Thursday, July 2, 2009

Book Review: Marathoning for Mortals

Marathoning for Mortals: A Regular Person's Guide to the Joy of Running or Walking a Half-Marathon or Marathon by John "The Penguin" Binghan & Jenny Hadfield


Marathoning for Mortals is the first book on running that I ever read, and although most of the text on running is fairly cursory (I found the chapters on the "Anatomy of a Long-Distance Training Program" to actually be quite sparse on details), the book does a great job of describing the emotional aspects of running these long distance races. And, as the title implies, the book is written for normal, average people out there who are wondering "Can I do it?" The book is emphatic in its answer... "Yes, you can!"

The primary author, John "The Penguin" Bingham (so named, apparently, because of his awkward running style), came to running later in life (I believe he said he didn't start running until his mid-40s), but has since run over 30 marathons. The other author, Jenny Hadfield, has degrees in exercise physiology and is a certified personal trainer. Along with writing about running online at a lot of places, Ms. Hadfield also is active in Team in Training (TNT) (or was at the time Marathoning was written), a group that helps people train for marathons and other long distance races while also raising a ton of money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She handles a lot of the discussion on the science of running (although there isn't much discussion in this area).

What really makes Marathoning for Mortals a great book for the normal, average person is that it is written understanding that you may be coming to your marathon training at many different fitness levels. The book cautions against doing too much too fast, and it devotes quite a bit of discussion to walking all or part of these long distance races. The training plans listed at the back of the book include a separate plan for those wishing to Walk, Walk/Run (walking with some running), Run/Walk (running with some walking) or Run a half marathon and a full marathon. That's 8 plans that can fit just about any fitness level from couch potato to moderately serious runner (more serious runners should look to other books and plans for their training schedules... but that is not surprising since this book is called Marathoning for Mortals).

Scattered throughout the book are short quotes from other "mortals" who were able to finish the training and finish the marathon. It is these quotes that really make the book, because it is these real stories that help you understand that you can do it. Another inspiring portion of the book is the chapter entitled "It's All About the Medal," which describes the feeling of crossing the finish line for your first marathon. One story of The Penguin's was particularly inspirational to me as I was reading Marathoning in the middle of my unemployment-induced funk. The story described his witnessing of one young man's crossing of the finish line:
He was in his mid-twenties. There wasn't anything all that unusual about him. He was, or so it seemed, just one of hundreds of young men out there in Austin, Texas, on that February morning. he wasn't fast, he wasn't gifted, and he wasn't special in any other way. Yet that young man has become a memory seared into my brain.

As he crossed the finish line, he began to cry--not just the "filled with emotions from finishing" kind of crying, but a gut wrenching, blood-curdling wail that was coming from some part of him that had been liberated by the distance and the effort and the step across the finish line.
It was the "liberated by the distance" part that really hit home with me, and it is one of the reasons I want to run a marathon.

All in all, Marathoning for Mortals may not be the best book on marathon training out there, but it is a great start for the average Joe or Jane who wants to tackle the challenge of a marathon. If this describes you, I would recommend it.

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