Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review: "Running Is My Therapy," by Scott Douglas

Scott Douglas has written and co-written a great many things about running in the past 25 or so years, including a chapter in Run Strong. He had a back-page column in Running Times in the 1990s that was fearless by the standards of the day and made entire issues worth the cover price in RT's pre-Internet era. Most important of all, he remains the only person I know with a website boasting a .biz domain, and I even know the story behind it (hint: It's not complicated).

Scott has greatly aided and abetted my own writing career, such as it is, in a variety of ways, but that's not why I decided to write this review of Running is My Therapy, which was published in April. I did this because I have seen so few books in the running genre that are worth reading in the past two decades that I feel I owe it to the milieu as well as the authors to make a note of these lovely exceptions. (Another Alex Hutchinson's Endure, making 2018 a guaranteed banner running-book year no matter what's unveiled in the second half of it. Alex is a major reason my recent pitch to Outside was successful. But again, none of this post is about me except for the parts in which I carefully note my own accomplishments.)

Anyway:

A "self-help" book refreshingly free of bombast and lies (and loaded with facts)

Three critical aspects of this book stand out.

One is that Douglas is not proposing that the core idea -- that running is a wonderful tonic for depression – is new, but that it is undervalued and under-prescribed. Exercise competes with the multibillion-dollar drug industry for primacy or even adequate advocacy, and as a result, claims made on its behalf must be proportionally louder than those that favor pharmaceuticals as a primary bulwark against pathological moodiness or surliness.

The second is that Douglas is a realist and a truth-seeker, not a salesman or attention-monger. I’m familiar enough with his work to know that he reports only what the facts compel him to report. Anyone who reads this can therefore be assured that is anything, Scott tends to downplay what others in his position routinely exaggerate.

The third is that in the running world, Douglas is virtually peerless as a writer, especially when the subject at hand is personal. This makes him an invaluable guide in an exploration that has affected a great many of us deeply and to our personal and professional detriment.

This is not a “running book” (if it were, I doubt I would have sought it out), but instead an assortment of ideas and observations runners in particular are privy to. I’ve had first-hand battles with some of the issues Douglas raises, but those who haven’t experienced the wringer of depression or other mood disturbances first-hand are certain to appreciate the possibly unique mental-health benefits Douglas distributes throughout every chapter – not just things like “improved cognition,” but the way this seems to happen. Douglas makes lights go on about how lights go on in runners’ heads.

Douglas may not be a scientist by training, but he thinks like one. He allows his own experience to flavor his presentation while being careful not to overgeneralize, and is emphatic that no magical or one-size-fits all treatments exist for depression and related psychiatric disorders. He presents the state of current research and amplifies it with observations by objective professionals, and he leaves the important decisions on how to proceed in the hands of his readers.

If I have a complaint about the book – and it’s nothing of the sort, more of an inescapable, wry reality – it’s that it was impossible for me to get through the text without repeatedly pausing to burrow into and take stock of my own mental state: Is this me? Have I tried this? Am I anxious right now? But this of course is exactly the noise one’s mind ought to be making when considering running as not a mere adjunct to therapy, but as the primary weapon in one’s mood-improvement arsenal.

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