I have always been an avid reader, but it wasn’t until recently that I started reading books by and about runners. I had heard of “Born to Run,” of course, but never read it until Colby loaned me her copy on New Year’s Day. Picked it up, couldn’t put it down, and voila, I have discovered a new genre of books that I love.
I just finished “The Extra Mile” by Pam Reed. Pam Reed is an elite ultrarunner who is also the race director of the Tucson Marathon. She won Badwater the first two times she ran it and is the American Women’s record holder in the 24-hour and 48-hour runs. Suffice it to say that she’s pretty badass when it comes to ultrarunning. And this is an understatement.
I really didn’t like The Extra Mile. I even asked Colby to read it so we could discuss it and I could see if it was just me (She’s pretty busy saving humans from bone diseases and training for Big Sur, so I don’t think she has dug into it yet. But she will). I hate saying that I don’t like someone’s writing – especially a memoir. It feels kinda mean. But it’s the truth.
Unfortunately for the reader, as talented as Pam is in ultrarunning, she is just not very talented when it comes to writing. The book was pretty poorly written, and blame must be laid with the editors here, as well; I cannot believe some of the poor writing and basic errors that made it into publication. It was hard not to grab a red pen and mark the sucker up while I was reading it. Only respect for my local library – I read a library copy – kept me from doing so.
I not only didn’t like her writing, I also didn’t really like her, or at least the “her” that she presented in her book. For the record, I don’t think she’d like me much either. She’d probably find me overly emotional and weak.
She came off as incredibly self-absorbed throughout the book. Some have criticized her for her intense training, saying that it shows a lack of dedication to her family. That’s not my problem with her, and I agree with Pam when she says that if she were a male, no one would be saying that. That is not at all where my criticism lies. It was more of a global selfishness that came across in her accounts that irked me. I get that to be a certain level of athlete, you need to be incredibly self-focused, and there is a fine line between self-focus and self-absorption. Maybe sometimes, there is no line at all. But if there is, it seems she has crossed it. She also seems incredibly detached from everything except for running (and even seems to be able to detach herself from her running while running, which is one of her strategies for running long distances).
Trust me on this – it is hard to slog through 200-plus poorly written pages by a one-dimensional character. Fortunately, the last half of the book includes accounts of lots of ultra races, so I kept reading just to see what the races were like. Mostly long, hot (or cold) and hilly (or flat), in case you were wondering.
The book jacket notes that she talks about her 15-year battle with anorexia. Well, she does and she doesn’t. It isn’t clear whether she actually accepts that she had (has?) anorexia, even though she understands that she met the physical definition of the disease. At one point, she recounts her stay in a treatment center and comments that she got better because she looked around, found the other patients a “shocking sight” and decided that she didn’t want to be like them. Didn’t seem to recognize that she was like “them.” The way she presented this epiphany in the book seemed so out of touch and lacking in empathy for her fellow patients that it really bothered me. The disdainful tone and “I’m not like them” mentality just didn’t sit well with me at all. In fact her whole account (sprinkled throughout the book) of her years as an anorexic seemed pretty detached from reality. What I thought might be an insightful look into the mind of an anorexic and in particular, someone who is able to manage that disease and still be an elite athlete, just…wasn’t.
I can’t say that I would recommend this book to anyone except Colby, and that is only because I want her to discuss it with me. I can like a memoir for many reasons. Maybe I come to love the memoirist. Or the story itself is simply amazing. Maybe the writing is fabulous. Maybe I learn something. Maybe it inspires me. A perfect book would accomplish all of the above. This book did none of the above. Although her accomplishments are amazing, and the accounts of her various races somewhat interesting, they weren’t enough to carry the book.
Next up, Scott Jurek’s “Eat & Run.” Twenty pages in and I like this one better already…