Read That Run

It’s Saturday, it’s a cold, crisp, dry winter’s day; perfect conditions for a long trail run but instead I am lying in bed with a chronic dose of ManFlu. For those of you not familiar with this term I’ve asked my wife for a definition:

“Oh he’s fine, really, ignore him. He has a head cold that’s all, a bit of a sniffle, not even sure he even has a sore throat. A lot of fuss and drama. Suck it up and stop being such a big baby!”

So there you have it, I really am quite ill, practically at death’s door in fact. Certainly no running for me today, I am barely able to get out of bed. Which is all rather frustrating to be honest; 11 weeks tomorrow I will be running the Virgin London Marathon and preparation for this should be well under way by now. Doubly frustrating as this week I received my personalised training plan prepared by Full Potential. The plan is a fresh approach for me based around time duration of training runs rather than distance and ‘threshold’ sessions. It is a far more comprehensive plan than any I have followed before and best of all the coaches at Full Potential, who prepared the plan for me are on hand throughout if I need advice, and they can even modify the plan if I am struggling or pick up an injury. I was really excited to get stuck into the first sessions this weekend but I’ve been scuppered by this malady. I have been rendered bedridden so rather than getting outside into the fresh air I have to console myself with flicking through my stack of running magazines and reading kit reviews online, or “looking at shoe-porn” as Mrs M puts it!

So a day lazing about, catching up on my reading and never ending kit research. Things could be worse, ManFlu is not an injury, I will be out and running again in a day or so, an injury could keep me on the bench for much longer.

I enjoy reading about running, and monthly mags are all well and good, but you can’t beat a good running book. So while I’m lying here I thought I might jot down a few of my favourite running reads, not reviews exactly, just books I’ve enjoyed and recommend you take a look at.

‘Born To Run’ by Christopher McDougall

Should be sub-headed ‘A Brief History of Running’, this book begins with a question when the author asks “Why does my foot hurt?” Trying to find the answer leads him on rip roaring adventures and an exploration of running history from Adam’s early jogs through Eden to the present day. Along the way we meet a fascinating array of experts, heroes and colourful characters. This book is renowned for its investigation and endorsement of barefoot running, and while this is certainly a focus and a subject that Christopher forensically unpacks, he also imparts a mass of knowledge and information about the evolution of our sport as well as the human race! Not to mention research into nutrition and health.
If you call yourself a runner and haven’t read this book I would be surprised, and would probably say “shame on you!”

‘Eat and Run’ by Scott Jurek

Essentially an autobiography, Scott’s honest narrative charts the story of how a small town American boy becomes one the world’s most extraordinary ultra runners. A riveting story in itself and one sensitively recounted with heart and soul. But what gives this story an extra dimension is Scott’s decision to become a vegan and so answer the question whether it is possible to sustainably remain a world class endurance athlete while pursuing a wholly plant based diet? I think we all know the answer to that by now, well in Scott’s case certainly. Throughout the book Scott takes time to explain his diet from both a nutritional fact basis and his clear passion for food. Chapters begin with recipes and food punctuates the story and life he recounts. I’ve tried some of the recipes, they are amazing.

As well as nosh there are great descriptions of some heroic running achievements too, told from the perspective of the front runner – a viewpoint we mere mortals never experience.

He’s a complex soul is Scott Jurek, clearly a thoughtful, spiritual guy who is at the same time fiercely competitive. I can’t help but think though that the real competition will always be with himself.

Part sporting anthology, part gastronomic lexicon you gain rare insights into the life and mind of an incredible athlete and a nourishing post run dinner into the bargain!

‘The Long Run’ by Mishka Shubaly

Mishka is not a world class athlete, hasn’t won any ultras or broken any records. A recovering alcoholic and habitual drug user, he tells the story of how running played a key role in his recovery and of his transformation from addict to ultra runner. This book is short, pacey but no less compelling than any of the champion runner stories. Mishka’s recount is as candid as his journey is hardcore and it is the honesty in his storytelling that helps you empathise with experiences we might normally struggle to relate with.

It’s well documented that ultra marathon running seems a draw for recovering addicts and I wonder there’s a belief that endurance running is simply some form of substance replacement. Timothy Olsen, one of the elite, is open about his own past and through Mishka’s story we begin to understand how there is a transitional process perhaps that runs so much deeper than simply replacement.

Mishka is funny and endearing, a guy you’d want to run the trails with and then hang out after.

‘Running on Empty’ by Marshall Ulrich

Marshall ran from San Fransisco to New York, he ran 3,063 miles in 52 days, he was 57. If that isn’t enough to send you clicking madly to Amazon I don’t know what is! Well that synopsis is just the tip of the iceberg and this story is actually about much more than just a very long run.

Marshall’s story tracks an intensely personal journey while at the same time examines that of the country he is traveling through, his own country, the USA. In the process he explores both his own demons and those of a stressed nation on the verge of economic meltdown, it is autumn 2008 when he takes on this epic venture giving an intense context and backdrop. Marshall’s endeavour is like an incision across America, it physically bisects the U.S. allowing Marshall to get under its skin and examine what lies beneath the surface. Seeing his country from one end to the other at running pace gives him time to breath in and take a long look around, while giving us a unique perspective on US history and present day.

Meanwhile, there is still the matter of an unfeasibly long run and this book documents his monumental challenge practically step by step with all it’s joys and struggles. Marshall runs 20 hours a day, seven days a week with the impact on his body every bit as extreme as you’d expect, not to mention the emotional impact.

One of the most accomplished endurance athletes on the planet, Marshall has many tales to tell and much wisdom to impart – and in his book he is generous with both.

‘Running Like A Girl’ by Alexandra Heminsley

Alexandra’s account from her first huffing puffing red faced jog, to completing her first marathon is a tale us ‘normals’ can really relate to. In reading Hemmo’s escapades I felt she would empathise as much with my running exploits as I might with hers. Hemmo is honest, very self effacing and very funny. Oh and unlucky too as it turns out – my word how much bad luck can the running gods heap onto one girl during her races??!

Being that I am not a girl though, I must confess there are a few sections in this book I struggled to get with; e.g. the best style of pony tail for running, make up that’s sweat proof, running bras… But Hemmo doesn’t dwell on these and for the most part she speaks to all of us.

I do have a soft spot for this one. My wife handed me this book to read about the same time I was just getting back into running and I found it inspired me to really get going, almost like having a remote running buddy to encourage and compare notes with. As heartfelt as all the other books mentioned here and as I said; very very funny. So thanks Hemmo, you helped motivate me two years ago and I will certainly keep your advice in mind when I attempt my first London Marathon in 11 weeks time.

A common thread that weaves through all of these books is that of soul searching, on one level or other. In the extreme these authors seek redemption, even atonement through running. But all the writers consider in depth that primal urge that drives us forward, the urge that makes us run and keep running even when every fibre in our bodies and every neuron in our brains are screaming for us to to stop. And they all to some extent address the same question; when we run – are we running away from or running toward something?

So next time you are laid up with illness or injury and can’t run… Don’t fret, accept what your body is telling you, curl up with one of these books and get your running fix off the page instead.