Review of “The Race Against Time – Adventures in Late-Life Running” by Richard Askwith
Once a decade it seems Richard Askwith writes the definitive guide to keeping running interesting as you grow older. 2004’s “Feet in the Clouds” saw him escape from chasing PBs on suburban pavements to finding the freedom of the fells. A decade later, in the rural Midlands, 2014’s “Running Free” thought even more laterally about how to connect running to nature, whether it was by inventing running games in which you got deliberately lost or were voluntarily chased by a pack of hounds. And now in 2023 he has completed a trinity – “The Race Against Time” is a hugely upbeat and positive presentation of what running can do for you in even-later life, right up to the age of 100+ (if you’re lucky enough to get that far).
The book sticks to a trusted formula of generally surveying the so-called “Masters” scene (interviews with some of its leading figures, exploring the science of ageing etc) alongside the author’s own experiences. As someone who’s just turned “the wrong side of 50” there is much to be optimistic about here, not least how running can significantly improve your quality of life and independence in your later decades.
A recurring theme in the book is that you need to train smarter as you get older, with a greater focus on fewer, more intense workouts with greater recovery…. rather than just daily steady running. Not least to slow the rate of inevitable decline in muscles, the nervous system etc as you age. I particularly liked the analogy on p.220 in conversation with coach Pete Magill about how to avoid injury by varying your training:
“It’s like having a garden and you only water a third of it. And then the next day you only water the same third, and then the next day, and the next. And then you say – why is two thirds of my garden dead, when I water it every day?”
This sounds encouraging to me, as a fellrunner. My average “fell run” at the moment has unconsciously evolved into a walk/scramble up a hill to start, a jog along the top with several stops to take in views, have a chat/bite to eat, have a swim etc…. then an eyeballs-out descent back to the start. In other words, during a 3-hour “run”, I might only be running fast for half an hour. Meanwhile, running on the uneven terrain of the fells builds up strength all over your body. Mixing this with regular (and generally shorter) races and touch wood, I’m in reasonable shape at the moment and more importantly, really enjoying my running. (And ironically, since ditching a deliberately “competitive” mindset, I’ve been going a bit faster, and certainly getting injured less).
In fact if there’s one obvious gap in the book it’s that our fellrunning guru doesn’t focus more on the exploits of older runners on the fells. There are inspiring achievements by fellrunning “Masters”, whether the more obvious ones like Ken Taylor (first Bob Graham completion by a V70) or the evergreen Wendy Dodds, to more humble figures like Trevor Metcalfe (only V70 completer of this year’s BOFRA series of short-but-tough races) or my club-mate Steve, still entering AL Fell Races as a V70. We will all know similarly inspiring role-models.
You would have thought that a new running book by Richard Askwith would have been preceded by a bit more of a splash, but this one has sneaked out at quite short notice. Nonetheless, with the wind howling as I type it’s come at a good time – we need all the motivation we can to get out there, and once again this will do the trick. £18.99 well spent.