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Book Review: Running With a Police Escort by Jill Grunenwald (4/5)

5 Nov

A friend of mine recommended this book in passing and it may have taken me three years to start it and then another three months to finish it, but I got there.

Cover image via Amazon

Running with a Police Escort: Tales from the Back of the Pack by Jill Grunenwald

Summary from Amazon:

In the fall of 2012, quirky and cat-loving Cleveland librarian Jill Grunenwald got an alarming email from her younger sister: her sister was very concerned with Jill’s weight and her overall mental and physical health. Having always struggled with her weight, Jill was currently hitting the scales at more than three hundred pounds. Right then, Jill looked in the mirror and decided that she needed to make a life-style change, pronto. She enrolled in Weight Watchers and did something else that she—the girl who avoided gym class like the plague in high school—never thought she’d do; Jill started running. And believe it or not, it wasn’t that bad. Actually, it was kind of fun.

Three months later, Jill did the previously unthinkable and ran her very first 5k at the Cleveland Metropolitan Zoo. Battling the infamous hills of the course, Jill conquered her fears and finished—but in dead last. Yep, the police were reopening the streets behind her. But Jill didn’t let that get her down—because when you run for your health and happiness, your only real competition is yourself.

Six years and more than one hundred pounds lost later, Jill is still running and racing regularly, and she is a proud member of the back of the pack in every race that she has entered. In this newly updated edition Running with a Police Escort, Jill chronicles her racing adventures, proving that being a slow runner takes just as much guts and heart as being an Olympic champion. At turns heartbreaking and hilarious, Running with a Police Escort is for every runner who has never won a race but still loves the sport.

This book was so needed during the lockdown. I frequently had feelings that it wasn’t worth swimming or running because I was never going to get any better and there was no point. I had to remember that I do these things for myself and for enjoyment. I swim because I love the feeling of diving into the water and feeling like, just for a second, I’m flying.

I thought Grunenweld was very honest. I’m the slow swimmer in my group and I’ve had a lot of similar feelings about being inadequate and like I don’t belong. But like running, the swimming community is so supportive that I’ve never felt discouraged from running. A PR is a huge accomplishment and deserves to be celebrated. Not everyone’s PR is a world record and that’s OK.

Grunenwald didn’t incorporate a lot of other people into her story. There were times her parents or sister or boyfriend would nudge their way into the story, but it wasn’t lasting and they didn’t often reappear. With a focus on Grunenwald’s story, that was fine with me.

Grunenwald was ready for a PR when she was sidelined. I had something similar happen with COVID. Events started being canceled a few weeks before my state meet, the biggest swim meet on my calendar for 2020. I’d swam my fastest 500 time as the first half of my 1000 where I hit my first national qualifying time. I was ready to qualify in the 500 and maybe make a run for state champion (only because my faster friend had aged up). And it was gone. The weekend that should have been my meet, I drank a bottle of wine by myself. When you work as hard as Grunenwald does for something and it disappears, it’s emotionally crippling more than anything else. It’s hard to find hope.

Jill Grunenwald
Image via Lady Bon Vivant

I loved when Grunenwald would talk about Midwestern racing in bad weather. It’s probably the worst part of living in the Midwest. I’ve ran in sub-0 temperatures and 90+ heat. I’ve worn three shirts and just a sports bra. Des Lindon won the Boston Marathon during historically bad weather. Guess where she trains: Michigan. You get used to it and it makes you stronger. But you don’t have to like it.

I wished there was something more at the end. It’s hard to think that Grunenwald’s story is over but the book ended and it’s hard to look past a last page sometimes. I want to know what more happens. It feels like the book got rushed to the publisher when it might have fared better waiting a year.

Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’re going to win, and that’s OK. Grunenwald puts in a lot of effort but she’s not going to win a 5K. But she might get a PR, and that’s what she can control. I liked the push to be proud of how you do, no matter where you fall in the pack. That can be hard to remember at times.

Writer’s Takeaway: Reading this book, I felt like I was conversing with Grunenwald more than reading. She was very conversational and used expressive punctuation and colorful language. I liked it because she was being herself rather than a detached teller. It was her story and I liked hearng it from her, the way she’d tell it to you at a party.

A fun read and a timely lesson for me. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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