super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel – book review

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I didn’t realise Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel was such a recent release (April 2013) until about two minutes ago when I searched for some extra information about it to write this review. But look at me, being all early-adopter and stuff.

I bought the book on May 22nd, according to my Amazon account history, after virtually wandering around Amazon searching for books on trail running, days before signing up for my first ultra. The title grabbed me, and not just because it has the word “ass” in it (I’m not that juvenile, really). The full title is actually pretty long: Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel – A Trail and Ultramarathon Running Guide for Weird Folks.

Weird folk, that’s me.

Jason Robillard, the author, is known in the running community for his Barefoot Running University website and for his previous book, The Barefoot Running Book. He’s also known for having pretty much my dream life (writing and running for a living). Don’t you just want to hate him a little bit?

No, you don’t. Because, number one, your mum was right and that’s ugly. Number two: he actually has some pretty good advice to give.

It took me a few pages to really get into the book. It’s got a long list of chapters, which at first I thought interrupted the whole flow of the book. But then I realised that, as a handbook, it needs to have information structured in that easy-to-find way. Just a few pages into it, I discovered a really good deal of incredibly useful advice, not just for trail runners in general but for anyone stupid enough to sign up for an ultra.

(270 days to go, you guys!)

I liked the unpretentious conversational tone of the book, which reads almost as if a trail running buddy was just emailing you his best tips. These days, being the ridiculous gen-y that I am, I judge my opinion on books partly based on how many highlights they get on my Kindle. This one got a few, mostly tips about how to run in different conditions but also stuff like:

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Robillard also says he walks all the hills of any course over 50k and adds that that strategy has actually resulted in improvement on his finish times. Any trail runner who tells me walking is a good idea in an ultra is automatically added to my best friends list and would qualify for a Merry Christmas card if I still bothered sending those.

He also suggests a number of interesting things I wouldn’t have thought would be a good idea, including wearing white cotton shirts when there is a lot of sun exposure and adding “foodless runs” to your training, to help develop the ability of using fat as fuel.

I’d like to share a few of the tips I got from the book but that would be doing it a disservice since what you should really do is pick up a copy and read it yourself (won’t take you long). It’s not exactly Nobel material and it doesn’t try to be. It’s written as a trail running handbook and, as such, it pretty much ticks all the boxes, with a really comprehensive list of practical advice for every trail runner out there.

For a free sample of the book, click here. For more information on the book, check the blog with the same name or head to Amazon for a copy.

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If you only read one book about running…

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Malcolm Law at the Pt Chev Bookshop and Resource Room, talking about his book, last month, four days after running 100km at the Tarawera Ultra.

I really dislike writing book reviews because whenever I read a disappointing book, I always feel like the horrible mean lady telling the mother their baby is ugly. So, instead, I just give them stars on Amazon and Good Reads and carry on with life assuming I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings about their babies or their books.

When a book is really, really good, however, I have no problem writing a review. Look at the words flowing out of the keyboard, straight onto the WordPress screen like nobody’s business. This review? It’s practically writing itself.

First, the jist of it: One Step Beyond chronicles Malcolm Law’s crazy ass idea of quitting normal life and running New Zealand’s Seven Great Walks (in the mainland) in Seven Days to raise money for the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation (which is now called Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand). If you’re not from New Zealand and/or you’ve never heard of the Seven Great Walks, you can read about them here or you can just trust me when I tell you that this is one of the craziest ideas a runner could have (the equivalent of running 9 mountain marathons in seven consecutive days, having to make your way to all these remote places in different parts of the country).

The book documents the entire process from planning to training and execution, along with all the crazy bits in between. If you’re a runner, it’s the book you have been waiting to read. If you’re someone who likes adventure, it’s the book you have been waiting to read. If you love sitting on the couch doing nothing but deep down wish you were out there exploring, then you should already be halfway through this book. What are you still doing here?

By the time I first heard about Malcolm Law, a couple of years had passed since this first 7in7 adventure. His website was one of the first I discovered when I first started getting into trail running a couple of years ago. At the time, he was gearing up for his CoastPathRun an epic adventure to raise funds for Mental Health Foundation NZ. Mal at the time emailed me saying thank you for the donation to his cause (sending personal thank you notes to donors was important to him, as he talks about in the book) and I thanked him for the inspiration (I was training for a 35k trail, and felt like I needed all the extra inspiration I could find). From then on, I’ve followed his adventures closely (like that time he “climbed Everest in a day” in preparation for the CoastPathRun) and his website – a trail running bible for New Zealand – became a sort of manual of reference for me, whenever I want a new trail to explore.

In the book, he makes no secrets about all the work that went into organising 7in7, about the decision to quit his day job and run after his passion instead. The market analyst turned adventurer extraordinaire did exactly what each one of us secretly dreams of doing and turned his passion into his full-time job. What’s even more awesome, I hear you ask? He has single-handedly raised over a quarter of a million dollars to the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation in the process. Don’t even try to pretend that’s not what you want to do too.

One of the reasons it took me longer than usual to finish this book was because of the amount of times I got distracted and found myself drifting away, having flashbacks of past trail runs and an unbelievable envy of Mal for having dared to even dream to do something like the 7in7.

I’m pretty sure that was his point, though. He wanted to create that envy because it is that envy that gets you out there doing stuff. His premise is that, if he can do it, anybody can do it. Yes, even you. Or I. It’s the triumph of the “average” man. Mal doesn’t break any records other than the ones he sets for himself (which are pretty damn huge anyway). The point is, he’s just a regular person, not an elite athlete who’s been training for this his entire life. You know what that means, right? It means there’s hope. That if we suck it up and get out there like he did, if we harden up about the blisters and take the hills head on, we can do it too. That’s pretty damn exciting.

More importantly, though, he had a cause. He did it for his brother Alan, who died 40 years ago of Leukemia – something Mal could never quite get over. On his feet, during the adventure, his running shoes. Around his neck, the photo of his brother Alan, the real reason for this whole thing. Let’s get one thing straight: no one just decides that they feel like going for a massive seven-day trail run, up and down mountains and through rugged country. This was his way of finding closure for his brother’s death, an issue that had gone unresolved in his heart for 40 years. In the process, he helped a whole lot of people going through the same thing his family did back then. You know how running makes people awesome? It’s for stuff like this too.

By the time I got to the epilogue, last night, I was experiencing some weird symptoms: teary eyes (his son Beinn running the final few meters of the Kepler Challenge with him? Stop it, you’re making my heart hurt!) and really, really itchy feet, desperate to step on the trails.

If you think things have now gotten a little out of hand and he can’t get himself into anything crazier, think again. He’s plotting an even more outrageous adventure so keep an eye on Running Wild NZ for details. Also, that’s the same website where you can buy his book from, if you want to read an amazing story and get inspired to do epic stuff with yourself.