A big thank you to the publisher, Sandstone Press, for sending me this excellent running book, and apologies to them and Mark, the author, for missing the publication date with this review. I always like a running book that’s amusing, rings bells, and is useful, and this one is a great example of all three. Many thanks to the always lovely Lisa Jackson for getting it from Sandstone to me.

Aged 32, Atkinson was sedentary and not into sport at all. His friend Dave challenged him to go on a run in their local park, and somehow he ended up doing ultra-marathons and joining the 100 Marathon Club. We’ve all been there, right?

So we get another book about a bloke getting fit and fast. But it’s more than that, because he gives an awful lot of really good, clear advice to the novice runner, 5k runner, 10k runner, half-marathon runner … you get my drift. Best of all, like those jokes put into children’s animations for adults to giggle at, he manages to work in little notes that the experienced runner will pick up on, but the novice will take at face value – which means he’s achieved the position of writing a book for all kinds of runner, which isn’t always easy.

Atkinson is self-deprecating throughout and always generous about other runners and race organisers, while also telling it how it is and calling out bad organisation (this is really useful, as a runner who’s had a bad experience might blame themselves when it’s not their fault (c.f. my injury in the Birmingham Marathon). He has a great section on parkrun, really getting the idea of it all and making sure people understand what to do with their barcodes at the end, even (I told you it was packed full of information). This passage sums up the author and the spirit of runners / parkrunners everywhere:

The climb starts at around the 2k mark where a stitch forced me to take a walk break. The good nature and attitude at parkrun is such that I started running again as so many people stopped to help. I didn’t want to inconvenience them any further. (p. 5)

and extra points for mentioning the lovely LDWA (I did their Canal Canter this year) and their walk/run events.

He’s very cautious in his progression, both for himself and in his advice, giving the correct information about building up slowly, checking your health before you start running, getting kit, etc. He also has a bit of a rant about people wearing headphones in races which immediately makes me a fan (and manages to apologise for having put the word “chicked” (beaten by a woman) in the book then taken it out again: we wouldn’t have ever known but it’s great to have that conversation).

The pre-race / pre-marathon advice is great and it’s the only book I’ve read so far which advises people with long hair to test what combination of bunches etc. to have it in in advance (true story: I rocked a high ponytail on a long run and wore a little patch of skin off the back of my neck with the end of it swishing back and forth for hours: how glad was I that wasn’t during a race!). And talking about marathons and telling it how it is, I found it charming to see a mention of the “loser top” you get from that extra ballot for the London Marathon “to wear on your training runs so everyone knows you’re a loser too and you can share mutual disappointment” (p. 93). He goes through a lot of the big races including the route and what to expect, which is hugely useful, without making it yet another book full of race report after race report.

Oh, and then the icing on the cake: he mentions the lovely Ben Smith, the 401 Marathons man (book review and details on him here) – calling him a running legend and actually encountering him twice in the book (marathons 245 and 399). Lovely and generous to give him a shout-out including mentioning his charity fundraising.

As he moves towards both his 100th marathon and his progression into ultra running there is a bit of timeline confusion (I think he mentions doing a 50 miler and 100 miler before he explains about them which got me a bit confused) but this is a minor point and it’s fine to work it out. You wouldn’t want a blow-by-blow account of every single race so you don’t get that.

In summary, a well-written and well-edited book that would make a super present for the runner in your life (or yourself), whether that’s someone interested in running or a committed hard-line ultra monster. There really is something for everyone here.