By Cathryn Scott
A year or so ago I would have turned up my nose at the idea of listening to an audiobook. For me, part of the joy of reading has always been holding an actual book in my hand, feeling the turn of the pages, and seeing how the words look on the page.
But then, during the first lockdown, my son’s teacher suggested we download Audible – a monthly audiobook subscription service from Amazon – to listen to the book they would be studying as a class. “You can have your first book for free – but don’t forget to cancel,” he told us.
And, of course, despite setting a reminder on my phone, I forgot to cancel. The next month I was billed £7.99 and got my first monthly ‘credit’ for any audiobook of my choice. “Oh well,” I thought to myself, “we’ll use that credit to download a children’s book to listen to in the car when we’re on long journeys.” We’d had audio books on CDs previously and my children had always loved them, so this would be a lovely treat. Except lockdown didn’t lift any time soon and we didn’t go anywhere in the car for months and months. My one credit soon turned into two credits and when I tried to cancel, I realised my best option was to pause my account for three months, use up my existing credits rather than lose them completely by cancelling, and then cancel.
What I didn’t bank upon was falling in love with listening to audiobooks, using all those credits on me and not my children, and continuing my subscription willingly in the months to come. My love of audiobooks happened quite accidentally.
It started with Caitlin Moran’s More Than A Woman. Ever since I saw Caitlin speak at a conference way back in the early days of my career as a journalist, she’s been someone I’ve admired and resonated with. I’d heard really good things about the book and, with Caitlin herself narrating, it seemed like a good choice.
I loved this book. If I’m honest, it’s aimed at a certain type of woman (mostly middle class, straight, working mums) so won’t appeal to everyone but I found so much of it relatable.
There were chapters when I actually laughed out loud while running in public (the one on married sex and the one on the vulva… if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean!) but also chapters that filled me with such emotion I needed to stop and pause mid-run (her daughter’s eating disorder). She really made me think with her chapters on parenting teenagers, being a working parent, and one about the pressures on boys and men to conform to masculine stereotypes, which as a parent of two boys really hit hard.
Running has always been ‘me time’ for me. Reading has always been ‘me time’. Listening to a book while running made me feel like I was getting double ‘me time’. Having my mind filled with someone else’s thoughts – and those thoughts being ones that I really related to – helped me to switch off from the effort of running. My mind was busy processing what it was listening to and the running felt easier somehow. It also helped me slow down on my longer runs. Upbeat music often makes me speed up to a pace I can’t sustain but listening to a book helped me find a more gentle rhythm to my run.
When I’d finished More Than A Woman, I still had one more existing credit to use. There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be Becoming, Michelle Obama’s autobiography. I’d wanted to read it for a while but as it was only available in hardback at that point, the price was putting me off. The audiobook costs more than £20 to purchase but as you can use your one monthly credit on any title regardless of price, I felt like I was getting a bargain.
I admit I didn’t love this book straight away. It took me a while to get into it, as I found Michelle’s reading pace a little slow and monotone and difficult to match with my running pace. After the passion and enthusiasm in Caitlin’s narration, I wondered if my successful audiobook experience had been a once-off. Luckily, I discovered that you can change the narration speed to be slower or faster – and a tiny adjustment to speed it up made all the difference. It’s a long book – 19 hours, in fact, so I felt like I was listening to it for weeks and weeks. But I loved having Michelle accompany me on so many runs. It was fascinating hearing about her working class upbringing, her time at Princeton University and Harvard Law School, the early days of her relationship with Barack, her thoughts on motherhood, her career highs and lows, and her role as First Lady of the United States. The chapters on gun crime were especially powerful.
By this point I was an audiobook convert. I unpaused my membership and waited for my next credit to land so that I could download Limitless by astronaut Tim Peake. I had listened to an interview with Tim on Jenni Falconer’s RunPod podcast a few months previously and found hearing about not only his astronaut adventures but running a marathon in space absolutely fascinating. I loved Tim’s voice, so soothing but with dry sense of humour too. I’d always imagined anyone who ended up as an astronaut would have been the brainiest kid in the class, but Tim didn’t do especially great in his A-levels. His route in was through the Army Air Corps and being a test pilot. Some of the training exercises and expeditions he went on were brutal and this book made me think a lot about mental resilience. His account of running a marathon on the space station while the London Marathon was happening below on earth came at the perfect time for me – when I was struggling with a 15 mile run. It definitely helped me keep going when I wasn’t sure if I could.
My latest choice is Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which had been recommended to me by so many people. I’m just over half way through and it’s incredible as Glennon draws on her own experience in finding the joy and peace when we stop striving to meet the expectations of the world and instead listen to and trust the voice deep inside us. In the opening chapter Glennon talks about a cheetah who was born in captivity acting differently when the keepers weren’t looking. “Mommy, she turned wild again” says her daughter, as they sense the cheetah somehow knows there is somehow more to life than the only existence she has ever known. It sent shivers down my spine and I feel so inspired listening to her stories of how she fought back against convention to find her true self. How she ‘untamed’ herself against the choices she had made previously that have been imprinted into her by society. Who were you before the world told you who to be?
Several times while listening, I’ve stopped my run to make a note of something inspiring she has said. She has some inspiring thoughts on motherhood – notably on the tendency of many mothers to become a martyr to their children and to lose an essence of themselves. This is something I struggled with when my children were young and it’s through running that I’ve found ‘me’ again. “What if a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies and calls that love? What if a responsible mother is one who shows her children how to fight to stay wildly alive until the day she dies?” And on bravery (I’ve said before how running is helping me to become more brave) she says it’s not about being scared and doing it anyway but about forsaking all others to be true to your self.
I’ve noticed that – perhaps subconsciously – all the books I’ve chosen so far have been ones that have inspired me, not just as a runner but in other areas of life too. Running through lockdown, staying motivated, and coming back from injury has not been easy. It’s also been a hard time for me career-wise to be so adversely affected by the pandemic. But these books are full of such powerful stories of strength, determination, resilience and overcoming the odds that it’s had an amazing affect on my own confidence and ability. In Glennon’s words, “I’m a god damn cheetah!” (Admittedly not when it comes to running speed!)
I’m unsure what my next read will be. I struggle to listen to fiction audiobooks – I find myself losing track of the plot. Maybe a running-related book or maybe another memoir/autobiography.
If you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them. I’ll keep you posted what I choose in my posts in the She Runs Cardiff Facebook page.