Why We Run, by Robin Harvie

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

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks