*Updated Feb 2017*
Lisa Jackson is a surprising cheerleader for the joys of running. Formerly a committed fitness-phobe, she became a marathon runner at 31, and ran her first 56-mile ultramarathon aged 41. And unlike many runners, Lisa’s not afraid to finish last – in fact, she’s done so in 20 of the 90-plus marathons she’s completed so far.
But this isn’t just Lisa’s story, it’s also that of the extraordinary people she’s met along the way – tutu-clad fun-runners, octogenarians, 250-mile ultrarunners – whose tales of loss and laughter are sure to inspire you just as much as they’ve inspired her. This book is for anyone who longs to experience the sense of connection and achievement that running has to offer, whether you’re a nervous novice or a seasoned marathoner dreaming of doing an ultra. An account of the triumph of tenacity over a lack of talent, Your Pace or Mine? is proof that running really isn’t about the time you do, but the time you have!
One of my goals for 2017 is to read at least 30 books (an extension of last year’s goal to read more books, which evolved into a goal on Goodreads of 15 books in the year) so when I saw that Charlie Watson aka The Runner Beans had suggested an online book club, I jumped at the chance to be involved. What a brilliant opportunity to read some great books, share my thoughts and connect with others. After a vote (which I found a bit tricky as I wanted to read just about all of the choices!) the first book was chosen as Lisa Jackson’s Your Pace or Mine?. I knew about this book as Jackson is a contributing editor to Women’s Running and I also listened to her on a recent episode of the Running Comentary podcast, so I had an idea of what to expect.
The book is divided into 11 chapters. The first 9 have intriguing titles beginning, “What Running Taught Me About…” followed by a chapter focusing on what Jackson can teach us about running and finishing off with one final chapter for readers to use as their own running record book (although I read it on my Kindle so would have to keep my record elsewhere!)
What I enjoyed about this book is that Jackson highlights the sense of community among runners. She’s not an elite who was running fast times practically from birth, she’s a “real” and inspirational runner who found running a bit later in life (as did I, indeed I was a similar age to Jackson when I ran my first marathon) and who prides herself not on her finishing times, but on how good a time she has at each event she goes to. And that makes a world of difference. Jackson’s trademark is to run each marathon is some kind of fancy dress or crazy headgear, and while there will be an elitist few who might turn their nose up at her “chat-run” approach, there’s no taking away from the fact that she IS a member of the 100 marathon club, she HAS run Comrades (more than once) and she HAS run the Boston marathon. How many of us can say the same? The over-arching message is that you don’t have to be fast to run a marathon, you just have to be prepared to give it a go.
“St Francis of Assisi summed it up perfectly: ‘Start by doing what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And suddenly you’re doing the impossible.'”
Throughout the opening chapters we learn more about Jackson and the supporting cast of characters around her. We learn of her triumphs and setbacks. Most importantly, we learn about the amazing people she has met along the way. As a confirmed “chat-runner” (her term for it) Jackson has come into contact with all manner of people, all taking on the same quest as her – to cross that finish line and have an experience that will change their life. She has picked people up in their toughest moments and kept them company to the finish, dished out chocolate to keep spirits up and laughed her way to many a finish line, sometimes long after the official cut off which doesn’t bother her at all. She’s even run naked (and for once I don’t mean leaving her watch at home!).
Each of these chapters also finishes with stories from the runners she has met along the way, and while inspiring, this is probably my only issue with the book. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading what these people had to say, but I felt that it interrupted the narrative of Jackson’s running journey. I think I would have much preferred that these were collated as a chapter of their own or an appendix at the end so that I could read them AFTER I had read everything Jackson had to share. Given Jackson’s conversational, community-focused approach there is definitely a place for these stories, I would just have liked them organised differently. But perhaps that’s just me.
And what can Jackson teach us about running? Actually quite a lot. For the beginner, the debunking of many a common running myth that may halt running dreams in their tracks before they really get started. For the more experienced, a reminder that there’s so much more to running a marathon than how long it took us, that time only tells part of the story. And as I discovered on my “tourist run” of the Paris marathon last year, sometimes taking your time and soaking up the atmosphere leads to a far more memorable experience than pushing yourself to the limit in your quest for a specific time. For all of us, Jackson provides the inspiration to never give up, to pursue our dreams no matter how ridiculous they might sound to others. If we can dream it, we can do it.
“My headstone isn’t going to say: ‘Here lies Lisa Jackson. She watched every hot new box set. Twice.’ It’ll read: ‘Here lies Lisa Jackson. Marathoner. Trailrunner. Triathlete. Ultrarunner. She’s reached the final finishing line – and this time, she isn’t last!'”
This was also a book peppered with comedy moments, from Jackson’s stories of mid-race mishaps to the list of T-shirt slogans that have made her smile. I may not have taken quite the same approach as Ms Jackson to my running, but I know the experiences and memories I have make my running story all the richer. Jackson clearly revels in being part of a running community, and the affection the runners she has met hold for her is clear. Running can be a solitary pursuit, especially if, like me, you train alone, so feeling like part of a community though my blog, social media groups and good old parkrun are really important to me, and when I think of it like that I can understand why Jackson takes the approach she does.
Overall I really enjoyed this book (slight bugbear about the arrangement of the stories from others aside). It was an easy read and I felt a connection with Jackson through her conversational style (hardly a surprise for a writer who is also a chat-runner!). I could relate to so much that she wrote, particularly about starting out and refusing to give up, messages I’m always keen to promote to my pupils. So if you have any interest at all in running and are looking for an easy read for these dark January evenings, then Your Pace or Mine? might be just what you’re looking for.
***Update Feb 2017 – here is what Lisa Jackson herself shared with me about the structure of the book. I completely understand and to be honest, my comments were entirely based on personal taste – I was enjoying her story and wanted to stick with it for longer before reading these other stories. What I find really interesting, however, is that since writing this review I have seen a paperback copy of the book and the stories from other runners seems to work so much better in this format than on the Kindle. The Kindle is great for quick access to content and is brilliant for travelling, but sometimes there is just no substitute for a real book!***