Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review - Meb Keflezighi's "Run to Overcome"

"Run to Overome"
by Meb Keflezighi (with Dick Patrick)
Tyndale House Publisher's
$12.59 in the Amazon Kindle Store
$24.99 Hardcover

Part of being a runner is being interested in runners who have achieved "elite" status and have made a splash on the world stage. If you've ever known a good runner, you'll know that not all runners are "lungs on legs" and some are actually quite eccentric. Steve Prefontaine once claimed that he "had to" run at least ten miles a day or he would gain ten pounds. He claimed it was because he ate so much pizza and drank so much beer. Allegedly, one day, on a dare, he didn't run. And had gained ten pounds by the next morning. Allegedly. Of course, "Pre" is a pretty extreme example. And although the way he raced was inspiring, his life outside of running was less than so, at least for me. This is not the case with Meb Keflezighi.

Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi, if you aren't aware, is America's best marathoner. Period. And he doesn't even hold the American record. In fact, his best time isn't even in the top five all-time in U.S. history. It may not even be in the top ten. But the way he races makes him a legitimate threat to medal in London this year. My first exposure to Meb was in Davenport, IA during the Bix 7 road race. Standing at the starting line, it is not uncommon for the race director to talk about a few of the favorites near the front in the elite group. What is uncommon is for the race director to single out one of the runners (with a very strong East African contingent that day) comment on how great of a person one of them is and how they are a great representative of the sport.

That piqued my interest and when I got home (after clocking a 49-minute flat 7 mile race, thank you), I looked into Meb's story. It was inspiring, and I had not done more researched than going back to his days at UCLA.

Meb was born in third-world country of Eritrea, a country that was in the midst of an intense thirty-year war between an occupying force from Ethiopia and the native rebels. During that time, it is estimated that 150,000 Eritreans lost their lives and another 500,000 were forced to flee. Reading about the fighting was heartbreaking.

The story of his father's struggles to get his family out Eritrea, by way of Italy, an into America was awe-inspiring. It was also my favorite part of his story. Purchasing his book looking for all of the tales of the epic races and the dogged determination necessary to achieve your greatest running goals, I instead found a book about constantly plugging away at the obstacles life throws at you. I will spare the details (because you should go read the book), but let's just say that the Keflezighi family is a model is how far working to your best abilities will take you.

Eventually the story did evolve into the running bits I had been looking forward to. Although I was aware of Meb's stellar college career (and even greater pro career), I did not know that he had never run for anything other than survival until he was in high school in the U.S. An aside: One of my favorite stories is about a doctor is also a runner. He was volunteering in Africa (I think Chad) and when he would run by a group of local boys they would always look behind him to see what he was running from. The concept of running for exercise just never occurred to them.

In fact, Meb had never really "run" a mile. When he was in the fifth grade, and still learning to perfect his English, he ran better than a 6-minute mile in gym class. If you think that is easy, try doing it in hand-me-down sneakers when you are 12- or 13-years old. His PE teacher called the high school track coach and told him, "We have an Olympian."

Meb's pro career has been a study in unevenness. He won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic marathon (first medal for the U.S. since Frank Shorter back in '76), failed to make the 2008 Olympic team, set the U.S. record in the 10,000m (since broken twice by Chris Solinsky and Galen Rupp in the past two years), suffered numerous injuries, and come back from them all.

Something that happened after the book went to press - Meb had been a Nike runner his entire career. He even won the 2009 New York Marathon (First American winner there in at least thirty years), and was subsequently dropped by Nike the following year as he recovered from various injuries. In case you missed it, he did find another sponsor - Skechers - and then won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials last weekend. Beating the much ballyhooed Ryan Hall with great race tactics.

I'll be honest, I was a big Meb-fan before I bought this book. Although you would think this would make more apt to write a gleaming review, I was worried I would be let down. But that was not the case. This book was very inspiring. Although I am not a spiritual person, Meb's faith in Christ was on display, but not overplayed, the entire book. I'll admit, someone whose faith is as strong as Meb's risks alienating their reader when he proclaims that, when bad things happen, he "believes it is God's plan for him," but it did not have that effect on me. In fact, I feel that even a very secular person would read this book and find that this added to the story and was never preachy.

To be honest, the chapters about his running career, its setbacks, and subsequent triumphs, were great, but was only the second-best part of the book. The opening half, about his family and its struggles really struck a chord with me. It was very enjoyable and was a case-study in a father's ambition to want more for his family.

There were not many negative aspects of the book, but a few existed. First, the writing was less than inspiring. It can be hard for professional athletes (and the ghost writers who clear up their stories) to tell their stories in eloquent and flowing language. Most stories flow from unevenly because that is how life rolls.

His years growing from a high school to collegiate runner were intriguing, as his competitive side really stood out as he explained his battles with several rivals (and eventual friends), but the book lost some speed as he moved on to professional racing. The story became a little bogged down with some details that, to be honest, I had looked forward reading about, such as his nutrition and training regimens. And his expounding on the relationships that got him to where he would eventually succeed were overdone, in my opinion. But even these few "down sides" were really not that bad.

I would give this book a solid 8 out of 10. I really enjoyed it. It isn't just for runners. In fact, this would be a great read for non-runners, as the best parts of the story have nothing to do with running.

Tyndale House is a Christian publisher, so anyone buying their titles should go in eyes wide-open. That being said, they have several sports related titles, several by Tony Dungy, Pete Maravich, Drew Brees, and Emmit Smith.

If you are in a bit of a slump and looking for something to pick you up, this book will get the job done. I finished this book about three weeks ago and the "pick me up" is still as strong as when I put it down (er, closed out of the eBook on my Kindle).













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