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

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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”

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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?

Book review – Arnaldur Indridason – “Outrage” #books #amreading

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TBR shelf March 2017So here I am, persisting with just about the only crime series I’ll read. I started them because they’re set in Reykjavik and not too gruesome, but they are good in their own right, too. Before we start, did you see my COMPETITION to win a copy of Laura Bates’ “Girl Up”? It’s a proper giveaway just by me, not a funny thing to (not) click through to, so give it a go if you’re in or related to the target audience. Oh, and some Book Confessions below …

Arnaldur Indriðason – “Outrage”

(August 2015 or thereabouts)

I’m slowly working my way through my pile of Reykjavik Murder Mysteries, and I have to say that this was a real return to form after I didn’t think so much of “Hypothermia” back in December.

This one is centred around Detective Elinborg, so we learn more about her home and family life as she investigates the grisly murder of a possible rapist. Things are never easy in detectives’ lives, are they – even I know that – but it’s well done and sets her work against a happy marriage but difficulties with two of her children, one of whom has taken to blogging about them all.

I really liked the way that Elinborg’s love of cooking (before this one, I think about the only personal detail we knew about her was that she’d published a cookery book) was brought in to help her to solve the mystery, as her sense of smell and knowledge of the cooking supplies shops locally help her to unravel clues. I also enjoyed the Reykjavik location, mainly set in the network of streets between the lake and the church, but also featuring a visit to a small town and a look at what it’s like to live in a more isolated area.

Sigurdur Oli is a minor character in this one, messing things up for Elinborg, in fact, and Erlendur, the central character in the previous novels is off looking into his past, only being mentioned in passing. There’s a mystery there for the next book. A good read.


Some confessions now. But the first ones since my lovely glut of review copies …

In fact, I’ve already read and reviewed “Girl Up” of course, as I wanted to get it read and out there. The Debbie Macombers are all set in, you’ve guessed it, Alaska, and are only just out. I’m saving these up for when I need some comfort reads, but I’ve checked and it is a new series – she’s quite good at publishing books under different titles in the US and UK, or republishing old ones, both of which are OK of course, but you do have to check.

Phil Hewitt’s “Keep on Running”, which is about his multiple marathons as a “normal” runner (rather than an elite), was recommended to me by the lovely Cari, a friend originally from BookCrossing, but now also on Facebook. She and I used to join each other’s bookrings like mad, liking the same reading. I recently noted she’d started running (hooray!) and now we can recommend running books to each other, too!

Have you got any authors you stockpile for gloomy, sad or unwell days?

Book reviews – Being Freddie and Your Pace or Mine? #books #20BooksOfSummer

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Aug 2016 TBR

Two sporty books today, one from the TBR and a #20BooksOfSummer read, the other an impulse buy after a recommendation from a running club friend, which I have since recommended on to many others. It’s a little ironic that I have probably read more than 20 books since starting the summer challenge, however it is nice to make a pile of books and keep to it, and I am working my way nicely through that pile.

Andrew Flintoff – “Being Freddie”

(6 October 2015 – from a box of books donated to BookCrossing by a running club friend)

I picked this out of the box because I do like a sporting biography and also like cricket. This did show me that I’ve lost touch with the younger generation of cricketers, but was still enjoyable.

This autobiography (ghost-written but acknowledged as such) takes us up to winning the Ashes in 2005. Thanking his publisher for getting the book out so soon after the Ashes, a lot of the final chapters are devoted to a blow-by-blow account, so it’s in a way more of a memento for that series than it is a book to keep for the illuminating life story. There are the requisite cricketing stats in the back, so it is one for the real fan of the sport.

It does take us through his career, injuries, exercise plans and friends/ colleagues, but the massive gap and the elephant in the room once you know about it is that he does not mention the eating disorder which undermined his life and health during his professional career. He talked about this five-odd years later, and it does make the book come out a bit odd, half a story.

Well-written, though, and full of funny anecdotes as well as play-by-play cricket.

This was Book 13 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

Lisa Jackson – “Your Pace or Mine?”

(25 July 2016)

One of Jackson’s blog posts for Runner’s World was shared on Facebook by a running club friend and the next thing I knew, I was clicking on the buying link. A perfectly timed read for me, this lovely book chronicles the ups and downs and learning points of Jackson’s marathon and ultra experiences. It’s not a how-to book and there’s little about her training, nutrition, etc., but that’s not what this book is for (she’s written a how to run book, too, which covers all that).

What it is is a joyful celebration of being a SLOW runner and enjoying herself far more (right) at the back than she would further forward (her worst marathon experience was when she got her 4:38 PB and couldn’t talk to anyone). She shares what she’s learned in themed sections, not forgetting about adversity and the death of her close running pals and relatives – the book does literally make you laugh and cry.

She also shares other people’s stories, both family members, people she’s met during races and more elite athletes who even share why they do it in the first place (not, mainly, for the medals or glory). There’s even a place to record your own favourite runs at the back.

I loved this book. It’s so inspiring and one to press onto people and read again and again. The production values are high in a nice-looking and well-made book, the editing is excellent, and it’s a must-read for the slower or novice runner.

I’m a bit behind in my reviewing, so look out for a review of #20BooksofSummer books 14 and 15, coming soon (the Kynaston is finished! and I read a great Icelandic novel, too). I’m now into Edith Wharton’s “The Reef”, as well as about to finish Jo Pavey’s inspiring autobiography. The Wharton is a 20Books book, leaving me with thre and a bit to finish by 5 September – I think I can do it!

Book reviews – A Mixture of Frailties and No Run Intended plus a small confession #20BooksOfSummer

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TBR July 2016Well, I’ve finished and reviewed both of my books for Shiny New Books and will link to them when they come out, and I’m reading away at my other books now. Although, looking at the picture to the left, I don’t seem to have chipped away at much of the actual TBR. How can this be? One of these books was from a pile on my bedside table (‘current reading’, which is a misnomer and a half, as I’ve been reading this Robertson Davies trilogy for ages!) and my Kindle, and the other book I’ve just finished (read all about that one on Monday) was on the Kindle, too. Anyway, here we go – one full review of a great book and one quick review of a not quite as wonderful one.

Robertson Davies – “A Mixture of Frailties”

(25 September 2014)

The last in the Salterton Trilogy and a great read. Solly’s dreadful mother has finally died, but she’s left a truly hateful will which has the effect of souring Solly’s genial and light-hearted nature and turning everything around it grim. It holds up everything, Solly’s inheritance, Miss Puss’s acquisition of the best tea service, the cathedral’s bequest, until Solly produces a male heir with the new young wife who his mother loathed. In the meantime, the interest from the capital must be used to provide an education to a young woman in the arts, and a sermon must be produced annually. The will must be processed within a year or the lawyer will lose the lucrative running of the trust to his bitter rival. Of course, this has the desired effect of panicking everyone and starting loads of nasty gossip.

Aspiring singer Monica is duly found and packed off to England, where we follow her for much of the book. She has all sorts of adventures and meets all sorts of eccentric musicians (this part reminded me of some of my beloved mid-century women authors, as well as good old Trollope), including Giles and his circle of misfit Bohemians. Her practical Canadian nature and naive artistic yearnings conspire to put her into a very rum position indeed, and it becomes unclear as to whether she will return home in disgrace or triumph. It’s also unclear how things will go with her family, who belong to a weird cult and cut themselves off from the rest of society.

It’s a delightful book with some dark happenings which aren’t dwelt on but do have an effect on the characters and story. Trollopian again and just a really good read. I wish more people read Davies, as he’s just so good at characters, plots, setting up the atmosphere of a small town or community and keeping it funny but not too funny.

This was Book Number 11 in my #20BooksOfSummer project

This book would suit … Those who love a big, involving, gossipy, small community novel that has an old-fashioned realist tendency and a biting wit at times. ANYONE!

Hannah Phillips – “No Run Intended”

(Ebook, bought 17 July 2016)

This was recommended in general chat by a running friend; it’s the warts-and-all story of how one lady started running and overcame a few disasters along the way. It’s a memoir rather than a how-to book, which is fine, and it is light-hearted and funny, but I had a few issues with it, unfortunately. First off, the gears change quite dramatically in the middle when family heartbreak comes along. This is of course awful and you feel for the author, but it makes for an uneasy mix, although I’m not sure how this could have been overcome. Secondly, she talks about personal disasters that she has (bodily fluids are involved) but in the main she doesn’t look at or explain how they happened. If I was a new runner learning that this could happen, I’d like to know how to prevent it! Lastly, and I try not to grumble about this sort of thing, there were lots of unfortunate typos (there was one in the book description, so I should have been warned). Some are really bizarre, and I’m not sure what’s happened there, as the author thanks an editor in the acknowledgements. *Edited to add: with horrible inevitability, I managed to spell the author’s name incorrectly in this review. I sincerely apologise and here’s a link to see all the lovely 5-star reviews on Amazon and buy the book.

So, she used an editor and cover designer, it’s funny and encouraging and lets people know about Run Mummy Run, which is a group a few of my friends belong to, and anything that helps people not fear starting to run has to be good. But perhaps not the right book for me right now.

This book will suit … new or would-be runners with a sense of humour who don’t mind the odd bodily fluid splashing around.

Running booksI’m still plodding on with the Kynaston, and hope to devote some time to it over the weekend, and I have picked Ann Bridge’s “A Lighthearted Quest” off the shelf to read as my next novel read, although I have some running books I need to read soon, too. Here they are, actually – I was recommended the Lisa Jackson one by someone in my running club who shared an article by the author, then the Jo Pavey one seemed to fall into my shopping basket … One good aspect of my marathon training is that I’m going up to bed earlier and spending more time reading; and both of these need to be read before the mara, really. Or before the Olympics start, in the case of the Jo Pavey one!

The hardest run

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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.