Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book review: The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly

I picked up this ebook over a month ago as a Kindle Daily Deal. I thought a book about an alcoholic turned ultrarunner would be a great book for my monthly blog book review.

How ironic. When I picked this book, The Long Run, by Mishka Shubaly, I had no idea how close to home this would be. I actually considered finding another book to read. But the book had received fairly positive reviews, and I decided to forge ahead, figuring I could abandon the book if it became too painful for me to read.

Written as an autobiography, this book is the story of Shubaly's tremendous love for alcohol and drugs, and how his addictions almost destroyed his life. He worked as a bartender and bouncer, and as he said, his reward (and many other bartenders' rewards) was alcohol. On his shift, he tried to hold out as long as he could before he took that first drink. You might call the first half of the book the Triple D (no, not Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives)--drinking, drugs, and debauchery.

 Shubaly really goes, in the words of Guy Fieri, "full throttle!".
Shubaly details his escapades graphically. It's not pretty. He does a good job of deterring the non-substance abuser from his lifestyle. Shubaly decides to go for STI testing, and while at the clinic, was handed a questionnaire asking about substance abuse. A light bulb must have gone off because he decided to answer the questionnaire honestly, and was surprised when he was called back to an exam room ahead of everyone else in the clinic. Along with STI testing, he was offered alcohol/substance abuse treatment. In his words:
"We (the counselor and Shubaly) both knew I had a problem."
He realized he had been "found out". But he also realized he faced a great opportunity. So he signed up for the treatment program.
"Do or die, motherfucker, I thought, do or die."
In reflecting back on his life, he also realized one thing.
"I was, simply, a jerk. "
This book was painful to read. Alcoholics and addicts are so self destructive, but they also harm others. Addiction is a selfish disease. I grew up watching several family members harm themselves and others with alcohol and substance abuse. Shubaly says he only wanted to live to be 17. So many people predicted his demise that turning 30 proved all of them wrong. At 32, he reached a turning point. He had an epiphany that even his self-destruction was a failure. What was he going to do with his life? His anxiety escalated as he pondered the question. AA wasn't for him. You know what? I get that. It's not for everyone. There have to be other options for overcoming addiction.
So Shubaly started running. Throughout the second half of the book, he chronicles his transformation from addict to runner. He ran when he was angry or depressed or frustrated, which was most of the time. He was still drinking and smoking when he started running. But as he ran longer distances, he gave up the substances. because they affected his performance. And then he began to train for the Staten Island Half Marathon. He finished in 1:46:50, which he said wasn't great. Really? He does a lot of, as he calls it, "self-flagellation" throughout the book.
"Getting sober and running long distances has been deeply bizarre, weirder than any drug or combination of drugs I've tried. I do things now that my friends find crazier than doing drugs..." 
Like running? Aren't all runners crazy? Or are some of us crazier than others? Think about the crazy things you've done for a run.

After befriending an ultramarathoner, Shubaly begins running ultra distances. He said that marathons just weren't long enough. Maybe he was trying to outrun his demons. Of course, with the increase in mileage, he gets injured, and contemplates drinking again. He dreams about drugs, "vicodin the size of cheeseburgers". But he prevails, recovers, and begins to run again.
"...your old life doesn't just fall away from you like a snake shedding its skin. You carry it with you everywhere you go." 
For Shubaly, "the hardest part was learning how to care about his life again".

This was a book about trading one addiction for another. I recently wrote a blog post about this.  And there are a lot of stories of former addicts turning to running. Ultrarunning magazine recently published a guest post written by a 26 year old former food addict/anorexic turned ultrarunner. It's a really great essay that nicely sums up the running addiction.

I'm learning a lot about addiction lately. Addiction to substances, such as alcohol and opiates, has been linked with increased dopamine in the part of the brain that produces a feeling of reward. Cues that predict reward associated with substances cause those dopamine receptors to fire as they recall those pleasurable experiences. Running does this too. In 2011, researchers from Vanderbilt University studied heavy marijuana users, having them run on treadmills 30 minutes 10 times in 2 weeks. The researchers saw an astonishing drop in the participants cravings and use of marijuana.

Plenty of alcoholics and drug abusers have turned to running as a "healthy addiction". Some say it is trading one addiction for another. Yet another article in Runners' World dispels the myth that ultrarunners are "addicted" to running.  Shubaly sums it up as well, saying:
"...if I am addicted to exercise, it has been by far the dreariest, most painful, least thrilling addiction I have ever experienced."
While The Long Run is a quick read, Shubaly's story isn't easy to read. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. As I read the book, I felt the first half of the book was much easier for him to write than the second half, which was all about running. He does a great job sharing his drinking stories, but I would like to have seen a little more detail and passion about his running escapades. The book really was more about overcoming addiction than it was about running. But in the end, running saves him from himself. Shubaly doesn't experience relief from his depression, and he doesn't consider himself free from his demons. But he redeems himself, helping another runner get to the finish of a 100 miler under his goal time, and comes to the realization that this addiction, his addiction to running, isn't selfish like his addictions to substances. As he says upon completion of his 100 miler,
"We had taken a journey through the darkness, and emerged, whole but transformed, on the other side."
Such a hopeful sentiment. Maybe running should be part of every addiction treatment program.

***Hey everyone, due to overwhelming positive response, I'm starting a monthly running book club with a link up!***

I've selected a book for next month that sounds like a fun, light running-related read: 

Honey, Do you need a ride? Confessions of a fat runner by Jennifer Graham

- this is described as a humorous look at running, motherhood, life, and body image.
available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Check out her facebook page and website, too. 
The link up for this book will open on March 14 and will stay open for 2 weeks, so you have plenty of time to read and review. I am so excited about this! I can't wait to dig in!

And if you have a book review you want to add to this month's blog post, I've started a linkup below. I wanted to have a trial run this month before I kick off next month's official linkup!


  1. Great idea! I love reading books about running…and watching movies. I just did a review of the movie 4 Minute Mile!

    1. I thought about having a movie month too! Thanks for checking in. I think we'll do this!

  2. Love the book idea. I'm always in search of the next good read.

  3. Fabulous review! I'm going to read this book. And yes to the book club. Xo

  4. I also might be interested in the book club :)

  5. Great recap! It totally makes sense that running would be a healthier alternative for addicts--replace stimulating the brain's pleasure center with something unhealthy to something much healthier. I'd definitely be interested in the book club, assuming I have time to read the book. ;)

  6. Count me in, and I definitely plan on checking this book out.