Tag Archives: endurance

failure is an option

“Failure is an Option” written and read by Matt Whyman

This post may contain spoilers.

Unlike many other books of this type that I’ve read or listened to previously, this is written by someone who is already an accomplished author and this is obvious from very early in the book. What is also obvious is that he’s a very, very good author. To make it even better he has a fantastic personal story to tell.

The book is built around the fact that he is taking part in the 2021 edition of “The Dragon’s Back Race” which dubs itself as “the world’s toughest mountain race“. This is a multi-day ultra distance mountain run along the spine of Wales but the author’s story doesn’t start there. He takes us right back to the humble beginning of his running journey when he started accompanying his Dad on his local post-work runs as a young child. This progressed through solo running, school cross country to Parkrun, the London Marathon and eventually ultra running races of 100+ miles culminating in the Dragon’s Back Race.

I loved his humble and self-deprecating analysis of his running journey. He is very much an average person and an average runner. He has very little knowledge of training programs, sports nutrition or cross training and makes every possible mistake along the way. However, his love of running shines through in every word as he learns from every mistake and gradually gains the knowledge to make success more likely.

He also has many challenges in his personal life. He deals with a period of depression and alcohol misuse as well as physical issues caused by an accident. He’s a father and husband and has familial responsibilities that he has to fit around his love of running and describes all his struggles to do both in a way that will probably connect with everyone that reads or listens to his story.

One of the warmest aspects of this story is his very obvious love for his wife and children. He’s besotted with them all and they are all a source of incredible pride for him. Overall he’s an ordinary Dad that does extraordinary things without the arrogance and selfishness you would normally expect. This book was an absolute joy to listen to and I know very little about running and especially ultra running.

There is a very surreal anecdote in this book that is so bizarre that even the author struggles to believe it. I won’t spoil it here as it is too wonderful to take it away from anyone else but as well as having an almost life changing impact on the author it shows the reader an inkling of the kind of warm, caring and special person the man he met actually was. On its own this little piece of the story makes the whole book worthwhile.

This is the third and final audiobook I’ve listened to that came from recommendations on Splodz Blogz weekly blog Episode 110. All of them have been great but I think this is my favourite of the three.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

More on Goodreads and Audible.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

mud, rock, blazes

“Mud, Rock, Blazes” written by Heather Anderson and read by Chelsea Stephens

This post may contain spoilers.

This was a fascinating insight into the mental challenges faced by an endurance athlete. Unlike all the other books I’ve listened to and read on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails this walker was trying to set a record. Heather Anderson (Anish) already held the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for self-supported completion of the PCT in 2013 but riddled with self-doubt and insecurity she had herself convinced it was a fluke. With incredibly low self esteem and a failure to set an FKT on the John Muir Trail she decided to give herself one last chance and aim for an FKT on the AT in 2015. Not content with the female record she set herself a huge challenge of the overall FKT requiring an average of 50 miles per day to complete in just over 50 days. An average of 3-4 miles per hour meant sleep deprivation, no rest days and a constant battle to keep fuelled and hydrated while fighting exhaustion as well as the mental torment of having set a daily target that simply wasn’t achievable.

Unlike all the other AT and PCT stories this is all a personal journey and a story about her personal battles. Don’t read this if you want to know about the trail itself or about the characters that you might encounter. However, if you want an insight into the mind of an endurance athlete and what it takes to keep going day in, day out this is the book for you. In today’s world of airbrushed and sanitised perfect lives depicted on social media this was incredibly frank and honest and dealt with her negative self image as much as the achievement of battling through conditions that most people can’t even contemplate.

The difference here between 4 and 5 stars was the narrator. She reads at the start in a kind of breathless and over dramatic way that kind of trivialised the author’s achievements and feelings. I don’t know if she moderated this as the story progressed or if I stopped noticing it but it definitely became less of an issue later in the book.

This is the second audiobook I’ve listened to that came from recommendations on Splodz Blogz weekly blog Episode 110. There’s a third one in there that is next on my list.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

More on Goodreads and Audible.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

50 states of the usa

“50 States of the USA” written and read by Anna McNuff

This post may contain spoilers.

It’s not commonplace that a good author also has the ability to be a good reader. Anna McNuff is brilliant at both! Not only is this an excellent description of her challenge but she reads it with passion and a huge sense of fun. She obviously loved her time during this book, revels in reliving it and it pumps out of the speakers. I’m totally convinced that this is a book enhanced by being an audiobook version.

I’ve read and listened to a number of books on endurance activities now. Most are based on long-distance hiking of the PCT or AT and a couple on long distance cycling. The most notable of the latter was Mark Beaumont’s story of his world record cycle round the world but this story has more in common with the best of the hiking stories I’ve listened to.

While many adventure stories focus on either the journey and the places encountered or the organisation of getting to and through the challenge this story is mostly about the people the author met along the way. While she camped plenty she managed to spend a lot of time staying with friends, friends of friends and hosts through the Warm Showers association which this story is an excellent advertisement for.

Throughout the book the author is continually surprised by the warmth and generosity of the people she meets but I’m positive that it is partly her own wonderful nature that brings this out in people she encounters.

If you want an uplifting experience and to hear an encouraging story about society in general but especially American society then this book is for you. It’s so nice to hear positive stories about America and especially small town America that seems to get bad press in many media.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

More on Goodreads and Audible.

Republished as “The United States of Adventure

Header image source: fossbytes.com

camino sunrise – walking with my shadows

Camino Sunrise – Walking With My Shadows by Reginald Spittle

From Goodreads:

Walk? 500 miles? Across Spain? We can’t do that!
And so began the journey of a lifetime for Reg Spittle.

An outwardly well-adjusted professional and family man, Reg was a master of disguising a lifetime of debilitating anxiety that undermined his self-confidence.

Recently retired, he never dreamed he’d soon find himself chasing distant boundaries across a foreign land, sleeping in dorm bunks and sharing bathrooms as if he were a teenager experiencing his gap year.

When tragedy strikes, Reg reluctantly accepts his wife’s challenge to carry his red backpack on the historic Camino de Santiago, confronting past fears and humiliations, while packing weighty new worries.

Self-reflection, humor, and a recurring cast of characters create the backdrop for a story of hope in Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is the first book written by the author but I have already read his second book that details his later treks. This is the story of how it all began.

The book is an enjoyable account of the Camino experience. It’s very different from the PCT and AT endurance treks I’ve enjoyed in lots of other books but it’s most certainly a challenge in its own right. I found that the book captured a sense of sharing and camaraderie that seems more personal on the Camino compared to the other treks. The author describes his Camino “Family” and the spirit of this definitely comes across. This subtle difference may be due to the kind of trekker that is attracted to the different trails. The people Reg and Sue met were older in general while the PCT and AT seemed to be predominantly younger trekkers.

The book is also a very personal and private struggle for the author as the Camino experience brings his life-long struggles with anxiety to the fore. Even contemplating and agreeing to attempt the trek is a massive challenge for him. Throughout the book he describes events through his childhood that led to anxiety in his adult life and how he hopes that post-Camino Reg will be a different person to pre-Camino Reg.

At times I felt the personal stories uncomfortable. I was lucky to have a much happier childhood but many of the struggles he describes were very familiar. At the time I simply put it down to shyness and social awkwardness but it made me realise that anxiety that I sometimes struggle with in adulthood was there during my childhood too. Recognising this shook me a bit. Maybe this was my own Camino journey in a very small way.

Header image by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

the longest walk

20miles, 32 kilometres, it doesn’t sound like an awful lot but that was my target for Wednesday. Back in 2012 I did my longest ever walk at 30.5km on The Bluestack Challenge along part of the Bluestack Way from Glenties to Lough Eske. That was an organised walk and over some hilly terrain. Since then I’ve done some longish walks in the 15-20km area and last year walked a half marathon for the first time since 2012. A few weeks ago I repeated that same walk and pushed it out to 25km.

Since then it’s been rattling around in my head to push on and beat my personal best. I’ve been walking a bit extra this month as part of the fundraiser for the Irish Community Air Ambulance and I wanted to finish March with a big one. I’ve also been listening to a few audiobooks recently on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail and was inspired to put in one of their days. One of the big milestones for those thru-hikers is their first 20mile day so 32km became my new target, albeit without the 15kg backpack!

I walked a very similar route to the other two days linked above but with variations to increase the distance. It was all on roads, some of which were very familiar but I also managed to find roads I’ve never been on before and yet so close to home. I was surprised by the variety of landscapes that I saw and just how quickly they changed. I had great weather, cold and breezy at times but dry all day. I had a great time and despite the throbbing knees and ankles had a massive sense of achievement at the end.

beautiful birch at lunch stop

(For some reason this video has uploaded in a low resolution version and I can’t work out why, yet another thing to learn.)

So what is the next challenge? I guess the next logical step is to walk the full marathon distance which is 42km. I already have a route pencilled out for that and I’m investigating a 50km route also. That one will require a long dry day in summer and it’s probably the absolute maximum limit for me for a single day walk. I’m going to enjoy the current achievement for a while but also enjoy making plans…

Header image by Pixabay from Pexels

where’s the next shelter?

Where’s the Next Shelter? written and read by Gary Sizer

From Audible:

Where’s the Next Shelter? is the true story of three travelers on the Appalachian Trail, a 2,000-mile hike that stretches from Georgia to Maine, told from the perspective of Gary Sizer, a seasoned backpacker and former marine who quickly finds himself humbled by the endeavor. He teams up with Megan, a sassy college grad whose indomitable spirit eclipses her lack of experience; and Lemmy, a cartoonist from overseas whose off-kilter commentary on the wonders and frustrations of the trail keeps everyone laughing.

Sprawling through the woods and towns of the Appalachian Mountains, the trail carries the trio through real and fanciful ups and downs ranging from hilarious to perilous. Much more than an orderly account of mountaintops and meals, this book is an adventure about friends figuring things out as they go. It’s about screwups and solutions, awe and inspiration.

If you long for the horizon or to sleep under the stars, then come along for the hike of a lifetime. All you have to do is take the first step.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Yes, yet another audiobook on long distance hiking and my second in a row on the AT! This one took a bit of getting used to. The author reads his own story and he reads at a speed that is slightly too fast for comfortable listening. He also has a slightly irreverent attitude that while novel means quite a lot of swearing. Hearing fuck in an audiobook conversation while not shocking is kind of jarring and I was nearly at the end before I was getting used to it.

A consistent element of the story style is the author recounting conversations as they happen and verbatim. I find it difficult to believe that he was able to recall so many conversations over such a long period of time and almost a year after finishing the trail.

Sizer himself is an interesting character and I found his friendship and relationship with other hikers and trail angels really well written and described. In particular his special relationship with Voldemort (Megan) and Lemmy is particularly enjoyable.

Another good depiction of the AT and I found it particularly interesting how Sizer’s description was different to that of David Miller’s while still staying so similar in many ways.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

awol on the appalachian trail

Awol on the Appalachian Trail written by David Miller and read by Christopher Lane

From Audible:

In 2003, software engineer David Miller left his job, family, and friends to hike 2,172 miles of the Appalachian Trail. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail is Miller’s account of this thru-hike from Georgia to Maine. Listeners are treated to rich descriptions of the Appalachian Mountains, the isolation and reverie, the inspiration that fueled his quest, and the rewards of taking a less conventional path through life. While this book abounds with introspection and perseverance, it also provides useful passages about hiking gear and planning. This is not merely a travel guide; it is a beautifully written and highly personal view into one man’s journey and the insights gained by abandoning what is comfortable and routine.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

I listened to this straight after “Journeys North” and I think it would have been more enjoyable with a gap between the two. It’s also the very first AT based audiobook for me and it seems that the PCT is a much more diverse adventure and also seems to attract a more interesting participant. This means that while the author is interesting and has his own good back story those around him seem less so. Again this could be due to comparing everyone to Journeys North.

I did enjoy the writing style of the story which kept it tipping along at a steady pace. He also provided a lot of information about the AT itself and I felt that I knew it much better at the end compared to Bill Bryson’s book which was more about his experience than the actual trail.

At a similar age to the author I found great admiration for how he was able to recognise the way his career was affecting his mental health and happiness and was able to change the script of his life with the incredible support of his wife. I was really glad he filled us in at the end on how he returned to real life once again.

My only regret with this book is that I should have listened to it before Journeys North.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

journeys north: the pacific crest trail

Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail by Barney Scout Mann

From Audible:

In Journeys North, legendary trail angel, thru hiker, and former PCTA board member Barney Scout Mann spins a compelling tale of six hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007 as they walk from Mexico to Canada. This ensemble story unfolds as these half-dozen hikers – including Barney and his wife, Sandy – trod north, slowly forming relationships and revealing their deepest secrets and aspirations. They face a once-in-a-generation drought and early severe winter storms that test their will in this bare-knuckled adventure. In fact, only a third of all the hikers who set out on the trail that year would finish.

As the group approaches Canada, a storm rages. How will these very different hikers, ranging in age, gender, and background, respond to the hardship and suffering ahead of them? Can they all make the final 60-mile push through freezing temperatures, sleet, and snow, or will some reach their breaking point?

Journeys North is a story of grit, compassion, and the relationships people forge when they strive toward a common goal.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I absolutely loved this, easily the best  audiobook I’ve listened to so far. Really well written and excellently narrated but it’s the story that makes it special.

Most thru-hike stories focus on the author, their personal story and the people they meet along the way. This one gives the other five stories equal merit and this makes it unique.

Scout seems to be a very special person and I really enjoyed his take on the PCT but also his insights into the lives of the friends he made along the way. It’s obvious that much of the information was provided by them, rather than just observations, which points to the close relationship he had with each one.

A truly inspirational story of resilience, determination and the strength of humanity.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

section hiking

I’ve read and listened to a lot of stories about long distance hikes over the last year or so. From Bill Bryson’s adventure on the Appalachian Trail (AT) to Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and recently Reg Spittle’s second book about trekking in the UK and Europe. I’ve just started yet another PCT themed audiobook, by Barney Scout Mann, entitled Journeys North.

In the opening chapters Mann mentions how some hikers walk long distance trails in sections rather than thru-hiking the entire trail in one go. This has been mentioned in every story so far but yesterday it seemed to have found more fertile soil in my brain and I started considering my own options for section hiking.

© toughsoles.ie

Close to home I have a number of waymarked walks. Of Ireland’s 42 National Waymarked Trails there are 5 in Donegal. Of these the only one I’ve walked is The Bluestack Way. I walked the Glenties – Lough Eske section of this almost 10 years ago as a charity walk for the Bluestack Foundation, approx 30km in 9 hours was, and still is, my longest day’s walking.

Three long distance walks also pass near my home. The Irish leg of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) approx 450km from the Slieve League cliffs in Donegal to Larne in Co. Antrim, The Ulster Way, a looped trail just over 1,000km that circles Northern Ireland and The Ireland Way that is also 1,000km from Castletownbere in West Cork to The Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim.

the international appalachian trail – ireland

the ulster way

the ireland way

All three routes meet and overlap at the border between Donegal and Tyrone and follow the same route until The Giant’s Causeway where The Ireland Way stops. The IAT carries on with the Ulster Way until Larne where it stops before skipping across The Irish Sea to Scotland.

Many years ago I read one of the few books on The Ulster Way by Alan Parker and first published in 1989. Alan was the first ever person to walk the entire Ulster Way in 1979. It’s a really interesting read for more than just the walk itself. Alan was a real old school hiker and used B&B accommodation all the way. It’s a fascinating glimpse of a different pace of life in Northern Ireland at the end of the 70s and surprisingly unaffected by The Troubles.

I was familiar with the Ulster Way having seen the signs on many occasions throughout Northern Ireland and reading this book gave me my first real desire to do a long distance walk. However, 30 days is difficult to fit into any life when work and family also need attention so unfortunately it never happened.

The idea though has never left me so it’s unsurprising that it was The Ulster Way that I turned to today to investigate the possibility of section hiking. WalkNI have a very detailed section on their website that details a variety of different 1, 2 & 3 day and 1 week suggestions and there are 2 that really appeal.

Belcoo – Belleek: a 47km section including the optional Lough Navar loop. This is an area I’m very familiar with and Lough Navar has an amazing viewpoint looking out over Lough Erne. Possible as a day hike but more enjoyable over 2 days.

Lough Bradan – Gortin: 60km and recommended as a 2 day walk. Being close to home this is a very familiar area and although I’ve walked or cycled some of it, most of the route would be new to me.

In the middle of a very wet, cold and stormy February it’s nice to look at these routes and dream of long days walking and camping in warm sunshine (ideally!).

trippin’ through my 60s

Trippin’ Through My 60s by Reginald Spittle

From Amazon:

As a child of the Sixties, Reg Spittle was no stranger to unrest and rebellion. So it was no surprise that, at age 60, when he closed his office door for the last time and left the working world behind, his restlessness would lead him to a path less traveled.

Trippin’ Through My 60s is a lighthearted look at how Reg discovered and pursued his passion for trekking along four famed European long-distance trails:

  • Scotland’s West Highland Way
  • The Alps’ Tour du Mont Blanc
  • Italy’s Way of St. Francis
  • England’s South West Coast Path

Unexpected challenges, wrong turns, and humor evoke memories of life in the Sixties and create the backdrop for Reg’s adventures as he tackles backpacking escapades that push him to the edge.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve been following Reg’s blog for quite a while now (Books and my Backpack) and enjoy his reviews and recommendations of books by other authors. He mentions his own two books occasionally but isn’t pushy with them. However, I’ve been meaning to check them out for quite a while now. Recently, I spotted this book, his second, on Amazon and added it to my reading list.

This book covers four trekking trips that Reg and his wife Sue undertook in their retirement. I was particularly interested as the first two treks were The West Highland Way and The Tour de Mont Blanc. I was interested to see how they coped with the challenge of these two tough trails.

Reg has a very casual and relaxed way of writing. Even when he and his wife are struggling to cope with the conditions and demands of the trail he seems to be able to retain good spirits and take the best from every situation.

I very much enjoyed those first two treks as I’ve watched some YouTube videos of walkers on the West Highland Way and canoeists on the Great Glen Way. My visit to Switzerland in 2019 to Pierre’s house in Valais also involved a day trip to Chamonix which is where the Tour de Mont Blanc starts and finishes. Lots of the scenery and placenames were familiar and there was a real sense of adventure from their depiction.

The final two treks were also interesting but less adventurous than the first two. I also found the descriptions of these two trips a bit repetitive, especially the English trip which is why I dropped a star*

Overall I really enjoyed this book, Reg and his wife are inspiring to anyone considering long distance and multi day treks. They are living proof that age shouldn’t be a barrier to your dreams and that it’s never too late to chase them. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in walking or the outdoors.

*I was very tempted to drop a second star due to his horrified reaction to eating smokey bacon crisps for the first time. My favourite flavour!

Header image by Kaboompics .com from Pexels