Why We Run – A Story of Obsession

Why We Run, written by Robin Harvie, was published in 2012.

What they say

Taken from the Amazon listing:
Product Description
Everyone can run.

Whether it is a jog around the park on a Sunday morning, or lining up with 40,000 other people at the start of the London Marathon, all it requires is a pair of trainers and the open road. But where does that road lead and why do we run at all?

Robin Harvie ran his first marathon after a bet, but it wasn’t until he had ventured 6,000 miles into the extreme world of ultra-distance running to the start line of the oldest and toughest footrace on earth, that he found an answer. As a hobby turned into a 120-mile-a-week obsession, so a way out of his daily routine evolved into a journey to discover who he was and what he was really made of.

Through the scorching heat of the desert and into the darkest hours of the morning, Why We Run reveals the beating heart of the brutal and profoundly intoxicating experience of running. If you have ever wondered what makes you lace up your trainers, and why you keep coming back for more, this is your story too.
About the Author Taken from his website Why We Run
I have been running marathons for ten years. But when I couldn’t run faster than 3 hours 12 minutes, I decided to see how far I could run before I keeled over. Turns out pretty far. In September 2009 I took on the Spartathlon – 152 miles from Athens to Sparta. Non stop. Why We Run is about that journey and about why we run at all.

What I say

I guess the best place to start is at the beginning, so the back cover of the book with this synopsis of the topics covered inside and I take issue with the very first sentence – EVERYONE CAN RUN. Well no actually, they can’t. There are plenty of fatties in the world who perhaps should but don’t and claim that it’s because they can’t. But equally there are many people for whom running may be a distant dream or something they simply may never ever be able to do for whatever reason. I did take an issue with this statement, and I suspect others might too – and that is a shame because the book itself could be a gem for anyone looking to push themselves, in whatever field of endurance they appear in themselves.

Harvie has a nice writing style, and the book didn’t take me too long to read over a week or so of commuting – not because it is too short but that it is a page turner. The author leads us through his own life story, trying to find the source of his running, using it to almost avoid (or to comprehend) grief of losing family members. Harvie links his story to the river – not just any river, but the Thames running from Oxford through London to the sea. It is very interesting to read his story meander from the very small spring in a field as the river banks widen and flow strengthens. To read Harvie’s account of the training and then the immense battle to complete the Spartathlon in Greece – widely considered to be one of the toughest ultra races on the planet – is to receive a brilliant idea of what an ultra runner really goes through.

It was really interesting to read why Robin Harvie runs, his story is pretty fascinating and engrossing as we, the reader, follow him to Greece. But what it doesn’t do is tell me Why I Run! I’m not kidding myself, I didn’t really expect it to, but when a book makes a bold enough statement to suggest that it could answer that question then my interest was always going to be piqued.

The book contains a good mix of personal anecdotes from the author and historical references. But I believe that if you want a book that perhaps actually tells us a little more about ‘why we run’ as an evolutionary tale then I would suggest you read Born To Run instead. Actually, no, that’s not fair – don’t read it instead, definitely read BTR, but also read and enjoy WWR because it is interesting and insightful.

One quote that I particularly like in the book, was not one from the author himself, but he quoted James Gleick who talked about running on treadmills ‘dispairing of the eternal horizon of the treadmill’.

you must be aware that this march is almost by definition a waste of time, made possible by the luxury of time, made necessary by the disappearance of backbreaking labour from the daily routine.

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