Why We Run, by Robin Harvie
Sunday 24 April 2011
It's a curiosity that so many memoirs by runners emphasise the pain rather than the pleasure of an activity that is, after all, wholly optional.
There are exceptions, such as Haruki Murakami's gentle, ruminative What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, but Robin Harvie belongs firmly to the "no pain, no gain" camp. Whether it's stumbling along frightened and lost, nipples bleeding and blisters swelling, or collapsing after running 85 miles in 17 hours, he is driven to extremes.
It is no surprise that he counts among his heroes the doomed explorer Captain Scott and mountaineer George Mallory, because he almost seems to have a death wish himself as he pushes his body towards ever tougher tasks, culminating in the Spartathlon. This race recreates the legendary feat of Pheidippides, who supposedly ran the 152 miles from Athens to Sparta non-stop to enlist the aid of the Spartans against the Persians.
It proved too much for Harvie, but by the end of the book he is contemplating another attempt, despite having promised his wife he wouldn't.
The answer to the question posed by the title remains elusive. Harvie talks of how running helps him on his "journey into adulthood", without quite specifying what that means, and offers gnomic clues through the words of others, such as: "There is only one antidote to mental suffering, and that is physical pain" (Karl Marx); or "Beyond the extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own" (William James).
He concludes that running "is simply about becoming a more sentient person, living what the novelist Alice Munro called a more authentic life", which didn't leave this reader much the wiser. Yet however unresolved the ending is, his journey is undeniably a compelling one.
Published in paperback by John Murray, £12.99
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Bill Clinton portrait features Monica Lewinsky reference, artist admits
- 2 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 3 Pornhub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 Average penis size revealed: Scientists attempt to find what is 'normal' to reassure concerned men
Historian: ‘Disney was right to show King John as a villain' in Robin Hood
Poldark star Heida Reed says show is not that racy: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
Glastonbury 2015: Coldplay will not headline but Florence Welch might play, says Emily Eavis
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded