Shorter grew up with an abusive father. Dr. Sam, as Shorter refers to him, was the beloved family doctor in the town where Shorter grew up. No one would have believed him if he would have shared the epic violence that went on the home. While Shorter only alludes to the difficult lives his siblings have had, his life was changed because he could run.
Shorter took gold in the 1972 Olympic marathon and silver in 1976. It was that silver medal that prompted Shorter to become involved in a campaign to oust doping in long distance running. The gold medalist in that 1976 race, a formerly unknown East German runner, later was accused of doping, along with many other athletes from that era. I grew up in the 1970s, and I remember those East German athletes, particularly the females, as being pretty scary. The doping at that time was epic, and it wasn't just limited to running.
Although he had a big role in the fight against illegal doping, Frank Shorter would rather be known for what he did on the track. It wasn't until a visit to Boys and Girls Town, a charity that he was racing for, that his personal story came out. Shorter, along with Dick Beardsley and Bill Bowerman, were asked to give a motivational type of talk to the kids. He looked at the kids in the crowd and felt a connection. Instead of the usual motivational speech he was accustomed to, he shared the story of his boyhood.
"Suddenly, some things made sense about Frank. I had always felt this sense of aloofness and distance from him--sometimes he would look at me like he didn't even know me. I thought it was something I had done. I talked to friends about I and they said, don't take it personally, that's just Frank. But sitting there on that stage, listening to Frank talk about his father coming up the stairs and deciding which of his kids he was going to wail on, I suddenly understood where his distance came from. "Shorter's mental toughness prevails throughout his career. In 1972, he was preparing to run the marathon at the Munich Olympics. While staying at the Olympic Village with all the other athletes, he learned that terrorists had taken hostages across the courtyard from the townhouse where he was staying. After the death of the terrorists and their hostages, the games went on. Shorter reflects on this and says that "as soon as I got the word, my mind clicked back into focus." Not all the athletes were able to regain their focus, and Shorter used what he called "engaged detachment", a technique he gained from dealing with his father, to become the first American to win the Olympic Marathon since 1908. No American has won gold in that distance since Shorter.
While Shorter shares a great deal about his childhood, the book isn't just about Shorter's life with his abusive father. He shares his running stories--a lot of great stories-- including running with Steve Prefontaine and his rivalry with Bill Rodgers. He also talks about "becoming hooked on the marathon" and shares his wisdom about running that distance. And by the way, he finds it counterproductive to run more than 20 miles on a long training run. Just so you know.
Here's a little tidbit of advice: "The body starts to breakdown past 20 miles, and you have to save that breakdown for a race. All you can do (short of cheating with performance-enhancing drugs) is make yourself as uncomfortable as possible during your intervals and long runs, so that, instead of crashing, you can work with the pain that comes beyond 20 on race day...the challenge of those final 6.2 miles was primarily mental." Since I'm getting ready to train for Grandma's marathon in June, I had to throw this in.
Shorter's autobiography is really well-written and easy to read. For a running junkie like me, I enjoyed reading his racing stories and found it fun to read about an era when running was so much more simple than it is now. Shorter provides some interesting commentary on modern marathon running and the evolution of athletes being paid to endorse products. Reading about his inevitable slowdown made me kind of sad, but he is attempting to age with grace and dignity. Friends of mine who have met Shorter all comment on what a nice guy he is. For a guy who came from such a troubled home, he did all right. Running was his escape and it served him well.
As it does for so many of us.
Have you read Frank Shorter's book? Ever met him? What do you think of his story?
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Here's the link up badge! Remember, the link up stays open for 2 weeks, so you have plenty of time to read this month's selection. If you've read something else, fitness-wise, that you'd like to share, feel free to link up that post! Please link back to my post and comment on any other reviews that are linked up. Thanks for supporting the book club and our authors!
Next month's selection looks like a fun, light read! Your Pace or Mine?: What Running Taught Me About Life, Laughter and Coming Last written by 100 time marathoner Lisa Jackson is a lighthearted look at the joys of running! So many of us are gearing up for a spring marathon, I thought this would be a perfect choice for March. This link up goes live March 17!
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