Sunday, October 07, 2007

A tale of obsession

Most of what I did on Friday during a delinquently day off was read an altogether gripping book to get me in the race mood, Richard Askwith's Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession. It is quite wonderful!

(I cannot now remember who recommended it to me, but it was a commenter here, I think--many thanks...)

It is impossible, really, to make predictions about the choices our future selves will make; I would not for instance five years ago have predicted a triathlon-related obsession for myself. But it is extremely unlikely that I will ever take up fell-running: I like a hot shower, I don't seek out the outdoors, I don't have much of a head for heights and also (most devastatingly) I've got an absolutely dreadful sense of direction. I could imagine taking to sailing and becomingly devastatingly accurate with both old-fashioned and modern tools of navigation, it's not the technical aspect that bothers me and at sea everything looks more or less the same anyway. In fell-running or mountaineering more generally, though, the lack of familiarity I feel when faced even with a bit of landscape that I've seen fifty times before would be a definitive limiter... BUT if there is one book that could make me think I am wrong and that really fell-running is the perfect activity, it is this one.

(But really it's my friend L. who should do it, the descriptions of the death-defying plunges down slopes of scree etc. at headlong uncontrollable speed have her name written all over them!)

Anyway if you have any interest in this sort of thing, broadly speaking, or in the question of trials of human endurance more generally, I strongly recommend Askwith's book. In fact I am just going to paste in scans of a few favorite pages to give you the flavor and show you why you must get hold of a copy (unfortunately I have had this one from the library, so I am prevented from pressing it into the hands of any one of the numerous people I know who would undoubtedly enjoy it).

(It is not a perfect book--it's very well-written, chapter by chapter, but I think there's simply too much material, too many different characters, too many different races to keep track of--in this case less really would have been more, though I can see why it would have been difficult to trim it down--everything is pretty fascinating in its own right. An admirable impulse to celebrate and memorialize the great fell-runners makes Askwith downplay his own story of self-discovery for the sake of a kind of composite portrait of the sport, but I think this is one case--unusual among sports writing--in which more rather than less of the author's own obsessive journey would have been welcome. My favorite thing, BTW, out of all of the new information that burst into my awareness while reading: the Man versus Horse Marathon in Wales!)

Macho pub conversation re: the Bob Graham Round
An extreme set of hill repeats
The crux of the matter
The choice

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