Running Through the Wall

Posted: November 12, 2013 by smrtnsasy in Runnin' & Readin'
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BOOK: RUNNING THROUGH THE WALL: Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon                          AUTHOR: Neal Jamison                                                                                                                        PUBLISHER/DATE: Breakaway Books, 2003                                                                                    REPORT: This is one of the most personalized and entertaining books that I have read on the subject of running long. Obviously, from the title, it focuses on ultramarathon distances. That would be any distance longer than the marathon. The first standard ultra distance is 50 kilometers, which is thirty-one miles. For that reason, a lot of the personal stories in the collection will give credence to the 50 kilometer distance.

This book is very good in that it gives personal stories from the normal “Joe” or “Jane” just like you and me who happens to run ultramarathons. The stories center on various slants in the runner’s pursuit ranging from their beginnings, outstanding races, spiritual insights, and their motivation. You will find runners who stumbled into running ultras. Then, there are those who planned their assault on the distances. Like the rest of us, there are those who had a lack of confidence when faced with such monumental distances. Just about all the stories related instances during a particular race in which the runner was convinced that he or she could not make it to the finish line. Some of these instances were true life threatening situations and some were of the “feeling sorry for myself” types. They were all just like those thoughts that the rest of us go through during the same kind of running challenges. Indeed, one of the most striking characteristics of this book is the normalcy of the runners of whom the stories relate.

On the other hand, there are some “supers” involved. For those accounts of the diabetic in his first 100 mile run crewed by his sons and struggling to the race site with a broken down van; or the suicide survivor, depression laden, young lady who didn’t leave her house for months and then went through the gamut of highs and lows in her first ultra but finished on a high, there are the stories from ultra superstars like Tim Twietmeyer, Ian Torrence, Ann Trason, and David Horton. Even in the “super’s” accounts, we can relate to the normalcy that earmarks the ultrarunning scene.

Reading story after story, the reader will begin to appreciate the closeness of the ultra community. Such things like runners slowing to help total strangers get through bad patches in the race, because they have been there before, will stand out again and again as an oddity in the ultra races. The attitude expressed by the runners in their stories will impress even the non-runner much less the runner just thinking about running an ultra event.

Running Through the Wall

The reader will read some of the stories and laugh because you will see yourself in there. Other stories will have you pulling for the runner as you turn to see the outcome. Still others will have you emotionally charged by relating to the intensity of the story and the runner involved. This makes the book interesting to read and packed full of memorable characters. It is well written and easy to read.

Each chapter is a runner’s story. It is preceded by a thumbnail sketch of the runner. This includes their name, age, years running, years running ultras, and their residence. I appreciated the picture of each runner. This gives the reader a visual contact as you are reading the runner’s story. For me, it made each story much more personal, a story with a face.

Don Allison, editor and publisher of UltraRunning Magazine, writes a very good foreword for the book. This gives a good opening door to the stories. It sets the stage for a good piece of work by the author, Neal Jamison.

I highly recommend this book to any runner aspiring to run marathons, ultra races, experience adventure runs, or just looking to improve their running by running longer on their level. It will give you fodder for dreams as well as confidence enveloped in normalcy. You will be glad you read it.

“Behind every runner, there is a history that leads them to the starting line of an ultramarathon, and that history colors the drama that plays out over the duration of the event.”                                      Don Allison                                                                                                                                            Editor/Publisher                                                                                                                                             UltraRunning Magazine

By: Richard Westbrook

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