async="src="/ Taking the Long Way Home: Book Review: What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan

Friday, October 19, 2018

Book Review: What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan

This post contains affiliate links.

I chose this month's book club selection, What Made Maddy Run, based on its connection to running. As I read it, I realized that the book was less about running and more about growing up in a life filled with the pursuit of perfection. Maddy just happened to be a track standout. But her struggles were more about her adjustment to college and as an Ivy League athlete.

It was a dilemma. Do I choose another book that was more of a traditional "running book", the kind that my blog readers are accustomed to? Or do I review this book, less about running and more about the struggles of coming of age in a competitive world? The book is also about the impact social media has on how we see ourselves.

This book was so well written and the subject matter too important to pass up. I think you'll agree.



Maddy was a gifted teen. The total package. Bright, beautiful, and a standout high school soccer star, she decided to instead pursue track in college. Burned out on soccer, running track was fun. She signed on for a track scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania. Maddy quickly learned that track in college was a different beast. The practices were hard and they weren't fun like they were in high school. Instead of being the best, she was one of many students who were "the best". Feeling inadequate, her anxiety began to escalate.

Maddy came from a supportive family. She had a ton of friends. On the outside, no one knew what was wrong. She could turn on a smile for the camera and posted pictures on social media like it was a job. From the outside, it looked like she was having a great time. But not long after her return to school for the second semester of her freshman year, Maddy jumped to her death from a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia.

Kate Fagan, the author of What Made Maddy Run and a writer and commentator for ESPN, delved into Maddy's story. Maddy's family gave her unlimited access to Maddy's computer and phone. What Kate found was an Instagram account that showed a life different from what Maddy was actually living. One that showed a happy, carefree college coed.

This book is as much a tribute to a beautiful young woman who was trying to live up to expectations that she couldn't meet as well as a commentary on social media. While Maddy's story is tragic, I found the social media aspect intriguing.

As a runner and active social media participant, I can attest that no one wants to follow an Instagram or Facebook account that is depressing or negative. Posting unfiltered, unflattering photos garner few likes. Likes are all about the image that you portray. I came of age before social media and the pressure to look good "back then" was difficult enough. In this era of social media, I cannot imagine the pressure on young people today to put on a game face and look good.

The larger issue presented by the book is the growing problem of mental illness in college athletes and college students in general. The author herself shares her own struggles as a college athlete at the University of Colorado, where she went to basketball practice every day reading the sign: "Pain is weakness leaving the body".

How many of us recreational athletes use mantras to push through a tough run? Imagine being 19 years old and wanting to quit but knowing you will be viewed as weak? Quitting isn't an option.

This is really an excellent read with a lot of food for thought. I guarantee you won't look at your Instagram feed the same way. Those people who post nothing but positivity? It's not real. There's a fine line between positivity and keeping it real. It's something we all need to strive for.

You never know who you might help.

Have you read this book? What do you think about the images portrayed on social media? Do you think that what you post might have an impact on others? Do you try to keep it real? 

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and is staffed 24/7 by professional, confidential volunteers who can provide help and resources. You can also text START to 741-741. 

Next month, we'll be reading ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer. The original book, from 2009, has been completely revised and updated. ChiRunning is known for preventing injury by integrating running with T'ai Chi. Call me intrigued. I've been struggling with slowing down and some nagging pains. I'm game to try anything. I'll post my review on November 16, just in time for my next half marathon.



I'm linking this post with the Friday 5 aka Running on Happy and Fairytales and Fitness.





24 comments :

  1. When I was at Blogfest/IDEA Convention, the concept of pursuing perfection seemed to be the topic of the day. We look at all the pretty bodies and faces on social media, especially Instagram, and think these people are leading these fabulous, beautiful lives. We forget that they are showing us their perfect and that it's not real. And, as you said, if older adults can be affected this way, how can young people ever begin to understand that perfection is just not achievable? It's so sad to hear about anyone who takes their own life.

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    1. We talk about keeping it real but anyone who wants to be an influencer has the pressure to curate their social media presence. No matter what, it sets a standard that none of can attain.

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  2. How tragic. I hate that society embraces these ideals of perfection, most of them pertaining to appearance. So much of what is out there is completely contrived and artificial. What do I always say? Nothing is as it seems.
    I didn't know Chi Running has been revamped. I read the original and embraced it back in 2009.

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    1. I think there is just so much more pressure on young women (and men) and that it starts so much earlier. You would think that a girl as talented as the Maddy of this book would have been full of confidence. It was such a sad story.

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  3. This definitely sounds like a great read! Social media paints such a different picture from real life sometimes! I'm gonna have to check this book out!

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  4. I wish there wasn't such a disconnect between the artificial happiness that is on social media and the realism that people are actually dealing with. And for Maddy to take her life over perfection is just so very sad.

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    1. As a parent, all you want for your child is to be happy. I don't know the answer for how to make that happen, tho.

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  5. The daughter of one of my best friends was a track/cross country standout in high school (even the State XC champ her senior year). She went to college on a full-ride for XC and track, and was burnt out after the first year. Like Maddy, she no longer was THE standout, but merely one of many. She never took her life (thankfully!!!), but gave up her scholarship her junior year and has since struggled with a lot of issues as a result of the drive to be perfect. It's been several years, and she is slowly coming back, but it's been a tough battle.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that she's getting better. I'll be interested for an update on what she's doing now.

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  6. I just ordered this book!! Great review, I'm looking forward to reading it.

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  7. I like the idea of reading and I have so much time on planes but I never seem to read. I guess it's gotta be a book I'm really into. I recently just read Girl wash your face. Pretty good!

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  8. wow what a heartbreaking story! I had not heard it before. I think it is so much harder to grow up in this age of digital everything. It is one of the reasons I coach the little girls. I read the original Tai Chi years ago-interested to see how it has been updated. Since I am newly really into yoga I may like it

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    1. I love that you coach those young girls! I see a lot of patients that participate in Girls on the Run and it is really a self-esteem booster!

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  9. This is a book that I've been meaning to order. It's really such a sad and heartbreaking story. I remember when I first heard about it and my heart just instantly broke for her. Although social media has many positives, there are so many downfalls as well. That's why I like to follow people that show everything - the good and the bad, just to keep perspective on everything.

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  10. This sounds like a really important read. My son played D3 lacrosse, but only for one year before an injury sidelined him, so he escaped the worst of the pressure. My gut reaction is that it's harder for girls, but I'm sure boys feel pressure too.

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    1. I would agree with your statement about there being more pressure for girls. It's not just about being good, it's about looking good too.

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  11. Sounds interesting. I try to post positive things, maybe I am part of the problem? Those who know me well and personally know the details of my challenges, and that is what is most important to me. My blog is me mostly uncensored, my mother reads it, once I discovered that I became a little more guarded and if I haven't mentioned it to her it doesn't show up there. Then again some of my real life friends have mentioned they feel guilty saying life sucks for them when they know my struggles. It is a tough balance? I'm not really sure. For now I enjoy my public diary and so far, other than that crazy stalker, it's been a good outlet for me to process.

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    1. I think you do a fine job of balancing positivity and reality. There's nothing wrong with being relentlessly positive but keeping it authentic? It's a tough balance.

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  12. This is why I keep off Instagram, as it feels like that's too perfect a place. When I started writing my running blog post weekly, part of the intention (most of the intention) was to show a normal, middle-aged, non-skinny woman doing standard running stuff and sometimes looking crap or sweaty, sometimes having rubbish runs and talking about that, to try to counter all the relentless perkiness (I find the weekly wrap to be very truthful and honest and warts-and-all and appreciate finding this place). Social media is a nightmare enough for any person at college, let alone an athlete with all those expectations. Good call to review this one.

    I read the original Chi running, tried it out and ran FAST but my breathing could not keep up. Maybe I need to try out the updated book!

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    1. I love intstagram for its brevity and beautiful photos. But lately, it's all about "curated feeds" and it doesn't always feel authentic. I've taken a little break from IG and it's felt pretty good. Sometimes it gets to be a bit much.

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