Book Review: Overthinking the Marathon by Ray Charbonneau

From the author of “R Is For Running: A Primer For The Footsore” and “Chasing The Runner’s High” [both previously reviewed here], comes his latest book on “Overthinking the Marathon“.

More a compilation of a series of diary entries spanning 5 months, Charbonneau’s latest documents his preparations leading up to the 2012 Cape Cod Marathon (CCM), one of the most scenic marathons in the US. He’s frank from the outset to warn readers though that the book is not a training manual nor a collection of stories of an elite runner or a unique adventure of 7 races over 7 continents. However after reading the 366-page tome, I can say that Charbonneau’s quite a machine.

If you’ve been running for a number of years, been the competitive type and are already racing in the veteran category, you’ll definitely understand the nagging feeling that your best race is still out there. When Father Time is catching up, when the aches and soreness from the running are taking a little longer to abate, and when a past injury revisits. Yet when The Calling resonates louder and louder, you just need to answer it. Plan your goal race, lay out your plan and get to the starting line ready to answer the calling.

Charbonneau, a house-husband, is no slouch (he’s BQ’d numerous times) and his personal bests and distances covered are what I could only dream of and so you pretty much know that he prepared for CCM from nearly every angle. Which involves plenty of cycling, kayaking, strength training (Page 100 even has photos of him executing a few core exercises), trail running, massage, acupuncture, and one case a training run of ultra distance when he lost his way during a training run and ended up logging 35 miles! In case you’re curious, his training plan is similar to that of the FIRST program. You would’ve guessed already in the first place, with the variety of activities he put in.

Organized in a daily recap format, the going was a little tedious at first but as race day draws nearer, we share in his excitement. All the pre-race rituals like monitoring the weather, getting a pre-race haircut (see, I’m not the only one who does that!), selecting his race day shoe (Hyperspeed 4) and putting up a packing list. His goal? 3:27:59. I’ll leave the question whether he succeeded or otherwise for you to find out.

Suffice to say that  Charbonneau won’t be quitting running anytime now and will be looking to many more races including the 2014 Comrades amongst many other ultras. I learnt among many things that while we may think that our last race will be the one we’ve ran our best, the truth is that we will keep on running and racing “simply because the activity itself is the reward”. If that’s something all runners can’t relate to, I don’t know what will.

This book is recommended!

About the author:
Ray Charbonneau lives in Arlington, MA with his wife and their two cats. You can often find Ray and Ruth out on the streets running, but Felix and Phoebe stay inside. His stories have appeared in both national dead-tree publications and landfill-saving electronic formats. Find out more at and on Facebook. Find out where you can get your copy of “Overthinking the Marathon” here.

Originally published: Feb 25th, 2013