Review: ‘The Incomplete Book of Running,’ by Peter Sagal

November 16, 2018

Best known for his hosting duties on NPRs Wait, Wait Dont Tell Me! Peter Sagal is also a longtime columnist for Runners World magazine, musing on relatable topics such as male fat-shaming, gastrointestinal challenges and the constant quest for motivation amid the everyday challenges of managing life.

Now theres more of his wit and wisdom in Sagals new book, The Incomplete Book of Running. As it opens, Sagal is on the precipice of turning 40 and is in an irreparably broken marriage to the mother of his three children. By the end of the book, hes found love again.

Mercifully, the romantic arc is just the framework. His hot-to-lukewarm relationship with running is the backbone of stories from his earliest years of running with his father to the present.

The title is a winking homage to Jim Fixxs 1977 runners bible, The Complete Book of Running. The cover of Sagals book is, at a glance, identical to Fixxs. But look again while Fixxs cover shot shows a lithe runners calves in elegant stride, Sagals shows the lower half of a runner tumbling backward, feet up, one shoe liberated from the foot and airborne.

Sagal is brilliant and accomplished, but hes also self-deprecating and funny. He presents himself as a balding, stocky everyman struggling to keep the weight off.

Hes not, however, a casual runner. In one decade, he ran 14 marathons, including one with a personal best time of 3:09. That means he averaged seven-minute miles for 26.2 miles.

Sagal ran the 2013 Boston Marathon, the year two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line. He was serving as a guide for a blind runner, and even though much has been shared of that day, Sagals accounts are not easily forgotten.

Sagal is full of irreverence, and he never lets the book get too heavy of heart. He described a beta test of life as a divorced man a solo road trip to a race in St. Louis at which he took to the starting line on a 30-degree day in his underwear to claim a spot next to a shirtless guy dressed as a character from Braveheart.

Theres a passage about sex advice columnist Dan Savage that will send readers to the online urban dictionary to get the definition of a certain sexual term even though Sagal warns against it. The Savage segment segues to Sagals shorthand advice to newbie runners: GGG. Thats Gradual, Goal, Group.

Other chapters begin with laughable candor. Sometimes running sucks, Chapter Six begins. And my favorite, Chapter Nine, opens with, The problem with being a midlife-crisis runner is that once you start, youre already in decline.

He proselytizes about running without headphones by using a priceless comparison.

Sagal is not here to make you faster, but hell make you smile, reflect and perhaps take the holiest of actions: those first scary steps out the door.

Rochelle Olson is a Star Tribune reporter. 612-673-1747. Twitter: @rochelleolson

The Incomplete Book of RunningBy: Peter Sagal.Publisher: Simon Schuster, 185 pages, $27.Event: 7 p.m. Nov. 26, Magers amp; Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

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