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From Last to First: A long-distance runner's journey from failure to success Paperback – 3 Apr 2014
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‘It’s a pleasure to accompany him on that journey’(Independent on Sunday)
‘Inspirational story’(Athletics Weekly)
‘Honest, frank and inspirational’(The Journal (Newcastle))
About the Author
CHARLIE SPEDDING joined Gateshead Harriers when he was 16 and competed in distance races for 20 years. He now runs occasionally, and also enjoys long distance cycle trips. Working as a community Pharmacist in the North-East of England, he passionately believes most people could improve their health with more regular exercise. He has been a summariser with Radio 5’s London Marathon coverage for 17 years.
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Top customer reviews
The clear impression given on the jacket is of something like a fairytale triumph, where someone with little or no athletic ability somehow battled his way to an Olympic medal.
The reality is very different. The "last" element turns out to be about one page, mentioning that Charlie was academically low in the class and came last in a primary school sprint race. Within the space of another two or three pages, however, he finds out that he's better at longer distances, and within a few more pages, he's running in AAAs and National schools events at Crystal Palace and the like and well established as an elite English youth athlete.
The transformation aspect of his story is really just going from being a middling / top 20 English long distance runner to stepping up to the marathon and winning Olympic bronze and the London Marathon. He does that partly through the psychological and self-motivational stuff he writes about, but also with the benefit of prolonged spells of training in the USA in addition to being a member of a stellar Gateshead Harriers and golden British long distance running generation.
I'm not knocking it, or his achievements, in the slightest. It's just that the blurb is clearly designed to suggest that this is an extraordinary tale of a triumph against the odds, by someone who could barely run when he began. It is nothing like that.
Some of the technical stuff will be of interest to improving runners, although you might query the need for him setting out his 1984 training schedule in an Appendix.
All in all, not a bad memoir of 1970s/80s distance running, but if you want a better written and more focussed running improvement book, by someone from the same era, try Julian Goater's "The Art of Running Faster".
Quick answer: a little bit of talent (although not *that* much, he seems to make us want to believe), a lot of dedication and a frame of mind that allowed him to peak for just the right occasions. Never the fastest, he nevertheless managed to win the London marathon in 1984, get a bronze in the Los Angeles Olympic marathon, and hold the fastest English marathon time for an unlikely 29 years.
Very well written and easy to follow, the book takes us through his career and training, how he got himself "up" for the biggest races, and leaves the reader with a pleasant understanding of his humility and modesty. My left Achilles tendon has been hurting for the last six months and it's interesting to read how he was able to overcome injuries and setbacks from the beginning to the end of his running years. I found the way he was able to change the way he thought about himself (an epiphany in a pub) inspirational and it's given me hope of one day getting a sub-three hour marathon. Thanks, fella!
This is the first time I had read an autobiography by an Elite athlete. Strangely the book starts with the highlight of his career, the 1984 Oylmpic marathon. This is very strange as the vast majority of autobiographies start with childhood and take it from there. I have no idea why this is not the case here. It could be that the publishers think that if kindle readers download the start of the book, they'll be hooked and want to buy it.
Chapter two deals with his childhood and how he progresses through the ranks. The title of the book although true is not accurate, he came last in a 100 yard sprint as a small child racing against older children. An Olympic 100 metre runner would come last if he as a small child raced 400 meters against older children.
The story takes us on a journey as a successful track runner and then the switch to marathon distance and builds to the 1984 Olympic marathon, then if you want to read how that race went you have to start back at Chapter 1 again. Which is frustrating.
Through one thing or another success and winning races didn't happen much after the games in L.A.
The last chapter of the book reads a bit like a blog or a magazine article and is more of a rant and rave and talks about everything from the Maradona hand of God to childhood obesity in the UK. As a former Elite distance runner he is naturally very disappointed and disillusioned at the lack of talent in GB Athletics. As an other reviewer mentioned if you're a fun runner or a back of the pack runner you might be offended as he's very scathing of fun runners and how nowadays many just want to complete a 10K or a marathon and not be concerned with racing to their best abilities. However it is the fun runners in marathons, especially London that rightly or wrongly get most of the media coverage. The average man on the street wants to hear the interview about the runner who is dressed in fancy dress and hoping to finish in under 5.5 hours and is running for a charity than the Elite runner who has just run sub 2.15 or sub 2.35 and made the qualifying time to run for Team GB.
Overall it's an interesting read, personally I like to read about the ordinary people who were not Country and National Champions like 99% of the population who became incredible athletes people like Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner,Running on Empty Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness and even A Life Without Limits.
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