Book review – Adharanand Finn – “The Way of the Runner” #amreading #books #running


I’m hopefully caught up with the other book blogs I read by the time this comes out – I’d got really behind through a combination of working, running and reading, and felt bad. I hope my readers have stuck with me during this blog-reading rut!

Anyway, I read Finn’s book about running with the Kenyans recently and was a little unimpressed with his attitude to club runners / amateur runners / slow runners. But one commenter who has read both reassured me that he loses that attitude in this one, and I’d arranged a swap with a friend so we could both read both, so I decided to just go for it.

Adharanand Finn – “The Way of the Runner”

(borrowed from Jenny)

A little after his Kenyan adventure, Finn, about to hit 40, looks at how statistically good the Japanese are at marathons and moves there for six months to study their training and competitions. As you do. In particular he looks at – and tries to get into the world of – the immensely popular sport of ekiden, a long-distance relay competition that puts a high value on teamwork as well as individual performance and thus in some ways sums up how Japanese society works.

Finn handily runs into some Kenyans who have been recruited into company ekiden teams – because that’s how it works: people are paid a salary by the big companies to run for them, sometimes not even having to do any other work for the company. Like in Kenya, more than a couple of people at a time can actually make a living from running, and this is contrasted with the situation in the UK, which is fair enough. Meeting the Kenyan runners allows Finn to contrast the training methods used in the two countries – in Kenya based on the individual and their own motivation and involving running on trails and resting a lot more; in Japan based on teams being berated by a coach and running high volumes on hard surfaces (although this is beginning to change). There’s a concentration on high school and university competitions which Finn feels works towards a high burnout rate among young athletes, and he wonders how well Japanese runners could do with more trails and rest. He manages to talk to an independent runner (a rare thing) who backs some of this up.

Another aspect looked at is the fabled 1000-marathon monks. Do they really run 1000 marathons in 1000 days? (erm, you can probably guess the answer) It’s an interesting contrast with the ekiden runners.

Although Finn manages to join an older people’s running club (and meets another where many of the runners are over 70 – good for them!), his main effort is put into trying to break into bits of a notoriously closed society – and usually failing. This does lead to some interesting philosophical musings about training if there’s no race to do.

And, as promised, while it dwells on the decline in British fast long-distance running over the past few decades, it is not nearly as disparaging about club and amateur runners, and more self-critical about his need for records and times. So, a good read.

Book review – Adharanand Finn – “Running with the Kenyans”


Look at this lovely set of almost completely random books I bought in Cornwall last October. A running book, a music bio, a school story and a Bloomsbury reprint. Anyway, today we have a running book that quite a lot of people I know have read and seemed keen on. I do like reading about other runners but I’m more used to them being a bit more understanding and supportive of other runners, something I loved about Jo Pavey‘s book, for example, where she shared how she loves taking part in mass participation races with all the club runners and other people who don’t run for a living, but for the love of it. This chap almost sees the point in a couple of places – maybe we are running for the joy of it, but is a bit more mean-spirited than I really like in my running books. Anyway, on with the review …

Adharanand Finn – “Running with the Kenyans”

(03 October 2016)

An interesting book in which the author ups sticks and moves himself and his wife and three children to Kenya in a last-ditch attempt to become a “proper” runner. His aim is to complete his first marathon in a few months’ time (a scary marathon where they have to clear lions off the course).

Training is very different there, with simple sessions involving effort but not as much constant recording of data on watches as you might think, but Finn is disappointed to see no evidence of the barefoot running he’s heard about and which the Kenyans are famous for (it turns out they build up stamina and toughness running to and from school etc. but are then put into trainers and taught how to negotiate races – I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler and I won’t reveal the secret of their success, which Finn is obviously also looking for).

Running in Kenya is a way of life, you do it because you’re good at it and you have a chance of doing well for yourself. The only recreational runners are more well-off people who run in the city. And this is where the author loses me a bit, because even though he experiences what it’s like to run at the back of the pack over there, I didn’t feel he needed to be quite so disparaging and plain nasty about people who don’t run professionally in first world countries. I do understand that he’s contrasting the all-or-nothing world of living eating carbs and running training, hoping to be spotted and to win prize money with the life of a person who runs as a hobby, but he’s really pretty sneery about club runners (let alone non-club ones), grey-haired men with bandy legs doing the cross-country for the fun of it and – shock, horror – those people who can “only” run 10-minute miles. He also claims there are only a few dedicated club runners who turn out for races in all sorts of weather conditions, etc. Although, as I said, I do understand the contrast he’s highlighting, as someone who puts quite a lot of effort and energy into encouraging people along their beginner runner journey to the proven physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise, and someone who has gained those herself and is proud of her 6 hour 1 minute marathon, I think he could have been a little kinder.

I did enjoy the stories of the Kenyan runners and getting behind the scenes info on some of the people we’ve seen excelling in marathons etc. on our screens, and the description of the marathon as well as the way his children integrate into the village is very nicely done. I will be reading the next book, set in Japan. but with slight reservations.

Has a book annoyed you recently?

Race report – Reykjavik Marathon 2016


I don’t do a report for every race, but this was my first marathon, so it seems relevant …

The training

I followed my own plan, doing a half marathon at least every month from September 2015 then building up my distances on my long runs each week, mile by mile. I was up to 16 miles on Easter Sunday when disaster struck and I fell over a dog, bruising and possibly cracking some ribs and getting a lot of scrapes and bruises. Six weeks off running, then 4 to 14 mile long runs in the next 6 weeks, followed by adding my yoga back in, and I was back on track. I added a bit to my long run every week, three weeks on, one week off, and did 2 hours of yoga per week. I had to train for endurance rather than speed, and would have added some track work, hill work and interval training had I not had the fall, but I did an 18 miler, two 20s and a 22.5 and felt ready.

The other important training was practising with the gear I was going to use – clothing, shoes, underwear, hair (I know, but a damp long ponytail end can give you a sore bit on your neck and anything else that can rub will), gels and food, drink, etc. I even set up a fuelling station in a bag in my recycling bin and went via the house at 13-16 miles to replicate that aspect.

This all paid off well.

The preparation

IMG_20160817_210431121Being a careful (or paranoid) person, I packed two lots of everything, wore my old trainers and made Matthew carry a pack of gels through security, too. But I did forget my water bottle! Fortunately, I had practised drinking Powerade out of their sports bottles, and was able to get that from the supermarket, so added my squash to that bottle for the first half of the race.

I also packed food for the night before – mixed beans, chopped tomatoes and a portion of brown pasta, plus Shreddies for the morning. I’d trained and raced with these foods, so went for it. My packing pile was a bit unusual, though …

The expo

I wasn’t nervous travelling and flying for once, which must have been because I was quite nervous about the event by this time. I’d had a long “taper”, which is where you conserve energy while keeping your legs ticking over, so as to reach a peak for the race, but a slightly misguided weekend in Cornwall followed by a frantic work week did for me a little.

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The Expo, where we picked up our numbers, was in a sports hall in Laugardalar. I’d never been to an expo before, and this was quite unnerving. I felt very small and old as seemed to be queuing up with a million tall young American boys.

IMG_20160819_155248128_HDRBut there it was done, number picked up, scanned for no apparent reason, Tshirt collected, exhibition looked round and done. Oh, I almost forgot to give in my pack of gels and food and drink which they were to give me at 21k. Oops. (Hollow laugh, see below). I checked with the info lady – yes, that would be there however long it took me to get round. Can you see where this is going?

We met up with the lovely Sushma from my running club and said hello – she was over for the half marathon with her whole family. Matthew then decided he needed to find the half-way point where he’d be waiting with my alternative fuelling pack. So he went off to do that and I settled down to some final training, drinking a choc milk and reading a running book.

IMG_20160819_163223232_HDRI actually ended up walking down this path to find Matthew as he’d discovered a nice shopping centre with a cafe. Very Icelandic it was, too, no menus in English, and Tonight With Jimmy Fallon on the telly with Icelandic subtitles – very good for my language learning! It was nice but scary walking down here, as I knew it was on the race route! Here’s the view, on a greyer, cooler day than it turned out to be on the day.

IMG_20160820_202651128We went back to the guesthouse we were staying in, on the bus, and I reaheated the meal I’d made for myself at lunchtime, and ate that fairly grimly, getting a bit nervous now but also excited. I accused a German couple of doing the marathon when I found them in the kitchen making pasta later – no, just Germans making pasta!

I settled down for an earlyish night – here are my essential pre-marathon supplies!

On the day

I got up at just before 6 and had a bowl of Shreddies and oats from the supplies brought with me. I was jittery but OK. Got dressed in all my kit and was ready to walk the 5 minutes to the start at just after 8am – the start was at 8.40. I got really emotional seeing all the people all ready and excited! Here’s a general view of the start, me indicating that I am a member of a running club, and my Before photo:

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I actually burst into tears at one point, but managed to say goodbye to Matthew, pull myself together, find the loos and get into my Purple Pen for the Slow, noting that “Slow” meant over 2:05 half-marathon so I’d have to be careful not to go out with them! I met a lady from nearby Telford Harriers and a lady from Essex doing her first half, and also ran into two American girls I’d met at the expo, one of whom had had her shoes stolen and was frantically looking for some to borrow! Oh no!

Lots of announcements in Icelandic and English (“a gun will be used to start the race” and it was) and we were off!

IMG_20160823_174246954_HDRWe started in central Reykjavik and ran across the lake and through a residential district where lots of people were out banging pots and pans and shouting encouragement. I yelled Goðan daginn to lots of them and got smiles, waves and laughs back. I also managed to have a conversation in Icelandic with two Icelandic runners, so that was one aim achieved right there! I also accidentally spoke wholly in Icelandic at a water station. There were quite a few half-marathoners with me, lots of nice Canadians. Water stations with water and powerade came quickly, and we were soon (dodging the traffic!) on the south coast of the peninsula, heading round there for the first time (so there was overlap but no laps as such). Memorable music from this part – “Love Will Tear us Apart” played by a live band, as well as the usual “Uptown Funk”. Hm. Not the first time I heard it, either. We took the shorter route across Seltjarnarnes this time, and the excitement and crowds started to diminish. Running up the north side of the city, along the coast, the views were AMAZING and made me well up – the view of all the mountains across the bay was exactly what I’d been looking forward to through all that training.

But. It was hot. Very hot. Reports say 16 – no way. I got sunburned and I never get sunburned. I realised it wasn’t going to be wonderful and I was going to have to look after myself.

As we approached the out and back you can see looping across the top, I got chatting to a lovely chap called Hardeep from Walsall, running in memory of his grandparents and for Stroke Association. We kept together for much of it, drawing apart then catching up, as happens. I also chatted on the way out with a lovely lady from a running club called Femirun in Norway. As I went, I told people about Lisa Jackson’s marvellous book and Ben the 401 marathons man (I was wearing a branded headscarf and Matthew had on the wristband I was given when I ran with Ben back in December). Going out, I spotted Sushma running back and we managed to shout to each other – hooray!

14054752_10154926782932119_647416405_nAfter the out and back was a nasty bit of hot road with no one else around me and I had a little “moment” here (OK, a cry). But I pushed on. That, at about mile 11 was the worst bit, I think. I had a little walk and told myself it was OK to walk-run from now on. So I did. Ran through Laugardalar and saw Matthew! Oh, the joy! See how much botter it was than in that photo from the previous day. This chap, from Hong Kong, there with his sister, was last finisher.

I then pushed on round the wiggly bit into the park you can see on the map. On my own but trotting along, found the 20k water station and had a banana segment, but where was my fuelling pack? They’re not here, they must be at the next one. OK. Round the wiggly bit and there’s Matthew, my hero, with my spare fuelling pack. No sign of any others so I took that, stopped for a chat and a hug, worried him by being quite warm, and pushed on. That was 14 miles and 3 hours in, so I had 3 hours to do 12 miles and not hit the cut-off time. Eeps!

I carried on through the parks – the next bit was where parkrun was run a few times and I remembered my friend Dave’s tales of getting lost there. I remembered his race position a bit wrong and it encouraged me to start picking off people. I was chasing a lady in pink for ages, then caught her, and that was the lovely Bente, from Norway again, who I ran with from about 16 miles to 24. She was brilliant, with her daughter on a bike riding up and down, and she was about my pace and level of exhaustion, so we encouraged each other along, round the big loop to the south, which ended up on the geothermal beach area – I knew this from a long walk with Matthew last time.

14088946_10154926774452119_1913275723_nBente and I picked off people as we ran, encouraging them to run with us and chatting about all sorts. We did the big loop round the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula – here’s me the next day in PERFECT running weather modelling an attractive green road arrow.

Matthew had manfully marched back across Reykjavik by now and was in Harpa, the opera house, sheltering from the sun and watching the tracking. We’d found there were timing mats every 10ish km and they updated to a page that recorded split times. All well and good, and he found there was a 37.2k one, i.e. 5k from the end (it was weird but nice having km markers, they come along a lot sooner than mile ones!).

By this time, Bente and I had tracked down “naked man” – a very nice Romanian chap called Adrian who was a little undertrained and deeply uncomfortable in the Tshirt from the Expo, so had taken it off – and Dave From Alaska, who was running this a second time. They were both run-walking too and we pulled them along with us so we were all together. But Bente wanted to hit that cut-off and could do it, whereas I knew I couldn’t (see below for Learning Point on this) and so she went on ahead.

14081471_10154926780842119_792852074_nThis pesky 37.2k mat then didn’t update online for 20 minutes! Matthew was doing his nut, knowing I’d finish if I’d done 32k and wondering where I had gone. Sushma was also tracking me, again with no luck. Here’s where it was, picture from the next day.

I was pleased to find that, although I was going slowly and was hot and tired, I didn’t hit the “wall” at all, keeping nicely fuelled, and I didn’t find the bit after 22.5 noticeably worse, so that shows I got my fuelling and training quite well arranged and was an achievement. Dave and I let Adrian go and he caught up with Bente. We plodded on, where’s Reykjavik, where, THERE it is, there’s the harbour. Here’s Icelandic Fish + Chips! Where are we going? What’s that truck doing? OK … one last walk for me and a run for Dave with a promise to photograph him at the end. And then I ran, not as emotional as I thought I’d be.

I ran up the finish straight, all alone! I could hear shouting from lots of people at a crossing all cheering me. I saw Matthew! I could hear Sushma, who had leapt the railings and got near the finish. Here I came …

14089351_981598105296749_1344752961_n (1)I crossed the finish with head held high – gun time of 6:04:54, chip time (start line to finish line) of 6:01:13 and time spent in motion around 5:53:00. I managed not to look at my watch as I crossed (for the photos) and had a hug from Sushma, babbling “Do I still get a medal?” which I did, then went up the funnel, found Dave From Alaska and was given my medal by a volunteer. I then found the promised pretzels, which I’d been excited about then forgot – v salty, no thanks!

Sushma took some After photos – behind me is Bente, who did make it in the cut-off time, hooray! She was absolutely fine, as we chatted to her after I’d gone up to the guesthouse, realised I hadn’t given in my timing chip off my shoe and come down again!

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So all was done, all was fairly good. I have to say I was NOT disappointed by my effort and achievement, but I was a b it disappointed that the weather was so different from what I’d expected, really like a June day here rather than the Octobery one I was expecting.

Learning points

I can do a marathon. Wow. And I didn’t really have any trouble with it apart from a few tears at desolate places. I was OK being on my own, but happy reacting to crowds. The big one for me was this, though: I cannot push myself. I have such a strong risk-avoidant personality and self-preservation strategy that if it comes to pushing it such that I might have to lie down afterwards or slightly hurt myself, I can’t make myself do it. I kind of knew this from parkrun and various races, and it does mean I don’t get hurt (I have been fine after the event), but it means I’ll never be much of a competitor. But I’m tough and determined and I’ve done a marathon.


I didn’t ask for sponsorship before the run as I didn’t want the extra pressure.

I’ve since donated to four charities that mean a lot to me in celebration of completing the marathon – if you would have sponsored me if I’d asked for sponsorship, please do pop to one of them to make a donation (and mention it’s for this reason if you feel like doing that). The 401 Challenge,LUCIA (Life Uplifted by Change in Africa), Anawim and Gilgal Birmingham – links below if you’d like to donate.

The 401 Challenge is a guy running 401 marathons for Kidscape and Stonewall…/showFundraiserPage.action…

LUCIA (Life Uplifted by Change in Africa) supports women and girls in Ethiopia (use the Donate Now button on this page). I’ve fun for LUCIA for years and years now!

Anawim – Women Working Together supports women and children in the West Midlands, especially women vulnerable to prostitution

Gilgal Birmingham is a refuge for women experiencing domestic violence (donate under the fundraising tab)


To the Kings Heath Running Club, Cannon Hill parkrun folks and all the rest of the running community who have supported, advised and encouraged me, Dave and Claire from yoga, 401 Marathons Ben for inspiration and author Lisa Jackson for last minute pep talks (emails). To Sushma and family for their support on the day – amazing. And to the wonderful Matthew for putting up with all the training, 3am breakfasts, moans, dirty running kit and stress on the day.


The hardest run


DSC_8400Running’s an odd thing. It’s at once intensely personal (even the most hardened club runner loves those solitary long runs) and intensely communal (the only sport in which complete beginners can run in the same race as elites – I’ve run in the footsteps of Haile Gebreselassie). Unless you’re at the top of your game, you compete against yourself – you celebrate a Personal Best not how many people you beat.

Running is also a community. I have gained great support from other runners, when learning to run, training, injured, running in races … When tragedy and horror struck the Boston Marathon yesterday, yes, I couldn’t help but be more shaken, overwhelmed and upset than I am by other acts of atrocity, other senseless violence across the globe. Because this was runners; worse, for me, this was runners at the back of the pack, my runners. So, sorry – I hate all acts of violence. I condemn all bombs and other devices. I would be horrified, personally, whatever country this was in.

I sought out other runners in the online community. Walkjogrun, an organisation I’ve known, followed and used to track my runs for years said on their Facebook and Twitter feeds “Today our love, our passion, our therapy was brutally attacked. Tomorrow, every runner should unite and run to show them they didn’t win”. Many people said they’d do it. Some people said there was a movement to run in a race shirt – any race shirt, if you had one. I thought this was a wonderful idea, and I did it. Even though I’m not doing a lot of running these days, even though I’m slow, even though some people would call it jogging, I identify as a runner, and I think I always will.

Today was the hardest run of my life. Harder than my five half-marathons. Harder than that day when I tore my calf muscle and nearly fainted on the pavement. It turns out to be difficult to run when you’re blinded by tears and choked by sobs. Yes, clichés: turns out they’re true.

I wore my hitherto unworn, unlaundered, keeping-it-as-a-mint-souvenir T-shirt from the first Birmingham Half Marathon. It has snot and tears on it now. I ran a beautiful route through my two favourite running parks and round my neighbourhood. I spoke to one other runner. A postman in a van and two cyclists gave me thumbs up.  A couple of cars bibbed their horns. Some walkers looked me in the eye and smiled. Two dog walkers stood aside respectfully as I wept in Highbury Park. I didn’t do it for that, obviously. I was pleased to be alone in the beautiful spring parks. I did it to honour the fallen, to honour those who might never run again, to honour the families and friends who support the community of runners. I did it to stand side by side with runners around the world. I feel I did something by doing that, something for myself, something for other runners, something to show those who visit atrocities upon the innocent that the running community will keep running, will keep strong.

There’s been so much opprobrium and criticism when I and others have expressed opinions in public recently, so I’m going to say this at the risk of looking defensive: I don’t want to make this political. It doesn’t much matter to me who did this. Yes, I care about other atrocities around the world, as I mention above. I also wrote this as a private meditation. It’s on my blog because I wanted to put it on record. This one’s not about the reader statistics.