Saturday, March 14, 2015

Book Review: Honey Do You Need A Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner by Jennifer Graham

Jennifer Graham is not fat. She calls herself fat, sees herself as fat, wants to own that label, but she's really not "fat". Sorry. I've Googled her and she looks "normal". But that's how she sees herself. And even though she talks a lot about her body image, this book isn't really about being fat. It's about feeling badly about yourself. And employing running as therapy to help you through all the crap life throws at you.

I get that. 100%.

And I have to admit I've been passed in races by lots of runners who are much bigger than me. Size doesn't always matter. We need a word for that. Like how when women pass guys in a race--they're "chicked"? I'll leave that one for the readers to discuss.

Anyways. This book is all about finding yourself through running. Like so many people, Graham first started running to lose weight. She eventually discovered that body size does not make a runner and that exertion becomes joyful:
"It wasn't because of how I felt when I ran; it was because of how I felt afterward. Accomplished. Virtuous. Clean. It's like what Dorothy Parker said about her craft. She said she didn't like writing, but she liked having written. Likewise, when sedentary people first start to run, few enjoy the actual running. The reward comes later. The reward comes from having run." 
Graham is funny, sarcastic, and snarky, and I had some laugh out loud moments when I read this book. I learned that using 2 sports bras to hold the girls in place is called "double bagging". Although when I checked on urban dictionary, that isn't the definition I found. No mention at all of bras. Shame on me for googling it. Guess I should have picked up that box of condoms I found in the road a couple of weeks ago.

Back to the book. Graham talks about her first running clothing and how cotton is not a good fabric to run in. Not because it isn't wicking, but because it outlines your every crevice.  Her description of her zebra striped running outfit took me back to the 90s (I think she must be about my age) and I reminisced about running fashions during that decade. Crinkly pants and jackets? And those thong youngsters don't know what you missed out on.

November 1991. Gotta love the high waisted shorts and matching top. That's how we did it back then...
Graham's first massage experience, with a masseuse named "Tommy", was another LOL chapter in the book.  A massage called "the Runner's Revenge"? How could something so wrong feel so right? Made me think of that Seinfeld episode when George got a massage from a guy and he feared that he "felt it move"....

Running with music? She calls it "amateur hour" but says that music makes her feel like she's dancing. But Graham says she'd never use her iPod in a race because if someone yells "look at that ectomorph go", she wants to hear it. Another 90s reference, she talks about running with a Walkman, which she describes as an "Eggo-sized" cassette player. Pre-iPod, I used to train with a Walkman, but I never brought it to a race. Nobody did. I still have mine actually. One of my friends (he's a little eccentric) still runs with his...

She talks about cross training and her attempt at horseback riding. Graham had hoped for tighter glutes and inner thighs.  She got bruises. To keep the horse company, she bought a donkey. She still has the donkey, actually 2 of them. The horses are gone, after the last one tried to kill her. 

Graham with her donkeys. Not sure if these are the escapees that are featured in the book.
Graham is also relatable. She shares her difficulties being married to, and eventually divorced from a non-runner. Relatable moment (for me at least): she never has had the experience of her children cheering her at the finish line of a race or holding a "GO MOMMY GO" sign meant for her. I remember running the Walt Disney World half marathon, and yes, my husband got up with me at 330am to eat breakfast and get me on the monorail. But none of my family were on the course or at the finish line. When I finished I called him and they were already in Epcot, waiting in line for a ride. That stung. They have been at a few races, but reluctantly, and now that I have my own tribe aka running friends, I'm over it. But I certainly understand how Graham felt about that. She talks about meeting another man who was a runner, and who became a "too-good-a-friend". While that hasn't happened to me, I can see how it could. Her husband lacked, as she called it "speed goggles". Personally, I think her ex-husband sounds like a real jerk. Missing races? Sad, but not jerk material. Making fun of her on his talk radio show? Crosses over to a**hole territory. Certainly, that couldn't have helped Graham feel good about herself.

Thankfully, through everything, she had running.

A pervasive theme throughout the book is Graham's relationship with her coaches, Dr George Sheehan, and Pre, as in Steve Prefontaine. Yes, you haven't missed a thing--both men are dead. Prior to signing on with Pre and Dr Sheehan, Graham wrote to Alberto Salazar to see if he would coach her. Seriously. She never heard back from him. When she's running, she hears Pre and Dr Sheehan quotes in her head and those quotes push her through tough runs.  Pre is by her side on the road and through the rough spots in her life. It's kind of funny and sweet how she channels them to get her through tough runs. Pre is always there with the tough love.

Graham channels Pre for this quote during her half. This where she coins the term "runicide".
The book isn't all laughs, though. When Graham talks about her life circumstances, she can be pretty dark. Like a lot of us, she uses humor to help cope with tough times. She struggles with "the reality that...she's done everything right..and still, the outcome has turned out so badly." Reflecting on the suffering of her marriage breaking up, she says she "sees no purpose in any of it--no payoff, no vision..of how this pain could be worth it...". But as she says, "Maybe sometimes going backward is going forward enough...". Graham hurts from the breakup of her marriage, and she writes about it really well. You can feel her pain as you read her essays. Thankfully, even when she's sad, she keeps the reader laughing. I found myself smiling, even as my heart hurt from the pain I felt in her stories.

In the end, she runs her Kiawah Half Marathon. She struggles, and Pre gets her through it. But she is "taunted" by the marathoners who must run the course twice. She thinks she could never run a marathon. She thinks to herself that 13.1 is "mediocre". She'll never put a 13.1 sticker on her car, because she says 13.1 means "I can't run 26.2". She listens to those voices inside her head that tell her she can't. Who hasn't done that? And then, she has an epiphany on a run after the race. She starts to feel joy. Thanks her coaches. And remembers, like we all do on a great run, why it is that we run.

I hope she feels better about her accomplishments. As they say, 13.1 isn't half of anything. Because of the word "half" in the title, the half marathon has an image issue. Maybe they should rename the half marathon. Give it a title worthy of the distance. Me, I look at the half as a gateway drug to the full. Eventually everyone wants to try it.

Oh, and yes, the title of the book? It really happened. Yes, Buick LeSabres are only driven by grandmothers. Lesson learned. Don't stop to talk to people on the run. You never know what they might have to say to you. You might not like it.

So what did you think?

Do you see yourself as a "fat runner"? Does your body image affect how you feel about yourself as a runner?

Does your partner/significant other run? If so, do you train together? If not, is he/she supportive? Do you think a marriage can survive when one person is a runner and the other isn't?

Who or what do you channel to push you through a tough run or race? Do you have a mantra?

What do you think about Graham's statement that a 13.1 bumper sticker means "I can't run 26.2"? Do you put race stickers on your car? If not, why not?

Share your thoughts in the comments below and/or link up your review! Be sure to link back to this blog post. 

And next up, just in time for the Boston marathon is Hal Higdon's 4:09:43 Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners. The link up will be open 3/14- 3/28/2015. 

Don't forget to grab the linkup logo! 


  1. Sounds like a fun read! I will have to check it out.

  2. Ahhhhh... the nonsupportive spouse. I feel the pain. Mine rarely goes to races with me. When he does (like on my birthday weekend this past January), he makes it a point to passive-aggressively mention what an inconvenience it is for him. He's never on the course. He may or may not walk me to the start line, but when he does he goes back to the hotel room or to the truck to sleep. I don't even ask him much anymore. January was the first time I had in a long time (thanks to running blogging buddies), and I won't ask again. It's VERY difficult sometimes being a vegan runner married to an omnivore nonrunner. I'll stop there before I start venting. lol

    1. LOL! My husband and I have a nice happy medium now. I don't ask him to go to races anymore and he sometimes offers! He brags about me to people, which is as much praise as I can ask for. He doesn't complain about me racing. And he lets me train with Becky. When the boys were little it bothered me more, bc I don't think he set a good example for them. Ahhh....what can I say. You're in good company.

  3. I was to put my first 13.1 sticker on my car and am still proud of that accomplishment. Who knows if I'll ever run a marathon, but for now I'm generally proud of myself for running the half marathons that I have and for trying to avoid saying/thinking that it is "only" a half marathon. :) Thanks for hosting the book club link up! Great idea! - Jessica

    1. There is no such thing as only a "half". Today was #11 for me. They're a nice compromise from the full. You have to train for them. But it doesn't take over your life. And you can push your pace a little harder than you can in a full. Great job!

  4. I've seen a few reviews of this book this week it looks funny and a great read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I need to start reading more!!

  5. That sounds like a good one! I am married to a non-runner but he was a former professional athlete. Between the running and the blogging there has been a few non pleasant conversations but it is getting better- I do not plan on giving up either. So far the hubby has been to 2 out of 3 races this year and I imagine he will get to 1 or 2 more. And for the record I love my 13.1 magnet on my car, I don't think it means I can't run a marathon- I just don't want to. I need to catch up and start on your next book!

    1. What I loved about this book is that we can all relate to the author in one way or another. She just put all our insecurities and issues on paper!

  6. Honestly, I didn't really care for this one. Rather than funny, I found a tone of mean-spiritedness on the part of the author that bothered the heck out of me. And I felt the title was incredibly misleading. Graham does address that in the last chapters, but it certainly changes things when the reader comes to realize that she is just an average-bodied person. Not unlike so many of us. Which is totally fine, but it absolutely changes everything for me and made it very difficult to relate.

    I did really like her take on how running effected her marriage, with her husband not able to give her the support she needed from him. I thought it was an important perspective about communication and being on the same page, which applies not just to running, but to all "extracurriculars" in a partnership.

    Body image is a huge part of running. I wouldn't say I see myself as fat, but I am self-conscious because I am tall and and not skinny and running doesn't come easily to me. As I have gotten closer with the running community, I own the fact that this is all in my head. No one cares at all about anything on me that may jiggle or have cellulite or anything else. They are all too busy worrying about their own jiggles and cellulite and whatever else bothers them about themselves and their running.

    My husband does run. We have different approaches to it and we run for different reasons. He doesn't quite get they way I am about running and races, but he is supportive, as I am of him. I'm glad it's something we share.

    Fear of failure is what gets me to the end of a hard race or over the finish line. It may be ugly, but I try hard not to let myself quit.

    1. Thanks for your perspective. I knew that after I read this some people would be bothered by the author's calling herself fat. As a matter of fact, that was one of the questions I asked her. Seems like this has been a point of contention for a lot of people who've read her book. I'm not fat but I'm certainly body conscious, and that I'm also aging, really affects how I feel about myself. And that's what I took away from the book. I'm so glad you took the time to comment, that's the whole point of this book club! I hope you'll stick with it and read the next one! <3

  7. This was a great book for our first book club. The author's story resonated with so many readers. I loved all the feedback that I've gotten. Running has helped so many of us feel better about ourselves and our bodies.

  8. Ok. I know I'm a little late to the game with my review. Sorry! I had a hard time finishing the book. But I did. Your next two selections I actually have! Can't wait to dig into those. Thanks for setting this up!

    1. Oh, not late at all! That's why I left the linkup open for 2 weeks. I just finished the next book. It's a quick read, really good. I can't wait to hear what you think!