In 2007, she ran so many marathons and ultra-marathons that she ended up, at the end of one race, in the medical tent. She felt like getting out of running altogether. But her agent said that Toor couldn't do that until her new book, Personal Record, was published.
But the thing is, she persists. Rachel Toor doesn't give up. "On weekends," she says, she programs her gigantic runner's watch (which records distance, pace, elevation), then sets off from the South Hill and meanders on the High Drive bluffs or up the trails around Tower Mountain--sometimes for five or six hours.
Personal Record is a different kind of running book, since most "are all written by men from the perspective of competition," Toor says. What she discovered is that running is (or should be) a social activity.
On Thursday, Oct. 2, at Auntie's, Toor will read from her account of a love affair with running. Personal Record recounts how she came to running relatively late -- kicking and screaming and insisting that curling up with a good book and some Oreos was much more enjoyable than going out and jogging around in circles. But a boyfriend guided her into it, slowly, and then her Type-A competitive personality kicked in. She didn't know how far 5K was -- but once she discovered that she'd been covering three miles in leisurely runs, she decided to start entering weekend races. Personal Record isn't just about her P.R. times -- it's a kind of memoir of what running has meant to her. That kind of "record."
The first chapter is about a runner's body -- blisters and battered toenails, scratches on muscled legs, and so on. And true to form, at one point in our interview, Toor removes her cute little ballet slippers -- she's a tiny woman, all of 5-foot-3 -- to display all the pink toenail polish she has on. But she's proudest of one of her big toenails, which is black underneath the polish: runner's toe.
The book has 26.2 chapters -- Toor enjoys her marathon references -- with sections about what running does to your body, making excuses not to run, how Toor herself got started, running a first marathon and then dozens more, how to deal with injuries and what to do with your running trophies and T-shirts.
The final 0.2 chapter presents the Acknowledgments -- because your friends are the ones who help you get through the final six miles, the final quarter-mile, of any long-distance race.
It's a book "about how running is really so much about community," she says.
It isn't, in other words, just for hard-core fanatics. "I write for Running Times, which is for the fast and serious -- for the guys who don't believe [Jeff] Galloway and his theory that you should be able to walk-run a marathon and enjoy it," Toor says. Obsessive runners, she says, "think that people who walk during a marathon shouldn't be allowed to live.
"But how does this take away from you? There's room for both kinds of runners. There's a gazillion stories in every race. I like reading and writing about the elite runners, but theirs isn't the only story."
And she walk-runs her talk: As part of the Clif Bar Pacing Team for the past three years, she has traveled around the country to major marathons, then run while holding up a bunch of balloons and a sign that says something like "3:50" on it. She's not running to set any personal record. (She has the book for that.) Instead, she's sticking to a predetermined pace so that others can reach their goals.
Rachel Toor admits to being "an elitist" -- she went to Yale and worked for 12 years for the university presses at Oxford and Duke -- but when it comes to running, she says she's "a populist." Personal Record is her book for all the runners out there -- even (especially) for the slow ones.
Rachel Toor reads from Personal Record on Thursday, Oct. 2, at 7:30 pm at Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave. Call 838-0206. She will not appear in a track suit, but she will be wearing her watch.