I apologize to the authors of these books for bunching them together in one review, as though I were a race director packing in the mob at the starting line of the Boston marathon, which is today. Each book is worthy, after all, in a special way, just as each runner in a race has unique qualities.
I was surprised to learn in "Marathoning" that Bill Rodgers, who in my mind is the country's most authentic athlete when measured by both performance and daily dedication, is intensely competitive. In the four or five times I've interviewed him, he's always given the appearance of being carefree about his talent as if he were merely given the gift and didn't have to work hard to win all those marathons.
We learn here that it's much different. He opens up, revealing his thoughts with first-rate reporting and a refreshing frankness.
Solid reporting is also the reason that Jim Fixx has come back with a respectable followup on his "Complete Book of Running," which went the amazing distance of 30 printings and more than a year on the best-seller charts.
Maybe Fixx shouldn't have used the word complete in his first book, though it can be argued that it was complete at that time. Now it's more than two years later.
Since then, Fixx has found a biomechanics laboratory tester who rates the most bounce-resistant brassieres (Warner's Get-Moving bra is first and the Runderwear bra is second). He also reports that it takes two minutes of running to metabolize a carrot but 26 minutes for a malted milk. He writes charmingly of running in the marathon in Marathon, Greece, suggesting that Pheidippides, if he did die at all, went down from heat stroke, not a heart attack as portrayed in Robert Browning's poem.
A Greenwich, Conn., neighbor of Fixx's, Linda Schreiber, is emphatically both a marathoner and a mom. She has run the 26-mile event in under three hours, and in the other marathon event -- raising a family -- she has produced quadruplets.
When she took up running, Schreiber necessarily became a hurdler -- by jumping over guilt feelings. "Leaving someone else alone with the children was selfish," she told herself. But then she discovered that "the more I ran, the easier hauling groceries and carrying babies became. I found I had more pep, needed less sleep. Running also seemed to allow me to see things in a more mellow perspective, to make me more patient and tolerant."
Schreiber is a woman of intelligence, but she would have had a better book if she shared more of her thinking about running and family life -- a subject seldom explored -- and less about interval training, race preparation, etc., which the running magazines are brimming with.
She does include a chapter on running and the family. But it's brief, and I'm not at all certain that she's right about a running mother's example on the sedentary members of the house-hold. She says, "They'll begin to think in terms of shaking a leg and doing something for themselves." Perhaps, but there are also many tales of divorces because one spouse took up running and the other couldn't handle it.
Where these three books are weakest -- in the area of medical advice -- Myles Schneider and Mark Sussman are strongest. They are podiatrists who understand that preventive medicine and self-care can be the essence of health.
They offer an impressive amount of usable counsel on both the diagnosis and treatment of dozens of ailments affecting the lower bones, joints and muscles.
Both of these doctors are runners. I imagine they wrote their book from feelings of self-defense, or at least to defend themselves against people like me. I was in a race once and finished next to Myles Schneider. After I told him of the 15 aches in my right foot and 17 in my left, explaining that without them I'd have finished 20 minutes faster, he graciously offered some medical advice.
Later I realized how exhausting it must be to be ever harassed by hypochondriacal runners, which nearly all of us are. Now all Dr. Schneider need do is tell people "buy my book," and he will be doing everyone, himself included, an immense favor.
Patti Hagan, a writer and researcher for The New Yorker magazine, also probably wrote her book to induce runners to help themselves. Tired of telling her visiting friends where to run, she can now advise them, "run to the bookstore, where I've put it all into print." Indeed she has, in sprightly prose (what else from a New Yorker writer?) and carefully detailed directions borough by borough, to the best running sites.