Tom Foreman’s ‘Year of Running Dangerously’ Yields Life Lessons

"So many things that you want to do in life depend on endurance, if you’re going to get the most out of them."

The interregnums between the feasts of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the bacchanalia of New Year’s Eve aren’t quite the pauses from gluttony we might need, punctuated as they are by so many holiday parties. Soon, we tell ourselves as we chase flutes of champagne with sugar cookies shaped like snowflakes, we’ll sneak some exercise in.

Our minds turn to running, the distant memory of looping around a track, of tackling a tough hill without stopping. But while the impetus for putting on our sneakers and heading outside may be getting in shape, that’s not really what it’s about.

For CNN correspondent Tom Foreman, author of My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, a Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan, it wasn’t even the reason he started running again. It was because of his daughter, who had broached the idea of the father-daughter pair running a marathon together.

Foreman didn’t stop at the one marathon, going on to complete a series of marathons and ultramarathons–races longer than the standard 26.2-mile marathon length. Though it wasn’t his intention from the beginning, a book started taking shape along the way. “Probably halfway through that year of running it started seeming like a story to me,” Foreman tells FishbowlDC. “Certainly by the time I was deep in training for the ultramarathon it seemed like it might be a book.”

Foreman’s book may chronicle his progress on the track, but at heart “it’s about family, getting older, and it’s about endurance, and it’s about doubt, and it happens to have a lot of running in it,” he says.

Running is rarely just about the act. It taps into parts of ourselves we may have buried, challenges the very idea of who we think we are and what we can do, and, as it did for Foreman, reorganizes our idea of what’s important. “The discipline reminded me to prioritize things, and the first thing that became prioritized was the sense of relationships in my family, and not letting any of us allow our duties to be so overwhelming that we didn’t have time to be a family and to enjoy each other’s company.”

What Foreman has learned in the course of his adventure is a kind of universally-applicable sagacity. We were left at the end of our call with the feeling that what had just transpired was equal parts interview and life-coaching session.

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FBDC: You ran when you were younger. Did that have any impact on your training? Was the muscle memory still there?

Tom Foreman: I think I’ve always had a natural sense of the rhythm of running and the form of running that made it a natural sport to me, so yes, that absolutely helped. It’s just, it’s like somebody trying to squeeze into an outfit they wore when they were 21. It kind of still fits them because it’s the same body, kind of, but boy–there have been a lot of changes along the way, so that’s what it was like.

FBDC: Were there any particular changes that struck you?

Foreman: Yeah, I was a lot heavier. You just secretly and without realizing it add pounds and lose flexibility. You lose general fitness. I had lost general fitness I didn’t realize I was losing, and then suddenly you go out and run a few miles and you realize how hard it is, and you think, well I’m nowhere near the shape I was in my ‘20s and you sort of delude yourself into thinking you are.

So big picture, I was a lot heavier, slower, less flexible, had a lot less endurance.

FBDC: You write that women and older runners tend to do better at ultramarathons. Why is that?