Wednesday 12 December 2012


Below are some book reviews by Peter Gunning recently published in FIT Magazine (free with the Irish Independent on Thursdays)

Run Fat B!tch Run by Ruth Field

This non-pc, in-your-face, self-help guide encourages women everywhere to bin the diet, lace up the trainers and simply run. Now. Ruth Field concedes that running is far from simple and success is contingent on listening to the words of wisdom of one’s inner bitch, her own aptly named, The Grit Doctor. Field writes with no little skill, imagination and originality. She is quirky, wise and above all laugh-out-loud funny. To the reader who doesn’t like salad she offers: “spoilt as well as fat are we?” Her golden words of advice on diet: EAT LESS CRAP. Pity about the “pink is for girls” packaging of a product which carries equal relevance for the male wannabee/shouldabee runner. Buy it for the woman you love and watch as at least one of the arse dents on the couch disappears. Sphere Books €12.85

Running With The Kenyans by Adharanand Finn

Guardian columnist and talented club-runner Adhararand Finn decided to spend a year with his wife and young family in Iten in the Rift Valley where he would literally run with the Kenyans and end up running a marathon across safari plains. In this beautifully crafted book it is clear that the author is in awe of his subject as he sets out on a mission to learn the secrets of Kenyan distance running success. While no hidden secrets are discovered a culture of running as a societal life choice is revealed as anecdotes abound and insights gleam. Once, when wishing to speak to Wilson Kipsang, whose 2:04 puts him in the top ten marathoners of all time, a voice on the other end of the phone clarifies the mix-up, “No this is William Kipsang, my marathon personal best is 2:05!” Awesome. Faber&Faber €21.45

Born to Run by Chris McDougall

Similarly awe-inspiring and continuing on the theme of going native is Chris McDougall’s, Born to Run. McDougall spent a year with the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico for whom distance running (as in all day-long, non-stop barefoot running) and partying (as in all-night, non-stop drinking) are integral to their tribal culture. This is also the book that has raised controversial questions regarding the marketing of footwear for athletes and has led to a worldwide barefoot running renaissance. McDougall writes with great authority with Born to Run introducing some truly memorable characters whom he joins in an ultra-marathon challenge over fifty mountainous miles through the Copper Canyons. Unsurprisingly this book continues to top the Amazon athletics books’ bestsellers. It will truly convince even the most softened couch potato that yes, baby we were born to run. Profile Books €12.85

Cliffs of Insanity by Keith Duggan

For most of us surfing remains the stereotypical stuff of tanned twenty-somethings, Hawaian shores and the Beach Boys. Yet in West Clare there exists a sporting counter-culture where an eclectic mix of dare-devilling wet-suiters regularly ride twenty feet Atlantic winter waves without the stimulus of fourteen pints of stout. Keith Duggan spent a winter rubbing shoulders with Mickey Smith, Fergal Smith, the Skajarowski brothers and a host of other supreme water athletes. Inspired by both beauty and fear, they regularly ride through barrels, get hit by hit by the lip and go over the falls. While each of Mickey Smith’s spectacular photographs may paint a thousand words, Duggan’s own tapestry of eloquent imagery is equally breath-taking. He explores a sport fighting an ambiguous war between rising corporatism and the preservation of its unique anonymity. Although the ferocity and cruelty of the ocean is often chillingly acknowledged, this is more a celebration of swimming with the dolphins than with the fishes. Anyone who has even paddled in the cold waters off our coast will enjoy this magnificent exposé of a fascinating underworld on our own western doorstep. Transworld Books: €15.99

The Perfection Point by John Brenkus

John Brenkus, producer and host of Sports Science on ESPN combines science and speculation to measure the point of no return in sporting absolutes. Brenkus explores both the limits and limitlessness of human endeavour in a variety of sporting arenae and concludes in each that ultimate target, the perfection point. He sets out to prove for example how a future marathon will be won in under two hours, how a descendant of Bolt will dip 9 seconds for the 100m and how a future Phelps/Thorpe genetic hybrid may swim 50m in 18seconds. His use of scientific methods is both pragmatic and convincing as is his readalone chapter on performance enhancing substances. However he never loses sight of the fact that sport is played out not in a laboratory but on the track, in the pool, in stadia or on the golf course. In fact it is his obvious passion for the potential of the individual to defy the very science on which he bases his predictions that makes this book so engaging, fascinating and unputdownable. Pan Books €12.85

An Accidental Athlete by John “The Penguin”Bingham

Velopress from €8.97 (e-book) €10.95 (paperback)

With both his waist and his outside leg measuring 40 inches, at 43 years of age former Runner’s World columnist, John Bingham discovered to his horror that he was turning into a cube. He thus embarked on a life-style change which over the past twenty years has earned him the unlikely reputation as the godfather of the slow-running movement. Known affectionately as The Penguin due to his unique waddling style, Bingham gives the view from the back of the field where the competition not to finish last often rivals the dual for gold at the front. In this charming, philosophical and at times hilarious autobiographical account of his running career, Bingham’ self-deprecation is in perfect sync with his philosophical ability to analyse why he and so many run. Inspiring writing from the man who advises even the most cubic to surrender sedentary confinement and to “waddle on”.

Can’t Swim, Ride, Run by Andy Holgate

Pitch Publishing €18.99

There appears to be an ever-increasing genre in the sports-book market of the zero to hero, everyman to superman variety. In Can’t Swim, Ride, Run Andy Holgate has a distinct advantage over his peers in that his “common man to ironman” chronicle is extremely well-written. Holgate moves from his own baseline as a non-running, non-bicycle-owning, doggy-paddler to an eventual sub 13hour Ironman triathlete. En route to Ironman Germany we meet Viking, Min and other Pirates as well as Tri-widow Emma. The lows of dehydration collapse, nipple burn and chafing are counter-balanced by the sheer elation enjoyed at the finish line. Deservedly shortlisted earlier this year for the British Sports Book 12 Awards, this will surely inspire runners, swimmers and cyclists to marry the other disciplines and to take on the ultimate full-triathlon challenge.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Harvill Secker €12.90 paperback (also available as ebook)

Readable in one sitting, this too short work is nonetheless more than worth the cover price. Haruki Murakami, Japan’s best known contemporary novelist is also an accomplished runner who has averaged one marathon every year for the last thirty years. His first run at the 26.2 mile distance happened in 1983 when he ran, on his own, from Athens to Marathon, the opposite direction of Phidippides, the original battle messenger. Although his post-run cold beer tasted fantastic, it wasn’t as great as the beer he had imagined at the 23mile mark, “nothing in the real world is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness”. And consciousness is indeed the underlying theme of this beautiful book as Murakami journeys through streams of thought as he analyses his interdependence on both running and writing. He sums up his relationship between the two perfectly on the last page with a possible future epitaph,” Haruki Murakami, Writer (and Runner) At Least He Never Walked