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Sagal’s running book provides laughs, inspiration

February 13, 2019
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

Many people know Peter Sagal as the host of NPR's Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me news quiz, but Sagal is also a marathon runner. His new book is part memoir, part inspiration and part running advice. Yes, you'll have to muddle through a chapter on his pooping-while-running habits, but there's plenty of laughs as well.

Sagal's The Incomplete Book of Running is a quick read that deals with far more than running. From the fallout of a divorce to battling a childhood eating disorder to witnessing the Boston Marathon bombing, Sagal takes readers on a sometimes humorous, sometimes sorrowful recounting of his life as a runner.

And while Running is not meant to be a how-to guide, it's hard to not want to get off the couch and go for a run every few chapters.

Article Photos

The Incomplete Book of Running
AUTHOR: Peter Sagal
PAGES: 182
PUBLISHER: Simon and Schuster

"To talk about running is to talk about change and the promise of change," he writes. "Running, as a topic, has a narcissistic focus on the self - its current flaws and future glories. Unlike every single other amateur sport pursued on the planet, we who do it seldom talk about the people who do it very, very well.

"Instead, we talk to ourselves about ourselves and our slow progress. Every year for the last decade in the United States, some two million people have taken up running, and whether they succeed or don't, they are all looking for the same thing: change. People run from their problems or toward some idealized solution."

Sagal has completed a number of marathons, including Boston. Twice he's volunteered as a guide for sight-impaired runners, and says that running 26.2 miles is a lot like climbing mountains.

"Marathoning is probably closer to mountain climbing than to any other sport," he says. "You prepare for months, you practice and train, but then comes the day with the challenge before you, and you realize that the result will depend on the wind, the temperature, what you chose to eat the night before, what you chose not to eat, not to mention the cooperation of your gut, lungs, heart, and legs. You can train all you want, but twenty-six miles is too great a length to allow for any confidence in the outcome."

Peppered throughout the book are flashbacks to the his two Boston runs, including the ill-fated 2013 marathon when two homemade bombs were set off near the finish line. Sagal and his runner had passed by the bombs just minutes before they detonated, and while they were fine, they could see, hear and feel the explosions close by.

But Running is not a downer of a book. Sagal's profession is humor, and it shows. He's forthcoming about some of the trials and tribulations runners face.

"You do not have to worry about being sweaty, smelly, farting, burping, vomiting, or the occasional gastrointestinal distress," he writes. "This is a run. Everybody is smelly, sweaty, farting, or something ever more extreme. If you do not occasionally involuntarily expel something from your body while running, you're doing it wrong.

"I should probably mention at this point that running sometimes sucks. There will be days on which the weather is awful, the footing terrible, the mood black, the stomach unhappy, the legs aching, and the head woozy."

And although Sagal freely acknowledges that Running is not a how-to book, there are plenty of good tips, such as running in a group ("But misery, as is known, loves company, and more to the point, like most burdens, sharing this one makes it lighter") or going without headphones ("If I don't leave my headphones behind when I run, I wouldn't spend a single minute of my waking life free from input").

Sagal doesn't dwell on his divorce, but it's a theme in the book that relates back to his claim that running can be an escape while being rewarding at the same time.

"But, it finally occurred to me, maybe success in running can be delinked from the amount of punishment you're willing to endure to achieve it," he writes. "Maybe the point isn't to see how much you can stand, but to see what you can train your body and mind to do with less and less agita. Maybe the goal, as one ages as a runner and as a person, is not to learn how to suffer better, but to find your way toward a sense of ease and even ... pleasure."

The Incomplete Book of Running is obviously geared toward those readers who run or would like to, and in that regard it is a wild success. Careful not to get bogged down in his divorce or personal issues, Sagal weaves private information in with self-deprecating humor that keeps the book fun throughout.



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