Out for a 10-mile run in a forest remembered from his childhood, Robin Harvie got lost.
I had been running for about four hours by the time I dropped to my knees over a shallow puddle to contemplate breaking the muddy reflection and quenching my thirst…. I was exhausted, confused, and completely lost.
Hours later, Harvie made it back to his parents’ cottage – chafed bloody, severely dehydrated, and limping. He later worked out that he had gone 35 miles – the farthest he had ever run.
In the years that followed he ran marathons, fortified by the memory of that experience. Frustrated that he couldn’t get any faster, he decided to see if he could go farther.
In The Lure of Long Distances: Why We Run, amateur ultra-distance runner Robin Harvie recounts a year spent training for the Spartathlon, a 152-mile race from Athens to Sparta. All the running gave him a lot of time to think, helping him cope with a family tragedy. “Whether it is walking or running, motion has a meditative quality, an ability to slow down the rhythm of our lives, enabling us to regain an elemental foundation of self-knowledge and acceptance.”
Throughout the book Harvie returns to a seemingly simple question: Why do we run?
As anyone who has run long knows, the mind can wander… and this narrative does too, roaming through a variety of topics from family history to the history of competitive running and to examining others who have gone to extremes to see what drives them. Moving from Everest to Iffley Road Track in Oxford to the South Pole, he spins tales of Mallory, Bannister, and Scott to see what drove them higher, faster, and farther. And along the way he quotes everyone from Nietzche, Aristotle, and Coleridge to Karnazes and Jurek (whom he describes as “among the most mystical of ultra distance runners”).
Though this is at its heart a deeply personal memoir, The Lure of Long Distances will resonate with every runner – especially as Harvie describes his joy, anxiety, pain, and excitement while struggling through the 2009 Spartathlon.
The Lure of Long Distances: Why We Run by Robin Harvie. 2011: PublicAffairs Books, ISBN 978-1610390200