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To the Edge: A Man Death Valley and the Mystery of Endurance Paperback – July 1, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Johnson chronicles his participation in one of the world's toughest endurance races, the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, and his simultaneous emotional reckoning with family members and himself. Johnson, who had never run a regular marathon, entered the race after his brother, a highly respected athlete, committed suicide. He recruited his sister and nearly estranged living brother to help him. In the first section, Johnson describes learning about and preparing for the race. As a journalist and a participant, he met many interesting Badwater participants (the paraplegic runners especially stand out) and offers insight into the phenomenon of ultramarathons, exploring questions like "Why does Badwater exist... and persist? Why does it capture the imagination?" After a strong start, though, this part goes on too long. The fascinating second section details the actual race and affords an inside look at an endurance runner's thoughts. Johnson deftly blends excitement, tension, grief and humor. He describes his feelings on one evening of the race, blister crisis in check: "The world was surprising and filled with eye-opening wonder, and the simple act of moving through it had become a source of joy." Johnson occasionally relies on a clich‚ or two, but they are offset by lovely passages that make his unusual experience familiar and immediate to the reader. Photos. (July)Forecast: The book should do well among the boomer fitness crowd, especially runners. The quality of the writing, the national advertising campaign and the six-city author tour will boost sales further.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

When his older brother, an apparently stable man and a runner, committed suicide, Johnson began running in order to understand and deal with his brother's inexplicable action. Not an athlete himself, he swiftly progressed from weekend runs to half-marathons, then marathons, finally committing to running the Badwater Ultramarathon. The Badwater starts in Death Valley and ends on Mt. Whitney, 135 miles of searing heat and uncompromising topography. Johnson enlisted other family members to help and in 1999 completed the event. This is a startling accomplishment that is worthy of examination, which the author provides in excruciating detail. Johnson is a reporter for the New York Times and adequately documents every incident that had the slightest effect on his stamina, state of mind, or introspective musings. Unfortunately, the expected examination of the factors that go into extreme endurance fades in the face of his self-absorption and interminable soul-searching. Dedicated ultramarathoners and those in the throes of self-discovery may ask for this book, but its audience will be limited.
- Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (July 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 044667902X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446679022
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #885,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on July 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As Johnson passes a fellow Badwater runner near the end of the race, he writes: "I thanked him and wished him luck, and felt a pang of guilt for how damn good it had felt. And still the road ahead beckoned." Similarly as Johnson climbs toward the Mt Whitney Portal at the end of the race, with tears streaming down his face, he summarizes his emotional feelings about the death of his brother in the powerfully terse language of an ultramarathoner: "I'm alive. I go on."
Johnson's well written book creatively uses the challenge of the Badwater race as a model for the journey we make through life. There is no sound-bite exclaimation of "I solved the mystery of endurance and it is...", or "The best way to run an ultramarathon (and your life) is ...". Instead, Johnson shows us his journey with remarkably clear, honest and insightful writing. Far from being a model athlete, Johnson is an ordinary person in the midst of extraordinary struggles who uses determination, planning and instinct to find a path, his path.
I found myself laughing out loud many times and my eyes welling up with tears in other sections of the book. The moments of self-doubt when he finds himself struggling to speak to his hero were hilarious; the frogs and Bach were pure comedy genius, and the deep dive into a semi-hallucinatory second night on the road were frightening. As a runner I marveled at his determination and the magnitude of his feat. But I'm certain non-runners will respect and admire the honesty he uses to describe the sometimes conflicting emotions and experiences he and his support crew have during the race.
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Format: Hardcover
As I read through Kirk Johnson's account of his journey and motivation and inner search that made up his Badwater ultramarathon experience, I was pulled into his writing the same way long-distance running seduced me as a young man. He captured the euphoria, isolation, drive and the heart and essence of endurance running in a way I haven't seen done. He was lyrical and poetic in his descriptions of the epic battle of man against himself. I would recommend the book to any runner or to anyone who wonders why we run. The only criticism I have are the few moments in the book where Johnson seems to repeat emotions he is feeling that he already has delved into. But the power of the book is evident in that Johnson's gripping tale has created in me a runner who longs to tempt Badwater and Death Valley. Well-done book.
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Format: Hardcover
I want to first say that I'm not a runner. I happened upon this book one day when I was at a book store looking for information on Death Valley for a trip in June (one I just got back from). The cover of the book intrigued me but decided not to buy it. I later on ended up ordering it through Amazon. Other bookstores close by had this book sold out!
I couldn't put this book down. I was Kirk Johnson for the time I was reading the book and found myself reliving details of Kirk's run while I was at Death Valley. I kept asking people there at Death Valley if they've seen the Badwater race - I guess anyway I can keep living Kirk's experiences. I can tell you I will never see tomato juice the same way again! IT taste the best out there! I jumped on ANYONE that said the Badwater race was about "crazy" runners and their pride - which I knew isn't at all the case. My companion and I (who knew parts of Kirk's experience from what I've read aloud to him) even brought along La Boheme. Perfect!
So you can see that the title of my comment is really in response to those who commented negatively on this book. I find it hard to believe that there are those out there that could find this book "shallow", "repetitive". "poorly written", and "Irritating". I respect their opinion but it is clear to me that those who has this opinion of this book has obviously not received the message of the book. Just from the cover, you can tell that the book was little about running but more about the people that run - their mentalities, the way they see life (I still laugh when I think of what Kirk said about driving fast enough or how the more he ran, the slower he gets) and their search for endurance.
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Kirk is a warrior! When Kirk goes to the race, he is just a runner willing to fight to the death to survive the deadly beast that is Badwater. He is not there as "the Media guy." His writing clearly shows his humility, spirit and heart. You see a little bit of what the runners actually go through it if you watch Running On The Sun, but the book is better than the documentary because it gives you a more detailed, deeper appreciation for Badwater. I love the sense of humor in his writing, and I laughed many times. I was also touched by his brother and sister who went out there to be his crew. I think they are heroes. You can feel his misery as he is enduring the brutal passage through hell. I love the book, and I recommend it to anybody who wonders what it would be like to run 135 miles through Death Valley under temperatures that reach 135 degrees. It's much more than just a miserable, painful, brutal race; it is about the human spirit. The body will be exhausted, start shutting down and quit at some point before the finish line is anywhere in sight. Only those who can dig deep enough within their hearts and reach their spirits can find the strength to finish the race.
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