Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book Review: Against the Odds

As you know, I love triathlons and I love reading. So when John Pendergrass e-mailed me and asked if I'd be willing to review his book Against the Odds, of course I responded yes immediately. In the interest of being upfront, I did get a free copy of this book to review it, but the opinions expressed are mine. Do bloggers really have to say this legally or do we just like to feel important? Let's be honest, I could totally rip the book apart and the worst thing that would happen to me is he would take his book back… which I've already read. Though it is signed, and I love signed books. Also, disclaimer number 2- I am going to pretend we are friends and refer to John as John for the rest of this post. 


The premise of John's book is that he was a pretty average guy, who just decided one day to complete an Ironman Triathlon. Then another, and another, until he decided to do six in six different continents. The book took me a few chapters to get really engrossed in. I think this was because there was a lot of history and information about the Ironman at first. I think this was probably smart on John's part, given that he had already encountered so many people who did not know what a triathlon of any distance entailed. However, as a person who knows about triathlons, I wavered between interested in some of the historical facts and ready for him to just get to the part about him. 

The parts of the book I really loved were when John talks about his own experience, particularly his stories about trying to form a training plan, starting his training, and his actual first Ironman which he did in Brazil. My favorite stories included one about a bike ride where he actually ran into a bull that had escaped wherever it was bulls are supposed to be, and another about him being hugged and kissed by Kiwi girls on the running leg of the New Zealand Ironman. I also loved the Brazilian he befriended on his long flight and his wife's reactions to all of his training and race adventures, "I hope you got it out of your system!" What I love most about John throughout the book is that he is humbly aware that what he is doing is pretty awesome, but he is also constantly having humorous self deprecating thoughts. I can tell he is one of those people who in real life can deliver a hilarious comment with a completely straight face. 

The other aspect I loved about the book was that John did these Ironman triathlons in six different continents. He integrated travel and sightseeing with his races, and so at some parts I felt like I was reading a travel memoir. After his Ironman in Brazil, he visits Rio de Janeiro and befriends a man named Eduardo, who helps him sightsee, eat local food and practice his Portuguese. John makes sure to see the sheep in New Zealand. He even has some wonderful travel adventures with his wife and daughter in Switzerland, and his daughter in South Africa. His travel adventures in China, are so great they overshadow a disappointing race. Of John's travel adventures, the only two places I have been were Arizona and New Zealand, but everywhere he went is somewhere I would love to go someday, sans Ironman triathlon. 

As far as the actual Ironman itself- I mentioned that I have a good understanding (on paper- not from experience) of what goes into an Ironman. However, what I think amazed me throughout this book was just HOW MUCH happens in an Ironman before you even consider running the marathon. A normal marathon runner tries to get some sleep the night before, wakes up in the morning, eats breakfast, gets to the race etc. An Ironman, has already swam and biked and it's probably early evening and NOW they are starting a marathon. Just the idea makes me feel a little sick. I think John does a good job capturing this experience, particularly in Switzerland where he really struggled throughout the bike course. I was actually feeling pain for him during this section, until he told a hilarious story about being given nonalcoholic beer at the end of the course, and then I was back to giggling to myself. 

There was even more to the book than I've mentioned: John went through Hurricane Katrina (he lives in Mississippi), a bad bike accident, swimming with sharks in South African waters, and a swimming collision in Arizona. Overall, this was my kind of book: triathlons and traveling. Fun to read about, not something I ever plan to do. I have a major fear of traveling with my bike, which John's story of bringing his bike to Brazil did nothing to tame :) If you are interested in any of these subjects, or just enjoy reading about inspirational people who barely even know they are inspirational, you should definitely read this book. Also, you can support John by liking his Facebook page. 

Do you enjoy reading inspirational memoirs? Would you ever do an Ironman? 



  1. So happy to have discovered this book. It sounds like reading it would be great motivation to sign up for some races!

  2. I think bloggers use disclaimers to protect themselves as a 'just in case' and to be open/honest with their readers. I don't think they legally HAVE to do it, in most cases.

    This sounds like an awesome book! I would never do an ironman (though don't quote me on it) but really, that's just a lot. I watched a documentary on TV once and I was like omg I could never do this. Super impressed by people that do though! And I think completing an Olympic is a goal of mine. I'll definitely be reading this book though : )

  3. I'm 51, and have done Olympic Tri's and a Half Ironman, want to do an Ironman - Probably Houston 2015! Would love to read his book to inspire me, or maybe I shouldn't it could scare me off. I'm with you if I have to travel with the bike, it's out of the ????

  4. John is a humble legend around here. I really enjoyed his sense of humor in the book.

  5. Great review! This sounds like an interesting book. I like how it combines travel and stories about his ironman training/experiences! It sounds like something I would enjoy!!

  6. I can't handle inspirational stories for the most part unless the inspirational part is hidden in with a great tale. ;) I kind of get a too warm and fuzzy vibe about inspirational stuff. Which is hilarious because of our earlier twitter exchange, am I right? hahahah. I'm glad you liked the book!