There is somewhat of a hole in the running book genre. Although there is a plethora of running books on the market that are available for people to read, there are few books that explore the collegiate side of running. Most books based on running deal with other topics to do with the sport. Most of the main protagonists and characters in these books do not live the varsity athlete life and don't experience the sport in the same way. Other than books like Running with the Buffaloes or What Made Maddy Run, every other running book misses the mark on this front.
Furthermore, all the books that cover the topic of collegiate running follow the American view and scene. There are basically zero books that completely follow the Canadian varsity running scene and relate specifically to CIAU, CIS or U Sports.
However recently, a book that now covers this niche within a niche within a niche has been covered. My good friend and fellow writer Alex Cyr has released a book named Runners of the Nish: A Season in the Sun, Rain, Hail and Hell. This is the story about the 2016 Varsity Cross-Country Season for the St. Francis Xavier team. I received this book in the mail and read it over the past week. Afterwards, I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about how I feel about the book. Therefore, this will be some sort of a review for the book and I will be sharing my thoughts of it.
Just before I get started, I would just like to mention that although I would like to be fair and as objective as I can, I will most likely still have a bias. Cyr is a teammate and a friend of mine and makes it hard for me to ignore this. I will try to stay as honest as possible when writing this but I would be lying if I did not say that I had a bias towards the author.
Another note, I am no way experienced with review writing. Although I do read and write plenty, I am no expert and this review should not be seen that way. I am just a casual, Canadian varsity athlete that will give his thoughts on this book. So even if this deters you from picking up or getting this book, don't worry about what I say. Everyone's opinion is different.
With all that said, here is my review:
In Runners of the Nish, Alex Cyr chronicles and tells the story of his final cross-country season at St. Francis Xavier University. The book begins just about all the way at the beginning, starting on August 31st 2016 and goes until the November 12th, 2016, the day of the U Sports Cross Country Championships.
Along the way, Cyr tells the story of the team and just about everything that goes on through this time period. The book covers events such as workouts, social gatherings, casual runs and races leading up to that faithful mid-November morning. Settings around the St. FX campus are featured including the Oland Centre, 18 Greening Drive, and Morrison Hall. Also, the story is taken on the road where the team competed in multiple meets during the season.
Cyr writes the stories and events that go on as they take place. The stories and situations that are told through Cyr’s writing come from his point of view and are under his interpretation. Everything is described shortly after it happens and this provides a good amount of depth and detail. With this, Cyr does not have to rely on foggy memories to tell his story and piece together a full picture of detailed events. This is one of the strong suits in this book and makes everything that is told much easier and better to understand.
One aspect that Runners of the Nish portrayed excellently was its ability to give an insight into the life a varsity cross-country athlete. Although many people may know what it is like to run and compete in races, there are few that know the struggles that come with running varsity cross-country at the collegiate level.
Injury, academic commitments, distractions and even burnout are all themes and problems that athletes at the collegiate level face. In Runners of the Nish, all of this is seen and showcased to the reader as many members of the St. FX squad deal with these problems. Throughout the book, the reader gets to see how each member of the team handles these issues and whether it changes the season and the destiny of the team.
Because of the way the book was written, the reader gets an inside look on a varsity cross-country team from one of its very own. It’s not like this book was written by some outsider or observer, it was written by someone that personally went through it all. As a member of the team for four years, Cyr knows just about everything to do with the team and is able to tell the story with substantial depth and understanding. This is one thing that alone makes this book a must-read, as there are no other books available with this kind of in depth review.
One part of the book that was nailed and made it great was the way that Cyr described and made each character in the book standout. Each member and character that surrounded the story had unique characteristics and set themselves apart from each other. Every member of the team was different in how they viewed and approached things. This showed how much Cyr knew and understood his teammate’s some of whom he had known for multiple years.
With this great ability to describe and portray the image of each of these characters, it made the book much more interesting to read. I found myself rooting and hoping that certain people would find success and do well. I began to understand and get where each of the characters were coming from with their rationale and thinking. It gave true character to the book and made it hard to stop reading as I always wanted to know what happened next to the people in the story. By the end, I felt like I knew each main person and could relate to them all so well.
As someone that has already spent a year running for a university, I thoroughly enjoyed and found that I could relate to this story. Any runner at this level knows the struggle that is endured and seeing it play out in a novel is extremely interesting. Although I knew the final result of the season before I even opened the book, the stories and interesting path to its conclusion kept me glued to the pages.
For someone that has never understood and never lived the varsity athlete life in post-secondary school, this book does an amazing job at depicting it. This books gives an outlook on what it is truly like and how volatile and fragile it may be.
Although this is the case, this book also shows how truly special the experience is. Being a part of a team like this is an amazing experience and Cyr does a spectacular job at giving the reader an insight on it. As a tribute to former St. FX Head Coach Bernie Chrisholm, this book encapsulates what it is like to be a varsity cross-country athlete.
For any runner that is thinking about running varsity cross-country or has already done so, this book does an amazing job at telling the journey. I recommend this book basically to anyone who knows or wants to know how it feels to be a part of a team like this.
To conclude, I will include a quote from the Prologue. Cyr writes, "All I could promise was a genuine and real investigation of the ebbs, flows, highs and lows of a CIS cross-country campaign..."
Well after reading this book and experiencing the story, I can agree that Cyr does an excellent job at this and created a narrative that can be loved and appreciated by anyone who reads it.