Book Review – The Summit Seeker by Vanessa RunsBy
If you’ve browsed through our site at all, you may have already met Vanessa Runs. She wrote a great guest post on 5 Things My Dog Taught Me About Running. The Summit Seeker is her first book, but hopefully not the last!
In The Summit Seeker, Vanessa takes you on her journey from her very first 5k to her third 100 mile run. Along the way, you will share her struggles, as well as her triumphs. Most importantly, you will come to understand how running helped Vanessa to transform her life. Her writing style is very accessible and personable, and as you read it is almost like having a conversation with a friend. One of the best things about The Summit Seeker is the way that the author inspires you to keep pushing yourself to become empowered and to transform your own life.
The book reads more as a collection of essays, rather than a straight-on chronological narrative. While this may prove disconcerting to some readers, in my opinion it makes you feel closer to the author and her thought processes. In fact, the openness and honesty that comes across in her writing is very refreshing. It is also very personal as she shares the ways in which running helped her to overcome the pain from her upbringing, as well as enormous stress in her personal life. It is hard to imagine reading this book and not be left with an overwhelming urge to run.
Unlike with many other recreational pursuits, people always seem to question why ultrarunners do what they do. It is a complete mystery to them why someone would choose that physical hardship and pain voluntarily, even eagerly. For Vanessa, the payoff is the sense of accomplishment and empowerment you get when you finish that race, rather than the physical experience of running it. Plus there is definitely a spiritual aspect to ultrarunning that comes across in the book as well. At one point she says, “The spirit of ultrarunning must always embrace selflessness, generosity, adventure, and strength.” (144)
The Summit Seeker is imbued with Vanessa’s love for nature and she takes a great deal of time to explain the ways in which running has allowed her to experience nature. For example, her description of running up the trails of the Grand Canyon is riveting. The Grand Canyon is a wonder to behold and will literally take your breath away as you stand at the Rim. Relatively few people attempt to hike the Canyon’s narrow trails, much less to run them.
By the end of the book the life that Vanessa has chosen for herself is very different from what society views as ideal. The “American Dream” of owning a home? Not for Vanessa. In her mind, the trails are her home and she has no desire to be anchored down to owning a home. She has decided to live life on her own terms, her own way. True to her declaration to never work another day in her life, she quit her job and has been continually running as she and her boyfriend and pets travel throughout the United States looking for the next trail to conquer.
Her confidence is almost contagious as you come to realize how empowering her experience of running has been. At one point she says, “I may not always run fast, but I can run forever.” It’s not about how others perceive you, or define you. Instead, through running she learns that each of us is the only one who can define ourselves. We can believe what other people say about us, and accept their limits for us. Or we can adopt a new way of viewing ourselves and our capabilities. We can learn how to push ourselves beyond what we ever thought possible. It is this crucible of ultrarunning that has given her the power to believe that she can overcome anything life sends her way.
This book would be a really good for young readers, especially young women. The sections on body image are particularly poignant as you see the ways Vanessa has overcome other people’s perceptions of what a runner “should” look like. Regardless of whether or not she looks like some kind of stereotype, she very much is a runner.
Ultimately, Vanessa encourages readers to run for the sake of running, not as a workout to log, or because you feel like you “should” run. Run for the joy of it, for the freedom of it. In simple terms, run because you can.
The Summit Seeker is available as a paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon.