Sunday, August 4, 2013

Failing With the Hansons: A Book Review

Oh hey there! Miss me?

A number of things conspired to prevent me from posting last week, namely a math final and a pretty nasty (ongoing) respiratory ailment. Also, there's the fact that I haven't been running.

I wish I could say that after my last post I "listened to my body" and stopped running right then and there. But actually, it took one more run to get to that point. An attempted interval workout, in fact.

WHY did I attempt this run when my body wasn't 100% up to it? Well, I was obviously trying to cement my status as a totally irresponsible, injury-plagued blogger, by which I mean a successful blogger. That, or I mistakenly believed a faster run with faster leg turnover would be easier on my body. Lesson learned!

I took the entire rest of the week off and am going to try again tomorrow, lungs permitting. I noticed I didn't have any pain running in socks on the treadmill (the socks are because bare feet on the treadmill results in a bloody mess), so I'm going to stick with that initially. Exciting stuff.

Here are some pictures from a jaunt up Flattop on Wednesday.


Since I haven't been running and I'm trying to perpetuate the idea that I'm a runner or something, we're going to talk about a running book today. Before I go any farther, though, I want to reassure Megan that this review isn't a dig at her or her tastes. I heard about this book through her comment on Professor Amy's Kara Goucher post and was really excited to read it. [side note: Amy, I just saw your response. Unfortunately I bought the Kindle version so it's pretty non-transferable!] As you'll see, it did not, ahem, quite live up to my expectations, but I still really appreciate the recommendation. I hope you won't take my review personally, and keep in mind: who the hell am I? Some nobody on the internet. My opinion doesn't matter!

So, the book is Sage Canaday's "Running for the Hansons: An Insider's Account of The Brooks-Sponsored Marathon Training Group Made Famous By Olympian Brian Sell." Yes, that title and its strange capitalization should have alerted me to the fact that Canaday's writing is not on the level of, say, Hemingway, or even freaking E L James.

If "worse than the lady who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey" wasn't clear enough, I'll put it in plain English: the writing in this book is atrocious. Like, much of the shit you see on these here interblogs is better written than this book. I was astonished that a publisher would print this swill until I noticed it was actually published by "Vo2max Productions, LLC," which I believe is Canaday's company. Well, that explains it.

There are many sentences which, at first glance, seem impressive. There are some big words in there and, hell, Canaday is an Ivy! League! graduate!, a fact he cites at every opportunity. But on closer inspection (or any inspection, really), his sentences are whack. They often read as though Canaday threw some fancy words into a hat, pulled them out at random, and then challenged himself to make a semi-coherent sentence out of it all. The results... are terrible, at best. Those that do make sense are riddled with "kill-me-now" spelling and grammatical errors.

I rarely use the Kindle highlighting function, but I think I spent more time hate-highlighting than I did thinking about what he was actually saying. Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

"In retrospect I think maybe I got the swine flu, although at the time I didn't think it had hit Michigan that hard yet. Hopefully I'll recover soon enough; I just hope I don't get pneumonia or a lung-infection." Canaday switches from past to present tense all the time, as though he's interrupting his journal entry to talk about it in the present day. It's maddening.

"Anyway, a caravan of cars led by infamous driver Rizzo headed out of Rochester Hills in the dark... Anyway, we rolled out of Rochester Hills around 6:15, a string of cars with Rizzo in his Mercury Sable leading." Repetitive, much?

"Sell remembers the time fondly, hinting that the label of blue-collar becoming attributed to his character was no coincidence: 'We were like these low-class guys.'" Fondly? Hinting? What about Sell's quote suggests fond remembrances of this time, or hinting of any kind?

And one of my favorites, in which Canaday tries to sound deep, philosophical, and well-educated but comes off like a doofus:

"Perhaps, ultimately that desire, that pinnacle on Maslow's pyramid consisting of self-actualization, was what initially compelled me to start writing this book."

Canaday must have taken some economics classes in school because he sprinkles totally unnecessary economic-ish terms throughout the book. "Opportunity cost" is a favorite, usually used in reference to regular costs (note: you can't take any ol' cost and add the word "opportunity" to it. An opportunity cost is the value of a forgone choice, ie. the value of lost hours of work if you choose to, say, go to the beach. It's not, for example, the cost of gas used to drive somewhere).

Some other things that bothered me about the book:

Incessant Brooks name-dropping

For example: "I'm thinking of wearing 3 layers on top, my warmest Brooks hat, Brooks Paradox Mittens, and Brooks Equilibrium Windbrief Boxers with my Brooks Podium Pants. I also wear my Brooks Nightlife Jacket to top it all off..." I understand the desire to thank a sponsor, but this is so over-the-top.


The entire book is about his year spent training for the Boston Marathon, a race he says he tanked. He gives us his teammates' times but, probably because of his bruised ego, doesn't tell us how he did other than to say that it was terrible. That drives me crazy. He later mentions being a 2:24 marathoner, but I don't know if that's in reference to his Boston time or his PR. I was too lazy to look up his official time, but I feel like he SHOULD have included it.

Girls, girls, girls

I get it: Canaday was lonely. This book serves as a journal of sorts, and he often had hot coeds on his mind. But whenever he talks about going anywhere, it's always accompanied by, "There was a group of really hot girls sitting in the corner. I wish I had talked to one of them." Even at Boston, he mentions a girl looking at him lustily at the marathon expo and regretting not approaching her. Easy, boy.

So after all that, did I enjoy this book? The obvious answer is no. But, surprisingly, I couldn't help but enjoy it. WHAT?!?!

Well, despite his awesomely terrible writing, I found myself drawn to Canaday's earnestness. In fact, he's a lot like my dog, Bailey: adorable, eager to please, but not all there. Of course, I would never let Bailey write a book.

There's also the fact that Canaday is a f-cking stud runner. There's no denying it: if someone runs fast, I'll give them much more leeway than I would a hobby jogger like myself. It's unfair, but it is what it is. I like reading about fast people and their fast lives. The fact that the Hansons feature (semi-)prominently in the story also helps. I love all things Hanson.

Canaday is more into mountain- and ultra-running these days (he won and set a new course record at the Speedgoat 50k recently), which is something I can totally get down with. He's also got a blog, which I think I'll probably start reading. Hey, I never said I was reasonable! Fast people get fast people leeway.

Question: do you have any runner book recommendations? Lay 'em on me. I'll reward you by writing a scathing review of it.


  1. Oh my. That writing would drive me insane, but yes I can see being compelled by the story itself. You may happily keep your Kindle version. I love your analogy to Bailey. Haha. This was a good and thorough book review (much better than my Goucher rant). I now declare you officially ready to be an eager, earnest, critical, and cynical grad student!

    1. Yessss, approval from the Professor! Thanks ;).

  2. Hahahaha this was incredibly amusing. I can definitely say I will not be reading this book now =).

    No running-related books on my plate right now.

    Since we're injury buddies right now...I was going to run today after what was GOING to be 3 days of no pain, but my foot started hurting again yesterday (and again today), so I'm back to square one. Lame. I'm getting so desperate, I might hit the pool tomorrow.

    1. Good luck with that! I found that breaking up regular laps using paddles (so you can use just your legs) and the thing that keeps your legs afloat (so you can use just your arms) made it a bit more bearable. It still sucked, though! Having your bike back should be good for you, though.

  3. "In fact, he's a lot like my dog, Bailey: adorable, eager to please, but not all there. Of course, I would never let Bailey write a book." Best part of this whole post.

    I recently enjoyed "The Cool Impossible", but honestly - mostly from a coaching perspective. The story is coaching theory (strength exercises, building a plan, structuring cycles, etc), interwove with a weird "What I'd take you to do if you visited Colorado." I could do without the latter (weird), but I appreciated the info in the former. I found it sufficiently sophisticated to be interesting to someone with running/coaching experience, and slightly (but not ridiculously) unusual/not-quite-mainstream. So that was my most recent running-related read, although given your history, I can't 100% recommend it to you. ;-)

    1. Because, really, you KNOW what you would do if you visited Colorado, right? Since I live here?

      And yes, the Bailey comparison wins "Best Blogger Metaphor" and now JJ and her blog are going to be famous!

    2. Yeah, if I go to Colorado, I know just what I'll do: ask Logan! She's the pro, right?

    3. Ahaha. So funny you are, so funny.

    4. Except he was in Wyoming, Holly...GOSH we're not all one GIANT state out there ;).

      I found his book least the way he wrote it. It was very "visualize this" oriented and I wasn't a huge fan...BUT his actual exercises/theories I thought were really interesting.

      Also...SUCK IT, Amy ;).

  4. I'm just tickled at the fact that you got 'The Sports Gene' *faster than I did*. I read the review literally right before I posted...time to get myself to a library. (One of the things I do love about cities: well-stocked libraries.)

    By the way, that whole feeling adrift from a lack of structure after a marathon thing? Yeah...that's how I got into triathlons :P

    1. Ahaha, what can I say? When I decide I want something, there's no waiting for it. But the thing is, I don't mind spending money on books. I could either spend $11 (or whatever) for a 2-hour, mind-numbing movie, OR I could spend $11 on a book that will take me a week or so to read. I think it's a worthy purchase.

      Fortunately (?), I REALLY don't like swimming or biking, so I don't think I'll ever go down that route ;). For now, running's it for me!

  5. I got here with a google search of how to run through 50 shades of grey fast, as I feel embarrassed reading it slow on the train. While slightly dissapointed, the content was still great!

    1. Yeah, if you can look past the horrendous writing, that story's got heart. Wait, no, I actually mean handcuffs. Lots of handcuffs.

  6. OMG!OMG!OMG! Now that you've done the quintessential blogger thing of running yourself into injury, you are PERFECT for my contest!!!!! And you like NUUN! You MUST enter!!!! oh, and going to an Ivy League school in no way guarantees the intelligence or wisdom of a person. George Dubya went to Yale, remember?

    1. I WOULD enter your (surprisingly awesome) contest (where the hell did all those goodies come from?) except I've got a few address changes coming up and the mailing bit would be way too confusing for the both of us. Plus, I'm still sort of convinced that you're going to require the winner to run their own miserable convinced.

      I agree, going to an Ivy League school doesn't guarantee intelligence or wisdom, but it DOES typically imply that you can write a semi-complete sentence. Dubya was a terrible speaker and massacrer (is that a word?) of words, but I'm pretty sure he can write better than runner dude.

  7. Hahaha sorry I guess I should have mentioned something about his writing style :) But who am I to criticize? I don't think I do much better, although I do try. Like you the reason I enjoyed the book was because you get a look into a really fast runners life and the Hansons program. Prior to reading this book all I knew of the Hansons was Desi, Brian Sell, and the red and yellow singlets. I'm glad you ultimately managed to enjoy the book, though. And I'm not offended. I liked your perspective.

    Oh and I loved the comparison to your dog! You're spot on.

    1. Well, I think you have every right to criticize because even if your writing were as terrible as his (it's not!), YOU didn't publish a book (as far as I know). He should have at LEAST fired his editor (there were numerous editor's notes so he obviously had an elementary student read it!) and gotten someone literate.