On the one hand, Jason Karp’s The Inner Runner is the running book I’ve been looking for: it’s not focused on technique and training but on the why of running.
This is from the publisher’s description:
Why are so many people drawn to running? Why is running the most common physical activity? What is it about running that empowers so many people? And how can runners harness that power to create a more meaningful life? The Inner Runner addresses these questions and a whole lot more. This book is not about how to get faster or run a marathon; rather, it explores how the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and helps you harness your creative powers. Learn about the psychological, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual benefits of running and introduce lifestyle changes based on the latest scientific research on running and its effects on hormones and the brain.
That description and the chapter titles drew me right in:
- Why Do We Run?
- Healthful Runs
- Better Runs
- Creative and Imaginative Runs
- Productive Runs
- Confident Runs
- Becoming a Better Runner and a Better You
“Better Runs,” for example, discusses the benefits of a variety of runs: slow runs, fast runs, long runs, paced runs, track runs, social runs, and more. Karp is at his best when he gives advice that is both physically practical and psychologically helpful. Regarding starting a race too fast, he says:
Whether the race is a mile or a marathon, you can’t put running time in the bank. You will end up losing more time in the end than what you gained by behind ahead of schedule in the beginning. …Listen to your inner runner. When you run a race, ask yourself within the first mile (or the first lap or two of a track race), “Can I really hold this pace the entire way?” Be honest with yourself. If the answer is yes, then go for it. If the answer is no, then back off the pace, so you can have a better race. (61-62)
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Karp’s inspiring coaching. On running fast he writes:
Rather than worry about your pace or become a slave to the technology of running, make your runs better by feeling your runs and improving your own kinesthetic awareness. …Faster running comes when we don’t try as hard, when we are relaxed, when we are so well trained that the effort is almost effortless. (68-69)
Though the book is more philosophical in nature, Karp delves just enough into the science to convince the reader-runner that he knows what he’s talking about. I can only imagine how invigorating it would be to have Dr. Karp as a coach. For example, he says, “The amount of time spent running is more important than the number of miles, since it’s the duration of effort (time spent running) that our bodies sense” (151). And I love the idea of “developing an inner GPS and becoming an expert ‘feeler’ of our runs” (70), even if it takes more time and work than The Inner Runner might imply.
On the other hand, The Inner Runner left me wanting more.
I resonate with Karp’s experience of running as a primary locus of creative ideas. But I had hoped he would get a bit more technical, or at least more deeply reflective, about what that process looks like for him. For example, in the chapter “Creative and Imaginative Runs” he writes, “I don’t have such a clear sense of how my running influences my writing or my other creative pursuits of my sense of self…” (107). There’s nothing wrong with that lack of clarity, but it made me wish Karp had either dug deeper or just left out that chapter altogether. So, too, with this promising but otherwise unexplored insight:
Ultimately, in life’s bigger picture, running is just an activity I choose to do. It shouldn’t define my self worth. Yet it does, and I am perplexed as to why. (179)
A number of sections read like journal entries that could have been edited down to make the book hold my interest more consistently and pack a more powerful punch.
Still, the book is inexpensive, and I starred at least a dozen passages that I’ve gone back to. I’ve also deeply internalized Karp’s advice about not coming out of the gate too fast and asking whether this initial pace is one I can sustain. That alone made the book worth reading.
Thanks to the good folks at Skyhorse Publishing for the review copy, sent without expectations of the content of my review.