By the sound of it, I’m probably not part of the target audience. However, my library doesn’t have many books on or about running on the shelves, so when I came across it…. I figured “Why not? Just because the book’s target audience is women doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from it.” So I checked it out.
It was… okay. Not great, but not terrible. A quick, easy read with some really good bits.
This is minor quibble, but I was instantly annoyed by the frequency of the block quotes featuring the runner girl silhouette. The block quotes appear on at least every other page, sometimes more. It felt like an attempt to pad the book and/or a poor substitute for pictures. (Most of the books I’ve read on running feature at least a handful of photos; the only photo in this book was of the author sporting an uneasy smile. What they should have done was put the runner girl on the top/bottom of every page, and turned her into a flip book action heroine. That would have been cool. Heck, that’s my idea. Hands off.)
The overall theme of women’s’ struggle and empowerment was lost on me, since I’m a dude. But the main thing was I didn’t care for Samuels’ writing style. It was a loosely structured, semi-conversational train of thought with examples randomly sprinkled throughout. But there were a few nuggets of wisdom to be found that inspired me.
The first nugget was when Samuels talked about how one identifies oneself can become a problem:
“When we are attached to our identity, we begin to measure ourselves in the same way…. be careful, too, not to set that identity in stone or we risk becoming confined to a narrow prison instead of feeling free to define ourselves with new richness of every day.”
This provided me much-needed validation for my transition of identifying as an artist to identifying as a runner. No longer am I an artist (who happens to run) struggling to produce work. Now I am an active runner (who happens to paint) training for an event. I don’t worry about producing new work or getting a show, I run and sign up for races. I don’t sit alone in the garage slaving away on my “masterpiece,” I join a bunch of other runners and grind out some miles. Since I’ve made this mental shift, I feel much happier.
The second nugget asked: “What could I be capable of, if I tried?”
We all should ask ourselves this question regularly, or at least every once in a while. It makes you reassess your abilities and rethink what is possible. Imagining new possibilities means leaving your comfort zone and confronting one of the greatest sources of fear – the unknown. Because trying or doing unfamiliar things can be scary, it’s too easy to get stuck in the familiar.
It’s like running trails. Running the same route makes you feel comfortable because you know exactly where you are. Which is not a bad thing, but it’s good to mix things up. Take a new path and see where that goes. You might get lost, but that’s okay. Next time, you’ll have that experience to help guide you so that you don’t get lost again.
The third nugget was a quote from the poet Rumi: “If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.”
It’s such a powerful, direct thought. I’ve never heard of the poet Rumi, but now feel somewhat obligated to do some research. I doubt the poet was talking about running, but the quote seems especially relevant to both beginning runners and ultra runners.
For the beginning runner, it’s intimidating to get started running. You have fears about how difficult it’s going to be, you think that you can’t do it , you think people will judge you or make fun of you. The best thing to do is to try to put those fears aside and take the first step and start. If all you can do is walk down the street, well, start walking. The thing is to take action, however seemingly small and insignificant, and keep moving toward your goal.
The challenge for ultra runners is usually not starting, but finishing. Undoubtedly, there will be rough patches where your legs are so tired you feel they can no longer carry you, you want to stop and call it quits, and you question why you are doing this in the first place. That’s when you have to dig deep and tell yourself, over and over, “I will fucking crawl to the finish line if I have to.” The thing is to keep moving, keep your momentum, however slow it might be. Do whatever you have to do, but do not give up.
Who am I? What am I capable of? And (essentially) Never Give Up. Those are three awesomely inspiring ideas for both women and men. And definitely a good payoff for a guy reading a book written for girls.