As the Crow Flies
I've got to be honest: when I first laid my eyes upon Craig Alexander's book As the Crow Flies—My Journey to Ironman World Champion, I was disappointed. It initially struck me as a classic "coffee table book," with great pictures and all; but, seemingly lacking in full-depth content. However, after reading it and taking the time to really look at every picture and every caption, I came to understand the true essence of the book—essentially, "this is who I am."
Estonian, Marko Albert, one of the top triathletes in the world, was at my house looking at the book, and quickly pronounced: "If a picture is worth a thousand words, think how many words are in this book." He's right—the pictures tell the story. Purely and simply, Craig ("Crowie") Alexander is a gentleman who "honors his competition" (another Marko quote) and, most importantly, is the consummate husband and father. Wife, Neri, and children, Lucy and Austin, are never far out of sight.
The "storyline" behind the book is Crowie's trials and tribulations throughout his 2011 training and racing season, ultimately culminating in victories at both the Ironman 70.3 and Hawaii Ironman World Championships. While the phenomenal photos (by Paul Robbins) tell a great deal of the story, Crowie does give us a nice glimpse inside his head, his lifestyle, his full-on commitment to hard work and training, dealing with injuries and setbacks, as well as the challenging world of sponsorships and life as a top pro triathlete.
"Our only goal was for it to be authentic and real, not staged and with no manipulations of the truth," Crowie told me. "Some people like to manipulate the truth, rationalize poor performances, make excuses, denigrate other athletes, etc. That's fine, everybody is different; but, it's certainly not my way." We can only imagine—or know—who this is a reference to.
Taking the high road and being a class act has been the trademark of this 3-time Ironman World Champion; and, reading and flipping through this wonderful book will further cement Craig Alexander's legacy as such.
Run or Die
I admit it: I did not know who Kilian Jornet was when I first opened the pages of Run or Die. And, after reading the almost "poetic" look inside this mountain running phenom, I still did not know such facts as how old he is, where he is from; nor, did I recognize most of the mountain names and races/runs he describes in the book. But, one thing for sure I learned—and, literally felt throughout his story—is Kilian Jornet's full-on passion for running.
"I love to compete, and competing is about winning, the high you feel hitting the tape. Everything is brought together for a few seconds before I break the victory tape, and it gives my body amazing strength, making it run faster than ever, leap higher and farther. At the same time, it makes my mind crumble like the feeblest of minds and makes me laugh, cry, and fall to the ground to kiss the earth."
This—within the first 20 pages of the book—is reflective of the drive of Jornet, his emotions, and the harsh and explicit reality of the mindset of this incredible athlete and competitor: run or die!
We follow Jornet on a few of his adventures—multi-day runs through and over mountains—oftentimes in deep snow and other foreboding conditions; his tremendous emotional run at the Western States 100, where he was on the verge of collapse, only to continue and race into third; and, his record-setting run up Mount Kilimanjaro. But, again, we are not reading about times, or even dates; rather, we are brought into the heart and soul of who many consider the fastest ultrarunner to hit this planet.
The story is raw. It is rough, and it is emotional. Jornet's girlfriend leaves him in utter frustration over his obsession/selfishness with running: "Where are your posters of Dahelie and Brosse (world-class Scandinavian mountaineer heros of Jornet)? Where have you put your myths? When did you change your idols?" she cries out. To which Kilian writes—and confesses: "Now, in their place, photos of my victories and trophies of every size and shape fill my walls and cupboards. The moment you surpass the people you idolized and become your own idol, the magic of sport is lost." Wow.
I am not sure a "casual" runner would enjoy this book. They may not feel the pain, the anguish, the push and pull of the emotions; but, I can guarantee the mountaineer, adventurer, ultrarunner, or long distance athlete who ponders what sport and adventure truly mean to them will appreciate and take in what it means to be Kilian Jornet.
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