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Saturday 9 January 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Broken by Ally Beaven: Why Were Run Records Tumbling in 2020?

In 2020, a topic of conversation that repeatedly came up between me and my training friends was the widening training gap. 

Those who have worked throughout and those that have been furloughed. Those who have treadmills and indoor turbo trainer and those that don’t. Those that are shielding and those that aren’t. Gaps have widened, events have been cancelled and our bubbles have grown smaller. 

When Lorna from Vertebrate Publishing asked if she could send me a copy of Broken by Ally Beaven in return for a review, I gratefully accepted. Hopefully it would answer the questions, I had been asking all year. As usual, I didn't get paid or pay for the book and reviewed it honestly.

In Broken, Ally Beaven takes a look at why 2020 was so unusual for running. Beaven immerses himself in the UK 2020 long distance running scene and the book details his hours in the hills and on the trails speaking to, feeding and following the attempts and adventures of a multitude of long distance runners on the roads and trails of the UK … and how 2020 has changed ultrarunning.

With normal events cancelled, Beaven looked at how Pan Shancu, a Chinese marathon runner made the news by running 50km in his living room and 30km on the spot in his bathroom.  This then started balcony marathons, garden marathons, Everests on staircases and 100 year olds doing 100s of laps of their garden and raising millions of pounds for the NHS.

Virtual races became more common. These are events without a specific course which runners can do the race distance on the roads and trails – or treadmills - close to their home.  Most ultrarunners are familiar with the Centurion events such as Autumn 100, North Downs Way 100 and their 50 miles series. After having to cancel the usual Centurion races in the first half of 2020, the race director, James Elson opened up a Centurion Running One Community virtual event on the 25th May 2020 which allowed entrants to run any distance from 5k to 100 miles. The Centurion events have a strong following and a good reputation in the running community, but even so, James Elson didn’t expect that 3 weeks after launching the event, they would have 3980 people signed up including 550 kids under 18.  Elson said of the event “It brought the community together, it strengthened our brand because people realised the community was more important than the commercial side of things, it helped us with the online shop when that was tanking and we raised over £10,000 for charity.”

Different people reacted in different ways to empty calendars and different circumstances. Some had to shield, had to protect vulnerable relatives or home-school children. Others finally had the opportunity to work from home and lose the commute time and that opened up some time for training that they’d never had before. 

This book is very read-able and the author is interesting and likeable as you follow his exploits. He speaks to a range of runners doing trails and routes the length and breadth of the UK and Beaven has his own attempt at a FKT (Fastest Known Time) on a well known trail. If you have an interest in ultrarunning or trail running, then this book will be very enjoyable. If you have an interest in your own FKT … then it's essential.

Take a look here: Vertebrate Publishing 

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