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Anecdotes, tips combine to take running book past the finish line

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It takes chutzpah for anyone to write a new "How to Run a Marathon" manual. Enough guidebooks, webinars, pamphlets and blogs have been pumped out covering every conceivable approach to running that you could paper a race's route with the words.

But National Post running and music columnist Ben Kaplan's new handbook still manages to split from the pack. Subtitled The Rogue's Guide to Running the Marathon, Feet Don't Fail Me Now charts a 52-week game plan for a running newbie to conquer the 5K, 10K, then half-marathon before moving on to the full.

Gently ramping up weekly workload from 20-minute walks to a heaping helping of sprints, hill runs and 24-plus-kilometre long runs, Kaplan gradually mixes in the technical tips distance runners need. Picking shoes, avoiding injuries, nutrition -- they're all there, though without the usual textbook chapter titles, charts and bullet points.

The bulk of Feet is personal anecdotes, testimony from runner nation and celebrity interviews, with the latter group sharing their favourite running songs. With an experienced journalist's flair, Kaplan weaves running facts into stories from the tribe who've decided to lace up and head out the door: Mayor Ford's total lack of technique as he plods around the school track; a new runner's confession she trained in her office's gym on Saturdays so no one would laugh; all-time fastest American female marathoner Deena Kastor's lazy schedule before clocking elite times. The birth of Kaplan's daughter at the same time as he's trying to get to Boston tracks the author's own journey through the year.

Less a gym lesson and more a Saturday morning curled up with a good long read, Feet is entertaining. That's its first great separation from the bulk of running books, which often feel like marathon reads themselves. There's no dry chapter. Each nugget of wisdom is rooted in the experience of a relatable person trying to get just a little bit faster.

This also goes to the heart of any running manual: motivation. A book can't push a runner over the finish line, but early on Kaplan insists the reader question his or her motivation. "Decide why you're running." That urgent need has to come from within the runner.

But there's plenty of inspiration and heart in Kaplan's collected stories. Their collective desire to better themselves speaks more to the act of running a marathon than most guides.

Feet is also funny, a welcome shot of comedy in a boosterism-soaked subculture sick of sunset posters with inspirational quotes. Candid and earthy, Kaplan's notes on sweating out a rum-soaked evening, trying to not soil his shorts and repeatedly failing to make his target times takes a lot of hot air out of running's "mystique." It's about time.

Feet, Don't Fail Me Now is a relatable and, importantly, readable guide to crossing the marathon finish line. If only every training run was as fun.


Matthew TenBruggencate is a writer for CTV Winnipeg. He'll be running his first full marathon this May, motivated by the guilt-free cheesecake waiting at the finish.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 G7


Updated on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 8:07 AM CST: Tweaks formatting.

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