Book review – 401: The extraordinary story of the man who ran 401 marathons in 401 days and changed his life forever

My running is more ‘pause’ than running at the moment – having my wisdom tooth out has temporarily sidelined me, just as I was getting back up to speed after my sprained ankle. However it has given me to time to read about running and I stumbled upon ‘401, The extraordinary story of the man who ran 401 marathons in 401 days and changed his life forever’. The title initially caught my eye for 2 reasons – 1) running 401 marathons sounds kind of crazy (but my kind of crazy!) and 2) I can definitely relate to marathon running changing your life. If running one changed mine, I was curious to know how it felt to run a further 400.

The man in question is Ben Smith who decided to tackle the issue of bullying by running a really long way and raising funds for 2 charities, Stonewall and Kidscape. This book takes you through not only the challenge itself but also weaves in his story which led him to do such a thing in the first place. Ben suffered terrible bullying throughout school, affecting him in a myriad of ways and it was this that ultimately led to him wanting to take action.

It’s a very easy read and Ben is a easily relatable person, whether you’re a runner or not. In fact, one of the things I really liked about this book was hearing about some of the people who ran with him throughout the challenge, many of whom had never run such distances before. As is so often the case, this story is one not just of changing his own life but inspiring others to do the same. I think the glow and positivity you get from running is not only addictive for those of us who do the running, it’s also very tempting for those who see it and wonder whether they can have some of that too. (Short answer – yes, you can.)

Another interesting feature of this book which worked quite well are the way it’s not all told by Ben – various other key players add their own anecdotes throughout, giving a different perspective and a sense of how much support is needed for such a large undertaking.

If you’re after a book about technique and tips on running form, this is not it. Much of the running talk is background to the other stories woven in and that is actually one of the strengths of this book – it’s a geniune reflection from a geniune person that will resonate whether your favoured distance is 5km or an ultra.

Pushing the limits – a book review

As a kid, I wasn’t one to have sporting heroes. Honestly, I just didn’t like sport. I played hockey (sporadically and badly) but avoided every other form of exercise and, by default, also avoided sporty types of people. Some of my friends liked footballers but I was much more likely to have pictures of singers and bands on my walls.

As an adult, especially since taking up running, I do have a couple of sporting role models who I admire. Their spirit and tenacity is part of what I draw on when long runs get tough. One very significant one is Kurt Fearnley.

For the few of you who may not have heard of him, Kurt Fearnley is a Paralympic gold medallist, multiple marathon winner and all round good guy. And what better way to become acquainted with him and his story than read his autobiography – ‘Pushing the limits’.

This book takes you on the journey from his birth and through his idyllic childhood, growing up in a supportive family and wider community in country NSW. The long and winding journey from Carcoar to the start line of the New York marathon and an Olympic podium is littered with amusing stories, significant challenges and setbacks and many laughs, all told in a very down to earth manner. Throughout the book, I kept thinking what an incredible ambassador Kurt is for Australia in all he does – setting incredibly high standards for himself and relentlessly pursuing his goals but, at the same time, demonstrating outstanding sportsmanship and compassion for others along the way. Qualities we could all do to cultivate.

More importantly, the message that Kurt leaves us with is a crucially important one – to not allow preconceived notions limit the life chances and choices of people with a disability. To believe that equally high expectations of life are just as important for people with a disability as for those without and to make sure our actions support that belief. The story about his treatment at the hands of a major Australian airline was an eye opener for me and made me angry at the lack of consideration given. As well as enjoying immensely hearing about his story, I valued the opportunity this book gave me to open my mind up to new ideas and perspectives I haven’t experienced and expose some of the challenges the world puts up for people with a disability. An inspiring read in many ways.

Everything to live for by Turia Pitt- book review

As you may have read in my last blog post, I’m injured. For the record, that actually got worse today as I, without thinking, went to run up some steps to catch a train. The fact I actually heard something tear in my leg might tell you that it wasn’t a good outcome. I stood shocked for a little while before gathering myself enough to hobble to the train. Bleurgh. I’d already planned to take a couple of weeks off, now I’m doing at least that on doctor’s orders.

The ‘wallowing in self pity’ thing was threatening to take over as it had already been brewing since Saturday. So I searched for a remedy – one that would help me balance and remember that this really is just a little injury and not the end of the world. Hence why I found myself re-reading ‘Everything to live for‘ by Turia Pitt.

For those not familiar with her story, Turia (along with several other runners) were injured during an Ultramarathon in the Kimberley in Western Australia in 2011. ‘Injured’ really is a completely inadequate word – Turia received burns to 65% of her body, resulting in four fingers and a thumb requiring amputation, extensive skin grafts and ongoing operations.

The book opens with an introduction to Turia’s life and leads you up to the event. The account of the event itself is nothing short of horrific. It’s the second time I’ve read this book and I still cried – that they lived through what they did is simply incredible. The remainder of the book is dedicated to her long and painful road to recovery, surrounded and supported by her wonderful family and friends. I found myself willing her on, joining in as her personal cheer squad. For someone to have been through so much but to continue to aim high and push towards her goals is beyond inspiring.

If there is one book capable of making you grateful for what you have and aware of how cruel, painful and torturous life can be, this is it. What stands out above all of that is Turia’s spirit – never broken. She is one of my heroes – someone whose tenacity, perseverance and sense of gratitude I have often drawn on during long runs. Now I’m drawing on it when I can’t run. What Turia has been through is unimaginable and yet she’s come out the other side and conquered things I only dream of. She’s an ironwoman! In comparison, my ickle calf tear really is just a blip and not worthy of the theatrics I wanted to give. So, yet again, I’m in her debt for providing me with a sense of perspective.

If you haven’t read this book, you must. Probably with a box of tissues. Just don’t expect to come out of it the same as you went in. (And I’m really, really looking forward to her next book.)

Book review – Run like crazy by Tristan Miller

I’ve become a bit addicted to running books which shouldn’t really come as a surprise considering my general running addiction. So, when I stumbled upon a book that joined my love of travel with my love of running, I had to read it.

‘Run like crazy’ is Tristan Miller‘s story of running 52 marathons in 52 weeks, all while travelling the world and maintaining an absolutely insane schedule of flights, bus journeys and runs. The first few chapters had me hooked as I visualised how much fun it would be to spend a year travelling and running, running and travelling. The destinations on offer were varied and spectacular – the big marathons of London, Athens, New York, Chicago and Berlin along with quirky destinations like Iceland, Antarctica and Easter Island.

However, about halfway through the book, I did find myself getting a little weary although that could have been Tristan’s own weariness rubbing off. Running that many marathons (and all the travelling it entailed) was bound to take its toll and, while his body held up, his spirit seemed to flag at various times. It made me remember how training for the half marathon had taken away something of my joy for running as I had to follow plans, aim for a goal and worry about whether I’d complete it. My first run post-half marathon was amazing – free from stress and timetables. The marathons in the latter half of the book felt a bit like they were being ticked off the list and I felt a bit sorry for him. Well, as sorry as I could feel for anyone who was travelling the world and indulging in their running passion!

Overall it’s a worth a read (especially for planning your own running wish list!) but probably not a reread.

born to run

I recently blogged about my running wishlist and was very lucky to get some of these for Christmas, including the book ‘Born to run‘ from my lovely friend.

Having just finished reading it, I’m finding it hard to put into words how I feel about it and how amazing a book it is. However, for the benefit of any of you who haven’t read it yet, I’ll try.

McDougall writes about his own experiences with running and injury – an all too familiar tale which I instantly identified with, as I’m sure every runner will. His quest to find the answer to the question ‘Why does my foot hurt?’ leads to an incredible tale about the Tarahumara people of Mexico. These incredible (but very real) people are perfectly evolved running machines, capable of running for days across all terrain and without the benefit of version whatever of your favourite running shoe.

McDougall’s writing style is concise yet descriptive enough for me to picture myself right there, with incredible ultra-runners from different worlds. Interwoven within the story is a plethora of scientific fact, both about the running in general and about human evolution.

In short, it’s an absolutely fascinating book (which I finished in 3 days but that’s because I was stretching it out, not wanting it to end) which has got fired me back up to run in a way nothing else has been able to. If you haven’t already read it, you must.

Of course, I’m now in a quandry. To try barefoot or persist with modern shoe technology which, so far, has done nothing to reduce my risk of injury. I’m definitely thinking of going for a more minimalist shoe and doing some more research about re-training myself in terms of running technique. And, if nothing else, this book has sold me on getting out to do trail running, away from concrete and tarmac.

What are your favourite trails? Are you a barefoot running convert or have an recommendations for minimalist footwear?

runner’s gift list (aka what I want for christmas)

I’ve been inspired to join the Tuesdays on the run link up, hosted by Patty from My No-Guilt Life, Erika from MCM Mama Runs and April from Run the Great Wide Somewhere. The topic this week is ‘Runner’s gift list’. And what a marvellous chance to put out there in the universe what I’d really like for Christmas. I hope Santa is reading….

A subscription to Runner’s World magazine
I’ve had the trial issues sent to me recently and absolutely loved them, devouring every printed centimetre and re-reading frequently. Definitely at the top of my list.

A sub-30 minute 5km time
I had to put this down as it’s definitely in the top things I’d like, although I’m fairly sure even Santa would be struggling to get me there. I’ve definitely seen improvement this year but this one is still tantalisingly out of reach. For now.

A Garmin vivo-fit
This is clearly an excessive thing to add to the list but it wouldn’t be much of a ‘wishlist’ without big wishes. I already have a Garmin watch which I love and think this would be a hugely fun and motivating way to work towards my fitness goals.

A water bottle
Ok, this one is a little ‘out there’ as well. This isn’t something I intend to take running with me – I have a tendency to not drink enough during the day and need something inviting to drink from to give me an incentive. I currently have a dodgy bright orange plastic bottle on my desk at school which I don’t love and tend to fill and ignore. This one looks much more appealing.

Additions to my running book library
I think this deserves a blog post of it’s own. I’ve bought a few fabulous running books to inspire me through my injury woes but there are so many more on my list:

Brooks shoes
I’m an absolute sucker for Brooks shoes. Maybe it’s because they were my first pair of ‘serious’ shoes. And they felt sooooo good every time I put them on. Either way, I always try on others but end up with Brooks again. I’m running in Trance 12s at the moment and would really love to try the Transcend. Shall definitely be saving up my pennies in the New Year 🙂

A massage stick
Yep, I get that this one’s a bit weird but I keep hearing how good they are. And I do love my foam roller, especially on my pesky calves that are always tight. This one looks good 🙂

So there’s my wishlist (the short version!). Perhaps there is something on there to inspire other runners in your life this Christmas?