The trail and ultra running world is often a place where you find people who are broken. There’s a paradox to be found in exploring the limits of your mental and physical capabilities, while at the same time battling demons that may have plagued you for your entire life. I joke with people that the ultra world is filled with people who are in recovery, and folks who are on their way there. The drunk, the sober, the hurt, the healing, the sad, the lonely, and those who have found a level of peace that most will never achieve. This is a world filled with complex people, seeking the simplicity of simply continuing to move forward.
Stronger Than the Dark is the story of Cory Reese, an ultrarunner from Utah, who discovered that ultra running can’t bring peace to everything (despite the internet memes), you still need to do the hard work of healing. But, running can accompany you on the journey and teach you lessons that no other facet of life can. Cory begins this story intermixing his tale of running the 300+ mile Vol State race in Tennessee, with the discovery that he was truly struggling with depression more than he ever thought.
What did I like?
If you had read my review of Cory’s second book, Into the Furnace, you know that one of my issues was around craft. I’m really happy to say that almost all of those complaints were completely fixed in Stronger Than the Dark. It’s clear that Cory has truly grown and developed as an author. The balance of humor and serious prose was spot on, and at no point did I feel distracted from the story that Cory was trying to tell.
I also appreciated the open and honest discussions that Cory has in this book. He doesn’t shy away from laying his wounds bare to the world, even if that comes at personal cost to his pride. When you’re talking about depression and mental illness the biggest roadblock is the stigma that is attached to it. By being transparent, Cory is able to truly share his tale, and offers a hopeful story for healing.
What didn’t I like?
Honestly, there isn’t anything major that I disliked about Stronger Than the Dark. The story is well crafted, and the narrative is interesting and engaging. The only thing that I wanted more of was a better description of how his feet actually survived Vol State. At one point in the book I assumed we were heading towards a DNF (Did Not Finish) and that the rest of the book would tie into that feeling of failure. But somehow these feet that were destroyed managed to keep going. I’d love to know more about how he was able to tactically pull through that.
Stronger Than the Dark is a wonderful story of learning how to come to terms with depression when your expected outlet for healing (ultra running) doesn’t magically fix everything. This isn’t really a book about running. It’s about a man engaging with the real struggles in his life, and how he overcame them, and then was able to look at running with a new lens.
This isn’t a terribly long read, and it’s worth checking out. Especially if you’re not in the trail and ultra world, and would like to see more of what that world is like, and how runners are still just regular people with the same problems that many of us face as well.