Life on the Run...
I had come across this book whilst Googling earlier this year, in search of a good read. The reviews were good, it looked like my type of book – independent, honest, not too long, not too self-indulgent, but for some reason that day I wasn’t in a shopping mood.
Forward 6 months and barely three weeks after the launch of MST when the very same book was thrust under my nose, this time not by Google, but by the author!
Matt Beardshall is a runners’ runner. Matt got in touch and said that he quite liked the site, and he had “written a book”, funny as soon as the mail came through I was taken back to that time Googling and knew instantly what the mail would be about. He asked me if I might like to review his scribe, the epic journey of him and his intrepid bunch of thirty-something thrill seekers attempting to run Coast to Coast, across England, from St Bee’s Head, In Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bay, in Yorkshire, a total of 180 miles, in seven days, about a marathon a day, off-road, with lots of hills, in sweltering heat – easy really. Of course I jumped at the chance to review it, the fit is absolute, this book is MST.
Matt lives the sport, he just loves running, he often races, he runs big distances, nothing really unusual there. However, this guy is one of those rare breed of people who can translate what they see, hear and feel into words that we can all relate to. I would even go as far to say that Matt has an element of poet about him, “The sun shone a warming shine, birds sang, lambs gambled around their mothers who ate lush green grass, and everything was happy” p.42 – perhaps those hours spent in the Lakelands brought out the Wordsworth in him!
I had heard of the Coast to Coast route and all those Joss Naylor legends, and of course Alfred Wainwright, the walking legend for whom the Lakes and the hills of the north of England were home, and inspired a recent BBC Four TV series. Journeying from point to point and record attempting (for no particular reason) has always interested sportspeople. Chay Blythe and Elen McArthur (round the world Yachting), Ian Botham (Long, long walks), endless cycling legends riding Land’s End to John O’Groats, then there are the runs. Across America, Across Australia, and all of those classic British runs with the most famous being the Bob Graham Round in the sport of fell running. Interestingly, like a lot of explorers and ‘attempters’ Matt and his merry men were doing it because it was there – why not. Respect the stupidity is really all about a bunch of guys challenging themselves and having a good time whilst at it. Simple really.
So, to the book. Life on the run: Coast to Coast, to give it it’s full title, is the kind of book that you can read in a long day on holiday. It’s short, at 113 pages, which for me is part of this books merit. Too often I pick up a sports book these days and find it to be way too long, C2C is spot on, especially for anyone reviewing it. Matt, his fellow runner Vin (they ran as a pair until Vin’s injury to his thigh forced him to sit out the back end of the trip) and MTBer Mal partook in this ultra run by foot and by bike.
One of the merits of the publication for me is how the author never gets lost in the detail. There is never an over-description of a situation. When talking about the knee-pain he had to run through Matt states, “Frustration soon gave way to a philosophical acceptance that this ultra-marathon business wasn’t supposed to be easy and I was just going to have to accept the suffering and dig deeper into mental reserves” p.77, Beardshall doesn’t hold back on his inner-most thoughts on what must have been as much a mental as physical challenge. Quoting his trainer and mentor, pre-event, Mike ‘Mad Dog’ Schreiber, he states that ultra running “had nothing to do with sanity and everything to do with carrying on regardless” p.71 – any ultra-runner will tell you that your mind will always give up before your legs do and if you can stave off those demons, you will make it.
The mind-scapes and landscapes that are also painted do a huge amount for this little book. When describing his battle alone (after Vin has been forced to abandon) on the flatlands of Bolton-on-Swale, Beardshall recalls, “the lonely dull plod along unremarkable lanes”, p.76 again very Wainwright and something anyone who has ‘been there’ mentally, on a long and lonely run, can relate to. That’s the triumph of this book, it skims the surface of a situation lightly, as if a pebble on a lake, but doesn’t miss the detail, it crosses t’s and dots i’s, but doesn’t get lost in literary bureaucracy, and I have to admit that in the last few pages the release of emotion Matt feels as he sees his family in Robin Hoods Bay really is moving – I’d better stop there!
Matt Beardshall published this book in 2007, and even though its’s nearly 2009 I think it needs a new push. Not a push to the Booker Prize, not a push to the bestseller shelf of Border’s (although I expect that Matt wouldn’t mind that one!). No, a push onto the reading list of all of those runners who often think that they might like to “have a go” at something. All of those runners who cant quite summon the bravery do something that challenges you mentally even more than it does physically, more than your local half marathon, more than a full marathon even. To all of those runners who think that there must be more to life than following the crowd, to all of you who value your loved ones more than the latest pair of cool trainers, to all of you who have shed a little tear after your greatest achievements. Go and respect Matt’s stupidity!
Title: Life on the run: Coast to Coast by Matt Beardshall
Publisher – Arima Publishing
Price: £8.99 / $16.95 / €13.50