I became a consistent NPR listener when I moved to a region where the radio options were country music, Christian rock, or NPR. I wanted something to listen to in the car to and from work and while running errands, and I can only tolerate the first two options in small doses, then it all starts to sound the same to me and that gets annoying. So when I heard that Peter Sagal, longtime host of one of the more entertaining talk options “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” had a new book out and it was about running, I was intrigued. I run the occasional local 5k, so I figured it would be interesting, or at least amusing.
The Incomplete Book of Running is about running, kind of. It’s definitely a quick, entertaining read. The thing is that it’s almost as much a mid-life crisis book as it is a running memoir. I lost track of the number of times Sagal brings up his divorce from his first wife. While divorce is a painful thing, and he’s quite candid about mental health related things, which is admirable, I personally think that if that’s going to be a big part of your book, then you shouldn’t market it as a running book.
There are a lot of running stories and some advice, in a few places even contrary to the popular practice. Sagal is firmly against listening to something through earbuds while running. He also tells all kinds of stories about injuring himself with overtraining etc.; he emphasizes the importance of understanding body image and nutrition/hydration. He mentions his own physique (not tall and slender) almost as many times as the divorce. The difference is that his discussions of his weight actually have a point, and one related to the theme of the book: you don’t have to be a skinny gazelle to be fit. This is admirable. The running thing that surprised me was that he was a part of program which pairs visually impaired runners with guides at major races, like the Boston Marathon (Sagal was there in 2013), which is another admirable thing.
There are two places where he kind of contradicts himself that bothered me a little. He at one point tells the story of how he ‘bandited’ part of the Boston Marathon, meaning he ran unregistered and unpaid. He mentions this in a blog post, and get roasted by the Internet. Later in the book, he expresses indignation that another individual did something very similar but with considerable less intent at sneaking into the race and success (he hadn’t trained at all and took over 8 hours to finish). While Jacob’s banditry actually happened several years before Sagal’s, the lack of any consolidation or synthesis between the two moments bugs me. The other thing that bothers me is that at one point, pretty early, he says that this will not be the kind of book which ends with a happily ever after. Except that’s exactly how it ends, with him meeting and proposing to his now second wife. It’s almost like he forgets that he said the first thing, and thus does not explain how it relates to the second thing that’s nearly the opposite of the first thing.
Overall, it’s an entertaining look into the world of serious amateur runners with a heavy dose of middle age memoir. 3.5 stars.