How to Lose a Marathon: A Starter’s Guide to Finishing in 26.2 Chapters

In How to Lose a Marathon, Joel Cohen takes readers on a step-by-step journey from being a couch potato to being a couch potato who can finish a marathon. Through a hilarious combination of running tips, narrative, illustrations, and infographics, Cohen breaks down the misery that is forcing yourself to run. From chafing to the best times to run, explaining the phenomenon known as the “Oprah Line,” and exposing the torture that is a premarathon expo, Cohen acts as your satirical guide to every aspect of the runner’s experience. Offering both real advice and genuine commiseration with runners of all skill levels, How to Lose a Marathon lets you know that even if you believe that the “runner’s high” is a complete myth, you can still survive all 26.2 miles of a marathon.

The longest I have been able to run thus far is a 10K without feeling like I was going to die. I’ve gone up to a 15K but that was only because I promised my soul to the Devil if he kept me alive and I didn’t care how embarrassing I looked going that extra while hobbling and gulping air like a fish out of water. I got into running because I have Wolff-Parkinson White Syndrome which is a very long and fancy way of explaining I inherited a crappy heart that won’t beat the way cardiac experts say a heart is supposed to if you want to stay alive. I wanted to prove I wasn’t going to let bad DNA run my life so I chose to run from it instead.

 I even joined a mom’s running group, which I became co-leader of, when I stopped working to do the Stay at Home Mom thing after my oldest daughter was diagnosed with autism. It became another thing I was running from then running became the way I dealt with stuff as it let me clear my head and think about how I could make my daughter’s life about her instead of me.

 I ran in some area 5Ks and 10Ks but after a while I quit because it always felt like I couldn’t get past the 10K mark without my heart reminding me I could never run away from my DNA. I put on weight when I gave up exercise completely which of course made the problem worse so now I’m back to needing a way to get healthy again. So in that journey I found this book hoping it’d be the encouragement I needed.

 Right away I knew it was the very thing that would help me. Joel Cohen is absolutely hilarious and despite his claim of bad writing I think he deserves an award for one of, if not THE best, books on running. He admits to not being a professional runner or trainer which is exactly what I need and anyone else like me who wants to run for the sake of loving it not to show off how “great” I am. I need real advice and inspiration, not some size 2 wearing a glorified bikini telling me if I follow her advice completely I can look just like her and finish the New York Marathon in under 4 hours.

 His writings about himself, which of course bring a new level of hilarity to a sports book, just make it even better because he comes off so relatable; he’s the guy who I could see myself training with, running alongside. The kind of guy who could make me feel good about hitting a 10K instead of feeling lousy that I’m not marathon ready after 3 weeks.

 Cohen gives really sound advice using both humor and practicality. He literally starts with the most basic of needs like should you run indoors or outdoors while giving the pros and cons of his ideas. He talks about what you need to run; let me give you a hint, there are laws against public nudity. The way he describes his ‘training’ had me about to fall on the floor laughing one minute and being eternally grateful for him the next because he could’ve been describing my early attempts and a little bit how I am now that I’ve lost my pre-running build when I fell into that “I’ll never run a marathon” depression. My new goal, thanks to Cohen, is to “feel a little less like I’m dying” as I return to my training sessions because that is an achievable goal and one that does NOT bring down my self-esteem.

 For those who have never entered a race he provides some nifty little definitions, advice and his own personal stories so when you go to run your first race you can fit in rather than stick out like a Marvel fan at a DC comic con. Having run in some races I can tell you his advice is sound particularly if you don’t have much experience.

 Due to his thoroughness he provides a history lesson about marathons, when you aren’t laughing, you should pay attention because it’s actually very educational and even though running was once a huge part of my life I never knew this stuff so it was fun to learn. He goes on to name a few marathons you could try both in the US and around the world; the Disney is on my bucket list provided I don’t die in training to get there.

 I absolutely loved his sections on training because they are realistic and self-esteem empowering for those of us who aren’t going to be on the cover of a running magazine any time soon. His ‘nuggets’ of wisdom are going to get put on posters to display around my house as mantras to keep me going in case that frustration starts again when I have trouble trying to hit that dream marathon goal. He even provides information on nutrition to help keep your energy levels up which becomes very important as your distances increase.

 Just when you think there is NO WAY he can get funnier he gives you a rundown of his New York Marathon story. Be prepared as he talks about what he was going through nearly hour by hour then mile by mile. I was laughing so hard my formerly waterproof makeup couldn’t handle the nonstop waterworks anymore and completely failed. Note to Revlon, use Joel Cohen’s writings as a test for how ‘waterproof’ your makeup is.

 For me, and anyone else who can’t help but measure themselves against “runners” and feel like they come up short, the pièce de résistance is the chapter about coming to terms with failure. Really the only failure is sitting on the couch when you could be out in the world whether that’s moving at the pace of a turtle or a cheetah, just get out and move.

 This book isn’t just about how to run a marathon, it’s about building your self-esteem and being okay with the goals YOU can hit, not your fellow runner. I absolutely love it and it’s provided me with a bunch of inspirational quotes to live by so I can return to running for the right reasons.

 Thank you to Netgalley and Abrams Image for allowing me to review this book.

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*synopsis and pic from

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