It has been a good last twelve months for running reads: Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery’s How She Did It, Lauren Fleshman’s Good for a Girl, Alison Mariela Desir’s Running While Black in fall 2022 and then Kara Goucher and Des Linden’s books in March and April, respectively. I said somewhere that I was glad their publishers gave us a couple of weeks between publication dates, and then I read both last week! Both were absolutely amazing reads, with Kara’s having the added lens of being completely gut wrenching.
In reading some other reviews and podcasts around Boston 2023, I remembered I still have Alexei Pappas’ Bravey on my Kindle. I’ll plan to read that soon. One day I’ll even finish Deena Kastor’s book. Maybe.
- These books are absolutely amazing and I’d say almost everyone should read them. My caveat there is if you’re someone who struggles with an eating disorder. There are elements of both of these that can be triggering. So practice any necessary self care. Choosing to Run can be a one or two seat read as it’s utterly engrossing, especially reading it just ahead of Boston. The Longest Race cannot be binged, or maybe it can if you have a stronger constitution than I do. I kept having to put it down to fully digest the events, her reaction, Salazar’s continued bad behavior.
- The intersections between Des and Kara’s running lives were both expected and not. I will always have a soft spot for Shalane Flanagan because she won New York, but she was also a major thread throughout both of these books. Oddly, my perception is that Des and Shalane are contemporaries, whereas it seemed that Kara was closer to Deena Kastor, yet their Olympics and World Championships overlapped. I think part of the reason for this is that by the time I started running, Kara was mostly “just” the Nike whistleblower vs. a competitive runner so it was hard to see her as the same runner the other two are. Also, amazing to think she raced against-and beat!-Paula Radcliffe in the Great Northern Race. Paula always seems to belong to another era entirely. Even reading this book, and knowing she trained with Shalane when she left Salazar, I think I’ll still see Kara as a podcaster and broadcaster first, which is definitely wrong on my end.
- We knew Salazar was dirty, and even the abuse stories aren’t new thanks to the SafeSport report, but it was completely heartbreaking to read about it in Kara’s own words. I’m not a big audio book person anyway, but I don’t think I could bear to listen to her narrate this. The “smaller” issues, the objectification of women and harassment of women’s bodies draw major parallels between Lauren Fleshman’s book and the stories about Mary Cain, including her own Op Ed. It would be wrong to say I’m “boycotting” Nike, because I don’t recall wearing anything from them since high school soccer-and I was an Umbro girl even then-but I don’t see myself even considering them now. Salazar was a huge problem, but Nike is rotten through and through. Did Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, et al need to dope? Probably not, but it’s like some of the MLB sluggers – now everything is under question.
- I read Des’ book first (thanks, Liz!) and had an unexpected intro into The Oregon Project and its doping when Dathan Ritzenhein left Nike for Brooks-Hanson, part of what led to Des’ eventual change in coaches given the awareness of doping within the sport.
- I knew Allyson Felix and Alysia Montaño’s stories of how Nike mishandled their pregnancies and contracts, but somehow Kara’s story was even harder to read. She worked for them, they marketed her as a pregnant runner, but nope she didn’t compete so she was suspended. Revolting. This was the 2010s, not the 1970s when they thought women’s uteruses would fall out. This is not OK.
- While I of course know the story of Des’ 2018 Boston win, and loved how she used it as the framework for her story, I didn’t know much about her prior history. It’s not that I don’t know my running history, it’s just that it’s easier to focus on active runners’ achievements’ vs. retired runners’ stories, if that makes sense. I appreciated how both of these books gave the surround sound to their running careers, especially Des’ as an active, professional runner. The choices to take an Olympic spot when you know you’re not in a position to compete, and/or might hurt yourself more must be completely gutwrenching. In some ways though, her 2011 Boston was an even more exciting read than 2018. Yet if she’d won, 2018 wouldn’t have been anywhere near as exciting, or she might have dropped out due to weather. I also love how well rounded she presents herself, a wife, a sister, a dog lover. She is so much more than “just” a runner, whether than be a marathon winner, Olympian or more. She’s someone I’d absolutely love to have a coffee with, but maybe not the nitro cold brew they gave us at the Brooks event last fall.
- The parallels between Des thyroid condition (legit) and the medicine Kara was given to lose weight was an interesting look at women’s health-and as came up in Lauren Fleshman’s book -how little even professionals know about women’s bodies and the perception that thinner is better. Salazar is the one who – rightfully- gets the attention because he’s a name brand, but the actions by Dr. Jeffrey Brown are utterly deplorable.
- I almost want to reread Lauren Fleshman’s book now. I loved how her path tied back to Kara’s when Kara signed with Oiselle after
- I learned so much about the World Championships in both of these books. I must admit as a former (bad) track athlete, the words “track meet” made me smile. I only did it as conditioning between seasons and truly only liked shot put, but I can still see the college fieldhouse we used for our indoor meets. While I’m thrilled to have “found” running at 37, I wonder what might have been if I hadn’t injured my knee in high school and had kept running.
- I loved the look into their childhoods and how their lives made them the women they are. Des, a so-called traditional family in Southern California with a stage manager father who had her and her sister into a new activity every minute. Kara-whose father died when she was a young child and was raised by her mother and grandparents in Duluth. I loved the weaving of Calvin and Ola Jean throughout Kara’s book, and where her love of running came, and how she felt her father when she ran the New York City marathon.
- Learning about how it works to be a sponsored athlete was fascinating. Both in the traditional Nike sense for Kara (and Shalane, which was touched on) and Des’ untraditional with Brooks/Hansons having her coach and sponsors so intricately tied-with both ultimately facing how to break those ties partially. I also appreciated the insight into how negotiations work, both for subsequent contracts, races and other items,
- On a silly/weird note, didn’t realize that the Adam Goucher behind Run the Year was Mr. Kara Goucher. Ooops. Run the Year was my gateway to running, so debatable at the time whether I knew who Kara Goucher was. While the focus of the book was on Kara, I liked what we learned about Adam as a professional runner, husband and part of her support network turned agent. Yet she felt she couldn’t be honest with him about what was happening with Salazar-both for protecting him as well as her career. This was an interesting parallel as I’d listened to Brooke Shields’ podcast episode about sexual violence that was released in tandem with the Pretty Baby documentary at the same time as I was reading Kara’s book. This world is so very broken. This is not news to me – I fundraised for Joyful Heart while marathon training – but somehow it makes me angrier every time it comes up.
Wow. That ended up being a lot longer than I expected. These books are both still very much with me and I anticipate rereading.
What’s your favorite running biography or memoir? Is there someone whose story you want to hear?
As much as I’ve followed her career, I’d love a non cookbook from Shalane. Maybe about the transition to coaching, and life after winning NYC.