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A really accessible and entertaining book about running, running a little bit further and then running really far

by kirsty
Wednesday 30th April 2014

Book review: Kirsty Reade reviews Running and Stuff by James Adams

In this age, where everybody is trying to outdo each other by tackling the world’s toughest/hardest/hilliest/muddiest race, it was really refreshing to read a book about some pretty epic challenges, but recounted like it was just a slightly longer parkrun. James Adams starts his book with this: ‘I sincerely hope you don’t finish reading this book with the opinion that I am any good at this. I hope you don’t describe me as being “super human“ or “crazy” or other terms I have grown used to over the years. Instead, my goal is that you might complete the fourth line of this series of logical statements in a similar way to the way that I did at the start of this journey: 

1. James is a pretty regular guy 
2. He’s done some amazing stuff 
3. I’m a pretty regular guy/girl 
4. – ‘

I immediately warmed to this approach. This was a book about that wasn’t going to make me feel bad for not running the 26 miles to work and back every day or for drinking wine or eating crisps. I wasn’t going to read this and not feel like a ‘proper’ ultra runner because I wasn’t some sort of superhuman.

Our hero sets the bar pretty low for tales of his toughness, with opening pages which see him soil himself, and then cry. This wasn’t going to be the memoir of an all action hero. In fact, I thought, this was going to be a tale of somebody a bit like me. I haven’t actually soiled myself when running (though for some reason this seems to be high on the list of questions people ask when you tell them you run long distances) but I am partial to a bit of crying and occasional puking.

And that’s one of the things that I really liked about the book – James describes his journey from initially nearly dying when running a couple of miles on a treadmill, to making it round a marathon, to getting a bit bored of marathons and then stepping up to longer distances, as if it were perfectly normal, which of course it is to many. I think that if you heard about some of the challenges James has completed then you’d think it was way outside of your capability, but if you read the book most runners would think ‘I could do that’ and I really liked that aspect.

So he starts with some ‘smaller’ ultras – 32, 45, 50 miles – and then hatches a 5 year plan to run Badwater (135 miles in Death Valley). He does the Grand Union Canal (145 miles) and has a bit of a running epiphany which I’m sure will ring true for many of us. He develops a bit of an obsession (still ongoing, I believe) with the Spartathlon (246km with brutal cut-offs). You see where this is going? As Daft Punk put it: ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’.

I think all runners can relate to that feeling of finding that next challenge, whether it’s 10k, a marathon or multi-day races. We’re all looking to test ourselves a little bit more each time. There are sections in the book where James tries to answer the question of why he runs. In one he talks about that feeling that you’re not really sure you can actually do this. If you know you can complete a race then it might not feel like enough of a challenge any more but if you’re fearful that you may not actually be able to complete what you’re embarking on then the feeling of satisfaction you get when you complete it is going to be so much greater. I could really relate to this and he summed it up really well.

The last section of the book is all about his run across America (and this is where the soiling incident took place). The scale of this challenge is difficult to get your head around but James’s dry and understated style made it all seem like it was pretty normal and could be accessible to anybody (though that’s probably stretching it for this one). He’s a very funny writer and while in other running books authors may be describing the epic existential struggle going on in their head, James is more likely to be having an internal monologue about whether they give bridges numbers so trolls can find where they live more easily or the ethics of having a wee when there are female runners around.

This is a really accessible and entertaining book about running, running a little bit further and then running really far. If you’ve been daydreaming about running ultras then this book might well encourage you to do something about it.

Even if you don’t plan to do the longer stuff you will find a lot of inspiration in it and I’m sure all runners will relate to the ups and downs experienced in races and those moments of revelation that come when you least expect them.


About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 


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