An endurance sports writer and nutritionist examines the motivations of marathon runners and how the practice can become transformative.
Fitzgerald (The Endurance Diet: Discover the 5 Core Habits of the World’s Greatest Athletes to Look, Feel, and Perform Better, 2016, etc.), who has written widely on running, diet, and exercise, recounts how, in high school, just as he was about to participate in a race, his nerves took over and he decided not to run. For years, he was haunted by this failure, but as an adult, he decided he had to race in order to confront his fears. Over the years, he entered short races, marathons, ultramarathons, and triathlons; in each race, he found himself hitting the wall, that point at which every runner must push through or quit. Sometimes he quit, but more often he finished. “Running competitively over long distances,” he writes, “is a lot like dangling by your fingertips from a cliff’s edge with certain death below, except it’s your entire body that feels as though it’s losing its grip. No runner finds pleasure in this doomed sense of strained weakening, but some runners handle it better than others.” Although he understood his personal motivation for running, he was curious to learn why others push themselves to the edge. In a straightforward, steady narrative, he shares his interviewees’ insights alongside his own. The tempo and adrenaline amp up when Fitzgerald intertwines these stories with that of his wife, Nataki, a bipolar woman whose psychotic breaks led her to attempt to kill the author on several occasions. Despite these frightening episodes, Fitzgerald continued to hold on and get her the help she desperately needed. By sharing this personal and traumatic part of the story, the author pushes his memoir beyond just another tale of an obsessed runner.
Authentic details of a marathoner’s life coupled with the nerve-wracking, dangerous moments with his bipolar wife make for enlightening reading.