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Still Not Bionic – Ira Rainey book review

17-Feb-17

Last updated: 24-Oct-18

Book review by James Eacott

Still Not Bionic is the second book by Ira. His first, ‘Fat Man to Green Man: From Unfit to Ultramarathon’ was well received. I haven’t read his first book, but knowing how well received it was – and that you didn’t need to have digested that to read Still Not Bionic – I tucked into his second publication…

Who wrote it?

Ira is - as he describes himself - an ‘unremarkable man and unremarkable ultra runner’. I find that most ultra running books these days are either biographies of amazing runners with incredible personal stories – Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, Kilian Jornet et al – or they come from more of a ‘Race Listing’ stance such as Ian Corless’ Running Beyond and Tobias Mews’ 5 Races To Run Before You Die.

Ira’s book, however, sits in its own sparsely populated camp. He talks of the ‘real-world’ ups and downs of being a middle-of-the-pack ultra runner and I think most of us will really get him.

Photo credit: Ira Raney.

What’s Still Not Bionic about?

It starts where Ira’s first book ended. He’s just completed the 45-mile Green Man Ultra around Bristol and is looking for the next big thing when he sets his sights on the dreamy distance of a 100 miler. The classic distance of 100 miles grabbed Ira (as it has many of us) and so he begins plotting his route towards the Centurion Running South Downs Way 100.

Early in the book, Ira introduces his struggles with depression for which I applaud him, yet it was with surprise that – even as early as Page 20 – I read: “What I do remember, with vivid clarity, is driving down a country road and fixating on the truck approaching me on the opposite side. And then steering my car across the white line into its path”.

He’s honest and real about his mental health, but this isn’t a dark book or one for those looking for a complex dissection of mental health in sport. It’s enough to make you say ‘I get what you’re saying’. Mental health issues are commonplace in endurance sports and it needs to be talked about more. Well done, Ira, for addressing it head on.

If reading about what I have been through helps even one person face up to their denial [of having a mental health issue], then it’s been absolutely worth writing this”.

Mission accomplished, Ira.

Anyway, back to the book.

His journey continues through wonderful descriptions of the Highland Fling, the Bath Running Festival Marathon and the Green Man Midnight Express (the Green Man ultra route, in reverse, starting at midnight). He also tackles 100 laps of a 400m track (25 miles) with his good mate Paul, as well as a night run from glamorous Weston-super-Mare to his home in Bristol. He then ticks off the Country to Capital before his greatest pre-100 event: Transgrancanaria.

It was his rather painful experience of Transgrancanaria where I felt like I bonded with him most. He really bit off more than he could chew and his time in the Canaries is something all of us who’ve pushed boundaries can relate to. He returned battered and bruised, mostly mentally, and turned his attentions to the SDW 100.

Again, like most of us, I related to his “apoplectic rage” with his wife around the small matter of fitting in training with his family and life commitments.

By the time he finally set out on his SDW 100 conquest, I found myself really backing him, willing him to do it. He recounts the adventure just as most of us would experience it. He captures the highs, the lows and the nuances that make the sport of ultra running so great.

I won’t say how it ends – you’ll have to read it.

What I liked

As much as I enjoy books by the elite of the sport, it’s difficult to relate to their accomplishments. Their achievements and the world they live in as professional athletes is more fiction than reality for most of us. Ira, however, occupies the world that the rest of us live in.

The relatability of the book is what I enjoyed most. I got his feelings. I understood how he often doesn’t want to run. I understood his guilt at fitting runs into his life at the sacrifice of other commitments; how tough it is dealing with injuries, DNS’s and DNF’s.

Summary

It’s a warm, real and humorous account of life as an ultra runner that’s hugely relatable. I see more books like this being published as the sport grows.

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“Mental health issues are commonplace in endurance sports and it needs to be talked about more. Well done, Ira, for addressing it head on.”

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