Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review: Running Ransom Road by Caleb Daniloff

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Moving, powerful, and inspiring memoir
Cons: Might not appeal to all readers
The Bottom Line
Powerful memoir
As a runner, I loved it
Easy to connect

Facing the Ghosts of the Past Through Rumming

Over the last two and a half years, I have become a runner – a fact I still find surprising.  That’s why Running Ransom Road caught my eye on the Amazon Vine newsletter.  The book sounded interesting, so I broke with my normal reading habits and asked to have this memoir sent to me.  I’m so glad I did.

Craig Daniloff is a quiet, reserved man.  As a teen, he started drinking to overcome his shyness.  Soon, he was a full blown alcoholic, and he stayed that way through college until he was almost done with graduate school.

Five years after he stopped drinking, he started running, an exercise he found gave him a new kind of high and a new focus for his life.  When he’d been sober 10 years, he started running marathons and set out to run them in each city where he’d lived and partied in an 18 month period.

This book is a chronicle of those runs and his reflections on his life along the way.  Each chapter focuses on one race.  There are five marathons, one half marathon, and a shorter race included here.  The story is told in race order, and each chapter is filled with his thoughts on being back in that city and what it does to him, the run itself, and flashbacks to memories of his behavior when he lived there.  The flashbacks are in italics, and the rest of his thoughts are so well organized it’s always easy to follow what is happening.

I found the story surprisingly moving.  Craig has many demons to face, and he doesn’t hold back in sharing them here.  Actually, that was one thing I found most surprising.  This man who admits to social anxiety lets it all hang out here.  That was a very brave thing to do.

Along the way, I found myself learning and growing as he did.  True, I don’t have the past he does to work through, but his story is so moving you can’t help but be drawn in and realizing anew the need to work through the past and then set it aside.

Of course, as a runner, I found all the talk about running fascinating.  Craig and I seem to have the same low key approach – strap on shoes and go.  While he is a faster runner than me, he’s not winning these races and struggles to reach goal times.  I honestly think that was one reason I enjoyed the book so much.  Even though I don’t have the pasts he does, I could relate to him in the present.

Another thing I loved was the description.  Craig has a Masters in writing and makes his living as a journalist.  It shows.  There are so many wonderful turns of phrase.  And I always felt like I was there with him step by step in the heat or the cold just struggling to keep moving forward.  Frankly, the writing was hypnotic, and I always found it a struggle when I had to put the book down.

I know I connected with the book because I am a runner.  I think recovering addicts would connect with it just as well.  The rest of the population will certainly find it enjoyable and an inspiring read, but I don’t think they’ll get quite as much out of it.

The downside of the book is I want to do these marathons he did.  Not only are they all on the east coast, but I don’t know if I have a marathon in me.  I ran my first half marathon a month ago, and that was a struggle to finish.  But reading this book made me want to sign up and start training.

One thing I liked about this book is that Craig doesn’t try to pass the blame.  Yes, he does consider root causes of his issues, but ultimately, he accepts the responsibility for the things he did in the past.

So I found Running Ransom Road an outstanding read, and I’m glad I picked up it up.  If it sounds at all interesting to you, I recommend you pick it up as well.

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