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on 20 April 2017
This was a decent read, but whether it was down to the author or the publishers, the premise and 'blurb' is slightly misleading.

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".
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on 2 September 2017
Superb memoir of a "proper " runner. Intelligent, insightful and written with a classic North East self deprecating humour. Great read.
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on 19 May 2013
I loved this book, it had me both in tears and had me laughing as well. I don't usually care for autobiographies but as this was related to running, I thought I'd give it a try. So pleased I did. I will will read again and again whenever my running needs a kick up the backside...
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on 8 July 2014
Love this book. Charlie Spedding is Britain's only Olympic marathon medal winner (might revisit this review after 2020, depending on how Mo Farah shapes up) and Last to First tells us how he did it.

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!
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on 20 June 2013
Unless you followed athletics keenly in the 1980's Charlie Spedding won't be a familiar name. As a mid pack marathon runner I was keen to know more about him.

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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on 26 November 2015
I really enjoyed this book right up until chapter 13 where the author went off on a series of rants about things related to running that annoy him. It seemed completely out of place and the part about running having become too popular among middle-aged women trying to lose weight and then running 'badly' was downright offensive and seemed out of keeping with the Olympic spirit championed throughout about improving and constantly striving to do your best. Can middle-aged casual runners not do that too? couldn't take the book seriously after that and lost interest. A shame. Needed a stronger editor to encourage the author to stick to what he was good at.
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on 26 April 2011
I can't recommend this book highly enough to anyone who has wondered what their potential as a runner might be. I used to spend a lot of time concentrating on the training schedules, shoes, energy gels etc without ever working out the 'why am I doing this?'.

Charlie's story is exceptional as he truly gets to the heart of what it takes to give a great performance, all set against the background of his own career and Olympic success. It also contains some excellent descriptions of what racing at the sharp end is like.

I've been been running for nearly 20years but never that quickly. After reading Charlie's book I decided that I was going to run the race of my life at the Reading Half Marathon this year and, following his example from the book, I didn't know how good that could be. Concentrating on the why allowed me be to beat my previous best ( 1.38 at the Great North Run when I was 27). After six months of focussed training I did 1.24.52 at 42 years old @ Reading HM.

A great story and insight into getting the best out of yourself.
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on 29 September 2015
Charlie Spedding’s introduction sets the scene for the book, stating “I won a bronze medal in the Olympic marathon, but I was definitely not one of the three most talented distance runners in the world. I was a talented runner compared to the average runner, but you don’t run against average runners in an Olympic final.”
The first two chapters of the book give an account of the 1984 race. Following this, the book proceeds in a conventional chronological sequence. Charlie mentions that his first ever race was over 100 yards at his primary school, in which he finished last (hence the title of his book). However, in his first cross-country race he finished second, indicating that he was clearly a natural distance runner rather than a sprinter. In 1983 he won the AAA 10000 metre championship in a personal best of 28 minutes 08, having broken away from the field with three laps to go. He then decided to move up to the marathon, observing that even if he had gained selection for the Olympic 10000m, his lack of a fast finish meant that he would be in danger of being eliminated in the heats.
I found chapter 12 of Charlie’s book, entitled ‘progress of training’, particularly interesting. He observes that in his early years, he did not do any speed work in the winter, but he improved significantly after he began doing speed sessions all year round, and that keeping his muscles attuned to the extra stress of faster running “resulted in less stiffness and fewer injuries”. In his marathon preparation, he regularly did 15-mile runs at a hard pace, explaining that “I had to get used to maintaining a brisk pace over an extended distance, and I ran intuitively at a pace that was brisk, but sustainable, for 15 miles. To run like that for 20 miles would be too hard, and to run for 10 miles would lack relevance for the marathon.”
He also comments that he suffered from persistent Achilles tendon injuries, and that it was not realised at the time that these were caused by tight calf muscles. He observes that “my tendons were sore, so my tendons were treated, but it didn’t work well because the real problems were tightness and scar tissue in my calf muscles. The reduced mobility in my claves transferred the stress to my tendons, making them sore. Modern treatment would involve massage deep into the muscle to break down the tightness and scar tissue, which would relieve the pressure on the tendon.”
Charlie comments that “it was always the really big races that motivated me most. ... When I peaked successfully, I knew I would beat people who might normally beat me. The ability to peak correctly gives runners like me the chance to step up from our normal level to something much greater.”
I found this book inspirational, and thoroughly recommend it.
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on 9 May 2013
This book is brilliant and worth every second spent reading it. I have read absolutely no books on athletics during the last forty years. I have no regular interest in athletics at all, although I was a distance runner at school, and I had (sadly) never heard of the author or his achievements. Despite all that, the book was gripping from start to finish and I would really like to shake Charlie’s hand, buy him a beer and thank him for writing it.
With no interest in the subject, why did I read it? I was attracted by the “Last to First” achievements of Charlie and what I could pick up by way of ideas to help improve my own personal focus. To that end, the journey that Charlie steps the reader through was highly illuminating. As a work to help you get your own head lined up and ready to rock, it really hit the spot for me.
To add context to that, I’ve run my own small business for twenty years and sometimes my performance has been great and sometimes it’s been … erm … less than optimal, shall we say. I could never understand why and at times wondered if I was just in fact crap. Hence, the theme and messages in this book resonated amazingly and after reading it I feel both enlightened and considerably lighter mentally, physically and emotionally. I’m now much less concerned about the ups and downs I’ve experienced because I know that I can turn it on when I both need to and want to. The solution is so simple, yet so powerful, I’m left shaking my head in surprise.
This book really cuts straight to the heart of such issues so thank you again for writing it, it’s probably a shed load of beers I owe the author, not just one.
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on 27 February 2010
An extremely enjoyable read from beginning to end.

I have read dozens of books on athletics over the last 45 years and this is one of the very best.

Charlie clearly sets out the reasons how he managed to achieve great success even though (as he would be the first to admit) he was not the most naturally gifted of athletes.

His Olympic marathon run and London Marathon were two of the gutsiest performances I have ever seen and it was great to relive these races in his excellently written book.
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