If you could have done anything after college for one year all expenses paid, what would it have been? Becky Wade is a runner who applied for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which is awarded to 40 graduating college seniors to fund a dream year. She was a runner at a college in Texas and chose to spend her time in foreign running communities, searching for unique and common ways people approach running and build their lives around it. In the 12 months (beginning July 24, 2012) she spent in England, Ireland, Switzerland, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, and Finland, she talked to recreational runners and coaches, followed the same lives as professional runners, interviewed running historians and retired legends, watched and competed in local races, and explored running routes with locals.
Wade originally came up with a list of five countries that evolved into 22 countries, some of which were spent briefly in transit. In many of the countries, she had cooking lessons by a local runner and includes a recipe at the end of each chapter of her book. Speaking of food, she found that oats, muesli, and pancakes are the breakfast of champions and there is never enough tea for runners. Other similarities Wade discovered are that Sundays are universal long-run days, kilometer repeats are a common foundation workout, and distance runners with the luxury to do so treat afternoon naps very seriously.
In the chapter on her time in England, she explains how she met up with Kenyan runners who taught her her the importance of warming up naturally, running by feel, and always wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts regardless of temperature. Runners in Switzerland taught Wade the importance of mountain trails and altitude training. She went up again in elevation when she moved on to the running training camp and hotel complex Yaya Village at 9000 feet in Ethiopia. In Australia, she joined the Melbourne University Athletics Club annual team trip and later ran in Melbourne.
Arthur Lydiard, running coach from Auckland, New Zealand, is attributed with starting the first global jogging boom, which was brought to the United States after US coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman visited Lydiard in Auckland. Wade ran the famous 22 mile Arthur Lydiard’s Waiatarua Circuit, considered a marathon predictor. In Japan, Wade joined an international running club, saw an acupuncturist with her first exposure to western medicine, and went to an onsen. Ending in Sweden and Finland, she experienced Finnish saunas, which are similar to onsens in that both are filled with rituals and are experienced in groups, without clothing. She also discovered competitive Finnish orienteering and was able to watch Jukola, one of the largest and most historic relay orienteering competitions in the world.
Five months after returning home to Texas, Wade ran the 2013 California International Marathon (CIM) for her marathon debut. The plan all along was to gain valuable insight from runners around the world, and pick and choose what to apply to her own training. It appears her year-long travels were a success, if her results at the CIM are any indication of this. Wade was the first female at CIM, with a time of 2:30:48, good enough for a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials and third fastest marathon time for a woman under 25.
So, what did I think of the book? I truly enjoyed it, perhaps not surprisingly, since it combines my two favorite things, running and traveling. I found the book well-written and liked reading about the friendships she gained over the year and how each country approaches long-distance running. There were several take-aways for me from the book, with probably the most important to take rest and recovery as seriously as logging the miles.
If you’re looking for an entertaining book about running and different running cultures around the world, I hope you get a chance to read this book and I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did!
Have any of you had the opportunity to run with running groups during your travels? Have you gained any tips from running groups in other countries?