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Runner: The Memoir of an Accidental Ultra-Marathon Champion

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Lizzy Hawker is one of the greatest ultra-distance runners Britain has ever produced. She is the first woman to finish on the overall podium of the Spartathlon, one of the world toughest footraces, and has won the legendary The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc five times in its ten-year history, the only person, man or woman, to achieve this. Lizzy came to the sport alm Lizzy Hawker is one of the greatest ultra-distance runners Britain has ever produced. She is the first woman to finish on the overall podium of the Spartathlon, one of the world toughest footraces, and has won the legendary The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc five times in its ten-year history, the only person, man or woman, to achieve this. Lizzy came to the sport almost by accident - she had run a marathon or two, but tried her first ultra, a 40 mile track race, when invited to stay with friends in Wales. One month later she was representing England. Within eighteen months she was the women's world champion for 100km. Not bad for someone who started life in Upminster, had no coach, no gym, and was finishing her PhD. Runner is the story of her journey and will get inside the head of the physical, mental and emotional challenges that runners go through at the edge of human endurance, in much the same way as Aurum's classic running story Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith did nearly ten years ago. Her story, as a self-taught champion, will be an inspiration for anyone who has dreamt of lacing up a pair of trainers and wondering how far they could run.


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Lizzy Hawker is one of the greatest ultra-distance runners Britain has ever produced. She is the first woman to finish on the overall podium of the Spartathlon, one of the world toughest footraces, and has won the legendary The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc five times in its ten-year history, the only person, man or woman, to achieve this. Lizzy came to the sport alm Lizzy Hawker is one of the greatest ultra-distance runners Britain has ever produced. She is the first woman to finish on the overall podium of the Spartathlon, one of the world toughest footraces, and has won the legendary The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc five times in its ten-year history, the only person, man or woman, to achieve this. Lizzy came to the sport almost by accident - she had run a marathon or two, but tried her first ultra, a 40 mile track race, when invited to stay with friends in Wales. One month later she was representing England. Within eighteen months she was the women's world champion for 100km. Not bad for someone who started life in Upminster, had no coach, no gym, and was finishing her PhD. Runner is the story of her journey and will get inside the head of the physical, mental and emotional challenges that runners go through at the edge of human endurance, in much the same way as Aurum's classic running story Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith did nearly ten years ago. Her story, as a self-taught champion, will be an inspiration for anyone who has dreamt of lacing up a pair of trainers and wondering how far they could run.

30 review for Runner: The Memoir of an Accidental Ultra-Marathon Champion

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tor

    This book had bags of potential and I thoroughly enjoyed the first section. But the whole book needs a bloody good edit, mostly down to structuring and coherence (too many characters referred to but not introduced until chapters later). Also there was too much repetitive philosophical waffle in the last section and an annoying habit of speaking to "you" (who I presume was Richard - are they a couple? Who knows), which I felt distanced me as the reader.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Liralen

    The first third or so of Runner steams along nicely, quietly, moving back and forth between the 2005 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and Hawker's background. She presents herself as an accidental champion in ways that reminded me some of A Life Without Limits—they're both kind of 'oops I stumbled into a race and won. And kept winning.' After that first third, though... The subtitle of the book is 'A Short Story About a Long Run', and by the second half of the book I was wishing it had been a short stor The first third or so of Runner steams along nicely, quietly, moving back and forth between the 2005 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and Hawker's background. She presents herself as an accidental champion in ways that reminded me some of A Life Without Limits—they're both kind of 'oops I stumbled into a race and won. And kept winning.' After that first third, though... The subtitle of the book is 'A Short Story About a Long Run', and by the second half of the book I was wishing it had been a short story. It's not that it's bad, but the structure isn't nearly as compelling. Some more back-and-forth with long runs (e.g., running from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu) and background, but lots of 'and then this race happened and then I won this race and then I won that race (didn't win this other one) and then won this one too'. Makes it much more of a bog-standard elite-athlete memoir, which is fine but not as interesting as it might be. Towards the end Hawker starts a) talking stress fractures and b) addressing numerous comments to 'you', who is never named but presumably a significant other. It's hard to say 'should've ended the book before the stress fractures', but it's sad, too—a bit like setting up the book as the rise and fall of a champion (though 'fall' is probably the wrong word there). The 'you', though, I'm not sure how to take. Probably didn't help that by then I was just ready to be done. Some of the pictures are pretty stunning, though. And now I'm curious about some of the things she mentions, like Kaihōgyō...

  3. 4 out of 5

    F.

    I liked the parts of this book. Gripping accounts of feats of running. Insights into a stubborn and focussed mind. Philosophical musings. Humility in the face of others’ greater and involuntary hardship. It just didn’t come together as a book on the whole. Either not a good editing job, or a purposeful choice of a meandering narrative that stresses the journey and not the goal. I found that jarring and detrimental to reading enjoyment.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    I have read a lot of books on running in my life and this has to be one of my favorites. It is part memoir, part travelogue, and part exploration on how individuals construct their identities. Lizzy is also not only a great runner but also a descriptive, philosophical, and introspective writer. It starts before she became a runner, then follows her from path to becoming a runner, takes you inside her head while she runs some of her most significant races, and finishes by taking you with her thro I have read a lot of books on running in my life and this has to be one of my favorites. It is part memoir, part travelogue, and part exploration on how individuals construct their identities. Lizzy is also not only a great runner but also a descriptive, philosophical, and introspective writer. It starts before she became a runner, then follows her from path to becoming a runner, takes you inside her head while she runs some of her most significant races, and finishes by taking you with her through her forced hiatus from competitive running. As a dedicated runner for most of my life, I found myself nodding along often when she described what running meant to her when she could and couldn't run, and more. This book is a must read for any runner, any endurance athlete, or anyone interested in travel and adventure.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ron S

    Wonderfully understated memoir by the ultra runner with vaunted "uncommon endurance." I'd literally never heard of Ms Hawker prior to reading this book. Her achievements are remarkable, but told here with as little fuss as if she was describing trips to the grocer. That said, her stories are fascinating, both in and of themselves and for the calm (but not boring) way in which they're told. This isn't a how to book for endurance athletes. It's a how to book for exploring, for reflection, for gett Wonderfully understated memoir by the ultra runner with vaunted "uncommon endurance." I'd literally never heard of Ms Hawker prior to reading this book. Her achievements are remarkable, but told here with as little fuss as if she was describing trips to the grocer. That said, her stories are fascinating, both in and of themselves and for the calm (but not boring) way in which they're told. This isn't a how to book for endurance athletes. It's a how to book for exploring, for reflection, for getting outside and leading an unconventional life.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    A great book, very well written and gripping! it will make you want to pack your bag and head off to the mountains.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kitvaria Sarene

    2,5* I quite enjoyed the start of the book. It was interesting to follow the author from the start of her career to the heights, and then lows. I found the retellings of races and encounters engaging and inspiring. The last third on the other hand took me ages to finish. I wanted to skip pages and lost all interest. Not because it was about "failure" - actually I find it fascinating to read how people who are used to functioning handle unexpected crisis. I liked the posts about overcoming your fear 2,5* I quite enjoyed the start of the book. It was interesting to follow the author from the start of her career to the heights, and then lows. I found the retellings of races and encounters engaging and inspiring. The last third on the other hand took me ages to finish. I wanted to skip pages and lost all interest. Not because it was about "failure" - actually I find it fascinating to read how people who are used to functioning handle unexpected crisis. I liked the posts about overcoming your fears, your pain, tiredness and so on. But it was just too "theoretical" for me. Lots of skipping through scenes, plenty of "Henry Thoreau said..." and quotes from all sorts of texts and people about philosophical thoughts. I just didn't click with any of that and so it completely lost my interest there. Also the last chapters were written with plenty of "You taught me this" or Talking to you helped me" which completely threw me out of the book. That doesn't make this a bad book, I'm sure there'll be readers who like that bit way more than the practical parts I enjoyed! It just wasn't for me, being very pragmatic and not prone to get hung up on the question off "who am I?"

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elena

    After running a 2 stage ultra-marathon and going back to the reality of a stressful house move, I went to the book shop in the hope of finding a book that could take me to the places I find and look for in a long run. This book was exactly what I wanted and it also helped me find some much needed perspective. It may be one of the most expensive novels I have ever bought as it has sewn the seed for UTMB and poured fuel on the fire of a desire to combine running with exploration further afield.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor Duvivier

    Thought provoking and reflective work about the trials and tribulations of an inspirational woman ultra marathon runner.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anne Kiely

    I agree with the last review - I really enjoyed the first few chapters but then the book becomes confusing, repetitive and boring!

  11. 4 out of 5

    yana emilova

    A thoughtful book by an eloquent, extremely well-read, well-travelled, self-aware writer... She's giving us an incrediblly intimate perspective on her inner workings and while maybe she won't answer your questions of how one trains to attain such endurance, she definitely shows you what it takes to lead the life that she does. Infinitely more rewarding to read than books who focus excessively on custom-tailored training plans and nutrition. By the end of it, I felt as though I had glimpsed enoug A thoughtful book by an eloquent, extremely well-read, well-travelled, self-aware writer... She's giving us an incrediblly intimate perspective on her inner workings and while maybe she won't answer your questions of how one trains to attain such endurance, she definitely shows you what it takes to lead the life that she does. Infinitely more rewarding to read than books who focus excessively on custom-tailored training plans and nutrition. By the end of it, I felt as though I had glimpsed enough of the author to respect her word and desire her companionship. It's very hard not to be in awe of her strength of character rather than her achievements. If you want to gain a new perspective on running philosophy, this is a very strong choice, after Born to Run. If you want a book that tells you how to train to become an ultra runner, this isn't it. Ii you want a book that shows you how one of the big names in ultrarunning thinks and lives, then this is it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elinor

    I thought this book would be a good story from a female perspective about ultrarunning. It was that, but it was so much more. It was about living in the moment, feeling the 'flow' of a run. The author spends most of the book relating her experience becoming an ultramarathon champion, but she focuses less on the training and more on the act of running, the meditative quality of it and the sheer joy of being present in the mountains. The last few chapters go further, speaking on life, community, s I thought this book would be a good story from a female perspective about ultrarunning. It was that, but it was so much more. It was about living in the moment, feeling the 'flow' of a run. The author spends most of the book relating her experience becoming an ultramarathon champion, but she focuses less on the training and more on the act of running, the meditative quality of it and the sheer joy of being present in the mountains. The last few chapters go further, speaking on life, community, solitude and more. I have pages filled with quotes and with other books referenced I want to check out. As a lover of mountains, hiking and running, this book really spoke to me. A quote: "The world and all of time has been distilled down into this one moment. Now. Nothing else exists. Nothing else matters. All that there ever was, and all that there ever will be, is embraced by this moment and my struggle to keep running through it."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Atlas

    * * * 3 / 5 Fantastic woman with some incredible achievements that were fascinating to read about. The writing itself was kinda meh. The narrative was broken up weirdly and it didn't seem to be altogether linear (although I could be wrong), and there was a lot of repetitive stuff thoughts about being injured and what running means to the author. I enjoyed this book a lot, but it definitely could have benefited from some more editing. Read my proper reviews on my blog: http://atlasrisingbooks.word * * * 3 / 5 Fantastic woman with some incredible achievements that were fascinating to read about. The writing itself was kinda meh. The narrative was broken up weirdly and it didn't seem to be altogether linear (although I could be wrong), and there was a lot of repetitive stuff thoughts about being injured and what running means to the author. I enjoyed this book a lot, but it definitely could have benefited from some more editing. Read my proper reviews on my blog: http://atlasrisingbooks.wordpress.com

  14. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    I am looking for inspiration as I train for the Boston Marathon. Hawker is an inspirational runner, but because of her injuries that end up limiting her running in the end, she also comes across more human than other ultra runners. Running 26.2 seems super easy when compared to most of the runs that she does. Her description of the mountains has fed my urge to go to Nepal and the Swiss Alps. A great read about running, why we run and endurance.

  15. 4 out of 5

    LB

    Very inspirational but hard to really relate to someone with such immense strength, I don't think I'll ever be able to understand someone with such strong will power. I did understand the stress fractures and what it's like to not know if you can run anymore. My own plantar fasciitis has stopped me from running for a few years now and I was hoping this book might inspire me to get back out there. We'll see I guess!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ram Vasudeva

    The book delves into the the author's journey as a competitive runner across various long distance running events, all this in her own account. One thing to really like about the story delivered here is the fact that it is very much applicable to challenges every human faces. It is very well written, easy to read and has some beautiful verses from other famous people, no spoilers! Read it and you'll find out. Recommended.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Molly Bazilchuk

    Lizzy's story is really inspiring! This book makes you want to run, and think about running. The storyline is sometimes a little unclear because she jumps around a lot in time, making it difficult to follow. But it works well with the stream of consciousness style. Ultimately a beautiful tribute to running and life.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Cotterill

    This is an amazing story, and really inspiring. It would be a 5* for sure, except the whole book could do with a thorough edit, for example the flicking back and forth between the specific race stories and the more general narrative means that characters sometimes get introduced long after you've been reading about them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lulu Fairhazel

    Inspiring! lizzy writes her story well with lots of anecdotal stories about her running life as well as her professional life, and how the two have blended together. It's an inspiring and impressive read and one I would recommend to runners of all abilities and goals for the future.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gemma Milne

    Fascinating look into the world of ultras Really enjoyed this book - flew through it. Lots of wisdom for all areas of life as well as giving you a real taster of the world of ultras. Felt the introspection at times was a little tenuous / lacking / as if it was added in hastily at the end, but I’d absolutely recommend it and would re-read again. Lots of notes taken!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Missnicola

    The first part of this book was interesting but it became confusing and disjointed as it jumped from one thing to another. I wanted to enjoy this book but abandoned reading it about two thirds of the way in.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Simon Webb

    More of an insight into her philosophy I liked the descriptions of the mountains, the dissection of her motivation. I would have enjoyed more graphic descriptions of how she kept going despite clearly at times feeling horrendous.. Recommended for people who love trail running!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katarina Kasalova

    Read Lizzy’s book if you’re interested in learning about the mindset which allows to achieve the ultimate path of life: discovering living in a moment. I loved it and will read it again for sure. Thank you and namaste, Lizzy 😊🙏🏻🤓

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jilanna

    Finished in August. Read while I was in NYC. Seemed to take long than it should.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Xiangting Lim

    It is inspiring to see a fellow vegetarian running such a long distance... I wish to run longer distance, but my mind, time and physical limitation doesn't allow me....

  26. 4 out of 5

    calvin

    . 👍 I absolutely loved this book. I also an a ultra runner, so I can relate. But even non runner's would like it, it's a journey of discovery

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    A very good read. Not bad for a lass from Upminster!

  28. 5 out of 5

    František Valluch

    Really motivational book, in the other hand, little bit sad that she "sacrificed family fo running"...thats a real passion

  29. 5 out of 5

    Fiona Mccallum

    Got a bit lost towards the end and felt a bit disjointed at places

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty Wareing

    Inspirational and fascinating although it does jump around somewhat.

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