From Last To First, by Charlie Spedding

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Places in this year's London Marathon three weeks hence have been, as usual, at a premium, but the event's popularity does not earn the unconditional approval of the 1984 winner, Charlie Spedding.

The Tynesider then came third in the Los Angeles Olympics marathon, and back in London in 1985 he set an English record of 2hr 8min 33sec when finishing second to Steve Jones of Wales, who later that year ran the fastest marathon time by a Briton, 2:07.13 in Chicago. Both records still stand, an indication in Spedding's eyes of the dramatic decline in British distance running, which he attributes in part to the hijacking of road races by fun runners competing in fancy dress.

His unusual book is in turns a memoir, self-help guide, training manual and passionate plea to British athletics to find a way to attract and properly nurture more young runners. They could do worse than hand out copies of From Last To First to every teenager in the country in the hope that they will be inspired by the story of how Spedding progressed from coming last in his first race and being one of the school dunces to earning an Olympic medal and a degree in pharmacy.

His mantra is not about winning at all costs, but "Success is measured by how much I fulfil the talent I was born with", and his account of how he tried to achieve that is not only illuminating but often very funny, shot through with self-deprecatory humour.

Tellingly he cites his greatest moment in running as neither that bronze medal nor winning in London, but briefly taking the lead in the Olympic race: "I was trying my utmost to fulfil my wildest dreams... I was flying and felt absolutely fantastic." It's an equal pleasure to accompany him on that journey.

Published in hardback by Aurum, £14.99

Comments