Before that, he was a drunk.
Running Ransom Road, Daniloff’s first book, traces his path from active kid in Washington, DC. to awkward teen in Moscow (his dad was a foreign correspondent) to aspiring writer and alcoholic, bouncing from Vermont to New York to Cambridge. But the strength in this book is how he does it: when he was getting sober, Daniloff took up running. First tentatively, and in secret. Eventually he becomes a marathoner and uses races to revisit the sinning grounds of his past. Each chapter is a new race — and a new chance for Daniloff to make peace with his past, while striving to run a sub-4:00 marathon.
Thanks to the geography of his life, Daniloff runs two of the biggies: Boston and New York. But he also goes small-time, to his high school’s famed pie race and to Moscow, whose marathon is little more than a repetitive loop through downtown.
I loved this book. Daniloff knows how to write about running: the strange hours; the addictive gear; the constant astoundment that, yes, there are new places you can chafe; the battleground that is one’s mind on a long run; the arbitrary but important goals we set for ourselves; the aches and pains; the joy and tears. These race recaps are some of the best I’ve ever read. But what makes this book a stand-out is how these recaps are seamlessly woven with Daniloff’s struggle with addiction and its potential sources, his difficult relationship with his father, and the struggle to maintain his relationship with his wife and stepdaughter. (Although, I could have done without the large italicized sections. But that’s a design problem, not a writing one.)
It’s a beautiful, painful, raw and honest book. Just like running can be.