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I always enjoy the challenge of reading a pile of books on holiday. I used to read every day and get through at least a book a week but due to time constraints and the fact that when I do get into bed I often just fall straight to sleep, I struggle to read a book until I am on holiday.

This year, one of my chosen books which had been recommended to me was titled Footnotes by Vybarr Cregan-Reid. The book sets out to discover why running means so much to so many. He embarks on a journey that takes him across the world from incredible landscapes and running terrains to the most advanced running laboratories and research centers. For a regular compulsive runner, this book was fascinating and really made me recognise that running is more than just a sport. It is a way to get offline and recover some of the joy that modern life denies us. It explains how runners run in order to de-stress and maintain order out of chaos.

Vybarr Cregan-Reid’s Footnotes involves the reader on a journey that crosses different terrains. 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 in 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 edge lands, 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.

This book is definitely worth a read and inspires you not just to run but to be truly alive while doing it. There is no such a thing as a bad runner, you either run or you don’t but despite this have a read and see if you get transported across the world.


By Kate Ball

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