Ultra running is the sport of transporting yourself over a distance further than a marathon on foot. "Running through the wall" is a collection of short stories about ultra running, written by both amateur and elite ultra runners. Most stories are about 100-mile long ultra marathons (160km). These stories are essentially race reports, but they often go much deeper, into the Why: Why would anyone want to put themselves through such an ordeal? What motivates people to willingly experience such physical and emotional agony?
Being a budding ultra runner myself, I often seek out such books in order to learn more about my favourite sport. Not so much to learn about the Why, because I believe that each and every one of us has their own reasons for doing crazy things, but about the How: How do these people prepare for such a task? How do they train? What goes through their minds while they're doing it? How do they deal with practicalities, with doubt, with achy legs? The book provides some answers, but it's not a How-to book, like, for example, ”Relentless forward progress” by Bryon Powell.
The merit of this book lies within the variety of personalities and backgrounds of the ultra runners. Some are young, some old. Some are experienced, some less so. Some never face doubts, some are plagued by them. This makes the stories easier to relate to. The races these stories are about are also wildly different. From races in tropical forests and mountain ultras to multi-stage races in the desert, each one poses different challenges.
The problem with a collection of stories by people who just write about their passion as opposed to those who write for a living is, of course, that the quality of writing has its ups and downs. Some stories are beautifully described and gripping, full of emotions. Others are dry retellings of events, and you can almost feel how uncomfortable it was for the author to sit down and write a story. Then, there is the fact that most stories, as I mentioned above, are race reports from 100 mile ultras. I was hoping for a wider range of race lengths. My greatest achievement to date is almost breaking 60 km, so it's a great leap from that to 160 km. What comes in between? What's it like to run a 50-mile ultra? A 100 km one? And where do the hallucinations start?
Overall it was a fascinating read that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in extreme sports, or just curious about the limits of human endurance.