Over the weekend I finished the book “Running the Dream” by Matt Fitzgerald.
TL;DR: I enjoyed it a lot.
In a nutshell, here’s the premise: Matt is 48 and spends a summer (and some of the fall) with the Hoka One One Northern Arizona (NAZ) Elite team, training to see what an amateur can do when they train with the pros.
Matt is not an amateur in my mind… his goal is to shave a couple of minutes off his time and reach 2:39 in the marathon. So he’s already a pretty impressive runner. But compare him against a bunch of elites, he’s a schlub. (He basically says that himself in the story, mocking his own pace compared to theirs!)
Matt packs up his wife and their dog and moves to Flagstaff, AZ to train under Coach Ben Rosario to prepare for the Chicago Marathon. He gives an account of all the perks that pro runners have available to them, like trainers, and massage therapists, and chiropractic care, and nap time. Although, Mr. Fitzgerald does not take advantage of that nap benefit nearly enough in the book. He thinks he has a career to take care of instead of sleeping. So I guess in that regard he’s an amateur!
It was interesting to read about the workouts that were crafted for him, and his interactions with the team members. Reading these accounts of how some of these people are in their regular elements as opposed to just their crafted social media presence or the starting line persona that we see was fun. Kellyn Taylor sounds very bristly and I thought she would have been pissed at her portrayal until toward the end I realize that her no-nonsense attitude was even something she recognized in herself. And Stephanie Bruce sounds every bit as wonderful as she seems on social media.
He had the ups of good workouts and team camaraderie, as well as the downs that came from injury and family illness and the passing of a friend/teammate. The book captures the quirky personalities he encounters in both other athletes, but as well as those who provide support to the team. It was a fun glimpse into the life of a pro runner.
I won’t give away the outcome, although if you stumble upon any recent podcasts that discuss the book (as I had) it will be a little bit spoiled. But that didn’t make the book any less enjoyable. And reading about the start line of a major marathon for the elite athlete was so cool. From the perks (the fancy warm-up area with unlimited, unoccupied potties!) to the oddities where their uniforms have to be measured to make sure their sponsor marks aren’t outside of regulation.
The only thing that distracted me at all in the book was wondering what Matt’s wife did all the time during this? It is mentioned that she goes with him to the start of some workouts, that she’s there at the end of them. She’s mentioned in context of some of his various appointments… but what did she do all the time? If I was in the position of leaving to do this, I can guarantee my husband wouldn’t hang out with me through all of this. I can also pretty much guarantee if he had some sport he wanted to go train with for months like this, I probably wouldn’t go hang out with him all the time either. (No idea what he would choose… can someone in their mid-40’s go play college football? I don’t think he’d want to do the pro football thing, he likes college more. But it seems far more dangerous for an amateur to go start playing football in their 40’s. So probably not.)
Matt did have a lot of advantages over the vast majority of us in the amateur slum world, aside from his pre-determined speed and experience. With a flexible writing job and no children, he’s not as tethered to a spot. If someone like me were going to do this, it would be a lot more difficult. I have a full-time job that has set hours and a kid who demands my attention. Both of those would make it really hard to live this life. But if I was given the time and support team, my pie-in-the-sky goal would probably still be just a 3:59 marathon. Breaking 4 would be a miracle to me. And a pro team or pro coach would not want to hang out to wait about double the time it takes all of their other athletes to complete these runs.
But just think if they would… that would be yet another interesting book. To see what kind of gains can be coaxed out of someone much further back in the starting line corrals.
Maybe when I’m in my 50’s I’ll write that book… I’ll be even older than this book’s subject and my kid will be off to college by then. I’m taking pre-orders now… I’ll call it “Running the Delusion”!
Find Running the Dream on Amazon (affiliate link that might give me a nickel if you buy it!)