Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession by Richard Askwith

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Isn't it strange to get such a variety of views?

In particular, some people thought the conflict between amateur and professional bodies was fascinating, when it sent me to sleep.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 10:32

Quite! I made myself read it all the way through but it was quite tedious in parts. One good thing was that it made me realise I'll never be a fell runner ;-))))

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 10:35

I enjoyed that part because I have never held the corinthian belief that amateurism in sport is something to be applauded - it was simply a way of keeping the oiks out.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 10:40

I confess I still haven't finished it. The conflict between amateur and professional bodies wasn't especially fascinating, just more interesting than some of the anecdotes from past fell-running heroes waxing lyrical about the 'good old days when I were a lad'.

I was disappointed that there wasn't a lot of focus on the author's own fell-running story. I asked for the book last Christmas after reading a great excerpt from it in Runner's World - but it seems that the part RW chose to print was the only interesting part of the whole book.

Still ploughing through it - determined to finish. Bit like a fell race really!

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 10:41

Afraid I didn't make it to the end - I got about 50 pages from the finish, and just ran out of steam.

Mind you, not the first book I'd started and not finished!

And I absolutely agree - I'm glad I read the book (well, some of it ;-) ) because I was going to give fell-running a go at some stage, not now though!

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 10:42

anyone want my copy?

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 10:48

I read it from cover to cover - mind you I don't get out much and have to turn Question Time off when it gets too exciting.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 10:49

I want to read this but it looks like I might be wasting my money. Anyone fancy swopping it for a copy of that Joe Simpson mountain climbing book everyone raves about ?

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 11:01

I thought the book was excellent. I love the Lake District and I love running.

The people described in the book are real and many are still alive. If these people had taken part in any other sport and achieved the equivalent in that sport they would be absolute heroes and we would all know there names.

Well worth reading if you love running.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 11:29

Conversely I found the `in my day lad' stories interesting, but the author's own story tedious. I wouldn't expect anyone to find my pursuit of a 2:37 marathon particularly interesting either.

Just re-read Bill Adcock's book. Now there's an interesting and inspiring book!

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 12:07

Found it really dull, still not finished it and will struggle to finish it.

Think it was the writing style more than the content for me, and the author came across as a bit of a complainer/whiner.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 12:09

Yes, Lardass.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 12:15

Eeee there's nowt so queer as Larry Grayson, as Granny used to say...

I thought it was a damn good read - fair enough, Askwith's a bit of a soft southern shandy drinkin' puff himself (which he freely confesses), but the people he's writing about (Billy Bland, Kenny Stuart, Joss Naylor etc.) aren't. Their stories kept me turning the pages, and I read all 340 at one sitting.

Take that, naysayers!

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 13:24

Loved it, but it encouraged me to ensure I never to enter a fell race!

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 13:41

Well each to his own. Got it from Mrs last Christmas and read it cover to cover by the fire that evening.

But its about a particular branch of the sport which I wouldn't necessarily expect others to enthuse about. However it enthuses me.

Had a similar experience when reading the respective accounts of their captivity in the lebanon by Brian Keenan and Terry Waite. Keenan's account was engaging humorous and colourful, whilst I never finished Waites's, as I found it self indulgent and lugubrious

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 13:46

Am I sad! I have read it twice and taken up fell running in part because of the book. Didn't find any of it boring, even his struggles, which I could relate to, being a middle of the pack runner (back of the pack Fell Runner).

By the same token found Paula Radcliffe's book extremely tedious, especially the parts about her relationship with Gary Lough.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 14:02

I was going to say that - but thought I'd get burnt at the stake for heresey.

But you've said it first - so I can get away with it now......

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 14:12

Danny - email me your address and it's yours!

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 14:21

It would be sooooooooo boring if we all had the same views and opinions. I found 'The looniness of a long distance runner' much more fun and inspiring to read. 'It's not about the bike' by Lance Armstrong was a very inspiring read while his next one 'Every second counts' was okay but nowhere near as good.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 14:24

Check out RC's review of that looniness book!

Lance's first was a top read, I'd heard his second wasn't as good (how could it be?) so I haven't bothered.

I've done more than enough academic reading in my time, so much so that now when I pick up a book, I expect to be entertained, and I refuse to have to work at a book all the way through. If I have to work at it, then I'm obviously not interested. Although, you do get ones where you're interested but you can get bogged down in it, but you still persevere.

Reading a book on Jack Dempsey and the Roaring 'Twenties at the mo, and the pages are turning like nobody's business.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 14:31

Agreed lardass


I'm genuinely dissapointed if it has put anyone off fell running. Folks should give it a go if they ever get the chance. being a flatlander isn't an excuse - I was born and brought up in Cambridgeshire....

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 14:33

Being a "flatlander" isn't my excuse.

My excuse is that I wouldn't bloomin' well like it. I suffer from vertigo and going down a near-vertical scree-covered slope does not appeal.

Different strokes and all that. You can't force people to like things, I guess.

Maybe if fell-running appealed to you as you were reading it, you'd enjoy the book, but if it didn't, then the faults in it became more apparent?

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 14:36

I really liked the book.
Also meant that I get a bit less confused when talking to the hardcore fell-types in club. (Living in York with no transport, I don't get much chance at hills so i just dabble - but is probably the most enjoyable stuff i do - but then again, i get bored after two laps of the track). Having been brung up in Cambridgeshire too, and being something of a wimp when it comes to heights, I'm not exactly classic fell-running material (downhills are usually accomplished to sounds of 'Oh Shi-Owwch-arrgh-SPLAT') - but the sort of uphills that make your legs wobble leave me grinning ear-to-ear, and getting awarded a special box of chocolates for 'Muddiest Runner' meant I could still manage an excited squeak even after 9m of one slippery scramble after another.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 14:49

I loved the book, even had dreams about fell-running. I found the background information really interesting and put it all in context, without it I don't think the passion of those individuals would have come across.

Anyway, gave it to my best friend who found it dull as ditchwater.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 14:57

Good thing we're all different. I'm an avid reader and always have been, but have never been able to get beyond the first few chapters of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. Too much description and too many characters necessitated wading through previous chapters to try and remember who was who. Couldn't be bothered in the end and gave up.

The other half, on the other hand, hardly ever reads but has read 'Lord of the Rings' in its entirety and loved it.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 16:12

I read teh first page of "The Hobbit", thought: "This is a complete bunch of ####" and put it down.

I did get halfway through Catch 22 then put it down, got distracted, then never got the motivation to pick it up again.

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 16:15

I loved "Feet in the Clouds" and I thought the balance between his own attempts at the BG Round and the history and characters in Fell Running was about right. I also found the stuff about Amateurism and Professionalism very interesting if only to show how ludicrous and shameful the whole situation became especially when it discouraged kids from running at their local galas ! What a disgrace. The rest of the world must think we're potty at this sort of thing.

The Looniness of the Long Distance Runner I found a bit boring and self indulgent in places and the kind of humour all too familiar in books like this these days. Championed by Bill Bryson ?

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 18:46

I enjoyed Feet In The Clouds. It did what running writers find it hard to do -- say something new.

It's disappointing to hear so many people complaining about Askwith writing about northerners and northern communities. That's where the book and its characters exist. The author doesn't pretend to be anything other than a southern softie (like me), and manages to squeeze a fair bit of self-deprecating humour out of the culture clash. Like when a southern journo asks one of the northern champions about his diet when training. "Oh, I'll eat owt", says the runner, leaving the journo thinking that the guy eats only in restaurants.

I found it touching. The book guarantees that some of these fascinating characters and their incredible feats won't be forgotten. I'm particularly glad that it was put together while it was still possible to meet and interview these legendary runners in person.

I've never run on a fell or in a fell race, but it's made me curious to try. So I guess the book did its job for me at least.

Definitely recommended by me!

Posted: 30/11/2005 at 20:51

Just read some of the latest reviews.

One particular person read it three times over - very weird.

I think that says something about fell-runners.

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 09:49

but so long as they are at home reading their boring old book, at least the poor local sheep get a bit of respite

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 09:55

Like the response from `not a townie'. Couldn't have put it better myself...

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 10:18

I think the review before it does show the insular nature of the sport though.

It does seem to be very much a case of "no-one likes us, we don't care".

I mean, doing the BGR, no-one takes any notice, other than similarly committed nutters. Askwith bangs on about how fit these guys are, but it's a sport with limited appeal (he notes the only place you can spectate is the start/ finish), and it seems to be "ageing".

Fair enough, accomplishments are for your own satisfaction, but there's something of a hollow ring to doing something like the BGR (if you ask me), since it can't really be shared with people outside the fell running community - no-one would really know what you'd done!

"I've just done the Bob Graham Round"
"Fantastic - is that when you drink a single out of all the bottles behind the bar?"

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 10:54

B, I think to be fair, running generally is a sport with limited appeal. Say the letters "FLM" to anyone outside the running fraternity and no-one will have a clue what you're talking about - although most people will have heard of the London Marathon. They won't necessarily know how far it is though, nor that all marathons are the same length!

So in that sense, there's something of a hollow ring to doing something like a half marathon - in my experience my finishing time and/or sense of achievement doesn't resonate with anyone other than other runners.

"I've just done the Turkey Trot"
"That'll teach you not to overeat on Christmas Day"

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 13:22

Ah - but what's the road-running equivalent of doing the Bob Graham Round? Not the Turkey Trot methinks.

Although admittedly you do make a fair point. Was thinking about this over lunch. It's harder to share the sense of achievement for solo pursuits with other people because they wonder why you do it. Whereas for team pursuits there is the social aspect, so although you have no pretensions to being world beaters, you can still take it seriously. And of course, you have others to share it with.

Yes, it's hard to share your running achievements with non-runners, but perhaps fell-running suffers even more because it has a narrower constituency and is limited to relatively few parts of the country.

Although an achievement like swimming the Channel doesn't need explaining I guess, it has an instant cachet.

I guess teh thing that bugs me is that once you've achieved something, what do you do afterwards? And if you achieve something greater, does it devalue your prior achievement? And is that taking it too seriously, in which case would you still get satisfaction if you weren't so keen?

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 13:41

although to be fair the letters "FLM" are only used on this website because the tab would have been too long had they written the whole thing!

serious point, i never get why people would want to 'share their running achievements' with other people. i mean, if somebody comes up to you and said they knitted a great jumper, spotted a great train or collected an absolutely brilliant stamp, you would probably want to get out of there as soon as you could. so why would anybody else want to hear about your hobby?

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 14:49

Exactly, Andy. The bits of Feet in the Clouds which send me to sleep were his own personal bits. About as interesting to me as my training would be to him.

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 15:01

Actually, Candy, I think you're probably right. In terms of geekiness running is right up there with stamp-collecting and train-spotting (well, maybe not RIGHT up there ...) But I only have to start talking about training in front of family and friends and their eyes glaze over.

Which is fair enough. All hobbies are only interesting to the person obsessed by them and others with the same obsession. To everyone else they're just boring/geeky.

Hence the popularity of these forums, where running geeks everywhere can share their dreams, hopes and fears.

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 15:05

It's nice to get some sort of recognition that you've done something not all of the population can do.

Doesn't take much effort to spot a great train.

Maybe my ego is running away with me, but it's sometimes nice to be asked what race I've done recently. It's not as if I give a boring race report, and I do wait until asked.

I don't print my own "Ewok Gazette".

"Read all about it! Ewok's mate starts race and gets to the end of it! Shocker, stunna, cor blimey mate, what a sizzla!"

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 15:08

Christ, I'd never talk about my training - that bores ME, let alone everyone else!

Posted: 09/12/2005 at 15:10

Some readers of running books are runners (first) who like to read.

Other readers of running books are readers (first) who like to run.

This explains most of the stuff above. It explains why friends of mine who are competitive runners thought the Paula Radcliffe book was "brilliant", while I found it horribly tedious. It also explains why I found Julie Welch's book on the London Marathon, "26.2", the best running book I've ever read, while those same competitive running mates found it "basic" and "boring".

I liked Feet In The Clouds because it did for me what all good books do. It took me out of myself and transported me somewhere else, and allowed me to peer into something that's normally invisible to me. It doesn't matter that I don't do fell-running; it doesn't matter that I'm not a northerner. It was an insight into something beyond my normal experience, and for me, that isn't a reason to dislike the book, it's a reason to cherish it.

Maybe it's BECAUSE I've never run a fell race, and would never even consider doing the Bob Graham Round, that I'm interested in reading why it's a big deal for others.

Posted: 10/12/2005 at 01:34

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