500 Races Routes and Adventures: A Runner’s Bucket List, by John Brewer. Published by Universe, 2021. Reviewed by trail runner Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.
Even with all the heft, tactile feel and drool-worthy photography requisite of any coffee table book, 500 Races, Routes and Adventures is more than just a touristy advertisement. Written by John Brewer, a leading expert in the United Kingdom on sports and exercise science, it takes armchair running a step farther.
Initially, I failed to see the point, thinking that a simple Google search would reveal races and routes in whatever country or town you were planning to visit. True enough, but it is the indexing system that reaches beyond mere one-stop shopping. The book is logically organized by continents and then countries or states so you can survey outstanding events within your chosen destination. But more than that, schedule your vacation in April and are flexible as to location. Then simply turn to the additional monthly index to scan available opportunities.
If you are fortunate to have lots of money and discretionary time, you could ideally use this listing to plan a yearly timetable. If you are traveling with friends or family members, events with various distances are listed so everyone can choose that which best accommodates their skill set. And this is the feature that I like the best: for many of the areas, Brewer cites trails and routes that are not specifically races, but are open all year round. Perfect for an add-on opportunity, a goal in itself, or simply a way to amble through an unfamiliar area in a less stressful, more thoughtful manner.
While the United States and Europe were generously represented, it also surprised me how many runs were available in the Australia/New Zealand area. Might make you consider heading “down under,” a lengthy journey not to be undertaken lightly and worthy of ultra status in its own right. I’m sure you can dig up similarly peculiar facts just by studying the index. There are perhaps five Race the Trains listed, and I can imagine folks trying to rack up points at all of them. I also noticed that in Europe, especially, there are a good number of events that begin at night, showcasing a lit-up, sparkly clean version of their daytime cities.
Remember those grade school gym challenges where each class tried to rack up the most miles on a trip around the world? Fitness and geography in one handy package. While most of us are pretty well done with virtual races, there still is motivational merit. Try the virtual Appalachian Trail or track your progress running on the iconic Route 66. Farther afield, try the virtual route across Australia or New Zealand and be sure and stock up on some Aussie brews to celebrate your milestones. For additional quirkiness, there is also a section on Tower Ascents (Stair Climbs), which rivals altitude running for asthma-inducing qualities. Finish off your adventures with a lowkey Parkrun. Conceived in the UK, these are now world-wide free Saturday 5K runs, featuring a mix of surfaces. Try the original Bushy Parkrun in London or explore parkrun.com for endless options.
Before enjoying this book, like most of you, I had in the back of my mind a bucket list of running vacations. But now that has expanded into so much more – a veritable onslaught of expanding opportunities, both near and far and not limited to pure racing.