At current count I have read The Coolest Race three times. That alone speaks to my enjoyment of the novel. Books I dislike I seldom read more than twice. Hanc promises a book that is “partly a memoir and partly a history of events both recent and distant” and he lives up to that billing. Indeed, the report of his own Antarctic Marathon run arrives late in the story and consumes just 20 or so (pp 141-162) of the 216 pages. That was a wise editorial decision. While I admire the author’s recognition that he has difficulty leaving the seriousness out of what should be a race for experience and not time, I was often appalled by his self-reported unsportsmanlike behaviour. From stealing Gatorade to Zodiacing back to the ship as soon as he crossed the finish line rather than staying to support his fellow runners (people, I hasten to add, he’s come to know quite well after days on an isolated ship) to his endless whining about embarrassment over his “glacial slow” finish time at times it takes effort to like the man. Not to mention the expectation that his friends and family buy him all the necessary gear required for such a trip, guilting them into elaborate birthday gifts and then returning the generous “donations” for things he really wanted/needed. If you can afford the $5000 price tag to run in Antarctica buy your own damn gloves.
Did I mention that the race is his 50th birthday present to himself? Make note Husband. It sure beats a little red corvette and a tawdry affair, but I’m not sure of the wisdom in two weeks in dangerous seas with a newborn at home. The lucrative book deal probably helped his case. To his credit, he pokes fun at his misdeeds and imperfections and finds perspective, albeit late, which I’m told is better than never. I may be too hard on him. I blame the author photo.
The book, primarily, is a historic look at the Antarctic Marathon, marathoning, running tourism, the evolution of running, and Antarctic exploration. Hanc does a fine job of weaving adventures past with happenings present. He successfully highlights the forgotten stories and tells an intriguing tale of danger and adventure replicated on a small scale by staging a cold, muddy, hilly marathon at the end of the world. I appreciated the parallels drawn between explorers and notable runners past and average folks finding adventure in the modern world. This book will appeal to armchair history buffs who like to run (like me), to runners who like to mix tourism with races (like me), and to folks with an adventurous streak (like me in theory, but in action my worrisome nature beats down the call of the wild). I think it is a rare runner who will read this book and not be inspired to run a race in an exotic or challenging local. Anything seems possible after reading a romanticized tale of beating the odds. The Antarctica Marathon, to me, sounds like 26.2 miles of unnecessary torture, but going north, now that’s a running adventure I can imagine. I finished this book, looked at Husband and said “want to run the 2010 Reykjavik (Iceland) Marathon?”. After no time to think he answered with a resounding yes. Go Vikings.
RunShort’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 sneakers.
Reference: John Hanc – The Coolest Race on Earth: Mud, Madmen, Glaciers, and Grannies at the Antarctica Marathon. Chicago Review Press, Chicago, IL. 2009.