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Customer Review

on October 9, 2012
`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.

Each chapter is a race, and we experience the intriguing mindset of the author journeying through 4 marathons, and three races in an 18 month period

What is wonderful about the book is that Daniloff is a gifted writer first, or at least that's what shines through, and his personality is one which has all of the interesting jagged yet fragile edges of an addict, and with all the determination and stubbornness of a distance runner.

The metaphors he uses are tremendous, and I am thinking that a handful of writers could make a living off the scraps of metaphors Daniloff has come up with but never used.

And there isn't a marathoner out there of all speeds who won't connect with his writing descriptions. I've always felt if running could be fully described, then it wouldn't be running but something much less, as it's effects escape meaning that words can give. Daniloff describes the joys of running in a spectrum of phrases that came close, and more importantly, it was clear that he "gets it"- as running elitist as that sounds. The near stream of conscious running descriptions rival those of any running book, and are fresh, subliminal and poetic.

All of this, but you'll also find the mundane yet near universal experience of navigating a pee in the bushes at the beginning of a marathon, the importance of body-gliding one's nipples, and the constant runner's math all of us do trying to push our body past the finish line in some arbitrary time trying to prove we're worthy.

Yet, this is certainly not a technical piece on running. Not until the end, in fact, does the author realize the importance of keeping an even pace through a marathon to get his best result (when he speaks of `banking' time, you can't help but scream "no, don't do it!) But I think this is what keeps the novel honest and raw. Once you start getting into lactate acid threshold levels and tempo runs and marathon pace runs and Yasso 800-ing and McMillan-ing, something is partially ruined that can't be gained back. The author would turn from garage-band runner into an overly produced piece of work. How different all of our runs might be if we never bit the technical running apple.

Rather than a lesson on how to run, it's an inward, honest self-reflection of a private world that is fragile, longing for something different, yet, as he describes in one interview "in love with this alienation" that addiction brings. The sense of loneliness continues even in his recovery, where he does not share deep experiences with sponsors and other recovery folks, and, in fact, laments changing relationships with past alcohol-imbibing friends. It is a solo descent into his addiction as well as a solo ascent to recovery. At the same time, there's the silent connection to both runners and the spirit of the run itself.

I particularly enjoyed the Boston and New York marathon stories, one I have ran and the other I am preparing for, but the Moscow experience of doing a marathon is one not to be missed. Cultural differences do impact marathon aid stations.

If you've read a ton of running books, you may not have read one like this, and if you've read a ton of self-discovery books, where there's a final AA speech in front of a crowd, and you get your token, and then your spouse appears at the back of the room, and everybody cries, and true love lasts forever, and a REM song plays. No, this is not the one either. Illuminations and epiphanies sprinkle down during runs, and they are received with a questioning uncertainty of one who is always running to figure out who they are. This is what life is, this is especially what recovery is, and as the author states, "No longer do I run from my demons, but with them." but the run must go on, since, " you never outrun your demons, but if you maintain forward motion you might just get them to tire a little."

Mark Matthews, author of Stray and The Jade Rabbit
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