Friend of Fast Running Charlie Massey is a lover of books, running and coffee, so we like to imagine he’s combining all three when reviewing a running book.
I’ve read a great many running books.
Scanning my little library, it looks like the iconic “The Complete Book of Running” by James E. Fixx was the first. That was in 1984, around about the time I began to “get serious” about my own running.
It is actually hard to define what makes a good running book when you are a runner yourself. I tend to be most satisfied by those that seem to connect the world that I live in as a runner to that other world of outstanding, even world class performances, making the superhuman appear more normal.
It helps if they are well written and add other dimensions that you hadn’t expected. Maybe because running is such a self-absorbing activity where numbers and medals tend to dictate “success”, breadth of perspective and literary quality tend to be much more rare than, say, in books written by climbers and mountaineers (the other well-stocked shelf in my library.)
Thankfully, Damian’s book is one of the rare ones.
What becomes almost immediately apparent is that Damian is a writer who is describing his journey into becoming a world class runner, rather than a runner attempting to record his “story” in print.
Until the last 2 or 3 years, runners who devour the content of running magazines every month will have read his many articles without ever really considering where his running journey began.
Nevertheless today in the UK, Damian has become a kind of archetype for the trail running boom, with its focus on setting arcane personal goals, running further and across wilder terrain than we even considered in the 1980’s.
Unlike most of us, who just play at it by buying the gear and shuffling around on some trails or in the National Parks, Damian has applied himself in middle age to becoming the best he can be. He has made sacrifices and gambled with his career to do this.
From humble, wandering beginnings
The book describes his accruals of expertise to help with his running form, his mental preparation and his equipment as well as his absorption of the best from several world-renowned coaches.
Early in the book he gives us an insight into the period of his life where he was an inveterate wanderer and world traveller, someone who the 2021 Damian, conscientious father and environmental activist, seems to be slightly ashamed of. The interplay of these two Damians is a fascinating undercurrent to his story.
Damian first came to my notice as a runner in 2016, when he set out on an incredibly audacious attempt to run the entire 630 mile South West Coast Path, clockwise, in less than 11 days.
GPS trackers and social media / exercise software such as Strava now allow us to dip into these types of experience vicariously from our armchair, and starting with that success five years ago, Damian has since provided pretty good value for we, his “dot watchers”.
This culminated in 2020 with his magnum opus, the beasting of Mike Hartley’s 1989 record for the North – South non-stop running of the Pennine Way. Whilst Hartley’s achievement was a typical “you had to be there” event, Damian had thousands of us following him virtually via his “dot” and multiple social media updates in real time.
Fastest Known Author at UTMB
The book of course focuses on the progression of these record attempts, or Fastest Known Times (FKT’s) on UK trails and mountain rounds. It is here where Damian’s skills as a writer are most to the fore in bringing us into his head during these long days of suffering, accompanied always by a smattering of self-deprecating gallows humour.
Damian’s other preoccupation, along with many of us flatlanders who yearn for the soaring peaks, has been with the self-styled “World Championship” of ultra trail running, the 105 mile “lap” of the Mont Blanc massif, Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc.
His successive attempts culminated in an outstanding 5th place, 2 years ago. We can feel his hunger to better himself and his calculated application of mental skills to achieving another audacious goal.
Still more to come
I would be fairly confident that Damian has far from finished with the “long form”, and I look forward to him developing further on his environmental concerns in other work, a subject which he gives lucid attention to here, but his ideas clearly need a bit of brewing time (much like his beloved tea!).
Sponsored athletes have an obligation to promote consumption and I am most interested to see how Damian balances this out in the long term. Having this book published as a carbon negative printed book is a damn fine start.
The book came to me when I was mid way through Nirmal Purjah’s account of summiting all the world’s 8000m peaks in 7 months. I had once again followed the incredible journey via social media and was very keen to read Nimsdai’s own account.
I made the mistake of deciding to read Damian’s first couple of pages while Nimsdai’s team were descending K2 in the Karakoram. “In it for the Long Run” proved to flow so well, and be that engaging, that Damian had arrived in Edale before Nimsdai got to the next peak!
Engaging, readable, funny, sometimes surprising and, yes, occasionally inspiring. Well worth a good read.
And if you do fancy ordering it, why not go straight to the publisher?