Book Review: “The Road to Sparta” by Dean Karnazes

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“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon. If you want to talk to God, run an ultra.”

I am far from an ultra runner. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll never do one. Although, I’m a firm believer in “never say never” (thanks, Fievel! Did anyone get that? Anyone!??) but right now an ultra marathon sounds ridiculous. I have, however, always been a fan of Dean Karnazes. His story inspires me and the way he can run and push himself for hundreds of miles is beyond my comprehension. So, when I saw a new book on the front shelf of the library, I immediately picked it up and checked it out.

51g9zn4eiml-_sx324_bo1204203200_“The Road to Sparta” is the story of the 153-mile run from Athens to Sparta that inspired the marathon and saved democracy, as told―and experienced―by ultramarathoner and New York Times bestselling author Dean Karnazes.

“In 490 BCE, Pheidippides ran for 36 hours straight from Athens to Sparta to seek help in defending Athens from a Persian invasion in the Battle of Marathon. In doing so, he saved the development of Western civilization and inspired the birth of the marathon as we know it. Even now, some 2,500 years later, that run stands enduringly as one of greatest physical accomplishments in the history of mankind. 

Karnazes personally honors Pheidippides and his own Greek heritage by recreating this ancient journey in modern times. Karnazes even abstains from contemporary endurance nutrition like sports drinks and energy gels and only eats what was available in 490 BCE, such as figs, olives, and cured meats. Through vivid details and internal dialogs, The Road to Sparta offers a rare glimpse into the mindset and motivation of an extreme athlete during his most difficult and personal challenge to date. This story is sure to captivate and inspire―whether you run great distances or not at all.”


I absolutely loved this book!  I have read many of Dean’s books (all but one) and always enjoy his writing, but this was by far my favorite.

He combines his own personal journey, not only to discover his heritage but also his journey to running the Spartathlon, a 150+ mile race from Greece to Sparta. Mixed in with ancient Greek history of Pheidippides, and you’ve got a great read!

SPOILER ZONE AHEAD:
I learned a lot from reading this book. Things I had never really known before. I learned that Pheidippides’ journey of 26 miles was not even the half of what he did. Before the famous 26 miles, he had run 150 to Sparta and then again back to Greece! No wonder he collapsed and died upon delivering the great news of the Persian defeat!

Besides getting a history fix, I think what I liked the best about this book is that Dean doesn’t write about winning a race. Him doing the Spartathon isn’t about a race he has to win. It’s more about finding out where he (his family) came from and discovering what his ancestors might have gone through. He doesn’t end up winning. He pushes himself to the brink, the edge, of where his body can go to reach that finish line and says “I had set out to find Pheidippides, and in the process found myself.”
END SPOILERS

I highly recommend this book to people who love running and history. Fans of Dean Karnazes most definitely should pick up this book. It’s an easy, quick read that will satisfy any runner’s curiosity of the guy that forever changed the world of running (both Pheidippides and Karnazes).

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My Cat liked it too.


Find it on Goodreads.

Pick up a copy yourself (affiliate link):

“To Be a Runner” – Book Review

PhotoGrid_1470008936201Are you looking for inspiration? How about a unique view about why we run? Or, are you looking for a fantastic reflection on your passion? Look no further! Martin Dugard has you covered!

“To Be a Runner” is amazing. Truly. By far one of my favorite running books. Actually by far one of my favorite books. Period. Written by Martin Dugard who writes professionally for Runner’s World, Sport Illustrated and Esquire as well as true-life novels. He also coaches cross-country and has a lifetime of his own running experience.

I had apparently read this book before, not remembering that fact until I was deep into the familiar words. I found quotes and bookmarks previously highlighted from my first read through and adding more as I read along. I don’t read many books more than once, and even after a second time, I’ll most likely read this again… and probably again….

What’s great about this book is there is a chapter, page or quote that will apply to every type of runner, at any given point in their running life. Reading it a second time, I am finding the previous quotes I highlighted don’t apply and I’m adding new underlines in places that I can relate to now. I’m willing to bet, on my next read through, I’ll highlight even more quotes, a different part of the book speaking to me.

Martin J. Dugard - AuthorI’m guessing the first time I read this book was before I was a cross-country coach. Now, reading through Dugald’s coaching experiences, I am finding excellent sources of  encouragement I intend to pull out and use with my kiddos like, “excuses limit us and prevent us from being the best possible versions of ourselves.

I’m also finding words to describe my love of trail running: “On those trails, nagging riddles and problems have a way of uncomplicating themselves, revealing to me in step-by-step detail how they might be resolved.”

As I read on, I find myself completely lost in this book…. smiling, crying, laughing, shaking my head in agreement. I find myself wishing I too could write like this to describe my life and love of running.

10814907One of my favorites quotes comes from the chapter “Run Date” where the author tells about how he and his wife catch up and get away together on runs: “The loneliness of the long-distance runner in overrated. Like all the best things in life, a great run becomes even more wondrous when shared with someone you love.” This quote is a perfect representation of my boyfriend and I.

I don’t remember quite what I got out this book the first time, but this time, I get the feeling that I’m not quite sure what I want from running. I fell like I’m missing something that the author has. I feel lost, but I want to find it again, that passion, so that I can write like this as well. I get the urge to get outside and find it, right now!

I will leave you with one last quote; this quote being pretty close to how I’ve been viewing the current running world and why I feel like an outsider:

One of the great downfalls of the modern running movement is how anal and joyless some of its leading voices have made it. Think of me as that great voice in the wilderness that says it’s okay to have fun out there.

Throw the logbook away. Stop pausing you watch at stop lights. Go right when you meant to go left.

Wander.”

“Running & Being” – Book Review

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If only you could see how worn this book became after I finished it.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I bought this book, but whatever it was, I was surprised. I think what I wanted was a more holistic approach to running. After all, this was supposedly the book that “got the world into running.” With a title like “Running & Being” I thought for sure I would get words of wisdom for a simplistic approach to running.

It was a good book, just not was I was expecting and thus made it hard to get through. Instead of a holistic approach to running, I was greeted with the philosophy of running. It wasn’t a “how-to” guide. I should have read the back cover, it literally says the book became the “philosophical bible for runners worldwide.”

Original Cover

Despite the unexpected, I did enjoy the read, and took a few things from the book before I put it back on my shelf.

Written by George Sheehan, a cardiologist and runner himself, “Running & Being” ties Sheehan’s own philosophy to ideas from great thinkers and athletes all relating to running.

I previously started this book and this was a second attempt to finish it. I found my book mark in chapter two. Starting over, I realized why it got stuck there. The first few chapters is like a walk through and over grown forest for my mind. Cluttered, in my opinion, and hard to read through the “he said, she said quotes” by people half of which I’ve never even heard of.

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I had heard Sheehan was a great writer and all running-readers recommend this book, but I wanted HIS wisdom, not other people’s quotes, most of which were never about running in the first place. Sifting through the random stories, metaphors, quotes and creativeness, I did pull out a few take-ways that were integrated in between the philosophy.

  1. Go back to the fork (find where you went wrong or where the injury happened)
  2. Have fun and PLAY!
  3. Do the Magic 6 (3 stretches – Calves, hamstrings, lower back; and 3 strength exercises – Shins, quadriceps, and abs)
  4. Follow your own food rules (whatever works for you)
  5. Use fitness markers (like resting heart rate to monitor fitness and over-training)
  6. Most injures are due to overuse on a bad biological body (i.e. get your form evaluated and corrected with proper shoes)
  7. Create a running ditty bag (for races)
  8. Let it all hangout! (Wear your feelings on your sleeve while running)
  9. Learn when to kick and never look back!
  10. Become one with your run and embrace the loneliness of a long-distance runner.

The major thing I pulled away from this book was Sheehan’s comparison of running to religion. This is relatable to me as I am not a church going person but still believe something must be out there. He makes sure to say that running is not meant to be a replacement for a God but more a supplement or a way to express your beliefs. It would be a way to relate to the world and show your appreciation for the Earth.

Is the book worth the read? Depends on your mood and reading style. If you read a lot and are looking for a philosophy on running, read away! If you don’t read much and may get lost in descriptive writing, put this book back on the shelf. Will I read it again? Probably not, but I will definitely remember my takeaways.

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I leave you with this, my favorite quote from the book, referring to the idea of “play:”

“Run only if you must. If running is an imperative that comes from inside you and not from your doctor. Otherwise, head the inner calling in your own Play. Listen if you can to the person you were and are and can be. Then do what you do best and feel best at. Something you would do for nothing. Something that gives you security and self-acceptance and a feeling of completion; even with moments when you are fused with your universe and your Creator. When you find it, build your life around it.”

About George Sheehan

Book Review – Running Encyclopedia

512COgAvqzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’m a pretty big nerd and I’m big into running. One might say I’m a pretty big running nerd. I’m constantly talking about running, reading about running, and literally, actually running.

What I’m not is a running STATS nerd. Some people are. I’m not. I don’t care who won the Boston Marathon for the last two years, nor do I even know what the world record is for a marathon time. If I needed to know, I would just goggle it. (It’s 2:03:23 set by Wilson Kipsang in case you’re now curious. I just looked it up).

Why is the fact that I’m not a running-stats nerd important? Because I just finished the Running Encyclopedia and I may have skipped A LOT of it but I still feel like I can offer a good book review.

This book is actually pretty interesting for runners, even the non-stats nerds like me. There is more than just stats in there. The authors love to insert a little humor so the you don’t get bored by the monotony of an encyclopedia. For example, the definition for Gore-Tex starts out like this: “Al Gore may have claimed to invent the internet, but he didn’t invent Gore-Tex…..” and they insist on calling “rest” a four-letter word!

Although the version I got from the library was published in 2002 and is slightly out of date, it is still filled with years and years of running information. Complete with a user’s guide, there is everything thing from famous runners, different races, running shoes, brands, books, to definitions of running related things (i.e. fartlek or band aids – yes, that’s in there).

“The Running encyclopedia: The Ultimate source for Today’s Tunner” was written and put together by two famous running writers: Richard Benyo (a past Runner’s World publisher) and Joe Henderson (a magazine writer). It includes mostly information on road racing, like the 5k, 10K, half and full marathon, but has little on Cross Country events, Track and Field or ultras.

IMG_20140716_114233What I got out of the book:

  • Famous Races – maybe even a few I’ll consider for my out-of-state races.
  • More information on my running heroes – I know very little about famous runners, but the ones I do know are definitely listed in this book. Like, Kathrine Switzer, the first female to run the Boston with a bib in 1967. She registered at K. Switzer, so none of the race directors knew she was a women. I’m sure you’ve all seen the famous picture of the race director trying to pull her off the course. But, actually, it was Roberta Gibb to be the first female to run boston, sans a bib.
  • I picked up a few more running heroes – Like Joan Benoit who was the first ever American olympic marathon finisher for women in 1984. She had knee surgery just before competing and finished in 2:24:52 and that was the first year they introduce the women’s marathon to the olympics games.
  • Fun facts about running history – like tidbits from the first traditional olympic marathon and other races. (The Yonker’s Marathon is the 2nd oldest American race, after the Boston marathon of course).
  • Fun running related things to look out for – Like the Hash House Harriers, a drinking club with a running problem, that has chapters all over the world.
  • Fun new terms – Like Megamarathoners: people who have completed over 100 marathons!

IMG_20140716_114621What I didn’t read, but want you all may get from the book:

  • PLENTY of statistics – who won what race, with what time, whenever…blah blah blah.
  • Fun side stories or old articles from Runner’s World and other magazines written by the encyclopedia’s authors about whatever particular topic you’re on in the book.
  • There was LOTS of other people, american and non, that I had never heard of, nor would I ever remember if I had read about them and their running feats.

Other Fun Facts, if you’re interested/Did you know????

  • The first US marathon was held from Stamford, Connecticut to Knickerbecker Athletic Club in Manhattan in 1896. It had 30 entrants and only 10 finishers. The winning time was 3:25:55 by John McDermatt. This race was never run again, and the first Boston was held in the following Spring.
  • Some fun facts about the Olympic Marathon – The first modern olympic marathon was held in 1896, and actually, there was two races a few weeks before the official olympics competitors ran the course. The first was held for the area club members and there was a dozen competitors. The second was two weeks later, an open race, and 38 people ran. On April 10th, 1896, the 3rd traditional marathon was held for Olympic Competitors. There was one US guy name Arthur Blake, but he failed to finish. It wasn’t until 1900 that an american, Arthur Newton placed 5th and ran the distance in 4:04:12 and would have won the race if it weren’t for people cutting corners due to a poorly marked course.
  • Joan Benoit was the first US Female to win a marathon olympic gold in 1984 with a time of 2:24:52
  • In 1908, at The London Olympics, the distance was changed to add the point two to accommodate for the royal family to view the proceedings. American Johnny Hayes won and from there on out, the marathon was 26.2 miles.
  • In 1952 at the Helsinki Games, Emil Zotopek of Czechoslovakia won both the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races. He then elected to run the marathon, the first time ever doing that distance. He won with a time of 2:23:04!
  • How the marathon got it’s start: Pheidippides, the marathon patron saint! He died on the gates of Athens after running about 25 miles to announce the victory over the invading Persians. Little do people know (or, I didn’t know), He had previously run about 300 miles, round trip to Sparta and back. The encyclopedia states that it may not even have been Pheidippides that bore the message and he may have made a full recovery. I guess we’ll never know!

So, if you’re just curious about more running related things, or if you are a running stats nerd, you should definitely find a copy of this book. I checked mine out from the library – YES! Those still do exist!

YOUR TURN: Are you a running stats nerd?? Or do you follow famous runners either from the past or current?

Additional Information:

More information on the book, click HERE

World Records list for all running events

The Denver Hash House Harriers Club