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Running Outside the Comfort Zone has been sitting on my TBR stack for quite some time. I’ve been avoiding it during a running slump, since I personally struggle to read about beloved hobbies that I am not currently engaging in. The guilt is real, my friends.
But recently, I finally laced up my shoes and started a new training plan to add structure and motivation to my running life (thank you, always, BadassLadyGang). Enter a desire to finally read Running Outside the Comfort Zone.
This book, which has the somewhat misleading subtitle of “An Explorer’s Guide to the Edges of Running,” is actually a running memoir-in-essays about the author’s year of chasing exciting, unusual running expeirences such as a downhill cheesewheel chase and a 24-hour race. It isn’t a guidebook, but it certainly will inspire you to chase new goals — or at least, it inspired me to finally sign up for my second attempt at my first in-person half-marathon (my first ended up being virtual because, you know, pandemic).
What I Liked
Susan Lacke has spent her life searching for the “password” to becoming a real runner. Which, same. She also happens to have experience with not feeling like she belongs. Susan is deaf, and kids can be cruel, so she’s seen her fair share of bullying and quizzical looks over the years.
She begins the book in a way that invites the reader in with humor, honesty, and openness. I instantly liked her and wanted to hear more about her experiences, always a good start to a collection of personal essays.
The book opens with Lacke going through the running motions. She’s training and racing, but the spark of joy seems to have gone out. She has lost that “why” we runners talk about so much. Having recently exited a slump myself, I found this very relatable.
Throughout, Lacke describes running in a way that focuses not just on the physical, but the emotional and dare I say spiritual aspects of setting and chasing impossible goals. I love the way she writes about running, bringing the experience to the page in vivid and hilarious detail. This book is so imminently readable that I finished it in less than 48 hours.
Lacke takes on a number of fascinating experiences in the book, and you can definitely feel that she is a journalist with how detailed her descriptions are, and how often she engages with other people at the starting line. Personally I like to pretend no one can see me and I can’t see them before a race, but that makes for a far less compelling story.
Hearing how often Lacke doubts herself (and her sanity) as these events approach felt familiar and also inspiring. Because even the races that don’t go to plan still gave her some sense of accomplishment or a new experience to add to her memory bank. I felt reminded of why I run and why I keep setting new, impossible goals.
Lacke hasn’t convinced me to chase cheese down a hill or ask my fiancé to race through an obstacle course while carrying me, but I did feel inspired to revisit my in-person half marathon dreams. Looks like I’ll be hitting the Queen Bee half marathon starting line in October, if all goes to plan. Which, does it ever?
What I Didn’t Like
My main issue with this book was a handful of times that Lacke makes jokes about food and weight which I think could be problematic for individuals who struggle with disordered eating or body image. These comments about earning meals are pretty ingrained in running culture, so I wasn’t surprised to see them there, but it did stick out to me and pull me away from the reading a bit.
In all, Running Outside the Comfort Zone was a much more entertaining and hilarious read than I expected. I thoroughly enjoyed Lacke’s accounts of her races, even if I wouldn’t do half of them myself.
I recommend this book to runners, would-be runners, and people who enjoy a (potentially dangerous) challenge. I do not recommend it to my fiancé because I think it would give him too many ideas for new ways to stress me out by doing dangerous things.