Born To Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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