On her blog, The Runner Beans, Charlie Watson has started a monthly book club and I thought it would be fun to join in and read the books if they appealed. This month’s book was the autobiography of British elite runner Jo Pavey. I’m not sure how familiar she is to my Bay Area running friends but she’s a big UK heroine.
Jo’s been running at elite level for nearly 30 years if you include junior level athletics. She was plagued by injury for years and missed the podium in many championship races, often coming 4th or 5th behind runners we now have good reason to believe were doping – indeed she’s still awaiting a bronze medal from the 10k at the 2007 world championships, having finished fourth behind an athlete who has since tested positive to performance enhancing drugs.
Because of these reasons, she kind of flew under the radar for many years despite competing in 4 Olympic Games for Team GB. However in 2014 she sprang to immediate fame when she won a gold medal at the European Championships in the 10,000m. This was particularly notable because she was 40 when she won that first gold medal and was just 10 months postpartum from her second child! This made her a heroine to all the middle-aged mother runners in the UK. I mean this with NO disrespect as she was hugely inspiring to THIS middle-aged mother runner as well. So I was looking forward to reading her book.
On the whole it’s a good sports autobiography. It starts with her club running years in her teens and charts her years off with injury, her university days studying to become a physiotherapist, getting back into competition right the way through to four Olympic games. Alongside the professional story, she talks of her marriage to Gav who becomes her coach, and the birth of her two children and how their arrival immediately changes her attitude to training.
I liked her quiet, wry recognition of how much older she is compared to most of her competitors – how her club vest was older than some of the women she raced against and how, when she won gold, the press always mentioned her age after her name so she was always referred to as ‘Jo Pavey, 40…’.
The bits that most resonated with me were about her approach to training. In this busy life we all lead, it’s easy to identify with someone juggling many different commitments and fitting training in where possible. She talks about how her second run of the day is often at 9pm on the treadmill in what’s basically a large cupboard. No glamour, no flashiness…just that daily commitment to grinding it out and putting the miles in. That really did challenge me to commit harder to getting my run in, when I’d usually just decide it wasn’t going to happen and open the zin.
So…a few things that this middle-aged runner is taking out of the book.
- Get the run done. No matter when it gets done and where it gets done…if it’s on your plan, get it done.
- At the same time…I liked how she was able to recognize that sometimes you can only do what you CAN do, not necessarily what you ‘should’ be doing. There’s a lovely realism in her approach.
- Elite sport isn’t necessarily glamorous – nor does it need to be. Jo and her family live in rural Devon, at least 4 hours from the bright lights of London. The nearest track is 12 miles away and she’s not exactly living in the hub of an elite athlete world. I loved that contrast – the quiet, understated, dedicated way she just gets on with her training. It’s that inner drive and I respect it so much.
- The love of running and racing. Jo speaks with so much love of running and her desire to be running her whole life. And I love her gritty approach to racing and her love of pushing herself hard. I was finishing her book when I ran Kaiser a few Sundays ago and it definitely motivated me to race harder.
My only complaint is that it was written with a ghost-writer, which I understand but I feel that doing so hides the true voice of the athlete. In real-life interviews, Jo comes across as very even-tempered, very humble, understated and down-to earth and that definitely comes across in the book. However I couldn’t help but wonder what Jo is like in real life. Is she funnier? Is she feistier or sarkier? The ghost-writer made the book feel oddly impersonal – more like a biography told in the first person than a true autobiography. I think that’s a shame.
I admire Jo greatly – her dedication, her realistic commitment to running and training and her down-to-earth personality. So I enjoyed this opportunity to find out more about her story. Recommended.
Thanks to my friend Liz who helped me source this book on the interwebs for much less than the amazon.com price!
Also, I won’t be bringing this heavy book back to the UK with me so if you’re a Bay Area local and you fancy reading it, let me know and it’s all yours!