Trail Runner’s Book Review: All Bets Are Off

All Bets are Off: My Journey of Losing 200 Pounds, a Showdown with Diabetes, and Falling in Love with Running, by Betsy Hartley. Betsy Hartley, 2019. Reviewed by trail runner Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.

She was a girl with mountains to climb. Markus Zusak, The Book Thief.

Adopting this line as her mantra, Betsy Hartley has crafted a book and a new life that is so much more than yet another “how I lost 200 pounds and regained my self-esteem” expose. To be fair, it starts out on these lines but along the way Betsy’s journey evolves from a rigid goal to an ever-fluid destination. Her mountain is not a fixed point on the horizon, but one that progresses as she realizes that, for her, there truly is no finish line.

Even if you are not overweight, chances are you are not perfect. Your goals, whether to go back to school, set a more consistent running path, or make more time for family and friends, may not stand out as obviously as Betsy’s, but still will receive a serious boost from her reflections and self-talk.

To be honest, before reading this book, I had no idea of the myriad logistical struggles confronting overweight individuals who initiate change through diet and exercise. Simply finding comfortable, stylish running apparel, and for women, a non-chafing bra, even bending over to lace up running shoes, are formidable obstacles in themselves. We all feel self-conscious at the start line: “Will I persevere?” “Will I get lost?” and, most telling, “Will I come in last?” While I am not overweight, as I age, I definitely have come in last on occasion, and as I cross the finish line, I entertain a fleeting regret that I did not let my hair turn its now-natural grey. We have all been there, but for the obese, everything is just so much more obvious and intimidating.

While Betsy affirms that the first step of any lifestyle change is the most daunting, but after reading her journal, I believe that point comes somewhere in the middle when it dawns on her she is not on a plan which will eventually reach a “time out.” It is at this point she realizes she needs to add exercise to the mix. She starts walking, braves stares at the gym, and evolves to ultra adventures supported by her new community of friends.

The end of the story? Hardly. People and goals change. Betsy realized she was using her high mileage to justify her food addiction and is now on a temporary hiatus from ultras. Together with her long-time coach and friend, Spencer Newell, she co-founded Novo Veritas, a lifestyle support system to coach and inspire folks dealing with a variety of issues that impinge upon their well-being.

I truly hope that Betsy eventually finds a way to again include longer distances in her repertoire, but whatever the case, know that she will be out there learning, inspiring. Whatever your demons, discover along with Betsy that there truly is no finish line. And that is what makes your particular mountain so interesting and challenging.

Are you interested in learning more about Betsy’s story? Check her interview with Trail Runner Magazine published back in 2015 and the Natural Running Center from 2017. You can also follow her on Twitter.