Book Review: Got to Live by Jay Danek

You don't have to be a runner to find ultrarunner Jay Danek's newly published Got to Live completely engrossing -- because his story is, quite frankly, only partly about running and mostly about life. Got to Live: 923 Days to Remember centers on Jay's grieving process after the sudden death of his 58-year-old father. As Jay relates his gradual journey of healing, he flashes back and recounts his most prominent life experiences and the impact his father had on those situations. This is the story about what lead Jay where he is today, a top-ranked ultrarunner. That impetus was his father.

Jay was not a runner before his father died in 2008. At about 275 pounds, he really didn't lead much of an active lifestyle at all at that point in his life. It was the (maybe not so) subtle push from his wife that put him on a journey toward fitness and well being after an extended period of depression after his father's death. For his birthday she bought him a gift certificate for a fitness boot camp that he labored through and felt totally inferior at. As Jay tells us, he couldn't even run across a soccer field then. But he begrudgingly finished boot camp and then signed up for the next session. And in those weeks, he realized he needed to make bigger changes in his life. That decision lead him to the McDowell Mountains, where over time he progressed from walking and hiking to running -- and where he found solitude to deal with the mental weight of the pain he still felt after losing his dad. He then decided to run 923 days in a row, at least four miles a day, to honor his father who died on 9-23-2008.

This book goes on to chronicle those 923 days and how Jay lost over 100 pounds and ran over 9,400 miles, including 21 ultramarathons, three of which were 100-mile races. This is nothing short of an incredible journey and an incredible story. In the many tales that Jay interweaves in this running story, he maintains a voice of humility and vulnerability. He admits his shortfalls both as an athlete and as a man.

Jay writes, "Low moments will happen to every athlete but it is how you overcome the low moments that really count. I would suffer and there were several nights during this training cycle that I wanted to quit and walk away but my dad never would have quit and all I could picture was that incredible smile he would have when I was handed my first hundred-mile buckle" (91).

On a very personal level, Jay talks about a few ghosts in his closet, incidents that happened many years ago that somehow made their way to the surface of his present and kept him a bit from his future. You know, those regrets we sometimes have that make us think we have to still pay for those decisions today. Jay notes, "Sometimes failure is the best way to motivate a person..." (200).

Essentially, Got to Live reminds us that we all fail at times, that we all make mistakes, and that we all wonder whether we will regret certain choices we made or feel that we missed certain opportunities because of our choices. But, more importantly in this life story, Jay shows us that there are more choices, plenty, plenty more opportunities, and that each day really is a new beginning.

You can find Jay's book on and follow his adventures through his website: McDowell Mountain Man.


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