Marathoner: What to Expect When Training for and Running a Marathon, by Matthew Huff. Universe, 2021. 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.
It would seem that the last thing the marathon-crazed would need is yet another book on how to proceed successfully. But trust me, this one is different. The author, Matthew Huff is not only an upstanding contributor to Runner’s World, but also host of the podcast, P.S. You’re Wrong and finally an ardent improv comedy performer. You can see where this is going. Who knew there was something funny about marathons? For all you parents, there is something oddly familiar about the title. Took me a while to figure it out, but how many of us poured over Heidi Murkoff’s What to Expect book series – What to Expect When You’re Expecting, as well as What to Expect the First Year, etc.? And if you think about it, giving birth to a marathon is remarkably similar, especially if you are aiming to improve year after year.
Similar to Kathrine Switzer’s 26.2 Marathon Stories, Huff divides his book into 26 mile-by-mile chapters, culminating with .2 and bookended by Pre-race and Post-race. Both are intended to provide photographic and literary inspiration for your own personal journey. But Huff’s version differs in that it is crammed with details, all neatly compartmentalized in their own boxes. Occasionally my Saratoga Stryders Running Club Wednesday night coaches will host a fun trivial pursuit workout. Everyone runs the same loop and then returns to the start to select a trivia card. A missed question involves a penalty loop, while a correct answer invites another turn around the board. There is an opportunity here to gather all these marathon and running facts together into a fun game, complete with workout instructions. I hope someone follows through!
Each mile’s chapter focuses on a central theme, many of which are vital to the enjoyment of your experience, but often overlooked in the down-to-business pace charts of more series marathon books. For example, Mile 3 is devoted to aid station protocol with a two-page diagram detailing how to avoid getting trampled, Mile 9 is “bathrooming” and how to avoid excessive stops, and Mile 12 depicts typical course shape diagrams detailing the advantages and disadvantages of various patterns. Mile 19 features pop culture, with a listing of big screen marathon films and a rundown of celebrities—there were many more than just Oprah. My favorite is Mile 22 Supporters, featuring marathon signs and marriage proposal do’s and don’ts. Runner-up is Post-race which examines all the must-have photo ops, from Bite the Medal to Heat Shield cape.
But wait! The marathon is a looooong race and there are a lot of other facts to cram in. Each chapter includes a marathon vocabulary word with illustrative humorous quote, a body check, a sidebar on marathon history, as well as sidebar surveys of playlist artists, favorite marathon vacations, etc. There are focused interviews with our heroes: Amanda McGory explains the tricks of wheelchair racing and Des Linden selects favorites from her running book club. But my favorite feature is the famous mile rundown, where the author details the most striking miles for each particular chapter. Makes you want to do them all!
As with any marathon, once the joy of completion had worn off, I was sad that I had come to the end of the journey. I couldn’t help but remember the time I ran the Ottawa Marathon and was so impressed by my incredible speed through all the markers. Until I realized they were in kilometers and not miles. Still, if Matthew Huff wanted to expand to 42.195 kilometers I am sure he would have many eager readers.