“An easy read, and a fun one too. Anyone who enjoys running and travel — especially the intersection between them — will enjoy this book.”
By Jonathan Gault
September 30, 2016
Often while reading Run the World, Becky Wade‘s story of her year-long journey to visit running cultures around the globe, I caught myself thinking, “Man, that would be a cool trip to take.” Most people can’t afford to take a year off for such an adventure, but after earning a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship upon graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Rice University in 2012, Wade had the means to do just that. It turns out that Wade, who throughout the book displays a unique ability to leverage any shred of a connection into a free bed and a hot meal, is the perfect guide for a global running trip such as this one.
An All-American at Rice and now a 2:30 marathoner and US Olympic Trials qualifier in both the marathon (2016) and steeplechase (2012 and 2016), Wade embarked on her trip after competing in the final of the steeplechase at the 2012 US Olympics Trials. Like any dedicated runner, Wade managed to fit her workouts in despite a hectic schedule. At times, this required overcoming severe boredom, such as in Tokyo, where Wade’s options were limited to a two-mile loop in Yoyogi Park and a one-mile stretch of road near her apartment on which she logged almost 70 miles in a single week. For the most part, though, Wade accepted any setback or inconvenience with a smile, instead choosing to focus on the amazing places she got to train, such as Arthur Lydiard‘s Waiatarua Circuit in New Zealand and Ethiopia’s Mount Entoto.
Wade’s goal on the journey was to explore running communities around the world and how people’s approach to and relationship with running varies by location. In this, she is successful, as in most of the countries Wade visits, she manages to assimilate into a running group and document that group’s activities first-hand. In particular, Wade’s stay in the Yaya Village training camp outside of Addis Ababa, is enlightening, offering a view into the lives of three aspiring Ethiopian runners, Banchi, Derartu and Mesi. It’s a reminder that the top Africans don’t just show up on the Diamond League circuit; most of the time, there’s a long road to travel, and though we never learn the fates (or last names) of her friends, Wade takes us somewhere that most Western runners will never get the chance to visit.
While for the most part, Wade’s acquaintances are sub-elites or recreational runners, she does run into some big-time pros while visiting London, including Shannon Rowbury, Leo Manzano and Vivian Cheruiyot; she even manages to share a car ride with Usain Bolt. Cheruiyot, in particular, demonstrates the bonds that running can form. Fresh off two medals at the 2012 Olympics, Wade meets Cheruiyot on a run and the Kenyan invites Wade into her home, where she teaches her how to make ugali. That hospitality, whether from an Olympic medallist or a member of a local track club, is a common theme in the book. It’s refreshing to see how the shared love of running unites Wade with people from so many different backgrounds.
Running may be universal, but each country Wade visits has its own relationship with the sport. Wade isn’t always able to explore things as deeply as she’d like — joining a corporate team in Japan proves untenable — but in general she does an admirable job finding the parts of the sport unique to each culture. In Japan, this means embracing Eastern medicine to treat a calf injury. In Ireland, it means tea with the Finn Valley Athletic Club, where the club meets both an athletic and social need in society. Wade gets the chance to watch all kinds of different races (even hopping in a few herself), the coolest of which is undoubtedly the TV Oerlikon Track Challenge in Switzerland. An end-of-season tradition for a local track club, the meet consists of 10 races, ranging from 250 to 1,000 meters. The catch: runners (who run all 10 races), don’t know how long each race will be until 125 meters to go in that particular race.
Wade’s prose is simple, with many of the running concepts explained so that even a neophyte can understand them, and there are a couple of factual errors here and there (in the England section, she mixes up the colors of Oxford and Cambridge University), but it’s certainly worthy of four out of five stars.
Previous book reviews by LetsRun.com can be found here.