ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Books to get you back on the road to running

Penticton book columnist examines athletic pursuits in Born To Run and Wherever I Wind Up.

R.A. Dickey book

A sore foot has me visiting podiatrists, physiotherapists and googling terms such as neuropathy and planter fasciitis.

While figuring out how to nurse my foot, I’ve learned one thing  — when it comes to runners and foot pain, I’m certainly not alone. A reader of this column, and a recent convert to barefoot running, recommended a book that could get me back on the road again.

I was encouraged by the opening pages of Born to Run: A hidden tribe, superathletes and the greatest race the world has never seen. Author Christopher Mcdougall wrote this rollicking (if somewhat romanticized) book because no one could answer his simple question: “How come my foot hurts?” To find an answer, Mcdougall embarks on a wild and crazy adventure. He travels to a remote valley in Mexico to visit a tribe cut off from civilization — a tribe that reveres running. The Tarahumara people — young and old — think nothing of running 50 miles for fun, often after partying all night. Somehow these joyful runners clamber up and down steep mountainous trails in home-made sandals, and never suffer from foot pain.

Born to Run culminates in a race, which pits the Tarahumara against a gaggle of rag-tag ultra-distance runners. Along the way, Mcdougall explores the idea of barefoot running, and whether our current cushioned shoes are changing our gait, and very likely getting us hurt. It’s entertaining right to the last page.

If you’re not the type who loves long-distance running, you might be out on the ball field this spring, or maybe even in front of the TV cheering for the Jays and their new pitcher, RA Dickey.

RA Dickey’s memoir Wherever I Wind Up: My quest for truth, authenticity and the perfect knuckleball is a genuine surprise. This isn’t a standard clichéd sports book. Dickey is an intellectual, even devouring books while in the dugout. He can write, and boy, does he have a story to tell.

Dickey is the MLB poster boy for overcoming incredible adversity. He pitched in minor league obscurity for 13 years. Even after discovering he was missing a crucial ligament in his elbow, and being blacklisted by team doctors, he laboured after his dream of playing in the big leagues.  The man simply has indefatigable determination. His childhood was one of neglect and abuse. His adulthood is one of blown chances and rejection. He drags his wife and children from town to town, sleeping on air mattresses, and hoping for a big break.

Wherever I Wind Up isn’t a wacky, original tale like Born to Run but it has the elements of an even greater sports story — the story of  individual triumph. Pushing 40, Dickey decides to face his past traumas, and at the same time learn a new circus pitch — the knuckleball. He rises to the top. Not only making it to the big leagues, Dickey won the Cy Young Award, an accolade given to the MLB’s best pitcher, in 2012. Even if you’re not a Jays fan, I doubt you’ll be able to resist cheering for Dickey after reading this book.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living in Penticton.