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Life Is a Marathon: A Memoir of Love and Endurance

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An endurance athlete and coach reveals how the marathon transforms the lives of everyone who attempts it--and how it has helped his own family cope with serious adversity

Step after step for 26.2 miles, hundreds of thousands of people run marathons. But why--what compels people past pain, lost toenails, 5.30 am start times, The Wall? Sports writer Matt Fitzgerald set out to run eight marathons in eight weeks across the country to answer that question. At each race, he meets an array of runners, from first timers, to dad-daughter teams and spouses, to people who'd been running for decades, and asks them what keeps them running. But there is another deeply personal part to Matt's his own relationship to the sport--and how it helped him overcome his own struggles and cope with his wife Nataki's severe bipolar disorder.

A combination of Matt's own How Bad Do You Want It? and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running , Life Is a Marathon captures the magic of those 26.2 miles. At the end of the day--and at the end of the race--the pursuit of a marathon finish line is not unlike the pursuit of happiness. You will pick up the book for a powerful personal story about what running does for the people for whom it does the most. You will put it down with a greater understanding of what it means to be alive in this world.

288 pages, Hardcover

Published March 26, 2019

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About the author

Matt Fitzgerald

58 books292 followers
Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books on sports history and endurance sports. He has enjoyed unprecedented access to professional endurance athletes over the course of his career. His best-sellers include Racing Weight and Brain Training for Runners. He has also written extensively for Triathlete, Men's Fitness, Men's Health, Outside, Runner's World, Bicycling, Competitor, and countless other sports and fitness publications.

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5 stars
171 (24%)
4 stars
292 (41%)
3 stars
188 (26%)
2 stars
46 (6%)
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8 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 70 reviews
Profile Image for Lance.
1,425 reviews95 followers
April 28, 2019
Becoming a world-class marathon runner takes a lot of sacrifice, dedication and love for the sport. The same qualities are present in people who support family members with mental health issues. Mark Fitzgerald, who has written several running books, shares his life experiences in both of these topics in this compelling memoir.

The most striking feature about the book is the ending of each chapter. Fitzgerald will make a personal discovery on how the experiences he shared in the chapter help him realize a new realization about what that meant to him in the bigger picture of life. Whether it was him assisting a woman in the last few miles of a marathon to help her finish at the sacrifice of his own time or how he feels when he has to call authorities after his wife Nataka attacks him yet again due to her bipolar condition, his realization of what he has discovered is always touching and will make a reader pause to consider.

Each chapter is filled with good detail about what Fitzgerald is experiencing and what is most telling and sets this one apart from many sports memoirs is the emotion that will be felt by the reader. Whether it is the terrifying moments when his wife is attacking him with a knife, the sadness he feels when she is yet again involuntarily hospitalized, the agony of an injury during a race or the elation at winning or beating personal bests, this book is one that tugs at the heart in every imaginable way.

Runners and non-runners alike will want to read this one as it covers a wide range of topics and emotions. Many of the stories will be ones that readers can relate to, and even if not, they will be enjoyed.

I wish to thank Da Capo Lifelong Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

498 reviews
August 10, 2019
I'm solidly on the Matt Fitzgerald bandwagon - I follow his marathon training plans and (when I'm my best self) his nutrition guidelines. He's also generally a good writer so when he has a new book, I read it. I picked up Life Is a Marathon without knowing anything about it, ignored the subtitle, and anticipated some new insight into the mental aspect of a marathon. I was surprised to find a personal, raw memoir that goes beyond the description of an athlete. I admire his willingness to share all the challenging and sometimes ugly parts of his experiences being a white man married to a black woman. I read a lot of academic and social science writing on race, and it was an unexpected pleasure to read a running memoir that touches on race in such a personal manner. Initially, I thought the comparison of endurance training to mental health struggles was forced, but the more he described it, the more I was persuaded by his reasoning - especially because his respect and love for his wife radiate through the telling.

The switching back and forth in time was sometimes distracting to me. I would have liked a little more about his present day life.
Profile Image for Dyane Harwood.
96 reviews7 followers
March 16, 2019
In "Life Is A Marathon," Matt Fitzgerald has crafted an extraordinary depiction of his marriage to Nataki, the love of his life who has a severe mental illness. Fitzgerald portrays the other love of his life: long-distance running. His evolution as a runner and his unique marathon project are fascinating and masterfully interwoven throughout the story. Readers affected by mental illness will be inspired by Fitzgerald's near-insurmountable challenges and profound insights. Athletes will be riveted by Fitzgerald's physical and emotional trials during every race. Fitzgerald reveals how perseverance and authentic love for a partner, a sport, or something else that's close to one's heart, can transform a life into one that's worth living. "Life Is A Marathon" is nothing short of remarkable.

Dyane Harwood
Author, "Birth of a New Brain—Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder
Profile Image for Ron S.
420 reviews27 followers
October 30, 2019
Sports journalist and author Matt Fitzgerald (Iron War, Racing Weight, How Bad Do You Want It) writes about running eight marathons in eight weeks and the people he meets along the way. What makes this an unusual running book is how Fitzgerald intertwines the story of his wife Nataki, who suffers with a debilitating mental illness, and their relationship. This goes well beyond the average overcoming adversity/qualifying and running Boston sort of running memoir. Don't read it looking for nutritional advice or stretching tips: read it if your running practice is really just a part of a more important life practice, and a piece of the endurance we all sometimes require to deal with life's challenges.
Profile Image for Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies.
941 reviews104 followers
September 23, 2019
This is and isn't about running. The author is a runner for sure and the book is about him running marathons but it parallels his marriage to a woman named Nataki whom he has been married for some 20 years or so. She isn't a runner and also suffers from bipolar disorder and man does this guy get honest about marriage and about mental health and about what he and his wife have gone through. It doesn't paint a picture such that running solves anything. It is a raw and honest look at what we do and why we do them and I would recommend this book to people even if they aren't runners. It's about commitment and endurance (on the course and off) and very inspiring.
March 16, 2019
I've read a lot of bipolar-themed books as my wife has bipolar. This is the best one written by the perspective of a husband whose wife suffers from this severe mood disorder. As an author/lifelong athlete and runner, I also really enjoyed Fitzgerald's discussion of his running and writing careers. It's an excellent read and I highly recommend it.
729 reviews
September 28, 2019
There is a lot of good stuff in this book, but something about the author's use of his wife's illness made me extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the continued reference to weight? That said, it made me want to get out there and get my mileage back up.
Profile Image for Megan.
174 reviews1 follower
January 25, 2022
This was very raw, moving and inspiring, but also uncomfortable at times. I really loved the exploration of the entanglement running has with the human condition and how the sport is a microcosm of life itself.
"But what I loved even more, was the ascent itself. The feeling of being better today than I was yesterday and knowing I would be better still tomorrow. It was like a second youth. A state of almost god-like expectation of acquiring ever greater aptitudes."

"My pursuit of the perfect race was nothing less than a quest to become The Person I Want to Be. Twenty years into this journey, I can say without hesitation that I wouldn't take back a single minute I've invested in it. To the extent that my relationship with the suffering of endurance racing has changed, I have changed."

"Whatever it is a person looks for in the marathon, he or she usually finds it."

" a marathon is life...to run a marathon is to practice life and practice for life... because life truly is long and difficult, it demands endurance, fortitude, patience, resilience, and long-suffering. The marathon develops all these fundamental human coping skills."
1,330 reviews30 followers
May 1, 2019
Well-known writer [maybe best known at this point for his thoughts on optimal racing weight and how to achieve/maintain it] uses the structure of a cross-country driving trip, running 8 marathons in 8 weeks along the way [extremely well --- as a master he finishes the 8th and final race in 2:49], to interweave (a) interviews with other runners about their experiences of running and especially running marathons with (b) harrowing tale of his marriage to a woman with bipolar disorder who violently attacked him numerous times before (it appears) being prescribed the right mood-stabilizers.

It's a tribute to his writing style that I found it inspiring and coherent. I love running and think it's made my life better, but I'm usually impatient with the "xxxx is like running" metaphorical hook. If you settle for high-level abstraction [anything that takes a while is like a marathon; anything difficult calls on the gritty determination you show in races......] then, sure, it sort of fits, but so what?

Even here, I didn't really bite on the idea that his training was uniquely helpful for the challenge of sticking by his wife through thick and thin, aside from its giving him another interest on which to focus and a reason to be out of the house a lot. I bet if he'd been an obsessive chess player he'd have gotten the same result.

But whether or not you perceive them as connected, there are two compelling and well-told stories here -- endurance athletics and commitment to a life partner facing extreme challenges.

Profile Image for Danielle.
176 reviews4 followers
July 15, 2019
"In the pain of the marathon we learn who we are, discovering within ourselves both the weaknesses and flaws that hold us back and the strength and virtues that drive us forward."

" I thought I needed to find courage through running for my own sake...but what I really needed courage for, I discovered, was life."

"What I really wanted to do was conquer hard."

"Whatever it is a person looks for in the marathon, he or she usually finds it. "

" when you see how you can physically turn around due to consistency and hard work, its confirmation that you...can turn around emotionally...thinking, mentally and spiritually as well."

" a marathon is life...to run a marathon is to practice life and practice for life... because life truly is long and difficult, it demands endurance, fortitude, patience, resilience, and long-suffering. The marathon develops all these fundamental human coping skills."
Profile Image for Jennifer.
699 reviews
November 18, 2020
Fitzgerald writes superbly about running, and this book is no exception. It's a testament to his skill as a writer that he can make his own post-40 series of semi-competitive marathons interesting and enjoyable to read about. However, running is only about half this book. The other half is about Fitzgerald's relationship with his wife and her struggles with mental illness. It's not that I'm uninterested in this topic, but I found the way Fitzgerald wrote about it mostly uninteresting and somewhat distasteful.

This is my second read by Fitzgerald, with How Bad Do You Want It? one of my favorite running books ever. I'll definitely try more of his work.
Profile Image for Smitha Murthy.
Author 2 books261 followers
April 2, 2021
I thought this was a book on running - something like how to run better or faster. But it is a rather disjointed account of the author’s efforts to run quite a few, very fast marathons and a detailed account of his marriage with his wife. The intent is good - how to marry running with our life - but I felt I was reading a narcissistic perspective on how amazing a runner Fitzgerald is, coupled with a few “I am so self-absorbed” phrases just to throw you off the track of narcissism.

I couldn’t understand which run began and ended where - the very US references made no sense to me. I am so sad that I didn’t like this when I consider how much I love running.

Profile Image for Mary Pagones.
Author 14 books91 followers
June 3, 2023
Matt Fitzgerald can really write--a stark contrast to many other running memoirists, where the prose is often pretty politely described as workmanlike--and the portions of this memoir detailing some of the harrowing experiences he's put himself through as a runner are pretty hilarious, spanning from getting lost and nearly drowning in a mudslide during a woefully organized marathon to being underprepared for a triathlon to the point of wiping out EVEN while covering the event for a fitness magazine. He perfectly captures the obsession, the why-the-hell-am-I-doing-this, the pushing through injuries, even the OCD about fueling and drinking during races.

The other part of the memoir, the ancedotes woven in with the present-day chronicles of his races, are harrowing in a different way. Fitzgerald's wife suffers from severe bipolar disorder, to the point where she often acted out in violent, manic episodes that nearly killed them both and drove him to a suicide attempt because he felt so helpless and unable to help her. I hope she reviewed the memoir before publication, because I admit I did feel uncomfortable, as if overhearing and watching a woman during the absolute lowest point of her life, as described by someone else. But I also admit that even if the connections between running and her struggles at times seemed forced, I absolutely couldn't put the book down and wanted to know how she finally made peace with herself.

I'd previously read some of his books on nutrition (which helped me get over the carb-o-phobia that sometimes afflicts the fitness world), and enjoyed him on many podcasts. This doesn't always paint him in a flattering light but it is, I admit, utterly gripping to read.
13 reviews
June 15, 2022
I can't really say a lot about this book without giving spoilers, but I'm very glad I read it. It's very emotionally hard to read, and I have huge respect for the author and his family for publishing this for the world to see.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,727 reviews
October 23, 2019
I really hate giving such a low rating to someone's memoir. However, this book was not what it was said to be. I did not read a book uncovering why people run marathons or even my Fitzgerald runs marathons. Instead it was a disjointed story with a lack of focus and a timeline that bounced all over the place. There was a lot of running and a lot of runners chatting in the book, but it was also a lot about Fitzgerald and his wife dealing with her bipolar disorder. A lot. A lot of detail. A lot of detail that I don't think the reader needed to read. A lot of detail that makes me uncomfortable knowing, should I ever happen to meet her. I would like to assume that she read and approved the inclusion of those details; however, I think the overall story could have better been served had they been summarized. The result was a story that went along talking about marathons and running that was brutally interrupted by an interaction between Fitzgerald and his wife. As jarring as this probably was in real life, it was even more so when reading what you think will be a book discussing a man's adventures in running. Despite some interesting stories, including one about the local CIM, the overall feel of the book was one that needed to decide what it wanted to be.

Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Books for a copy of the book. This review is my own opinion.
Profile Image for Petch Manopawitr.
109 reviews15 followers
December 5, 2019
A memoir of his running life and person struggle in life. His wife has suffered from serious bipolar and attempted to hurt him several times. She were hospitalized in mental hospital for 7-8 times and the couple was separated for as long as 9 months. It seemed the marriage was destined to be doomed. The author hanged in there and devoted himself to running and entering endurance race such as ironman, ultra-marathon etc.

I wanted to like this book more and it has everything in it but somehow it wasn't put together as well as it could. The conversation, the characters he decided to assemble did not come together well. The stories were jumble all over with almost regular predictable intermission of his wife outburst and attack incidents. I admired his perseverance to stay on. I think it is true also that while he focused on his goals of running, he somehow neglect what has been missing in his wife's life - attention and care.

At the end, he has discovered the utmost joy of teaching and training his wife for a marathon - combing his passion and his determination to help her get through her illness. Again, every ingredient was there, it could have been a really powerful and inspiring memoir.

Profile Image for Chris.
357 reviews8 followers
February 2, 2020
So I had a very personal reaction to this. I’ve had similar reactions to other books about running and mental health but here it was a matter of from who’s point of view stories were being told. Throughout the book the author is telling other people’s stories, many runners he meets but primarily his wife’s struggle with bipolar. But these are. Or his to tell. He has the permission to tell them, but not the experience of the perspective. And too much gets waves away in a good running heals all wounds. A very frustrating read. Maybe running memoirs are not my thing. For you, this book may be inspiring.
20 reviews1 follower
June 10, 2019
This book was a marathon. Harder to wade through these stories than my most recent 100k.
Profile Image for Wade.
172 reviews15 followers
October 21, 2019
In this astonishingly personal memoir, the author takes the lid off his own life and makes the case for marathon running as training for life itself.

Compared with the author's other writing, this is a change in subject matter, but not a change in his compelling writing style. He takes time to bare a painful and often ugly struggle with saving his marriage and supporting his wife through severe mental illness, in between chapters that chronicle a roadtrip they share to interview other marathon runners who have found deeply personal lessons through running - what he terms "the magic of the marathon." In his telling, the marathon is not a pathway to shiny, healthy self-enlightenment, but rather a dirty struggle that rewards those who grit their teeth through the pain. It is an apt metaphor for the life he describes as his wife spirals and struggles in the face of bipolar disorder.

To his credit, the author provides a clear-eyed chronicle of their journey. He cuts through the most horrific scenes with a welcome sense of almost-humor - a bit of the sense of absurdity of a New England comedic novel - that doesn't fall into caricature, bathos, or paternalism. As a reader, I kept finding myself surprised at how well he manages this knife's edge (er...as it were).
The interstitial stories of other runners can’t quite measure up. The author reviews a kaleidoscope of other runners’ own hard-won lessons, but he can’t describe their inner journeys with the clarity in which he narrates his own. The stories do serve as breaks in the action while also showing how he and his wife have survived on the other side of a series of psychotic breaks – reminding us of her humanity, as well as his own.

In summary, this book makes an odd case for a non-runner like me. Almost like a dare, the stories here present marathon running as a mysterious pathway to secret knowledge – open only to those who are willing to stare down suffering and personal demons. Begrudgingly, I have to admit that it’s the strongest case for marathons I’ve encountered.
Profile Image for Kelley.
369 reviews12 followers
March 10, 2022

Are running away from something or toward something?

I didn’t know what this book was about when i started it. I was just searching Libby for books about running. This book is half about Fitzgerald’s relationship with his wife and her struggles with bipolar disorder, and half about his relationship with running. I ended up really enjoying the parts about he and Nataki and the personal interviews he does with other runners than the running parts of the memoir. I actually really like sports memoirs but this one was a little light on the sports. Not that it doesn’t take up a lot of the book in content but the content itself is light. Fitzgerald tried to tie his running away from a school regional race as a boy to his struggles in life and sport but I didn’t really feel the connection too strongly. Still I enjoyed the book and found myself rooting for Matt and Nataki. Especially Nataki who might have been a more interesting voice for this story.
Profile Image for Andrea Hill.
110 reviews7 followers
November 1, 2020
I enjoyed this book,even as it was a bit difficult to read. The author alternates chapters about running a marathon a week for eight weeks, and reflections on (primarily) his relationship with his wife. He is unblinkingly honest, in a way that mad me sometimes feel like I was glimpsing something personal I hadnt earned the right to observe.

But, that's some of the story - we runners share a kinship, and often we may find ourselves opening up to each other. Running has an effect on us, tearing down artificial walls and leading us to become our best selves.

After over 50 marathons over 15 years, I felt Id lost some of the magic of the distance. This book rekindled something in me. I'll never set another PR, but this book helped solidify the sentiment that that's not actually what this is all about.
218 reviews1 follower
October 25, 2019
Matt Fitzgerald’s “Iron War” is one of the great sports performance books and so I was excited to read “Life is a Marathon” but this book very much reinforces the old saying that masterpieces are never what you expect. This is a book about running and how running can help one deal with the problems of life, and make one stronger and more resilient as a result of facing the common challenges associated with running, racing, and completing long distance endurance events throughout one’s life cycle and how that strength might help if one becomes involved in a relationship with someone suffering from serious mental illness. In truth, we all have stories and struggles and being an elite athlete doesn’t provide protection and this is Matt’s story.
Profile Image for Mina Purser.
47 reviews2 followers
June 1, 2019
When I began reading this book, I took it for face value and thought it was just a book about the parallels between life and running marathons. I have been a runner since high school, and finally ran my first two marathons last year for the sole reason of getting them in before I turn 50 this year. I had no idea what this book was REALLY about! I grew up in a home with a bipolar mother. Luckily, she was never violent with us, but I understood so well the frustration and heartbreak that goes along with loving someone who has a mental illness. I really appreciate Matt and Nataki sharing their story with us. I am praying for them both!
Profile Image for Claudia Turner.
Author 1 book38 followers
July 7, 2019
I enjoyed this book though I’m not sure I believe Matt Fitzgerald’s story of marathons, love and endurance is really about love as much as codependency and loyalty. Or maybe it’s about the love of an idea or a memory. Nevertheless, it IS about endurance, and confusingly nonlinear as this book often is, it’s also full of deeply personal sincerity, thoughtfulness and visually compelling memories. I would recommend this for endurance athletes, runners and for anyone who has been close to someone with, or in some way connected personally to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or related mental disorders.
Profile Image for Chad.
71 reviews
September 25, 2021
Having completed a couple of marathons...but never having run a race at that distance I am proud of this book has me thinking of once again dusting off the old running shoes and seeing if I can overcome my increasing age and weight and actually run the race I want to run.

I found the authors insights into how running parallels our life's journey to be mostly true. I found his recounting his journey of running and marital situation to be heart wrenching at times and the overall feeling of triumph was very nice.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone but especially those who have trained for and completed marathons...for that group the book will resonate best.
Profile Image for JC.
143 reviews
July 3, 2022

I liked another book of the author and am going through a lot of running books. I probably should've read the blurb. It is a personal story with some running stories thrown in. It is an easy style and well told. However I gotta admit I lost the structure of the overview pretty quickly. It was supposed to be about a number of marathons? The individual stories and ancedotes were interesting and well told but I didnt tie them all together.

The overall message of the book is good but the personal side is not something I was comfortable with. That was about ~70% of the book.

Would I recommend? Soft no.
Would I reread? No.
Profile Image for Sage Drawbaugh.
25 reviews
February 21, 2023
The writing was eh and there was a lot more discussion of his wife’s bipolar disorder than I realized I was signing up for. Like half the book. He also repeatedly brings up his failure to run a high school race, which is pretty much the thing he is trying to get redemption for. I thought that was pretty clear without mentioning it 7 times.

I think it was probably cathartic for him to write about him and his wife’s experiences, and kudos to him for that. Also lots of respect to him for bringing some awareness to bipolar disorder.

Personally though, I just liked the parts where he ran marathons and interviewed other people running them.
7 reviews
April 16, 2019
Wow. As Eric Schrantz from Ultrarunnerpodcast said "you really never know what is going on for other people." I have read many of Fitzgerald's other books. Some I have enjoyed and praised (Iron Wars is amazing) and some I have found interesting but fundamentally disagreed with. Through all of them, I lacked connection to Matt as an author. I admired his writing style and his content but felt cold toward the author.
This book opened my mind and heart to the author. Plus it was surprisingly funny, considerate and empathic.
A tour de force of running, love and life.
Profile Image for Emily Jo.
207 reviews2 followers
November 30, 2020
I absolutely enjoyed this book. I knew of Matt Fitzgerald and even read a few of his books. This book really opened my eyes to more about his life and some of the obstacles he faced in his life. I loved the section about Wisconsin's Jailbreaker and his opinion of our great state. I was really shocked to read so much about his wife's bipolar disorder and learned a lot about bipolar disorders through this book. I highly recommend this book to anybody who's a runner and looking to learn more about a very dedicated athlete.
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