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The Lure of Long Distances: Why We Run    by Robin Harvie order for
Lure of Long Distances
by Robin Harvie
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

This is a running memoir that will appeal to those who enjoy marathon running either for the competition or just for their own gratification. The Lure of Long Distances: Why We Run by Robin Harvie is the story of a young man who ran his first marathon after he made a bet.

When he discovered that he wasn't a fast runner, Robin Harvie didn't hang up his running shoes; he just shifted his emphasis. He began focusing on distance and eventually began training for the grueling Spartathlon. This race course stretches 150 miles from Athens to Sparta and is a re-creation of Pheidippides' legendary run. Crossing two mountain ranges, this is one of the most challenging courses for ultradistance runners.

Harvie's experience from training to the race itself and his adventures that led up to this moment are the subject of this book. Actually, there is much more here than just an account of one runner's attempt to tackle a seemingly impossible course. This is a look at how intoxicating running can be and how every mile one runs is both a step further into the unknown and takes one deeper into the self.

Long distance runners are, by their nature, solitary figures and if you ask them why they run, they'll often either evade the question entirely or give you a rambling, not terribly satisfying answer. In fact, they often give the impression that if you have to ask this question you aren't part of the distance fraternity and therefore not worth bothering with.

'All runners have their own reasons (to run), in some cases their own cross to bear, and I have sat at the feet of those runners to learn from them, rather than to offer some kind of confessional on their behalf,' writes Harvie.

'Inevitably, though, motives have been uncovered and tragedies revealed. While these explanations alone do not give a three-dimensional picture of why they run, to ignore them would be to treat running as a pastime that exists mutually exclusively to the rest of their lives. For these men and women, as it came to be for me, running was as much a way of life as a means of understanding it.'

In telling his story the author also shares some historically significant stand-out moments in long distance running. For example, you'll meet Mensen Ernest who in the 19th century completed the distance between Paris and Moscow in just 13 days and 18 hours and also ran from Constantinople to Calcutta and back again, covering 8,900 kilometers in 59 days.

Then there's the tale of Rosie Swale Pope who, a year after her husband died, set off to run around the world in 2003. She covered roughly 21,000 miles crossing Europe, Russia, Siberia and North America. It took her five years to do it and 53 pairs of shoes!

'All who have put on a pair of sneakers will know the sense of freedom that comes with fresh air on the face miles from home,' explains Harvie. If, like the author, you enjoy lacing up your running shoes each week, this is a book you'll want to read.

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