Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Life and running: A look at Dick Beardsley's 'Staying the Course' book

When it comes to inspiration, it doesn't get much better than Dick Beardsley.

Everything about the man feels like something out of a Hollywood movie, from his humble beginnings as a runner, to his fast rise as a marathon star, to his downward spiral into drug addiction and finally, his subsequent rise out of the abyss.

I already knew all this about Beardsley. I heard him speak at the Men's Health expo in Mankato earlier this year and was enamored enough with him to write a lengthy blog post about the experience. Looking beyond his talents as a distance runner, Beardsley seemed like a wonderfully down-to-Earth person with a positive attitude and a true passion for his sport.

So I had a pretty good base knowledge last week when I finally got around to renting his book 'Staying the Course: A Runner's Toughest Race' from the local library. I browsed his name on Wikipedia, looked up some of his course records and even watched his famed 1982 Boston Marathon race on YouTube (check out the whole thing if you have the time, amazing stuff).

I didn't think there was much I could learn from Beardsley's book. I figured I had done enough research about him where nothing could surprise me.

Despite all that, I couldn't put the book down. I read the entire thing in less than 2 days and probably would've read it faster had laundry not intervened.

The book is essentially an autobiography of his life as a distance runner. Much like his real-life story, it can be divided into three parts: His rise to prominance as a world-class marathon runner, his fall into drug use, and his eventual recovery.

Simply put, there's a lot to like about the book.

For aspiring runners, there's a wonderful story of shy high schooler falling into cross country as a fluke and eventually embracing the sport with a love and passion we should all be so lucky to have. Beardsley wasn't the best when he started running, but he eventually became great through hard work and dedication.

His knack for storytelling really comes out in this part of the book. Beardsley has a wonderful memory for small details in races he ran, training routines and he went through, and the perseverance he had to show to make a name for himself in the running community.

For the non-runners, there's an inspiring story about a man who became so addicted to pain killers that he was forging prescriptions and taking up to 90 Percocet a day. Beardsley is brutally honest about his addiction, even admitting that his need for pills consumed his life to the point where family, friends and running were all mere background noise.

In a way, the addiction part of the book served as a subtle juxtaposition for Beardsley overall addictive personality. His addiction to running was strong enough to make a life for himself, while his drug addiction was equally strong enough to almost destroy it.

Thanks to the support of his family and friends, Beardsley eventually climbed out of drugs, remade himself as a motivational speaker and dedicated himself to telling his story to others. He hasn't lost his love for running either, as he still runs on a regular basis.

As an avid runner, I'm a little biased, but I found his career as a marthoner to be the most grabbing part of the book. His career rise is remarkable and his chapter about the Boston Marathon was vividly described to the point where I felt like I was in the race with him and Alberto Salazar. It also helped me take a mental note of some of the insane training he went through to get to that level (140 miles of running a week, are you kidding me?!).

However, that's not to say there weren't other redeeming qualities to the book. His early beginnings as a runner are told with wonderful humor and his rock bottom point in drugs is told from the heart. Beardsley is honest and direct throughout the book and keeps the storytelling pace brisk.

The only criticism I have is that some finite details get left out. I have no idea how he met his wife, nor do I have a solid understanding of his parents and why their marriage was so volatile (which inadvertantly helped Beardsley fall in love with running). In some respects though, those details probably would've bogged down the pace of the book and taken away from the other major points.

Overall, I found it to be a wonderful read that I would recommend to both runners and anyone looking for a little inspirational guidance.

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