Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Summit Seeker - ultra trail running book review

The Summit Seeker - Memoirs of a Trail Running Nomad is a new running book by Vanessa Runs. It's a concise biography of a young woman who retired by age 30 and loves to run. I downloaded it from iTunes for mere 3.99€ and read it at once. There are not too many books written by runners. I enjoyed Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and was hoping for something similar, but different. I wasn't disappointed.

There may be more experienced or successful runners than Vanessa, but possibly few of them could write as well as she. The book was smooth and pleasant to read, just like her blog. No need for ghost writers in this case. Vanessa used to have a job as an editor, before she quit working. Still it's good to have someone else edit your book. This book was edited by Susan Fish, and she did a pretty good job, there were only a couple of typos.

Vanessa's father was a Babtist minister, so perhaps not surprisingly there's a lot of religious and spiritual stuff in the book. There's nothing wrong with that, but I was expecting tons of practical dietary advice like in Eat & Run by Scott Jurek. The author mentions having attended a nutrition school and having opened a nutrition practice of her own, but we only learn that she used to be fearful that there wouldn't be enough food. She is grateful for any food as she knows the value of it and what it means to be without. Like a trail hobbit, she likes to eat a second breakfast. (Yes, there's a whole chapter of hobbit lessons). She and her boyfriend Shacky also seem to love drinking beer and wine at ultras, which is something you certainly wouldn't find in say, Finding Ultra by Rich Roll.

The highlight of the book for me was the Grand Canyon R2R2R. Vanessa's crazy bunch was further enhanced with Gordy Ainsleigh, the legendary pioneer of modern ultra trail races. He also wrote the Foreword, which is almost worth the price of the book in itself. Long story short, he makes the point that ordinary people have fascinating lives, if you only could ever get them to tell the truth. The Summit Seeker is the fascinating truth about Vanessa.

The most useless chapter was 'On Ultrarunner Narcissism'. First I thought this is a joke, but Vanessa genuinely seems to suspect we ultra bums are egocentric. Actually it is a great joke, like worrying if hobos are vain! She even slaps our ugly mugs with "You're not as awesome as you think you are."  Luckily she comes back to her senses on the chapter about excuses and makes a U-turn: "...instead of looking at you with admiration, people will look at you like you're insane." Coming from a triathlon background, I really wouldn't worry about us introverted nerds learning to blow our modest trumpet.

I wondered why the title is The Summit Seeker, as this book is not about mountaineering. Obviously Vanessa is not Kilian Jornet. Or who knows, maybe she will be! However there is the Chimera 100 race report, a real mountain ultra trail race which surely was a breakthrough performance for her. But ultimately this book is not about running either. It's about transformation. After all, the name Vanessa means 'butterfly'.

Perhaps Vanessa's bucket list now contains more mountain ultra trail races. Oops, I almost forgot she doesn't have a long-term plan or a bucket list. She pursues her whims as they come. I really do admire that attitude. It reminds me of something Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote in Antifragile, but that's a different story.

The only problem is that the best ultra trail races have become so popular you cannot just show up and register a week before. Of course you are always free to organize your own events anywhere and anytime you like. And in a recent interview, she mentions wanting to run Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, Fuego y Aqua, Hardrock 100 and Angeles Crest 100 "someday".

There were not too many pages. I felt the author could have shared a lot more. Maybe she chose to save some of the stories for her next book. I'm already looking forward to reading it. Like she says at the end, her adventure has only just begun.

Vanessa has stayed hungry and foolish like a beginner, she has not lost her faith, and she does what she loves - exactly like Steve Jobs told us. I wonder why so few of us have the courage to follow this simple advice today. There is no reason not to follow your heart.


Will said...

sounds like a good book. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the post.

Trail Plodder said...

You're welcome. Yes check it out, books can change lives.

Cory Reese said...

I can't wait to read this book! I love Vanessa's blog and enthusiasm.