Last weekend, I popped down to London to support the London Marathon. I hadn’t watched it live since I worked in London in the 90s but my friend Bernice was running her first marathon and a few clubmates were running, too, so it seemed like a good opportunity to have a weekend catching up with my best friend Emma and her family and watching a few tens of thousands of runners zip by. It proved remarkably hard to spot people and quite hard work whizzing around Docklands (although it was such a hot day that I didn’t actually wish I’d run a marathon instead; also I had run a marathon the previous weekend!). I saw fellow-blogger and Midlands runner Shaun The Centurion, our lad Adrian, TP from local running club The Swifts, several Bournville Harriers including the lovely Suz, and a fellow endurance official, and, of course, dear Bernice, who did superbly well and sensibly and had a very good run (I nagged her at Mile 14.75 and gave her a gel at Mile 20.25 and also caught up with her at the end). What could have been better reading on the trains to and from London than this collection of 26 tales of running the London Marathon, which I won in a competition on the Facebook Runner’s Bookshelf group a while back?

Michael McEwan – “Running the Smoke”

(prize, 17 Oct 2017)

As it says on the front, this is 26 first-hand accounts of tackling the London Marathon. Presumably because it is sold in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity*, McEwan managed to get a brilliant range of people to take part, from Dick Beardsley, the co-first winner of London, through other top athletes, keen runners like Nell McAndrew, people from other sports like Sir Steve Redgrave to ordinary people who have either suffered personal trauma to come through and do the run or were raising money in memory of or on behalf of someone close to them (and there are some tear-jerkers here, of course). The last story in the book is by a woman who was caught up in the 7/7 bombings and has some fairly graphic detail of that day, and I’m glad I read that one when I was safely back in Birmingham, although to be fair it is heavily signposted and is not gratuitous in the context.

Of course, just like in the marathon itself, you look out for people you know, so I was really chuffed to read Dale Lyons’ chapter – he’s a brilliant local runner in his 80s who is an Ever Present (someone who’s run every London Marathon) and who I met when he was filming a piece about doing London last year, his 100th marathon and his retirement, apparently (he went and did it again this year!). He also does our parkrun and I always give him a shout-out. Blind Dave Heeley is also in the book, explaining how he runs and trains with a guide runner. He’s another local hero of mine, I’ve seen him in races I’ve done and I rather embarrassingly decided I knew him well enough to give him a cheery “Orright, Dave?” when I was officiating at our regional road relays a few weeks ago. I don’t really!

Anyway, all the stories are inspiring and fascinating, with different details of the run coming out. I found it odd and sad when McEwan said that like many people, he doesn’t really enjoy running as such, just the races, because it would be a sorry thing if you didn’t have fun training, but then a lot of people get themselves through one marathon – especially London, I imagine – then don’t run again, so it’s a valid point. The variety was great and the stories short enough but with enough detail. It really did make me want to run London one day!

As well as the stories, there’s a visceral introduction by McEwan, starting with some serious pain, which I’m glad I didn’t show Bernice before the race, a history of the marathon, and, at the back, hints and tips for training, the race and fundraising, which make it a great all-round package for the marathon runner in your life.

Oh, my lovely / terribly book-enabling friend Cari read this book at the same time as me but got her review in earlier! Read it here for a US take on the book.

*I have made a donation to the GOSH charity as I didn’t pay for this book.

I’m currently reading Deana Kastor’s “Let Your Mind Run” because it’s April’s book in another blogger/runner’s book club (she’s already reviewed it here but I’m saving the review until I’ve read it) and Halldor Laxness’ “The Fish Can Sing” because it was next on my TBR (it’s a bit weird, but OK). I gave up on “The Seven Basic Plots” as it was too Jungian and dense and overwhelming.

There will be a few posts over the weekend (it’s all feast or famine with me at the moment, isn’t it – sorry!) because I’ve signed up to take part in Dewey’s Readathon – a 24 hour readathon starting at 1pm on Saturday for me. I’m just going to do a start post and then an update one which I will update during the day, rather than bombarding you, so don’t worry! But it is Iris Murdoch Readalong Update time on Sunday, too.