Whalley, B. (2012) Run Wild Simon & Schuster ISBN 978-1-47110-179-3

Boff Whalley just likes running – the places it takes him, the moments of exhilaration and snapshots of natural beauty that he adds to his mental album.

This is not a man who signs up to big city marathons and pounds the pavements. With his down to earth voice and a great sense of humour, Boff writes about how running brings a real world of discovery and adventure, from reaching the top of a mountain with the sun at your back and moon in front creating two shadows to running up Mt Fuji on a break from work. For Boff, running is about freedom, experiencing of the world, your place in it and generally just enjoying yourself. Running is a way to get back to that simplest of relationships – the one between our feet and the earth.

Boff Whalley spent 30 years in the anarchist band Chumbawamba until they called it a day earlier this year. The band, they said in their farewell statement, “was our vehicle for pointing at the naked emperors”. For the purposes of this inspirational book, the unclothed monarch is the cast-of-thousands city marathon, 26 miles and 385 yards of tarmac and asphalt – drinks stations, digital timing and computerised results.

Whalley’s passion is for fells and forests, streams and screes and snowdrifts. He even likes running in the rain. He simply can’t understand the impulse to be herded, our willingness to collaborate in our own confinement.

He’s the runner’s Thoreau. He craves the utterly human quest for the wild, natural, joyful rub of life’s friction – and he’s not talking about runner’s nipple. Running is only a metaphor for life, he says, if that metaphor incorporates the detours, the winding ways, the getting lost and finding your way again, having had a far better time than on the straight and narrow.

Perhaps the key passage is about how all our naturally exuberant playfulness has been educated out of us. Run Wild is essentially a passionate plea to re-connect with that inner playfulness, get muddy, have fun.

Richard Askwith (author of Feet in the Clouds) has praised the book as “inspiring, wise, entertaining, moving, readable and incredibly timely” to which I would add wide ranging, droll, self-deprecating and amusing in a very English sort of way. And, like wild running, exciting because you never know what the next page will bring. A lengthy account of how the ability to run quickly away from roads and lanes saved the life of a Luddite in 1812 is immediately followed by a dreadful pun connecting running, runny eggs and running being a metaphor for life. I laughed out loud. It’s just a lovely book, beguilingly written, heartfelt, and a joyful celebration of life.

Heck it almost got me pulling on my running shoes – almost.


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