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Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past, One Marathon at a Time Hardcover – October 9, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Q&A with Caleb Daniloff

Caleb Daniloff

Q. How did you come up with the idea to run marathons in all of the places where you used to drink and behave badly?

A. I wrote an essay for Runner’s World about how I used running as a sobriety tool and it came out a few months before the 2009 Boston Marathon, which I had signed up for. Boston was my first marathon and I felt like I’d be conquering something with it, though I wasn’t sure what. Then I happened to notice that Burlington, Vermont, where I’d lived for a number of years, hosted a marathon four weeks later and I thought it might be interesting to run through that old stomping ground. It seemed a shame to waste all the training I’d done for Boston on one race.

Both Boston and Burlington were places where I did some heavy drinking, so what started as a way to carry my training over to a second marathon became something more. Then I found out that Moscow had a marathon a few months after Burlington, and New York a few months after that. And so it went. It was almost like the races presented themselves to me.

Q. You write that running didn’t help you quit drinking, but helped you survive sobriety. Can you explain?

A. Quitting drinking is one thing, a very hard thing, but navigating sobriety is another beast altogether. It’s lonely, depressing, panicky, insecure, frustrating, at times enraging, and hopeless-feeling. It’s starting over, giving up dreams as well as delusions. There’s a big hole you’re suddenly facing. It’s figuring out who you were, who you are now. It’s about making amends, and ultimately finding a sort of peacefulness or reconciliation. It takes a long time and you can beat yourself up pretty well along the way. But at some point, you have to stop, accept the loose ends and the things you can’t change, try and be a positive force, and live your life.

Q. And running filled the hole?

A. There were many years of stagnation and operating from fear. Running gave me back a sense of forward motion, the courage to take action, to move through things rather than around them. It brought richness back to my life.

Q. Why didn’t you go the AA route?

A. I used to get in a fair amount of trouble because of drinking. I was ordered to plenty of AA meetings, group therapy sessions, and psychiatrists offices. Those settings were like punishment to me and groups had always made me feel claustrophobic and panicky, certainly without a drink in my hand. Those feelings were still there when I quit, maybe even more pronounced. I also believed, rightly or wrongly, in muscling through, in a certain Soviet-style stoicism. I’m sure there are AA folks who would claim I went about sobriety the wrong way. Who knows, maybe I’d have moved farther faster in an AA setting. I have nothing against AA and I’d never discourage anyone from going. I have stolen bits and pieces of its philosophy over the years, but I don’t believe in One True Paths. AA people talk about eventually reaching the stage where one neither regrets nor shuts the door on the past. I neither regret, nor, clearly, have I shut the door on my past.

Q. Is running really a spiritual activity?

A. For me, it is, or it certainly can be. Because running is physically demanding, there is simply no room to bullshit yourself. You come to face to face with who you are. It’s you at your essence. You can sort through problems, answer nagging questions, witness creative thoughts bubbling up. The repetitive rhythm can become mesmerizing and you achieve a kind of presence or awareness, and feel certain truths. It’s freedom from yourself, and from the world. Something magical happens within that space.

Q. What role did your parents play in trying to get you help for your drinking?

A. They confronted me and forced me to see psychiatrists. “The drinking” was an ongoing issue, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the foreground. But theirs was mostly a punitive approach, which fueled me to act out even more, especially against anything and anyone I deemed the slightest bit authoritative. Eventually, I became more secretive and put greater, albeit not always successful, effort into covering my tracks and minimizing my exposure. There were many years of distrust and distance on both sides.

Q. In the book, you consider whether former drunks can truly be happy again. Have you been able to answer this?

A. Until four or five years ago, I was doubtful. I figured the low-level misery was simply punishment for all the negative impact I’d had. To feel joy was somehow disrespectful to those I’d harmed. The general discomfort was just and something I’d have to live with, a fact. But at some point, you realize you weren’t put on this earth to be a vessel of quiet suffering or negativity. You can and you must earn permission to be happy again, to feel joys, to feel life. It might take a while to get there, but you have to try. Life is just too short. To do otherwise is to continue living a wasted life.

Q. Do you consider yourself recovered?

A. By my definition and standards, yes. Or pretty close. You never really fully recover from anything.

Q. Would you ever take a drink again?

A. Sometimes when I think about never drinking again, it breaks my heart. So I tend not to think in absolutes. I used to give myself these deadlines: ten years and you can have a drink; be sober as long as you were drinking; run a marathon for every year you drank; run a 100-miler and you can crack a beer at the finish line. But convincing myself that I have that option almost makes it easier. I just keep putting it off. I have no plans to drink. I’ve been sober almost 14 years. I’m used to it. And there is a part of me that fears what might happen. I’d hate to throw all of this away.

Q. What if you couldn’t run anymore? Does this worry you?

A. It used to. But these days, you can run in almost any condition—legless, armless, blind. If my joints start acting up, I’ll consider Vibrams. I also do yoga and there’s always swimming, which I used to love. As long as I can stay active and sweat and pump my heart, I’ll think I’ll be OK. Though, in my view, nothing beats running.

Q. What was the hardest part about writing the book?

A. Letting it go. It’s my first book and I desperately wanted it to be perfect and annoyed my copyeditor with multiple last-minute changes. I continued to revise it in my head; I know I can make it better, just give me another chance. It’s easy to lose perspective when you’ve been working on something intensely for several years. But you have to let it be, imperfections and all, and move on.


"Daniloff’s raw descriptions of his alcohol and drug abuse...are some of the most compelling parts of the book. They harshly illustrate the destruction of addiction and the courage it takes to walk away and build a new life."

"In an engaging voice, the author brings the courses alive for readers. He replicates the physical demands of running such courses and the barriers, mental and physical, that need to be broken through to get to the finishing line. He interweaves the story of each race with memories and dialogue from the past, and he is candid about his childhood problems and his competition with his marathon-running father. Confidence in the future lends appeal to this deeply personal memoir."
--Kirkus Reviews

"A vital, honest, and arresting account of one flawed runner’s emotional and spiritual renewal with each step toward the finish line. "
--Publishers Weekly

“Daniloff’s unblinking, ultimately triumphant  account of his journey from mean, hopeless  drunk back to humanity and himself—through distance running. It’s a searing  tale of spiritual redemption--one marathon, one mile, one brave, difficult step at a time.”
--Steve Friedman, co-author of New York Times bestseller, Eat and Run: My Unlikely Path to Ultramarathon Greatness  and author of Lost on Treasure Island: A Memoir

"Caleb Daniloff once poured everything he had into his drinking, and it nearly killed him. Then he poured everything into his running, and he was saved. Now he pours everything into writing about both, and we are graced by the result. Running Ransom Road is a brave, necessary, and uncompromising book."
– John Brant, author of Duel in the Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America’s Greatest Marathon


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (October 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547450052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547450056
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Caleb Daniloff was born in 1969 in Washington, D.C. In 1981, the shy and nervous sixth‑grader moved with his parents to the former Soviet Union, where his father, Nicholas, was stationed as bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report. Caleb was enrolled in Soviet Pioneer camp, Soviet school, and a rigorous Soviet gymnastics program, soon dreaming in Russian and passing for a Muscovite. Not surprisingly, he adopted a mess of Soviet‑style habits: smoking, binge‑drinking, black‑marketeering, absenteeism, huffing, and a taste for ABBA and Soviet death metal. In 1986, after five‑and‑a‑half years in Moscow, Nicholas Daniloff was arrested by the KGB and jailed on bogus espionage charges. The family was deported.

Back on American soil, Caleb finished his high school career at Northfield Mount Hermon, a boarding school in northwestern Massachusetts. He attended the University of Vermont and later Columbia University's graduate creative writing program. Caleb has worked in journalism, radio, and advertising. He has published in numerous publications, including Runner's World, National Public Radio, WBUR, Guernica, Publisher's Weekly, The Boston Globe, and The Boston Phoenix. He has received multiple awards including the Ralph Nading Hill Jr. Literary Prize, several National CASE awards, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Caleb's first book, Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past One Marathon at a Time, a memoir about running as a sobriety tool, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Fall, 2012. He is represented by Wendy Sherman of Wendy Sherman Associates, Inc. Caleb lives in Cambridge, Mass., with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
All the running books I have been increasingly interested in recently can be divided into two categories: quite technical running advice, and books on how running changed someone's life (well, some seem to be a mix of both categories). Caleb Daniloff's "Running Ransom Road" definitely belongs to the second category. I read it with interest and it got me thinking about many life-related issues, which means it has served its purpose, I guess. The spiritual and the physical sides of life are intertwined - a truism, but relevant.

Daniloff divided his book into chapters describing seven races he had run, starting with his first marathon - the Boston Marathon, which he entered through a charity, and ending with Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. The described races are not all the races he had run - only the ones that he had chosen as important, connected in some way with some periods in his life. He lives in Boston, so Boston was quite obvious... And he was born in Washington. Going on with the races, Daniloff describes his past and this memoir serves as his catharsis. He writes honestly about very painful and shameful events from his past. I think not everyone would have courage to do it.

A son of a journalist, Daniloff moved with his family where his father got a job as a correspondent. The move to Moscow when Caleb was in school, had a great impact on the life stability - his sister decided to stay in the US, he did not know the language, the reality of the Soviet Russia was dramatically different that the American dream, and at the end his father was arrested by the KGB, accused of being a spy. Daniloff, always a rebel, experimented with drugs and alcohol, and eventually found himself an alcoholic and struggled with the addiction for fifteen years.
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Format: Kindle Edition
`Running Ransom Road, Confronting The Past, One Marathon At A Time,' by Caleb Daniloff, is an incredible book where the author's attempt to come to terms with the self-destruction of his past is experienced during the visceral, spiritual, and emotional maelstrom of running a marathon.

The result is perhaps my favorite book on marathoning. It is certainly the one with the most dog-ears on my paperback copy, and definitely the one which spoke most personally to my experience as a marathoner and recovering addict who is constantly running to stay just a few steps faster than the addiction demons nipping at my heels.

The author visits marathons located in key locations related to his history of addiction; Boston, New York, Moscow, and his place of birth, Washington DC, among other races. The book shoots back and forth from past to present, linking the author's current thoughts and goals of running to his past life of self-destruction. The author recounts and reflects on his alcoholism, fighting through an understanding as his legs fight to keep moving towards the finish line. Yes, he is the very unlikely marathoner, considering the extent to which he dedicated his life to drinking. The goal is partially to break the 4 hour barrier, but also to break through to a better understanding of himself, and come to something close to peace with the wreckage of his past.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Standard Disclaimer applies for Vine Products - I received my copy of this book for free as part of the Amazon Vines Review Program.

While the Vines catalog is pretty eclectic and features books on pretty much everything and anything, the mere existence of a book like this is testimony to how nuanced and specific the book market is. While many people have overindulged in alcohol a time or two, a relatively small chunk of the population are true alcoholics. In a similar respect, a relatively small percent of the populace run regularly and of those a much smaller percent go on to run a marathon. Change it to marathons plural and you're talking about a pretty small group of people. B/c of the demanding nature of marathon running, marathon runners are typically associated with healthy lifestyles. So a story like this, where the author lives a very self-destructive and unhealthy lifestyle for much of his life, then goes on to live a very healthy and self-nuturing lifestyle would seem pretty unique. However once you get into it, you realize it's a much more common story than one would expect. Much in the same way Jim Fixx's extremely unhealthy lifestyle was what drove him to running, I think it's a safe bet to say that Daniloff's initial lifestyle is what drove him to getting well and healthy.

If you read the cover, you'll expect a book about a guy that screws up pretty big time from being an alcoholic and turns his life around. And yep, there's plenty of that in this book. And yes, he takes the fight directly to the places where he previously had fallen down which gives it a very triumphant tone. You can imagine how hard this must have been for him to actually pull this off and as far as "redemption" themes go, this is about as original and genuine as they come.
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