Run ‘n Learn

When going for one of my (slow) runs outside or on the treadmill, I really enjoy listening to audiobooks. I listen to music on occasion, which usually means a mixture of songs that have no coherence in terms of genre, era, and content (an example: Third Eye Blind, Rod Stewart, Fall Out Boy, Bruce Hornsby–with or without the Range–and Ice Cube). I’ll also throw in a podcast for shorter runs, but, for me, it’s mostly audiobooks. With a subscription from Audible, I typically focus on historical non-fiction. I find myself particularly drawn to stuff about historical figures, people who have faced challenging situations, and events from, let’s say, the 18th century to the late 20th century.

Through much trial-and-error, I’ve discovered that I have a hard time with books that are more than 20 hours (I should point out that I don’t listen to the entire book on a single run, as I’ve not quite worked up to the point where I can jog non-stop for an entire day; I’ll gladly leave this this feat of feet to the real athletes and endurance experts). For example, I tried wading through Ron Chernow’s massive biography of John D. Rockefeller. This was no doubt a well-written, well-researched book, but I just couldn’t do it. In the end, I plodded along for a few weeks and then, in contrast to the driven Rockefeller, just threw in the towel (which I may have literally done after mopping the sweat from my face). Curious about the duration of this tome, I just checked on this book:   it’s around 35 hours long. Yes, aside from listening to this book when driving–something I tend not to do, favoring podcasts and music instead–I definitely don’t know how I ever would have finished such a behemoth.

What I’ve found works for me is books in the range of 7-15(ish) hours. There are some notable exceptions, such as Bill Bryson’s One Summer (clocking in at 17 hours) and Kurt Anderson’s Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-year History (about 19 hours, 30 minutes). Generally though, I stick to things in the aforementioned range. This makes for manageable splits where I’m able to engage with, and enjoy, the book (and actually remember some of its details, which I then relay to my wife at random moments in the day). I usually aim for running/listening sessions of about 60-90 mins a few times a week, plus some other time here and there.

Some of the books I have especially enjoyed are: Jennifer Wright’s Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Have Fought Them (7 hours, 45 minutes); Jon Krakeuer’s Into Thin Air (just over 9 hours); Mitchell Zuckoff’s 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi (about the same duration as Wright’s book); Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President (around 9 hours, 45 minutes); and Rich Cohen’s The Fish that Ate the What: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King (9 hours). Regarding this last one, I loved this book, which details the remarkable rise–and his controversial role in the economic and political history of twentieth-century Latin America–of Samuel Zemurray. I knew nothing about Zemurray before listening to this book, but I became engrossed in this tale, sometimes finding myself standing outside after finishing a run just so I could hear how a certain part ended. I especially appreciated Cohen’s way of using the history of “The Banana Man” as a means of exploring several threads of history and society (some of which take the reader down unexpected paths). In fact, Cohen’s book was what really got me hooked on jogging with audiobooks.

I’d love to hear what other people listen to (or don’t listen to) when running or working out. Suggestions about books and general comments are always welcome, too!

 

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