Think Tank

16th October 2015 by Jason Vincent

Runner – Book of the Month October 2015

(Photo © Richard Bull, excerpts and quotes © Lizzy Hawker)
It’s a bit shameful how long it’s been since I last wrote a Book Of The Month. In fact, it was close approaching a Book Of The Year! It’s been a busy year, and reading (one of my passions) has unfortunately fallen by the wayside. Let’s see if we can change that and make up for lost time.
I recently picked up a copy of Runner by Lizzy Hawker – it was one of several running books I flicked through in Foyles, and this one struck a cord with me. It wasn’t just about running (something I’ve recently fallen increasingly in love with) but also about freedom, and endurance. It was quite possibly one of the motivations that led me to attempt my Via Claudia Augusta route (I blogged about earlier).
Lizzy Hawker quotes a line by Samuel Beckett (from Worstward Ho – a book that has now made it onto my reading list) that resonated with me:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better

It’s a simple quote. But a profound one. She mentions it towards the end of her book, and after reading through the preceding chapters, it clearly reflects an ingrained attitude towards life. One that perhaps we should all share in a little more.
Runner is a very personal account of Hawker’s experience running incredibly long distances. Winning at times, failing at others, but most importantly trying. It’s hard to internalise the effort she made on each and every race… what may appear to be mere sentences and pages reflecting on a race were at times over a hundred kilometres of running, with no sleep, with little rest. It’s a phenomenal effort. It’s also a remarkably lonely one.
When I originally set out to attempt the Via Claudia Augusta route last week, I had planned to do it alone. In reality, I only spent a couple of days cycling alone (if that), something that is many times easier than running long distances. And yet it already felt like a tremendous effort, fighting not just the endless miles, but the endless thoughts that accompany them.
Hawker’s story isn’t an easy one, but it doesn’t cease to inspire. Having made inhuman efforts to finish many of her races, and in fact win a great deal of them, she is subsequently faced with a string of injuries that prevented her from racing, and at times from even running. I can only imagine how devastating that must feel, and how difficult it must be to find motivation when you are forced to temporarily abandon your passion. The following quote embodies this feeling of constant change and adaptation in the face of adversity:

Everything can be taken from us except our attitude in a given set of circumstances. So ultimately home and belonging has to be within ourselves or we will always be lost.

Here’s an excerpt I particularly liked, and read over a few times:

[…] Life is not a race, there is no finish line, there is no ending, happy or unhappy. All that we have is the journey that we are making and the attitude with which we make it. There is a powerful opportunity in this chaos if I just have the courage to rest in its uncertainty. The challenges we face only ever match what we can deal with at that moment. And these challenges are constantly changing. Nature is full of obstacles. On the trail we let our run be a beautiful flowing movement over the rocks and the roots. This is our lesson in our everyday too – not to struggle against the obstacles that come up, but to learn from them, to let them go, to surrender into life, because it is also a beautiful flowing movement when we stop resisting, when we stop struggling.

One of the most fascinating realisations though is that Hawker doesn’t live to run well. Her entire perspective on life is about commitment and perseverance. It doesn’t matter whether it’s running; it’s almost incidental that it is running… she goes on to say:

[…] witnessing anything done well, or with full attention or awareness, has the power to provoke me to also put my full effort into whatever it is that I have to do.

Ironically, this is a similar approach to that adopted by Henry Ford which I spoke of in my last Book Of The Month post. The feeling that it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing in life, but you should aim to master it. You owe it to yourself. You may only do it for a day, a year, or perhaps your entire life. That’s irrelevant to a certain extent. All that matters is that for however long you do it, you put your full effort into it.
All in all, Runner is far more than a book about running. It’s also a book about life; it’s a story about perseverance, commitment and endurance. It’s a book I recommend everyone reads.

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