“The Silence of Great Distance: Women Running Long”

I belong to a couple of different book clubs.  I feel like this makes me sound like an old lady, but at least I am a well-read old lady.  Some of the girls in my running group have started a book club, which is basically a chance for us to get together once every month or so and talk about a book we choose, and drink wine.  Oiselle also leads a long-distance book club through social media and their website.  My running club books are not always running books, but so far Oiselle’s picks have been, so it’s been a good balance.  But since reading some of these books, I’ve wanted to get my hands on more books about running.  So when I had a few days last week home from work on doctor’s orders, I filled some time reading The Silence of Great Distance by Frank Murphy.


The Silence of Great Distance uses historical records, interviews, and articles in a creative nonfiction work to tell the story of the evolution of women’s running in 20th-century America in a feministic context.  He focuses on three different runners (Doris Brown, Mary Decker Slaney, and Stephanie Herbst) who exemplify the challenges and developments of female runners in particular eras.  This book took me only a few days to read in intervals, but if you don’t know already, remember that I read fast.  I should probably try to log how many hours a book takes me instead of my really subjective and vague “It’s a thick book but it doesn’t take that long!”

This book wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be, but I am glad I read it all the same!  I had the initial impression it would be more of a linear exploration of the development of running and training for female competitors.  I also think it is slightly misleading to include “Great Distance” in the title when the emphasis on many of the runners’ stories is in collegiate events, where the 10k is the longest race.  The editing feels a little sloppy sometimes, with an abundance of numbers (times, years, records) in several paragraphs, and some jumps between chapters that might leave the reader confused about the overall theme.

In the end, I would give this book maybe a 7 out of 10.  It definitely contains interesting content that I did not know before, so I learned something!  The editing and all-over-the-place-ness of the theme (is it just about Stephanie Herbst?  is it about all the teams?  is it a feminist critique of sports development?) makes it feel like it could be further fleshed out in a few different areas.  Read it if you want data, anecdotes, and facts about women’s running.  Don’t read if you are expecting a linear story tracking one runner’s progress.  Rather, read this and expect to want to read another book that is more focused on one of the many great topics this book touches on – I’ll report back when I find one!



3 thoughts on ““The Silence of Great Distance: Women Running Long”

  1. Your assessment of this book is really similar to mine. I think it’s a good read if you are like me (and apparently like you) and realllly into the history of a sport, because he throws a lot of information at you without a lot of structure to it. You have to be a real junkie for this kind of info to read this book, I think.

    I’m sure you’ve probably already read it but I thought Marathon Woman did a better job of exploring the early days of women’s long distance running in a way that was easy to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

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