LONGLISTED FOR THE WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD 2021
LONGLISTED FOR THE RSL ONDAATJE PRIZE 2021
'Through reading this book you will come to understand that the heart and soul of running are to be found in Ethiopia.' Haile Gebrselassie
'Engaging, warm and humane… A delight' TLS
'Full of wonderful insights and lessons from a world where the ability to run is viewed as something almost mysterious and magical.' Adharanand Finn, author of Running with the Kenyans
'Ethiopia is a place where I have been told that energy is controlled by angels and demons and where witchdoctors can help you to acquire another runner's power. It is a place where an anonymous runner in the forest told me, miming an imaginary scoreboard and with a completely straight face, that he had dreamt that he would run 10km in 25 minutes. It is a place where they tell me that the air at Mount Entoto will transform me into a 2.08 marathon runner. It is a place, in short, of wisdom and magic, where dreaming is still very much alive.'
Why does it make sense to Ethiopian runners to get up at 3am to run up and down a hill? Who would choose to train on almost impossibly steep and rocky terrain, in hyena territory? And how come Ethiopian men hold six of the top ten fastest marathon times ever?
Michael Crawley spent fifteen months in Ethiopia training alongside (and sometimes a fair way behind) runners at all levels of the sport, from night watchmen hoping to change their lives to world class marathon runners, in order to answer these questions. Follow him into the forest as he attempts to keep up and get to the heart of their success.
Anthropologist Crawley debuts with a fascinating account of the 15 months he spent in Ethiopia in 2011 2012, where he trained alongside world-class marathoners as part of an anthropological study of long-distance running. While taking readers on his daily runs and conversations with runners, he shares their insights (one runner attributed his success and those from his town to diet: "They eat barley and honey, and drink milk") and sprinkles in descriptions of how local Ethiopian running clubs have historically provided avenues to professional competitions, while also providing the opportunity "to live a whole other life." Crawley also pointedly critiques the racism of the idea of Ethiopians being naturally gifted runners, which, he writes, ignores the enormous sacrifice and hard work of their training. Notably, the athletic culture Crawley encountered was less about competition than the joy that motivates a close-knit community. He also shares vivid descriptions of Ethiopian culture (including learning the Amharic language) and communal expectations like the prioritizing of hard work and family. This big-hearted tale will resonate with readers regardless of whether they've ever laced up a pair of running shoes.