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Second Wind: One Woman's Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents Paperback – October 19, 2010
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Cami Ostman didn't always run. Emerging from the "shattered structures" of her life, not once, but twice, she found a new structure for herself in marathon running. It was a place where she "was breathing. When I ran," she writes, "I centered my entire attention on my body in the present moment and got some relief from the emotional gymnastics that were the result of my shattered life. Like a prayer, but without a specific petition, running called me to quiet my thoughts."
Personally, I'd have chosen yoga. Still, her story was compelling. I wanted to know more.
The idea of running a full marathon was not appealing to her at first. But starting small, with short runs close to home, she found she liked it. Equipped with no more than her running shoes and her iPod Shuffle, Cami set her sights on a "midlife vision quest," one that "wasn't always easy, quick, tidy or even much fun some of the time" and in the process found a model for how to reconstruct her life.
Cami writes with an easy, conversational tone, sprinkling just enough metaphor to bring her story alive. Here is a passage from her Introduction:
"Marathon racers, just like people in relationships with other human beings, all run together and yet alone. Sometimes you have to choose whether to keep up with others, or to find your own pace at the back of the pack. Also, a race, just like a life, feels most secure when it's well organized and there's a lot of support along the course, but it is often more interesting to get lost and to have to rely on strangers to help you find your way again."
And this gem, toward the end of one of her earlier races:
"The end of a long race is like the last bite of Christmas dinner. You're full. You don't need to eat that last forkful of mashed potatoes and gravy, but you've already cleaned your plate of everything else, so it seems ridiculous to leave one little pile of food for the garbage disposal. It's the same with the finish line. You've proved your point and run your race. You're `full,' as it were, of the experience, but that last little stretch remains. So you go for it."
Between May 2003 and March 2010, Cami ran 26.2 miles in Prague, the Czech Republic; Mudgee, Australia; Whidbey Island, Washington; Panama City, Panama; Tateyama, Japan; Langebaan, South Africa; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and King George Island, Antarctica. Woven among these very different races are stories of the world-wide Sister Cities program, her budding and blossoming relationship with Bill, now her husband, and the countryside in which she ran.
In Australia, the race began differently. "There was no horn or gun or even a megaphone," she writes. Then, "Some things, even some of the most life-changing experiences, start that way. No one says, `This [fill in the blank] is going to be one of the most radical rites of passage you will ever travel through, so pay attention.' Someone just says `Okay, go ahead now,' and you find yourself in the middle of an unexpected lightning storm with your life flashing before you."
Second Wind is filled with such nuggets. Each chapter describes a separate race, with a few additional chapters filling us in on her training and planning before hand. But each chapter -- practically each page -- is filled with life affirming observations. In South Africa, we read, "... we never know all that any commitment entails before we hit the hard parts." Then adding, a page later, "Lots of things in life deserve to be quit and left behind, but those things (activities, commitments, projects) that enrich us and reward us deserve better effort. They deserve for us to empty ourselves into them, trusting that we will be refilled and revived when all is said and done. The key is to know which things are which."
We watch as Cami discovers different parts of herself and decides "not to silence any of the parts of me ... to tolerate the tensions ... among all the different voices inside my head."
She admits to "the fear I'd had," at the beginning of her new marriage to Bill, "that I would slide into a nuptial numbness and forget the commitment I'd made to personal examination and authenticity. ... I suppose I'd been afraid ... that lethargy and self-acceptance were the same thing."
"Running and marriage have a lot in common," she writes early on. "Sometimes in running you find yourself on your favorite trail, the wind gentle, the perfect song playing on your iPod; your muscles are strong, you have a companion at your perfect pace, and you fancy yourself the fastest Kenyan soaring over the finish line at record speed. Other times, salty and sweaty and cramping, with mucus dribbling out of your nose and the rain pouring down and mud splashing up, you hate your companion and you complete your run simply because the only way back to where you want to be is the way you came. You finish only because you started it. But I could see a third way too: You run some of the way with your ill-fitted companion, whom you love (but who makes you mad), at a pace that is roughly your own but maybe a little faster than you'd like to go -- until you realize you can meet your partner at the end, rain or shine, angry or happy. You can accept your Inner Wisdom and your Inner Bitch and let them run together."
We learn about how we all can get stuck in life sometimes, but what really counts, as Cami says, is to "see a way to break free and find your second wind."
Reading Second Wind, I felt I knew what it must be like to run, to run smoothly, and for a very long time. And I liked it. I liked the feeling of "finding my pace," of "pushing through the pain" and persevering, of learning through it all (as Cami did) to trust myself. And I particularly liked that I could do all this from the comfort of my easy chair and ottoman.
I recommend this to all arm-chair, virtual runners like myself who enjoy uplifting stories of real people and their searches for what makes "a good life."
I have been a runner and it did make me want to hit the roads again! (but it is not just for those who run)
This book is for anyone who has taken an introspective look at themselves and their lives and the things that happen along the way. Taken as such, it was not written to be judged and criticized by runners about the running or by those who couldn't relate to her process. If anything, it lets us have a view into her world while also looking into our own.
A good read that I would recommend!