By Audrey Andrews | August 23rd, 2021
Out and Back: A Runner’s Story of Survival and Recovery Against All Odds by Hillary Allen was well-promoted throughout the running world. I first heard about the book on the Fastest Known Time podcast. Allen is now a co-host of the show, so it’s no surprise that she would use the platform to promote her book. I recommend both the podcast and the book to runners of all distances and abilities.
I picked up Out and Back as soon as it became available at my local library. It is not a spoiler to write that Allen suffered an extremely serious fall while ultrarunning and sustained life-threatening injuries. Obviously, this event changed her life. While Allen did return to ultrarunning, her story getting there is incredible.
Out and Back was interesting in a few senses. First, we learn there is much more to Allen than running. She is also a daughter, college professor, friend, etc. Second, the recovery process was not all motivation and success. Allen suffered repeated setbacks, including breaking her ankle when she was nearly healed from her fall. The lack of linear progression in recovery is something we could all stand to learn more about. This would likely make the healing process less frustrating for those who are injured, as we all are at some point.
I admire Allen for her strength to heal and honesty throughout the book. However, the book simply was not well-written. This is true of many memoirs authored by athletes, such as Mirna Valerio’s A Beautiful Work in Progress. This is no way means the book shouldn’t be read or that I did not enjoy it. I actually still quite enjoyed both books; the beauty of the stories themselves makes it easy to overlook the lack of literary greatness.
One does not have to have suffered a serious injury to appreciate Allen’s tale. The struggle of showing up every day through pain and hardship is an experience most can relate to. I am glad that Allen put her story into writing. I would like to read another memoir by her a few years down the line to see how she is doing and how she understands her injury and recovery with a bit more hindsight. Overall, Out and Back is a great read for any runner.