Best known for his hosting duties on NPR’s “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” Peter Sagal is also a longtime columnist for Runner’s World magazine, musing on relatable topics such as male fat-shaming, gastrointestinal challenges and the constant quest for motivation amid the everyday challenges of managing life.
Now there’s more of his wit and wisdom in Sagal’s new book, “The Incomplete Book of Running.” As it opens, Sagal is on the precipice of turning 40 and is in an irreparably broken marriage to the mother of his three children. By the end of the book, he’s found love again.
Mercifully, the romantic arc is just the framework. His hot-to-lukewarm relationship with running is the backbone of stories from his earliest years of running with his father to the present.
The title is a winking homage to Jim Fixx’s 1977 runners’ bible, “The Complete Book of Running.” The cover of Sagal’s book is, at a glance, identical to Fixx’s. But look again — while Fixx’s cover shot shows a lithe runner’s calves in elegant stride, Sagal’s shows the lower half of a runner tumbling backward, feet up, one shoe liberated from the foot and airborne.
Sagal is brilliant and accomplished, but he’s also self-deprecating and funny. He presents himself as a balding, stocky everyman struggling to keep the weight off.
He’s not, however, a casual runner. In one decade, he ran 14 marathons, including one with a personal best time of 3:09. That means he averaged seven-minute miles for 26.2 miles.
Sagal ran the 2013 Boston Marathon, the year two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line. He was serving as a guide for a blind runner, and even though much has been shared of that day, Sagal’s accounts are not easily forgotten.
Sagal is full of irreverence, and he never lets the book get too heavy of heart. He described a beta test of life as a divorced man — a solo road trip to a race in St. Louis at which he took to the starting line on a 30-degree day in his underwear to claim a spot next to a shirtless guy dressed as a character from “Braveheart.”
There’s a passage about sex advice columnist Dan Savage that will send readers to the online urban dictionary to get the definition of a certain sexual term even though Sagal warns against it. The Savage segment segues to Sagal’s shorthand advice to newbie runners: GGG. That’s Gradual, Goal, Group.
Other chapters begin with laughable candor. “Sometimes running sucks,” Chapter Six begins. And my favorite, Chapter Nine, opens with, “The problem with being a midlife-crisis runner is that once you start, you’re already in decline.”
He proselytizes about running without headphones by using a priceless comparison.
Sagal is not here to make you faster, but he’ll make you smile, reflect and perhaps take the holiest of actions: those first scary steps out the door.
Rochelle Olson is a Star Tribune reporter. 612-673-1747. Twitter: @rochelleolson
The Incomplete Book of Running
By: Peter Sagal.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 185 pages, $27.
Event: 7 p.m. Nov. 26, Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.