A Race Like No Other by Liz Robbins was a great tour of the route, and reading about the elites is inspiring. Now I know some of the regulars along the route and I'll be able to properly blank on their names as I approach.
Then there was Toby Tanser's More Fire, about Kenyan runners. I have to write more about this book sometime. It's not that it's compellingly written, or makes obvious sense, or has any good advice at all. But it's the best running book I've ever read (and I've read a lot). It's basically just profiles of Kenyan athletes, where they came from, and their training methods. No, not methods actually, their training spirit. The people who are the foremost international distance runners are hungry for victory. The need it economically, they seem to need it spiritually, they focus on getting it, and they don't mess around with folderol (love the image of athletes using donated heart monitor bands as clothes lines).
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall has become infamous for igniting a debate about running shoes, but I think everyone, maybe including its author, has missed the real point of the book. The entire plot and some awe-inspiring scenes at the end of the book pivot on one single, simple thing, the connection between competition and compassion. We race with and about others. The book traces the genesis of a race between some indigenous Mexicans and some North American oddballs in 2006. In the book, even races won come off as downers because of failures in generosity. The successful races in the book are powered by an innate human capacity to push individual limits to break collective boundaries. Afterward everyone parties together. McDougall spins great stories, and clearly focus tested them in bars. The message is a lightning bolt, and reminded me I still hadn't signed up with a charity for the marathon (I have since corrected this).
Racing is not obviously a team sport - but as a friend of mine once replied when I described a race as a solitary effort, "You didn't notice all those other people out there?" Race day is a deeply communal experience. And not only communal with the runners and spectators around you. When you race, the team is really everyone and everything you can fit in your heart to fuel you through.
I'm following up Born To Run with Bernd Heinrich's Why We Run. I'm not very far through it, but it's a denser meal. McDougall is a journalist, Heinrich is a lyrical scientist. He writes about endurance in all species, especially bugs, his first taxonomic love. You come away in awe of nature, time, people. All of this may seem a little cosmic, but that's the American thing. We get like that.
Somehow this is all about something oceanic. Simple, but potentially large. There's a nice profile today of Ryan Hall's charity foundation -
"A lot of people have been asking me about competing with the Africans and when are we finally going to be able to compete with these guys," Hall said. "I've been inspired by many of the African runners, where they take their prize money and go home and do something good with it. They transform their communities through their success in running. As Americans, we should be doing the same thing.
So, you want to run like a Kenyan? Run like a Tarahumara? Run like your own ancestors? Then strengthen your family bonds. Get with a group. Run for a cause. Meditate on the departed. Rest up and run with passion. Here we go. . .