This book came to me courtesy of the algorithm. Having previously read Richard Askwith’s Running Free my Kindle felt obliged to line this up next, and I’m glad that it did. Vybarr Cregan-Reid’s Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human is, again, partially a memoir on running experience. Like Askwith, he is a runner who prefers to feel the ground beneath his feet, scooping his minimalist running trainers into his hands and running barefoot when and where he can.
Running Free was about encouraging runners to consider their hobby differently. It asked the reader what they really needed to enjoy themselves when they were out running. Do you need a gym membership? A GPS watch? Expensive entry to a race? The answer was never supposed to be clear cut. The conclusion was only that we should be more mindful when giving ourselves over completely to the industry which has sprouted from our beloved sport/hobby/play – BIG RUNNING.
Footnotes looks to take things in a slightly different direction, although perhaps the lessons that we can take from reading this book aren’t so different. Cregan-Reid writes about connection: to nature, to our bodies, to cities, to people, art, history, architecture. Each chapter is defined by a broad topic, but within each chapter Cregan-Reid happily trundles down tangential avenues as curiously as he explores the undefined routes of his more adventurous runs. He talks William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy, classic literary advocates of the great outdoors, but he also talks Dickens, phytoplankton, H.G Wells, and Venetian Architecture via John Ruskin, creating a surprising and holistic collage of humanity, justifying this books ambitious subtitle.
There is no single thing which defines our humanity, but as time ticks on we find ourselves falling into habits which are inhuman. As technology makes our lives easier, our lives get paradoxically harder; we obsess over productivity, become sedentary, and lose connection with the natural world. Our posture suffers. Our fitness suffers. Our quality of life suffers. What we do about that? Are we not already too far gone? Is there any turning back? I don’t know, but this book certainly thinks that is, at least, helpful to just run.
I, of course, agree.
Footnotes delightful combination of running adventure, scientific and literary analysis, and free form association which reflects the dream-like nature of thought when lost in a run, will help you realise that running in the modern world is more important than ever.
To end in Cregan-Reid’s own words:
‘Running is analogue. It is hunter-gatherer. It is Palaeo. It is linear. It is long-form thought. It is an uninterrupted conversation with yourself. It is a journey back through modernity to your body. It is a way out of technology. It is a way to be free.’