I’m a big fan of Adharanand Finn’s previous books, The Way of the Runner and Running with the Kenyans. I also like to run ultramarathons. So, when given the chance to review the author and runner’s latest book, The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance, I jumped at the chance.
I’ve often questioned myself – and my own sanity – as to what it is about marathon and ultramarathon running that draws me in. On paper, there is nothing that appealing about putting one foot in front of another for many, many hours. Why do I, a really average runner who’s out there a lot longer than many, less than others, put myself through the pain and anguish of running so many miles? That’s one of the questions that Adharanand Finn is looking to answer in this new tome.
From first ultra onwards
The book opens with curiosity. Adharanand, a very decent marathon runner, is offered the chance to take part in an ultra for an article in a newspaper. He openly admits his feelings on ultramarathons, questioning whether it is in fact still ‘running’ given that it involves an awful lot of walking and equal parts of eating.
As a not-super-fast ultrarunner who has come up against this very attitude from ‘purist’ runners, even in my own small running community, it’s certainly not an unusual stance. There is a world of difference between running a marathon on the roads as fast as possible, and battling mind and body to complete 100K or more on harsh terrain.
I’ve done, and continue to do, both road and trail running. While drawn to trail, I do still like the feel of running on a road at a better pace. For me, they are two sides of the same coin. They are both running. Yes, I approach them very differently. My kit is different, my attitude is different, my nutrition is different… but I am, in essence, placing one foot in front of the other and aiming to get to the finish line.
The book opens with Adharanand Finn’s first-ever ultra, which marks his entry into a whole new world. He’s not the first and certainly not the last hardened road runner to try an ultra and go back for more. The book chronicles his personal journey through ultrarunning, aiming for nothing less than the cream of the crop. In a two-year span, Finn is looking to accumulate enough points for UTMB entry, taking part in some of the hardest ultras in the world to get there.
It’s not your standard journey into ultrarunning, that’s for sure. Most of us will rock up at a local 50K having done a few marathons with a curiosity about whether we can go further. But that wouldn’t make an interesting book, would it?
The book chronicles Adharanand’s own running, but is interspersed with interviews with ultrarunning legends. Their stories are inspirational and motivational. They might be at the top of their game, but they are humble and respectful of the sport. You get a real sense of the ultrarunning community in this book – it’s a family, connected through shared experience.
As you read, you experience the highs and lows of ultrarunning. It’s brutal in places, and it’s also testament to the sheer strength of human will to continue onwards when there is nothing left to give. If you’ve ever had that moment in any race when you just can’t go on but somehow find the strength to take just one more step, you’ll know what I mean.
As a whole, it’s a book that leaves you feeling inspired. I have absolutely no intention to enter some of the races featured in this book, but it does leave me wondering what my own next personal challenge might be. It reminds me of all the reasons I started ultrarunning in the first place and why I will keep going.
The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance by Adharanand Finn is published by Guardian Faber (£14.99)
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Read our interview with Adharanand Finn here: https://rundeepmag.com/interview-adharanand-finn/
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