This book by Ryan Hall exists at the intersection or long distance running and faith. Hall, one the greatest American marathon runners ever, explores the role his Christian faith plays in his life and running career. Hall examines his running career from its very beginnings to end. Scripture frequently uses running as a metaphor for the Christian walk (Heb. 12:1, 2 Tim. 4:7, and elsewhere) and Hall’s memoir represents a practical application of that metaphor. Much of what Hall communicates about his relationship with God was learned through the lens of running. It is an excellent read. It is not, however, overly theological or doctrinal, which should allow Christians of different theological ilks to enjoy it.
Mini Book Review of ‘Never Finished’ by David Goggins
I must admit that I am a David Goggins fanboy. The guy is incredible. Its not often you find someone who not only “talks the talk” but “walks the walk”, but Goggins manages to do just that. There’sno denying his accomplishment. Navy Seal. Army Ranger School. Air Force Tactical air Controller Training. Ultrarunner. Ultracyclist. And, as I learned in this book, Medic and Fire Jumper. If anyone has earned the right to speak his mind and spout advices on toughness, it’s David Goggins.
This book chronicles Goggins’ attempt to complete Fire Jumping School after major knee surgery. It also details his attempt to recover his edge (not that he ever really lost it) as he entered his upper forties. In doing so, Goggin’s reveals his growth since his first book Can’t Hurt Me hit the shelves.
I happened to read this book at the right time in my life as I am currently struggling with a Meniscus tear and MCL injury that has shut my own running down for the year. At 52, I walk the fine the line between running long distances and doing damage to my knees and, I must admit, that it was cathartic to see Goggins face struggles of his own. The key to his success as it turns out has little to do with being a physical beast (although he is) and more to do with his mindset. Goggins has determined to be the best in all that he does and has put in the work to achieve it. His story is equal parts encouraging and daunting.
Disclaimer to all readers who are easily offended by bad language … Goggins writes like he talks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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 ‘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 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.
Mini Book Review of A Runner’s High: My Life in Motion by Dean Karnazes
Dean Karnazes is a legend. This book is meant as a companion piece to “Ultra Marathon Man” which helped me fall in love with long-distance running … and its just as good. What stood out to me when reading it is just how much Karnazes loves running. His love for running is obvious as he shares his unique running adventures culminating in his last Western States run. You can’t help but root for him as he describes what it’s like to run Western States as an older, more seasoned runner. It’s incredible read. It’s almost as if you are running Western States with him. I will never accomplish even a tenth of the running feats Karnazes has experienced, but reading this book makes me want to run more. It reminded me that running is not about speed or being the best on the course … but about the adventure.