Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ryan Hall's "Running with Joy"

Ryan Hall is an the American Half Marathon record holder, won the 2012 Olympic trials marathon (placed tenth in the Beijing Olympics). He's also run the fastest marathon ever by an American, at 2:04:58. Dude knows a lil bit about running. Despite looking about 18, he is 30 and is married to the hotti-biscotti(also) distance runner, Sarah Hall.

Hall's book, Running with Joy, is a series of diary entries documenting Hall's training, thoughts and feelings in the lead up to the 2010 Boston Marathon.

At this point I have read numerous running memoirs and this has been my favorite by far. I wouldn't say its a "fun" read; it doesn't have some of the crazy stories told by Dean Karnazes, or the epic drama that epitomized Alberto Salazar's life (or - for 14 minutes - lack thereof.... harhar... sorry).

There are two reasons I loved this book and it is staying on my iphone kindle where I have approximately 0.2 kbs of space left due to the ridiculous number of ebooks I have on there.

First, it is clear that Hall is determined - as the book's title would indicate - to run with joy. Not run to win (though winning is nice). He is committed to just LOVE running. He is determined to appreciate and be thankful for every step. He is determined to cease defining his success by race times or victories, and to begin defining success by the utmost joy he can obtain from his running.

Hall's joy in running is deeply rooted in his faith, and his belief that he was created by God to be a runner. That is how he commits to inspiring himself and acting out his faith in service to others (incidentally, he created a not for profit organization with his wife called "Steps" through which he and other athletes contribute their winnings to social justice causes).

As a Christian myself, I was really moved by Hall's commitment to develop his faith in such a way that his relationship with God - and his ability to find joy in his daily life - was the most important thing to him, far greater than his running achievements or worldly success. If you're a non-Christian, be prepared to come across a lot of biblical principals, and faith-based teaching in here. However know that they all revolve around one lesson that is pretty universal, regardless of religious persuasion (or lack thereof): finding joy and satisfaction in what you're doing, is more important than "winning".  I love how Hall grapples with this concept as an Olympic marathoner, whose entire livelihood depends on his winning or losing. He mentions that after giving a talk to some school children, he ran with a small boy who tripped and fell over. He was amazed at the kid's explanation that he "got back up!" The boy had obviously absorbed Hall's lesson to them that success does not mean never failing; success is getting back up when you fall down.

Second, Hall's daily musings are driven by his actual training plan and are interspersed with some great tips on workouts, mileage, gear and fueling. Much like the advice from greats like Lauren Fleshman, I find this information so much more helpful and targeted to serious runners than most of the very elementary advice you obtain from beginners running books, or Runners' World articles.* It is also just fascinating to see what the daily life, mileage and training patterns look like for the elite. Moreover, Hall really undresses himself for the reader; even delving into into the taboo topic of having somewhat disordered eating patterns when trying to get lighter and faster.

Overall, I really recommend reading this book. Do no be put off by the religiosity of it, if you are not a person of faith. The principals - and certainly the training tips and insights - are universal and accessible by all runners.

- Penny

*I don't mean to disparage these publications. However, once you have learned the basic lessons of finding the right footwear, not increasing mileage too soon, running on even-cambered road, taking rest days, stretching etc etc etc, you can find yourself wanting more targeted, specific and in-depth training information.

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