Alexandra had high hopes: the arse of an athlete, the waist of a supermodel, the speed of a gazelle. Defeated by gyms and bored of yoga, she decided to run.
Her first attempt did not end well. Six years later, she has run five marathons in two continents. But, as her dad says, you run with your head as much as with your legs. So, while this is a book about running, it's not just about running. You could say it's about ambition (yes, getting out of bed on a rainy Sunday morning counts), relationships (including talking to the intimidating staff in the trainer shop), as well as your body (your boobs don't have to wobble when you run). But it's also about realising that you can do more than you ever thought possible.
“Lacing up and leaving the house is the hardest moment of any run. You never regret it once you are en route”
If you spend longer than half an hour in my company these days, the odds are excellent that I will mention running at some point. I’m also likely to mention that I'm loving it and that I whole-heartedly believe that exercise is the only way I'm avoiding becoming all balled up with stress as a result of the 10 hour plus days I usually work.. The thing I probably won’t tell you (even though I really should) is that Running Like A Girl is in no small part responsible for getting me back to pounding the pavement with such enthusiasm. Thank goodness Ellie Lit Nerd recommended it!
On the face of it, Running Like a Girl is “just” a running memoir; a book full of tales of the trials and tribulations faced by one woman as she starts out running, completes her first marathon and battles down a few more milestone runs. Two things make it different. The first is that Alexandra Heminsley isn’t a professional runner recycling inspirational but slightly unrealistic material about how there’s a runner inside all of us and we just need to focus on a goal and write down a plan and blah blah blah; she started out running as an adult with no experience and recounts what she's been through in a self-deprecating (and very funny) manner. When I read it, I was still bearing the vestiges of an injury and I was dying to put my trainers back on and get running.
One of the things I love the most about Running Like a Girl is that it neither makes light of running nor makes it seem like something only "real" athletes can do. Running is completely accessible and can feel liberating; a good run on a bright day (with a light breeze, ideally) makes me feel proud and healthy and on top of the world. For every one of those runs, though, there are probably two hard ones where I’m tired or haven’t drunk enough water or it’s raining in my face or it’s super hot and I’m sweating all over the place (the latter being less frequent in Yorkshire but still…) and keeping running is hard. I love that Heminsley admits that running isn’t always a glorious activity that has us all bounding around happily with neat hair and pleasantly rosy cheeks and that not everybody is a natural runner (if there even is such a thing) but that, regardless of how much of a hot mess we might look while we’re mid-run, it’s totally worth it. Because even with the stories of the falling off toe nails and the inconvenient calls of nature, Running Like a Girl makes running sound like the best thing you could ever do with your spare time.
It’s perfect reading for anybody that is either starting out running, wants to start out running, is getting back into running or has even just lost the love a little bit. There’s just so much to identify with if that’s the angle you’re reading from – like the nerves of the early runs and the utter certainty that people are looking at you and noticing how much of a plonker you look . Every question you never wanted to ask but are the things that you really want to know. I, for example, have quite long hair that will not sit neatly in a bun or a plait while I run and will whip me in the face with unnecessary vigour if it’s in a ponytail – enter Alexandra Heminsley and the plait that has a bobble at the top and bottom. Genius.
Amongst the humour of the early chapters are more intense ones of Heminsley’s marathon experiences. The chapter about her first marathon actually made me cry. I couldn't even really tell you why except that it so perfectly evoked the harrowing experience that I felt completely involved. It's funny, it's completely charming and has chapters like the one covering the “myths” about running that I'll dip back into again and again, I expect. I hear a lot of things like, “Oh I don’t run because it’s bad for your knees/shins/hips/other random joint or bone”. I don’t know the science (although I do need to bone up (haha) on it so that I can start to refute these comments properly) but I do know that I've been lucky enough not to suffer an injury while running that was attributable to the actual act of running (I do have a teeny scar on my right hip from where I clipped an iPod mini onto my leggings during a half marathon that somehow managed to get stuck to my skin and was pulled off over-enthusiastically in a post-race haze but that was really down to my own stupidity and running can’t be blamed…). It's good to know that I haven't been deluding myself and engaging in an activity that is trying to kill me.
So it's fun to read, it's inspiring and it's practical. What more could you possibly want?!
Overall: What I’m saying (obviously) is that if you’ve ever even half-fancied running, I honestly can’t recommend Running Like a Girl enough. Heck, read it even if you despise running with every fibre of your being but want to achieve something that requires commitment and hard work and that others might be sceptical about but that you believe that you can do. Read it and get the kick up the bum you never knew you needed.
Please don’t blame me when you’ve read it all in one go and signed up for a marathon, though.
Date finished: 30 March 2014
Genre: Non-fiction; sports
Pictured edition published: by Windmill Books in January 2014