Every now and again, I read books about running. I originally posted a rough version of this review over on my Tumblr back in December, but thought it'd be worth posting here as well, as I've had some more time to think about the book. If you guys have any suggestions of good running books let us know. Dancing on Rocks suggested an ultra running book which I'm most of the way through, and I'm currently finishing up Jeremy Schaap's book on Jesse Owens.
I received a copy of Matt Long's The Long Run for Christmas in 2010 and finally got around to reading it a few months ago (thanks, grad school + Infinite Jest). The book is told in first-person by the author Matt Long (duh), a New York City firefighter who was a hell of a runner and triathlete in the fall of 2005. I say 'was' because he was struck by a charter bus in late November 2005 during that year's NYC Transit strike and was out of running for a while (like, a few years a while). His injuries were horrific; in addition to the blunt force trauma from the impact he was also dragged under the bus and impaled through his perineum by his bike's seat-post. Yes -- Long's bike pierced his taint. The book details the events leading up to Long's accident and what unfolded afterwards.
The meat of the book describes Long's recovery -- which is nothing short of remarkable. The initial critical care he received consumed nearly 70 units of blood, 14 hours of stabilization surgery, and an incredible number of skilled surgeries. Beyond the initial stabilization, multiple surgeries were required to reconstruct his legs, replace his pelvis, re-form his intestinal tract (which had been shortened by trauma and partially bypassed by a colostomy bag). The book goes into pretty fine detail the author's understanding of his surgeries (and his co-author's fact-checking with the doctors who performed the surgeries).
The story is rich, motivating, and honest -- yet I'm not sure I really enjoyed the book all that much upon its initial uptake.
The first chapters meandered through a long list of people the author used to run/firefight/drink/shoot hoops with. Beyond what seemed to amount to shout-outs, the author spends a lot of time discussing his pre-accident ability to pick up women, shoot the shit with anybody, etc. This certainly is relevant when discussing the frustrations of rehab, crutches, scarring, and seclusion -- but the author's nonchalant inclusion of his former Confidence eventually goes beyond being contextual and instead becomes repetitive and superfluous.
There were a lot of mentions of embittered politics in the book related to the transit strike. I'm not really familiar with public union politics, and realize that the transit strike severely inconvenienced large swaths of people when it happened. The author was hit by a bus chartered by a financial company; the bus was chartered due to the lack of public transit (and the author was biking to a workout due to the subway shutdown). The strike is certainly relevant when discussing the accident -- it played a role (arguably a significant one) in the events that proceeded. The author's father is a prominent conservative politician in the state of New York, and the author does nothing to hide this or his own personal politics -- which is fine; it's his book. That being said, the continued comments about the strike and its organizers seemed incredibly vindictive (which is even understandable to a certain degree) and do little but distract from the story at hand.*
As mentioned earlier, the book is written in the first person. I've never heard Matt Long speak, but I trust that the book is an accurate reflection of his voice -- so much so that it was difficult to read at times. The entire book reads mostly like the story you'd hear over the course of six or seven hours at a bar. It seems honest, but that comes with the caveat that it seems as honest as a conversation that you'd have over the course of six or seven hours at a bar (this is not to say that I think the author was drunk when providing his story -- it's that the story has a loose, cordial feel that is great for conversation, but leaves something to be desired in writing. Much like this book review).
As much as I didn't like the voice of the book for the first ~180 pages, the later rehab and PT sections really pulled me back in. The back end of the book is absolutely fantastic, and made the book worth a read. The storytelling was far more linear (the early sections of the book jump around in time a lot, in an attempt to contextualize the author's difficulties. It was a good idea in theory, but the execution didn't sit too well with me), and the story was more focused. The final two chapters about running the New York City Marathon in 2008 and competing in the the Lake Placid Ironman in 2009 were very well-written.
The book is worth reading, and I think does a great job of re-setting the barometer when considering one's normal struggles in exercise -- or in life in general. It gets slowed down at times, and meanders -- but whose story doesn't? The book is a fairly easy read, is genuinely inspiring, and has bits that'll stick with you ("You're ready. We're going a mile or three falls"). This is a story that is worthy of our attention and deserves to be read. I just wish is was a little more well-executed.
*There's also a large section about the events of Sept 11 2001 and the author's experience on that day (he's pictured in a photo that I remember seeing in the days immediately following the attacks). The section is worthwhile reading and clearly means a lot to the author, his family (his brother is also a firefighter in NYC and both were out of contact most of the day), and his coworkers. To me it just seems a bit tacked-on, but I can understand the author's insistence in including the story, and his editor's keeping it in.