Learning the two Rs – running and writing

This pretending to be an author business is fascinating. Absolutely fascinating – and also remarkably hassle-free, thanks to superb support from my publishers Summersdale every step of the way.

These past few days have been the nerve-racking process of the final read-through, after which it will be officially too late. After this week my words will be… well, if not set in stone, then definitely past the point of no return.

All of which is terrifically exciting, especially as I feel 100 per certain that Summersdale have done and are doing everything they possibly can to make the book a success, the final stages in a long, long journey.

My book is Keep On Running, and it comes with the telling subtitle The Highs And Lows Of A Marathon Addict, the tale of my adventures on the road across 25 marathons, including New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, Mallorca and Berlin (http://www.summersdale.com/book/2/569/keep-on-running/)

 Publication on April 2 will be the culmination of a journey almost as long as the marathons I have described. It was several years ago, while I was vainly trying to write a grim and gruesome murder mystery set in Chichester, that Peter Lovesey, a hugely likeable chap as well as an immensely gifted crime writer, said to me that I really ought to try writing about marathons.

Poor Peter had listened to me wittering on about them enough over cups of coffee in our favourite Chichester cafe.

I dismissed the idea. It wasn’t remotely what I wanted to write. But somewhere subliminally the idea lodged and started to develop. Everything commended it, I started to realise. It would be a question of writing about something about which I professed to know something (in truth, I am not terribly well versed in murder); and more importantly, from a selfish point of view, it would give me a chance, whatever happened, of recording something I very much wanted to record.

It was just a question of finding the right (or write) moment. That moment came after the Mallorca Marathon in October 2010, an important marathon for me as it came after a couple of grim marathons in which I was starting to wonder whether I wasn’t falling out of love with running.

Mallorca was to be my marathon farewell, I told myself and actually believed it. How wrong could I be. I crossed the line, tried to say goodbye to sweaty lycra and nipple plasters and realised – with a huge sigh of relief – that it was still my world and there was no way I wanted to leave it.

Even so, I wasn’t quite ready to run again when I got home. Instead, I started to write. And write and write the full story of my own personal marathon journey. I approached Summersdale and was delighted when they fired the start gun, immediately expressing interest and offering every encouragement.

Their greatest gift, however, was that they told me very sweetly but firmly that no, it wasn’t ready when I handed it over in January 2011.

I had the huge good fortune – for which I will always be grateful – of being teamed up with Jennifer Barclay at Summersdale. Jennifer quickly pointed out the failings in the book I had thought I had finished.

My original idea was a book of two halves – the first five chapters describing five different ways to muff up a marathon (and believe me, I am skilled in this), followed by five chapters extolling the marathons I have actually got right.

Jennifer was kindness itself as she pointed out that the first half was grim going, repeatedly begging the question why on earth did I keep at it. Readers, she suggested, might not make it to the endless joys of the second half, chapters in which I waxed lyrical about the sheer intoxication that marathons bring.

She was clear: a chronological approach was the best one. It would show the troughs in the context of the peaks which kept me hooked.

Jennifer, take a bow. For me it was the defining moment in this book’s preparation.


Getting ready for Tokyo – with a book on the horizon

Father Christmas really does exist. He must do. How else would you explain – two days before Christmas – me getting a place in this year’s Tokyo Marathon?

It really is the most exciting, spine-tingling, can’t-possibly-think-about-anything-else-especially-not-work prospect.

I have run the New York City Marathon. I have run the Paris Marathon three times, the London Marathon six times and also clocked up marathons in Rome, La Rochelle, Dublin, Berlin, Mallorca and Amsterdam.

I have even written a book about it all: Keep On Running, a light-hearted attempt to explain an addiction which still keeps me in its throes after 14 years and 25 marathons.

It’s coming out at the start of April, published by the superb team at Summersdale in Chichester – a group of people who have given me every possible encouragement and made writing a book far far easier than running a marathon will ever be.

I hope you’ll take a look at the book once it comes out – http://www.summersdale.com/book/2/569/keep-on-running/. But just for the moment, the focus is on Tokyo. The clock is ticking, the countdown really has begun. The big day is Sunday, February 26.

And boy oh boy, I just can’t wait. Something cosmic is aligning; I feel it in my bones. My 26th 26-mile run will be on the 26th day of the month. It was meant to be – and the thrill is mounting with every day that passes.

My best-ever marathon was the London Marathon of 2007 when I clocked three hours 20 minutes and an incredibly annoying 25 seconds. Five years ago. I’ve come close to it a few times since, but I’ve got to be realistic. It’s highly likely that this will stand forever as my PB, that personal best that constitutes the Holy Grail of marathon runners everywhere.

Which is why my approach to marathon-running has subtly changed in recent years. Of course, I’d love to run faster, but just as importantly, the thing I crave is different marathon experiences.

And I know that Tokyo will serve them up by the bucketload. It really is going to be the most fantastic trip to the most fascinating country at a very important moment in its history.

Last October, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation invited a group of journalists to Tokyo for a few days to learn about the marathon in the context of a country still recovering after the devastating tsunami very nearly a year ago.

The Foundation had a very important message to send out and they wanted us to be their megaphones around the world. They wanted us to tell everyone that Tokyo and indeed Japan was strong, confident and recovering. They wanted the 2012 Tokyo Marathon to shout: Japan is a great place to visit.

Seeing the course last October was a wonderful experience, but it was also a deeply-frustrating experience for a marathon runner. I didn’t just want to see the course. I wanted to run it. I wanted to slog out every yard of its 26.2 miles through the vast, intoxicating, charming, beautiful city it celebrates.

I didn’t want to just nod and say “Oh yes, it starts from here”. I wanted to line up with 30,000 other runners, nervously chatting, checking hydration, peering at the skies, setting my stop watch and waiting for the off.

I didn’t want to just nod and say “Oh yes, this is the finish” as I stepped off the tour bus. I wanted to get there under my own steam, utterly knackered but deliriously happy. I didn’t want to be taken to the finish. I wanted to earn the right to stand there at the end of the race itself.

And then, just as panto season was blooming up and down the country last December, my fairy godmother in Tokyo sent me an email. The Tokyo Marathon Foundation wanted to fund a group of journalists to visit Tokyo for the marathon weekend at the end of February.

But they were very specific. They didn’t just want journalists willing to stand by the sidelines and wave. Oh no, they wanted runners prepared to go the distance. I am never going to set a record for speed on a race course, but that morning I definitely set a new speed record for replying to an email.

“Yes! Take me!”

And two days before Christmas, they said yes, they wanted me. Christmas over here consequently passed in a blur, my thoughts elsewhere. My real Christmas is yet to come. In fact, I’ve got a lovely feeling that Sunday, February 26 on that start line in Tokyo is going to be all my Christmases rolled into one.

I hope, over the next few weeks, you’ll enjoy reading some of the thoughts that pass through my head as the Tokyo countdown really begins…

See also http://www.tokyo42195.org/2012_en/




Launching into the world of blogging

Hello everyone, this is my first blog post to start to tell you all about a book on marathons which I have written and which will be published by the lovely Summersdale of Chichester next April (www.summersdale.com).