It’s almost a year since I arrived at Aurum Press to look after the sports’ list, and last week I acquired my seventh and eighth book. One on the secret swimming spots in London and the other about the crazy years between 1971-75 when Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman fought each other five times for the World Heavyweight Championship belt. Both, for very different reasons, are going to be blistering books.
So far, though, no running books have come my way. As a sub-genre books about running tend to fall into one or more of three categories. There is the straight-memoir/inspirational book à la Scott Jurek, which Bloomsbury have recently published. Then there is the historical/biographical story, usually involving two Victorian gentlemen, a wager and some bonkers distance that they have to cover wearing only pyjamas and surviving on beer and gruel. Mark Whitaker’s Running for Their Lives is an excellent example. Then there is the ‘what can they teach me about running’ category involving a writer embedding themselves into an unfamiliar culture to find out the secret to running like Mo Farah. Chris McDougall’s Born to Run, and more recently (and a far better book) is Adharanand Finn’s Running with the Kenyans.
What these two last books have that the others don’t, is the pearl of any great story. By placing themselves, and by extension us, at the heart (but not the centre) of the narrative the authors allow us to dream that if we too had been born there, or had the time to up sticks and spend six months running in the Rift Valley then we too would be on the verge of breaking two hours for the marathon. But they also give us a warts and all picture of the pain that is endured by those whose story we are following. All without us having to leave our living room. We can then close the book with a sigh thinking ‘ah, that could have been me’, before we get up to boil the kettle.
Now that the story of how the Kenyan’s hold the secret to breaking the two-hour marathon has been told, and a fad of bare-foot running has been launched on the back of the story of an obscure, forgotten tribe in Mexico, the question is where to turn to next – where in the world will a story of the holy grail of distance running come from. (This is key because it endurance running rather than the sprint). There are the monks of Mount Hiei in Japan, whose distance running takes place over many years and is the route to enlightenment.
There is also the story of Budhia Singh, the marathon boy in India, but these are stories we are familiar with already. So, this is the question – where else in the world can a story like Running with the Kenyans be found, and who would like to write it for me. Answers on a postcard if you’re interested.