Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review: Running Ransom Road

A couple of months ago, I received an invitation to review a new book by Caleb Daniloff entitled Running Ransom Road. I meant to read the book and write a review as soon as it arrived in my mailbox but life got in the way so I'm only now getting around to it. My apologies to Mr. Daniloff and his publisher for the delay. The book is terrific and would make a wonderful Christmas gift for any mindful runner in your life.

Its basic premise is relatively straightforward. Daniloff is a recovering alcoholic who decides to confront his past "one marathon at a time". His quest takes him to seven cities or town in the space of a year and a half: Boston, Burlington (Vermont), Moscow, Gill (Massachusetts), New York, Middlebury (Vermont) and Washington DC.

What I liked about book:  Daniloff is a professional writer and journalist and it shows in the quality of his prose. His descriptions of the races, his past life and the city and towns he visits (especially Moscow, New York, and Washington) are entertaining, evocative and often quite moving. I also appreciated his frank, sometimes darkly funny reflections on past events. Most intriguing though were his insights into the ways running has helped him to address the issues that fueled his alcoholism.
...Over the years, I'd let myself be choked by numbers - carbs, pounds, fat grams, miles, minutes, calories, bib numbers. The sub-four had become not only a barrier to break, but a tool with which to judge myself. The digits on my Garmin, the same thing. The self-criticism that drinking first softened, but ultimately exacerbated, still echoed somewhere deep inside me. It was here in DC where I first started judging myself, feeling shame at being me, too young to realize the far-reaching implications. And it was here where I could snuff them out for good.
What I didn't care for about the book:  As a slow runner who takes regular walk breaks during long runs, I was a little put off by Daniloff''s assertion that he couldn't say he'd "run" a marathon if he walked any part of it. In my experience, walk breaks are an effective strategy for going the distance that in no way diminishes the achievement. Indeed, many runners have found their marathon times improved as a result of taking walk breaks. In addition, the book doesn't include much detail regarding the author's training which may be a disappointment to some readers.

In summary, I'd highly recommend this book for any "mindful runner" - by which I mean any runner for whom running represents something more than just exercise.

Incidentally, other great books for the runners on your Christmas list include:

Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr. According to Runner's World, the best novel about running ever written. I liked it enough to say that claim may well be true.

Born to Run by Christopher MacDougall. A highly entertaining and informative exploration of the extraordinary human capacity for distance running, it also provides fascinating insights into what motivate the most extreme ultra-runners.

Chi Running by  Danny Dreyer. Highly recommended for those interested in learning techniques that can help them run with greater ease and fewer injuries.

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek.  A fascinating account of the forces that came together to make Scott Jurek one of the world's great ultra-marathoners. As a bonus, the book includes a terrific selection of Scott's favourite vegan recipes.

Happy reading and running, everyone!


  1. Interesting premise to the book - I'll have to have a read. I can so relate to the snippet you posted - the idea of being 'choked by numbers' as there have been times when 'the numbers' end up taking over the simple joy of running.

    Great review (did you post it to Amazon? As a writer, I know how important Amazon reviews can be for an author). And thanks for adding other running titles to the post :)

    1. Glad you enjoyed the review, Janet. No, I haven't posted it to Amazon yet but I will today. Thanks for the suggestion.