Two recent great books on endurance/ultra running

Recently two great books have come out that give a real feel for the effect that the (covid) lockdown situation has had on runners, and particularly how it has been the catalyst for some of them to turn their attention to attempting new records for the classic rounds and off-road endurance challenges. They are Damian Hall’s ‘In it for the long run’, and Ally Beaven’s ‘Broken’.

Damian Hall has been a journalist much of his life and has shown he can research and weave stories, but can he write a book about himself and his move into ultra running? He writes fairly briefly about his upbringing and admits to not having it particularly easy. He also says that on reflection he had ‘a kind of chronic outsider syndrome’. Rejecting team sports, which he did not excel at, he took to running, eventually entering a half marathon. This was something of a lifechanger and the rest of the book details his descent (or ascent, depends on how you look at it) into off-road trail/ultra running. When he realised he needed coaching advice he seemed not to be able to settle on a suitable coaching arrangement (working with several different coaches and going solo sometimes). Eventually he became a coach himself, as he moved towards supporting himself (and his family) by coaching and with sponsorship (seemingly reluctantly). Having described his obsession with the UTMB, several record ’rounds’ he achieved (including solo/unsupported ones), and some ‘fastest known times’ on long-distance challenges (I do not like the acronym FKT), he gradually became edgier as he moved to the climax of his ultra career (so far) and describes the build-up and execution of his record for traversing the Pennine Way (beating friend John Kelly’s record set just 8 days previously). He displays a fine turn of phrase in highlighting the highs and lows of that effort, with some good banter about, and with, his top quality support crew. So, to answer my initial question, he DID write well about himself. It is a fascinating read if you are remotely interested in ultras, being in the ‘lumps’ he so loves, running itself, and also how you can do all this and try to contribute less to climate change by making some life choice changes. As a tribute to the author I have included as many explanations in brackets as I can (where possible), as I have never seen so many in one book, and am pretty sure my editor wouldn’t have allowed them (all).

Ally Beaven may be a part-time barman, but in this his first book he has an engaging writing style. These may be a series of similar sounding endurance efforts but the nuances between them come out with the author’s analysis. He is not afraid to question assumptions and shares his views with some spicy vocabulary and some telling phrases. Just one example I liked, when talking about reaching a summit with no view and which was just a pile of rocks, he writes: “All the toil, none of the reward. Hill running for Calvinists”. The narrative is very readable, helped immensely by Beaven concentrating on the unique aspects of each record that is broken (several of which he was supporting on), whilst also putting each into its context. The book, summarising one year, was produced to a tight deadline, but still Vertebrate had time to design a good looking book. It is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in fells, mountains, endurance running and how some folks combined them to see how far a human can push themselves.

Both books are great reads, and can be obtained direct from the publisher – Vertebrate, or through good book shops. If you are interesting in hearing more of the their stories, and they both have a very lively sense of humour, you can catch them at this event on 4 May – SHAFF ONLINE – DAMIAN HALL TALKS TO ALLY BEAVEN (and/or afterwards on Youtube).

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