Since I started running nine years ago, I have read about 40 books on running. My favorite style is what I call “autobiographies by nobodies.” What I mean is the stories by real world people who may be aiming to change their lives, but the finish line is not the Olympics. Instead its walking up a flight of stairs without wheezing, seeking a grandchild’s 10th birthday, or being confident enough to walk up to that cute boy in the coffee shop. You know, the victories us normal people are aiming for (Someday cute boy, someday).
So, when I had the chance to read a new running book thanks to Run Oregon, I volunteered right away.
I Can Do Hard Things: How small steps equal big impact is Julie van Amerongen’s second book about her journey as a runner. The first chronicled her first year as a running streaker (aka someone who runs at least one mile every day; not someone who runs in their birthday suit). This time around Julie wrote about using that foundation of at least one mile to participate in different running events around her city. And that brings me to my first great thing about this book: the author is a Portland native. As Julie writes about volunteering on Sauvie Island, I was in the race she was at. When she raves about the $5 Portland Parks 5Ks, I know all about them too. And when she described one of our winter ice storms, I was whining right along with her about those days when it was so hard to get outside. After reading multiple books from East Coast authors, it was nice to see my own backyard with a new perspective.
My second great thing about this book is the authenticity of the author. During the second half of the book, Julie included details about the training plan for completing her first ultra. Each entry included the scheduled workout from the plan. And then the author described her own efforts and what she did on those days when a pyramid run just wasn’t going to happen (which was every time because she admitted that wasn’t her running and wasn’t going to be). The story wasn’t excuses or apologies, it was just a busy life including full-time work, full-time family, and some major running goals.
That brings me to the third great thing I wanted to highlight from this book: family. Julie van Amerongen is a wife and mom, and is someone who shines a light on the good things happening in her family throughout the book. You can practically read the smile as she described going for runs with her kids or completing a race with her husband. And while she never bragged about her times, those kids were clearly rock stars in her world. Sometimes running can be viewed as selfish, especially if you have family members waiting back at home while you “go for a run” for a few hours. But this book was a great example on someone trying to balance the needs of everyone back home and using those runs to be the best person possible when you walk back in the front door.
I wouldn’t be a good reviewer for you all if I didn’t share that there was one aspect of this book I struggled with. The author packed a lot into her 204-page book. The first half described experiences at about 20 races and then the second half was focused on the training and experience of an ultra. There were so many stories to be told in this book, that I found myself wishing that the author had told less of them and instead gone into more depth on those that were included. Like with that ultra-training plan, instead of daily updates, I wondered how the book would have read with weekly overviews or highlighting one workout each week so that the reader could get more into her experience. I got to the end of some sections and was disappointed to turn the page to something else rather than getting to learn more. The chapter on Julie’s ultra was my favorite as she had time to provide the imagery about clutching onto a PB&J sandwich while running or power hiking through the mountains. After a race this fall where a graham cracker was my best friend for a mile, I felt right there with her.
Overall, I definitely liked this book and would recommend it to those who are wanting to learn about being a Portland Runner, or who are considering their first ultra-race and would like to read a normal person’s experience.
Thank you to Julie van Amerongen for providing us with a sample copy. Please read our transparency page for info on how we do our reviews.