Reading about running…

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I love to run. I also love to read. It will come as no surprise therefore that my bedside table is always hidden under a mountain of books and magazines about running. I am always on the lookout for new recommendations and often have people ask me to share my own favourites so I thought I would stick all of my opinions in one place by writing them down here! Please let me know your own thoughts and suggestions so I can continue to fuel my habit…

There are too many for me to cover in a single blog post so below you will find a mere selection of my favourites in no particular order…

Two Hours – by Ed Caesar

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Kenny and I are both big fans of the ‘Marathon Talk’ podcast and I had heard them discussing Ed Caesar’s ‘Two Hours’ a couple of times on the show. After their discussion of the book throughout December I started putting hints out to Vicki that it would be a great present and lo and behold, on Christmas morning I had a shiny new copy of it nestled under the tree!

The book did not disappoint and is a really interesting read with plenty of information about the marathon as an event. It follows the history of the marathon from its formation up to the modern day and discusses the changes in approaches and attitudes to the distance over the years. It also follows the story of Geoffrey Mutai and his rise to marathon prominence. The book would definitely appeal more to someone who is interested in following professional marathon running and its history as opposed to someone who is purely focused on their own enjoyment of the sport.

Born to Run – by Christopher McDougall

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One of the first books that most people will encounter when looking for something related to running, this was a real eye-opener for me. It manages to combine interesting stories about running, technical theories and a sense of adventure all in a very light and enjoyable book. The different elements that make up this book are all very well balanced which help to make it very readable for anyone with an interest in running who is not necessarily looking for something too scientific or technical. This is a book that I would read again.

Natural Born Heroes – by Christopher McDougall.

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Having read and loved ‘Born to Run’ (see above), I was very excited about Christopher McDougall’s latest work. This one promised to deal with our natural ability to overcome physical challenges and consider some phenomenal feats of strength and endurance. I was particularly interested in this book as it appeared to deal with lots of the concepts which I had encountered in my time spent training in Crossfit.

The book was actually very different to what I expected. Large chunks of it are based around the historical events of WWII on the island of Crete which I was not expecting at all. This was however really interesting and these chapters proved to be some of my favourites. There is not as big a focus on running in this book as I thought there would be but it is an interesting and enjoyable read nonetheless.

Running with the Kenyans – Adharanand Finn.

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Another classic which seems to be on every runner’s bookshelf. I came to this pretty late and it had been recommended to me by loads of my pals. This is another book which combines interesting stories with a sense of adventure as it follows Finn’s experience of running out in Kenya and also those of moving his family out with him. It is not a book that will provide you with any real information about improving your own technique or running ability but will definitely provide some inspiration to get out and run. This is possibly my favourite running book to date.

The Way Of The Runner – Adharanand Finn.

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Inspired by my enjoyment of his earlier book, I recently picked up a copy of Finn’s ‘The Way Of The Runner’. In this work Finn travels out to Japan to learn about the fascinating culture that surrounds endurance running in the country and also the Ekiden running community. The different approach of the Japanese to running is an interesting contrast to that of his experience in Kenya although it does mean that Finn struggles to get as involved in the running community in this book. There is still however a fascinating insight into the sport and, having read this, I have made it a priority to get out to Japan myself and experience the running culture of a country which produces an unbelievable number of elite marathoners. Again, this book offers little in the way of technical information but huge amounts of inspiration and fascinating experiences.

Advanced Marathoning – Pfitzinger and Douglas.

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This was another book which  I had heard being referenced on ‘Marathon Talk’ as Tom Williams followed one of its programs in his own marathon preparation. After it was also recommended to me by a running friend, I decided to investigate further. This is a very detailed technical guide to marathon running. It can be split into two parts: the second half of the book is a collection of training plans based on different weekly mileages; the first half is a detailed explanation of the theory behind the plans and the reasoning behind each of the sessions which is prescribed. This means that you could quite easily just use the programs and get the benefit of clearly structured training, however I was also intrigued by the theory and enjoyed learning about the different types of training and the physiological effects that these would have. This is a very detailed, technical book which is aimed providing the information that you would need to train for a marathon. These does make it a fairly challenging read (particularly if, like me, you have limited scientific knowledge when it comes to physiology!) but it was interesting nonetheless. I often dip into the book when planning my own training but is not something that would be read for entertainment.

Don’t Stop Me Now – Vassos Alexander.

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This was a book which I sought out after hearing an interview with Vassos on a podcast. I did not know the extent of the man’s running obsession and I was intrigued to find out more. The book is structured as a series of short chapters based on his own experiences which makes it very easy to dip into when you have a spare few minutes. It is a very light and entertaining insight into Vassos’ experiences of running and provides plenty of funny and also inspiring stories based on his running exploits.

At the start of every chapter, Vassos includes an insight into the experiences of a different runner and we get a snippet of information about a huge range of characters including the Brownlee brothers, Jenson Button and Nell McAndrew. These fascinating interactions add another element to the book and make it a fun and easy read.

There are plenty of other books on my shelf which I am working my way through so this post is certainly to be continued…

Running with an Olympic Legend!

Last Friday I finished work, jumped on the train and made my way down to Sheffield for my sister-in-law’s birthday. After a fantastic evening filled with food, drink and catching up,  I set my alarm for an early morning adventure at Sheffield Hallam parkrun. Now I have actually done this parkrun before however last time I was sneaking out of my hotel on the morning of my brother’s wedding armed simply with a map and my barcode. This time I was a little better prepared and had the luxury of a lift and some company for my morning as my dad would be running also while my mum and brother watched on with a coffee.

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As we walked into the park things looked much busier than my last encounter here. On my run in December 2014 there had been just 354 people taking part, on this Saturday there were over 700. There had been rumours circulating that local hero and Olympic Gold Medalist Jessica Ennis would be taking part in her first parkrun on this very morning and it appeared that this prospect had drawn out a lot of runners! I was a little starstruck when I lined up alongside Jess on the startline but I managed to get a cheeky selfie before the run instructions began and she was great.

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As the countdown to the start began it became clear that this would be a congested start. The BBC had cameras on Jess as she lined up at the front and I think a lot of people were keen to get in the picture! After a few seconds we were away and it took me a while to find my stride. The initial section of the course involves a small loop before heading straight back up the path from which you have started. In these busy conditions it was a little tricky to maneuver through the crowds but eventually things opened up and we climbed the path through Endcliffe Park. The route follows a gentle slope up alongside a rive until eventually leaving the park. A sharp right turn then leads into a long steady downhill section on the pavement just outside the park itself. On my first lap it felt as though it took up to this point for my legs to really get going (possibly due to my poor warmup – I may have been slightly distracted by Jessica Ennis!) but the long downhill really gave me a chance to open up and get some pace going.

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At the bottom of the hill it was another short loop inside the park before heading back up the slope again. This time around I found that I was overtaking runners and gaining on the runner in front. I started to settle into my rhythm a little and began to feel strong. As I hit the top of the hill I turned right and prepared to push down the hill towards the finish but things were just a little crowded. The pavement was only really wide enough for two people side by side so it made it a little tricky to pass. I was able to pick up the pace a little but definitely had more in the tank.

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Coming into the finish again was very busy but the marshals were fantastic. The huge turnout made it a little awkward as the final mini-loop is very tight and it is a little difficult to get through the traffic to the finish funnel. The parkrun volunteers did a great job however of making this as clear as possible and, while it maybe cost me a few seconds, it was a great atmosphere and a lovely route.

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After the run I got chatting to a few people from other parkruns. Notably, Paul Sinton-Hewitt was taking part and made the time to have a chat with me about parkrun. I told him of my experiences on the core team at Rouken Glen junior parkrun and of my trip to Bushy park on Christmas morning. He was brilliant and had plenty to say about running in Glasgow and of his experiences with the community. I also had a good chat with a guy from Woodhouse Moor parkrun who was working his way round the Yorkshire events.

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All in all this was a great morning. My two Sheffield Hallam parkrun experiences have been fantastic and both stand out for different reasons. I wonder what will happen next time I am down…