Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: My Marathon: Reflections on a Gold Medal Life by Frank Shorter

Frank Shorter, the self-proclaimed "father of the modern distance running movement", achieved greatness in long distance running. In his book, My Marathon: Reflections on a Gold Medal Life, Shorter shares his running stories and the motivation behind his victories.



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.

While reading the book, I noted what felt like a sense of arrogance as Shorter told his story. After I finished the book, I realized that what I was sensing wasn't arrogance at all. As his friend Dick Beardsley said after Shorter opened up to the group at the Boys and Girls Town gathering:
"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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54 comments :

  1. Add this to the list. I am so fascinated by what drives athletes to the feats that they accomplish, and how the inner struggle manifests itself and then works its way out!

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    1. Isn't it fascinating? I also thought about how he was able to positively impact his life by running. But altho he didn't share much, i suspect his personal life wasn't as successful.

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  2. Wow. It's interesting to learn some more of the personal side of this running guru. His advice on the toll of a 20 mile run makes sense. I used to see it at 10M but so far my 12 milers have gone OK.

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  3. Oh man, I remember the East German female swimmers...particularly from the 1988 Olympics. A woman named Kristin Otto won 6 golds...and she looked like a man.

    Interesting about the 20 mile tidbit...I've never done a marathon, so have never come close to hitting that kind of mileage in one run, but it's good to know. What do these ultra-marathoners do?!

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    1. Well, ultramarathoners are a whole different breed!

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  4. What a great review! I'm always fascinated to hear how people became successful and what they had to overcome to get there.

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  5. I have not read this yet but I do like to take a peek into what makes athletes like this tick and get a sense of their personalities as well.

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    1. What a great example of someone who was able to channel a really bad life and work it out through running!

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  6. Sounds like a good read. I met him and he is so nice!!

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    1. I thought about that when I wrote this!

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  7. I know someone who has been looking for a good running book. Perhaps i'll mention this one.

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  8. I haven't heard of this book but it seems like a really good read. I like that there's a personal aspect to the book as well - makes the author more real in my opinion.

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  9. Man, I love his advice on how to deal with the last 6.2 miles. That is GOSPEL.

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  10. What a great man. I remember when he went public with the abuse shortly after his father's death. Heartbreaking. Great advice for after mile 20. That last 10k is always a crazy place to be.

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    1. I'm taking that advice to the starting line!

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  11. Those poor East Germans. They didn't have a choice, and now their bodies are rebelling.

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    1. Right? I read about that when I was researching this post. So sad.

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  12. Sounds like a great read! I wish they carried more books at Target, so I could get my hands on something like this. I like to handle books before I purchase (I'm so weird) and I don't make it to the book store nearly as often as i would like.

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    1. Do you read online books--Kindle? I'm really liking it!

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  13. I met him - well, with a lot of other runners, LOL, at the San Antonio Rock and Roll half marathon several years ago - he was the official starter, and they rolled each corral up to the starting line and he'd do the countdown, and then cheer on each group. I was WAAAYYYY in the back, like corral Q or something, and he still was super enthusiastic and made me feel important as I crossed that starting line. I really admire him, especially with how he was able to move beyond a pretty awful childhood.

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    1. It's amazing how he was able to channel his negativity into such a positive outcome!

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  14. Sounds like a good read. One of these days I'll actually manage to not only procure, but actually read the book for the book club.

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  15. I think Shorter was the last person to see Steve Prefontaine alive. Also, I realyy like his advice on the 20 milers. I think the handful of 20 milers I ran last year were too much and wore me down and it showed at Chicago. Shorter was likely running 120+ miles per week and even he didn't go beyond 20. Since I was running lower mileage than he did, I probably should have maxed out at 16 to 18 for my long runs.

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    1. Thank you! My coach has me max out at 18 miles and Shorter totally justified that!

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  16. You read so many great books! I used to read all the time on my commute in NYC. I haven't found the time yet here in Austin. I just need to make time!

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    1. I'm boring. I read before I go to bed...

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  17. No shit. I had NO idea about his past. I'm going to pick up this book.

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  18. Sounds like an interesting story- I like how you throw in the 20 miles advice. Makes sense to me! Looks like you found another great book to share! Thanks!

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    1. I liked that 20 mile advice! Makes me feel like I"m doing the totally right thing!

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  19. One of these days I'm going to order every book on your list and catch up with all of them! Each one of them looks better than the last. I have a looooong list of books I want to read. I just can't seem to find the time. Too many balls in the air.

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    1. I feel you--so many books, so little time!

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  20. This sounds like a great read! I'm always amazed at athletes who have less-than-desirable childhoods, but use that as a force to move forward. I love his thoughts on that final 10K of a marathon ;-)

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    1. Perfect timing as we begin our marathon training, right?

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  21. This looks like a great book! I tend to only read when I travel, but now that Ive been inside on the spin bike so often Im starting to read a little on there. I may need to download this to my kindle and give it a try.

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    1. This would be a great book to spin too!

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  22. I have multiple TBR piles of books in every room in our home, so I am reluctant to read every running book I come across, as valuable or entertaining as they may be. Sometimes, though, a book is irresistible. I have not read this, but I will. And soon.
    I've always admired Shorter and your review just adds to that respect.
    Aging with grace and dignity while slowing down? I'm there.
    Thank you for a marvelous review Wendy. I'm going right to my library and order this one.
    (Insert heart emoticon here).
    ~Connie

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  23. So what planet have I been living on?? I did not know you had this link! I just finished "Run the World" and was looking for another book for March (since one of my goals for 2017 is to read at least one book per month) ...you are sooo going to help me out on my goal :) Just downloaded "Your Pace or Mine" :)

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  24. This sounds like a great read, especially for me as I get ready to start marathon training later this year. Adding it to my list. Thanks for the recommendation!

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    1. This book was truly inspirational! Talk about running as therapy!

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  25. I haven't read his book yet, it sounds great. Sad he was abused as a child, you just never know what goes on in a person's home. Great recap

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    1. It's great how he was able to channel all that into running.

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  26. This sounds like such an inspirational read. What amazing focus to be able to do what he did in the marathon after such a terrifying series of events!

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    1. That just blew my mind! He's one tough guy.

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  27. I love the way you write the reviews! I completely forgot about the doping stuff!

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  28. This looks like an awesome book and I am def gonna check it out!!!

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