BOOK REVIEW: Run Therapy, A Bitter Sweet Guide to Running, Evolution and Ice Cream, by Andrew Cohen
Review by Garry Dagg
Opening a running book outlines the diaspora of our sport. Trail runners like to focus on their achievements, goals or science yet few capture the dreams, motivations and core reasons as well as Run Therapy. A superbly crafted book it may well need to be filed in the romance genre as Cohen’s love for trail running and the vitality it brings seeps through each page, inspring and cajoling each and everyone to get out and join in the hard earned fun. Although I have managed, it is hard to pull quotes that stand out from a book which is entirely quotable. Open a page of Run Therapy and any sentence will contain a parable, allegory or outright point worth remembering. This is not a how-to book nor a step-by-step guide but a runner’s ode to the trail and the freedom it brings.
Andrew Cohen lives just a few hundred metres from the trailheads of some of Western Australia’s finest singletrack. Local mountain bikers carve out beautifully graded climbs amid technical terrain and Cohen rises with the sun every day to capitalise on them, making his way through the eucalypt trees and stunning coastal views on runs between one and two hours. For Cohen “this rule will never change: frequency will always beat amplitude. The best measure of success is how often you start.” And so Run Therapy takes us on a journey, takes us with Cohen on his morning explorations when he sets out a goal of neither distance nor time and runs for the sheer joy it affords him. Cohen does not run for a sense of achievement or to measure himself against others, but for the clearing out of the mind, the almost existential necessity it provides him. As he says himself “running every day isn’t training, it’s part of waking up and re-assembling the senses.”
As an experienced man of the trail Cohen does intersperse practical tips throughout the book, not as parts of a lecture or obligation but as observations he has noticed on his own journey to becoming a runner. His advice is both practical: “treat your running body as you would a child – be gentle, fair and understanding, but firm”, and the lyrical; “when we run, we do what a child does and we see the world through more innocent eyes”. His gentle urging is appealing and intersperses the poetic with the elegaic and the profound. The writer’s art is to craft each sentence so it is bigger than the sum of its parts and each full stop in Run Therapy marks a moment to reflect.
The book itself has the same structure as one of Cohen’s runs, meandering along with a loose structure, sticking to the highlights and important bits without getting bogged down in narrative. At 60 or so pages the book adheres to Cohen’s own minimalist theme, inspired by the aesthetic minimalist Epicurus whose philosophy is summed up in Run Therapy with “(happiness) is to be found exclusively in restrained self-sufficiency and the rejection of success. The greatest happiness … comes from having the least needs.” There is plenty of relating to the ancients in its pages, as well as discussions of quantum mechanics and Cohen’s love of ice cream. Like any trail run should be, the book is at once a celebration of life’s simple pleasures and its awesome wonders.
Cohen himself is a guardedly successful ultra runner and Run Therapy explores some of those adventures including his cerebral affair with the Marathon des Sables and The Track. But it is in his recounting of his daily runs and the joy he gathers from them that he is at his most inspiring. This is a book that will give pleasure, thought and depth to any bipedal mover, from the aspiring to the tiring one. It is difficult to flick through the pages of Run Therapy without pausing to reflect on each passage and how well it relates to various moments in your own running history, as well as feeling it pulling you towards the trail.
Run Therapy is available on hardcopy or a Kindle version at http://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Cohen/e/B008BBEA7O
As an ebook at http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/ebook/run-therapy/37718146/
Or follow it here http://www.facebook.com/RunTherapy