We are at my mom’s beach house on Cape Cod this Memorial Day Weekend and I just finished an entertaining beach read Confessions of an Unlikely Runner by Dana L. Ayers.
This slim work is less a memoir by a fellow runner than a series of loosely connected stories by a woman looking back on a decade or more of her misadventures in running. It’s a highly relatable account from a DC-based former White House staffer and popular blogger. She is convincingly smart, witty, and self-deprecating; yet hard-working and stealthily dedicated to her running hobby. In sum, she’s the running buddy you always wished you had and long to find.
I mention that it’s not a memoir because, at least for me, I would have liked a bit more context and detail from the author about her life outside of running. The scant insights sprinkled here and there – that her first job in DC after college was in the Bush White House, that she’s now a Navy reservist – are interesting but never flushed out. For example, on the topic of running and confidence, she says maybe she “could go on a jungle safari, get a master’s degree, or survive a visit to the grocery store after the weatherman predicted a blizzard.” Funny, yes; But the About the Author section reveals that she went and got that Master’s Degree in Communications at some point. This is great, but it’s a perfect example of just how much of herself she leaves out of her story. For comparison’s sake, Jen A. Miller discusses at length her career as a journalist and her love life in her memoir, Running: A Love Story, reviewed by me here. Coincidentally, the authors are about the same age (also my age) and cover roughly the same time period in their books, from the early aughts to the near-present.
I think the differences are best explained by their chosen occupations. Miller, a journalist, comes across a bit dry and humorless. This may be a consequence of her sparse writing style and discomfort with the personal essay. Ayers, a long-time blogger at DCDana.com, has perfect pitch for a light and witty blog about life on the go. As an author of a full length work, though, she entertains but offers little substance.
Ayers’ strength is turning the ordinary, everyday experiences of runners into comic gold. It’s entertaining because it’s so relateable. Most of the chapters revolve around a particular race, obstacle course, or endurance event. Unlike other memoir-ish running books that chronicle the author’s inner journey, she exalts in the community aspects of running. Many of her stories hinge on the sense of belonging and friendships she’s found through her love of the sport. She is surprisingly sincere and somehow avoids many of the cliches and corniness that could have crept in if she wasn’t so damn likeable.
The flaws I point out could easily have been addressed by better editing and some encouragement to reach a little deeper than the one-liner. Kelly Roberts from Run Selfie Repeat comes to mind. She made a splash in ’14 posting run selfies on social media with hot guys she encountered on race courses. She turned that bit of notoriety into a promising career as a writer and ambassador for women’s fitness brands like Oiselle. She’s recently become an outspoken critic of body-shaming in the media with #sportsbrasquad campaign on social media.
My little book review has somehow turned into an expose on amateur women runners in the media. That wasn’t the plan, but it’s certainly a niche worthy of exploration. Overall, I would recommend Ayers’ book for the laughs, and also her blog archive which is worth your time if you are looking for more of the same.
Happy Memorial Day everyone!
Any good reads lined up for the summer?
Best running memoir by an amateur?
What kinds of stories, in your opinion, make for a good memoir?