Boff Whalley – Run Wild (Simon & Schuster paperback)
Review by Nick Small.
Boff Whalley was the guitarist with Chumbawamba. He’s also a very good runner. As you’d expect of an anarchist, he’s not at all keen on following a line, painted onto the roads of New York/Newcastle or any other big city hosting the massive corporate marathons/half-marathons that attract millions of runners every year. For him, running is about getting out into the countryside, feeling the uneven earth with the soles of his feet, connecting with nature and just going where the fancy takes him.
“Run Wild” is a sometimes polemical, sometimes evangelical, but never dull series of connected ideas and threads describing Boff’s love affair with running in the wilderness. The vivid descriptions of bounding amongst Lakeland peaks, up Yorkshire fells, around Walden Pond and through the majestic mountains of the Yosemite Valley are delivered with the persuasive enthusiasm of an over-excited child. He’s equally passionate in his rubbishing of the whole painful, numbing, plodding, Nike shod, Gatorade fuelled city road marathon.
You could simplify the book as “Don’t do that, do this instead. It’s much better”. But that would be to miss out on the accumulation of nuances and ideas that bring Henry David Thoreau and Oprah Winfrey into the same sentence. There’s a wealth of context to “Run Wild”, be it John Muir, Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson…and the inherent radicalism of nature lovers; or the nuggets about growing up as a punk in small town northern England, the life of a musician, the vignettes and the characters of the fell running world…even the synthesis of the famous Walsh fell running shoe.
There is no line to follow in the book. No real structure. It wanders, much like a trail run, hither and thither, taking unexpected turns and stopping occasionally to take in the landscape. Neatly though, each thread of ideas has its own chapter, so it’s an easy read to dip in and out of randomly.
It is a book with a good deal of charm, though you may, if you are planning on running the London Marathon next year, take umbrage that your goal is being repeatedly savaged. Yet, as Boff describes running up to the summit of Ben Nevis, alone, in a snow storm, with only a map and compass for company you may find yourself infected with the desire to put on some Walshes and do a bit of spontaneous wild running yourself.