My sister who lives in Philadelphia recently started dabbling in jogging and naturally her ears perked up when she heard about a book some local woman had written about running. I found an interview with the author that intrigued me, so before my trip to Grand Rapids, I picked up a copy of Running: A Love Story by Jen Miller. It was a page-turner for sure, even for the super slow reader I am.
Her memoir is an extremely honest, open, and above all vulnerable account of her struggles with men, body image, self-esteem, and freelance living, and how running helped her to hold it all together (sometimes).
I found myself drawn in to her story from the perspective of a runner myself, but primarily as a coach. The reason why I ordered the book in the first place was because I wanted to get inside the head of a 4-hour marathoner. Being a coach of several athletes of that level, I felt like the honesty of Jen’s perspective would help me to better understand the drive and motivation behind some of the mid-pack runners I know. In that respect this book was everything I hoped for.
It helped to reinforce much of what I had already learned from friends and clients who are of a similar level to her. It confirmed that the thing we all love about running is the active pursuit of self-improvement along with the concrete goals and concrete timelines that keep us in touch with the passing of time and give us a sense of purpose in each day as it passes.
But as I paged through and got deeper into the book, I couldn’t stop myself from being disturbed by her obsession with men and the path of destruction that they left in her life. How could such a strong and talented woman be so weak in the face of stupid boys?
However, I learned long ago that the one thing that bothers us most about others is almost always the very thing that we hate about ourselves. I picked up the book to empathize better with my coaching clients, but my biggest takeaway was how much I have in common with Jen.
My own running story is embarrassingly influenced by the boys in my life – from my high school sweetheart who was a stud distance runner to my college boyfriend who taught me running work-ethic by word and example to my husband who is one of the most talented and well-balanced runners I’ve ever met.
I went to a nerdy high school where cross country was our football, and as the frontrunner, the boy who stole my heart was like our school’s version of the quarterback. I was 15 when he showed me his running log and opened my eyes to the methodical pursuit of a goal that running afforded, as well as the cost-benefit analysis of sacrifice in the name of that pursuit.
Two years later I was in Germany and that memory was what gave me the idea to give running a try. And after he broke my heart for good my senior year, I mainly decided to run competitively just to spite him since he couldn’t anymore, due to injury and other life choices.
What was once spite became obsession with numbers. Obsession became stability in the face of an unhealthy relationship and a foreign home. Stability turned to intrigue for just how good I could be. And intrigue became joy in the process and purpose of the constant pursuit of a goal, whatever it might be.
We all want to think that we are self-made, but our lives are just a compilation of the clips and soundbites around us. Like in Jen’s story, these influences were not always positive, but in the end I’m very grateful that they got me to where I am now.
Jen’s story is a great read for anyone who loves running or for anyone who can’t understand why anyone would love running. I applaud her bravery in sharing her entire journey with all of us because selectively omitting parts of our story only feeds the shame that everyone else is hiding, too. I wish Jen all the best in her running and in life. I’ll definitely keep my eye out for her name and read anything attached to it.