Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Running Book Review: The Runner’s Field Manual

Title: The Runner’s Field Manual – A Tactical (and Practical) Survival Guide
Author: Mark Remy
Publisher: Rodale Books (October 2010)

Rating: 2 out of 5

I like to read, and I like to run, so it’s fairly natural that I also like to read about running. Over the years I’ve digested every running book I could find in the Austin Public Library, populated my Amazon wish list with running books, and even served as an amateur consultant to friends and family on the relative quality of various running books.

Of course, more often than not, when someone expresses an interest in running and asks what book they should check out as an intro to the sport, I go into a complete panic. What if I recommend a sub-par book and thereby kill their fledgling interest in my favorite activity?? And believe me, it’s easier to find a sub-par book than a standout.

Think about it – how many times have you seen a memorable athlete interview or speech? (Tiger Woods defending his “addictions” doesn’t count.) Thanks to Handsome J’s hockey obsession, I’ve seen quite a few post-game Q&A’s in the past several years. They usually go something like this:

Reporter: Great game tonight! How did it feel?

Player: It was really great. You know, any time we really come together and play as a team, it’s just great.

Reporter: What were you thinking as you scored that game-winning goal?

Player: I was just thinking that I have to play for my team and give 110%. Any time we can come together as a team and give 110%, it’s just great.

Reporter: What would you like to say to all the young fans out there watching you right now?

Player: Uhhh, I just wanna say, you know, keep at it, play as a team, and give 110%.

Maybe runners don’t have quite the same “jock” reputation as hockey or football players – in fairness, we typically sustain far fewer traumatic head injuries – but we are just as guilty of running out of things to say about our sport and therefore repeating ourselves like asphalt-loving automatons. (I know because I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. The problem is, if you’re obsessed with something, you can say the same things over and over again without getting bored. For example, a recent New York Times Magazine article about Hugh Hefner used the fact that Hef repeats the same stories over and over as evidence of his advancing age. He’s old, I’ll give you that. But maybe it’s also because there’s only so much you can say about the virtues of pictures of naked women.)

So, given that I struggle to find interesting topics for my humble blog about running, I can’t imagine the challenge Mark Remy over at Runner’s World has. Not only is he the executive editor of the magazine’s Web site, he also is the primary author of the RW Daily blog, to which he – or occasionally someone else – posts every weekday without fail. Even with access to RW staffers to help him scour the internet for running-related news, how in the world do you come up with something interesting to say every single day of the week?

So, it is with this outlook that I am able to cut Remy some slack on the fact that The Runner’s Field Manual is, well, not all that original. For anyone but a beginner, all its news is old news, and you are left to rely on Remy’s funny and casual writing style to carry you through. (The fact that it’s only 201 large-print, double-spaced, and picture-full pages also helps.)

Remy has a naturally conversational tone, comes across as both funny and intelligent, and seems like the kind of guy you could chat with over a beer. He’s highly-relatable, which as an author also makes him highly-marketable. His previous book, The Runner’s Rule Book – Everything a Runner Needs to Know – And Then Some, is far more palatable to the experienced runner. It’s tongue-in-cheek, and pokes fun at all the situations that long-term runners know and love. (Still not sure how he escaped the censors on suggesting The Turban method for how to wear those weird post-race space blankets.)

The Runner’s Field Manual, on the other hand, purports to contain “little-known tips [that will] make a HUGE difference in your running”. (That gem is from its horrid marketing site, http://runnersfieldmanual.com.) Unfortunately, those “little-known tips” are generally widely-known common sense. For example, how many people who’ve spent any time training for a race (or studying geometry) don’t make the realization that you can save more time cutting a corner than running wide around it? And while plenty of runners do still tragically get hit by inattentive drivers, I would hope most of us have learned that in the US, the rules of the road require that pedestrians run against traffic.

One of my biggest beefs with the Field Manual is the general sense it gives of having been written in a hurry. Many chapters barely skim important topics, or will mention something interesting as though it will be covered later, only to never return to said topic. The most egregious offense comes in the chapter “Shoes, Gear & Apparel”. This chapter claims that it will teach you to properly tie your shoes so that the bow of your laces doesn’t end up all lop-sided. It’s even highlighted as a feature on the back cover of the book. Alas, when you get to said section, “The Reef Knot: The Only Knot a Runner Needs to Know”, you realize that it’s a grand total of one page, 3/4 of which is taken up by a drawing of a shoe with a lop-sided knot next to a shoe with a straight not. And the advice?

We could try to describe how to tie a proper reef knot here, but it would be much easier to show you how. To watch a video demonstrating proper reef-knot techniques, visit runnersworld.com/shoelaces.

ARGH! Are you serious??? Perhaps I’m reading a book because I’m on a train (or a toilet) without internet access!!! Lazy lazy lazy…

Ranting aside, I still heart Mark Remy. I think he’s a great voice in the running world, and I suspect he was forced to rush out a follow-up to the The Runner’s Rule Book after its success. Also, the guy just recently had a kid, so he’s probably averaging 3 hours of sleep these days. If you want an entertaining, running-related read, check out The Runner’s Rule Book or his RW Daily blog. Don’t shell out the $17.99 ($19.99 CDN) for this one.

5 comments on “Running Book Review: The Runner’s Field Manual

  1. Mark
    February 6, 2011

    Hi there,Thanks for the review. For the record, two things:1. I could not agree more that the marketing web site created for this book is horrible. I've hated it from the moment I saw it, and said so. It's embarrassing and cheesy and — worst of all, IMHO — doesn't accurately represent the tone or spirit of the book.2. The reef knot thing was funny. I originally tried to describe the correct way to tie that knot (which really is a dandy knot) via text and illos alone. Through multiple edits and multiple chats with my editor and the book's designer, we decided: It was impossible. (The copy editor was totally flummoxed.) For certain things, it is infinitely easier to show than to tell. Hence that suggestion that readers visit our web site to watch a video tutorial. Unusual? Yeah. But I wouldn't exactly call it "lazy."Anyway, thanks again for the mention. Hopefully you'll find the next book more engaging.Warm Regards,Mark Remy

  2. Chris
    February 6, 2011

    The funny thing about this is that I wrote this post, went for a run, and then while running thought, "Boy, wouldn't I feel like an ass if Mark Remy ever read that post."I guess there's no way to tell if the real Mark Remy actually stumbled on my humble little blog, but if this is the real Mark, I hope the point came across that overall I'm a huge fan of your work. It's not uncommon for someone to message me at work first thing in the morning with, "Did you read the RW Daily today?"Please keep it up! You have big fans in Texas. (Or, for the time being, Germany.)Chris

  3. Mark
    February 6, 2011

    Oh my gosh, yes… I was bracing myself for a brutal review or something, and this wasn't at all. (Not that you aren't allowed to write a brutal review, of course.) You're correct, btw, that it's hard to come up with something new to say every day on RW Daily. Especially 3 1/2 years into it. But it's still fun. Usually.Oh, and also for the record: I have Google News Alerts for the titles of my books, just to see what (if any) mentions they're getting. In case you were wondering whether I sit around Googling myself all day. Which I don't. Usually.Best,Mark

  4. Jeanine
    February 9, 2011

    Ummmmm Chris, is this for real or did you get punked? I am kinda freaking out for you just a little!

  5. Chris
    February 9, 2011

    Well, I admit my first thought was: "Clearly this is Erik pranking me…" Seems real, though. Classic, isn't it? Only I could have my first brush with running fame be me getting caught running my big mouth. (That time I tried to covertly take pictures of Khalid Khannouchi because I was too nervous to ask for an autograph doesn't count.)How are things going??? I promise to send you a super-long email that will appropriately address your sister's getting out of Egypt roughly 3 hours before going into labor! Stay out of the snow!

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This entry was posted on February 6, 2011 by in book review, books, mark remy, running books.
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