A little bit of a themed read and post today, and by the time this is published, I’ll have run and completed my second marathon, the Birmingham International Marathon [edited to add, I did it!]. This is the first time we’ve had a marathon in my home city since the 80s (some of my running friends ran those ones!) so it’s pretty special and exciting, and as a result of this, lots of my running pals have been inspired to run their first marathon, and someone’s worked out that over 1% of the whole field will be made up of our running club! I’ve been reading or re-reading a few marathon-themed books in the run-up (ha) to the event, so here’s a little cluster of reviews (two full, one re-read and a little mention, so hopefully not too much of a reading marathon (groan)).

Phil Hewitt – “Keep on Running”

(22 March 2017)

Subtitled “The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict”, this is the story of one man taking up (only) marathon running (I think he does one half), with a chapter each on some of the major and smaller races he’s taken part in. It does read like a series of race reports once he’s got the basic training in – because that’s what it essentially is – but they are interesting.

I loved the mentions of how the mass runners are racing with the elites, giving a real contrast as well with the fact that he usually trained alone. He talks of the anoraky way that you need to add up your timings in a race, and it was interesting to read about the usefulness but also joy-sapping nature of the Garmin GPS watch, which came in part way through his running career. I’ve gone from stopwatch to Garmin but I try to use the Garmin to keep a record and make sure I’m not overdoing it, but he becomes a bit addicted to watching his pace, one that’s very much faster than mine, I admit!

His notes on big city runs needing good quality routes hit home a bit when I thought of the somewhat “our industrial heritage gone to seed” and “here is this same stretch of road four times” nature of the Birmingham International Marathon: he definitely wouldn’t like our one! But I loved his different reactions to routes depending on his mood and the conditions going in – it’s very much a true and warts and all story.

Most of all, although he usually runs sub-4 hour marathons, I loved his sincere admiration for his father in law, Michael, and all the other runners who are out on the course for many more hours than he is (although he does talk about older or compromised runners which undermines that a little) and his description of Michael’s wonderfully supportive running club. His best race experience and the most heart-warming part of the book is when he witnesses Michael coming through the end of the Berlin marathon being interviewed by the press and to huge cheers from the crowd.

A bit blokey in parts and honest, but a decent read with a lot of recognisable stuff.

Joel H. Cohen – “How to Lose a Marathon”

(23 August 2017)

A book about another unfit man’s running journey and path to the New York Marathon, with the end of the book being devoted to the race report. The author is so self-deprecating about his “terrible” running and writing that it all gets a bit laboured, but there are genuinely funny moments, too. He says it’s the book he wanted to read when he started running and didn’t know what to do, and has useful explanations of terminology and some good points about training, although not set out in a way that would particularly help someone else (he records his own marathon training mileage with funny comments, but not really a standard one for someone to follow, for example, which is fine). I think basically he wanted a book that told him a real person could run, and this certainly does this (although his so slow he’s almost going backwards speed is actually the highest end of my speed spectrum with a fair wind and not for 26 miles). I do love that his main aim is to beat Oprah’s marathon time.

I liked his espousal of other running books, and the startling discovery, reading “Born to Run” (which I bought just the other week), that people actually enjoy running! And I loved his practice of popping some small mints into his pocket and bringing them out as “Hill Pills” that will magically help him up hills, something I might well try out. His nuggets of wisdom are great, too (you can’t run 5 miles until you’ve run 4, bad runs happen to good people, etc.) and he’s genuinely emotional and celebratory about the achievements of the people who come in behind him in the marathon: he’s at his best when he ditches the very silly stuff.

Lisa Jackson – “Your Pace or Mine?”

(25 July 2016)

A re-read of this excellent, wonderful book, which allayed my fears as a slow runner before my Reykjavik Marathon last year (with a much smaller field, I really could have come last; I didn’t) and was very helpful for calming any nerves this time round, too. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a running book. Sections on what running has taught Lisa about, for example, not giving up, lifesaving (but who saves whom?) and dreaming big are capped with other people’s real life stories, and there are laughs, tears and smiles of recognition throughout. I can’t think of a better book to re-read in the run-up to the big race.

A longer and more detailed review from last year’s first read can be found here.

The Dorling Kindersley Complete Running & Marathon

(some time earlier in the year)

Matthew picked this up for me from the Book People table at his work and I will admit to not having read all of it, but the section on marathon day was excellent, full of good, calm and sensible advice. I will go through all the stretching and other sections another time, but I do recommend this for newbie and experienced runners.