Book Review: The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life

The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life

The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life, by Amby Burfoot is a gem of a book.

It’s not about training programs, and it won’t light a fire under your finishing times. It’s a gentle book, written by someone who seems to be a true gentleman (and gentle man). The book’s subtitle says it best: “What 35 years of running has taught me about winning, losing, happiness, humility, and the human heart.”

It’s also a very strong book, one that will (I promise!) inspire you, uplift you, and almost certainly make you a better runner. This is the kind of book you keep at your bedside, or at the kitchen table, so you can dip into again and again. It’s full of simple – but deep – wisdom, gained from decades of running and racing.

Amby Burfoot winning the Boston Marathon

Amby Burfoot winning the Boston Marathon

Burfoot famously won the Boston Marathon in 1968 (and still runs it every five years). In December of 1968, he won the prestigious Fukuoka Marathon in Japan in a personal best time of 2:14:28.8, which was only one second from the American marathon record at the time. As of 2008, he’d run the Manchester Road Race 46 times in a row, winning it outright nine times. (The Manchester Road Race is now 77 years old, by the way.) Burfoot was the editor-in-chief at Runner’s World for many years, and currently writes for the magazine and serves as its editor-at-large.

That’s a lot of runner cred for a guy who’s 67 years old this year. It’s what gives the stuff in the book its weight. The man knows what he’s talking about. And he says it very well indeed.

Let me give you an example. In a chapter titled “How to create a life of perpetual new beginnings,” he writes: “Starting lines are among the most important stations in life. We need to more than just avoid them. We need to actively seek them out. Otherwise, we grow stagnant… When you see the first hazy edges of a starting line begin to form in your life, don’t avoid it. Don’t look the other way. Try to bring the starting line into sharper focus. Consider its potential. Remember that if you don’t go to the starting line, you will never view the whole course with all its possibilities.”

The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life is like that. It’s got chapter headings like “Connections,” “Traditions,” “Listening,” and “Simplicity,” and “Courage.” This essays aren’t faddish, empty media fodder, but serious reflections on what it means to be a runner, reflections that have been earned via a life of running, racing, and thinking about it all.

I often say to people that older is better. It’s even more true, I think, that older runners are better… well, better all ’round. Amby Burfoot is without a doubt one of the best examples of that belief. A Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life reflects that goodness.

Amby Burfoot now

Amby Burfoot now


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