Thursday, July 9, 2009

Running with Angels

It's been almost three years since I started running. Before that time, I hated it. Loathed. Abhorred. I'm talking great enmity, folks. I was convinced that God made certain people to be runners, and I was not one of them. But after years of childbearing and not taking care of my body, I desperately needed to get more fit and lose the excess weight I was carrying. Needless to say, this was a huge lifestyle change for me!

Soon after I was peer-pressured into running my first 5K, a friend told me about Running with Angels by Pamela Hansen. After it was recommended several times from different sources, I finally sat down to see what it was all about.

Running with Angels (I'll leave out the very long tag line) is the personal true story of a young LDS mother who suffers one tragedy after another, including burying two infant children. Through the years she turns to food to cope with her stress and grief, which in turn leads to an ongoing battle with obesity. She tries repeatedly to turn her life around, but fails each time and sinks deeper into her destructive cycle. After some 15 years of this, the indefineable and elusive missing piece finally clicks into place and she begins to change. Through exercise and a drastic overhaul of her destructive eating habits, she manages to lose over 100 pounds and fulfills her lifelong dream of running a marathon. The story is told with the marathon serving as a backdrop for reflections on her journey to lose weight and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

I commend her for her journey and I commend her for putting these very personal things out to share with the public in hopes of helping someone else make the changes they need to. But I was disappointed because I thought it would have more to do with her running, and less to do with her weight. While the weight struggles were very serious and evoked compassion, the stories reeked strongly of catharsis and a little of that went a long way. I actually started skimming (!) towards the end, and then perked up again when she started going into more detail about her marathon. I wish she could have explored more thoughtfully what that missing element was that finally made the difference in her success, because that is the key that eludes so many people who desperately want to change. A more experienced and skillful author could have done that in a powerful way without relying so heavily on sentimentality and cliché.

Okay, I admit that it probably wasn't fair to read this right after The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Hansen is not a writer, and that fact is evident in every word just as Wroblewski's skill is evident in his. The strength of her message was hindered by her weak, inadequate prose, and the discriminating reader should be prepared to be unimpressed. But it was still a worthy message, especially for someone who feels trapped in an unhealthy lifestyle and doesn't know how to change. While my experience doesn't match hers in intensity, I think everyone who has made similar changes can relate in some measure to her story.

Six weeks ago I ran my very first marathon and it was an amazing, defining moment in my life. I am still not a lithe natural runner and am definitely not shaped for speed. But I know the thrill of accomplishing the impossible, the awe of discovering my body's untapped potential, and the victory of overcoming obstacles to finish a race of ultimate endurance. It was a surreal experience that I'm still trying to fully dissect and absorb. I could go on (and on), but I'll spare you lest I become guilty of publicly indulging in self-catharsis of my own!


  1. I hope that Hansen's story can help people who feel like there's no hope for them to change their lives. For every Hansen there's probably 100 pre-marathon-running Hansens.

    Thanks to your encouragement, I've learned to enjoy running. I haven't yet reached past the 5k mark, but after this baby is born, I've got plans.

  2. Hahaha...I read the review, got to the end, and thought, "Wait! Jenny ran a marathon? WHAT? How did I miss this?" And then I kept reading, and then re-reading, and then I figured it out. Sorry, Caren! I am very slow. At running and processing.

  3. Wow - Jenny and I sound that much alike? Cool!