Book Review: How to Run a Marathon in 13 Years
Reviewed by Anne Greenawalt
An inspirational running memoir about the persistent pursuit of lifelong goals
Former copywriter, magazine editor, and blogger J.P. Mac recounts his 13-year journey attempting to run a second marathon. His memoir chronicles severe injuries, two types of cancer, multiple surgeries, financial instability, and a pandemic that stand between him and his goal. And yet he persists.
At the beginning of the book, Mac is fully engrossed in the running community as a member and as a coach for a large running team. He wants to train for another marathon, but a recurring running-related knee injury plagues him. When he finally navigates faulty medical and insurance systems, his doctors advise knee replacement surgery—and to stop running completely.
Mac gets the surgery but scoffs at the suggestion that his running career is over. Instead, he cuts back on mileage and intensity, tries chi running to improve his form, and finds a supportive physical therapist who helps him strength train to prevent further injury.
But despite his concessions, he still has pain. To add insult to injury, he also battles cancer twice, has shoulder surgery, and experiences financial instability, all of which cause him to cycle through bouts of depression, weight gain, and a total cessation from running, which isolates him from most of his former running buddies. After retirement, he eases back into running, wondering when his former injuries will sneak up on him. Then the pandemic cancels his goal races.
Mac’s quest leaves readers wondering not only if he’ll be able to run another marathon, but why he would want to given the years of pain and setbacks.
Reading this memoir is like taking a glimpse at Mac’s training log. We encounter specifics of training runs and races, injuries, nutrition, and external obstacles (like career and financial instability) in a casual, conversational tone. The narrative progresses linearly over a 13-year time span from the onset of Mac’s knee injury to the publication year of his memoir. He condenses time well and keeps the narrative focused on running and its obstacles, even though he acknowledges there are many other life events occurring at that time. Most chapters begin in a new year and include trivia, like popular songs and Superbowl winners, to keep readers conscious of the passing time.
Midway through the book, the litany of obstacles Mac faces can blend together and stop serving as a catalyst to advance the narrative. Although any dedicated runner or athlete can relate to the pursuit of training for and setting athletic goals, Mac’s motivations remain unclear. Why the marathon? Why is it so important? What’s at stake for him if he doesn’t accomplish his goal?
Lifelong athletes and runners in particular can find much to be inspired by in this book. The story allows readers to consider their own athletic pursuits, why they pursue them, and question what if they don’t or can’t accomplish them. Self-reflexive readers have the opportunity to answer these questions for themselves along the way in order to determine what’s important to them.
Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir / Sports
Print Length: 226 pages
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