Book Review: The Tao of Running
Gary Dudney, an experienced ultra runner who writes the “Running Wise” column for UltraRunning Magazine, has amassed a ton of experience over the years running and mastering the 100-mile race in particular. Dudney, who works and lives in California, has completed over 200 ultra marathons and, according to his write-up on UltraRunning Magazine’s website, “still finds every race a fresh and unique experience, evident in the dozens of quirky race reports he’s submitted to UltraRunning over the years.” Dudney, an accomplished author, has published a number of short stories in magazines such as Boys’ Life, Highlights for Children, Boys’ Quest, and several literary magazines.
Most recently, Dudney is author of the The Tao of Running: Your Journey to Mindful and Passionate Running, available on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble online. When I picked up Dudney’s book, I was immediately thrilled that he had found me and asked me to review it. The cover, which is designed to illustrate the “yin and yang” of running, resonated with me. In running, and in any sport really, there is give and take; a push and pull; a good and bad part of the experience.
For Dudney, the difficulties that he faced in his running career were related to the mental aspects of the sport. Sure, Dudney, like so many others, has had myriad injuries caused by running or cycling. However, this nemesis was his mind; and when he learned how to find his own personal way to push through the hard times in his longer runs, he discovered he was able to garner huge success along the way.
The Tao of Running, while it describes Dudney’s running goals and aspirations, is about all of us. He takes the time to break from his personal experiences and ties in how it relates to all of us in our personal journeys as athletes.
Dudney’s book is raw. That’s what I love about it. Here’s a guy who fails over and over again to finish some of American’s more grueling 100-milers, like Wasatch and Leadville. He’s failing because his mind isn’t in sync with what his body can do. I dog-eared a large number of pages which speak to these experiences. In Chapter 4, “Chasing Leadville,” Dudney provides a unique history of Leadville, Colo., a place he claims may have been calling to him before he even was aware of it. Leadville, at one time, produced 75 percent of the world’s supply of molybdenum but now is more a 19th-century old town – more sleepy in nature than it was in its World War II heyday.
Dudney was drawn to Leadville like steel to a magnet. As he toed the line for his first Leadvillle 100, he found race founder Ken Chlouber’s words at the race start to be daunting:
“Well, I guarantee you that if you keep going, it will hurt no more than 30 hours. If you quit, it will hurt for the next 365 days. People have one question for you after this race: ‘Did you finish?’ Now you can either say, ‘Yes, I did.’ Or you can spend the next 15 minutes dreaming up some lame excuse.”
These were harsh words coming from a man who knew that the failure rate at Leadville tends to be high – upwards of 40 percent. The race is grueling, asking athletes to crest two mountain ranges that wreak havoc on the body and mind. Dudney thought he was up to the challenge. It would take many more attempts at the race before he was able to say, ‘Yes. I did.’
And therein lies the draw. Ultra-distance athletes are mesmerized by failure. It’s almost like we are attracted to it. Dudney embraced this and went full bore into finding himself in these endurance races – and dug deep to figure out if he had what it took to finish these tough challenges.
He did – but it wasn’t until he ran across Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter that he realized he had potential. Dahlkoetter, who I interviewed in my first few years of owning this publication, is a force to be reckoned with. She was winning marathons back when women were barely able to even compete. She’d cross finish lines with no technical gear, watches or even water. She burst on the Ironman scene and has some of the most prolific wins on video and amazing statistics to her name. Dahlkoetter got her chutzpah from learning how to control her mind. And from her book, Your Performing Edge, Dudney learned how to train his mind to do amazing things – and the race finishes often followed.
“Pain or any other unpleasant feeling, of course, must be acknowledged,” Dr. Dahlkoetter quips. But she advises us to acknowledge it, and then move on. “Register pain as a normal part of the process,” she says, “…and then let it fade into the background.
Those words resonated with Dudney, and he started to put them into practice. What he also put into practice was trail running. Trail running, Dudney says, is better for the body because we use more and different muscles than when we run on roads, which uses the same muscles with a lot more pounding. Trail running makes and keeps us more fit. They are also more interesting and more mentally and physically challenging. Add to that the benefits of hill training, and you can fine-tune your body to be better, stronger and faster.
Further, Dudney says, runners need to master the art of “chilling out.” This concept is about relaxing, even when we are stressing our bodies – a process that is part of the mental toolbox athletes need to develop when things start to get tough a long way into a race or competition. The idea suggests that if you are relaxed, your body will not be as tense; and it’s tension that leads to injury, both short- and long-term.
“When you train, make relaxing a focus of the process,” Dudney says. “Then when you race, chill out.”
While Dudney is telling of the way to make ourselves better athletes, he is taking us through a number of his races and the issues, challenges and successes he had with them. When a friend coaxed him into doing a Gran Slam (The “Slam” consists of officially finishing the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run all in the same year), he went into it with a positive attitude – but unfortunately pain and injury stole his ability to finish the slam during the third of the four races.
The effort of trying and finishing is appealing to Dudney. He just loves to run. The process of running endurance races that strip him of everything are challenges he embraces. Whether he’s vomited for hours, is chilled to the bone, ran with open blisters on his feet, became delirious in the middle of night or roasted to death in the summer sun, those experiences have made him whole; and Dudney asks us to join him, so that we can experience the same thing.
In the end, he tries to convince us that anyone can run a 100-miler, and does a nice job trying to up-sell the experience. But most importantly, he reminds me about why I love running and why, no matter what, I should embrace it.
Visit Dudney’s website at: thetaoofrunning.com.