The Extra Mile

B. Cheever Makes A Good Addition To the Library

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Since the first boom of the early 1970s, there has been no dearth of running books, from the how-tos of Jim Fixx to the whys of the good doctor, George Sheehan. But noteworthy additions to the genre -- even as technically imperfect as John L. Parker Jr.'s 1978 cult classic "Once a Runner" -- have been as infrequent as personal bests.

Meet Benjamin Cheever, who clearly has the proper chops. Cheever is the son of John Cheever, America's "Chekhov of the suburbs," and a longtime running enthusiast who makes a first-rate contribution to the literature in "Strides: Running Through History With an Unlikely Athlete." Cheever, a former journalist and onetime copy editor at Reader's Digest, melds reportorial skills, literary talent and a wicked sense of humor to capture the irony and indefatigable spirit of running in the 21st century.

With more than a passing nod to his father and their own complicated past, and with pointed barbs at an even more personal antagonist, mortality, Cheever weaves real and imagined history with his own anecdotes collected over decades of running around the world.

In one early chapter, the hooded figure holding a scythe makes an appearance in the form of a funeral cortege, interrupting and momentarily casting a pall over the bonhomie and righteous postrace congratulations of Cheever and his friends. After a brief silence, one runner, undaunted, shakes a boney fist at the hearse. "Good race," he shouts.

Like many runners, Cheever is lean, hungry and tends to think too much. His musings probe the depths of his successes and failures, running and otherwise, with universal implications and insights. Beginners will relate to Cheever's inauspicious initial forays into fitness and exercise, and veteran runners can share his enthusiasm for the Kenyans and other leaders of the pack. The result is a joyous and inspirational ode to our transformative sport.

? MARATHON MANN: Michael Mann, formerly of Hampton, Va., died at his parents' home in Orange Park, Fla., on Tuesday after a long bout with lung cancer. Mann raced often and well in Washington; he finished 10th in the 1996 Marine Corps Marathon. He was 38.

? HOT OFF THE PRESS: Washington area running historian George Banker has a new book, "The Marine Corps Marathon: A Running Tradition," available next week on

-- Jim Hage

© 2007 The Washington Post Company