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As a schoolboy, Ben Smith was a victim of relentless and vicious bullying, which affected him so much that he attempted to take his own life twice. Carrying his experiences through to adulthood, he suffered from severe depression and a crushing inability to reveal his true self to others. His saviour was running.

So when Ben wanted to take on a challenge to raise awareness of bullying and also raise money for two anti-bullying charities, it was to running which he turned. The challenge he decided on was to run 401 marathons on 401 consecutive days. Yes, you read that correctly!

Selling his house and all his possessions to fund the project, Ben set out on his odyssey throughout the UK running a marathon every single day. It changed his life, but as news of his challenge grew, it also changed the lives of many others. People would turn out not just to support Ben, but also to run with him – sometimes the whole 26.2 miles, sometimes a portion of it. Several people ran their first ever marathon alongside him.

This books tells the remarkable story of the 401 challenge, and it’s an absorbing and inspirational read. Not so much a running book as a lesson that if you really want to achieve something – and you are prepared to work damned hard at it – you can and will do it. Rather than a day to day retelling, each chapters covers chunks of the time, and as well as Ben’s back story, which is told alongside the story of the marathons, there are contributions from his partner, family, friends and other people who ran with him or were inspired by him. This meant that as a reader we see Ben’s experiences through other people’s eyes, and see just what an effect it had on those around him.

It’s an honest account of the good times, but also the bad times – you simply cannot take on a challenge of that magnitude without it affecting you, and Ben is quite straightforward about the physical, mental and logistical issues which the challenge threw at him and his team. Ultimately though, this is always a story of hope, dedication and a little bit of craziness. Engaging throughout and thoroughly enjoyable whether or not you are a runner.

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In the first part of this funny, moving and frank memoir, Alexandra Heminsley discusses how and why she started running, and – more importantly – how and why she continued to run, despite occasional setbacks and bouts of self-doubt.  She talks about how it brought her closer to family members, and made her feel better about herself, and along the way describes some of the races she has participated in.

The second part of the book is given over to hints and advice to other runners, or people who are thinking of taking up running, whether as a casual hobby, or a serious enthusiast.  The book also talks about the history of women’s running (and boy, did that chapter open my eyes; after reading about the journey that Joan Benoit Samuelson took to become the first female Olympic marathon winner, I watched some of the footage on YouTube, and was filled with admiration and tears).

While Heminsley’s own story is very entertaining and inspiring, the second section of the book is very useful to new runners, offering tips on buying running trainers and equipment, and what you will need if you take part in a big race.  It also highlights injuries that can be caused or aggravated by running, and the best ways to deal with them, and debunks many myths surrounding running.

As a fellow runner, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and identified with many of the feelings that the author described.  Heminsley is very engaging and relatable, and also very funny.  I don’t think you would have to be a runner to appreciate this book, but I am pretty sure that after reading it you would want to pull on your trainers and go for a trot around the block.

I would recommend this book for everyone, but particularly people with even just a passing interest in running.

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