“Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict” by Phil Hewitt

One of my early jobs in publishing involved reading the ‘slush pile’. This is the stack of (mostly) dross sent uninvited to publishers by members of the public who think they’re the next Tolkein or Ian McEwan. Mostly it’s just unreadably bad stuff, but once in a while you get something that stands out, usually for the wrong reasons. I once had a draft of a book that claimed to be a wartime biography of the author’s mother, but on closer inspection was mostly a rant about her ex-husband, interspersed with several different recipes for scones. For some reason we declined to publish that book, although it did make a guest appearance at our Christmas party.

What I’m getting at is that I have some level of insider knowledge about the publishing process, and yet I’m still slightly baffled as to why Keep on Running got published. In summary, it’s a book about one man’s love affair with marathons, containing his thoughts on training, some funny running stories, and a series of race reports from marathons across Europe.

It’s not bad, just…mediocre. The author is quite likeable, and the book does raise a few chuckles, but I didn’t get much more from it than that. It has “wet Sunday afternoon holiday read” written all over it. The best part of the book for me was probably the race reports, which did give an indication of what the courses in Dublin, Paris and Amsterdam are like (Paris has the most urine at the start, apparently).

On the other hand the author makes the grave mistake of dispensing advice, mostly wrong, all of which angrily caused me to stand back and play a game of “you know you’re a running snob when you hear someone say…”. For example, the author repeatedly talks about the importance of hydration during marathons, and making sure he drinks at all of the water stations. No no no! Most people end up drinking too much during marathons, not too little. He also insists that it is vital to rest your legs completely the day before the race, so he usually watches TV in his hotel room. Again, silly advice – a sure route to muscle stiffness. Much better to keep your legs moving by walking a few miles the day before.

There’s also some fairly banal advice about intervals (he does exactly the same session every time because he’s never bothered to explore others), as well as some bland descriptions of his training, which to me seemed pretty inadequate and probably explains a few of his more disastrous races. For a man who loves marathons, he seems curiously uninterested in researching how to do them better. Worst of all, the author can’t see the point of being a member of a running club! Heresy!

So why was the book published? The author isn’t anyone well-known – he’s a journalist for a regional newspaper. He’s run a fair number of marathons (25+), but that hardly puts him in the 100 Marathon Club. He’s run some reasonable times (a 3:20 pb), but again, nothing exceptional. Ultimately, the book just feels very ordinary. It’s an ordinary account of an ordinary man running a (relatively) ordinary number of races in ordinary times. The publishers probably went: “Running is hot right now, particularly marathon running. Let’s publish any book we can on this subject. Then, when the Books About Running reviewer types in the words ‘running’ and ‘marathon’ into Amazon, our book will come top of the list”.

There’s a sucker born every minute.

*NB Other opinions are available. I know a couple of clubmates who have really enjoyed this book. They’re wrong of course.

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