Matt Fitzgerald has already made a name for himself in the endurance sport community with books like 80/20 Running, How Bad Do You Want It? and Iron War. He is an accomplished amateur runner, but if he follows the training, nutrition and lifestyle of an elite runner, just how fast could he go?
He is approaching his mid-forties, so the time to do this is now. He at last has the financial means to do nothing but train. He accepts the goodwill of a friend who will let him crash at his apartment in the running mecca of Flagstaff, Arizona, and convinces the coach of Northern Arizona Elite, one of the country's premier professional running teams, to let him train with a roster of national champions and Olympic hopefuls for an entire summer leading in to the Chicago Marathon. The results were astounding...
Filled with a vibrant cast of characters, rigorous and gut-wrenching training, Matt’s knowledgeable yet self-deprecating voice allows us to vicariously live out our own fantasies of having the opportunity to go all the way. Yet for the runners Matt trains with, it’s no mere fantasy, but a calling and their individual stories enrich this inspiring narrative. Running the Dream is a chance for us all to experience a bit of this rarified and wild world, and to take away pieces of this amazing journey to try to achieve our own potential.
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.
I picked up this book to motivate myself for the 2020 Madrid Half-Marathon that I suddenly realized it upon me. This is the race that I was supposed to run in March 2020, and then in September 2020, and then in March 2021. Now it is set for September 26, and it looks like it will actually happen. I suppose things must be getting better.
Unfortunately, the story that Matt Fitzgerald is here to tell is much less inspiring than I hoped for. While endlessly referring himself as an “average joe” and a slowpoke, he soon reveals that he has run over 40 marathons, all of them in under 3 hours. He is, in other words, incredibly fit and, compared to me, very fast. This book is thus the story of someone who is already quite good trying to get a bit better.
He does this by training with a team of professional runners in Flagstaff, Arizona, at high altitude, with elite coaching, psychological support, and high-quality physical therapy. His goal is to run a personal best at age 45, which means beating his record set years ago by his younger self. Fitzgerald structures the book as a countdown to the Chicago Marathon, where he will put his training to the test.
There are many angles a writer could have taken in this situation. Fitzgerald could, for example, have focused on the training regimens, describing what he did, what was special about it, and what the reader could take away from these strategies. Or he could have focused on his team mates, trying to get at the root of their mentality, what makes them compete so ruthlessly. And, to be fair, there is some of this.
But most of the book is focused on Matt Fitzgerald. We hear about his personal life, his restaurant choices, his casual chit-chat, his interior struggles, his day-to-day activities. Indeed, the book often reads quite like a diary. This would not be a problem if I was a big Matt Fitzgerald fan; but I am not (sorry). It turns out that the story of how one good runner—through the generous help of many experts—becomes even better is not as uplifting as he seems to think it is. For those of us unable to devote the time and money (not to mention lacking the connections) to undergo such an experience, there does not seem to be much of a takeaway except “follow your dreams” or some equivalent cliché.
Well, motivated or not, in a little over a week I will be dragging my hulking frame over the finish line. And isn’t the story of somebody who is not at all good at something, but does it anyway, more inspiring than a book like this? I’m just asking where my book deal is.
I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would. I don't like the "try something different so I can write a book about it" genre, nor do I particularly love Fitz's writing style in past books, so I was skeptical. But his enthusiasm shines through and makes it such a fun read. There were actually a few times where I caught myself thinking "maybe I should run a marathon...." ..... the horror....
A fun and quick read about an average joe runner training like a pro. Cool idea, entertaining ok, but would have liked to hear a bit more about the actual pros, what he learned from them, the hard parts about being a pro runner, etc.
The author, a sports journalist and a pretty good amateur runner with 40 marathons to his credit, with impressive times in the 2:40s, spent 13 weeks at age 46 training for the Chicago Marathon with a team of elite runners in Flagstaff, Arizona. His quest was to see how good he could become if he had all of the benefits, in terms of training, coaching, physical therapy, nutrition, etc., afforded to professional runners. For those of us who run (even real slow people like me), it was an irresistible concept, as many of us probably wonder what our true potential would be if we dedicated ourselves to the sport.
The book flows along well, as the author counts down the days to the marathon. You learn a lot about his training routines, his diet, the coaching, physical therapy, sports psychology, etc. There is some suspense, as he sets a challenging goal for himself and suffers an injury that he fears will derail his plans. The story is entertaining, as Fitzgerald writes well and has a self-deprecating sense of humor as he describes his life as a "fake pro runner."
My only negative comment is that the book was a bit too focused on Matt Fitzgerald. I get it, as it is supposed to be about the non-professional in the midst of all these elite runners. But these people have interesting stories, too. While they are elite athletes, professional runners, at least most of them, are not making millions of dollars like baseball and football players. They put countless hours into preparing for a race where they hope to win a couple of thousand dollars and more likely will end up with nothing. At the same time, they are extremely dedicated professionals, and the same can be said for their coaches. I would have liked to have a little more detail about those people and what makes them punish their bodies so relentlessly for careers where they are mostly anonymous and where the chances for glory can be fleeting.
Still, this is a very good read if you are a long distance runner or a fan of the sport.
I should not have read this book when I am: 1. Kinda busted, and 2. Not sure when races will ever happen again, But! It’s a good one if you’ve ever wondered what you could achieve as a hobby jogger if you lived the elite running lifestyle (don’t we all wonder that?) or if you follow elite running and the NAZ Elite squad (Faubs 4ever). Also, in this book the author runs Chicago 2017 which was my first damn marathon and the best damn weekend, so, it’s good. Fitz has some annoying tendencies but the story is worthwhile.
Running is a supremely self-indulgent sport. Memoirs are also usually self-indulgent efforts. This memoir about running is even more self-centered than most. All of the selfishness, annoying habits, and chronic insecurities of the striving amateur runner are on full display here, and, to my chagrin, I recognized many of them in myself. Oh well...the author is likable, and this book is at times a fun read, but not my favorite running book. I'd give it a solid 3.5.
Enjoyable. My only real gripe is that Fitzgeral continually minimizes his ability, making fun of himself. This is fine and sometimes humorous - however, he indicates he is writing this for the average run, and while he is running sub 3 hours marathons, I would not describe him as average. I recognize he is running with professionals, but average runners would DREAM of running a sub-3-hour marathon, and continuing to minimize that feels a little elitist.
A little too self indulgent and petty in these times, for me. Maybe just my current mindset, but I couldn't get past the author's self-importance and seemingly fake humbleness. Great achievements, sure, but no deference or humility. I just couldn't bring myself to care about anyone in this story, especially the author and his "plight"...
Probably the best of Matt Fitzgerald's books I have read. If you are running your first marathon or your fiftieth, there is wisdom for all. Equal parts sports fantasy camp and true training, it has appeal for all runners. And possibly weekend warrior athletes. Also has great life advice.
All said and done, this is a pretty standard running memoir: "I had a dream, I went for it, I learned some stuff along the way." The author's dream was to PR in the marathon even though he was over 40. He went for it by playing professional runner with NAZ Elite in Flagstaff, acting as a member of the team and receiving all the amenities the pro runners are afforded: training at altitude, training partners, professional coaching (including strength coaching), daily massages, time for an hour-long afternoon nap, access to a sports psychologist, etc. For the 16 weeks (I think?) leading to the Chicago marathon, the author's only job was to become a better runner - and by doing this, he hoped to PR.
SPOILER: He did. Apparently when your entire life is centered around running and you have virtually nothing else to worry about and state-of-the-art facilities and the best places to run and extremely talented people to run with and a whole team of the best professionals in the biz boosting you up, you can PR in the marathon. Shocker!!
Sarcasm aside, I think there were some useful "it's the journey not the destination" nuggets that I appreciated. He ended with a bit about goal setting that I found really useful: setting time goals is absurdly common in running, but is quite arbitrary and often leads to a lot of frustration. Ultimately, we're all just trying to be the fastest version of ourselves -- so why not make that the goal, and let the time come to you? This is absolutely how I'll be approaching my next marathon block.
I also enjoyed some of the insights into pro training life, but TBH I've gotten a lot of that from podcasts, instagram, and vlogs so there wasn't anything groundbreaking here.
Also, I listened to the audiobook to have a little inspiration on flat recovery runs and grueling elliptical sessions; however, the narrator's (the reader, not the author) monotone performance made me feel low-energy. Wouldn't recommend it.
Overall, just an okay read. Giving it 3 stars because it inspired me nonetheless.
Some years ago I read "How bad do you want it?" by this same author, and I thought it was brilliant.
So, it was with high hopes I started listening to this audiobook, and Matt Fitzgerald didn't dissapointed me.
This book is a lot more personal, and offers a peak into the fascinating world of professional long distance runners, from the perspective of an "amateur runner".
This book is a tale of a running aficionado trying his best to improve at a later age in his life, following the training, the diet, and doing all the things a pro runner does in order to improve. He also picks their brains for tips and wisdom and stablishes bonds with them in the meantime.
The main point of the story is to focus on progress and self-improvement no matter the current personal level of the runner.
Kind of a pleasure read. Since COVID has happened, all races have been canceled. All I’ve been doing is running base mileage, and reading Fitzgerald’s journey into Chicago was inspirational. It’s fascinating to see how the pros train, I highly recommend Fauble’s book with Ben Rosario if anyone’s curious into the elite athlete mindset.
Love Matt's work, and this was another really good one to listen to on long runs. The concept is really cool, and his honest and humourous writing style made this a fun read. My only slight qualm is that it's got quite a weird flow and can be slow at times - it's basically a narrativised and very detailed 4 month training log. So slightly disjointed, but nonetheless would recommend.
I really enjoyed this book and picked it up as a way to get motivated for my fall half marathon. It was fun to learn more about how elite runners prepare for their races. I like Matt Fitzgerald’s work and previously read “How Bad Do You Want It” which I gave 5 stars to. 4 stars for this one as it’s more niche and passive enjoyment if that makes sense. Would only recommend to people who love running and specifically competing in distance races.
I read this book pretty much in one sitting today, and I'm leaving the book feeling very inspired. It does make you want to go for a run in a scenic place right away, and also kinda makes you feel like dreaming big! Like, why not set out to see how fit you can possibly become.. or spend a summer chasing your dreams, even if you are forty six? A great book for runners. I liked his personal photo album at the end too, it put faces to the names of the elite runners you hear about through the book.
I really enjoyed this book. Shoutout to my friend Molly for the recommendation and to my friend Danielle for being the only person who might read this review.
I found Fitzgerald's journey and his description of the journey to be interesting and inspiring. It was super fun to listen to while running (so much so that I wouldn't listen to it any other times). There were often parts I could relate to and the parts that were outside my experience were insights into a world I had wondered about.
Overall, this was a fun read-- quick and semi-light hearted (Matt's joy for running is delightful to witness).
It's written as almost a diary-- updates from various days pre-race (starting from 90 days out) that Matt has selected as being worthy of our viewing, but made in robust accounts that share details of the NAZ Elites athletes, their training facilities, local community members, wisdom from Coach Ben, but mostly just recaps of Fitzgerald's own workouts and progress.
My favorite parts were reading about some of the NAZ Elite. The world of elite running can be rather punishing for the incredible few who make it to the top, and this a nice showcasing of obviously the insane athletic prowess of these individuals but also how (regrettably) motivated by shere passion these individuals are (since they lack so much of the recognition and payment they deserve). We only got little tidbits dropped in about the increased work they were doing (I didn't quite get a full idea of how different their schedule or workouts were than Fitzgerald's), but what we did learn was fascinating (and boggles the mind how casually they do these insane feats!).
The book finished on a really lovely note of joy and acceptance, however I suppose my only "complaint" was simply that I wished Matt recognized how exceptional his own running is. Running is a bit odd in that there are pros-- but those only include people who are paid exclusively to themselves run. Those who are exceptional runners but not going to earn a living by winning international marathons are "amateurs", even if they coach others and perform at a still top 2-3% level. Matt is one of those such individuals. Maybe it's a testament to how slow I am, but I was so darn impressed by Matt, that I think the line was toed between being appropriately reverent of the god-like pros and not quite respecting his own pace and accomplishments (and enormous training base) the way he should (since this book is geared towards those who likely perform sub-Fitzgerald). I'm reading the next book he's written, this time with Coach Ben, and I think it does a much better job of recognizing and connecting with the variety of the audience and making clearer how certain pacings in workouts can translate for us mortals.
I will say one thing that I noticed when I finished the book (and I think part of this is on Coach Ben's emphasis on prepping for sustained speed in distance and not breaking oneself pre-race), was that because this is such a dream of Matt's that I couldn't quite tell if his good runs were because he was just so darn happy or because of the training!
Overall, a quick read, very fun, and glad that it acknowledges professional runners as the heroes they are!
I love a good memoir, and I love running. This book got a bit technically for a novice runner like me, but I did really enjoy the story of this “old guy” running with the young professionals. It’s very inspiring!
The green-eyed monster rears its ugly head again! I not only want to be Matt Fitzgerald; I could in a just world have been Matt Fitzgerald. Consider.....
(a) the first mile he ever ran (p. 27) was alongside his Dad, in a race I was in (b) his PR's going into this midlife adventure were slightly better or slightly worse than mine, depending on distance; (c) he lost a little weight during his summer of high-altitude training with a pro team (NAZ Elite in Flagstaff), down to EXACTLY the same weight as i ended up just before ultramarathon last year (d) he likes writing books about running; i like reading books about running
It's almost eerie, but for some reason I got left out of his George Plimpton-esque experiment to find out what a decent-but-not-elite runner could accomplish by training with the best and partaking of all the associated perks, right down to the special personal drinks bottles at elite aid stations in the 2017 Chicago Marathon.
It's not a how-to-train book exactly, and he doesn't reproduce his logs, but you do get a pretty good sense of what the workouts were like, commiserate as he copes with an injury in the middle of the buildup, and get a peek behind the scenes of daily life with the likes of Matt Llano (who hosted author and his spouse for the 3-month visit), Kellyn Taylor, Scott Fauble and other stars.
Recurring theme of trying to get the max out of himself before he's too old to do so:
"For the young, there is always tomorrow. To live a dream is a wonderful thing at any age, but it is never treasured more than when there is no tomorrow." (p. 164).
maybe that's a little florid for the quest to run slightly faster than you have before and place high in your age group in a world marathon major, but by that point in the book he's earned a bit of writerly flourish after all the mundane descriptions of his coach wheeling off distances for road intervals and such.
The persona of the author is front and center -- he meets Feyisa Lelisa, Abdi, etc., but the book is not about them. Thankfully, he seemed [to me anyhow] a great guy, to the point that i got over my envy enough to be pulling for him in the big race. I already knew how that went, from articles about this story, but the lead-up was suspenseful reading nonetheless. Great job all around, Matt, both training and writing. Full commitment living!
minor quibble -- on p. 213 in discussing the issue of goal setting, he uses as one of his examples "to have a paper published in The New England Medical Journal" and then calls it "NEMJ". Dude, it's the New England Journal of Medicine, NEJM. Doesn't matter particularly, but out of all the possible aspirations to use to illustrate your point, why would you pick one you apparently don't know about and then not take the 0.8 seconds it requires to google the actual name?
I gave "Running the Dream" five stars because I couldn't put the damned thing down. I read it over one weekend and skipped my Monday morning run because I stayed up late Sunday night finishing it. The book probably isn't for everyone, but it's not going to find the wrong audience anyway. Readers already know Matt Fitzgerald is a runner who writes about serious running topics. I'd say he's most interested in squeezing additional performance out of runners who are already high performers. One way people might be misled by "Running the Dream" is in assuming it focuses primarily on the NAZ elite Hoka team Fitzgerald trains with for a summer. While the pro runners, coach, trainers, and doctors appear in the book, they are secondary characters. "Running the Dream" focuses on Fitzgerald: his training, thoughts, aspirations, interactions, where he goes for dinner, how he hopes to perform at the Chicago Marathon. He's a capable writer, so this is a minor gripe. Fitzgerald sets an audacious marathon time goal for Chicago, which is the hook. The reader turns pages hoping to find out if Fitzgerald ultimately reaches his goal. I did find myself wanting to learn a bit more about the pro runners. Do they do multiple workouts per day? What do they do in their spare time? Fitzgerald stays with Matt Llano during his stint in Flagstaff, so readers learn about Matt's life, and particularly his diet, but what do the others choose to eat? For an amateur runner in his mid-forties, the author's times are legit, but it seems he wants the reader to know about every sub-six split he registers. For me, this became abundantly clear when Fitzgerald was talking to Kellyn Taylor. He describes her as "prickly," slow to warm up to him. But when she starts opening up about a test she failed when trying to become a firefighter--she was talking about something that could impact the rest of her life--Fitzgerald immediately steers the conversation back to himself and some running workout. While the author's love of running shines through, his workouts are pedestrian for Kellyn, so she wouldn't really care. Fitzgerald does a great job of showing the passage of time and how it impacts runners in particular. He is nostalgic, and like many middle-aged runners he struggles with injuries. He knew Chicago was a last hurrah, and his description of the race ranks high as some of the best running-related writing. Fitzgerald realizes his experience of training with a pro team for several months is unique, but to his credit he points out some things any runner can take from "Running the Dream"--the main one being inspiration. I was inspired by this book to work harder and dream bigger.
I have mixed opinions about this book. As a recreational runner, I have no issue with the subject matter, it's the writing that's poor. I feel like the first and second halves were written by two different people. The first half I hated, and the second half was surprisingly alright.
The first half of the book is desperately lacking descriptive prose. Fitzgerald is training in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and yet there's barely any description of the scenery, bar that it's like 'The Sound of Music'. As a result, the first half of the book is a boring and frustrating repetitive diary of running workouts. He may as well have just plonked in a training schedule table in lieu of the prose and it would've amounted to much the same. I wish the author had embellished them a bit more, and bothered to include more reflection on the training process. For example, he's deliberately training at altitude, and yet the difficulty of this is only really mentioned once.
Similarly, there are only paltry descriptions of other people. Strings of people are listed, without much to distinguish one from the other, making for a dull and confusing read. Other information that to me is fundamental is simply never covered. For example, how is he affording 3 months of pro training, both financially and time-wise? His wife, Nataki, is accompanying him for the training - what is she doing for 3 months? There is absolutely no mention of the fact that Nataki is also giving up her normal life for 3 months to support him - does he just not care about this?
Which brings me to my other issue with the book, though much more subjective: I just didn't like the author’s personality in the first half. He comes across as self-absorbed and self-important.
Surprisingly, Fitzgerald brings it around in the second half. This starts with a surprisingly introspective and thoughtful description of nostalgia when he and his wife visit a place they used to live many years ago. The second half is a much more enjoyable read, partly because of the looming climax of the Boston marathon, but more to do with better prose and at times poignant descriptions of how it feels to ‘peak’ in athletics and feel past your prime. The author’s personality also comes across far more favourably later in the book, and towards the end I felt both excited for him and then sorry for him that the ‘dream was over’.
Overall, I think part of my disappointment in the book was that I was imagining it would be an inspirational read. But it’s not about inspiration at all, it’s just about a season of pro running training.
There are good parts to this book but it left me wanting more—especially more information on the training. He gets in great shape and the descriptions of the workouts are very well written but he never explains how he got in the shape to do these workouts. Maybe other readers wouldn’t be interested in weekly mileage, runs per week, and all that, but I wanted to know more about that than the whiteness of one of the pro runner’s teeth (a detail brought up many times).
I also had questions about Fitzgerald’s wife. First I thought he was going to Flagstaff with only his dog, then his wife is there too (and the dog fades away), and while she is mentioned frequently after that, we never learn anything about her and she seems to sit in the car for hours on end when he is doing his workouts or at a doctor’s appointment. I just kept wondering what she was doing and thinking. He’s on this adventure and she’s there for it, but she’s not. Some of their interactions would have provided a more interesting view of Fitzgerald and the experience.
Finally, I may have given this 4 stars but for a line in the book when the author is describing a runner who has recently died, and whose tragic death affects a number of people, and he says, regarding the impossibility of one of the other runner’s plans to meet the recently deceased runner for lunch, in what maybe was an attempt at humor, that he was “no longer taking nourishment.” Maybe it’s just me but that seems pretty dismissive, cold, and lacking in empathy. He was “No longer taking nourishment”? Is that the way to think of someone who had lived a full life and died too young? I don’t think so.
Still, this book had its moments (I’m a sucker for running books) and I’m glad I read it. Fitzgerald clearly had a 5 star experience in Flagstaff—I just wish the book would have captured more of it....
Matt Fitzgerald, a 2:41 PR marathoner, embeds with the NAZ elite training group in Flagstaff, Arizona for three months in preparation for the Chicago Marathon. He hopes that by emulating the training of world-class runners he can possibly maximize his potential, albeit his potential in his mid-40's.
As far as running books go, this is fairly entertaining, and even serious runners will find things of interest. From time to time, Fitzgerald will detail specific workouts and the philosophy behind them. He also describes some drills and exercises. These snippets, however, do not provide a comprehensive overview of the training schedule of a professional runner. I would have liked to see a log of his training while in Flagstaff to get a better sense of the entirety of his training regime. Fitzgerald never really reflects on what aspects of his training he felt improved his running, though we do learn he lost 10 pounds from his already emaciated frame.
Fitzgerald tries to lend some drama to his experience with some fairly purple prose that shows that he owns a thesaurus, or at least regularly consults one on line. Compared to my favorite Fitzgerald book, "Iron Wars," I thought his breezy writing style was a step in the wrong direction. While he provides some brief background on some of the pros in the NAZ group, most of these runners are bit players in Fitzgerald's self-centered worldview.
Because there is a dearth of good running books, I would recommend this to even a serious runner with some qualifications. If you want to read a better book on the nitty gritty of the training of a professional runner, read Sage Canaday's "Running with the Hansons".
On the surface, this is a story of a runner living out a fantasy of being a pro athlete. But as a skilled writer, the author richly and engagingly describes the passion that he and other runners possess. Through this lens, we have a view to the thrill of pursuing this passion with others who, through a combination of physical & mental ability and a life circumstances, can singularly focus on running because it’s their job. I am not a runner – not even really a sports enthusiast – but what I appreciate about the author’s books is that he gives a window into a world (and, frankly, a mindset) that is different from my own. He brings me through the excitement, let-down, triumph, and disappointment that makes the sports world so (presumably) exciting to sports fans. He translates that world with a rare skill. It’s worth mentioning two details that particularly shine in this book. First, he describes real people as characters (including himself). He finds a simple description and a few anecdotal scenarios that fill in for the real, complicated people who populate the world he describes: the person who seems to be always in his kitchen with 35 ingredients, or the one who says “I like people” with the faintest hint of a smile. Second, he finds the universal in the particular detail: The giant conference table of the sports psychologist that seems to represent the chasm he tries to bridge as a “fake professional runner,” and the inner monologue “like a mine-struck submarine” when a familiar threat presents itself at an inopportune time.
I suppose this book would be most enjoyable to runners who may get some of the references I do not, and who may revere the same pro runner names that get dropped regularly throughout the story. But it is also enjoyable and relatable to those, like me, who are not. It’s an interesting story about someone trying to challenge his own personal and structural limitations.
Well… what can I say? At least without aging myself and/or disclosing some of my deep (and weird) phantasies 😅
No seriously… I was a bit in a running funk for the last years. No team workouts. No team anything. And of course no races. (No, a virtual race is not the same…. And while I love my coach and remote work works… it’s NOT the Same…)
And while I decided not to race Chicago this fall (too uncertain whether I would be able to go… ) - Matt Fitzgeralds Book was the Final buttkick for me to get back into my running mojo…
Why? Well… because it makes you want to see what you can do. That’s basically the message of the book (and if you don’t read it in its entirety, but should get it in your hands… read the last two pages - Ben Rosarios speech to the Bruces’ summer campers - yep.,, that’s what it’s about!).
And I give it 5 stars for that.
Fitzgeralds shenanigans in between workouts and insights into the NAZ elites lifestyle are entertaining - though I personally would be more like a Kellyn Taylor character and NOT enjoy his jokes I guess…. ☺️ - and the Book is a really fun and easy read.
Is it special? Is he a great author or writer? Does everyone need to read it? No, I don’t think so.
But for me it came at exactly the right time. And I enjoyed.
(Honestly? Running with the buffaloes is probably the better running book… but this one is a bit more Of a motivator…)