Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

January 14, 2011

Feet In The Clouds (The American is humbled...)

[Eventually I will get around to the point of this blog, which is a book review of Richard Askwith's Feet In The Clouds:  A Tale Of Fell-Running And Obsession.  But I still digress....]

Incidentally, my team name at the Open5 Adventure race last Sunday was "The American".   I get a lot of strange glances when I first open speak out on the trails, with the inevitable "You're not from around here, are you?" question following soon after.   But I have been amazed how quickly I have been welcomed since arriving in the UK, into the triathlon and running communities. 

So, although the language barrier is normally not an issue (at least, not much of an issue!), culturally the gap can be quite small and a mile wide, at the same time.  I think much of it revolves around our differing concepts of history.  For example, the stone house I am living in right now was built in 1740, making it older than the country I was born in!   Every rock and hill and trail have thousands of years of events worn into them, and the remembering of those events seems quite important to the folks here.  Even fell-running, which is young compared to the span of history in these isles, has deep roots in the hills that dot all over the country, and quite a controversial history, at that.  Mr. Askwith covers all of the sides of the issues, and perhaps, armed with this knowledge, I will prevent myself from sticking my proverbial "American" foot into my mouth.

But it was quite a shock for me to arrive in the UK and find the running conditions so....so....nasty!   I came to ultrarunning via German Volksmarching paths, which for the most part are 3 feet wide, nicely graded, never too steep, well-marked, and nicely maintained by the locals.  I think there is even a rule that the trails on a volksmarch can't be too "dangerous", or the insurance, included as part of the $5 event entry fee, wouldn't cover them. I'm not positive, though...somebody check on that....  So, what a change to come here and find rocky descents, boggy moors, positively, utterly atrocious weather, and no trail markers.  Do you feel my pain, here?

Anyway, what really hit home in the reading of Feet In The Clouds, was that the local fell runners really take pride in these horrible conditions, and revel in them.  Conditions which, anywhere else I've lived, would have been a reason to stay indoors and read a book, are fine enough here to put on shorts and go for a run up the nearest peak.  In short, it all makes me feel quite humbled.   But what really comes through as I read this book, is the deep love that the locals have for their mountains.   Oddly enough, despite the torturous weather and trails, I am starting to understand the feeling.  

After all, it's not really pouring outside, it's just kind of a light rain. 
And the temperature, well, at least it's above freezing.  
And yes, my feet are wet, but I've seen the bogs much deeper than they are now.  
Sure, the fog is getting a bit thicker, but I can still see my feet, at least.
Yes, this ascent is steep, but the ice has melted off, and you should see this really vertical trail I know about....

Did I really ever review this book?   I guess you'll just have to read it yourself!  It gave a great historical perspective on UK trail running, and was quite inspiring, as well as humorous.  The book did made the Bob Graham Round sound even harder than I had previously thought, though.   Am I thinking of doing a BG round someday?  Um....


  1. Dawn, that's a great piece of writing; very entertaining. You've captured the essence perfectly. 'The conditions are grotty but they could be so much worse, so I'm having a great time.'

  2. Hi Dawn. I too picked up this book and could not put I down! A teriffic read and if I lived further north I to would be on the fells most weekends testing my metal against those terrible (but ever so nice) conditions :-)

  3. Everything is relative! I learnt to SCUBA dive in the River Ouse in York where the visibility was often zero. Everything after that was amazing - but not always the challenge I wanted! And I still loved my river, so much so that the club members nicknamed me the river Queen. Not sure about that one!
    Walking here on La Palma is anything but flat and as for safety ... well ... the rule is, don't fall off the edge.
    Did you ever hear the one about the four Yorkshiremen by the way?

  4. Nick and Stu, it is motivating to test oneself against the elements, and succeed. However, having just returned from a holiday in Fuerteventura, I can also say it was nice to enjoy warm, sunny weather, consistent 21 C temps, and to throw on shorts and a T-shirt and go running. With nothing but a water bottle!

    Ann, having seen two of the Canary Islands now, I think I am going to try and get to all of them. I've heard that the hiking trails on La Palma are awesome, it's high on the list. And I'm sure that you're seeing a few more fish than in York, if you Scuba down there as well! Haven't heard the one about the 4 Yorkshiremen, though...

  5. Just found your blog! Have a great year of racing!

  6. Hi Dawn

    Welcome to the UK. You seem to have fitted in well already. Talking about the weather is our national sport.


  7. sounds like a good read... just finished it's not about the bike... maybe i'll take you up on your recommendation!

  8. Hi Dawn,

    If you enjoyed "Feet in the Clouds", check out my new book, "Mud, Sweat and Tears": http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0054ZKYQQ

    The highs and lows of Irish mountain running, at its best...

    And if you want to know what it's like, read a cracking review here: http://trailrunningnepal.org/2011/06/16/moire-osullivan-mud-sweat-and-tears-review/