This was not a good book, no matter what Goodreads tells you. It had its good moments, but on the whole it was a dull, shallow, disjointed, problematic book. As evidenced by the fact that it took me 3 weeks to fight my way through it.
I don’t even know how to begin to describe it because I am not sure what the author’s purpose was. Parts of the book present the history of fell running in the UK. Parts of it are biographical in nature. Parts are snapshots of going-ons in races during the year. And parts of it have to do with the author’s own adventures in fell running.
Fell running, for the uninitiated, is a form of mountain running that takes place in the UK mountains. It’s very, VERY tough. It is tough because mountains are per definition steep. Also because it often entails terrible weather conditions. Sometimes it is also tough because it goes on for hours, or days. It will give you blisters. It will make you break bones. It will cause hypothermia. In some cases it might even kill you.
So we get it. It is a tough sport. Even for someone like me, who likes to run long distances for fun (occasionally on mountains) and who reads running books for inspiration, this was an exclusionary book. It did not inspire me. It bored me half to death. The author was very focused on presenting a testosterone-laden, macho image of the sport. He mentioned at least twice that I can remember that he did not like it when women ran faster than him. His mentions of notable women in the sport were only in passing (except for one). I guess women don’t do fell running then, right? Wrong.
The only good parts of the book were the ones where we got some glimpses of the fact that these – undoubtedly fantastic – athletes are human after all, with lives, problems, dreams and fears. The (regrettably short) descriptions of the amazing scenery and how fell running helps you get in touch with nature were magical and made me long for the mountains (so Askwith can write nice things. He just chooses not to). Unfortunately the good parts take up no more than 10% of the book. The rest is dry, esoteric facts, names, lists, chronologies and figures, without a thread to bind them. Who but the nerdiest of running nerds finds this stuff inspiring? Not this running nerd.
Give me books that make me want to go out there and fight the elements. Books that make running sound so seductive that I climb out of bed at 4 in the morning and go run up a hill. Books that make me feel as part of a broader community. Books like “Born to run”, or even “The rise of the ultra runners”. Books that have a soul.