In 1998, when Catriona Menzies-Pike was 20 years old, both her parents were killed in a plane crash. “It could be worse, I reminded myself,” she writes in her new book, The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion, “but actually, this was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.” In retrospect, she notes, the platitudes she heard were the same kinds of things people tell long-distance runners: “Just keep going. It will all be over soon. You’ll get there.”
This framing of grief as an endurance sport underpins The Long Run, which is an elegant and erudite jumble of different things. The author’s own experiences of learning to love running almost by accident are interspersed with sections of cultural criticism, and a surprising history of women’s running as a sport. Menzies-Pike quotes everyone from Boccaccio to Baudrillard while analyzing the fraught record of women participating in an event that was long considered dangerous and harmful to fertility. But the most resonant parts of her narrative deal with her own personal loss, and how tightly it becomes interwoven with her experiences as a runner.
Menzies-Pike, the editor of the Sydney Review of Books, joins a well-documented list of running’s literary defenders. Joyce Carol Oates, Malcolm Gladwell, and Don DeLillo have all written about the sport. In his 2009 book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the Japanese author Haruki Murakami contemplates the activity alongside his lifelong habit of writing, and how the two endeavors relate to and support one another. As Menzies-Pike notes, “Stories about running are often like this, in that they’re about something else. They are tales of shape shifting, of the desire to shed one skin and step into another.”