From this perspective, squandering the best years of one’s youth and early adulthood running great distances in a quest to win that gold medal and be counted among the so-called “Distance Gods” seems, to those who are unafflicted, a fool’s quest. But for the competitive distance runner, races aren’t meant to be run, they’re meant to be won. In his superb memoir, Wannabe Distance God: The Thirst, Angst, and Passion of Running in the Chase Pack,Timothy M. Tays, PhD, finally wins his long sought-after prize.
Truth be told, Tays was waaay better than a wannabe. He was a truly great high school and college runner. But when compared to the best of the best distance runners in the world, the ones with all the gold medals, well… Let’s say that as tenacious as he was as a runner, kicking butt and taking names, Tays is even better as a writer, maybe much better. In runners’ lingo, he KILLS this story. Which is a good thing, believe me.
The memoir is written from the perspective of a clinical psychologist who was required to submit himself to analysis during his academic training. Tays made the most of his opportunity to make sense of his unique childhood, his need for recognition, and his relentless passion for gold-painted alloy medals. The result of this inner work and written introspection is a healthier self-appreciation of a life well-lived and refreshingly reconciled at its mid-point. Reading Wannabe Distance God is like therapy, experienced in 251 pages of a personal journal. Tim’s couch becomes our couch, and the result for him and his readers is pure gold.
Tays shares candidly and vividly about the playground bullies and family issues that lighted the fuse of a human rocket, who burned so bright and soared so high, and ran so fast so far, that he earned the nickname Timmy Two-Mile. But this gripping account also reveals a psychologically complex youth with couch-worthy issues, being pushed and pulled into longer and longer bouts of self-imposed, long-distance (read marathon) suffering. Could it all have been a coping mechanism?
We are invited to tie-on our racing flats and join him as he pushes himself through the agonizing crucible of distance running. Tays lightens the read with well-timed hilarity. His many well-earned victories give readers an opportunity to remember their own “As Good As It Gets” moments, which grownups often fail to celebrate. This is a poignant, funny, irreverent, and beautifully written chronicle. Tays sucked the marrow from his life as a wannabe distance god, and these pages show him licking the bones.
The story follows Tays from the dust trails of New Mexico to the wheat fields of Kansas and beyond. He set school records and won conference championships for the hallowed University of Kansas Track Team, but saw his feats overshadowed by Jayhawk legends Jim Cunningham, Billy Mills, Jim Ryun, and a few contemporary teammates. This reviewer was one of Tim’s teammates on the KU track team. (My middling accomplishments as a wannabe decathlete paled by comparison and will go unmentioned.) We spent time together and became friendly teammates, but the combustibles that fueled this inner fire were unknown to me until I read his story.
Doctor Tim could have billed me at his hourly rate for the therapeutic wisdom embedded in this book, and I would’ve gladly paid it. If you are fortunate to live near Scottsdale, Ariz., set up an appointment. Otherwise, do yourself a favor – buy the book. It’s a great read, and a real bargain.