I've gone through several running books this year, all of which take a different approach to the activity, from the uber competitive side to those who run for pure pleasure. You don't need to be a runner or to be interested in running to enjoy them as they're all inspiring and funny in their own way, and I've learnt something from all of them.
Lisa Jackson's book will have you smiling throughout, and at times giggling out loud. Her approach is refreshing as she's not bothered about the time she finishes her races in, instead she focuses on going out there, having fun and meeting lots of lovely folk along the way. She once had a man ask if he could photograph her bottom on a race, because she carries chocolate bars, bags of peanuts and sandwiches on a belt round her waist and he'd never seen anything like it before (most marathon runners have gels, little plastic sachets of sugary-sweet goo which they use to refuel in one quick gulp, rather than real food that you have to stop and chew). One chapter details her experience of a naked running competition, so you can see she doesn't take herself too seriously. Despite her humorous and light-hearted approach, she is a woman who has run Comrades more than once (widely regarded as the world's toughest ultra marathon) and at one point was running a marathon a fortnight in order to clock up 100 and so become a member of the illustrious 100 marathon club. She overcomes injury along the way, doubts that she'll ever make it as a marathon runner and eventually learns that running at your own pace is the way to go. She makes running accessible for everyone, whatever your pace, age or ability, and as such she's a great ambassador for the sport.
Ira Rainey is an ordinary man (although when he was a child he believed he was bionic) who decided to undertake an extraordinary challenge- to stop drinking and eating junk food, lose weight and get fit enough to complete the 46 mile Greenman path around Bristol. This is the story of his training, the ups and downs, the day of the event itself, and the aftermath. It's honest and told with great humour at times. If you're considering running an ultra marathon, or you want some inspiration to change elements of your life, it's worth a read.
Long recognised as the book on running mechanics, Tim Noakes covers all aspects of running from starting, to training programmes designed to minimise injury potential, to psychology to injury and treatment. One for your library.
Alexandra Heminsley wasn't a runner. Her dad had been, but she'd barely noticed his marathon achievements when she was growing up. This is the story of how she became one. It wasn't a straightforward transformation and there are lots of funny insights throughout where things didn't go according to plan, the times when she just wanted to give up, but there's also plenty of inspirational stuff about the joy she experiences when it starts to come together and she realises that, despite everything she thought, she can actually do this.
Her description of her first marathon is an honest account of how it feels for the average person to run 26.2 miles- she captures the exhaustion, the aching muscles, the mental doubts and then the absolute elation when she finally crosses the line and knows she's done it. Be warned: it'll have you reaching for a pair of running shoes....
Phil Hewitt is a local boy (Bishops Waltham) who likes running marathons. While the other books I've been reading fit my ethos of enjoying running and seeing what I can do with it, Phil's approach is the opposite: his motivation is about shaving first minutes and then seconds off his marathon PBs (personal best) to run 26.2 miles as fast as he can. The book is really the story of that pursuit, with each chapter detailing his training and the different marathons he runs around the world (including a few on my doorstep). Most of them are road marathons because you don't get PBs out on the trial, so in almost every way his running is diametrically opposed to mine, yet I loved the descriptions of his races, and his thoughts as he prepared for and ran them. He conjured the sense of place and his own feelings as he went along well. My one criticism is that he comes across a little dismissive of anyone not running a full marathon, which I think is a shame because a) we all have to start somewhere and few people run marathons without coming up through the ranks of shorter distances, and b) there is nothing wrong with concentrating on a 5k, 10k or half marathon distance and running it well. An interesting insight into a mindset very different from my own, showing that there is ample space in the sport of running for all sorts of approaches.
The definitive book on Fell running, Richard Askwith's Feet In The Clouds is close to a classic in my view. It's beautifully written, an homage to the outdoors and the wild. On the surface, it is the story of a season of Fell running, culminating in Askwith's attempt to run the Bob Graham Round (42 peaks of the Lakes in 24 hours- friends of ours have done this and it's not for the faint hearted). But it's also a tale of learning humility and respect for nature while being out in some of its fiercest environments, and of what the human spirit is really capable of.
It underlines how it's all too easy in modern life to get swept up with the next big thing and lose sight of the value of simplicity. Through Fell running, he learns to be grounded and not take himself too seriously, while at the same time pushing himself to his limits. There's a lovely bit in the book where he has stopped to refuel on a long run through the hills. He has his expensive trainers, silver foil emergency blanket, optimally-balanced, science-led nutrition for refuelling when along comes an old guy in shorts and plimsoles who sits down, drapes a woolly blanket round his shoulders, has a cup of tea and a bacon butty, nods to Richard and then carries on running over the hills. There's a lesson in that for all of us.
I'm still reading this one and my goodness, Moire O'Sullivan is one impressive woman. She starts mountain running knowing nothing about it (having jogged around the park in Dublin a few times), to fulfil a need to have something challenging to do after returning to Ireland from living in Africa. She then has a go at Adventure Racing, a kind of extreme triathlon that's run through mountains, lasts for seven days and involves miles of kayaking, mountain biking, mountain running, abseiling and, at one point, leaping off a cliff into a lake, at the same time as carrying all your kit with you: food, clothes, tent. During the course of one race (the World Championships in Scotland), people get medi-vacced off with hypothermia, hallucinations, broken bones, sleep deprivation, and she finds herself slowly disintegrating and being forced to withdraw after about five days. Ashamed that she's let her team mates down, she concludes that Adventure Racing isn't for her and returns to her real love of mountain marathons.
She teams up with Andrew, and they run a 24 hour mountain competition where they agree to eat on the hoof and not sleep. Largely thanks to Andrew's impressive navigational skills, which enable them to get their card punched at all the checkpoints (they're given a set of co-ordinates at the start that they have to mark on their map and then work out the quickest routes to them all) they win the event. They then look for a new challenge and decide to have a go at the Wicklow Round (Ireland's version of the Bob Graham). The only problem is, no-one's ever done it before and there are no paths through the mountains to follow and the strict cut-off to do it is 24 hours.... A cracking read from a truly inspiring woman who makes you realise that most challenges are ultimately a question of believing you can do it. If you think you can't, think again.
And to finish off, one that has nothing whatsoever to do with running, but I enjoyed it....
Set in 1727, this is the story of Tom Hawkins who ends up in the Marshalsea, the notorious London debtor's prison, where conditions are beyond horrific. It's a murder mystery that conjures the atmosphere of the time perfectly, with some of the characters based on real people. It's well written and worth a read. It had me going off to look up the details of the prison and the terrible conditions suffered by the inmates. The wall of the Marshalsea is still there, in London, near a block of flats.
Hope you're all well,