Review of Footnotes: How running makes us human by Vybarr Cregan-Reid (2016)
Have you ever looked at a landscape painting or photo and wondered what it would be like to run through it? The crunch of leaves and gravel underfoot, the smell, the birdsong, the feel of the air on your skin? For Cregan-Reid
Running has change me so completely that, now, even the sights of a landscape painting instils in me a deep desire to step into the frame, and beyond it. (xviii)
I get this. I wonder what it would be like to run and experience landscapes I travel through and see. Running has changed me and changed how I see the world.
Why do we run is the question framing this book. There is no straightforward answer. I started running to meet some people, get fit, lose a little weight. I don’t run for these reasons now – I run simply because I run and it’s a part of who I am.
Cregan-Reid provides a response to this question through an exploration of 19th century English literature, navigating land and cityscapes, and through the science of running. He makes a powerful case for the restorative effects of running through nature especially when barefoot running, and why running should be seen a neither work nor exercise. On the exercise point, he touches on an interesting matter – I’m sometimes told how boring running is. As with the author, I think if I saw running as exercise, a means to an end, I too would find it boring.
I got a lot from this book, not least the opportunity to reflect on my experiences of running. And there’s some interesting points made about the history of running and biology. Also, there’s a bit of a history lesson on treadmill. The treadmill was originally designed for prisoners as a cure for idleness and to enable them to produce useful works, perhaps this is why sometimes even now it’s referred to as the ‘dreadmill’.
While there were parts in this book where I felt a little like I was being lectured to, overall, I got a lot out of it. It will make me go back and read some Dickens and Hardy for their understanding of landscape and the environment and has given me further insight into why I run and why I continue to run given the ridiculous number of random injuries I’ve had in the past, and the fact I keep doing something I really rather rubbish at!
And while I’ve never met the author, there are sentiments in this book which are close to my heart. So for me, running is not about becoming a ‘better’ person, it’s not about heroically subjecting myself to pain (indeed, pain kind of sucks), nor is it about being tough – it’s about engaging with the world on its own terms, rain, hail or shine.
If we let it, running enables us to be part of the world and to change it and be changed by it. There is real joy in these pages and it’s well worth a read.