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Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human Paperback – 8 Jun 2017
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"A wonderfully subtle and ambitious book" (P.D. Smith Guardian)
"Insightful and intoxicating. Vybarr Cregan-Reid's book makes you take your shoes off and run through a world of ideas about nature." (Lynne Truss)
"Delightful" (The Times Literary Supplement)
"Footnotes is a blazing achievement." (Kate Norbury Caught by the River)
"Few have done it so artfully and completely." (Oliver Balch Literary Review)
"Here is a book in which the striding energy of the prose matches its subject." (Iain Sinclair)
"Wonderfully authoritative vindication of what ought to be a self-evident truth: that running should be about being alive, not being a consumer." (Richard Askwith - author of Running Free: A Runner’s Journey Back to Nature)
"It’s hard to imagine a more compelling or poetic running companion than Vybarr Cregan-Reid. He inspires us not just to run, but to be truly alive while we are doing it." (Scarlett Thomas)
"A brilliant, broad-ranging and beautiful book. Like a great run into a wild landscape, it opens the heart and the mind, taking you off into the unknown, delighting at every turn and returning you changed for the better." (Rob Cowen - author of Common Ground)
About the Author
Vybarr Cregan-Reid is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Kent. He has a popular blog, psychojography.com, and has written on running for the Guardian, Telegraph, Literary Review and the BBC. He has also written numerous articles and essays for academic journals and a book on Victorian culture. @vybarr
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As might be anticipated, running itself is one such terrain, with the author returning from his encounters with scientists, geographers, sociologists and artists around the world with a bulging haul of ideas that contextualise the activity of placing one foot in front of the other at speed. Fluent in translating these ideas from their specialist discourses into accessible and provocative language, the author lets us consider running in terms of our evolved human physiology, of our psychologies of engagement and motivation, of our sensory appreciation of landscape and of our propensity to represent experiences through artistic practice. Cregan-Reid is particularly intrigued by questioning these disciplines for what it is that is different about the process of running out in the elements, under open skies, in baking heat and sheeting rain and is an advocate for the barefoot approach, accounting for its reduction in injuries and increase in experiential contact with the ground.
It is that ground, the outdoors, that constitutes another of the terrains of the book and here, Cregan-Reid’s work shades into a sensitive, knowledgeable and articulate form of nature writing as his runs take us from islands to forests to coastal paths, his eyes, his nose, his ears and his sense of touch acutely sensitive to the presences of plant life, of birds and of geology such as the chalk Downs of Southern England. Yet this isn’t, from my perspective, exclusively a paean to the bucolic wild places as Cregan-Reid expresses the running pleasures to be found in inner city parks, in university campuses, in the edgelands and along suburban streets, sometimes finding himself blocked by fences, sometimes deriving an illicit thrill from scaling these and continuing past the “Keep Out” signs.
The third terrain that jogs its way in and out of the other two involves the author locating running and the outdoors within a cultural frame, finding many relevant resonances within the literature and poetry of his own academic expertise but also within penal history (the origins of the modern day gym treadmill as part of an ‘enlightened’ regime of discipline and punishment), within art history and even within political theory (as he draws on the efforts of the Situationist International to propel a ‘psychogeography’, where environments are to be understood through the often idiosyncratic ambiences they create).
The fourth terrain of the book, the springing moss under its bare feet, so to speak, is, I think, dedicated to the question of happiness and how running might involve itself in that. How, beyond the stiff muscles, the wet hair and cold skin, the tiredness, the mapless disorientation, the feelings of physical inadequacy, there is something so special about moving upright through the air, feet touching then leaving the ground, lungs filling then emptying, that it is the lure that will turn us from our anxieties, lift us from our sadness, tear us away from our screens and lead us to into something bigger, happier, somewhere where our senses are opened, somewhere that we run.
The paradox of this brilliant book, of course, is that each page - each paragraph even - has something in it that tempts us to put it down, pull on our shorts and join the writer out in the streets and on the trails.
A different type of running book but well worth a read.