In my day job as a book publisher, we have been taking something of a kicking over the last few year with declining markets and the realisation that our competitors are no longer other publishers but Angry Birds and The Wire. More than once I have heard people ask ‘why bother?’
It is still, thankfully, a rhetorical question but one worth asking as people head off for their summer holidays, rucksacks stuffed with paperbacks, or their kindles loaded with eBooks. For, in a year when I have run far less than ever before – the boy, moving house, the book and the trip to America – it has been in those hours with a book at the end of the day that I have been able to make up, fractionally, on those lost hours on the road.
My two heroes of the moment are Jon Krakauer, who I have written about already, and Ed Stafford, whose excellent Walking the Amazon is out now to coincide with his TV documentary. These two are reason alone for understand how vital the written word is. However, as much as I am in awe of them as writers and adventurers, it is James Adams that has stolen the limelight this summer.
If you have not already come across his blog, then start from the beginning. You may recall that James was one of the seven who joined me at Big Ben at 4am on the morning of the marathon to run to Greenwich. We are, as they say, of a similar shape – that is, not 65kg of Kenyan muscle – but given that James is a multiple finisher of the Spartathlon and numerous other ultras, I didn’t really believe him when he confessed at 20 miles to not being that fit. He then mentioned, almost in passing, that he would be running across America in two months time. He is now 11 days into that race. 3,000 miles. LA to New York. 45 miles, approximately, every day.
Running, and even more so, writing about running, is a repetitive business, and running for 45 days is a very different challenge to feeling your body disintegrate over the course of one 152-mile race. (I am taking his word for it). Although the body has 8-10 hours to recover between stages, at 11 days in there really is no sense that the end is in sight. After all this – Mojave Desert, 42 degree heat etc (I leave it to your imagination to what that etc includes) – James has blogged almost daily of the race. In amongst the detail descriptions of the terrain and what it is doing him and the dozens of comments of encouragement every day, there was one line on day six or seven that just said ‘I can’t remember the last time I did not fall asleep and dream of a white line in the road’.
This will be a familiar feeling to anyone who loves their running, and made the hairs on my arms stand on end, even though I was reading this at work between meetings with an ice cream in my hand. And here, in one sentence was the reason why writing is so important. Because in our sedentary lives, we still have the chance to experience these adventures, albeit vicariously. And without it our lives would be tedious beyond belief as there is only so much Angry Birds that one can take.