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Running to the Edge: A Band of Misfits and the Guru Who Unlocked the Secrets of Speed Kindle Edition
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--The New York Times Book Review
"Running to the Edge reveals the untold history of how a determined coach and his motley crew of underdogs practically defibrillated U.S. distance running. It is at once a beautiful meditation on effort and a tale as captivating and suspenseful as a great race."
--David Epstein, New York Times bestselling author of The Sports Gene
"Running To The Edge is at its heart a vivid, fascinating and affectionate portrait of a man who changed the sport of running in America, and of the sport that changed him. Through the story of a pioneer coach, Bob Larsen, Matt Futterman deftly describes both the running boom era of the 1970s and 1980s, and the resurgence of American distance-running talent in the aughts. I can't think of a runner who wouldn't enjoy this book."
--Ed Caesar, author of Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon
"Athletes in any sport stand to learn from Larsen's methods, and Futterman turns in a fluent yarn reminiscent of Plimpton and McPhee."
“An inspirational road map for runners . . . Fast-paced . . . New York Times sports editor Futterman enthusiastically documents the life of renowned American running coach Bob Larsen. Throughout, Futterman makes physiology easily understandable and shares his own story of qualifying for and competing in his dream race: the 2018 Boston Marathon.”
"[M]asterful . . . Readers eager for a compelling underdog sports story are sure to enjoy this account, as many will see themselves in the band of 'misfits' Futterman profiles, young rebels who formed the infamous San Diego–based running club, the Jamul Toads."
"A captivating narrative. Futterman gives us an informative history of American distance running while telling a fascinating story about a group of unconventional San Diegan boys who unexpectedly competed for a national cross country championship in 1976 against the well-established major running clubs. Futterman profiles a young coach Bob Larsen, who was developing training methods that would later turn UCLA into a national running powerhouse, and help lead Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor to become Olympic marathon medal winners."
--Bill Pierce, co-author of Run Less, Run Faster
"At the core, running is about pushing one’s self to the limit. Matthew Futterman’s Running to the Edge is a fascinating account of Bob Larsen’s journey to uncover the secrets of optimal run training, initially for himself and then for his runners. The story is riveting. If you love running this book will knock your shoes off--highly recommended!"
--Jordan D. Metzl, MD, author of Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Running Strong
“Matt Futterman’s definitive examination of this primal human sport--distance running--richly serves a subject he knows intimately and rewards the reader with a captivating ride. This is a classic American underdog tale, populated by appealing oddballs, in search of answers to an age-old mystery: Why do we run? Running to the Edge takes you right where it promises it go."
--Mark Frost, author of The Match, and creator of “Twin Peaks”
"Many running fans know about marathon star Meb Keflezighi and perhaps even about his longtime coach, Bob Larsen. But few have heard about Larsen's life and coaching before Meb. That's the story told for the first time in Running to the Edge, a tale about the ragtag, improbably named "Jamul Toads" running club, and how Larsen's training methods turned the toads into national-class gazelles. It's a throwback story, recalling an era when passion was more important than sponsorships and the goal was more often guts than glory. Readers will feel themselves drawn into the Bob Larsen-Jamul Toads ethic, and they'll cheer out loud for the little-known underdogs. I know I did."
--Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon champ, former editor in chief of Runners World and author of Runner's World Complete Book of Running
"Packed with valuable knowledge elegantly conveyed, Running to the Edge is an inspiring and eye-opening look into the evolution of the distance running tradition. Matthew Futterman beautifully translates his passion and curiosity for running into a book that speaks to runners of all abilities."
--Alexi Pappas, distance runner and star of Tracktown
"Coach Bob Larsen has been a father figure to me and provided me with guidance that was key to my success. He is knowledgeable and witty and his approach is all about making small progress in order to prepare you for big-time races. I’ve been fortunate to have his great insight for decades."
--Meb Keflezighi, New York and Boston Marathon Champion, and U.S. Olympic Silver Medalist
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Central Minnesota, 1951
Bob Larsen can’t remember a time when he didn’t run.
During the first dozen years of his life, a life on the farm in the lake country of Minnesota, he runs because he has to. Here, much of Bob’s life involves figuring out the fastest way to get from point A—his home in the woods—to point B. More often than not, he arrives at the same answer—running. He runs to school. He runs to his friends’ houses. He runs because his family’s log cabin and farm are a two-mile trek on a narrow lane to the closest road. That road is a dirt road. So is the 15-mile route to Detroit Lakes, the closest town. Down that road is the rest of the world—school, and friends, the closest stores, none of which are very close at all.
The nearest friends are three miles away. His one-room school, with one teacher for all eight grades, heated with a wood stove, is two and a half miles from the cabin. A general store is even farther. When Bob is nine, his mother teaches school a few miles into the hinterlands. She brings Bob and his sister, LaDonna, with her in the family coupe. On the way, they pick up a few Native American kids from the White Earth Reservation who only rarely attended school in the past. They are older and bigger than Bob and LaDonna but in the same grade. Everyone wedges into the coupe and bounces along the dirt road to the schoolhouse.
At recess, the children run through the woods playing cowboys and Indians, climbing trees and hiding in the branches, covering long distances by moving as quickly as they can, then trekking back when the school bell rings. Bob almost always chooses to be an Indian. The Native American kids usually play the cowboys. They chase each other all around the land near the school. No one can catch Bob.
The next year Bob and LaDonna return to their regular school. In the afternoons, they often hustle home on a shortcut through the woods along the shores of the lake and streams on the edge of the neighboring game refuge. There are deer and foxes and turtles. If they get hungry they stop to pick wild berries and chokecherries.
Their farm is roughly 600 acres, with decent farming conditions, though not as good as the pricier land farther to the south. The soil is rich, and there are wide, level expanses. Half the land remains wooded, but there is still plenty of space to grow alfalfa, corn, and wheat every summer, and occasionally potatoes and other crops. Bob’s mother has a large vegetable garden. In the fall, she cans the vegetables so her family can eat them through the long winter. They raise cattle—milk cows and calves, bulls and steers. They also have pigs, sheep, chickens, and a few turkeys kicking around. One gets slaughtered for Thanksgiving, another a few weeks later for Christmas. They have horses to ride and horses to plow. Bob owns a horse. He pays $90 of his own money for it, money he earned selling baby pigs at the county fair. With the exception of the milk cows, the number of animals they raise depends on the expected price of the meat at the market in Detroit Lakes, where they rent space in a freezer, store some of their meat for sale and some for personal use. On the farm all they have is an icebox. They cut the ice for the icebox out of the lake using hand saws during the winter. The plow horses pull the ice cakes onto the shore and up to the barn. They cover the ice with sawdust, which keeps it for the summer.
When Bob was young he helped milk the cows by hand twice a day. Eventually, his family gets a milking machine. They drink this milk, raw. It is rich and thick. So is the butter they churn from it, and the ice cream his grandfather makes with the hand crank during the summer.
Their cabin sits about thirty meters from Buffalo Lake, which is almost entirely surrounded by woods, creating an intense sense of a family alone in the wilderness. There is also a pond in the middle of the property. Run to the other side of the farm and the shoreline of another lake appears. Minnesota.
Bob runs to get from the cabin to the barn, to round up the cows for milking twice a day. He runs to get to the fields, and sometimes to go into the woods to explore and to find wild berries. Every day he shovels manure, and during the winter, snow. Muscles take root in his upper back. When he was eight years old, he learned to drive the team of horses pulling a wagon or a sled. None of this is easy, but it is the only life he knows—all farm kids do this sort of physical work daily, the kind that pushes them to the edge of exhaustion. And there is a payoff. They get strong from it. The strength makes them confident, and when they are challenged they believe they will have an advantage over kids who don’t grow up on farms.
For Bob Larsen, this sense of physical superiority drawn from hard work will never go away. He will learn how to use it for himself and to pass it down to runners he turns into champions. He will feel it when he runs with the bulls in Pamplona. He understands bulls, he understands work, he understands self-reliance, and he understands how to move quickly using only the power of his legs.
He doesn’t yet know how important these ideas will be to a truth that he will spend a lifetime searching for, or that he will come as close as anyone to finding it. He doesn’t know that he will understand the secrets to the East African domination of long distance running before even the Kenyans and Ethiopians do. He doesn’t know that he will write the blueprints of training for an activity that will become a worldwide movement, and he will impart this knowledge to two generations of star long distance runners, that they will include collegiate and national champions and Olympic medalists, that one of them will pull off perhaps the most inspirational triumph in distance running history, and that he will do all this in relative obscurity during the next half century.
For now, Bob Larsen is still on a remote farm in the middle of Minnesota, happy as can be, until suddenly it all ends. Life on the farm comes to an abrupt completion on a spring afternoon in 1951 with a freak accident. Bob’s father falls out of the haymow on the second floor of the barn. It’s one of those hazards that make farm life among the most dangerous existences on the planet.
His father’s injuries aren’t fatal, but his back is wrecked, not catastrophically, but the farming days are over. There is simply no way to haul bales of hay or milk cows or drive the plow horses or drag the slop out to the pigs.
In the summer Bob’s parents will head south and west. They will need money for the journey. Bob will collect the few hundred dollars he has earned through the sale of nine pigs birthed by the sow his father had given to him. He will give it to his parents. They promise to pay him back. Then they leave. Bob and his sister stay behind in Minnesota with their grandmother until his parents figure out where they are going to end up. They pause in Las Vegas to consider making a life in the desert. It is 104 degrees in the shade. They push on to San Diego, where a new life, warmer than Minnesota, cooler than Las Vegas, begins.
San Diego, Fall 1954
There are moments when the boy from northern Minnesota does not like high school, when he misses the family farm and the one-room schoolhouse, the simplicity of life far, far away from the big city. He misses the horses and the cows, even the smelly chickens and all the work the farm required. There are times when he feels alone. These people out here on the coast of southern California he has gotten to know the past few years are a little different, which could make any teenager slightly uncomfortable.
Then there is gym class. Gym class has always been the time when he runs. In junior high school, these were dashes, 50 yards, 100, maybe 300 at most. The teacher lined the boys up in the schoolyard. A track was chalked off on the concrete. Bob Larsen took his spot at the front and felt no discomfort at all. He knew the boys around him would give him a chase, maybe finish within a few yards or even closer some days when he wasn’t feeling his best, but almost always he would hit the finish line first. He likes to hit the finish line first. When he runs he is at home, even through middle school, when no one ever feels at home.
Now he is in tenth-grade gym class, his first at this dizzyingly large institution with 3,000 students called Hoover High School. A teacher named Raleigh Holt, is lining the boys up for another one of these runs. He tells the boys that since they are in high school, they must run longer than they did before. This test, and it is a test, because Raleigh Holt needs it to be for reasons that will soon become clear to Bob, stretches 660 yards. They will need to be fast, but this 660-yard run is also about being strong, Mr. Holt says. Larsen stands at the front, as usual. His strawberry blond hair is cut in a 1950s buzz. His eyes are bright and wide, focused, like they always are when he is about to run. The expression on his face is blank. Inside, where no one can see, he can feel the grin begin to emerge, because he knows what is going to happen next.
When he first arrived in San Diego, Bob joined a fitness program at the local YMCA. It was not far from his house, northeast of downtown in a neighborhood called North Park. After the farm, nothing felt far away. They did sprints and shuttle runs up and down and across the gym floor, the rubber on the bottom of their shoes squeaking with every twist and turn. They did sit-ups and push-ups and pull-ups and chin-ups. It was tiring for some, but Bob didn’t really get tired. He does not tire the way the other kids do.
And now he knows he isn’t going to get tired on this 660-yard run his gym teacher, Mr. Holt, is describing like a trek to the Mexican border. Bob hears the boys around him moaning. He thinks about the farm, of all those runs through the woods and across the property. They were so much longer than 660 yards. Weren’t they?
Yes, they were. Bob knows how this will go. He knows what it’s like to work to the edge of exhaustion. He knows that work is the reason there will be so much daylight between him and the other kids after they leave the starting line. They will get tired. He will not.
For a moment, when Mr. Holt is done speaking, the gym teacher stands silently in front of Bob. When the whistle blows Bob will sprint to the lead, the air coursing through that strawberry blond buzz. He will never look back. He won’t have to, because he knows who surrounds him—a bunch of kids from the city, and he knows they don’t have a prayer of keeping up with him. By the end, roughly 100 seconds later, his nearest classmate is 30 yards behind.
When gym class is over, Mr. Holt strolls over to Bob. He knows the boy isn’t from here. He also knows he is going to turn Bob into one of the stars of the Hoover High School track team and one of the top runners in San Diego. He is fast. He just needs a little work.
Before very long, for the first time, Bob begins to train. Like the racing in gym class, the training comes fairly easily. In this unenlightened era, unless you are a sprinter, there is little variation. Like everyone else who is remotely connected to running, Mr. Holt knows about the regimens the great Czech runner Emil Zátopek put himself through on the way to winning the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races and the marathon at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. In training, Zátopek rarely runs any distance longer than a half mile at a time. Occasionally he might go as far as a kilometer, or 1,200 meters. Rarely though. But he does these repetitions over and over. A morning session and an afternoon one. He will do ten 880s, with a brief rest between each one, or twenty 440s, at a pace far faster than what he will race at in those long distance competitions. His competitors are in awe of these. They listen to Zátopek speak of running twenty 440s in succession, each one faster than 65 seconds. Their legs begin to burn. It’s not possible, they think. They are right. For them it is not.
Holt has adapted these workouts for his Hoover High School students—in other words, he has made them significantly easier. Monday through Wednesday the routine is almost always the same. The boys (it is all boys, because there is no girls team) run three 1,320s—three laps around the dirt track—with a solid 5 or 10 minutes of rest between each one. Then they run eight 440s. Between each quarter mile, they walk a full lap of the track, which takes about five minutes. On Thursdays they “jog,” though they call it easy or light running, because almost no one in the U.S. has heard of the concept of “jogging” and won’t for nearly another ten years. Fridays they race at track meets. They are expressly told not to run on weekends. Best to rest up for the next week. Same goes for summer. No running then. Summers are for recovery.
Thanks to a collection of very fast boys at the high school, it seems to work. Bob becomes an essential part of a team that almost never loses, even though nearly every star runner on the team, including Bob, spends weeks on the injured list. It will force him to understand that in running health is just as essential as speed. He learns early on that all the talent in the world is worthless if you can’t get to the starting line. Only later will he understand that the injuries he and his teammates are experiencing are likely the result of an imbalanced training regimen, of every runner on the team doing the same thing day after day, an endless stream of intervals around and around the hard dirt track in black leather running spikes. It’s a valuable nugget that he will store away until he begins in earnest that quest for running truth.
Bob and the Hoover boys try not to think about the pain. They focus on their numbers. They are all breaking 4:30 in the mile. The best of them can get down around 4:20 on a good day. By the time they are done, everyone knows they are among the best runners in southern California. As a senior, Bob is the top miler in the city, a star recruit for San Diego State University, where he gets to consider the most important concept that any runner confronts—what comes next.
What comes next is an up-and-down year of adjusting to life as a college runner and battling injuries. At the first practice, Larsen and his teammates are sent out on a three-mile warm-up run on the grass at Aztec Stadium. On other days, they do a warm-up run on the roads around the university. This is interesting and different, farther than Bob has ever run in one stretch. The grass feels good under his feet, especially since he is training in the thin leather racing flats that provide little cushion. Then it is back to the interval training on the track that he is too familiar with. All those quarter-, half-, and three-quarter-mile near-sprints around a rock-hard dirt oval. Three weeks into the season, his shins are shot. He shuts down for two weeks, then comes back, then another shut-down. It goes like this all year, even into the spring, when the injuries grow especially frustrating because for the first time Bob is starting to feel genuinely fast.
San Diego, Summer 1958
Bob Larsen knows how to run only one way—as hard as he can, to the edge of exhaustion. This is how he approaches each training session, each interval of 200, or 400, or 800 meters. He sets a simple goal—expend so much effort that when he takes his final step he has nothing left to give. Then, the only thing his body can do is collapse.
There is a simple explanation for why he does this. He worships Roger Bannister, the Englishman who first broke the four-minute mile. He has studied the photograph of Bannister collapsing after the finish on that gray day at the Iffley Road Track in Oxford on the 6th of May, 1954. When the race ended, and Bannister had broken four minutes for the mile by six tenths of a second, he fell limp, unable to stand without the help of those around him. So Bob runs and then collapses just as the Oxford medical student did that day.
His teammates think it might be a recipe for future injury, maybe even death. They also find it to be a bit of a hoot. They watch their teammate falling to the track at the end of each interval, leaving everything he has out there like the English guy who ran in a way that not long ago most thought was unthinkable, and they shake their heads. Bob simply believes this is how you have to run to be as great as Bannister. Seek the threshold and then cross it. Later, as his quest for running truth evolves, he will realize he wasn’t far off. But right now it’s just the beginning of his journey, one he doesn’t yet know he’s on, to understand what it really takes to run very far, very fast.
Only in the last few months, as a member of the track team at San Diego State, where Bob is a freshman, has he begun to consider himself fast. The Aztecs are a spartan operation. The head trainer, the man responsible for the health of the athletes, is the same man who hands out the jocks and shorts before practices and collects them for the laundry after. There are no ice baths or hot tubs. The team showers are outside. Bob loves it, and like Bannister, he loves to run the mile. He can stay with the leaders in nearly any race and finish in the 4:20s. He can also run the 200 in 25 seconds. He has wheels, though the occasional shin splint makes him feel like he has a few broken spokes.
At the end of the spring season, his coach told him and the other men on the team to remember they are not in high school anymore. They need to get some running in during the summer. They need to come to the track, put in the time, do the work, run those intervals. Keep the rest short between each one, and push as hard as you can, will yourself around those turns even when your lungs are screaming.
Bob isn’t sure how that’s going to work with his schedule. He now lives in El Cajon, not all that close to the university, and he has a job at the local Shell station that he is fairly certain is going to sap all his energy. Two days into summer, he knows he is right. There is little rest for the gas station attendant of the late 1950s. This is the era of the gas station worker as automobile valet. At the Shell station, Bob does a whole lot more than simply pump gas. He washes and waxes cars, changes the oil, checks tire pressure, and, if need be, changes the tires, too. He is on his feet ten hours every day. When he arrives home, he collapses on the couch in his parents’ living room. The last thing in the world he wants to do is run.
After two days he realizes the only way he is going to get his miles in is to avoid the couch at all costs when he walks in the door. He decides to go directly to his room. He changes into shorts and a running singlet, slips on his shoes, and heads out the door for a run.
A few months before, a podiatrist had molded a crude early version of an orthotic to slip into his thin leather running shoes. He told Bob it might soften his landing and help with the stress fractures in his shins. The hard plastic wedge is as thick as an old Coke bottle. As he runs on the roads in his neighborhood, alone in the summer twilight, he can feel the orthotics cushioning his arches.
He often heads over to El Cajon High School, about three miles away, at a pace that would allow him to have a conversation with a buddy if there was anyone else around to do these distance runs with. At El Cajon High, he finds a few other boys doing summer workouts, sometimes on the track, sometimes barefoot on the grass fields next to the school. Then Bob heads back onto the road to run home. Sometimes, when he gets close, he realizes his legs and his body are just beginning to feel good, so he keeps going, adding on one and then two and then three or four more miles as the evening cools and darkness descends.
The miles click by. Sometimes, mile six is easier than mile five. He will test his pace for a few miles one day, clicking off 3 miles in 16 minutes or so in the middle of the run, then easing back toward the finish. He finds the roads liberating, so different from the round-and-round of the track. Sometimes the route makes up itself. He just follows it, sometimes quickly and sometimes less quickly, however fast and wherever his legs tell him to go.
The miles become addictive, the part of the day that Larsen thinks about all afternoon at the Shell station. San Diego is a big city compared with the farm in northern Minnesota where Bob spent the first dozen years of his life. But it is still something of a small Navy town. Larsen runs through streets of low-rise buildings and past block after block of modest California ranch homes. Everywhere he sees sailors in their whites, officers in their dress uniforms, heading over to a friend’s house for dinner. Downtown, enlisted sailors wander the city’s streets, in port for a few days and searching for some female company and something to do.
He is always bone tired when his shift at the gas station ends, but after a few weeks he knows as well as he knows anything that if he just avoids his couch and gets out on the roads, within minutes his energy will rise. Some days he only flirts with pushing the gas pedal to the floor. Miraculously, he feels no pain in his shins. The running is pure joy, just as it once was back on the farm in Minnesota.
Some days he pushes hard, even to the edge in spurts, that moment of liminality, when the ritual is giving way to a kind of transcendent exhaustion and he has no idea what will come next. Pain? Nirvana? Some combination of the two—the most painful kind of pleasure or the most pleasurable form of pain? He wonders if a joyful, physical pain can serve as a pathway for a deeper, wider realm of understanding. It’s like that moment when the point of a thumbtack is first piercing the fleshy part of a fingertip, and it feels strangely good. How long can it last?
In August, he signs up for a race in Balboa Park that is called the Balboa Park 8 Miler. The event attracts the top runners from the region, college competitors and a few recent graduates, who still train, dreaming of maybe making an upcoming Olympic team before getting on with the rest of their lives. It is 1958—there are no recreational runners, people who will eventually be called “joggers.” They simply do not exist yet. All summer long, as he racks up those miles in dusk on the crowded roads of central San Diego County or on a trail across one of the dusty canyons, Bob Larsen never sees another soul running the way he does.
On the start line of the Balboa 8 Miler, he sees the best runners in the region and that’s all. This is the fourth edition of the race, which was started in 1955 by an SDSU alum named Bill Gookin. Gookin had set school records at SDSU and had a shot at national success in the middle and long distance races. He and his teammates weren’t ready to give up competitive running, so they formed the San Diego Track Club and began to organize “all-comer” meets and this eight-mile distance race over the hybrid terrain of rolling Balboa Park and the surrounding streets and boulevards. Most of the closest races were in Los Angeles, a day’s drive round-trip back then. Bill Gookin and his small crew are the only serious adult runners for miles around. Gookin is there on the start line with Bob Larsen. So are roughly 50 to 100 other men. There are no women, who do not compete in races longer than 400 meters.
At the sound of the gun, Larsen takes off to the front. He knows this is where he belongs. He has thought this for some time now.
As he runs the first miles of the Balboa 8, he has a summer of bliss in his legs, all those dusky ventures, mile after mile of pushing to find the moment when his legs or his lungs will give way. They never do.
He has never raced this far, but five miles in he is still up front. He is floating over the grass and concrete, clicking off miles at a 5:30 pace and feeling he could run to San Francisco like this if he wanted to. One by one, the runners in the lead pack fall off until it is no longer a pack anymore, just Bob Larsen sailing across the course, 100 and then 200 yards ahead of the rest of the field. Down the stretch he is waving to his buddies watching beside the course. The endorphin-fueled euphoria is coursing through his body. There is no way he can know this, but he is having the greatest long distance running day of his life. He crosses the finish line in 44 minutes flat. He is nineteen years old. He cannot imagine and does not know a purer form of happiness.
In fact, there is plenty he doesn’t know. Most importantly he has no idea why he is having this magical day. He doesn’t know that within those long runs in the evenings, the hard ones and the less hard ones, and even those exhausting days at the gas station, lies the secret to his success this day in Balboa Park. He doesn’t know that this is the secret he will chase as he evolves from Bob Larsen, surprise winner of the 1958 Balboa 8, into “Bobcat” and “CBL” (short for Coach Bob Larsen)—a man who teaches others that they can find strength that they never thought they had if they can fearlessly search for it, again and again. He has no idea or plan for any of it as he accepts the congratulations. All he knows is that he is the Balboa 8 Mile champion, that he has just pulled off an epic run and he should probably celebrate, though not too much, because this race is over, and his mind goes very quickly to what comes next. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- ASIN : B07H72PT62
- Publisher : Anchor (June 4, 2019)
- Publication date : June 4, 2019
- Language : English
- File size : 4898 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 285 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #223,662 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Top reviews from the United States
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First let me say that I think Coach Bob Larsen is a terrific coach who deserves to have his story told, but to say that he devised some secret sauce, or that he held some singular vision for coaching distance runners is just not correct. There were lots of great coaches all over the US in the 60’s and 70’s, and there were lots of great runners who were essentially self-coached. And while San Diego was a hotbed of talent, there were also hotbeds of talent in Florida, Philly, Boston, Oregon and elsewhere.
So that’s the first big criticism of this book. The other big criticism could be described as “death by a thousand paper cuts” or, in this case, death by a thousand little inaccuracies that call into question the accuracy of the book as a whole. To name just a few:
- US distance runners most definitely did not flock to Wyoming to train in the 70’s.
- The author implies Mark Nenow wasn’t world-class when he ran his American Record in the 10,000 meters in 1986. In fact, Nenow was ranked #1 in the world that year and his time was the third-fastest in history, only 7 seconds off the world record.
- The science and benefits of altitude training were well known long before Larsen and Vigil established Running USA in Mammoth Lakes.
- Larsen was well aware of Meb Keflezighi before he saw him run at the Drake Relays. Anyone who made his living by following and recruiting the best high school track athletes to their college program would have to be.
- Sebastian Coe did not come from an “aristocratic” family. His father was an engineer. His family was certainly comfortable, but definitely not aristocratic or even especially wealthy.
- Meb was partially sponsored by the New York Athletic Club, not the New York Road Runners. Deena Kastor was never sponsored by Nike. She is sponsored by Asics.
Finally, there are the short chapters about the author himself, Matthew Futterman, interspersed throughout the book. One has to wonder why he chose to include these anecdotes about such topics as injuring his knee and a college frat party. Yes, he also runs a bit and even once qualified for the Boston Marathon (congratulations), but the chapters don’t have any connection to the rest of the story. He doesn’t describe putting Larsen’s principles into practice in his own training or even how his training evolved over time. Instead, these chapters just seem like vanity pieces. Yes, he ran Boston once and flirted with another runner on the morning of his wedding. Who cares?
This could have been a great book about a coach quietly dedicated to helping others achieve Olympic medals, but by trying to inflate and embellish his subject, Futterman instead, ironically, makes it a lesser book.
Skip this book and instead pick up either of Meb Keflezighi’s excellent auto-biographies, Run To Overcome and 26 Marathons, or Deena Kastor’s auto-biography, Let Your Mind Run.
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