This is a celebration of running – and what lots of us think about when we run. Part escape, part self-discovery, part therapy, part fitness. Part simple childlike joy of running when you could be walking.
Vassos Alexander shares the highs and lows of falling in love with running, from his first paltry efforts to reach the end of his street to completing ultra marathons and triathlons in the same weekend.
Each of the 26.2 chapters also features a fascinating insight into how others first started – from Paula Radcliffe to Steve Cram, the Brownlees to Jenson Button, Nicky Campbell to Nell McAndrew.
Funny, inspiring, honest – the perfect read for anyone with well-worn trainers by the door (or thinking of buying a pair…)
Vassos Alexander is one of those guys you think you know, even though you don’t. Those of us who listen to the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show are accustomed to his dulcet tones delivering all the latest news from the world of sport every weekday morning, and we’ve come to learn that running crazy distances is a big part of his life. So when I heard that Vassos (I know form dictates that as an author I should refer to him as “Alexander”, but on the radio he’s always just “Vassos”. I hope he’ll forgive me!) was writing a book, I knew I would want to read it.
The book, Don’t Stop Me Now, was published in late March of this year, and my chance to sit down and devour it came on my recent summer holiday. I downloaded it to my Kindle before I left, and got myself settled on my sun lounger to read it almost immediately.
And I had it finished in a couple of sittings!
What I liked about this book was that despite the fact that Vassos has completed iron distance triathlons and ultra-marathons, as well as having access to famous faces from sport, his book is still relatable: Vassos only took up running in his mid-30s after realising he was beginning to gain weight, and some of the struggles and worries he writes about are familiar to us all such as going for that first agonising run and being seen by the neighbours, or the start-line nerves of a first race. Yet through it all, his love of the sport shines through and we see him progress from the notion that having all the latest kit and gadgets would make him a better runner, to the revelation that running can be a much more simple and enjoyable experience.
“In the end, as I prepared for my run wearing every conceivable bit of kit and waiting aimlessly for my extravagant watch to find a signal, I would secretly be dreading the hour or so that lay ahead of me.
Eventually I realised that running stops being pleasurable – and stops being a release of tension, stops being an escape, an act of discovery and self-discovery – if you’re constantly stressing about how fast you’re travelling, what socks you’re wearing and how your heart is coping.”
Ever the marathon runner, Vassos has divided the book into 26.2 chapters, and each one follows the same basic structure. The title of each chapter is a running-themed song title (it might make for a fun playlist!) and opens with an account of the corresponding mile of the marathon in the author’s first iron distance triathlon. We learn how he is feeling, what he is thinking about (mainly Andy Murray, as this particular race took place whilst Murray was winning his first Wimbledon Championship in 2013!) and why he keeps on going despite being in a lot of pain. This format also allows Vassos the scope to include other tales of his running and racing exploits, helping us to understand how he progressed from an unfit, slightly plump 30-something, to the seasoned marathoner, ultra-marathoner and ironman triathlete we know now. And it’s that insight into his journey that helps the reader to relate to Vassos, to think, “if he can do it, so can I.”
To finish each chapter, Vassos has gathered comments from well-known runners who share a little of their own running history. There are sections from elites like Paula Radcliffe, TV personalities like Helen Skelton and event organisers like Tom Williams, Managing Director of Parkrun UK. But right at the end, there are comments from Vassos’ children, who seem to be following in their father’s footsteps when it comes to running, and learning valuable lessons from him:
“…every run is a chance to learn little things about myself, and a chance to let myself shine.”
A fantastic attitude, and something we should all remember every time we lace up our trainers. It’s the lesson Vassos has learned on his running journey and is passing on to the next generation. It’s what running should be all about.
Overall, this book made me laugh, made me cringe and made me nod in agreement. It’s a book about running, written by a runner, for runners, yet you don’t have to be an iron distance triathlete or sub-3 hour marathoner to enjoy it. If you’ve ever bought a pair of running shoes, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. It’s easy to dip into and made for the perfect sun lounger read at the start of my summer holiday. If you’re looking for a running book to read, then I recommend this one.
- You can read about Vassos’ epiphany abut kit here (featured in Friday Finds on April 1st)
- You can read some excerpts from famous faces featured in the book here (featured in Friday Finds on April 15th)