Mini Book Review of “Only When I Step On It: One Man’s Inspiring Journey to His the Appalachian Trail Alone” by Peter Conti

Plagued by a past injury and chronic pain, this book chronicles author Peter Conti’s quest for healing on the Appalachian Trail. While not technically a thru hiker, Conti tackled the AT over the course of 2 years. His hypothesis was simple, to hike every mile of the AT, the chronic and severe pain he suffered from a hip injury would have to heal and, ultimately, disappear. Conti’s story is very much one of overcoming debilitation. I would recommend this for anyone who is at the wrong end of climb. It could be injury, age, weight, bad circumstances … whatever the obstacle, Conti’s story serves as an example of what can be accomplished with patience, grit, and determination.

Mini Book Review of “Did Not Finish: Misadventures in Running, Cycling, and Swimming” by George Mahood

Parts of this little book were witty and quite enjoyable and George Mahood is a talented writer, however, I grew tired if the random stream of conscience that meandered between running, biking, and swimming anecdotes. It was entertaining at best and irrelevant at worst. It was sort of like reading an extended magazine article … suited well for passing the time in a waiting room, but not much else.

Mini Book Review of “Out and Back” by Hillary Allen

On the surface, this is an amazing story of an endurance athlete overcoming injury to return to her sport. It’s value, however, is at a deeper level. Hillary Allen conquered more then just a physical injury. Basically, the sport of trail running, her passion, tried to kill her. The mental baggage and struggle that ensued would have been too much for some people, but Allen leaned into the tenacity that makes her an elite trail runner to begin with and forged a path to recovery. There is a lesson to be learned from her experience. As a novice, weekend runner, I wonder if it is possible to tap into the same kind of tenacity Allen put on display. Injury? Illness? Obstacles? Is it possible to just keep living and adjust until you are able to overcome?

Hillary Allen has a great deal to teach the reader in this book and I enjoyed my glimpse into the mental space she lives in.

Mini Book Review of “Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike” by John Gignilliat

While not a literary masterpiece, this book is charming. It details the daily journal of a couple’s thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. It includes the interesting things they saw, people they encountered, places they stayed, and even their meals. A careful read will glean some good tips that can be used on extended hiking trips. I may never get to thru-hike the entire AT, but I hope to put some of the author’s tips to good use. I gave this book five stars simply because I find the topic so interesting. If you don’t share my interest in the Appalachian Trail or extended hiking trips, this may not be the book for you.

Mini Book Review of ‘Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink’ by Nita Sweeney

Having stumbled upon this author and her running memoir on Twitter, I decided to take a chance on it. I am glad I did as I found myself identifying with it on many levels. First, I enjoyed reading about Nita Sweeney’s journey from non-runner to endurance athlete as it paralleled my own in many ways. Like me, she began with the Couch to 5k Program before progressing to longer distances. Like me, she shed some weight along the way and was an adult-onset athlete (a term I borrow from John Bingham). I enjoyed reading her story because in many ways it validates my own. I have a tendency to regret all the the years I spent as a non-runner. How fast could I be and how accomplished could I be if I had only started when I was younger? Sweeney’s story remind me however that I am a sample size of one. Being older and/or slower than others does not make me less of a runner!

Secondly, I enjoyed reading about the author’s running exploits in Columbus, Ohio. I live forty minutes from Ohio’s capital and was familiar with many of the places she described. I did find myself growing jealous when she wrote about the support and friendship’s she forged in the MIT running group. The running community in my little town is growing, but there is nothing like MIT where I live. That coupled with my own introverted tendencies has prevented me from feeling like I belong in the running community. Fortunately, I am blessed to have my wife to train with!

Finally, I appreciated how the author found running as a coping mechanism for her depression. Like all families, mine has been touched by depression and I have long argued that a trifold approach must be taken when dealing with mental illness; mental, spiritual, and physical. I firmly believe that any approach to mental illness that lacks one of the pillars is insufficient. Sweeney points out wisely that running didn’t “cure” her depression, however, there is no doubt it has allowed her to cope with it. What a great reminder!

I recommend this book for adult onset athletes, those battling with mental health, and anyone who enjoys a good running memoir.

Mini Book Review of “Wandering Ohio: A Buckeye Trail Thru-Hike” by Chuck and Beth Hewitt

I have long entertained the notion of embarking on an extended hike. This book reads like a daily journal sharing what it’s like to through hike the looped Buckeye Trail that traverses my home state of Ohio. I enjoyed reading about this couple’s adventure even if I found myself wanting just a little more specific information about the ins and outs of the trail itself. After reading this one, I’ve reached the conclusion that the Buckeye Trail may be better suited for section hiking than a through hike, but their feat was impressive nonetheless. This is a good read if you are interested in this sort of thing.

It should be pointed out that this not a “how to” guide book. If I understand correctly, the authors have guide book that can be purchased on the Buckeye Trail Association website. This is a journal. You will learn a lot about Chuck and Beth Hewitt and the interesting places they ate and stayed, but you will not get a technical guide on hiking the Buckeye Trail.

Undefeated: How I’ve Managed a Winning Streak Against My Arch Rival

When you hear the term “Arch Rival” what comes to mind? The Ohio State University vs. That Team Up North? Celtics vs. Lakers? Sherlock Holmes vs. Professor Moriarty? During my run today I was listening to the always excellent Trail Runner Nation Podcast and the hosts were interviewing authors of the book Trail Running Illustrated: The Art of Running Free. A discussion of the word “race” as it applies to trail running came up and the group discussed that trail runners are often “racing” against themselves. As I pondered this, it occurred to me that I am my own arch rival. Rather, the man I used to be is my worst enemy. The Apostle Paul wrote that our “old man” is crucified with Christ that our body of sin might be destroyed (Romans 6:6) … the problem is that my old man is dying a painfully slow death, kicking and screaming the whole way.

It’s that “old man” that is a lethargic, gluttonous couch potato … and I battle him every single time I go for a run.

But it occurred to me today that I am undefeated against that old man. I began my running and trail running adventures as a means to honor God with an active lifestyle. A few years ago I started off with the Couch to 5k Program and slowly advanced from there. Recently, I finished my fist ultra run by completing the Fuzzy Fandango 50k. Along the way I’ve had some good runs, some great runs, and many, many slow and somewhat arduous runs. I’ve suffered injuries, DNFs, and many aches and pains. But the old man has never, ever beat me.

My revelation today was that no matter how bad, every run I’ve ventured out on since my journey began has been a victory — a victory over the old man who would never set out on a run. The old man didn’t know the beauty of the deep woods or the joy of going for a run with his wife. I’ve heard it said that getting to the starting line is the victory and there is much truth to that. It doesn’t matter how fast I am or how long I run because every run is a victory over the old man sitting on the couch.

I suppose it all comes back to how we define a win. I will never win a trail run in the literal sense, but I’ve come to realize that every trail run is a win.

Mini Book Review of ‘The Fat Adapted Running Formula’ by Michael D’Aulerio

This book is like others by Michael D’Aulerio. It’s not necessarily poorly written or bad, but it is very repetitive. The 5% of the text the presented new or useful information was well done and informative. It would have made a great blog post or article, however, in an attempt to stretch it out, D’Aulerio adds a great deal of repetition, most of which includes patting himself on the back. He also spends far more time extolling the benefits of fat adapted running than he does offering practical “how to” advice. This title is available for low cost on the kindle and is free for Kindle Unlimited members … which is how I would recommend you get it. I certainly wouldn’t spend any money on it as the truly useful information can also be found via a web search.

The Fuzzy Fandango 50k Race Review

Shortly after I DNF’d at the Germantown 50k in September, I started planning for a second attempt. My original thought was to find an easy, flat 50k sometime in 2022. I thought it would give me more time to train and help ensure a finish … but my wife immediately talked me out of it. Her thought was I needed to finish one as soon as possible. I had the training in and she knows me well enough to know the DNF would haunt me until I got it out of my system. So I began weighing my options for 50k …. and settled on the Fuzzy Fandango in the Mohican State Park near Perrysville, Ohio.

When I selected the Fuzzy Fandango, my nativity suggested it should be relatively flat. I’ve lived in Ohio my who life and know that the farther north you go, the flatter it is. Perrysville is about 2 hours north of where I live, but in this case, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The hills and climbs were pretty extreme for me. At nearly a vertical mile of climbing, it far surpassed the Germantown run I DNF’s at. The advantage, however, was that it was only two loops as opposed to the four loops at the Germantown. That meant I only had one real opportunity to drop at the midpoint. If I could pass that point without dropping, I had pretty good odds of completing the run. Stef went with me to fill my bottles and give me support at the end of the first loop … she also encouraged me to keep going at that point – and it worked.

Somewhere around 6 to 7 miles into the run, my left knee started hurting. I’m not sure what I did to it, but I was having some issues bending it, but it was manageable. So when I reached the midway point at 15 miles, I had that in the back of my mind, but with Stef’s encouragement, I was able to muscle through. The second 15 mile loop involved a lot of walking, some hamstring pain, and lots of prayer. I told God at one point that I didn’t know how He was going to get me through the second loop, but He pulled me through … and up all the climbs.

At 19 miles or so, I was seriously contemplating giving up. Thankfully, two runners caught up with me at that point and kept me company for several miles. It is amazing how much that helped take my mind off of the pain in my knee and my frozen fingers!

What I will remember most about Fuzzy Fandango is the kindness of the people who directed it. At 29 miles or so, runners had to ascend steps up the side of a dam. My hamstrings were basically shredded at this point and every stair step hurt. The race director, however, showed up at the top of the steps to check on me and give me encouragement. Meanwhile, one of the other directors, along with some runners, were keeping Stef company at the finish line and easing her concern for me. They gave her updates as to my progress and let her know I was still moving. When I finally hit the finish line, there were several people there to celebrate with me. The volunteers even managed to save me some chili to eat at the end of the run. I doubt I will ever enjoy a better finish line experience – even though I came in dead last.

I’m so glad I took a chance and signed up for this run. Next year, I think I will take another stab at Germantown and will surely revisit the Fuzzy Fandango for at least the 25k …. I can’t wait!

Mini Book Review of Puke & Rally: It’s not about the Setback, It’s about the Comeback by Dr. Rob Bell

This book is about recovering from failure … which literally means at time you have to rally after you puke. I expected a practical guide on how to remain mentally strong after the going gets tough. I was hoping it would have tips I could apply to my future long run attempts. What I got was more of a series of anecdotes about people who have overcome serious setbacks. It was still a beneficial read even if it wasn’t what I was expecting, however, as inspiring as some of the stories were I am not entirely sure how and if they are applicable to my own story. If I understand correctly, this short read is a companion piece to Dr. Rob Bell’s book ‘The Hinge’ which I’ll probably check out in the future. For what it is, Puke & Rally serves its purpose well.