Runners are often viewed as masochistic, obsessive freaks, a stereotype seemingly confirmed by all the runners I’ve seen pounding the pavement this winter in shorts as well as my own desire to race in freezing temperatures. Are we just fitness fanatics, or is there something more to the sport of running that attracts so many?
Matthew Inman answers this question in his latest book, The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances, by giving us his own very honest glimpse into his journey as a long distance runner. Inman, best known for his comics website, The Oatmeal, brings his signature blend of crass humor, hilarious illustrations and spot-on observations about life to go beyond the simple act of storytelling and create a book with which most runners can identify.
I introduced this book and its de facto mascot, The Blerch in my gift guide for runners, and as winter wears on, I have become convinced that The Blerch, that insipid little blob of gluttony, sloth and temptation, is my spirit animal. In these cold, dreary days, a good laugh and some running motivation is exactly what most of us need, and this book delivers. Inman is not your typical fitness guru, and I’m happy he’s taking the seriousness out of running and gym culture. This collection of comics is for the kids who were once dodgeball targets and last-picked in gym class, those who have a dodgy relationship with food and run absurd distances to restore our sanity. Inman dispels the myth of every runner as a clean-eating fanatic. While I am “frighteningly passionate about spinach salads,” put a box of cheese crackers in front of me and all bets are off. Inman admits to his food failings with candor: “They say you should treat your body like a temple. I treat mine like a fast-moving dumpster.” He later expands on his struggles with food with “The Blerch’s guide to dieting,” a string of justifications The Blerch gives for eating your face off. Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten an extra serving of pasta under the guise of “carbo-loading”.
Inman wonderfully illustrates the sometimes frightening body changes that happen as he becomes more engrossed with running, a topic that is seldom discussed. Yes, we know our bodies change with exercise, but my soft belly both shrinking and jiggling while my calf muscles firm up to diesel proportions is not something I was prepared for. Thanks to Inman, I know I’m not alone. In the Oatmeal universe, problems, fears and demons are literal scary monsters, krakens with tentacles reaching out to ensnare and distract, but Inman is having none of it. To him — and to many of us runners — the act of running is a powerful coping mechanism and a way to feel a sense of accomplishment even if the rest of the world is falling apart. Leave the dishes in the sink, guys — you ran a race, dammit!
The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances offers a permission of sorts. Permission to absolutely loathe the gym, particularly the treadmill, which Inman refers to as the Asscore 9000? Granted. Permission to gorge on Nutella and slob out on the couch watching movies? No problem! Permission to gulp delicious purple drinks in Japan after dodging killer hornets? Go right ahead. Okay, that last one may be a tad specific, but even stories such as these have universal appeal and remind us that we may be runners, but we’re also human. Plus, Inman uses the opportunity to educate us on Japanese hornets and the evolution of Japanese honeybees, which is way cooler than you could have ever imagined.
The book ends with “A lazy cartoonist’s guide to becoming a runner,” in which Inman shares solid advice for how to start running and keep going. His first nugget of wisdom? “Shut up and run.” Other tips include “Remember: running sucks in the beginning” and “Become a drug addict,” in which he suggests giving up other addictions for the euphoria of the runner’s high. He also encourages runners to sign up for an event to shine on with likeminded crazy diamonds.
The Blerch has become such a phenomenon that last year, Inman created a Beat The Blerch marathon, and he’s bringing it back. The races, which range from a 10K to a full-on marathon, will be taking place in Washington state this September, but Inman has plans to expand to other states. Want to Beat the Blerch on your home turf? Follow Beat the Blerch on Twitter or Facebook and suggest your area!
I highly recommend this book. It’s a quick read filled with wisdom and humor and provides a sense of community in an often solitary endeavor. What did you think of The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances? Comment below, and let’s start a conversation.