Worth reading 😎

A deep dive into the psychology of a runner who wants to answer the big questions, understand life and find meaning through moving forward.

Synopsis

Like Son is the autobiographical story of a runner looking for the meaning behind his compulsive running habit. Through races, travel, coaching and explorations on foot that pushed the boundaries of what he thought possible for himself, the author arrived face to face with the reason why he ran. It wasn't what he expected.

Weekend warriors who constantly push themselves to PR in local 10Ks, run marathons or dip their toes into ultra running will recognize themselves in Alexander Sebastian. He's not an elite athlete, but he's got enough talent, ambition and willingness to push himself through pain to crave the constant challenge and accomplishment that comes with endurance sports. In this way, his essays will remind readers of the classic cult novel Once a Runner.


But beyond the athletic aspect, at the heart of this memoir is really a deep dive into the psychology of running. What is he running away from or running toward? That's what he seeks to find, one run and essay at a time — even or especially if it's a painful process. "Sometimes my running provides too much introspection, long miles with the same deep conversations with myself," Sebastian admits.


Sometimes this journey takes him veering off the beaten path and getting lost, and sometimes it takes him to familiar territory in his San Francisco backyard that teaches him something. Eventually, it reveals the one thing that's missing in his life, as the title suggests. In the end, it's running that he finds gives him strength to believe in himself and believe in others.


Make no mistake, this is a book that will appeal to hardcore runners. While the themes of seeking are universal, the tool that Sebastian uses to complete his journey are primarily about being and identifying as a runner. In that way, it will remind readers of the running memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.


The book, like running itself, can feel like therapy. Sometimes there's a breakthrough, and other times it feels like you're getting stuck or don't know where to turn next. The book doesn't come to any tidy conclusions, but rather shows that the journey continues, on both good days and bad days.

Reviewed by

Tim Cigelske draws on his experience as a journalist writing about creative people from all walks of life, including farmer, children’s author, comic book artist and Pixar animator. His writing appears in Runner’s World, Adventure Cyclist and Onion AV Club. Ashton Kutcher called him a "clever punk."

Synopsis

Like Son is the autobiographical story of a runner looking for the meaning behind his compulsive running habit. Through races, travel, coaching and explorations on foot that pushed the boundaries of what he thought possible for himself, the author arrived face to face with the reason why he ran. It wasn't what he expected.

On the Beach

It wasn’t about the money. Even back then, five dollars wasn’t a lot.

“To the end of the beach and back. You getta head start.” Him, forty-nine years old, fit, white tennis shorts, white T-shirt with a red collar, white hair. Me, ten years old, brown curly hair and a bit of a belly, blue corduroy shorts. Both of us barefoot. An early morning fog sat on the Monterey coast. It was just us and the seagulls.

“On your mark . . . go!” He took off in a sprint, ignoring his own suggestion of a head start for me. He thought it was hilarious, hoping the funny trick would throw me off, but I wasn’t playing around.

A burst of adrenaline quickly got me twenty yards ahead, but knowing nothing about pacing, my working lungs started to slow me down before the turnaround. I was told I was born with small lungs, though I don’t know how anyone knew that for sure. I could sense him behind me, sizing me up as my feet sunk into the wet sand. When I turned 180 degrees to catch a look, he was closer than I thought. Soon after, he passed me with a don’t-forget-who’s-boss smile. No one had taught me yet about negative splits.

Now I was mad. When he overtook me I went from leader to chaser. And I was chasing my grandfather. A new motivation filled me. I didn’t care about the money, the tingling in my chest, the heavy legs. All I wanted to do was beat him. Something beyond me, which I had yet to recognize, kept me on his tail when I was past the point of fatigue. He may have had more endurance at his age, but I believed I could best him with my raw kid speed if I could just stay close enough to tap into it at the end. I started to see stars. I wondered if the seagulls were yelling at me. The finish line seemed to be moving away from me faster than I could reach it. But as I started to reel him back in, I tapped into that hunger for a win that felt beyond me. I passed him back and collapsed in victory beyond the finish line we had drawn on the beach, spent and satisfied. I lay on my back on the cold sand, chest heaving, staring up at the gray sky.

“I beat you,” I said between big breaths. He didn’t respond but I knew he wasn’t upset. There was no one else in the world I wanted to beat more than my grandfather. It’s curious to me now—not being a competitive person—that I made the man who introduced me to distance running, a man I came to love, the most important opponent in my childhood. Beating him in anything became an itch that had to be scratched.

Still breathing hard, I wanted to make it official. “When do I get my money?”

He laughed. He loved it all.

“Some day,” he said with a laugh. “When you’re big

and strong like me.” 

About the author

Alexander Sebastian is a runner, carpenter, coach and writer living in Northern California. Like Son is his first published book. view profile

Published on January 17, 2019

Published by

30000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Biographies & memoirs

Reviewed by

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