The last book I’m able to fit in to review for Kaggsy’s and Lizzy’s ReadIndies challenge which has been extended till today: this is my seventh read for it, although the other one I’ve been working on, Richard King’s marvellous “Brittle With Relics”, published by Faber, won’t be reviewed in time. It’s also one more down on my TBR Challenge. This is published by the lovely indie publisher, Vertebrate Publishing, whose “Wild Winter” I’ve also read and reviewed. I bought it at the same time as I bought “Pandemic Solidarity” (another ReadIndies/TBR challenge read!) after having read about Damian in Adharanand Finn’s “The Rise of the Ultra Runners“ (unsurprisingly, I’ve read all the print and none of the ebooks I talked about in that haul post!).

Damian Hall – “In it For The Long Run: Breaking Records and Getting FKT”

(13 April 2021, bought from publisher)

When reading this book, you have to remember that when Hall says he’s a below-average or moderate runner, he’s comparing himself to the elite fell and off-road runners who form his tribe. So the “just 8-minute miles” and the “not particularly impressive marathon PB of 2:36” are in that context, where people run immense distances at frightening speeds. Having got the running bug in his 30s, Hall goes on to work really hard to make his way up the ultra-running ranks, meeting and being beaten by all the contemporary greats as he goes, then gradually chipping away. He then goes in for Fastest Known Times on routes and rounds where the thing is to do it yourself (with someone around to help you prove it, so the South-West Coast Path in days (rather than the months of “The Salt Path”) or the Pennine Way in a record time.

Looking at all this, the “Salt Path” way of doing things is more relatable for me. He’s a bloke and it’s a bloke-who-runs-fast book, but it is more than that. He’s pretty self-deprecating and clear-eyed about both his abilities and the effect his hobby has on his family and friendships. Even better, he really does talk a lot about the women in the ultra world, very much admiring them, noting that it’s the men who cry and have to be persuaded not to give up, etc. He treats them as people, though, not as goddesses of running on pedestals, detailing both men and women’s relationships with their support teams or as his support team really honestly. He has something to say, too, about the dangers of extreme weight reduction in the pursuit of excellence, slamming a coach who encourages him near to an eating disorder. This is not usually discussed in running books.

Then, one better, he has quite a lot of environmental things to talk about. He’s uncomfortable about the carbon footprint of the flights he takes to races so he turns down invitations and reduces his flights. He worries about the impacts of farming and goes plant-based, including sourcing fuel for ultras that are vegan and plastic free, and generously listing the companies he gets them from (he lists sponsors in the back and not all of the ones he talks about in the text are sponsors). He tells us about Extinction Rebellion and carries a flag his children have made for him. That’s all unusual and refreshing.

Back to the running bits, reading about the camaraderie and community is always lovely. At least twice, strangers run up to a random gate to leave a snack for him to find! He really celebrates his support crews when he has them and even shares his thank you email to them for his big attempt. And he introduces us to the concept of Type 3 Fun (Type 1 Fun is fun; Type 2 Fun is not fun at the time, but is afterwards …).

A good read, not relatable as such for a slow woman runner who did her one ultra then retired from that format, but an entertaining one with some stuff to think about.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Vertebrate Publishing, who say about themselves, “At Vertebrate Publishing we publish books to inspire adventure. It’s our rule that the only books we publish are those that we’d want to read or use ourselves. We endeavour to bring you beautiful books that stand the test of time and that you’ll be proud to have on your bookshelf for years to come.”

This was officially my seventh ReadIndies read.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 11/53 – 42 to go.