Dublin Marathon 2013 Review

Credit: independent.ie

Credit: independent.ie

Firstly condolences must go to all the family and friends of Ricki Savage who tragically died after completing the race.  Being the good person that he was Ricki set up a charity page for his run.  You can donate here.  Although, unfortunately, Ricki couldn’t be saved the treatment given to Ricki highlights the excellent work done by St. John’s Ambulance and the emergency services during all big running events.  Thankfully death or serious injury while running is extremely rare.  The risks from not taking part in physical exercise are far greater than the risks of being physically active.  RIP Ricki.

Pre-Race

Again the Dublin Marathon was well organised with a record number of about 14,500 entrants.  I slept very badly the night before and after tossing and turning from 4am so I got up at 5am to eat.  I was glad to see that it wasn’t raining (although the ground was wet) and it was relatively warm.  I made it to the bag drop are at about 8.15am.  After dropping their bags most people carried straight onto their starting area but the orange wave runners had to double back against the flow of people coming in to drop their bags.  Ideally there would have been a separate exit lane for the orange wave runners to get to their start positions.  There were also huge queues at the toilets but that’s always the case.  The laneways near the start are crammed with guys relieving themselves, ideally the organisers would put a few urinals there too.  Having said that these were minor issues.

First Half

It was about 12 degrees at the start so much warmer than last year when it was less than 5 degrees.  I felt unusually nervous at the start.  I’d managed to get very close to the front as I remember one marathon when I spent the first 15 minutes trying to get past people in front.  I started slowly and my Garmin was going a bit mental so it was hard to get my exact pace in the first couple of miles.  As we headed up the North Circular Road (mile 3) I was struggling to stay with the 3 hour pace group and feeling quite jittery.  Once we turned onto Chesterfield Avenue (mile 4.5) I’d managed to latch onto the back of the 3 hour group but there was quite a strong headwind and the group started to split.  I remembered a Tour de France stage where the main bunch split in a crosswind and Mark Cavendish sprinted to latch onto the back of the breakaway!  I decided to expend some energy to bridge the gap and have a bit more protection in the headwind which worked well.  I had to take a toilet stop and I was afraid I’d lose some time.  I waited until the top of Upper Glen Road (mile 7) to go as I’m a good descender.  It took about 45 seconds to get going again but I went down the hill at about 5min 50sec per mile pace and was back with the 3 hour pacer about a mile later as we hit the steep Chapelizod hill.  I started to feel a bit more comfortable and on the Crumlin Road (mile 12) moved slightly clear of the pace group.  However there was a strong enough wind so dropped back into the group for the comfort of a bit of slipstreaming.  By halfway I was starting to struggle with the pace again not helped by the poor road surface or the wind.

Second Half

I was still struggling to hang on to the pace group when, surprisingly, I saw my parents at mile 15.  They’d never watched me in the marathon before and I thought I’d see them at the finish so it gave me a lift to see them.  Any thoughts I had of dropping out were eliminated by seeing them there!  Last year I’d suffered a lot on the run through Terenure (mile 16/17) but I felt more composed this year.  Even though the hardest parts was to come I felt renewed confidence and managed to dig in from miles 18-21.  This is the hilliest section of the course but I felt confident I’d get through it okay.  My drinking strategy was more sensible this year as I took some fluid at every station (even though the general confusion would cost you a few seconds) and had 4 gels with me for the race.  I was with the lead sub-3 pacer now and this group had thinned out to just a few runners.  Unfortunately I dropped my last gel at about mile 23 but didn’t let it bother me too much.  I was feeling okay now and focussed on the back to the sub-3 pacer as there was a slight headwind on the way into the city centre.  The crowds were big now and the noise was a great morale booster especially when I saw my girlfriend and some friends.  I was feeling strong as we turned onto Pearse Street (mile 24.5) so I began to move ahead of the sub-3 pacer trying to balance a maximum speed (about a 6min 20sec pace) without hitting the wall.  Unlike last year it was a great feeling going into the last mile certain I’d get under 3 hours.  As I was coming to the finish line I realised I might get under 1:59 so sprinted the last 80 metres or so to finish with a 2:58:56 PB time (last year was 2:59:40).  My first half was 1:29:26 and my second half 1:29:30.  As it was a lot warmer than last year I felt quite good afterwards and didn’t descend into convulsive shivering.  It was great to meet my family and my girlfriend afterwards too.

Results

With no Africans running this year (due to the sponsors coming on board too late) there were Irish winners in the men’s, women’s, and wheelchair races.  It’s great to see Irish winners but hopefully the Kenyans and Ethiopians will be back again next year.

Men

1 – Seán Hehir – 2:18:19,  2 – Joe Sweeney – 2:19:26, 3 – Sergiu Ciobanu – 2:22:02

Women

1 – Maria McCambridge – 2:38:51,  2 – Claire McCarthy – 2:39:27,  3 –  Fiona Stack – 2:49:07

Wheelchair Men

1 – Paul Hannan – 2:34:38,  2 – Jim Corbett – 2:37:27,  3 – Patrick Monahan – 2:38:54

Wheelchair Women

1 – Ciara Staunton – 3:26:21

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Dublin Marathon Tips

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The 2013 Airtricity Dublin Marathon is on Monday 28th October.  The course is fairly flat but there are a few hills: a short up after O’Connell Street, down the Upper Glen Road in the Phoenix Park, down through Chapelizod and then a steep up after Chapelizod at around 9 miles, a down and up under a bridge before the Inchicore Road, down and up after Kilmainham Gaol, down the Dartry Road to the Dropping Well pub and then steeply up to Milltown, then a steep up Foster’s Avenue and down onto the Stillorgan dual carriageway.  I find the Milltown and Foster’s Avenue hills the toughest as they’re after the 18 mile mark.  Drop your pace a bit as you go up the hills otherwise you can feel a loss of energy when you go over the top.

This will be my 6th marathon (5 in Dublin and one in Buenos Aires).  So far I’ve managed to improve my time in each marathon, starting with 5 hours 5 minutes in my first marathon to 2 hours 59 minutes in last year’s Dublin Marathon.  I’m looking forward to it now although I don’t feel quite as fully trained as last year.  I’ll set out at aiming for under 3 hours again but will see how I go.  Below are my top tips for a successful (any marathon you finish is a success!) marathon.

10 – Relax the Day Before

Take it easy the day before, don’t plan any major hikes up the Dublin mountains.  If you feel you haven’t trained enough there is zero point doing anything today (although some runners feel the psychological need to do a very light jog for a mile or so).  Doing any serious running will only risk wasting energy you need during the marathon.  Don’t drink alcohol and avoid eating slabs of cake, save these for after the race.  Carbo-loading is useful too.  For my main meal I’ll have tuna and pasta to get a balance of protein and carbs.  Go to bed early if you can although some people might find it hard to sleep.  Set at least one alarm clock, you don’t want to oversleep.  If you wake during the night drink some water just to keep yourself hydrated.

9 – Be Prepared in the Morning

Have everything you need laid out from the day before, shorts, socks, singlet, gloves, tracksuit, bag with water and post-race food, mobile phone, bag for leaving in the left luggage area, watch.  You don’t want to be rushing around looking for your socks on the morning of the race.  Have your race number attached to your singlet from the day before too, you don’t want to be fiddling around with safety pins on the morning.  Lubricate anything that you find prone to bleeding or irritation after a long run.  Parts of your body that give you now problems when running 15 miles can be sore after 26 miles.  This sentence is going to be a little gross but I use Vaseline to lubricate my nipples, and calluses on my feet and around the groin area where they might be friction from my underwear/shorts.  Watching a man in a white singlet with bleeding nipples is unpleasant for all concerned!

8 – Eat Breakfast

I usually get up at about 6am and eat breakfast.  I might go to bed after eating for another 45 minutes or so.  It’s vital that you eat something on the morning so you don’t run out of energy and hit the dreaded Wall during the race.  I usually eat a bowl of museli, 2-3 slices of brown toast (with marmalade one 1 slice), a banana, and maybe some yogurt or an orange too.  Don’t try anything too wacky unless you’ve tried it before.  Drink something too.  It’s never going to be hot during the Dublin Marathon so hydration can be exaggerated slightly but it is important that you don’t underdrink out of a fear of having to use the toilet during the race.

7 – Arrive on Time

The first wave is due to start at 9am.  Many of the streets will be closed so give plenty of time to walk to the start area, use the toilet, leave your back in the left luggage area, warm-up, and get yourself as relaxed as you can.  I usually cycle the couple of miles into town as it warms me up and I can lock my bike at a suitable place for me to cycle, very slowly, home after.  It’s also a great time to soak up the atmosphere.  Now is not the time for any negative thoughts, you’re about to run a marathon, it will be a great day and a few hours from now you’ll be sitting someplace nice and warm savouring your achievement!

6 – Use the Toliet

After your hydration you’ll probabaly need to use the toilet.  The organisation is a lot better than a few years ago and there are a lot more toilets but there will always be big queues before the start.  My advice is to try and use toilets in fast food restaurants (McDonald’s on Grafton Street is where I usually go) or cafés if you can.  Also bring some of your own toilet paper as that is sometimes in short supply before a race.  For guys things are considerably easier as there are urinals and lanes around the place.  This is another reason why it’s important to be on time.  Once the race is in progress guys will use any bit of green space but there are toilets around the route too.  Alternatively most pubs open at 11am so you can run into one along the route without too much hassle.

5 – Keep Warm

Dublin at the end of October is never going to be hot.  This is good for running but not so good for trying to get warmed-up in.  Always wear at least an old long-sleeve t-short over your singlet while you stand in the starting area.  Just before the race starts you will see a shower of clothes being lobbed towards the side as people strip down to their running gear.  You might notice some Roma people waiting at the edge.  They’re usually there to catch some of the clothes for recycling so feel free to hand your top to them!  I always wear a cheap pair of gloves (Penneys sell two pairs for €1.50) for the first few miles and then throw them away when I start to get too hot.  Last year was exceptionally cold (under 5 degrees celsius) so I pocketed my gloves and put them on again later.  I also wore a layer under my singlet that I planned to dump but never did as it was so cold.  This year the temperature is predicted to be over 10 degrees (maybe as high as 15 degrees), possibly with showers, and possibly slightly humid so it’s hard to know if that’s better or worse.  Make sure you’ve a change of clothes in your bag as once you stop running you will get cold very quickly, I’m usually shivering after about 5 minutes.

4 – Don’t Start Too Fast

The adrenaline will be flowing when the starting gun goes.  Resist the temptation to set off too quickly unless you know what you’re doing.  The Dublin Marathon has 3 waves with chip timing and pacers (with ballons or flags to identify them) so, if you have time you’re aiming for position yourself near the appropriate pacer.  I’ve a Garmin running watch which tells me my pace and time so I use that to make sure I’m not going too quickly (it’s a 6:52 mile pace needed for a sub-3 hour marathon).  If you set off too fast you can’t regain the energy you’ve wasted.  It’s much better to speed up later in the race if you’ve the energy for it.  Having said that, if you are aiming for a fast time then be as close to the front as possible.  Some runners feel the need to get right at the front when they’re running significantly slower than those around them.  This can lead to collisions and faster runners being delayed at the start.  Be honest about your time, if you spend the first mile being overtaken by 90% of the runners then you probably placed yourself too far towards the front of the field.

3 – Hydrate

It’s important to drink during the race.  There are plenty of water and isotonic points during the race.  You don’t need to go wild but try and take a few gulps at each hydration point.  Also take the gels when they are offered too.  Apparently it’s best to take gels with some water (as opposed to isotonic drinks) but I’ve used gels with no liquid without major problems.  Some runners carry a virtual ammo belt for gels but the received wisdom seems to be to take one every 30-45 minutes or so.  So I carry about 4 with me.  Having said that gels won’t make up for a lack of training and while useful, if you’re not aiming for a time, they’re not essential.  This is a link to the Course Map showing all the hydration and gel points.  Have a couple of bottles of liquid in your post-race bag too.  I like chocolate milk and cola after a race.

2 – Pace Yourself

Don’t start to fast but it’s also vital not to increase your pace too recklessly during a race.  A marathon is completely different from a half-marathon or even a 20 mile run.  If you have a Garmin or a similar watch which tells you your pace then use it or else check your watch as you pass the mile markers.  You should have an idea of a comfortable marathon pace from your training, great as the marathon day is you’re not going to miracuously lop 15 minutes off the times you’ve been running in training.  If you begin to feel tired then try running at a slower pace for a while.  If you’re feeling bad then stop for a couple of minutes and do some stretches, try not to stop for too long as you’ll begin to get cold.  Obviously, if you injure yourself or seriously faint then it’s best to seek some assistance.  In the unlikely event that you’re feeling strong with a couple of miles to go then that’s the time to increase your pace.  Usually I manage to do the last mile at around 6:20 pace.

1 – Enjoy Yourself!

You’ve been training for this for months so enjoy the race!  Savour the Christmas morning feel of waking up on race day.  It’s great to see the city centre filling with runners as you make your way to the start.  Soak up the positive vibes and friendliness at the start line.  Organisation has improved and crowds have increased over the last few years so bask in the adulation, high-five kids with their hands out, and thank those supporters that offer food and encouragement.  You will go through tough times during a marathon but you have the mental and physical strength to overcome any obstacles.  The last mile will be the hardest but also one of the best experiences of your running life.  The crowds will be three deep in places, there’ll be noise, and colour, it’s the closest you’ll get to experiencing what it’s like to enter a packed Olympic stadium on the final lap of the marathon.  Enjoy the day and relish reliving it afterwards someplace warm with a hot drink.

London Bookshops

ImageI was in London recently so decided to have a look at a few bookshops.  I’ve been there a couple of times before but never found time to explore bookshops.  The main bookshop hub is around Charing Cross Road.  First I went to Foyles Books which is, apparently, one of Europe’s largest bookshops with five floors and over 200,000 titles.  There’s a huge range of books here as well as a large selection of more leftfield magazines.  There is an entire floor of books in foreign languages.  I was amazed to see two shelves of books in Irish.  you’d struggle to find bookshops in Dublin with Irish language books outside the school section (Irish language is compulsory and a passing grade is required to get into most universities).  If you’re studying a language this would be the ideal place to get some books.  interestingly there are signs around the shop telling people it’s forbidden to take photos of books.  I presume this is to stop people browsing and then buying the books cheaper online.  There is a also a good art book sections, a café, and a medical section (I bought a keyring in the shape of a human hand’s skeleton there).  I bought two books, The Diary of Edward the Hamster, 1990-1990 and An Atlas of Remote Islands: 50 Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will.  Disappointingly, for a cheapo like me, there was no bargain basement obviously discounted books but there’s plenty here to keep any bibliophile occupied for a while.

Unfortunately I didn’t realise that a lot of the smaller bookshops were closed on Sunday.  I did manage to get into a couple of secondhand bookshops.  These were both stacked floor to ceiling with thousands of books.  The prices varied widely from a couple of quid to over £50.  You can see the colonial influence with plenty of old books on Africa, the Middle East, and east Asia.

I got an Ogden Nash book for £3.50, an anthology of crime stories for £5, and the wonderfully titled Kelly’s Handbook to the Landed and Official Classes 1953.  The Kelly’s Handbook is a wonderful example of England’s (gradually disappearing) obsession with class.  I presume it could be used to check on the pedigress of potential spouses or to prepare possible conversation topics during a pheasant (or peasant) shoot.  It’s a heft tome and weighs in at almost 2.5 kg so I had to make sure my bag was fairly snugly packed to meet Ryanair’s 10kg carry-on limit…

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Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – Review

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Jonathan Franzen

Fourth Estate (2010), 562 pages

Book Depository, €17

Country: USA  USA

The United States is “the land of the free” but what, exactly, does freedom mean to an American family living in a modern world filled with uncertainties, infidelities, hopes, and disappointments?  Patty Berglund was a college basketball ace.  She married Walter Berglund, an environmentalist into alternative music, even though she feels more attracted to Walter’s best friend, a punk lead singer called Richard Katz.  Patty’s own parents place their own political and social ambitions above the emotional needs of their family.  When Patty is raped by the son of a well-connected family friend her parents persuade her not to report the crime.  Patty is attracted by the stability and love Walter provides but also desires his roommate, the edgier Katz.  The story really begins just as Patty’s children, Joey and Jessica, in their late teenage years, and are beginning to experience their first taste of freedom from parental control.  For the Joey freedom is like the forbidden fruit,”He’d asked for his freedom, they’d granted it, and he couldn’t go back now.  There had been a brief spate of familial phoning after 9/11, but the talk had mostly been interpersonal, his mom amusingly ranting about how she couldn’t stop watching CNN even though she was convinced that watching so much CNN was harming her, his dad taking the opportunity to vent his longstanding hostility to organized religion, and Jessica flaunting her knowledge of non-Western cultures and explaining the legitimacy of their beef with U.S. imperialism.” (p.241-242)

Walter and Richards’ college days are marked by an undercurrent of competitiveness.  Richard is the cooler of the two who can get any girl he wants but he respects Walter’s intelligence and taste.  Richard “wins” during the college years but, as Richard’s musical career peters out, Walter becomes a highly successful and respected enviromentalist.  Once Patty’s kids have flown the nest she becomes increasingly depressed and distant.  It’s almost as a way of reasserting his dominance that Richard sleeps with Patty.  On the surface Walter doesn’t find out about Patty’s infidelity with his best friend but it’s possible he suspects as much.

The characters are free to make choices.  Like most people the characters rationalise their potentially immoral decisions.  From the personal level to the international sphere there are many choices to be made.   Joey, who secretly married his girlfriend Connie, is attracted to his college roommate’s sister, Jenna.  Jenna’s family is well-connected and Joey is willing to adapt his beliefs (religious and political) to enable him, despite a complete lack of knowledge, to gain a highly paid job developing the post-war Iraq economy.  Before this Joey had discussed the nature of freedom with Jenna’s father, Howard,””Isn’t that what freedom is for?  The right to think whatever you want?  I mean I admit it’s a pain in the ass sometimes.”  Around the table people chuckled at this.  “That’s exactly right,” Jenna’s father said.  “Freedom is a pain in the ass.  And that’s precisely why it’s so imperative that we seize the opportunity that’s been presented to us this fall.  To get a nation of free people to let go of their bad logic and sign on with better logic, by whatver means are necessary.”” (p.267-268)

cerulean warbler painting

Credit: angelamoulton.blogspot.com

To Howard the end justifies the means and that, “We have to learn to be comfortable with stretching some facts.” (p.167)  Howard is completely confident that his vision is the correct one.  He has no doubts that he has a moral right to impose his vision of freedom on his own nation and one on the far side of the globe.  He is confident that his vision should represent the U.S. vision, the “we” is a conflation of the personal and the national.  It is convenient that his beliefs enable him to earn a lot of money and be socially respected.

Richard’s new band, Walnut Surprise, becomes popular on the alternative music scene but Richard shuns the aclaim his album (written during his affair with Patty) garners.  In some ways Richard is the opposite of Howard.  Richard is afraid of selling-out, of being seen to conform.  He is the ultimate free spirit but he also is selfish and unreliable.  Freedom even allows the freedom not he exist.  Like his ex-girlfriend Molly, he contemplates suicide (as does Patty).  Unlike Molly he decides to continue living.

Joey, to the horror of his father, is willing to act the right-wing Republican in order to help fabricate reports on the post-war Iraqi bakery industry.  However, he begins to realise the error of his ways when he becomes invlolved in shipping rusty spare parts to a shady contractor in Iraq.  He realises that the decisions he makes might cost the lives of U.S. soldiers.

Walter, despite his anger with son, is also compromising his principles to create a nature reserve for the cerulean warbler.  Local residents will have to be relocated and coal mining will be allowed before the land is returned to a pristine state.  But is it possible to return such land to a pristine Eden-like state?  Can an industry that places profit before people be trusted?

The book raises many questions; was Patty right to sleep with Richard?  Was Richard right to sleep with his best friend’s wife?  Should Walter sleep with Lalitha?  Is Walter right to be dealing with coal mining companies to establish a conservation area for the cerulean warbler?  Is the U.S. right to invade Iraq?  Is Joey right to treat his girlfriend Connie so badly?  Is it okay for Joey to make a lot of money shipping scrap metal instead of proper spare parts to the U.S. Army in Iraq?

Walter and Joey partially redeem themselves, in different ways, for their sins.  Howard is adept at streching facts to suit his purpose without guilt.  For the Berglund family they struggle to live with the guilt and the consequences of their actions.  The freedom to destroy yourself is an ever-present fear, “People came to this country for either money or freedom.  If you don’t have money you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily.  Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles.  You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.” (p.361)

The freedom created by Franzen is a freedom within certain limits.  The cerulean warbler also creates the illusion of freedom.  But it must live within a certain geographical and climatic range.  It appears free but it follows millenia old migratory patterns.  The vast majority if U.S, citizens have migrated there too but, “it wasn’t the people with sociable genes who fled the crowded Old World for the new continent; it was the people who didn’t get along well with others.” (p.444)  Peoples exercise of  freedom does not take place in a vacuum.  There are myriad overlapping interests as people exercise their freedoms.  Sometime these overlaps are positive and relationships take place, children are created.   On other occasions conflicts, even war, may occur when people feel that their freedoms and rights are being unfairly limited.  The question is how much freedom is necessary to live a full life?  “(The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage).” (p.445)

Is there such a thing as too much freedom, a freedom without consequnces or guilt, a freedom that can be used to justify the most terrible acts?

9/10

Is Donna Tartt a Recluse?

Credit: babylonbaroque.wordpress.com

Credit: babylonbaroque.wordpress.com

Donna Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch has just been published.  Donna Tartt is one of my favourite authors and can’t wait to read her new book.  I loved The Secret History but, for me, The Little Friend was a much better book.  It’s one of the few books published in the last twenty years that I’ve read more than once.  It’s like a modern To Kill a Mockingbird with the perfect balance of pace, tension, and character development.

Below is an excerpt from a rare interview with Donna Tartt has given to Kirst Wark for BBC 4’s Review Show.  I watched it on BBC but, not living in the UK, I can’t view the interiew on the BBC iplayer so the link below is the only clip I’ve managed to locate on youtube so far.  Donna Tartt’s new novel is based very loosely on the life of the Dutch painter Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) and it’s his painting of a chained goldfinch that graces the book’s cover.  I’d never heard of Carel Fabritius but I’m sure Tartt’s book will provoke an increased interest in the painter.  I’m so tempted to buy her book now but think I’ll manage to contain myself until Christmas as it will make the perfect Christmas present to myself!

On a side note it’s been amazing to see how many reviews refer to Donna Tartt as a recluse.  A Google search for “Tartt” and “recluse” pulls up almost 10,000 results.  I think the media sometimes think that if a person doesn’t play the publicity game that they’re obviously exhibiting signs of mental illness.  Maybe Donna Tartt only rises after dark, and has food passed through a slot in a door by a team of deaf-mute eunuchs, but I doubt it.  Not doing endless media interviews does not make you a recluse.  J.D. Salinger, despite media claims, was not a recluse.  He lived quietly but he was often seen shopping and going about his daily life in the town of Cornish, New Hampshire.  We love the idea of the mad genius, shunning publicity, and working maniacally like some mad scientist in their castle.  And if an artist refuses to give the media a story then the story they fabricate is that of a misanthropic recluse.  Watching Donna Tartt’s interview she doesn’t come across as anything other than a highly intelligent, warm, and humourous artist.  I’m looking forward to opening The Goldfinch on Christmas morning and I really hope that The Goldfinch has a character as wonderful as Harriet in The Little Friend.

Running with the Kenyans – Review

Running with the Kenyans

Adharanand Finn

Faber and Faber (2012), 289 pages

Chapters Bookstore, Dublin, €6.99

Country: England  England

Adharanand Finn’s book is subtitled, “Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth”, but the book’s strength is not in it’s analysis of the roots of the Kenyan running phenomenon but in his evocation of the personalities of the Kenyan runners he encounters.  Before he goes to Kenya Finn is a good runner (he runs a 10km race in under 39 minutes) but not so spectacularly good that the average runner can’t relate to him.  He actually comes across as slightly lazy as he’s clearly not at his peak fitness when he arrives in Kenya.  I think if I was running in Kenya I’d want to be in peak condition so as not to be a complete flop.  Finn bases himself in Iten, the Mecca of Kenyan running, home to Brother Colm O’Connell’s coaching programme.  The achievements of Kenyan running are staggering.  Runners with times that would make them national heroes in most countries are also-rans in Kenya.  Whilst competition is fierce the runners come across as wonderfully open and relaxed, not in their words (they are not attention seekers like many Western athletes) but in Finn’s ability to go on training runs with some of the world’s greatest runners.  This openess is perhaps part of the reason that Finn concludes that there is actually no one secret to Kenyan success.  They will run with Finn because they have no secrets to hide (and if you’re being a little cynical because Finn is not a threat to them).  Finn’s move to Kenya with his family captures the highs and lows of living in a foreign country as he forms the Iten Town Harriers running team so that he and some Kenyan athletes can train to compete in the Lewa Marathon.  The whole project could risk seeming exploitative but Finn manages to strike the right balance between realising that he’s being treated differently as a white foreigner whilst not overly taking advantage of his position.

Running with the Kenyans also provides an interesting counterpoint to Born to Run in it’s debate of the issues surrounding barefoot running.  Barefoot running exponents feel that we run more naturally and efficiently (as evolution intended us to run) without shoes yet, as Finn highlights, all the top Kenyan runners wear running shoes.  How much being paid to wear shoes plays a role is not fully explored as Finn notices that the winners in all the children’s races he sees run barefoot.  As a runner who has been tempted to experiment with barefoot running but has never managed to get that far (running barefoot in a Dublin winter is slightly different from a hot Kenyan day) it adds an interesting dimension to the debate.  The book reaches it’s climax with the excitement of the Lewa Marathon with Finn aiming for a good time and his Kenyan teammates hoping to win some prizemoney.  The epilogue details the effects of Finn’s Kenyan experience and his New York Marathon run to see if how he’ll compete in a slightly lower quality field then the Lewa Marathon.

Finn’s conclusions about Kenyan running are that it’s too simplistic to pick a couple of key factors but that running since childhood (many children run to and from school every day), barefoot running as a child, a good diet (low in fat, Finn himself is a vegetarian), fierce competition at local races, the altitude, and a desperate desire for victory in a country where winning a few thousand dollars can be a life changer are all important pieces of the jigsaw.   Below is a video (click to 3:20 in the video for the race start) of perhaps the most astonishing Kenyan runner of recent years, Brother Colm coached David Rudisha.  Rudisha’s natural talent is arguably greater than that of Usain Bolt’s and you can see the beautifully flowing style of Kenyan running.  This book is well worth a read for anybody into running or contemporary Africa.

7/10

Related Links: allincircles book review and recipe

The Top 10 Bookshops in Dublin – Part 1

10 – The Secret Book & Record Store

15 Wicklow Street, Dublin 2

This small bookshop manages to squeeze in a large amount of books into a fairly small space.  The stock is a mixture of new and secondhand books of variable quality.  Some of the secondhand books are a little overpriced (this is a problem of almost all secondhand books in Dublin) but there is a good range.  The atmosphere is relaxed and homely with a music section adding an extra dimension (if a corner of a shop can be described as a dimension).  The shop is well signposted as it has no shopfront, just a mysterious door enticing you inside.  As it’s only a minute’s walk from Grafton Street you’ve no excuse not to drop in!

Credit: Secret Book & Record Store Facebook Page

Credit: Secret Book & Record Store Facebook Page

9 – Connolly Books

43 Essex Street, Dublin 2

Dublin’s “oldest radical bookshop” is a classic political bookshop.  It’s stock of the leftwing variety but this encompasses a wider range of topics than you might imagine.  The shop also stocks a range of political pamphlets to get your political passions roused.  The shop is named after Ireland’s most famout socialist, James Connolly, who was executed following the 1916 Rising against British rule.  The address is also home to the New Theate which host a wide range of theatre (including Dublin Fringe Festival performances) and other events.

Credit: Connolly Books Website

Credit: Connolly Books Website

8 – Eason’s

40 O’Connell Street, Dublin 1

Part of a chain of bookshops around Ireland, Eason & Son has been on the go for almost 130 years so they must be doing something right!  In the pre-mobile phone days the Eason’s clock vied with Clery’s clock as a prime date night meeting spot.  Eason’s now make more from non-book sales than they do from selling books.  The shop has a good selection of books but probably too much space devoted to stationary for the true bibliophile.  There’s also a Tower Records store and a café on the top floor.

Credit: irishcentral.com

Credit: irishcentral.com

7 – Charity Shops If you’re looking for cheap secondhand books then the charity shops are the way to go.  The selection and quality varies vastly.  Some shops have just a couple of shelves heaving with copies of the Da Vinci Code (this seems to have supplanted The Bridges of Madison County) and its ilk.   There’s nothing quite so exciting as finding a book you really want, or didn’t realise you really wanted until you saw it just now,  for a couple of euro.  Oxfam Books have a couple of branches (on Parliament Street and in Rathmines) but can be slightly overpriced.  The best selection I’ve found is in The Irish Cancer Society Shop in Rathmines (121 Lower Rathmines Road) and the prices start from as little about a euro.  Of course, as well as finding a good book,  your money is also going to a good cause.

Credit: cancer.ie

Credit: cancer.ie

6 – Discount Bookstores A relatively new phenomenon is the discount book store.  They seem to be temporarily slotted into empty shopfronts while the landlords find somebody who can pay the rent they want.  They usually have generic signage, a limited stock selction, and one member of staff.  These shops are more for browsing as opposed to going in with a title in mind.  However if you are happy to browse and pick up a couple of cheap books (average price is around €5) then they’re pretty good.  The three I’ve noticed are on Liffey Street (at the corner of Bachelors Walk), on Lower Baggot Street, and on Dawson Street (near Hodges Figgis). 5 – Hodges Figgis 58 Dawson Street, Dublin 2 Hodges Figgis (which is owned by Waterstones) is probably the biggest bookshop in Dublin in a nice older style building.  Unfortunately the Waterstones across the road closed a few years ago meaning the pleasure of browsing in two large bookshops a few metres apart has gone!  Unlike Eason’s Hodges Figgis has stayed firmly focussed on books (and not stationary and magazines).  Apparently there are over a million books in stock over three levels.  I can usually be found in the excellent bargain basement.  There’s also a café if you get thirsty after your shopping.

Credit: spottedbylocals.com / Neil McDermott

Credit: spottedbylocals.com / Neil McDermott