Since November, Tom Foreman’s My Year of Running Dangerously had occupied a prime corner of my coffee table just waiting to be read, a glaring reminder of a hectic few months. However, once I finally cracked the cover open, it barely closed until the last page had been turned.
A Tony Award-winning Broadway musical once famously questioned how to measure a year, or five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. In Foreman’s case, that year, or “four half marathons, three full marathons, one 55-mile ultramarathon, and 2,000 training miles,” was not merely measured in steps, but by his self-described quest to stop just getting through his days as he started getting into them. His journey is both relatable and inspiring.
Adept storytelling entails much more than recounting miles, whether they occur while training or during a race, requiring an ability to separate the signal from the noise in an effort to draw out what’s important while holding a reader’s attention. Foreman’s journalism pedigree showed throughout, as I was impressed with the seemingly effortless narrative.
Most marathon training plans adopt a telling arc. A base-building phase lays the proper foundation for a deliberate increase in long run mileage, speed workouts are interspersed, ultimately leading to a tapering decline of miles before race day. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but Foreman’s story arc was fittingly similar.
Motivated by his oldest daughter to tackle a marathon together, her first, the tale began building a base of reader interest. Throughout several half and full marathons, where Foreman’s fitness was undeniably established and the reader was left wanting more, his mileage and storyline both began a recognizable climb toward an even higher goal, the Stone Mill 50 ultramarathon. Throughout the story, Foreman intermittently takes readers back to his younger days as a runner. Just as speed work helps make a distance runner’s muscles well-rounded, these short detours from the present provide the reader with a fuller perspective from which to appreciate Foreman’s journey.
As a relatively new road runner currently living in New York City, I’ve always been awed by trail running. I imagine these very different terrains to be akin to how a gymnast might view the balance beam and the uneven parallel bars in their varying degrees of difficulty and the associated potential for disaster. So when Foreman detailed his distance leap from the roads to a trail, I found myself torn between savoring the linguistic journey and a desire to scribble notes. As Foreman’s 50-miler nears, readers can appreciate the familiar self-doubts during his taper, before living vicariously through every conceivable race day emotion.
Finishing a marathon or ultramarathon is an emotionally cathartic experience. Finding just the right words to describe the experience, the life lessons learned and the rationale for the adventure in the aftermath can be challenging. But Foreman’s ability to so eloquently answer why he put himself through the tremendous challenge just the day after his 55-mile odyssey was, as his youngest daughter observed, “beautiful.”
But as compelling as his culminating reflections are, it is perhaps the admissions of his oldest daughter, who took the year’s first running step with Foreman, that provide the most ubiquitous take away. Congratulating Foreman on his ultra finish, she confessed never having expected to actually make it to the first start line that began Foreman’s year. Instead, conceding visions of giving up during the the early days of training. When pressed as to why she’d ultimately followed through, she offered, “I guess I just forgot to quit.” A candid sentiment with which each of us would be well served to remember, whether or not our running shoes are laced.
Throughout My Year of Running Dangerously, I appreciated Foreman’s gift of bringing introspective meaning to his miles in a way that was just as universal as it was personal. For those looking for a running-themed story with an enduring life lesson, this book would make for an ideal rest day read.
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