SOLO: What running across mountains taught me about life, by Jenny Tough

Jenny Tough is an endurance athlete who’s best known for running and cycling in some of world’s most challenging events – achieving accolades that are an inspiration to outdoor adventurers everywhere. But SOLO tells the story of a much more personal project: Jenny’s quest to come to terms with feelings and emotions that were holding her back. Like runners at any level, she knew already that running made her feel better, and like so many of us, she knew that completing goals independently was empowering, too. So she set herself an audacious objective: to run – solo, unsupported, on her own – across mountain ranges on six continents, starting with one of the most remote locations on Earth in Kyrgystan. 

SOLO chronicles Jenny’s journey every step of the way across the Tien Shaw (Asia), the High Atlas (Africa), the Cordillera Oriental (South America), the Southern Alps (Oceania), the Canadian Rockies (North America) and the Transylvanian Alps (Europe), as she learns lessons in self-esteem, resilience, bravery and so much more. 

What Jenny’s story tells us most of all is that setting out to do things solo – whether the ambitious or the everyday – can be invigorating, encouraging and joyful. And her call to action to find strength, confidence and self-belief in everything we do will inspire and motivate.

I saw Jenny Tough talk at last year’s excellent Sidetracked Live: The Creators Tour in Leeds (alongside some other great speakers), so when I found out that she was publishing a book of her challenge to run solo and unsupported across six mountain ranges on six continents, I immediately put in a pre-order.

Short review: it’s a fabulous book. You should read it.

Slightly longer review: Crikey, what an adventure! I’m trying very hard to resist the Tough by name, tough by nature line as I’m sure she’s heard it a million times, but it really is apt here. From the Tien Shaw in Krygystan to the heat of the High Atlas in Africa, the forests and peaks of the Bolivian Andes, down south to the Southern Alps in New Zealand, her childhood home by the Canadian Rockies and finishing in a sprint across the Transylvanian Alps in Romania, Jenny Tough experiences the highs and lows (sorry, I’ll stop with the mountain-related metaphors soon, I promise) of adventure running.

I seem to have read a load of travel books this summer (Sabrina Verjee’s excellent Where There’s A Hill is also worth checking out), and SOLO is right up there at the top of the list. Tough’s writing is deeply personal and supremely evocative as she brings you along on her adventure, showing you the sights and sounds of some of the world’s most spectacular mountains. It’s a fascinating read, following through some very remote landscapes with a tiny backpack. Smaller than the one I took for a weekend camping in the Lakes (but entirely better packed, I’m sure!).

The constant wondering where the next water or food will come from, the warnings from villagers about the dangers up ahead juxtaposed with the generosity of spirit of people along the way all come together in this fantastic account of six incredible journeys. Six very different mountain ranges, six different cultures, six great stories.

After each section of the book I went and watched the short films that she made about her trips. Mountains of Heaven covers the 900km, 25 day run across Krygystan. It was great to see the places that I’d just read about and get to look at the spectacular scenery. Kind of an added bonus feature to the book!

SOLO: What running across mountains taught me about life, by Jenny Tough is published by Aster and is out now in hardback.

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

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