It is nearly 18 months since I came back from the Spartathlon, a story that is recounted in the penultimate chapter of Why We Run, which is published in April. And yet the book only went to press last week. In two weeks time a project that was conceived five years ago will finally reach its conclusion between the covers.
What I had forgotten until the final proofs were signed off was that it took me far longer to learn how to write the book than train for the Spartathlon. Nearly two years were spent working out what the story was I wanted to tell, and I spent at least another year going round in circles working out how to tell it. Most of the book was written in a single Kerouac-esque ream of consciousness sat in France over Christmas 2009, getting up at 4am to write for 6 hours straight before collapsing on the bed, just as the day was starting. By the time I got home there were 50,000 new words on the page.
It still amazes me that, even once it was finished, it took another year to complete. It was edited – beautifully – over the summer, and then copy-edited and proofed – a number of serious howlers pointed out with great tact. Then the American editor got his hands on it – trainers turned to sneakers, spliffs to joints – and a brief explanation added as to where in the world Denmark actually was.
But it has been worth the wait. One of my great running heroes, Dean Karnazes, wrote of the book: ‘Every runner has a story, and Robin Harvie’s is one of the most remarkable I’ve ever encountered. Why We Run is brilliantly written, deeply emotional, raw and honest. Robin scrapes away the superficial dermis and offers a rare glimpse into the mindset and motivation of a long-distance runner’. It was his story that set me on this road in the first place.
Philip Hoare and Joyce Carol Oates, whose essay on running should be read by anyone who laces up for a jog around the park, enjoyed it too. But at the end of the day, what matters more than these kind words is that those who read the book feel a familiarity with the journey. For, if you are a runner, this is your story too. Because anyone can take on these distances, if they are brave enough to ignore the howls from those around them asking: ‘what is the use?’