Runner Reads: “Running with Sherman” by Christopher McDougall (and a Zoom book club)

Hand holding out the book "Running with Sherman" on a background with grass and a plant.

Content warning: Mental health and suicide

When I started reading “Running with Sherman,” I knew it would be about a donkey. There’s a donkey on the cover. But I enjoyed the other stories the book explored, too.

I received “Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero” as a Secret Santa gift in an Eastern Shore Running Club gift exchange, and we decided to make it the inaugural book for our Eastern Shore Running Club Book Club.

While the book club was originally going to be held at people’s homes — my house for this first meeting — it ended up going virtual, on Zoom, because of the coronavirus. The chat was a fun way to connect, and we even got a shout-out in Runner’s World for the virtual things we’re doing, including the book club (read that article here). I liked the opportunity to interact with my fellow runners, some of whom I’m used to seeing regularly, and talk about the book.

Believe it or not, I’d heard of burro racing before reading this book. I actually read about it in one of Bart Yasso’s books, “My Life on the Run.”

The book starts out with the author, Christopher McDougall, and his family rescuing a donkey — later named Sherman — from a hoarder. There’s a photo of Sherman on page seven that shows his overgrown hooves — something I didn’t even know could happen. This happens so early on that I think I can tell you — Sherman’s hooves are sawed off by a friend, which I didn’t even know was possible.

Since the book is called “Running with Sherman,” you can probably guess that he does start running. The book isn’t only about Sherman’s journey, though.

McDougall and his donkey crew — he ends up running with three donkeys, Sherman, Flower and Matilda, and one person per donkey — are based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The story follows the group as they train for the World Championship Pack Burro Race in Colorado.

Lancaster County isn’t that far from Salisbury, where I live — about three hours, and a little longer to the “Southern End,” where McDougall is based.

“Running with Sherman” readers get to learn more about the Amish community along the way — even an Amish running club, Vella Shpringa. Readers also learn about the Falmouth Goat Race.

Just about three hours and 20 minutes away from Salisbury — and only about an hour and 15 minutes away from the town where I grew up — I’d never heard of this goat race, but it seems like something I need to check out. The book also piqued my interest in the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon. I’d heard of this race before, but now I’d really like to check it out and experience it.

I also liked that mental health was an issue raised in the book. It’s not a book about mental health, but mental health is present in all aspects of our lives. Zeke, a college student who has suffered from depression, joins the crew of runners and forms a bond with Sherman.

And while Zeke’s story was discussed somewhat in detail, there was someone else mentioned with a mental health struggle as well. I took photos of a couple quotes from the book to refer back to for my blog post, and this was one of them, on page 307.

“‘You never know what kind of demons somebody is facing,’ Rob’s friend Kenny would later lament. ‘Because if Rob Pedretti isn’t invincible, nobody is.'”

Rob was a burro racer who took his own life, and his family continues to race in his memory.

The reason this quote stood out to me is because mental health issues are not something you can see, even in someone’s actions. It was stated that both Zeke and Rob were high-achievers.

I posted on social media on May 1 — the first day of Mental Health Month — that I was planning to write a few posts concerning mental health this month, and this is one of them. I suffer from a mental health issue that I receive treatment for. It’s not something I’ve talked about publicly in the past — although I’ve shared and liked posts and maybe hinted at it.

While I am not planning to go into detail, I do want to share that just because I’m always posting smiling selfies — and I am often happy — doesn’t mean I don’t have any problems.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental health affects about one in five adults. This means that you’re likely interacting with people daily — at least in “normal,” non-pandemic times, back when we could interact with people — who have struggled with their mental health in some way.

I’d like to include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here: 1-800-273-8255. I encourage you to seek help if you are suffering — you’re certainly not alone.

It was shared in the book that Zeke had tried to kill himself before he started running with Sherman, but by the end of the book, it seemed like he was doing much better (although I would guess he would have ups and downs throughout his life).

I also took a photo of another quote, this one on page 305, because it had been the name of a chapter of a recent running-related book I’d read: “North” by Scott Jurek with Jenny Jurek, and I thought that was interesting.

“‘You know how they say, ‘It never always gets worse?'” Rick said. ‘It’s a lie.'”

The chapter in “North” was called “It Never Always Gets Worse.”

I enjoyed this book, and the different stories McDougall goes into are interesting to learn about. It was also fun to chat with my Eastern Shore Running Club friends about it!

Our next book club will be Friday at 6 p.m. on Zoom and is on “Finding Gobi” by Dion Leonard. If you haven’t started it yet, it’s a relatively quick listen (for an audiobook) on Hoopla, free with a library card. Join our Facebook group for more ESRC events, and learn more about the club at www.esrclub.org.


4 thoughts on “Runner Reads: “Running with Sherman” by Christopher McDougall (and a Zoom book club)

  1. I read Running with Sherman and reviewed it on my blog last fall. I loved it! Glad you liked it too. Thank you for sharing your book club. I’m going to join. I review a running book every month on my blog, so this is right up my alley!

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