Boff Whalley, former lead guitarist for an anarcho-punk band, is a trail runner. Bits of his 2012 book Run Wild appear in "I Get Knocked Down by the Hill, but I Get Up Again" that was published in the New York Times Sunday magazine in November 2016. The book itself is a fast romp through a year of Whalley's rambles and musings, along with flashbacks to his youth.
There's fine poetry and insight in Run Wild — but there's also far too much jeremiad: repetitive carping about big marathons, tired complaints about cars and road running and fancy shoes and gyms, and uncharitable mocking of plodding joggers. There's silly-bad math, e.g., in Chapter 10 during a screed about the New York City Marathon, where the multiplication is wrong by three orders of magnitude and various other figures cited are clearly impossible. And when Whalley channels Thoreau his prose slips even farther into the bleating zone.
But leap across those cracks and much good remains. From the Introduction, for instance:
The band is called Chumbawamba and, to most people, we had just one 'hit' song, called 'Tubthumping', that was built around a chorus of: I get knocked down, but I get up again. Which, funnily enough, is incredibly apt as a description of trail running. Self-determination. Falling, pulling yourself up, carrying on. Optimism and confidence. Tree roots, loose rocks, mud and bloody scrapes. And always, despite every fall and trip, every lung-bursting climb that brings you to your knees, getting up again.
And in Chapter 1, describing a chill December run in northwest England:
A quick change and I'm off, running straight out of the town of Ambleside and onto small lanes winding outwards and upwards, lanes becoming tracks becoming trails becoming the vaguest of paths, all under snow. The sunlight grows redder behind me and it begins to get cooler and darker. Up, up, up towards the skyline hanging like a starched apron between Dove Crag and Red Screes until, after an hour, I crest the top at its lowest point. It's getting dark now, properly dark, the cloudless sky losing the last thin thread of an orange glow, but fortunately I can see well enough to follow the route, to watch my own feet in the deepening snow, and it's easy to see the summit of Red Screes off to the east, where I'm headed. As I top one more low, false summit there's a sudden blast of light, bright and shocking. I stop. It's the moon, right in front of me, a huge glow-in-the-dark disc, big as a planet. I reach the ridge and stand with the last of the sunlight behind me and the fierce glow of the moon in front; I have two shadows.
On up to the mountain's peak, only 6 p.m. and the stars coming out. Puffing and panting through the snowdrifts and jogging, heavy footed, into the understated drama of the mountain's high point, a plateau with two small tarns hemmed in by tumbledown rocks. I stop for a few minutes, turning to follow the circumference, an unbroken circle of uneven, spectacular horizon. The snow is sparkling in tiny random twinkles in the moonlight, and the lights of small Lakeland villages gather and cluster far below. It's almost Christmas, and I'm the only person in the world with this view. I haven't got a camera, but I have a memory now, a memory I can carry around forever. And this, all of it, the dark sky and white mountains, the moonlight, the sparkling, untrodden snow, and my two studded feet planted into the landscape — this is what I call running.
Yes! This is running!