The inspiration to dare
One of the simple pleasures I have in life is the few minutes I’ll spend sat in front of my bookcases, wondering which book to read next. I’ll scan along the shelves, silently voicing ‘read‘ or ‘not read‘ as my eyes drink in the colours of the spines – my memories savouring the colours of the stories I’ve read, my imagination firing the colours of those I haven’t yet. I’ll pick a few of the ‘not read’s‘ out, and then sit with a cuppa, reading their blurbs, deciding on which of these inspirational books to read from the stirring of excitement in my stomach – do I fancy battling across the frozen crevasses of the Antarctic, or perhaps trekking with camels across the Australian desert? Or maybe running ultras through the Himalayas, or perhaps being a passenger on a home-built raft sailing the Atlantic? Ooooh, all of them please! But which one now… And so I decide, based on nothing more than a feeling at the time. And I love it! Reading books has given me a huge amount of inspiration over the years, and I’m hoping that some of this rubs off onto the content of this blog, inspiring you, dearest reader, to go that bit further, to push that bit harder. Reading has given me the confidence and inspiration to dare. And so here are a small selection of some of the best and most inspirational books I’ve read – books which continue to live long in my memory, and which I often find myself thinking about in the tougher parts of an ultra marathon.
A quick disclaimer. If you click any of the links to the books, you’ll be taken through to the regular Amazon store. If you then purchase the book via that link, I get a small commission from Amazon. It doesn’t cost you any more, but it will go some way to help me keep this blog going.
The most inspirational books I’ve read showing incredible mind-set…
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
The incredible story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The ship Endurance gets trapped in ice, and is eventually crushed and sinks – the story of what happens next is truly staggering. You can buy a copy here.
Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
Two climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, summit a peak deep in the Peruvian Andes. On their descent, Joe breaks his leg. They forge a plan, and Simon lowers Joe down the mountain, meter by meter, using a rope which is tied around both of their waists. The plan looked to be working until, in a growing snow storm, Joe slid off a steep edge and plummeted downwards. Simon somehow managed to stop his fall, wedging himself into the mountain and holding Joe’s life in his hands. There is only so long he can take the weight, otherwise they’re both dead. What happens afterwards is truly shocking and astounding. You can buy a copy here.
The most inspirational books I’ve read about running…
Just a Little Run Around the World by Rosie Swale Pope
This most inspirational of ladies shows that age is no barrier to living your dreams and challenging yourself both mentally and physically. Rosie was 47 when she took up running, and when, in her mid-fifties she lost her husband Clive to cancer, she decided to run 20,000 miles round the world to raise awareness of prostate cancer. Grab a copy here.
Ultramarathon Man – Dean Karnazes
For me, this is the book that set it all off. On his 30th birthday, Dean Karnazes is out celebrating in a bar with some friends. Something happens and a ‘switch is flicked’ in his head. He heads home, finds his old running shoes and for the first time in fifteen years, runs. He runs 30 miles. This set his life on a whole different path. A great read. Pick up a copy here.
Runner – Lizzy Hawker
A beautifully written book from a beautiful soul. Lizzy Hawker will transport you to the high places of the world, and while you’re there, she’ll tell you how an unassuming person can become a world-record holder. Think you can’t? Think again. Get your copy here.
Running the Himalayas – Richard & Adrian Crane
After looking at a map and agreeing on a challenge, in March 1983, Brothers Richard and Adrian set off to run the length of the Himalayas for charity. From Darjeeling in north-eastern India to Rwalpindi in Pakistan, the race would take them through 200o miles of the highest mountain range in the world. If you’re looking for a classic bit of British gung-ho adventure, pick up a copy here.
Eat & Run – Scott Jurek
One of the finest ultrarunner’s the world has ever known shares his ‘unlikely journey to ultramarathon greatness’. A real insight into the diet, training and mindset of a champion, as well as an introduction to the fabled Tarahumara Indians of the Copper Canyons in Mexico. Read it to find out what happens when the best ultra runner the world has to offer races against a tribe of runners wearing flowing robes and sandals… Grab a copy from here.
The most inspirational stories of perseverance…
Tracks – Robyn Davidson
I confess, when I read this book I fell in love with Robyn Davidson. There. I’ve said it. Sharon knows, it’s all fine. Although if there are no more blog posts after this one, it’s possibly not… Robyn’s story shows us that if you have a dream and a bloody-mindedness to succeed even when your courage hangs by a thread, then you will eventually realise that dream. Magnificent in scope, and raw with emotion, pick up a copy here.
The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard
This haunting book tells just some of the many tales from Captain Scott’s fateful Antarctic expedition. But it isn’t Scott’s journey to which the title of the book refers. Three men set off in the middle of the sunless Antarctic winter. Man-hauling 114kg sledges through hurricane force winds at temperatures of -60C, their purpose was to trek 60 miles from Cape Evans to Cape Crozier, where there was a nesting colony of Emperor Penguins. Why? you may well ask. Well, all they wanted was a penguin’s egg… This is the journey, the worst journey in the world. And an incredible journey it was, too. One of the most inspirational books you will ever read. You can buy a copy here.
The Happiest Man in the World – Alec Wilkinson
Poppa Neutrino built a raft from salvaged materials he found on the New York streets, and then sailed it across the North Atlantic. A rallying cry to break free from the shackles of conventionality and think about life in a different way. You can salvage a copy here.
A Life Without Limits – Chrissie Wellington
Chrissie was knocking around the Andes at a similar time to me, and it was there that she got into cycling – bike-touring her way through parts of South America. By the simple act of doing she got good, and then by application and dedication, she got truly great. One of the finest Ironman-distance triathletes the world has ever known, her infectious enthusiasm for life and triathlons will soon have you ordering a wetsuit… I’ll definitely be re-reading this one before conquering my fear at my first tri…! You can buy a copy here.
My personal favourite…
Mawson’s Will – Lennard Bickel
A slice of fate landed this book in my lap some years ago, and of all the books I’ve read, there is something about this story that grabs me by the insides and just won’t let go. A truly epic (and I mean it) tale of survival against the most extreme odds in the cold depths of Antarctica. Described as ‘the greatest survival story ever written’ – I can only agree. You can buy a copy here.
Got any others that you’d add to this list? Let me know below, I’m always looking for more inspirational books to add the heaving bookcases!