Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Book Review: Running the Edge

I live in Boulder, domain of runners but also of Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and other New Age-y, self-help-y, laughing-all-the-way-to-the-bank-at-our-neuroses types. I'm not a fan of this stuff, or of the self-help, self-love and self-improvement movements or pop psychology in general. The ideas of "because I deserve it" and other Oprah-esque cloakings of hedonism are big turn-offs. I (and I'd wager many middle- and upper-class Americans) actually do plenty for ourselves. It's other people we should be focusing on.

That said, I do believe that while perfection isn't possible and happiness isn't reached via a check-list or a particular spiritual practice or a set of goals, improving one's character IS a worthy process to embrace. That's where Running the Edge: Discover the Secrets to Better Running and a Better Life comes in.

Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano were teammates on the University of Colorado cross-country team made famous (among runners anyway) by the book Running With the Buffaloes. Goucher went on to become a professional runner and an Olympian, while Catalano coached runners and taught. In the introduction to this book, they say they wrote it because "both of us realized that as good as our lives were, we could do better."

Though non-runners won't relate to a lot of the material here, becoming a better runner is really only a sub-point. The point is becoming a better person--in your family life, your education and other facets--by examining yourself in what Goucher and Catalano called the "six mirrors," among them initiative and personability. There are exercises at the ends of the "working" section of the book to help you do this.

It took me a long time to read this book, not because it wasn't enjoyable (Goucher and Catalano's anecdotes are funny and inspiring, and the writing is unpretentious and clear) but because I actually tried to work through the "mirrors" and really absorb what the authors were trying to impart. In the days leading up to the Top of Utah Marathon in September, I read Running the Edge daily.

Does it work? Well, I'm still a work in progress. I don't believe any one book can change a person, or a runner, overnight. But the authors know that. I liked their no-excuses attitude, their frequent references to the truth that we are all "in progress" and that ultimately the only way any of us can make a positive change in the world is to make positive changes in our selves. A sprinkling of philosophy gave their ideas some intellectual heft. Their sense of humor and humility made them appealing guides.

The Houston Marathon is in a month. I'm already re-reading parts of this book as that big day gets closer. I'll never be an Olympian or even very fast. But I do like the idea that I haven't reached the edge of my potential in running or in anything else.

This book would make a great gift for the runner in your life. Want to buy it? Go here.

[Disclaimer: Goucher and Catalano answered questions from my readers on this blog last summer. I purchased this book myself before they did so, and my review is my own.]