This book was not one I really planned to read. I tend to collect books that I like to think I’ll read some day (like the biography on Nicola Tesla), and then I dust them off about four times a year before out-of-town visitors come to stay in our guest room (and book depository). But then I found myself home sick for 1.5 days last week and I wanted something fairly light, short, and a “fast” read.
I really like biographies about relatively obscure athletes, or athletes who did amazing things outside of their sport. I fully believe that anyone who goes through a period of extreme dedication to sport often has certain personality traits that make them really interesting. “Unbroken” – the book about Louis Zamperini, by Laura Hillenbrand – is still probably my favorite runner biography, because it combines two of my interests – WWII history and running. But I digress.
Spedding was a runner I’d never heard of before picking up the book. He’s English, and his biggest fame came from winning the London Marathon and taking home a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympic Marathon. The name of the book refers to his lack of athletic and academic success at a young age – until the time when distance running became an option.
The book moves pretty quickly through his formative years, giving brief but moving credit to his parents. There are quite a few elements about his training program – he kept a detailed diary – are entertaining and not boring, the way they could be for someone who hasn’t done a track workout in years. It helps to have familiarity with elite runners’ times for 5k, 10k, and marathon distances; every time he mentioned a sub-15 5k split in a race as “comfortable” or “easy” I chuckled to myself. However, the tone isn’t cocky or abrasive – Spedding worked hard at every training session, fought his share of injuries, and recognized mid-way through is career that he could only do HIS best. Something that every runner would do well to remember every now and then.
The most entertaining parts of the book are his recaps of his various races. Reading the recap of an elite runner can sometimes seem like a foreign language, but Spedding’s recaps were entertaining and humble. Growing up playing team sports, I found it very interesting to read about the running club/team program near where Spedding grew up in England. There are also quite a few funny sections – like the time he went for a five mile run in the middle of a date. The book doesn’t really get too much into his personal life, sticking to the story of Charlie Spedding the runner.
You can order From First to Last by Charlie Spedding on Amazon, prices ranging from about $10 for the e-book to about $18 for hardcover.
Disclaimer: If you are, like me, an “average” runner, you may want to skip the last few chapters. I was fully entertained by Spedding’s transformation, training and victories, until I got the point where he stated that he felt road racing had been “high-jacked by charities and over-weight joggers.” At this point, I found myself feeling disgusted for having agreed with his opinions on youth sports and physical education (extremely important for mental and physical well-being). For example, his idea of four elementary schools “sharing” four different physical education instructors so that students could get more diverse options and attitudes related to sport: brilliant. So aside from that one off-putting personal opinion, which I think a lot of highly competitive runners share, this is a good book worth a read.