gimmethatbook

Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Tag: sports

Swim, Bike, Bonk by Will McGough

Just as George Plimpton had his proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL as the un-recruited and certainly unwanted fourth-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions, so, too, did Will McGough immerse himself in a sport he had no business trying. Like Plimpton, whose football folly turned into the bestselling Paper Lion, travel and outdoor writer McGough writes of his participation in, around, and over the course of the one of the world’s premier triathlons, the annual Ironman 70.3 in Tempe, Arizona.

McGough chronicles the Ironman’s history, his unorthodox training, the pageantry of the race weekend, and his attempt to finish the epic event. The narrative follows not just his race but also explores the cult and habits of the triathlete community, beginning with the first Ironman competition in Hawaii in 1978. This is a light-hearted, self-deprecating, and at times hilarious look at one man’s attempt to conquer the ultimate endurance sport, with a conclusion that will surprise and delight both dedicated triathletes as well as strangers to the sport.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

I’m going to say right off the bat that this book is not for the faint of heart. The author talks frankly about peeing and pooping himself during training/racing, as well as how his sex life is suffering during his 3 months of intense training. If you don’t mind the gory details, read on.

The premise behind SWIM, BIKE, BONK is simple – the author signs up for a triathlon. However, it’s not just any old triathlon: he chooses an Ironman race where you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, then run a marathon (26.2 miles) immediately afterwards. In the beginning, he is very laissez-faire about his training, thinking that since he is young and in shape he won’t have any trouble. Everyone else around him speaks differently though. Eventually, he realizes that it won’t be that easy as his training miles mount up and he experiences the joy of a numb butt (and other parts) during a long bike ride.

The main part of the book consists of his training miles and his thoughts about same, interspersed with stories on buying just the right bike for the job, which Gatorade flavor is best, his fears about taking on too much, and how his endeavor is affecting his personal life. At times I skipped through some of the training miles because I wanted to get to the racing part to see what happened. Once the racing part started, he accurately captured the emotions and struggles of those involved. He writes about the bonk as he sees those experiencing it:

“With every step, another drop of life falls from their eyes”.

That is a great way to sum up how the bonk feels to a racer. I’ve only run in half marathons, but I have felt the bonk – and this book brings back memories of how it felt. There are some poignant emotions described at the end of the race, as well as afterwards. To finish a challenge such as this brings a wide range of feelings that can only really be understood by those who have done it. The author does his best to convey those feelings, however, and does a good job.

He also adds some thoughts about race volunteers (there was a failed lawsuit where they sued because they wanted to be paid) and how big the Ironman corporation really is. That part was surprising because I didn’t realize how fully corporate Ironman was. There is a lot of profit generated from these races.

SWIM, BIKE, BONK was a fun little read about one human’s desire to push himself to the limit. I think anyone who is interested in competing in the Ironman will love it, and those who run or bike competitively will also enjoy the author’s self-deprecating humor that shines through in most situations. As I mentioned, it’s not for the squeamish, but you can skip over those parts and still get the gist of the story. You can pick up your own copy here.

The Rise of the Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn

An electrifying look inside the wild world of extreme distance running.

Once the reserve of only the most hardcore enthusiasts, ultra running is now a thriving global industry, with hundreds of thousands of competitors each year. But is the rise of this most brutal and challenging sport―with races that extend into hundreds of miles, often in extreme environments―an antidote to modern life, or a symptom of a modern illness?
In The Rise of the Ultra Runners, award-winning author Adharanand Finn travels to the heart of the sport to investigate the reasons behind its rise and discover what it takes to join the ranks of these ultra athletes. Through encounters with the extreme and colorful characters of the ultramarathon world, and his own experiences of running ultras everywhere from the deserts of Oman to the Rocky Mountains, Finn offers a fascinating account of people testing the boundaries of human endeavor.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Ever wonder what an “Ultra” race is? These races generally are from 50-100 miles long and can take place over a track, a trail, or even Mount Everest. The runners are often quirky, driven, and focused. Obsessed too – maybe just a little.

The author describes his foray into the ultramarathon world and muses upon human endurance, doping, self-image, and morals, among other things. I will say that I was a bit dubious when he started running, as he didn’t really describe a strict training regimen per se. Yes, he is suffering during many races, but not many people would choose to abuse themselves the way he did to write a book. I’m alternately impressed and doubtful at the same time. That being said, we do learn (as he did) from his mistakes, such as wearing new shoes for the first time in a race and failing to fuel properly. The basic rules of ultras are the same as marathons, along with a healthy dose of mental fortitude plus a little insanity.

The racers are eager to share stories (and in some instances, their homes) with Finn, both before and after races. The author is adept at describing his transformation from a regular runner to one that can cover 100+ miles despite hallucinations and excruciating pain. Some of the descriptions of the “pain cave” (an ultrarunner term) made me cringe, then allowed me to feel grateful that an ultramarathon was not in my future. He becomes stronger physically and mentally as the book progresses. One good example he describes is about finding a place to sleep. During races that last more than a day, runners must bed down for the night before running again in the morning. Finn tosses and turns as he sleeps on the ground, or in his clothes. Later on, he comes to realize that he can sleep anywhere, because he has evolved to be comfortable with less. Finn often says that he may be becoming like the ultrarunners he is studying, then disavows that statement by saying how far he still has to go figuratively, before he can truly call them his tribe.

As in most elite sports, these athletes embrace pain and suffering. It is such a big part of their lives that if/when they become injured, they must come to terms with the fact that they may not know who they are without ultras in their life. One runner notes that she feels utterly bereft and needs to learn how to live a normal life, one without hours spent in motion.

Those who may enjoy this book the most are runners; however, anyone interested in hearing about how the human body can be forced to exceed boundaries will learn a lot from RISE OF THE ULTRARUNNERS. It is definitely a departure from most of the running books on the market.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

The Closer by Shaz Kahng

The decision was irreversible. . .Vivien would become either the most remarkable female executive in the sports industry, or the biggest failure.
Vivien Lee has spent her entire consulting career helping CEO’s look good, so when she finally has the chance to go after her dream of running a business, she grabs it. A lifelong athlete, Vivien arrives at the Smart Sports campus in Portland, Oregon and is introduced as the first female president. It’s one of the highest-profile jobs in an industry inhospitable to women. Principled but slightly naive, Vivien believes her male peers will give her a fair shot.


Stumbling early, Vivien makes a series of rookie mistakes. With guidance from the Ceiling Smashers, a secret society of successful professional women, Vivien learns to navigate the treacherous business terrain. A tight-knit group of male sports executives is determined to show that an industry outsider cannot prevail. The challenge is all too clear: will Vivien triumph in the sports industry against impossible odds?
You’ll want to stay up all night to find out what happens to Vivien and share her inspiring story with your friends. This is a fresh, riveting tale about a strong woman endeavoring to succeed with smarts, scruples, and style.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This book caught my eye because it was advertised in a runner’s blog. The plot is not mainly about athletic ability; it’s about a businesswoman trying to break through the glass ceiling at a fictional Nike rival. It began with the main character, Vivien, being lauded at her job for solving crises and rescuing sales accounts in danger of being lost. This part sets the stage to show Vivien as an overachieving Type A that succeeds at everything she does. All her friends are equally perfect, having MBA’s from the Wharton School, shiny hair, and stunning wardrobes. It began to be too much for me, and the book was almost a DNF. There was a lot of girl conversation and wine; then the plot twist saved the day – Vivien quits her job as a consultant to move across the country to work for Smart Sports in Portland.

Things improved a great deal with the change of venue. There was less perfection and more struggle, with the glass ceiling in full effect. Misogynistic coworkers lay traps for Vivien, which she occasionally falls into. I had a hard time believing someone so savvy could be tricked like that. She was way too trusting – I kept thinking about how obviously the men were plotting against her and she was just trying to be “friends” with them.

The best part of the book for me was reading about the clothing and shoes, and how they were designed and marketed. Second best was seeing Vivien out-think the men, despite treachery  and politics everywhere. It’s too bad that this book is designed to appeal to women; more men should be reading about the struggles that we face in the business and sports world. None of these things seemed over the top or impossible; I’m sure that the author is writing from personal experience, with names changed to protect the guilty.

There is satisfaction as Vivien lives to fight another day against the evil male empire, but I may not be picking up the second book in the series. It’s enough that I live it, I don’t want to read about it.

Having said that – this book is recommended for its erudite and resilient main character. Chick lit fans should grab this to experience a different kind of strong woman. You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”0998656607″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever by Caleb Pirtle III

friday-nights

The dream of college football propels Casey Clinton into the best and worst times of his life. On Friday nights in Avalon, Alabama, football reigns supreme. Quarterback Casey Clinton’s magic arm drives recruiters and his opponents wild. Girls worship him. A preacher’s wife seduces him. Life can’t be any better. But when slick college football recruiters offer the small-town high school player the chance for fame and glory, it’s no longer a game. It’s business. And it’s brutal. Lavish promises of money, women, and a spot at the top of the football world take Casey into a violent world he could never imagine. Temptation is great. His life spirals out of control. His world crumbles out from under him. Football is no longer a sport. It’s a fight for survival in a game where everyone but Casey knows how to play.

Many thanks to All Reviews Matter for gifting me this book for review!

Many things make this book a winner.

The first is the authentic Southern atmosphere that pervades every word and scene of FRIDAY NIGHTS. You can hear the drawl in the voices, and sense the underlying desperation of the players as they worship the only god they know – football.

Second is the multi layered character development – of Casey, Chelsea, Lucas, and the attitudes and actions of the rest of the townspeople. The pressure that is put on these confused teenagers is immense, and is echoed all over the South on any given Friday. The author knows this, and uses it to his advantage to create a deeply moving story that uses contrasting backgrounds to spin the plot forward.

These characters could have been easily written as a stereotype – but Pirtle makes them so much more. He makes them earnest and believable, easy to root for and to hate. Some characters, like Lucas, force you to vacillate between emotions: sadness because of his upbringing, scorn because of how he treats others.

Third is the fascinating backdrop of the cutthroat world of college football. Reading about Casey getting call after call from colleges promising him everything while denigrating other schools in the same breath made me realize just how much manipulation is done in the name of a winning season.

The author’s writing style is clean, yet raw – no extra words or filler here, just emotion, suffering and hope. It didn’t take me long to become immersed in the microcosm of Avalon, Alabama.

Especially cringe-worthy is the scene where Casey meets the great Alabama coach Frank Hatchett at the airport, thinking he is always at the forefront of Hatchett’s mind. The coach’s asides to his traveling companions show just how far from the truth his (and other coaches’) machinations can be. I felt truly naïve after reading this – and will never be able to watch college football again without thinking of this book.

Think of this as a companion to the classic movie ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, and likewise the classic novel FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Life can be excruciating when you see only one chance to make your life matter – and the choices you make in order for that to happen can be unforgiving.

This book was thoroughly enjoyable – you can grab your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1940460387″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

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