An (incomplete) spiritual guide to running

(iStock photo)

When I was 7 years old, I ran about a mile around my elementary school’s track. I liked it, so I have been running ever since. A lot of people have asked me: How can I make myself like running? I have never known how to answer this question, but Peter Sagal does. No need to start with a mile, just try running to the end of your street at first, Sagal advises in The Incomplete Book of Running. Get hooked through little victories.

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The Incomplete Book of Runningby Peter Sagal

Simon & Schuster, 208p $27

Sagal, the host of the weekly N.P.R. news quiz “Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!”and 14-time marathoner, has many nuggets of running wisdom. But The Incomplete Book of Running is more than a guidebook. There are many sources for running wisdom and race stories but none as funny as Sagal and few as spiritual.

The book opens with Sagal narrating his decision to serve as a running guide for a visually impaired runner in the Boston Marathon in 2013—Sagal’s ploy to distract himself from his messy divorce. They finished the race shortly before the bombs exploded. Sagal grapples with the tragedy that missed him by about 100 yards and with feeling unneeded by his family. He writes about having body image issues and anorexia as a teenager, something rarely discussed by men.

Sagal knows what it is to run away from problems, to need to be needed, and how much can be achieved through stubborn persistence. He also knows where all the public restrooms within four miles of his house are. If you want more details about Sagal’s bowel habits, you should buy The Incomplete Book of Running. If you do not, you should buy The Incomplete Book of Running and skip Chapter 6.

Sagal’s self-reckoning might be serious, but it is not somber. He dabbles in Kantian morality and whether the categorical imperative applies to “bandit” runners (those who enter a race without registering or paying). He also writes about running for charity in boxer briefs that say “KNICKERS OF GLORY” on the butt. His writing is entertaining, even if your ideal run is no run. That is because, in Sagal’s book, writing about running is inseparable from being honest about the human needs we all have.

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