The first thing that jumped out at me was the bullshit. Right at the beginning, Karnazes says he wrote this book while running, by speaking into a voice recorder. As soon as I started the first chapter, I realized that was either not true or the ensuing manuscript was drastically edited. This was not the start I had hoped for.
The cutesy anecdotes were not to my liking. I wanted more running and less filler. The quirky little things that happened while he was on his journey- the suspicious gas station clerk and the fanatical bad driver- were incredibly dull. And, to be charitable, the writing wasn’t very good.
In spite of all that, I couldn’t stop reading. I might scoff aloud at some dorky effort at conveying deep feeling, but I was still there. More than anything, each page made me want to go for a run. So I did.
For the first time in my life, I ran through downtown Phoenix. I’ve put in many hours on dirt trails and rural roads, but the city was a new monster. I left my headphones behind out of fear of being mugged or hit by a car, which left me completely alone and trapped in my head. It was an experience.
Phoenix is an interesting place. You can go from ritzy to shitty in a quarter of a block. I found my self admiring the historic homes and the mature landscaping at one point, then, less than a minute later, I couldn’t help but pick up my pace as the graffiti got more brazen and discarded beer bottles lined the streets like fallen soldiers. As I ran, I couldn’t help but think of Karnazes and his buddy hoofing it through the Tenderloin in San Francisco (a place my wife and I accidentally booked a hotel at a few years back). There was something fun to it. There really was.
And that’s where I learned something. I spent too much of this book trying to be the cool guy who was far above Karnazes’ goofy sentiment and go-getter attitude. I would have gotten much more from this experience if I had just sat back and enjoyed the ride. Perhaps he says some profoundly lame things. Perhaps he writes like a self-help author. But he’s not a writer; he’s a runner. He actively experiences life. I should have been grateful from page one that he took the time to write this shit down, to present what he’s seen in whatever words were available to him. Maybe it’s not the most eloquent writing, but the feeling is real.
Throughout this book, Karnazes reminds the reader that other people find him to be inspirational (a piece of bigheadedness that irked me). For all my complaints, I found him to be inspirational, too.
It’s not about winning; it’s about surpassing your own goals. It’s about giving it your all. It’s about challenging yourself until you collapse. And then it’s about getting back up again.