Category Archives: Reading

Book Review: 26 Miles to the Moon

Not the kind of book that I usually read, however a number of my running friends had read 26 Miles to the Moon by Andrew Males and they had all given it a good account.  Word of mouth always goes a long way in my mind, so I picked up a copy and began reading.

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It took me about a week to read this book, which is usually a good indication on how much I am enjoying the story.  Such was my enjoyment that I even read a few chapters whilst sat on the bike in the gym.  Thankfully the gym was empty otherwise I may have received some pretty disapproving looks!

The book quickly develops and you soon start to build up an attachment to the lead character, Jon Dunn, especially when he is being lead astray by the mischievous Summer! Before you realise it the story has developed and moved to New York, where marathon training begins.  I suppose this is where I find myself being a little disappointed. As a runner I was rather hoping the story would go into more detail with the mental and physical side of preparations that a marathon would incur.  Instead more emphasis was placed on developing the relationship between Jon and Summer.

Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed reading this story, it is a page turner and the fact I read this whilst on an exercise bike is testament to this. It has a certain amount of adventure, some cracking humour that actually made me laugh out aloud, a villainous ice maiden, a visionary risk taker and of course your Mr average who could easily be you or I.

This is certainly a feel good book, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. The author not only knows about the highs and unbelievable lows or running a marathon, he also knows in detail the route of the New York marathon.  Something that can only be achieved if you have been there, bled, hobbled, cried, doubted yourself, persevered, celebrated, worn the T-shirt and praised the medal!

Is this a runners book? I would say not quite.  It certainly has running in it and the author obviously knows about running marathons.  Does that actually make a difference?  Not at all.  This is a great read by this first time author.

I now find myself quietly anticipating his next book.

Book Review: Hell and High Water

I was delighted when I returned home and found this book waiting for me. I have followed the exploits of Sean Conway on Twitter for a while and I have always been intrigued by his adventures.

Hell and High Water is a great British adventure story.  I love the fact that the team embark on a swimming adventure and on the first day three of them, including Sean, are overcome by sea sicknesses!  This certainly bodes well for the next 2 months.

Reading this book makes you want to go out into the world and start your own adventure.  I think Sean greatly downplays the stress and worries he had to to deal with whilst in the planning phase. Not securing funding until the week before must have been remarkable stressful.  Being a planner myself, I am not sure my nerves could have coped with being that underprepared.

You certainly can’t let obstacles set you back otherwise you will never get anywhere. I once remember reading about a traveller who had his bag with all his belongings in it stolen whilst he was sat a cafe. The owner came out to see if he was alright and what was he going to do now. He asked if he was going to go home.  The traveller said he would carry on with his travels, this just added to the adventure and it would make great storytelling in years to come.  Even if you plan every detail, you still have to expect the unexpected and basically embrace being spontaneous. Sean displays this characteristic by suddenly deciding to change his plan and instead of swimming up the coast of Wales, he was going to swim across the Irish Sea and then go up the east coast of Ireland.  That is a pretty bold shout.

Somehow I managed to get to page 157 without even realising it.  I was getting slightly concerned by this point in the book as I was half way through and the adventure had only just reached Wales.  But fear not, the journey continues and shows you must never give up.  Always accept their will be difficulties and sometimes you just have to take small steps.  As we say in running, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get to that finish line.

The other great thing that you take away from this book is the generosity of strangers.  The journey only continues because strangers are willing to help, whether it be a bed for the night, a jerry can of fuel, donating their personal time, replacing a kayak or even coming to the rescue with a RIB when yours unfortunately sinks in a storm.  You get that warm feeling that humanity stills exists.

This is a great book that I managed to read in just two sittings.  The pages kept turning and the chapters vanished at an alarming rate, until suddenly and some what disappointingly I reached the end.  I wanted the journey to continue, but alas all adventures must come to an end, until the next one starts!

I will have to look for another instalment, maybe Land’s End to John O’Groats: The Ride that Started it all!

Book Review: The Ultramarathon Man

This is truly an inspiring book for any runner.  The one thing that I really enjoyed is that Dean Karnazes realised something was missing in his life and then did something about it.  This book proves that you can run, train, work full time and have a family if you plan your time well.

Focusing on only a couple of races, such as his first ultra the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, followed by his failed attempt at Badwater in Death Valley a year later keeps the book flowing along at a quick pace.  It didn’t take long for Dean Karnazes to get hooked on running and his epic adventure to the South Pole is jaw dropping.  Is Dean still the only person to have run a marathon to the South Pole in running trainers?  I am not sure, but I doubt there are many that would want to take that challenge on.

The final encounter is The Relay, a 199 mile foot race that is split into 36 legs, where a 12 person team completes three legs each.  Yet Dean decided he wanted to complete the race solo, or Team Dean as it became known. It is incredible what the human body can endure, setting off at 5pm on Friday and arriving at the finish line on Sunday afternoon.  Did he sleep? Yes and just for a second and not entirely advisable.

What makes this book is that it focuses on the running and the physical and mental journey that has to be taken.  Dean has a fantastic sense of humour, even when his mental state is on a difference planet, the comments he would come out with are hilarious.

My modest running pales in comparison, but even in the couple of ultras I have run, there are parts of this book that I can fully relate to.  I understand the highs and lows, constantly assessing my body during a run, fighting the beast that constantly hides in the shadows just waiting to pull you down.  But in a strange sort of way, I enjoy that.

To me the highs are very illusive, just when I realise I am on a high,  its gone.  The lows however seem to stay with you for much longer.  All of a sudden you are doubting yourself, everything suddenly hurts, everything suddenly seems to be going against you and you to start to question why the hell are you doing this.  This is the real challenge, battling against your own mind. Keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get to that finish line.

It is a great feeling when you overcome all obstacles and Dean really demonstrates this.  Achieving great feats of endurance, with no publicity and no pomp or ceremony.  You get from the start line to the finish line and then go back to work again on Monday as if nothing happened.  Dean is so right when he says ultra runners do not do this for the glory or the fame, they do it for the personal challenge and to see if they can actually do it.

2015 Review

It’s remarkable how quickly the years go by and 2015 is no exception.  Only seems like yesterday that we moved into our new house and I was starting my new job.  But what about those New Year Resolutions that I set, how well or poorly have I done?

1.  Get away with the family on at least one holiday and three short breaks.  This was number one because it was the most important to me and we managed to achieve this target.

a.  North Wales.  We managed to get away for a Long weekend in January in Deganwy, Conwy, North Wales.

b.  St Leonards.  A long weekend in May on the South Coast.

c.  Aldeburgh, Suffolk.  A lovely midweek break in December before the Christmas week was due to begin

d.  Vouliagmeni, Greece.  The family holiday in July was to a baking hot Athens.

2.  Complete ten races at any distance.  I didn’t too badly at this as I managed to get six races completed.  I did interpret this resolution a little differently as I realised getting away to run races was not easy.  I did discover virtual races from my online running twitter community.  You sign up to a race, run the distance when you can, submit your evidence and then receive your medal in the post.  As well as being able to run in your own time, the other added bonus is that between 10-20% of the entry fee goes to charity.

My running highlights included the real race of ‘Hell Down South’ a 10 miles cross country race, the POW Virtual Half Marathon in September and the Poppy Challenge in November.  I was also happy at breaking my 5k PB, although I can’t seem to be able to break the sub 20 minutes.  The down side of the year was having a serious knee incident that required x-rays, MRIs and numerous appointments with my orthopaedic consultant.  After nearly 12 weeks I was finally given the all clear to start training again, with no real answers of what was wrong with my knee in the first place!

If I look at my overall stats for 2015 they look like:

a.  Running:  510km

b.  Cycling:  1311km

If I had thought about it in January I might have set a target of completing 2015km in 2015, in the end I was only actually 194km short!

3.  Read ten books.  I failed quite miserably on this target.  I managed to read five books in total, mostly on holiday.  This is quite embarrassing really.  Just shows we do not devote enough time reading anymore.

a.  Born to Run – Christopher McDougall

b.  Under The Eagle – Simon Scarrow

c.  The Eagle’s Conquest – Simon Scarrow

d.  When The Eagle Hunts – Simon Scarrow

e.  The Eagle and The Wolves – Simon Scarrow

4.  Study and pass my Education Course.  Thankfully I did complete this and I now have a Post Graduate Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership.  This did come with the unexpected bonus of giving me the post nominals PGDip.  If I can find the time and the finances I may complete my remaining 2 years of study and get my MBA. As with everything it is finding the time and prioritising what is most important.

5.  Publish a post on my Blog on average once a week.  This was somewhat ambitious and I knew that at the time I wrote it, which is why I listed it as the last of my resolutions.  Unfortunately finding the time to write and publish a worthwhile blog is not easy, maybe little  should be the subject of a few more blogs!  Whether writing blogs makes it onto my 2016 list I am not sure, if it does then I will have to be a bit more realistic and make it a more achievable target.

So looking back not too bad, I managed to live up to two resolutions, made a good attempt at another two and failed on the fifth!  Need to ensure for 2016 that I am a little more realistic on what I put down, but then they wouldn’t be resolutions if they were simple to do!