Run the World
By Becky Wade Harper Collins 2016
Becky Wade’s book Run the World is a genre-bending text; the subtitle “My 3,500-mile journey through running cultures around the world” hints at its travelogue tone (enhanced by the trip photos that appear throughout), but with a touch of training log to it, as well as recipe scrapbook. Wade graduated from Rice University having studied sociology, history and psychology (and earned four ncaa All-American honours) and her book captures a fascination with the culture and history of running around the world. In her own words, Wade’s trip was a process of “searching for meaning in the universal phenomenon – the oldest, purest, and most global of all sports – and, just maybe, an edge on my competition down the road.” Wade’s original plan included five countries with rich running histories: England, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Japan and Finland, but ended up expanding to include 22 countries in all. She neglects to visit Canada. However Canadians are given a couple shout-outs in the book, one being that Canadian Thanksgiving was a favourite holiday of hers to celebrate with teammates and the second being her interaction with Joseph Kibur, a native of Ethiopia who was compelled to seek his fortune in Canada due to the Ethiopian famine of 1983– 85. Kibur went on to win the 1993 Canadian Cross-Country Championship and become a self-made millionaire, before returning to his home country to improve the living conditions of his community. His contribution took shape in the form of an elite training camp called Yaya Village, which hosts a scholarship program designed to kickstart the international careers of aspiring Ethiopian distance athletes.
Wade’s tale is a pleasing, if somewhat superficial survey of running around the world, from the perspective of a young runner on the brink of a professional career. It reads a bit like a travel journal that has had all mishaps, embarrassing content and moments of doubt removed, leaving it with a happy-go-lucky, if somewhat unrealistic tone. Where it lacks the gritty honesty and soul-baring of Suzy Favor Hamilton’s Fast Girl, or the accessible scientific scrutiny of Bruce Grierson’s What Makes Olga Run?, Wade’s book stimulates wanderlust in the runner of any level.
Somewhat ironically, the most compelling portion of the book takes place in the United States, when Wade recounts her marathon debut at the California International Marathon with a gripping and intensely relatable mile-by-mile play-by-play. She also provides her pre-race playlist, which includes music picked up from each of the different countries that she travelled to. The book’s bibliography, a throwback to its ostensibly academic origins, is one that any avid runner will be happy to reference for future reads.—