A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Book Club Review: Fast Girl

on January 14, 2016

This month’s Taking the Long Way Home book club selection is Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness, written by Suzy Favor Hamilton and Sarah Tomlinson. I vaguely remember hearing on the news a few years ago that there was a famous runner who was caught working as an escort in Las Vegas, but it didn’t register much because I wasn’t particularly following professional runners at that time and during the time that Suzy was a college and Olympic runner, I wasn’t following running of any kind. Thus, I came to this book without much background knowledge of who she was a runner or anything of the fallout from her time in Las Vegas. I did of course read the Wikipedia page to find out who she was because that’s “research” these days, right? 😉

Fast Girl

In case you are similarly unfamiliar with Suzy Favor Hamilton as a runner, she’s a champion college and professional middle distance runner from the 1990s and early 2000s. She was on the Olympic team in 1992, 1996 and 2000, all of which are detailed in the book, along with her college career and earlier years of running. I found this to be a fascinating read. The authors give an open, sometimes raw accounting of Suzy’s life and how it was shaped by running and by her mental health issues. The story starts in Las Vegas, but then takes you back through her childhood with stories of running and family life. It progresses through her successes in high school and college running, with glimpses of the stresses and early warning flags of mental health issues that were looming in the future. They also candidly discuss her marriage and the impact of the birth of her daughter on her life and her mental state. It can be painful to read in places, just in sympathy for her and for her family, but draws you in and moves very quickly to the end that you know is coming thanks to that introduction in Vegas.

I teach in a medical school and keep a list of non-“medical” books that I think our students should read to get a different perspective on medicine and disease in real people beyond the textbook (not a psychiatrist though, so this isn’t the kind of thing I personally teach). This book really gives an unforgettable glimpse into bipolar disorder, from the racing thoughts, to the sexual hyperactivity and lavish spending that come with mania, as well as the dangers of antidepressant use in triggering manic episodes. This story will illustrate this for our young doctors in ways that a PowerPoint slide never will.

Another issue that this book brought to mind for me is the danger of relying solely on exercise as self-medication for mental health disorders. I frequently see inspirational pictures and memes about how running is cheaper than therapy and while there is no question that physical activity can help with mood disorders and many other medical conditions, we should not let that blind us to the need for further medical and mental health care. Running is a safer form of self-medication than drugs and alcohol that people also turn to in lieu of psychiatric care, but can be just as problematic if it keeps you from getting all of the help you need. Several times, she talks about how reluctant she was to get help in part because of embarrassment and the stigma of mental disorders and in part because the nature of the disease makes it hard to see that there is something wrong. Her family is not the only one who has had difficulty discussing the mental health disorders they’ve each struggled with, individually and collectively. A hugely important lesson in this is to reach out for help if you’re struggling and to reach out to your loved ones if you think they need help. We cannot be afraid to talk about these things and to reach out.

Be sure to check out Wendy’s review, as well as the others in the link up. I’d also recommend this podcast interview with Suzy Favor Hamilton on Another Mother Runner in October 2015 for more insight into the book and her life.

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10 responses to “Book Club Review: Fast Girl

  1. You were way more kind that I’m going to be…thanks for the review.. I’ll get the linkup live after midnight!

  2. janerunswild says:

    Thanks for your review, this looks like an interesting read!

  3. You were much nicer than I was with your review! I was a little disappointed that Suzy did not talk more about her treatment or recovery. I felt like she was still suffering from many of the same issues. Fun to be in the book club with you!

  4. scheerio says:

    Wow, this sounds like a really interesting read. Definitely adding it to my list. Thank you!

  5. She wasn’t on my radar, either, despite having been in Vegas at some of the times the events she describes took place!

    It would be really interesting to hear her talk . . .

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