Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances Review (Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal)

Bah. Running. Exercise. Ugh.

The last (and only!) book I read about long distance running was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and it was ok – Murakami’s writing always has this strangely Zen/peaceful quality to it. But it basically repeated the same thing over and over: he likes running because it makes him feel good about writing, about his life, about everything.

Matthew Inman’s written a similar book, albeit in comic form, in The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances, which also informs you that he likes to run because it makes him feel better about his life, about his work, about everything. But it’s also about other things like Inman’s hatred of gyms and gym culture, his dislike of healthy food-only diets, and an anecdote about giant Japanese hornets (which are literally the size of sparrows!).

Thanks to a combination of natural storytelling ability and appealingly over-the-top imagery (his apathy is characterised as a morbidly obese fairy called The Blerch who urges him towards cake and Netflix), Inman is able to take this rather mundane-seeming material and turn it into a compelling and fun book.

Besides the autobiographical stuff, there’s actually a lot of good advice for anyone looking to start running themselves. Like how not to pressure yourself early on to change all aspects of your life if you decide to start running, or to set unrealistic targets (waking up at 5am every day? Fuck that!).

There’s a refreshing honesty to his approach – he’s not setting out to tell you how to lose weight, and he’s not telling you that running will solve all of your problems; he’s just telling you what works for him. You won’t get a ridiculously sculpted body if you run long distance – instead you’ll get giant legs! And if you want a six pack, you’ll have to starve for it to show, and Inman is steadfastly against dieting/starvation – by all means make healthy choices but don’t deny yourself junk food either (that said, the schlumpy guy he portrays himself as in the book isn’t who he is in real life – man looks like a catalogue model, damn him. But he says he was a fat kid growing up so I guess that mentality is for life).

But Inman’s message is clear: whatever you do, choose to run. The rewards far outweigh the costs, which are quite minimal and mostly consist of time which most people have, they just talk themselves out of using it to exercise (it’s just easier not to!). And he is quite a convincing proselytiser of running; the idea of reaching a void-like space in your mind when running is quite appealing.

I liked his anecdote about running in Nagoya, Japan (a beautiful city) which makes you feel his pain acutely as he ran out of water early on in the run on a hot day and began being chased by giant hornets. He eventually outruns them and gloriously discovers a vending machine in a bamboo grove, calling the moment when he drank a cold purple grape drink a near religious experience! The Japanese do put vending machines EVERYWHERE and I’ve had that purple grape drink before – Fanta Grape is godly whether you’re dehydrated or not.

My favourite part of the book is his critique of gym culture, showing all kinds of body types in the gym and revealing their thought bubbles – basically everyone has body issues whether you’re a massive blob or a skinny, tanned Adonis. Running won’t get rid of that – nothing will until you start liking who you are - but it will give you a high that’ll help put things into perspective and make you feel better too, mentally and physically.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances is a highly readable, fun comic about the joys of running with some amusing insights into our current overly-health obsessed society. It almost makes me want to become a runner too.



The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances

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