I think Vassos Alexander may have just got me into a whole lot of trouble. I love to run. I run a lot – half marathons, marathons and more recently ultras (that’s anything further than 26.2 miles). I’ve just run the Marathon des Sables – 150 miles in 5 days across the Sahara. I’ve run 50 miles across the North Downs Way in Surrey in 10 or so hours. But until now I have always vowed I would never run further than that all in one go. Why would you? What on earth would possess you to run all day and all night? And then I read Vassos’s new book – specifically chapters 10 and 11 about running the South Downs Way 100 miler – and that was that. I was straight on the phone to my running partner in crime, Susie Chan (she’s run lots of 100 milers, she’s mad) demanding to know which one I could do. And that’s the problem (it is a problem for me because God knows how i will find the time) with Running Up That Hill. Not only does it really capture the joy and the excruciating pain of running ultra marathons. It also fires up your desire to do more, to run further.
The book begins in Athens as Vassos (Radio 2 presenter and, for the last 8 years, very good runner) prepares to take on one of the toughest ultra marathons in the world – 153 miles from Athens to Sparta. I can’t tell you where the book ends because that would spoil the story. But along the way, Vassos takes you back to other races he has loved and conquered, as well as some that haven’t gone quite to plan. And as he does so, he cleverly weaves in stories from famous ultra runners who he has interviewed along the way.
I don’t read many running books. I always think it’s quite hard to sum up what it is that makes people like me go out and run and run and run. But Vassos has managed to do just that. With great storytelling and humour, he captures not just the joy and pain of running long, but also the pleasure of the life-affirming relationships you create with the lovely running community along the way. This from one of the people Vassos talked to for his book, Dave Urwin, an ultra runner and race organiser, sums up perfectly why I run and why I love it.
“When you run really long ultras, you get an amount of thinking time that you just never have in your day-to-day life. Because it’s just ridiculously busy nowadays, life. You just don’t get time to stop and think. Running has always been one of my best ways of doing that. So I think being out for however many hours just in nature and away from all the technology and everything has just taken me back to realising what life is all about.
Realising what I’m capable of us well. A lot of people have said that too. How if you run an ultra, if you complete something that you didn’t think was possible, it’s amazing what else you think might be achievable. I think that’s very true as well. Running has made me a lot more confident within myself. And it’s made me believe that things I thought were ridiculous before, can actually be done.”