Middle Distance Not-Quite-A-Review

By | Wednesday, November 08, 2023 Leave a Comment
I started running in my late 30s with the goal of completing a marathon. It wasn't really a bucket list item exactly, but that's a sufficient enough description for here. After I crossed the finish line of that marathon, though, I realized that I actually enjoyed running. I found it was a great way to step away from whatever issues and problems I was dealing with and escape into my own head for a while. Everything else got drowned out by what I call the "physical white noise" of my feet hitting the asphalt in a regular pattern.

My routine, when I was training for a race, was six miles four days a week. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday either during my lunch break or after work, and then again on Sunday morning. Outside was always preferable, but a treadmill would suffice if the weather got dangerous. I've gone running in just about every kind of weather, and at just about every hour of the day. I would do one marathon every year, mostly as a way to set a goal for myself, and after doing that a few years, I set my sights on the Dopey Challenge to kick things up a bit. That's actually four races over four days: a 5K on the first day, a 10K on the second day, a half-marathon on the third day, and a full marathon on the fourth day... 48.6 miles in total. I started wondering what my next running challenge should be.

And then I got hit by an SUV.

Just walking to work, this guy came barrelling around the corner while I was crossing the street. Next thing I know, I'm lying on the pavement with parts of my leg that are supposed to be on the inside of my body not on the inside. Three weeks in the hospital, another six weeks wheelchair-bound, and then a year and a half of physical therapy. Needless to say, I wasn't doing any running during that time.

I was eventually able to be able to run again. But even after several years of trying to get back into it, I've never been able to come close to my previous speeds and/or distances. I end each run more pissed off and frustrated than when I left. So I don't run any more.

I'm offering all this backstory to explain how/why I snatched up a copy of Mylo Choy's Middle Distance as soon as I heard about it. Will Betke-Brunswicks say in their pull quote on the back of the book: "Mylo Choy's beautiful graphic memoir is about both running to exist in the world and learning how to exist without running." I'd heard another review that noted that Choy didn't choose not to run so much as an injury thrust that decision upon them. So that's what I wanted to see: how to go from running as a core part of one's identity to not having that.

The first third of the book details how Choy started running and developed as a runner in the first place. The facts of their circumstances were wildly different than mine, but they do an excellent job conveying the feelings that come up in and around running. Both the almost zen-like effect it has on your mind as well as the physical exhaustion that you have to force your brain to ignore. The next chunk of the book deals with them not running because on undisclosed health issues (it's kind of suggested to be a set of injuries, but there's no mention of an actual diagnosis, much less a cause) and having to deal more directly with feelings and emotions, which could largely be ignored while running. The end of the book then explains Choy's balance of still running -- though less than before -- but also being able to address emotional issues that they're wrestling with.

Honestly, I was disappointed in this book. Less so because of the content itself, but more because I had set unfair expectations on what I wanted to get out of it. I wanted to see how they dealt with being a non-runner; but Choy still runs. Just not as much as they used to. And it never really addresses why they had to stop running in the first place. We see several panels of Choy icing their knee and sometimes wearing a knee brace, but I want to know why. I realize that's not germaine to the story they're trying to tell, but -- as a former runner -- I want to know what type of injury it is and see if it's at all comparable to my sitution. None of that is a fair expectation to place on the book, but it's still difficult to remove those disappointments from coloring my perception of it unfortunately.

Somewhat more objectively, there were a number of sequences in the book that struck me as entirely superfluous. There's a couple of asides early on where Choy talks about their interest in art, but they don't go anywhere. There's no mention of using art as a form of emotional therapy, there's no talking about having to manage their time between running and creating art, there's not even the theoretically obvious payoff of getting to use running as the theme for this graphic novel. That can maybe be inferred, I suppose, but there's no mention of Choy's art past page 35, so that seems a bit of a stretch.

Choy does connect their running to their family's Buddism, but the sequence introducing that idea seems kind of forced into place. It's the only part of the story that doesn't flow chronologically and makes for some rather abrupt shifts in storytelling. That this also appears earlier in the book seems to color the perception of the rest of it.

I wanted to like this book; I really did. But I set my expectations too high and anticipated the book being something somewhat different than what it actually is. Despite my pointing out some technical problems I had with it, it's not bad overall, but it didn't deliver what I wanted it to. And that's more of a criticism of myself as a reviewer than Choy as a graphic novelist.

Middle Distance is published by Self Made Hero and came out last week. It retails for $19.99 US and should be available through all decent bookstores.
Newer Post Older Post Home