Here are the running books that most inspire me: George Sheehan’s Running and Being. Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run. Rachel Toor’s Personal Record, and, of course, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.
Yep, the best children’s book about Easter is also one of the best grown-up books about running, despite being published in 1939, when the only people who ran around city streets were either Olympians or freaks or both–imagine what Fanny Blankers-Koen was called by her neighbors before her Olympic success earned her the title of “Flying Housewife.” (And don’t worry, even if you don’t celebrate Easter; but for the eggs and bunnies, it’s a secular tale.)
“We hear of the Easter Bunny who comes each Easter Day before sunrise to bring eggs for boys and girls, so we think there is only one,” begins the story by DuBose Heyward and Marjorie Flack. In fact, there are five, and all the bunnies in the world aspire to be one, even the little country girl bunny with brown skin, “a little cotton-ball of a tail,” 21 babies and no husband.
The other rabbits —the haughty society hares and the long-legged jack rabbits — laugh at her, and tell her to leave the business of delivering eggs to the importantly tall and fast Jacks. But Cottontail shows up anyway when it’s time for the wise, kind Grandfather Rabbit to choose a new Easter bunny. After the Jacks strut their stuff, Grandfather Rabbit notices Cottontail and her well-turned-out and well-behaved children, and says, “It’s too bad you have had no time to run and grow swift.”
The little brown rabbit laughs. Then she whispers to her children to run away, so she can race after them and bring them back swiftly.
Spoiler alert: Cottontail becomes the fifth Easter Bunny.
If you’re not weeping by then, you will be by the end of the book, when the brave mother bunny makes an impossible journey and tumbles down a steep hill. Then the wise and kind Grandfather Rabbit presents her with a magic pair of running shoes, which enable her to perform all sorts of athletic feats.
Children may see this as a beautifully illustrated Easter book. But anyone who’s ever felt diminished – even for just a minute – when standing at a startling line next to a string of lean, long-legged Jacks, will recognize this for what it really is: an affirmation of all women runners who, despite all odds and circumstance, are quietly, stealthily, doggedly, growing strong and swift. (Despite existential weariness, groaning to-do lists, and mounds of shimmering chocolate eggs around them.)
The women athletes in our Women’s Running Bracket are role models, yes … but so, too, is an old mother bunny.
SALTIES, WHAT ARE THE BOOKS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU TO RUN? ANY CHILDREN’S BOOKS IN THE MIX?