Book Review: Running The Edge

Adam Goucher’s authorial debut (with Tim Catalano) is a surprise and a delight.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Adam Goucher is known for his exceptional intensity and fierce competitiveness as a runner. These characteristics represent the average running fan’s tweet-size understanding of Goucher’s entire personality. But there’s a lot more to Adam Goucher than can be said in 140 characters. Readers of the 2000 Olympian’s new book, Running The Edge, coauthored with Goucher’s former University of Colorado teammate Tim Catalano, will be exposed to a whole different side of the man.

It turns out that Adam Goucher is, in addition to being intense and fierce, also a deeply reflective and introspective person who cares a great deal about his personal development and his effect on other people. He embraces running as much more than a tool for individual achievement and glory, and is a guy who has an earnest desire to help other runners. This is all great for Goucher, but now that he has put his whole self into a book intended to help other runners, it’s even better for us.

Goucher and Catalano share an interest in humanistic psychology, a school of thought that views all human beings as fundamentally good and understands the purpose of life to be to realize that inner goodness as fully as possible. In Running The Edge, which is independently published and only available on www.runtheedge.com, Goucher and Catalano approach running from a humanistic perspective. The book treats the reader not as a runner but as a person who runs.  Other books aim to show runners how to run better. This book shows people who run how to use running to become more fully actualized human beings. The wrinkle is that developing as a whole person through running, the authors argue, is actually the most powerful way to run better.

“Imagine what developing more optimism, determination, focus, and accountability could do for your running,” they write. “By becoming more aware of your own personal set of attributes and by reflecting on how those attributes affect not only your running, but also other important areas of your life, you are given the insight necessary to strengthen and develop what you are like as a runner and as a human being.”

Running The Edge is a quirky book that presents its own tidy little philosophy, which has something of the feel of a mythology. The core concept of this philosophy is that of the distance maven. “Distance mavens use running as a way to better understand themselves,” Goucher and Catalano explain. “With this greater awareness comes the power to improve not only in running but in each of the five life stories [education, career, family, friendships, and passions].” The authors do not present themselves as finished and complete distance mavens. On the contrary, they reveal their faults and missteps on their never-ending journey toward becoming distance mavens with disarming candor, which, perhaps ironically, makes them more trustworthy than they would otherwise be as guides to “running the edge”—the second major concept of their philosophy/mythology—which basically means taking the risk of continuously expecting the best of oneself.

If I’m giving you the impression that Running The Edge reads as a dry philosophy text, allow me to correct that impression now. In fact, it fits squarely in the tradition of the practical self-help book. Its 226 breezy pages are filled with exercises that make it an active experience and demand accountability of the reader—and Goucher and Catalano are big on accountability. The underlying function of these exercises is to foster self-awareness, which the authors see as the skeleton key to growth in all its forms.

If functional philosophy and homework exercises are the first two threads of Running The Edge, the third is story. Goucher and Catalano illustrate their various points with all kinds of stories from their individual and shared pasts that range from heartrending to side-splitting in their effects on the reader. It is through these brief narratives that the reader gets to know Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano best, and to know them in this context is to like and respect them.

It is difficult to predict how this book will be received. Different is risky, and Running The Edge is unlike any running book ever written. There are no training plans or diet tips to be found in its pages. Neither is it a straight narrative about running, like Running With The Buffaloes, the book that made Goucher a hero to so many, or a straight piece of running-themed navel gazing, like George Sheehan’s Running and Being. But I love Running The Edge for its uniqueness and I hope it finds the readership it deserves. Any runner who takes a chance on it will find it to be a delightful read, at the very least. Those who go so far as to do all that the book asks of them may well find it’s the best thing they’ve ever done for their running, and among the better things they’ve done for their whole selves.

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