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Review: Running Like a Girl, By Alexandra Heminsley

A tale of bras, sweat and tears

If you are reading this after your final training run ahead of completing next Sunday's London Marathon in an easy three-hour stroll, then this book may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you expect to watch the Marathon from your sofa while carb-loading unnecessarily and thinking, "If only I could run", then you're in luck. This is a book for those of us who would love to Be A Runner, but are just waiting for the magic words that tell us how to become one. The bad news is: there are no magic words. The good news: it's as simple as putting one foot in front of another.

Alexandra Heminsley is an engaging guide through the pitfalls, pratfalls and sometimes surprising triumphs of learning how to make running a state of mind. It's a personal journey. Very personal: bowels and bras play quite a crucial role. Importantly, it is not about running as a means to medals, popularity or skinny thighs, but about running for strength in body and mind.

Heminsley is perhaps not a natural runner. Like many of us, she learned at school that sports were best avoided, and running came much later, from a desire to take ownership of her body. The story of how she went from first run (disastrous) to first marathon (painful) and beyond is a funny one, taking in incredulous friends, medical setbacks, snooty trainer salesmen, and how to solve the problem of knickers – you'll be incensed. Under such inspirational chapter headings as "The Finish Line", "A Runner For Life?" and "Wicking Fabric and How to Style It Out", she tells her own story race by painful race, including a half marathon that was run while sobbing. One chapter explains how women, until relatively recently, were not allowed to run some races for fear that their wombs would fall out – which will galvanise stubborn exercise refuseniks into putting on the trainers.

Part Two explains how to get there yourself: sensible advice about running myths (it doesn't do your knees in), running styles (women do run a bit differently from men) and kit (yes, you do deserve trainers that you are not "repulsed" by). And does it work? Well, after reading it, this reader went on her first run for five years. And, crucially, her second. She won't be running any marathons, however, but she'll feel a lot better about carb-loading while watching them.

Hutchinson £12.99