I read this book expecting a feel-good story about an exceptional ultra runner because I had only heard about the insane feats which Al Howie accomplished: World Records at both the 1,300 miles and his Trans Canada Run (7,295 km), in addition to things like running 400 miles to a 24-hour-race, winning that race, and afterwards running 400 miles back home. To me, pushing human capabilities to these extremes is inspirational – and Al Howie seemed to have done all of this just because he felt like it. No outside pressures, no real prize money or huge sponsorship deals, nothing of the sort. He got Brooks shoes for free and a handful of other companies paid for his trailers and food during the huge record runs, that’s basically it.
But, in the end this book made me sad instead of inspiring me. He lived a life in poverty, never found a way out of it, and had to drink unthinkable amounts of alcohol to get through it all. Yes, also during the running. He won races despite drinking all the time, which is even more impressive, but also just sad. His family situation was horrifying, his illegal alien status as a Scot living in Canada was causing him paranoia, and on top of it he first developed a brain tumor and then Diabetes type 1, which in the end broke him mentally. His last 11 years were spent in a sort of nursing home, mostly alone and thinking he would be dying today on every single day, until he did in 2016. I nearly cried. It’s a beautiful book but don’t expect it to be inspiring.