Becky Wade, named "America's Best Young Marathoner" by Runner's World in 2013 after winning the California International Marathon, got such an opportunity. After graduating from Rice University, she applied for a Watson fellowship, which provided funding for a year of "purposeful and independent exploration and travel". Becky wanted to plan her journey around running and different cultures. She was curious about how runners around the world lived and trained.
Becky shares her stories in her book Run the World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe.
When I first heard about this book, I was really anxious to read it. I had other books lined up for the book club and considered moving them around to put this one at the top of my list. That didn't seem fair to my readers or the authors of the scheduled books, so I had to put on my patience hat. I'm not a patient person.
Spoiler alert: It was worth the wait. In fact, like a good runner, I paced myself steadily through this one so I could savor every minute of her adventure. As I write this, I can hear Johnny Cash singing "I've been everywhere man, I've been everywhere man..." in my head...
With apologies to the man in black...
....Crossed the deserts bare, man, breathed the mountain air, man, travel I've had my share man, I've been everywhere. I've been to England, Ireland, Swtizerland, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, Finland. I've been everywhere...Becky's journey took her through 22 countries (she shares her stories about 9 of them), 3504 miles, and 11 pairs of running shoes. She researched and joined local running clubs in the cities she stayed and was able not only run with some top runners but also able to secure housing with friends and friends of friends. By doing so, she not only experienced firsthand what it was like to live in those countries, she was able to use her money for other things, like food and travel.
Throughout the book, she shares her thoughts and experiences on and off the track. In particular, what stood out to me was the difference between the way we train for races and how runners in other parts of the world train. The Japanese runners are incredibly disciplined and serious. They also run mileage that is unheard of. I thought Sarah Crouch's 160 miles per week was ridiculous until I read that the Japanese elites run upwards of 200 miles per week, some logging 750 miles per month! The Ethiopians, aka the "Yaya girls" that Becky ran with run single file, randomly--no speed or distance predetermined--in a "follow the leader" style. They don't wear watches and aren't really sure of distance or time.
Not only does Becky share her running experiences, she shares a lot about the culture and lifestyle of each country she visits. I found this fascinating. She shared tea with the cross country runners at Cambridge, drank Guinness with runners in Ireland, and unwound in the Japanese onsen (baths), even a "fish dip". There's discussion about food--yes, she had a sandwich with Vegemite in Australia. The Kenyans she ran with in England eat a lot of white carbs, as do the Ethiopians. Becky returned to the US, rejuvenated and excited to incorporate some of the things she had learned and experienced on her journey, and won that 2013 California International Marathon.
More than anything, this is a book about running. While I love reading about adventure travel, it was fun to read a travelogue about the sport that I love. This may be one of my favorite running books that I've read so far. It's an easy, joyful read about one woman's running journey. I hope she takes us on another.
If you want to read more about her journey, Becky Wade kept a blog, Becky Runs Away, chronicling her adventures. Runner's World wrote a recap of her journey back in 2013--it's worth the read as well.
Have you read the book? What was your favorite story? Where would you go for your dream running destination?
I'm linking this post with Tuesdays on the Run--they're featuring Best Running Books. It's hard to pick a favorite out of all the running books this year that I've read, but I'd have to say this was one of the top ones!
An InLinkz Link-up
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This post contains affiliate links.