Ah, the contrived year-end summation. Having distilled down most of the emotional highs and lows of 2016 in my previous post, I am veering into the territory of personal influences for this (maybe not-so) little commentary.
My life is predominantly defined by a love for the outdoors. It largely informs a lot of what I do these days and much of my other activities and passions weave into it like strands of the same rope. In turn, the material I read or the music I listen to is food for thought when I am out on a trail with just my thoughts for company. It's all symbiotic.
So having said that, here's a non-exhaustive list of what got my juices flowing in 2016.
[brief aside: not all personal favourites were released in the past year.]
Books: I usually aim to read approximately 40 books per year. This depends on number of factors. The size of the books and the amount of time on my hands being the principal one. Due to travel and studying a fairly intense leadership course, I read—rather disappointingly—in the region of 30 books. My top three, in order, were:
1). The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. There was a lot of hype surrounding this 2014 Pulitzer-winning opus. It dismayed some critics and the broader literary scene had a love/hate reaction. Not me. It's fluid, electric prose, lack of repetition, and natural ability to connect its characters to the reader made it my top read of the year. Not since Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country have I been so immersed in the written word.
2). Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I wasn't expecting this late appearance—I only read it a week ago—to be so throughly enjoyable. With a chronological narrative starting in 1962, Knight talks of his love and respect for Oregon running coach (the near mythical) Bill Bowerman, and how that relationship, along with a love for running shoes, led to the founding of Nike. It is not a typical entrepreneurial tale of world domination but more about the Crazy Idea that he just couldn't let go of. This book is certainly not a how-to nor does it purport to be. It is a fascinating look into the beginnings of one of the most iconic and successful brands in the world.
3). Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. Uff-dah, this was heavy. This book has been on my radar for years! Not only am I a huge fan of Jon Krakauer—Into the Wild is a top 10 book for me—but it also covers a subject I've been fascinated with for a long time; cults and their leaders. Ever since I was glued to the Waco, TX siege in 1993,—we're talking pre-Internet days here—my curiosity in sects has steadily grown. In UBH, Krakauer blows the lid off Fundamentalist Mormonism and in the process, unearths odious tales of murder, child rape, and psychological torture in a tale not even the most macabre of minds could contrive. Not for the faint of heart!
Movies: I am by no means a film buff and lean more towards documentaries. The one movie this year which comes to mind again and again is Sing Street. Written and directed by Ireland's own John Carney (Once, Begin Again), it follows the musical arc of his previous two movies. As the bassist for one of Ireland's most beloved and underrated bands, The Frames, Carney's musical roots serve not only his storytelling well but also the indelible soundtrack (I was humming the songs for days!). Having ex-bandmate and lauded singer/songwriter Glen Hansard at the helm for some of the tunes probably helped. What made this movie hit home was the relationship between the older and younger brother. There's a scene at the end where emotions run high and the elder of the two describes how he went before the younger to “machete the way” for him in music and life. It reminded me of the love I have for my youngest brother Seán. The similarity the scene had with our own growing up was uncanny. I burst into tears and immediately picked up my phone to tell him that I loved and missed him. Good story telling of any kind will pull at that dormant, emotional place you didn't even think was there.
Documentaries: I really dug Prophet's Prey, Weiner, and Meru but OJ Simpson: Made in America raised the bar to the next level. A five-part, 7.5 hour odyssey that meticulously picked apart not only the case but also provided a deep wealth of material on the reality of racism in LA and the politics that led to an acquittal that gripped the world in the pre-Internet age. Simpson's brilliance as a player and the violence that led to his downfall—and everything in between—is a shocking exemplification of greed, jealousy, and power taking over. I have been obsessed by this case since that Bronco chase was filmed live on an L.A. highway on June 17th, 1994. Made in America looks at the whole affair through a much wider scope. It gripped me like an epic work of non-fiction and I never wanted it to end. A truly monumental piece of investigative journalism. A notable mention must also go to Gleason for sheer inspiration and making a difference in the world no matter the circumstances.
Podcasts: The Rich Roll Podcast. Easy. Roll, a chubby, cheeseburger-chomping lawyer turned vegan wellness evangelist and endurance athlete goes long-form with some of the greatest thinkers, explorers, musicians, and endurance athletes on the planet—Russell Simmons, Dean Karnazes, Charlie Engle, Casey Neistat and Moby to name but a few. What I love is the due diligence Roll puts into his interviews. He masterfully touches on all the relevant stuff whilst also being fluid and erudite. I've clocked a lot of enlightened hours on the trails thanks to Rich's unique formula. Top listen of the year? Wim “The Iceman” Hoff!
Music: Gore by Deftones. After this album—with the exception of Gojira's Magma—there was a big drop below this unassailable benchmark of 2016. Over the course of their 20+ year career and eight studio albums, Deftones have pushed the boundaries of music and never made a bad album. Gore is the sound of a band taking their time and melding together their disparate personalities and musical influences to record a body of work that is so uniquely them. Cohesive is the best description I can give it. It sounds like it was recorded in the order it was written—it was. Throw in the legend that is Jerry Cantrell from Alice In Chains for the guitar solo on Phantom Bride and you'll be doing a one-man standing ovation in your living room. Flawless!
Running: It was the most inconsistent year I've had since I started running seven years ago. I started the year poorly, didn't run a step in February and March, and only climbed out of that funk in late July. I also didn't have any races on the calendar to shoot for which usually is a big motivator. September through December have been optimistically consistent with an average of 63 km per week (40+ miles). All in all I ran 187 times totaling 1,650 km (1000+ miles), climbed 19,200 meters (63,000 ft)—the equivalent of summiting Everest twice, and spent 145 blissful hours on the trails and in wild and remote places. I have my racing calendar out for next year and am hoping for the best year of running and adventure yet!
Thanks for all your support and for the countless emails I've received this year through this site. All of your stories are a testament to the courage and endurance that exists in all of us. May you dig even deeper and go even further in 2017!