Saturday 7 November 2015

Feet in the Clouds

Feet in the Clouds: a tale of fell running and obsession. 
by Richard Askwith.  Aurum Press 2004.

I am the least sporty person I know.  ArseMa [puff wheeze] forced me to walk the second circuit of the track when they expected us to run a half mile at school. But I almost always run upstairs. Trudging up them is so boring and no person out of a wheelchair should take an elevator unless the journey is many floors. When I worked last in TCD, my desk was 4 floors up and I often wasn't capable of speech immediately after arriving in the lab. I usually take the stairs two-at-a-time on the way down too.  It's long while since I read Richard Askwith's fellrunsroman but it was brought to mind by a beautiful short film about fell-running in the English Lake District. Organised fell running can be said to have started in 1868 with the first Grasmere Guide's race when a group of chaps, shepherds and the like, assembled in the town centre and ran to the top of Silver How and back for a lark.  It is an ascent of 300m and a round-trip distance of about 3km.  It has been run in a tad over 12 minutes: a damn sight faster on the way down than going up.  A famous downhill by Ernest Dalzell at Burnsall-in-Wharfedale in 1910 clocked a mile in 2 minutes 40 seconds.  That's 35km/h: I doubt if I could get that fast on a bicycle.

I wouldn’t expect a fat old sofa-pilot like me to enjoy a book full of tortured breath, aching limbs, twisted ankles and burst bursae.  But it was brought home from the library by The Boy when he was briefly living with us and, as there was no television in the house, I read it.  It’s a brilliant story about a little engine (or a notably unfit newspaper editor) that could.  Fell running is a sport where you run up hills until your lungs bleed or you reach the top and then turn round and LEAP down from tussock to rock to lump hoping that your feet stay under your head.  In 1932, a bloke called Bob Graham celebrated his 42nd birthday by running a circuit including forty-two 2000ft peaks in the English Lake District in under 24 hours.  Not a lot of people can do that.  The book is the story of how Askwith spent 5 years trying to join the exclusive club of people who had completed this notable, noble and utterly useless achievement. You're far too busy to get the book and read it, so the 26.5 minute executive summary is given by Askwith on his feet in a tent in 2012. It is an inspiration!  It tells me that there is nothing that I cannot do, if I set my mind to it.  Not fell-running mind you, but maybe fell-walking or better drumming or making superlative eclairs.  Minority sports rock . . . tussock . . . boulder . . . puddle.

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