to winning that grueling 55 mile race put him in his basement doing the bulk of his training on a treadmill. His unquestionable, personal belief that no one would work harder had not wavered.

One of Salazar’s methods for mitigating his health woes involved a couple religious pilgrimages to Yugoslavia. While this matter is undoubtedly relevant, I found the number of pages devoted to it to be excessive. Perhaps others will embrace this content and won’t share my sentiment.

Beardsley’s pre-1982 Boston account follows a coming of age stemming from the Minnesota wilderness. It’s in these lands he finds several means (fishing, hunting, farming) of coping in an effort to steer clear of the alcoholism-fueled behaviors of both his mother and father. Beardsley then follows a much more aptly path in cross country running after a brief football try-out and subsequent trouncing. Next would be a moderately successful college career and then a return to farming until the draw of running would again capture Beardsley’s attention.

Much like Salazar, Beardsley post-Boston road is more associated with trauma than success. He would quickly succumb to an Achilles injury and then inevitably invite another round of Minnesota farming. It’s in this period that he tragically injures himself in a tractor-related accident. Brant (with Beardsley surely contributing) writes with frightening clarity the brutality of this event. Somehow avoiding death, it’s this dire occasion and seemingly impossible recovery that puts Beardsley on the path of a full-on drug addict (pain meds). The law catches up with him which enables Beardsley to narrowly escape death from addiction. Ultimately, he succeeds in finding a path to normalcy and, incredibly, Beardsley returns to running (for pleasure). He would post marathon times later in life in the 2:40s.

The post 1982 Boston upheaval for both men well in the past, Beardsley and Salazar do recognize their appreciation for one another. A greater mutual respect than was apparent on that fateful Patriot’s Day is real. A Beardsley-built half marathon brings Salazar to Minnesota. Now, whoever finishes first is irrelevant (and not disclosed).


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Duel In The Sun”: Bill Rodgers was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and gave up running during his CO service at a state mental hospital.