Adharanand Finn is a Guardian journalist, runner and author of three books about running. His latest, The Rise Of The Ultra Runners, examines the explosion in popularity of running further than marathon distance. To immerse himself completely, he decided to attempt the notoriously difficult 106-mile Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, as you do. The book is a gripping account of his journey, culminating in the brutal race itself. Here, he told Books Plus Beer what influences his writing, and why an ultramarathon is a form of survival.
WHO INFLUENCES YOU AS A WRITER?
I was first inspired to want to be a writer after reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles as a teenager. In it he describes losing control of the characters, and that was such an exciting idea, that the writing came through you but not necessarily from you; that you were in some way watching things happen, not inventing them. Even now as a non-fiction writer, I’m mostly influenced by novelists, especially Haruki Murakami, in the way they construct stories and use language and create mood. Other non-fiction writers who have influenced me are people such as Malcolm Gladwell and Alex Hutchinson, who bring lively storytelling to complex issues.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SPORTS BOOK?
I’ve just mentioned Alex Hutchinson, and his book Endure is a fascinating look at how the mind affects sporting performance. What I love, apart from all the fascinating stories, is how he ends up in a completely different place than he had expected in terms of his understanding of the subject.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Murakami and the excellent Milkman by Anna Burns. I often have two books on the go at once. And I just read Island by Aldous Huxley, which feels as though it could have been written in response to the state of the world today.
WHAT PODCASTS DO YOU LISTEN TO?
I’m only just discovering podcasts and mostly I’ve been listening to ones I’ve been interviewed on such as Dirt Church Radio, Wild Running and Marathon Talk. I also love Rich Roll’s podcast – he’s an ultra runner more concerned with the deeper issues such as the meaning of life than who broke a course record.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND GIVING ULTRAMARATHON RUNNING A GO?
Hah! If you want to experience total exhaustion, if you want to see what you’re really made of, when everything breaks down, if you’re able to deal with discomfort, if you want to feel like a hero, then yes. But don’t just do one because you like running and fancy going a bit further. Ultras take you to a realm way beyond running – something closer to survival.
HOW DOES WRITING A BOOK COMPARE WITH RUNNING AN ULTRA?
As long and hard as running an ultra is, writing a book is still a much longer, slower process. But it’s not as relentless. Once you start an ultra race, the rest of the world disappears until you finish. There’s no rest. No escape. Just go go go. With writing, you can step in and out of it. But there are similarities, too. Each one requires doggedness, perseverance and endurance. And with both, finishing can be a bit of an anti-climax.
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR LOWEST POINT AS A RUNNER?
At the end of the second day of the Ring O Fire ultra around Anglesey – after running 100 miles in two days – I was so tired I couldn’t bend down to untie my shoes, let alone change out of my running kit. I just climbed into my sleeping bag as I was and lay there on the floor whimpering all night. What made it so bad was being on my own, with no support team, and knowing I still had 40 miles to run at dawn. In driving rain. The highest point was possibly racing up Holly Mountain at the end of that next day. I felt so strong and was running so fast that one of the other runners shouted “Go on Superman!” as I raced past him.
AND FINALLY, WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE BEER?
I love sampling locally brewed beers wherever I am, but as I live in Totnes in Devon I should give a special mention to the tasty Pandit pale ale by the New Lion Brewery. That always goes down a treat after an ultra run.