on 18 June 2013
Cycle touring, fell running, rock climbing. Different disciplines, but unified in demanding endurance, determination, and (when practised in the UK, at least) a very English willingness to wrestle with appalling weather in the pursuit of adventure.
Heather Dawe has done them all, but it is mountain marathons that grow to obsess her the most - two day, two person, hardcore fell runs, where navigation between elusive checkpoints is as important as strong legs and deep lungs, foul weather can ruin everything, and 50% of the competitors don't make it to the finish line.
The chapters on the mountain marathons form the spine of the book, and it's an engaging journey from neophyte runner to Elite competitor. Heather is undone time and time again by navigation errors in the pursuit of her goal, and her persistent struggles with map and compass serves to make her very sympathetic. Not many of us can understand the level of skill and stubbornness she displays in her racing, but we've all gotten lost in the hills.
Away from the mountain marathons, she charts her progress as a runner, cyclist and climber (with entertaining detours into philosophy, literature, mathematics and art along the way), culminating in a long dark cycle tour of the soul in the US, where both her physical and mental endurance seem certain to be overcome. But, the book suggests as it concludes, it is only in defeat that true wisdom can be found. Perhaps this is what her restless search for ever harder challenges is all about - to finally be broken, and remake something of herself from these broken pieces.
Sometimes the book wanders astray - a few chapters falter and backtrack like a lost runner on the fells, and certain intriguing intellectual summits (her father's mental disintegration, her own breakdown in the US, questions of solitude, and the ethics of dangerous pastimes) are glimpsed through the mist only to vanish again, seen but not fully explored.
But for the most part this is immersive, inspirational writing. A cracking read for runners, climbers, cyclists, and just about anyone who likes to get scared and sweaty in the hills.
on 23 April 2015
This is an interesting read. Dawe is a by-product of the Leeds University climbing scene (which spawned hundreds of very talented climbers) and yet she has gone on to be incredibly successful in running and cycling in the mountains. I remember her from years ago when she had a really remarkably naive view of her outdoor challenges: she would just disappear and have a go at mountain marathons (whether she could read a map or not). Having said that Dawe rarely focusses on her incredible dedication to training and that is something that is missing from her book. She hints but fleetingly mentions her incredible aptitude for hard work. Other climbers/cyclists/runners/athletes may have natural talent but Dawe was/is brilliant at dogged determination. In some respects the book is at its most interesting in the final sections where Dawe very frankly talks about failure; where dogged determination and desire were not enough to result in success. I thought this was actually the best part of the book and certainly amongst the most revealing.
on 22 August 2013
not just another running book this one inspires and keeps your interest to the end.
it's about running hard an long in some fantastic places how much it can hurt yet be exhilarating at the same time.
First class writing from the heart. Well done Heather Dawe.
on 11 July 2013
Heather Dawe's book takes you on her journey through that intangible need to just keep pushing yourself just that little bit further in outdoor pursuits. Being a bit of a novice runner and climber I am just starting to push my limits. I have found Dawes book inspiring, knowledgeable and comforting (it's good to hear about the mistakes and tough times as well as the good). It makes me feel like I'm not the only one who has had this obsession creep upon them a little bit later in life, when joining a university club. The way that it is written with Dawe's knowledge from other texts alongside her own experiences has made me feel like I am reading about more than a personal journey (which in fairness is a pretty amazing personal journey anyway!)
I think that anyone with an interest in running, climbing or cycling at any level, whether elite or novice (like me) will thoroughly enjoy this book. In fact, I'm going to lend it to my parents to help maybe explain why I do these things!
on 3 March 2014
First: read this book, if it's the sort of thing you like you won't be disappointed. It's a personal and often introspective read, blending a romantic narrative and an analytical teasing out of the issues. Not shy of revealing her shortcomings (eg repeated early navigation blunders) she writes well. I like that it's a female perspective and, despite her achievements, she's not a Big Name outside of our funny little world.
Second: Some reservations. I anticipated more than was delivered. See that puff up there 'The last descent and I can't let myself think it's in the bag. Anything could happen, take it easy, take no risks. Just get to the finish and win.' She's talking about finally winning the Three Peaks at the 8th attempt. But that's about the last you'll read. The Peaks is a glorious, epic, bonkers battle of an event and I was looking forward to reading more. I really wish she'd found more than a scant summary page. There's some great writing online about the Peaks, and I was hoping to read Heather Dawe's take on it from the front. Exactly the same issue with the Bob Graham Round - dismissed in a couple of paragraphs. It deserves more. I'm always interested in how deeply obsessive people integrate 'real life' with working towards their bigger goals, and although she's not shy of referencing family life, work, commutes, etc, I don't think we ever really know. But perhaps that's a dull book and not one we're likely to read?
Reservations apart, definitely worth a read, I just wonder if a stronger editorial hand couldn't have elevated it from good to great?
on 11 September 2013
Heather's fascinating book describes her journey, from fat 15 year old, to Elite athlete, competing in events that make most of us sweaty just to think about. She links this progression with her thoughts on politics, intellectual and personal freedom, and her identity of self. It can be a little disjointed at times, but then so is life. I particularly liked the passages when she is in the wilds, observing the Golden Eagles flying around her.
One thing this book does illustrate very cogently is her belief in self freedom - it is only at the end that you fully understand for Heather that freedom can best be described as a kite - it allows you to soar into the stratosphere, way beyond the sight of mere mortals, but still remaining tethered to your core, in Heather's case her love for home and the family. The threads restraining may be gossamer thin, but are still strong enough to bind her to earth. I couldn't put the book down.
on 2 August 2013
Heather Dawes takes us with her on a journey through the mountains, giving us an insight into the mental and physical strength needed to be an elite athlete. Throughout the book she touches on philosophical reasoning behind why she chooses to run in the mountains, providing glimpses of deep understanding of the human spirit's need to be outdoors. Heather demonstrates that great things can be achieved with hard work, ambition and relentless determination. It is inspiring to read of her persistence; juggling everyday work and family, battling her way through hard times and mistakes made along the way to achieve her ambition. Truly inspiring!! A great read for any outdoor enthusiast and for those who are interested in the scope of our own potential.
on 12 November 2013
I am not a long distance runner but love the outdoors and love to challenge myself, walking, caving and trying new activites. reading this book and "why i do it" was just like reading about myself. I couldn't put it down as I know many of the places mentioned in the book and couldn't wait to see what the next challenge would be! Failure is just as importnat as success in personal development and in defining onself.
on 16 July 2013
This is a motivational read which has made me want to put on my trainers and get out into the hills. Written with honesty, infectious passion and energy, Heather takes us on her personal journey to become one of the best endurance athletes in the UK today. Recounting both highs and lows, we learn about how far she is willing to push herself both physically and mentally to achieve, her joys of sharing wild experiences with friends, and simply just how much she loves being able to get out into the fells after a hard day at work - something we can all relate to. Doing this whilst working a 9-5 job with a young family, Heather is a role model to all and I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to be inspired.
on 12 August 2013
Warning! Heather's book causes putting on trainers and jumping on bikes, but goes way beyond tales for outdoor-types. It is very well written - her astonishing experiences flow - and just as she sets herself challenges she tempts the reader with more questions than answers. My Primary classes hear "we'll do better knowing boundaries for behaviour: when to stop and how". Truth for all? Conversely, quaking above a death slide another mantra was thrown back "go on Miss, you always tell us to face our fears: if it was easy there'd be no point". But why jump or even go to the edge? Kid cred? Thrilling threat of failure? Fulfillment by overcoming to succeed? Security in rationally setting limits by trying long, hard and smart enough? Struggle to end perpetual doubt that one is ever good enough? Whatever your walk of life, in following Heather's story and her exploration of motivation maybe you too will go deeper, unearth and grow?