If you don’t know who Vassos Alexander is, you probably don’t watch / listen to much sport or you don’t listen to the Chris Evans Radio 2 Breakfast Show on which Vassos is the ‘Sports guy’. Vasssos is also a runner, in fact I don’t think he ever stops running and I suspect in recent years he has never knowingly walked anywhere, he could possbily run to instead. It hasn’t always been like this though. Vassos didn’t start running until he was well into his thirties and he noticed “an alarming tube of fat about an inch wide, wrapped in a yellow golf shirt and flopping over my belt”. It is fair to say he didn’t just start running, he became gradually and over time increasingly obsessed with running. This book as the subtitle denotes is ‘26.2 tales of a runners obsession’ with running.
There are three parts to each of the 26.2 chapters. The first is Vassos’s commentary on each of the 26.2 miles he ran as part of an Iron man triathlon. The second is stories or anecdotes from the many runs and races he has taken part in from that first time he set foot in a gym high on red bull and began a torturous 20 minutes on a tread mill. The third part is given over to another runner. Paula Radcliffe, the Brownlee brothers, Jenson Button, Colin Jackson and many other less known runners describe their relationship with running. As I write this I realise it sounds like it could be a confusing read it isn’t.
If you like running this is easy to read, the chapters are short with each separate part complementing the other. There is much humour and you will start to believe that you too could become an ultra marathon runner (I only believed it for about 5 seconds), but I did momentarily consider the possibility. However reading through the literal torture Vassos put himself through to complete the iron man triathlon soon put a stop to that. This was 26.2 miles was at the end of a 2 1/2 mile swim and a 112 mile cycle ride. At mile 8 of his run he says
“with every step, the only thing crossing my mind is how much I’m dreading the next step, and the 50 000 after that”
This book clearly documents the trials, and tribulations of running but also the pure pleasure that can be gained from slipping on a pair of trainers and setting off. Vassos does a lot of just ‘setting off’. He will regularly set of for a little run and return 20 miles later. He does not go anywhere with out running shoes and one of the delights of this book is his descriptions of the places he has run in, and the people he has run with. From Paris to Koh Yao Noh island in Thailand and everywhere else in between. With his cousin (also named Vassos) he runs marathons around Europe and with his children he participates in his local Park Run most Saturdays. The final section of the book is written by his children
“I sometimes dreaded going out running with my dad and Matthew on Saturday mornings. But then I realised that it doesn’t matter who’s quicker or who holds the family 5km record. I want to run fast and I want to do my best but I’m running my own race” Emily (11)
“We’ve done some great runs together, dad and me. Once we ran a 10km race together. It was really hilly and a bit tough, but I was the only kid running and I felt very proud at the finish. As my dad told me after he finished an ultra marathon, every run is a chance to learn little things about myself, and a chance o let myself shine” Matthew (9)
I often run around the areas of London where Vassos runs and I have to admit since reading this book keeping an eye out in case I should spot him. I suspect it’s unlikely. I would probably only see the back of him as he sped past me or barely notice him as he whizzed towards me. Its easy to see why Vassos has inspired the majority of the breakfast show team to take up running. His enthusiasm and love of running and life leaps off the page, his childlike joy in running is infectious. I can only imagine what this must be like in real life. He is also rather humble. He describes himself as an unexceptional runner. Having read this book I would say he is really rather exceptional.