Monday, 18 July 2016

BLOG TOUR: "Run the World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe" by Becky Wade

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Run the World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe
by Becky Wade
William Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0062416438
Copyright July 2016
Paperback, 288 Pages

Run the World is an incredibly inspirational and heartfelt book detailing Wade's 1-year journey as she explored the very universal phenomenon of running in its various foreign configurations, and examined the greater subtleties and new training styles of this very sport that necessitates exceptional levels of discipline, perseverance, hard work, and mental strength. The narrative climaxed at the very end of the book in the conclusion, also a beautifully emotional moment for the reader, as Wade reenacted her marathon debut at the California International Marathon (CIM) which she surged to victory; her lifelong dream of being a professional marathoner was jump-started.

The book chronicles Wade's tantalizing travels and discoveries—fascinating to recreational runners and non-runners, and enviable to aspiring elite runners and running enthusiasts. The reader may experience vicarious pleasure as he or she plunges into Wade's account of her adventure, for example, of her eight-week stay at Yaya Village, a world-class training camp and hotel complex in Ethiopia, as she trained with the Yaya girls, the very best Ethiopian runners, and ventured on countless runs at Mount Entoto—“the training grounds of some of the world's most decorated distance runners,” which stood at an elevation of 10,500 feet at its peak.

The reader may covet similar opportunities as the author noted her visits for example, to Bern, Switzerland, the “capital of the mountain running mecca;” to St. Moritz, an Olympic training center in southeast Switzerland with an elevation of 6,000 feet, and which hosted the 1928 and 1948 Olympic Games; or to Falls Creek, a ski resort in Australia at an elevation of 5,250 feet. It was interesting to be offered privy into Wade's musings as she witnessed the women's Olympic Marathon of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, or her personal reflections as she watched the Swedish Relay Championships, or the Asics Stockholm Marathon.

It was especially invigorating to read about Wade's racing experiences in the various countries she visited; if only her talent and hard work could rub off on one. Wade ran in the Donegal 5K Championship in Ireland for the Finn Valley Athletics Club (FVAC); in the revived Queen Street Golden Mile, and the Round the Bays 8.4K in Auckland, New Zealand; and completed Arthur Lydiard's famed 22-mile Waiatarua Circuit.

A travel and sports enthusiast would probably salivate upon reading about Wade treading on the very same road that the barefoot Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila won the 1960 Rome Olympics; her opportunity to attend Paavo Nurmi's, a legendary Flying Finn, 116th birthday party in Turku, Finland; and as she got to explore firsthand the roots of the first global jogging boom, and the hometown of famed coach Arthur Lydiard in New Zealand, and the “impassioned and celebrated” historic rivalry between the Oxford University and Cambridge University running clubs in England. Wade also enjoyed a highly-cherished experience socializing with, and learning from “Olympic-caliber fast” runners, her Kenyan flatmates, and stumbled upon the chance to meet “the fastest men in the world,” Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.

Wade's observations on diverging running cultures across the world are particularly illuminating, and context aptly established by first laying out basic attributes of the American running culture—the American “all-or-nothing, gadget-driven, results-obsessed” training style, the quintessential American quest for “fast times in perfect conditions,” and a running culture analogized to “a pressure cooker in which every result is scrutinized and Type A personalities are the norm.”

In contrast, the Ethiopian style of “running, finger snaps, loops, swerves, follow-the-leader formation, and all,” was unfamiliar to her. She noted Ethiopian runners' “preference for rough terrain” and saw them as admirably “quick-footed, upward-looking climbers, and fearless, gravity-embracing descenders;” the Japanese distance running training systems emphasized “extreme discipline, unquestioning obedience, and colossal work ethic;” her unanticipated discovery that Switzerland lacks professional running groups; and the realization that running clubs in many European countries are “more prominent and competitive than the school or university leagues.”

With the intimate relationship between health, diet, and athletic performance, the reader can expect to find simple recipes enclosed at the end of each chapter within the book, an example being the “Kenyan Chicken Stew with Ugali”—“the Kenyan reliance on ugali is one reason that they're generally healthier, leaner, and faster than Americans.” Whilst food enthusiasts might enjoy the multiple rather casual mentions of various food and feasts throughout the book, only one other discerning piece of information about athletic diet was present within the pages however—one that noted the disproportionately high percentage of calories consumed in carbohydrate form by elite runners from Ethiopia and Kenya.

The lucidity in which Wade wrote about “running superstars” is commendable. Her recount of her visit to the Roger Bannister Track in Oxford began with an engaging anecdote of the English runner whom the track was renamed after, and who was responsible for establishing the site as “one of running's most iconic landmarks.” As she arrived in New Zealand, Wade expounded Arthur Lydiard's role in transforming the country's entire athletic environment, as he pioneered the jogging boom which subsequently “set into motion a worldwide running phenomenon.” In other instances, she spoke of elite runners such as Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia, the reigning Olympic Marathon champion.

Wade's intellectual contemplations invariably arouse the reader's curiosity, particularly for recreational runners or non-runners. It was interesting to learn that the author made mental notes of runners' “stride mechanics, arm carriage, body sizes, form flaws, signs of suffering, and visceral shows of strength,” as she watched a marathon. And intriguing to hear her wondering how adopting, for example, some rural Ethiopian practices “might influence, even enhance, my own running.”

Wade's frank inquisitiveness definitely comes across as charming; she expressed being “full of questions” about Gelana's Olympic training, was eager to learn more about the lifestyle of Jamaican sprinters, and at other times, wondered the way “opportunities for Swiss Olympic hopefuls compared to those in the United States.” Her relatability is brought up a notch as she honestly revealed her vulnerabilities, of her “fear of failure” of “racing below peak fitness,” or struggles with feeling “guilty and adrift” in her annual two-week running break.

Wade's passion and dedication to running extends beyond merely inspirational, to the point of being pleasantly infectious. It was energizing to read about Wade pronouncing that her trip led her to become “an even more enthusiastic student of the sport.” And equally rejuvenating to read optimistic statements about her “deep, childlike love for running,” her excitement of “finding new routes, learning the nuances of my body, forming relationships on the move, and challenging myself at various distances,” and eagerness to test herself in “a competitive environment.”

Upon reading this book, amateur runners might potentially walk away with a sense of renewed and increased respect for professional runners, and the sport, or art, of running. This inevitably owes to the highly positive and inspirational portrayal of the sport, in addition to the tribute to prominent runners—the book consistently portrays the sport as one of “elevated work ethic,” of “personal strength and teamwork,”of “self-confidence and trust,” “discipline, resilience, self-awareness,” and a discipline prevailed by those with “a desperate drive to succeed.”

This book is more than about running; themes of love, family, friendship, and community flow through the pages. Inserted amongst Wade's athletic adventures are her stories of reconnecting and rekindling old family ties—with the Haugh family in Kilmihil, Ireland, and the Cavicchioli family in Verona, Italy. Her older brother, Matt's visit was described as an “elixir” that she very much needed. She prominently highlighted elements of friendship with her hosts and fellow runners—the coffee ceremonies, and her very first “gursha” experience with the Yaya Girls in Ethiopia; a joyful Midsummer's Eve celebration nearing the end of her trip; and “one of the kindest favors I'd receive all year,” as one of her Zurich host's partner “heroic[ally]” attempted to communicate with Wade in English throughout her stay.

Depending on the preferences of each specific reader, Chapter 6 of the book on Wade's Japan trip may or may not be a particularly satisfying read. In contrast to the other chapters, Chapter 6 disproportionately contains limited refreshing insights or details on the sport of running, and overflows instead on topics of entertainment. Whilst her accounts of onsen sessions—a public bathing facilitypost-run, and her fish therapy session was rather interesting, and her visit to Tsukiji—the world's largest fish market—and noting the growth of her “enchantment with the Japanese food culture” was reasonable, other content in the chapter such as her Kyoto karaoke session, as accompanied by three young Japanese men, could be potentially omitted and replaced instead with post-trip independent research providing greater details of the Japanese running culture that she was unable to uncover during the trip itself.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins Publishers for this review. 

1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Getting to see the differences and similarities in cultures first hand would be an unforgettable experience for me. Wade certainly has memories to last her a life time!

Thanks for being a part of the tour!