Running – it’s just brilliant isn’t it? And marathons? They’re pretty brilliant too. And running through the night? It’s a bit tough, but ultimately brilliant. Okay, I’m being a bit facetious but that’s basically the gist of this memoir-cum-celebration of running by the BBC Radio 2 sports reporter and all-round nice guy, Vassos Alexander.
Don’t Stop Me Now is structured around the 26.2 miles of the particularly gruelling marathon that Vassos ran at the end of an Ironman. Each chapter opens with a section revealing what was going on in his mind and body during a particular mile. Vassos then talks about a different aspect of running, such as his favourite races, going barefoot or nutrition, before finishing each chapter with a short contribution by a different guest writer.
And what a cast of guest writers it is! It’s a Who’s Who of celebrity British running, including Paula Radcliffe, the blokes who present Marathon Talk, Alistair Brownlee and Helen Skelton from Blue Peter. My favourite contribution was from former US 100m world record holder Donovan Bailey, who says “I decided to go for a 22-mile run, which as a sprinter, is just the worst thing in the history of the world”. This can only be a reference to him taking on the Man vs Horse race in 2015, where one of my clubmates said by the end he looked (and I’m paraphrasing here) “rough as a cow pat”.
So yes, it’s impossible not to smile at this book – Vassos is so relentlessly positive and chirpy. That being said, I did find his reference to a horrible-sounding long-term injury sustained in the Ironman somewhat at odds with the tone of the rest of the book: “my calf took weeks to recover and my knee never has…that left knee still hurts most days, appallingly so if I twist or jar it”.
But then he lets us know that he used the downtime from running to do other sports, such as open water swimming “which was (and is) completely ace”. Order is restored.
I think what this review boils down to is that I’m not the right audience for this book. I suffer from the critic’s curse of having read too many running books, so I find it hard to get excited about something as lightweight as this. However, I don’t think it’s just me – I doubt that long-time runners will find much in here that’s new or particularly revelatory. There are other memoirs that I would argue are more inspiring for the experienced runner (e.g. Feet in the Clouds).
For the right audience though, this will be a cheery, get-your-trainers on, read. For those who are relatively new to running or thinking about getting into it, hearing Vassos’ assorted tales should provide a lot of positive encouragement, and reassure you that you are not going mad. He might even make you try new things, such as parkrun, trail running, joining a running club, and yes, even a marathon. If the book helps people get more joy out of their new-found sport, then all I can say is, well…brilliant.