Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Review: The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzes-Pike

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy of The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzes-Pike from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.  This post also contains affiliate links, which means if you click on the links and purchase the books, I'll make a little cash for books for future blog posts.

Although I didn't plan it this way, it's kind of ironic that I chose Catriona Menzes-Pike's memoir, The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion to follow last month's selection Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women's Sports by Kathrine Switzer. Menzes-Pike takes us through her journey of grief but intersperses her story with women's running history. There is mention of Switzer in the book (how could there not be?) along with other noted women runners, and I couldn't help but compare the 2 books. While Switzer's story was also very personal and historic, she wasn't running from something as much as towards something, which was a finish line. Menzes-Pike's journey arose out of grief and life challenges that she needed to run from.

How many of us have started running for that very same reason?


"Some athletes love to talk about what a simple sport running is. They say that all you need is a pair of sneakers. That's not true. What you need is some freedom of movement and the ability to see a clear path ahead of you. It took me years to see that path and to find my pace. When I finally got moving, I hoped I might be able to run forever." ~Catriona Menzes-Pike
When Catriona Menzes-Pike was 20 years old, both her parents died in a plane crash. Suddenly, she was the head of the household and responsible for her siblings. After a period of time of "trying to keep going" and making bad decisions, she decided to go for a run on a treadmill. As she describes training for her first race (a half marathon), she not only reflects on her personal journey but begins to explore the journeys of women runners in the past. This book is as much a commentary on women's running as it is on her journey through grief. It is an interesting juxtaposition, and for the most part, it works.

I knew a lot of the stories of women runners that she shared throughout the book, not only from recently reading Switzer's memoir, but also Amby Burfoot's excellent First Ladies of Running: 22 Inspiring Profiles of the Rebels, Rule Breakers, and Visionaries Who Changed the Sport Forever. While Burfoot's book was all about celebrating women's running history, Menzes-Pike's perspective was slanted more towards the personal challenges women runners have faced over the years and continue to face.

The history of women's running is significant in that women have made great strides (pun intended) in a relatively short period of time to earn equal billing as men in all the distances. But even though there are more recreational women runners than men in every distance but the marathon, women are still having to balance being feminine with being athletic. Women runners are still subject to harassment and worse by men and many women fear running alone. We've come a long way baby, but we've still got a long way to go.

Menzes-Pike shares commentary on women's running today and the consumerism that has evolved. I thought it was interesting reading about what women "runners" used to wear back in the early 20th century. These women wore long skirts or shorts and were completely covered up, quite unlike the women runners of today.
"There's now a truly astonshing array of items to help us declare what kind of runners we are. Consumption offers a quick and shallow means of reinventing the self."
I joke that caring about what I wear when I run is superficial, but I felt a little defensive when I read this section because wearing stylish running gear is part of the fun of running for me. If that makes me shallow, then I'm shallow. Menzes-Pike shares that she wears old faded running clothes and how she doesn't care much about what she looks like. She also talks about people judging women's bodies and deciding if a woman "looks like a runner". I think we've all experienced this, and while I've been told I "look like a runner", I have been passed many times by women who don't comply with that standard. So really, who is to say what a runner should look like? Runners come in all shapes and sizes.

While I enjoyed learning more about women's running, I didn't feel that the book always flowed well between the author's personal story and the historical perspective she worked into every chapter. My favorite parts of the book were the stories the author shared about her own personal journey and her running. I would have preferred reading more about Menzes-Pike's journey as she healed her grief with running. Interestingly, she states that she didn't set out to share so much about her running journey. That's too bad because those personal stories are what really inspire so many of us women runners!

While women run for different reasons, Menzes-Pike postulates that the structure of marathon training provides a framework for people whose lives have, as she says, "fallen apart". The one thing in common, she says, as women, it that (as women runners) we've all been told: "that we shouldn't run this far, that we should slow down, be careful ". So many of us have turned to running for healing and that's really what bonds most women runners together.
"'Enduring' and 'coping" are synonyms, and the logic seems to go something like this: If my body can endure a marathon, then my soul, my psyche, whatever it is that comprises my self, can blunder on too." 
This is a beautifully written book, and if you are looking for running inspiration, between the historic vignettes she shares and her own journey, you will find plenty.

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While the book club link up has gone away, I'm still interested in sharing your book reviews! If you'd like for me to share a review of this book or any other fitness related book, please message me at wendy(at)takinglongwayhome.com. Thanks!

Next month, the book club will be on vacation! But that will give you plenty of time to read August's selection, which is a perfect beach read. Fitness Junkie: A Novel by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, is the humorous story of a CEO of a couture company who is 30 pounds overweight. She's told to lose weight and get in shape or lose her job. The book shares her journey through the fitness world. It was hilarious and cringeworthy all at the same time. If you read the authors' other book, The Knockoff, this one follows along the same snarky vein. The book is being released July 11, but it's a quick read and you'll have plenty of time before the August 18 review!



Finally, I'm linking up with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for the Friday 5.0.


45 comments :

  1. I can definitely speak to the fact that marathon training has helped me put my life back together. Training for and running marathons has given me more than I can ever put into words.

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    1. I'm such a better person for running--I can't imagine where I would have ended up (rehab?) without running.

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  2. Female runners do seem to be more concerned what they are wearing and what gear they have than male runners do. I also don't see anything wrong with that. I also enjoy expressing my personality with fun running/exercise gear. Whatever motivates you to get out there! I fell off of the book club wagon but the August book looks fun I will check it out

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    1. 100% agree with you. I love my running gear.

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  3. Isn't it interesting that running is so "healing". I wonder if other sports are? It's one of the best things I ever did for myself.

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    1. I think for so many reasons, we are all so lucky we fell into running.

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  4. I would have bristled at the fashion comments too, although I buy things for function first - and then pick a cute design. It's like running shoes. I know the model is essential but I want to like the color too dammit! Otherwise, the personal stories do sound good!

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    1. Down to my socks, I'm all about fun and function!

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  5. I don't really care about running clothes, as long as they are comfortable. I still wear the same inexpensive Champion athletic tops and two pairs of Reebok shorts that I got when I started five years ago. But that doesn't mean that I think buying cool stuff is shallow. They're a lot of fun to look at, and I'm sure fun to wear. I always love checking out your new duds.

    Despite its flaws, this book sounds worthwhile on many levels. I will add it to my list. I love the you keep us abreast of so many fine books. Thanks for all you do.

    [Love Teamarcia's comment.]

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    1. I read this about a month ago and needed to let it simmer. After reading Marathon Woman, it was hard not to compare the 2 books. Writing this review made me realize what a good book this was.

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  6. While it would be a little hard for me to relate, since my reasons for running are completely different (and looking stylish is important to me too ��), this book sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. When I read it, initially I didn't like the parallel themes, but as I review it now, I see that it worked very well.

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  7. While I own some "high-end" piece of running clothes, most of my running clothes are reasonably priced and durable. I tend to like bright colors too.

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    1. I've got a variety of running clothes too. I buy what I like.

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  8. Great review! Someone told be about 15 years ago (way before I started running) that I "looked like a runner". I still don't know what she meant, but I sure did take it as a compliment! I also like cute running clothes and I don't think that makes us shallow!

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    1. I always take it as a compliment but trying to live up to that impression is a whole other thing!

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  9. Just marked Fitness Junkie as my next book to download on my Kindle app ;) Sounds like my type of book!

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  10. I love your book club. I have one book I'm reading now and one I'm reading for an upcoming review, but after that I'm totally on board with what you pick!

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    1. I hope you'll read Fitness Junkie! It was a fun, light read!

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  11. I do think there is a stigma out there that women start running because something is broken in their lives. I have not found that to be be true in my life so I wonder how many others started running for other reasons.

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    1. This could open an interesting conversation, Fairytales and Fitness.
      For me, it was a challenge to run a 5K for my sixtieth birthday. Never active, I thought it was going to be a Bucklet List item, but I discovered I profoundly enjoyed the sport. Inching toward sixty-five now, I am still running, though I am a low-key runner. Not fast, not far, but running.
      There are probably as many reasons why we run as there are runners.

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    2. I think women run for a lot of reasons but I'd bet if you polled them, the majority run because of something that's affected them negatively in their lives.

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  12. Sounds like an interesting book, might have to look for it soon. I'm such a horrible reader - I just can't find the time. Well, I don't make the time. We're heading on a road trip for Canada Day and I'm really hoping to get some good reading in!

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    1. I was just thinking--make the time! LOl! I love to read and I wish I had more time!

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  13. Being in the ultra running community was such an eye-opener for me. I looked around me at the start line and saw a lot of tattoos and then as we got to know each other over the next couple of days, I heard a lot of heartbreaking stories. Most people assume that runners are running away from their problems but being one of them myself I can attest to the fact that it takes courage to run *through* them.

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    1. 100% agree. I've run through quite a few problems that last couple of years. I'm grateful I can.

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  14. I just joined a book club, and while it's not running/fitness specific, it has helped me get back on the reading train! It also pushes me to read books I wouldn't normally pick up. I'll have to suggest a running-related book sometime :)

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    1. Maybe Fitness Junkie? It's kind of fun, but it's a commentary on all the crazy trends in fitness. Hello, goat yoga? I'm talking about you.

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  15. I almost picked up this book, but grabbed a different one instead.

    I hear you on the clothing!! I feel there is so many conflicting arguments on what women wear to run!! it's really just annoying... who cares? If somebody wants to wear a tutu and $50 dollar socks, whatever!! We all need to wear whatever will work for us and stop judging on others!

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    1. I second your feeling, Ana L. Exactly so, and perfectly stated.

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    2. That is so right. It's my running and I'll wear what I want to!

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  16. I've had my eye on Fitness Junkie - will be interested to hear what you think about it!

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    1. Spoiler alert: it was totally a fun read. If you liked the Knockoff, you'll like it.

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  17. While I actually started running for two reasons... to lose weight and to prove to myself that I could do it but would later end up being my saving grace through a very difficult time of my life and a few years later, it got me through my husbands year long deployment. Running never gave up on me during that time and now I will never give up on running!

    And I'm all about the running clothes and feel no shame in that! I may not be fast, but I can look cute! :)

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    1. Mission accomplished! You always look cute!

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  18. Since I started running to combat depression, I totally get the concept of running and training being something that helps pull you back together when you have fallen apart.

    As far as fashion, I don't think dressing in a way that makes you happy when you run is any different than choosing a nice outfit to go out to dinner. If it makes you feel good and function well, do it.

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    1. I feel the same way, which is why this particular passage kind of jumped out at me.

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  19. I can't believe it took me so long to discover running what a game changer! Your next selection sounds like a fun one! I am reading a great summer read myself right now but it is not sports/running related :-)

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    1. What are you reading? I'm always looking for something fun--I don't know why I read so many serious books!

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  20. I wish that we didn't live in such a judgmental society, but alas we do. Her discussion on she doesn't care what she looks like when she's out running seems to be the minority stance. Because we often know that we're going to be judged, we often want to look our best, even when we are headed out to do something that we know will make us sweaty. I know that many of us do it out of fear of being judged, but still, I wish that society weren't that way.

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    1. I didn't consider that perspective. I don't consider what others might think when I'm selecting clothes--I just like to dress so I feel confident in how I look. Maybe that's the same thing...

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  21. This looks like a great book! Very inspiring! Running has changed my life for the better and I couldn't imagine my life without it!

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    1. That was the author's theme for the book. It was an interesting journey.

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  22. Running has saved my sanity. 4 years ago it was either time to medicate myself against the depression demons, or it was time to start running and eating properly, back to health and happiness. On the whole I have done that. 16kg lighter, a heart much better. This year I lost my mom, and in a time of absolute heartbreaking agony, running meant that I processed my emotions; and I discovered that I wasn't able to run and cry at the same time - so there was a lot of running. In fact I ran my second marathon 2 weeks after she died, and my first ultra 2 months later.
    (truth be told though, I also love my running kit - in South Africa we love our funky pants - and quite frankly, if someone is offended by what I look like and what I wear, then they shouldn't be looking)

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