Runners Book Club: The Runner.

Markus Torgeby was an extremely talented teenage runner, but he could never quite get things together in races. The potential that everyone could see – his family, his coaches, himself – was struggling to come into fruition. Running was Markus’ solace, a way to make his body and mind sing together. He struggled in school, felt restless, and struggled to cope with his mother’s MS diagnosis and symptoms. He responded to these struggles by training, with a coach, through injuries, but running faster, competing, wasn’t giving Markus what he wanted. All he felt like he needed was that freedom of movement, that joy of blood pumping hard in the legs, in the head. Everything in the world around him seemed to take away from that, seemed to distract him from what he really wanted in life.

So he headed into the woods to live a stripped back life where all he had to do was eat, sleep, run, and survive. 

And then a bunch of years later he wrote a book about it.

This is as much of a book for fans of Walden or Into the Wild as it is for runners. We are taken from Markus’ first running experiences all the way through to his adult, married life, on the other side of his four year experience alone in the woods. There are beautiful, stark descriptions of the frigid Swedish wildlands, and Markus lives out a fantasy that many of us, worn down by modern life, have likely had. He is a far better runner than many of us will ever be, but ultimately he is just someone who absolutely loves running and this shines through the writing. In terms of pure running inspiration, you’ll struggle to find better. 

Markus has a particularly plain way of writing, of telling things exactly as they are and leaving the assessment of the words up to you. Now, my assessment of Markus’ words, as a whole, is similar to my assessment of those previous books I compared this book with: that the fantasy here is ultimately selfish. Markus forgoes responsibility to chase his whims, to focus entirely inwardly. You could take this as a criticism of Markus’ late adolescent attitude, but it doesn’t make for a bad book, in fact I think it improves the book by being so honest. Fantasies are nearly almost always selfish, so bringing them into fruition is naturally a selfish act. Selfishness is a term with negative connotations, but is running not also an inherently selfish activity? 

Is any hobby, when committed to so thoroughly that it dominates your free time and your mind space, inherently selfish? 

If the answer to these questions is yes, is selfishness, to some extent, really so bad if it helps us live a life that we can be satisfied with? 

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

The book ends many years on from the wilderness years, Markus a father, a husband, and occasional motivational speaker, but still the wild-at-heart, bare bones, passionate runner that he always has been. He does take the time to flatly tell us the lessons that we should learn from his story, which I think is detrimental to the stark style of the rest of the book – whatever lessons are here are tied into the story itself, and for Markus to quite suddenly pivot and tell us in the final chapter about how there is too much running gear for sale these days, feels like an unnecessary indulgence. 

Still, it is a short, satisfying read (and wonderfully read on Audible if that’s your thing) which doubles as a fascinating wild-living curio, and a inspiring memoir, either of which may serve you well through this Covid-afflicted Winter season. 

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