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.

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The looniness of the long distance runner – book review

The title of this book, The looniness of the long distance runner, really appealed to me and the subtitle (‘An unfit Londer’s attempt to run the New York marathon’) just underscored that. As much as I love reading about elite athletes and what they do, I love even more reading stories of everyday athletes who turn up to events with no intention of placing in them. Hence why this book seemed right for me.

I will confess to being slightly disappointed when, a few chapters in, I realised that the author is actually one of those significantly faster people I see at events. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against fast people and am pleased to have running friends of all speeds, running styles and clothing preferences. It just changed the perspective of the book somewhat – listening to him complain about struggling and missing frequent training sessions (yet still achieving better and better times) rankled.

However I persevered. There are quite a few laughs in this book and he has a self deprecating, witty writing style which makes it an easy read. The content is a mixture of his journey towards the New York marathon, some history of the event and tips for beginning runners.

Interspersed with this are various comments about slow runners, old runners, uncoordinated runners and, basically, how it is his goal to ensure he beats them all and doesn’t come last at an event. As, apparently, that is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a runner. And there I have been, worrying about nuclear war all of these years. I have been last in an event or two and can confirm for those who are concerned – you don’t spontaneously combust. But I digress.

If my review seems a little undecided, that’s because it is. I really did enjoy this book, particularly the first time I read it. Going back and reading it again, I probably was casting a more critical eye on it and just found some of the things pushing beyond funny and into mean. I know that wasn’t the intent, it’s just not an attitude I’ve seen too much in the running world so wasn’t expecting to see it here, even for the sake of getting a laugh. I’m pleased to say that in the running world I inhabit, last place is celebrated as much as first and times are compared to previous times rather than anyone else’s.

Check out the other reviews on Goodreads and, if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

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?