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Side by Side: Running

Side by Side

Side by Side: Running

Sometimes, the only way to get over a tough time is to turn your focus onto something else --- set a new goal and go after it. That can be writing a book, learning to play guitar, or, in the cases of the protagonists of BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE by Miranda Kenneally and ON THE ROAD TO FIND OUT by Rachel Toor, run a marathon.

In BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE, Annie decides to work through her grief and honor her recently-deceased boyfriend by running the marathon he intended to race. In ON THE ROAD TO FIND OUT, Alice decides to start running after she gets rejected from Yale and needs something new to aspire to.

For this side-by-side, we asked Miranda and Rachel to tell us about their own running experiences, the ways they're most similar and different to their protagonists and what sport they wish they were good at. Are you a runner?

Miranda Kenneally: Yes, but I'm not anywhere near as good as I used to be! I used to be able to go out on a Saturday morning and just run 10-15 miles, but now it's more like... 3. My husband generally laps me on the track when we go running together.

Rachel Toor: You bet I am. I’ve done something like 50 or 60 marathons and ultramarathons. I didn’t start until I turned 30 and had a boyfriend who would take my dog for runs. They seemed to be having so much fun I wanted to join them. 

TRC: When your protagonist first starts running, she hates it. Was there any activity that you hated in high school at first, and then learned to love? Or anything that you hated at first…and continued to hate?

MK: Like Annie, I hated running when I was growing up. I always got down on myself because I wasn't running 7-8 minute miles like the other girls in gym class and on my soccer team. It wasn't until after college that I learned the secret to running was running at your own pace. I had to learn to do that. Once I accepted I would never be able to sprint a 5-minute mile and started building up distances, I started becoming a stronger, faster runner. 

RT: So often I end up loving things I initially hated. Cheez-Its, for example, and Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. I’ve learned not to trust my initial judgments and to realize that often I don’t like something because it’s hard or I don’t understand it, or, in the case of Cheez-Its, my palate wasn’t finely developed enough. I suspect I will, however, always hate avocado, because it’s slimy and disgusting.

TRC: What’s the most memorable run you’ve ever gone on?

MK:Most definitely the Marine Corps Marathon, which is a marathon that takes place in Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia. I had never run that far before (26.2 miles) and I doubt I ever will again. Sometimes I'm still surprised I had the strength to finish. If it hadn't been for a few friends cheering for me at miles 25 and 26, I would've had a really hard time getting up the final hill. 

RT: So many memorable runs and races. I’ve done a five-day 100-mile race in the Himalayas, marathons in Singapore, Thailand and Jerusalem, the Boston marathon five times, and 50Ks (that’s 31 miles) all over the country. And lots of adventures with friends, including running the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim overnight, and up and down Mt. Whitney. But even my everyday runs can be memorable if I’m in a beautiful place, or with good friends, or listening to a book on my iPod, or stopping to let my dog, Helen, bob for rocks in a stream. I just really love to run.

TRC: In what way are you most similar to your protagonist, and in what way are you most different?

MK:I am most like Annie in that when I realize an activity is going to take a whole lot of work and effort, I put my all into it. We are different in that Annie learns to go easy on herself and give herself time to heal and relax, and, at 32, I still have a really hard time letting go and relaxing and forgiving myself for things.

RT: Alice loves all things mini and has an intense sweet tooth. We share that. We both had a lot of anxiety about college admissions. I got into Yale; she didn’t. I think she’s better off “failing” early. It’s good not to get something you think you want and learn how to deal with that. I’m still not so great with rejection.  

TRC: Did you do any research for this book? What’s the most interesting thing you learned?

MK: Yes! In the past I ran a marathon and a half-marathon, so I used experiences from training for those races to write BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE. I also consulted Runner's World magazine and interviewed trainers at my gym. I also spoke to a few former pro-athletes. The most interesting thing I learned --- I never knew this when I was running some seriously long distances --- is that your sneakers should always be one full size up from your normal shoe size. I am a size 8, but this guy at a running store told me I should be wearing a 9, and it has made a ton of difference in my running. It did for my husband, too!

RT: I needed help remembering how much it sucks when you start running! I’ve been doing it long enough that, while I still have bad days, there are lots of weird things that I’ve accepted as normal, like black toenails and blowing snot out of your nose. Because Alice is obsessed with rats, I did a lot of research into animal behavior. I was surprised to learn that many scientists still don’t believe that animals have emotions. They call it the “sin” of anthropomorphism --- attributing human traits to animals. I think those are scientists who have never loved an animal --- otherwise they wouldn’t be so completely wrong.

TRC: If you could be amazing at any sport besides running, what would you choose and why?

MK:Probably basketball. I have always been terrible at basketball, but I really love the intensity of the sport, and nothing feels better than landing a shot.

RT: Swimming. I sink, and then I flail around and convince myself I’m going to drown. I watch good swimmers who make it look so easy and think, I will never make anything look that easy. Also yoga, because I’m not stretchy. Also anything with a ball, because I’m afraid of projectiles coming at my head. Also tennis, because I would like to be able to wear white clothes. Also golf, because those people always say you can’t win at it. I’m not very athletic; I’m really only good at running.