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  • Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

Running for My Life: A Review of Rachel Cullen's Memoir

Updated: Jan 18

The physical act of running has helped many to cope with, and to heal and recover from mental and physical trauma, illness, and other personal adversity. I was drawn to the title of Rachel Cullen's recently published memoir - Running for My Life: How I Built A Better Me One Step at a Time - for several reasons. I am a runner. l love to read books about running. Running saved my life and helped me to heal after surviving a life-threatening medical ordeal. If running has given you new life, you will identify and empathize with, and be inspired by Rachel Cullen's journey.

In Running for My Life, Cullen takes readers through her struggles from age 4 to the present. The youngest of two daughters, she grows up in a home with a loving sister, father, and mother who suffers from mental illness and disordered eating. As a young girl, Cullen suffers from petit mal seizures. During her childhood, adolescence, and her early adult years, she also struggles with her weight. Because of her weight, school sports and physical activity are painful experiences. She goes on to suffer from anxiety and other physical and mental health challenges that follow her through out her life.

Cullen writes of her body dysmorphia, depression, breast reduction surgery, drinking, and being bipolar. She also finds herself in unhealthy relationships with men. To cope with her struggles and unhappiness, she relies on booze and Prozac for many years. But through it all, she earns a law degree, gives up her law career, becomes a personal trainer, opens up a personal training business, and becomes mother to her first born - daughter Tilly. In between, Cullen runs.

Tilly and Rachel. Photo courtesy of Rachel Cullen

As a young girl Cullen finds comfort in food. But reading and writing provide her respite from her angst-filled world. Still today she keeps a diary. In Running for My Life, Cullen writes honestly. She's also quite self-deprecating. Negative self-talk dominates. She refers to herself as 'The Blonde Imposter,' and turns to her 'Inner Geek.' Through out the book, she refers to herself in the third person. She is also honest about her selfish ways. Cullen writes, "I'd been entirely consumed with my own personal soap opera for life well-over two decades. Every thing was about my drama." But there are moments of humor, too.

There are positive and uplifting encounters In Running for My Life that bring Cullen joy and hope. Never athletic, at age 18, she reads an article, "Mind Power," in a lifestyle magazine. This motivates her to put on her trainers and to run. In her late 20s, she comes across the book, Believe That You Can and finds its author who has also struggled with demons of depression. Both change her life. She becomes serious about running.

Cullen is also conflicted about running. While running gives her freedom and serves as a way to lose weight, she finds it a 'forced' and 'addictive activity', and at times sees running as a "necessary evil." But despite her life-long struggles and self-doubt, she pushes through, and is transformed into an impressive competitive marathoner. To date, Cullen has finished 50 half-marathons, 8 full marathons, and 50 races in a variety of terrain and distances.

Readers, whether runners or not, who suffer from mental illness, weight issues, body dysmorphia, and self-doubt, will relate to and empathize with Cullen. Her journey will resonate with readers who might not be enduring these adversities but who've had or are experiencing other obstacles, and who have survived them. Running for My Life provides inspiration and hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel of any darkness. Running is the light at the end of the tunnel that helps Rachel Cullen overcome her demons.

To read my interview with Rachel Cullen on balancing running, writing, and motherhood, click here.

Copyright 2018

I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. You can order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.

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