To stay motivated to train over the long, hot summer before the NYC Marathon, I will be reading (and writing) about a running-related book each month. Book Club posts will be the first Friday of every month.
- Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running by Rachel Toor
The was really no rhyme or reason to why I chose this book first. Or it may have been some combination of it was available first at the library / it was the shortest one. Either way, it was a quick, enjoyable read.
The Back Story: The author, Rachel Toor, was a nerdy smart kid growing up (an unathletic, non-running one, at that) who grew up into basically an older version of that (bookish academic). The book follows her love affair with running from it’s inception in her adulthood.
The book is set up in 26 (.2) chapters. The chapters vary in length, and emotion based on their rough mile equivalent in the marathon. (Read: early chapters tend to be a bit lighter and shorter, some longer emo stuff right around the high teens).
The first chapter (“The Body”) had me at the gruesome description of runners’ feet. There was definitely that moment – “The bottom of the right pinky toe is calloused to a sharp edge.” – when I realized that I’d really identify with this book.
In the first 5-6 chapters, Toor went back and forth between these rough and true accounts of general running life (“The Routes” which talks about attachment to – wait for it – running routes; “The Closet” which talks about the assortment of collectibles runners accumulate) and her personal story told in pieces. I really loved the general running chapters early on. They hooked me in and kept me engaged as the story unfolded.
It is in later chapters that I realized why this was so important. Once Toor gets into running, her stories quickly begin to reference unknowingly qualifying for Boston, winning races, and competing in ultra-marathons. While she does a pretty good job of anchoring back to the elements that make us all runners, it’s easy to get distracted by her incredible (and, perhaps, unfamiliar) achievements.
In addition, Toor refers to her propensity to male companionship in almost every chapter. I get that you get along much better with men than women. I get that you prefer their company – particularly in running groups. Do you really need to drive that point home every few pages? It got a little old. I did, however, realize that the chapters are almost all adaptations of essays she had published over a span of years for various publications. This made a little more sense as to why this is so prevalent, but still could have been picked up in revisions.
Aside from my love of the first few chapters, I was a fan of chapter 14: Becoming a Marathoner. It is in the latter half of this chapter that Toor recounts her experience in the New York Marathon in 2001. While she did not compete, she wound up pacing a runner, somewhat accidently, for a large portion of the race. Toor calls the New York Marathon “the most unforgettable, the first among equals.” I will certainly copy and hang on to this chapter for a little motivation in November.
Overall, it was a solid read. On my unofficial rating system, I’d award it 3.5 running shoes out of 5. Great pick for the summer – you can easily read the whole thing in two beach afternoons.
Have you read “Personal Record?” What other running books can you recommend for me to read? (Note: I’m looking more for narratives – less for training-type books).
Coming up in Book Club:
Help me fill in the blanks – I need two more books!