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The Incomplete Book of Running

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Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s beloved show Wait Wait..Don’t Tell Me and a popular columnist for Runner’s World, shares his insightful and entertaining look at life and running that explores the transformative power of the sport.

197 pages, Hardcover

First published October 30, 2018

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Peter Sagal

23 books59 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 675 reviews
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,181 followers
May 29, 2019
UPDATE: I ran the half-marathon today, with a time of 2 hours and five minutes—probably the best run I've ever done. And all thanks to Peter Sagal!

And here is my write-up of the experience:
Of all the people on the face of this green earth, I never thought I would be the one reviewing this book. Indeed, I began this year by writing a blog post about my new year’s resolutions, confidently predicting that, come what may, I would not begin to exercise. Yet a month later I found myself in a sportswear store, perplexedly looking at running gear. What happened?

Nothing, really. Unlike Peter Sagal, my foray into running has not been the product of any personal troubles or existential crises. I am 27, too old for my quarter-life crisis, too young to be worried about entering middle age. I haven’t gotten married yet, and so have not had to endure any difficult divorce. I haven't even had a bad breakup recently. I just decided to try something new, out of a sense of curiosity.

When I was in high school, you see, I dreaded the day when we were made to run a mile in gym class. It seemed like such an impossibly long distance. I was chubby and out of shape, so I could never make it the whole way without walking a considerable portion. Later on, at the ripe age of 17, I had to go to physical therapy for my knees after overstretching in Tae Kwon Do classes. These experiences convinced me that running was not my bent. But last February, feeling experimental, I decided to see whether walking a lot in Europe had inadvertently made me capable, finally, of running a mile without stopping. And it had.

Judging from this book, my experience was not typical. Running seems to be one of those hobbies, like meditation or prayer, that people pick up after some sort of acute trauma. Sagal got into running as he entered his forties, facing a midlife crisis which was to include a difficult divorce. As a comparison, it took the Buddhist author, Pema Chödrön, two divorces to become a celibate nun and celebrated teacher. (Lacking this experience, I am neither particularly enlightened nor especially fast.) Indeed, Sagal’s divorce haunts these pages as a kind of bitter undercurrent which seems to put many readers off. For my part, I do not require radio comedians to write about their ex-wives with saintliness.

I doubt I would have enjoyed this book half as much if I had bought the print version. Sagal is a radio personality, and the audiobook has his skillful delivery and signature voice. Using the audiobook also means that you can listen to the book while running. This is what I did, pledging that I would get through the book’s five hours and twenty-five minutes in five runs or fewer—and I succeeded. Listening to bald man who has struggled with his weight, and who had little natural talent to begin with, was great motivation as I shuffled my own soft body through Madrid’s Retiro Park. Now, here is an athlete I can identify with.

Apart from recounting some of his marathon experiences—which included the 2013 Boston Marathon, where he witnessed the bombing—as well as a few other running anecdotes, Sagal offers a bit of advice—all of it very sensible, and most of which I do not follow: don’t over-train, run with a group, eat healthy, etc. Most interesting to me was Sagal’s advising runners to go without headphones, in order to experience their environment and to mindfully monitor their bodies. (Clearly I did not follow this advice, since I listened to the audiobook while running.)

In fact, the way that Sagal describes running often reminded me of meditation books I have read. Both practices involve spending a considerable amount of time alone, paying attention to one’s breath and one’s body. Both practices are supposed to relieve stress and make one generally happier. And, as I mentioned, people tend to turn to these practices when they are having a problem. It is curious that focusing on the body can have such strong therapeutic effects.

One major difference between running and meditation is competitiveness. Runners are relentlessly challenging each other and themselves. This may not be wise, but it is fun on occasion. This foolhardy spirit of competitiveness has led me to sign up for Madrid’s half marathon on April 27. If you are standing near the finish line that day, and you wait long enough, you may see a tall, sweaty, teetering American stumble across the finish line. Wish me luck.
Profile Image for Kate.
314 reviews
December 24, 2018
4 stars for the running parts. 2 stars for the frankly off-putting way Sagal writes about his ex-wife and daughters, as well as pretty much all other women (except for his current wife - she seemed like an actual human being). I get that he was also processing his divorce and the aftermath, I just found it really weird. Averaging out = 3 stars.
Profile Image for Van Reese.
260 reviews3 followers
November 17, 2018
As a long time runner, I was very pleased to win this book in a give away (thank you Simon & Shuster). The only negative, I felt, was that he talks about his divorce; a lot. It was painful, so O.K. We will let it go. Most of the book was, surprise, actually about running. I felt that I could relate well with his running experiences, and found we had much in common. My dad also ran and kind of influenced me getting started running (though I never made fun of him); I also asked for real running shoes (and got them); I also ran marathons (though not as many as Pete, and not Boston...yet). One of my favorite parts was at the end when he talks about the difference between running as a lifestyle and "jogging" for exercise. I quote part of it, "Joggers wait to finish; we runners expect to get somewhere." People will sometimes ask me, "Are you still jogging?" (Jogging? As if!) Like maybe I have finally put that phase behind me. I usually just say, "Yes, I still run almost every day. The other thing is how they are amazed that I run in the winter. Actually, there might be some legitimate craziness there, but yes, I still run even when it is dark and single digits; because I am a runner. I felt that Peter expresses that sentiment quite well in this book.
Profile Image for Andrea.
619 reviews2 followers
November 21, 2018
I love the saying he recounted: if you can't play sports, run. If you can't run, run long. I can relate.

I'm a fan of Wait Wait and thought this book was entertaining. Peter Sagal talks about his running history, his meshugas about his weight, and his midlife crisis leading to more running and eventual divorce. Spoiler alert, a man got remarried quickly after a divorce. What else is new?

I did feel for him. He talks about his depression, how he felt he failed as a husband and a father.

He also can seem a little slimy and self important sometimes. Sorry.
Profile Image for Doug Gordon.
182 reviews2 followers
December 5, 2018
I'm a runner and also a fan of "Wait, Wait", so I really expected to enjoy this book a lot, but would find it hard to recommend to either a runner or non-runner. Mainly, I thought it would be mostly about running with a lot of humorous anecdotes, but instead it was more of a personal memoir that delved a bit too far into the author's personal life and problems, which he dwelt on a bit too much in my opinion.

The book also had the feel of being a bit rushed to print and could have used a bit more editing to smooth out the flow from chapter to chapter. Maybe it would be useful to someone thinking of taking up the sport of running, but the useable information was scattered too thinly to be very helpful.
Profile Image for Meg.
1,347 reviews14 followers
April 11, 2020
I'm doing a couch to 5km program while we're in social isolation 2020 (because I need the out of house time, and why not) so I'm reading running books. The appeal of running is it's simplicity: some shoes, whatever, and you go. Sagal talks about running in his own life and two particular dramatic events that occured in 2013 - I can't remember whether it's in the copy so I won't spoil it. Oh... so I didn't read the copy because I picked up stuff randomly. I enjoyed this running memoir, I like the way it goes back and forth on his particular timeline, I'm glad it doesn't go into the nitty gritty of his failing marriage, and I'm a sucker for the evocation of physical activity as an avenue for physical and moral improvement.

I had never heard of his radio quiz show or himself as a person before this.
Profile Image for Susan Schaefer.
2 reviews2 followers
January 24, 2019
The only problem with this book is that it was over too soon. I really wanted a few hundred more pages. It was wonderful for me to get a glimpse inside the mind of someone who feels about running the same way I do.
Profile Image for Katy.
693 reviews12 followers
December 14, 2018
Funny, wry and charming! I love Peter Sagal, not only from Wait, Wait but also his GoT recaps with Nerdette. I’m also glad to know that he is someone who can laugh at himself while singing along to a jingle stating that he’s the worst. 😂

I often have a hard time relating to running books because my experience is not that of a 3:05 marathon. But Sagal recognizes that and after all, this is *his experience. But there is a line (that I’m badly paraphrasing) which says that the only proper response to someone’s race results, no matter how slow, is thrilled congratulations. And i really appreciate that!
Profile Image for Beth Jusino.
Author 8 books60 followers
December 11, 2018
So... I wanted to like this book. I wanted it to make me want to run again. It didn't. (Sorry, Peter Sagal. I really like your radio show and wanted to like this book.)

Sagal bookends his work with great stories about the Boston Marathon, both on the day of the terrorist bombing and the following year. They're about the relationships among runners, and between runners and their bodies, and between human beings and competition. And those are great.

But the middle...is about being middle aged. There's a lot about being divorced. And a lot about stats and numbers and what a great runner Sagal disciplined himself to be. And then it repeats.

In the end, The Incomplete Book of Running didn't drive me off my couch. It didn't make me laugh. It didn't make me feel all that good about middle age. But it did help me know that Peter Sagal is a really, really good amateur runner. Was that the goal?
Profile Image for Peter Derk.
Author 25 books336 followers
June 19, 2019
I'm a secret runner. Maybe not "secret, secret," but it's not something I like to talk about much. Because I think it's boring. Not just for other people, but for me.

I've had my personal successes in running that I'm happy with. And I do think it's been a life-changing thing for me. But I don't know how to talk about it in such a way that I find it interesting.

This book had some definite highs. Mostly when Peter Sagal wasn't talking a ton about times, splits, training, etc. A lifetime of running will definitely equip a person with a good number of running stories. It's when the book gets very inside baseball (inside RACEball? because running? no?) that it lost me. I understood it, and I could identify with the excitement and the feelings of achievement. But it didn't make me super interested, to be honest.

What I did appreciate is that Sagal doesn't come off as a superhero. In two ways. He doesn't come off as a spectacular runner (although as amateur runners go, he's doing a damn fine job), and he doesn't come off as a spectacular person either. He's going through a divorce during the book's events, and he has weird mixed feelings. Which I appreciate. When you write a book about yourself, you can tell the world how you felt, or you can tell the world that you felt the way you wish you'd felt. Sagal goes the honesty route, and I think that's awesome. Lots of books like this present the writer as perfect. They've learned from their mistakes, and they're presenting the polished version of themselves. Sagal presents the work in progress, which is my preference every time. He's a middle-aged man who doesn't completely have his shit together and has some things to figure out. Cool.
Profile Image for Jan Van Bruaene.
12 reviews1 follower
November 11, 2018
I didn't know what to expect about this book. I only know about Peter Sagal from NPR Wait Wait Don't Tell me Show. And I heard he co-wrote the less than stellar movie Dirty Dancing Havana Nights.

He wrote a book about running? What does Peter Sagal know about running?
It turns out he knows quite a bit about it, and has a great number high paced races to show for it.

I expected a funny and witty book. It is not. It is an honest and often raw story about the running part of his life.

I could not put this book down. And once I finished it, the only natural thing to do was to end it with in true radio tradition of Paul Harvey: "And now you know the rest of the story".
36 reviews1 follower
January 2, 2019
Loved this book! I went into this one thinking it would be a humorous take on running; instead, Peter Sagal takes us through all of the highs and lows of life and how running has made an impact through it all.

Emotional and hilarious. This book makes me want to be a more mindful person, not just a more mindful runner. I would highly recommend!
Profile Image for Jamey Bradbury.
Author 1 book90 followers
January 7, 2019
Peter Sagal's slim memoir about running through the turmoil of his own life and the turmoil of the world at large is entertaining and perfectly captures the radio host's voice and sensibility. I was surprised at how candid he was about the bitterness of his divorce, but it was kind of refreshing. As an amateur runner, he still has great advice to offer other amateurs or wannabes.
Profile Image for Saeed.
67 reviews52 followers
February 2, 2020
There are many books on running-as-a-metaphor-for-life. This isn't one of them (though it wants to be)

I like Peter Sagal on "Wait, Wait ... Don't tell me" and I really wanted to like this book. But there's a reason it took me from April 2019 to Feb 2020 to finish a measly 208 pages: it's a slog.

Perhaps it's on purpose. Perhaps it's meant to mimic the patience you need to exhibit and the pain you need to endure to finish a marathon. But I doubt it's deliberate or that deep. Nothing about this book is.

"The Incomplete Book of Running" had such a promising premise: Sagal picks up running at 40 as a refuge and antidepressant from a dead marriage.

And while he is very open about his self-loathing battles with weight as a teen, the book never really delves into the demons he's fighting in his midlife angst. We are constantly reminded of a divorce that's never quite final, but we are never told why. There are a lot of allusions; but zero exposition.

As a result, it's hard to tell what this book is trying to accomplish. Is it a book where a marathon is a metaphor for life’s tribulations? If so, it's not very well-developed.

Instead, we are treated to pages upon pages of Sagal's quest for yet another PR; pages upon pages of his training plans; pages upon pages about the routes of his races. To what end, though? What are these details supposed to convey?

It's unfortunate that the only time the book hints at the profundity it could have delivered is in the second-to-last entry in the acknowledgements:

My daughters, Rose, Grace, and Willa: there was a time I ran with all of you, pushing you or running alongside your bikes. I keep running so I may find you on the road again.

There! THAT would have been a powerful story: A man in a failed marriage takes up running so he doesn't fail as a father.

But alas, it's not that story.

And yet, I persevered, exercising patience, never giving up, tackling short chunks at a time -- kind of likeone does in a marathon.

Unlike a marathon, however, the book ends not with a feeling of "I DID IT!" but more like, "Meh, I'm finally done."
Profile Image for Liz.
357 reviews
January 28, 2020
3.5 stars. I enjoy both Peter Sagal's NPR show, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, and running, so I feel like I'm within the target demographic for this book. It is more about Peter Sagal than it is about running; though it's almost entirely about Peter Sagal running, it's really about him getting through mental health issues and middle age... while running. As he mentions early on, talking about running is incomprehensibly boring to non-runners but endlessly diverting to runners, and any topic, no matter how mundane, becomes rich fodder for discussion while running. This book's content mirrors both those phenomena to some extent, except substitute "while considered within the context of running as a transformative tool" in place of "while running." If you're interested in neither Peter Sagal nor running to begin with, don't read this book, but if both are up your alley, go ahead and enjoy.
Profile Image for Harlee Johnson.
22 reviews
December 13, 2022
This book fucking sucked! It was honestly one of the worst books I’ve ever read. I hope I never meet this author in person because he sounds like such a creep. His view on women is disgusting, and the way he wrote about them in this book made me think that his divorce was 1000% his own fault. I only forced myself to finish this book so I could be closer to my reading challenge.
Profile Image for Sam Kuntz.
91 reviews1 follower
May 24, 2020
The Incomplete Book of Running is the nonfictional account of Peter Sagal's journey with running.

My favorite part about this book was the story of him running with William Greer. It seemed to be the most touching story in the book. I also liked it because running the Boston Marathon while blind is probably one of the strongest things a person can do.

I expected this book to be funny when I started reading it, but it soon turned out it was more sad and angry. While I did laugh, it made me feel sad more than that.

I love the show Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! so I enjoyed reading this book regardless of anything bad about the book.

I did not like how much he talked about his divorce. It seemed like he wrote this book because he was angry at the divorce and just wanted to vent to people that would listen.

After reading this book, I searched some of his columns on running, and I enjoyed them a lot.

One thing I did like in this book is when he talks about how you don't need fancy shoes or clothes to go running.

I also liked the idea of a "Flying Wedge of Blindness." I just think it would be really cool to see and/or be a part of that wedge.

I read this late at night, and mostly I just wanted to put it down, because I wanted to go to sleep, but I also wanted to finish the book. (I finished the book and then went to sleep, in case you are interested.)

Even though I am being tough on this book, I really enjoyed it a lot. It was fun to read, and I agreed with some of the things he said about running.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book, and I recommend everybody reading this, reads it.

-Sam Kuntz
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Regina Bradley.
19 reviews3 followers
January 21, 2019
“But the lesson and practice of running is again, a faith in the possibility of positive change. That, if you run enough miles, with enough dedication and the right kind of mindset, if you accept the limitations of what’s possible but refuse to accept the rutted path of what’s painless, if you keep at it, if you keep going, you can become what it was you were meant to be.”

Peter tells a great story and tells many in this short memoir. Having recently ran the California International Marathon and witnessing blind athletes run with guides, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Peter ran as a guide for two visually impaired runners at the Boston Marathon in 2013 and 2014. In 2013, Peter and his guidee crossed the finish minutes before the bombs went off. I’ll let Peter tell you the story, but it’s an impactful part of the book.

If you like to run, or if you know the dedication of putting yourself through physical exertion hoping to be better because of it, not just better physically, but better mentally, you will enjoy Peter’s story. Reading about someone else’s running can be pretty inspiring.
Profile Image for Melissa.
183 reviews23 followers
April 27, 2019
Upon beginning this book, I liked it, the thoughts most of us runners have had were spot on and I found it amusing. Then it became irritating. The story became more of a recap of a runner’s journal with a bunch of corny phrases. The venom on which he referred to when referencing fat or the non-fast runners really bothered me. I started out as a fat, slow runner...became a fit and trim runner and due to circumstances and now a fat slow walker. To have experienced the race from the back of the pack, the middle and the front, I know the joy of finishing a run regardless of speed.

But Peter’s description of the Boston runner who finished in 8 hours left me with a very bad taste in my mouth for this man.

And no Peter, most runners don’t “bandit” a race and we don’t have to ask a handful of people if it was really that bad of a thing to do. We know why a person shouldn’t and just don’t cheap the race or ourselves. But hey, to each their own.

It’s a short read, and the only reason why I finished, but I wouldn’t recommend.
Profile Image for Kristen.
40 reviews
May 13, 2020
5/5 Stars

To say I loved this book would be an understatement. This book is not a running book albeit the title. This book more focuses on the mid-life crisis of an adult man who used running as a way to cope with the hardships that were thrown to him. As a person who is not a man, in mid-life, or that great of a runner, this book shows that at the core we can all relate to one another's humanity. Peter Sagal is a likable writer who is honest about his character faults and discusses them in a comedic way.

Definitely would recommend!
337 reviews2 followers
April 11, 2019
I listened to the audio because of course you listen when Peter Sagal is narrating. I loved it. It's got me running again which is huge. But also thinking a lot about mortality and life and how we adapt to face challenges and second chances and serving others. It was great.
Profile Image for Erin.
762 reviews
November 4, 2018
Vulnerable and made me want to run marathons. Should prob have a trigger warning about dieting.
Profile Image for Holdon Son.
144 reviews6 followers
April 12, 2019
I thought it was sweet. Certainly inspired me to start exponentially more than Murakami did.

'Reading' this, the memoir of a radio guy, via audiobook was definitely the right choice.
Profile Image for terpkristin.
590 reviews58 followers
February 13, 2021
When I was in college and grad school, I played soccer. I ran, training for marathons and triathlons. I swam. I did Tang Soo Do. I hurt my ankle on July 3, 2001 playing soccer (went up for a head ball and came down on the outside of my foot). The last run I ever went on was in May or June 2003. I had ankle surgery in 2002 to fix torn ligaments and it was one of my first real runs trying to get back to "normal". I had pain in the back of my ankle, behind my ankle bone, so I called my doctor, who referred me to a "better" doctor. It turned out that the tendons used to fix my ligaments tore and after 2 more failed surgeries, I was referred to another "even better" doctor who fused my ankle. I miss running. The closest I can do now is get on the elliptical, which I've had an on-and-off affair with since. Before covid, I was working out 6 days a week. 2 of those were lifting, the other 4 were just elliptical at the gym. When covid hit, I bought an elliptical and set it up in my basement.

It turns out Peter Sagal and I have a lot in common, more so than I'd have thought. We've both been hit by cars, we've both torn tendons, we've both broken our backs. I enjoyed listening to his words of wisdom while working on the Virtual Running Club Get to Sesame Street challenge. I'm doing the 100 and the 500, so I'm seeing a lot of my elliptical. I felt a little guilty listening to the book when I got to the section where he talked about why he doesn't run with headphones. But even then, I get his point. When I get on the elliptical or go for a walk, it's in part to think. So I usually listen to things where it's ok to be distracted (ok, or work calls. I've done a lot of work calls on the elliptical. My job is so glamorous...). I mostly wasn't distracted listening to this book, but found myself thinking about it when listening to other books or podcasts. I have to look back through to find one of the books he mentioned. I think it'll be another good listen.

There was one section I really appreciated. "Perhaps you would like to start running. You never have tried before, or you did and you hated it, and now you wonder how to begin moving in a way that will keep you going.
Get up. Start. Go. Move. Take a rusty first step, like the Tin Man. You will squeak. Go." (page 34 of the Kindle edition, per my phone)
Profile Image for Jill.
419 reviews1 follower
November 25, 2019
I’m a big fan of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” and of running memoirs so I enjoyed this. I’m glad that I read this post-marathon because he makes them sound painful (which is accurate). Enjoyed how he framed his running as way of coping with his divorce and depression, and liked his part at end about running being a “habit of hope”. One weird bit - he volunteers to escort visually impaired runners in races, which is admirable, but he makes so many not funny and dumb jokes about them - it’s very off putting.
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,532 reviews11 followers
January 14, 2020
If you are reading this as a training manual for running, take a second look at the title. Sagal's wry sense of humor comes through, but I wouldn't take this as the almanac for running a marathon.

I found the narrative a bit disjointed at times. Sagal would be running one marathon and then jump back to a previous marathon and then jump forward again. This time jump confused me more than once. But, I got it: he ran marathons and it was a bitch to accomplish.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. Would I recommend it? I would say if you are a runner, you would appreciate the humor of it and if you love Wait, Wait, you will like to hear this version of Sagal.
Profile Image for Margaret Lee.
27 reviews
May 30, 2023
Some parts of this were good, but the snarky tone was so hard to read. And the way he speaks about his ex-wife and daughters is… troubling.

I may need to stop my search for a book about running by an amateur runner.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 675 reviews

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