Reading to Run; Running to Read

I just finished reading Footnotes by Vybarr Cregan-Reid. It was an excellent book… as much a travel diary and literary history as a book about running.

I normally do a bit more research before starting a book but this one came highly recommended so I jumped right in. I was unaware that the author was a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Kent. Cregan-Reid underpins and punctuates his running journey with numerous literary references and quotations. They are all apposite, detailed and creatively employed.

I can certainly recommend the book to fellow runners as I came away feeling that Cregan-Reid unearths the very essence of running and its role in our relationship to the world around us. But, I can also recommend the book to those who have an avid interest in literature and travel; particularly those with an enthusiasm for writers who extolled the virtues of nature like Blake, Coleridge, Hardy, Tolstoy and Woolf.

This was my sixth running-related book during what has been a very good reading running year:

  1. Askwith, Richard – Today We Die a Little: Emil Zátopek, Olympic Legend to Cold War Hero
  2. Cregan-Reid, Vybarr – Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human
  3. Finn, Adharanand – Running with the Kenyans: Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth
  4. Finn, Adharanand – The Way of the Runner: A Journey into the Fabled World of Japanese Running
  5. McDougall, Christopher – Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, The Ultra-Runners and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
  6. Murakami, Haruki – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir

They are all well written and each is uniquely different.

Today We Die a Little by Richard Askwith was the most interesting read. I knew nothing about Emil Zátopek prior to reading the book. I had never even heard of him! Askwith’s biography is rich in detail; profoundly inspirational; and deeply heartbreaking.

However, I feel that Born to Run by Christopher McDougall has had the most significant impact on my running. Not only is there a fantastic over-arching story about the Tarahumara and Micah True’s tireless efforts to organise a race in the Copper Canyons (Mexico), but weaved into the narrative is a well-researched argument for barefoot running.

McDougall uses historical facts, scientific data and a wealth of anecdotal evidence to present a compelling case for freeing one’s feet from the tyranny of running shoes. I am not fully converted. My feet remain shod when I run but I spent three months focussing intently on my running form. I now land mid to forefoot; run with a slight forward lean; and have increased my cadence significantly. The impact has been huge. I am quicker; I can run further; and I have been close to injury free ever since. No plantar fasciitis here!

Next up is… The Runner: Four Years Living and Running in the Wilderness by Markus Torgeby.

Running Music

My original approach to running music was a heady mix of dance, pop, rap and rock.

However, I have recently found that the tranquil ambient sounds I use for ‘recovery’ runs work just as well for longer high-tempo runs.

The music is less intrusive. It is there and not there; fading into the background – allowing me to listen to my body and focus on my form. It may be simply happenstance but it has coincided with me posting personal best times for 10km over three consecutive weekends; including my fastest individual kilometre yet (5m 6s) this morning.

As such, I began to compile the various albums and tracks I have been running to into a playlist. It is a work in progress, but this mix might work for you too.

How I Lost Weight and Got Fit

This is a detailed version[1] of a status update I published a few days ago. It is in no way a definitive ‘how to’ guide but simply a record of the steps I took to lose weight and get in shape.

A little over two years ago, I visited the doctor due to the onset of a chest infection. He asked me about my weight and weighed me. I was just under 260lbs (118.1kg/18.6st). I knew that I was overweight and out of shape but I did not see myself as a ‘fat’ person. Seeing the number (in black and white) on the scale, scared me to death. I knew that I had to make some serious changes. Two years later I am a completely different person, both physically and mentally.

By making changes to my diet and adding in regular physical activity, I have lost almost 90lbs (40.8kg; 6.4st.) in two years[2] and can run 5km in 29 minutes / 10km in 60 minutes. These are not record breaking times but compared to when I started (5km – 46 minutes / 10k – 90 minutes) I have made significant progress.

More importantly, I am a happier, healthier person. I have regained my zest for life. I have tried new things and I am spending more time outdoors appreciating the world around me. The impact on my mental health has been profound. Running is my meditation.


I do not believe in ‘dieting’. Most diets or weight loss plans are fads, many of which are unhealthy. Your body requires a balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, and nutrients, especially if you participate in a significant amount of physical activity.

My wife and I were already careful about what we put into our bodies. The problem for me was that one serving was never enough. On top of this, I was a true snacker – in every sense of the word.

For me personally, I felt the best way forward was to commit to portion control and cut back on some carbohydrates, fats and sugars. We gradually worked in a range of new sources of protein – beans and pulses. This lead us down a path of discovery, coming up with new ways to be creative in the kitchen. We had fun, making a new recipe each week, and we did cut back on red meat. I also worked to be more consistent about when I ate, settling on a healthy breakfast[3], small snack[4] and dinner.

Now, we eat at least two meals a week that do not contain meat and we have reduced our intake of starchy carbohydrates like potatoes and pasta. I am also careful about bread, preferring to consume bread that my wife has baked herself. It’s delicious!

I still eat desert and enjoy a good pastry. I eat crisps and chocolate. However, all of this is in moderation and sometimes specifically as a reward after a week of rigorous physical activity. The key word in the last sentence, is “moderation”. There is no reason to deny yourself a taste of something, but let it be that. You don’t need to eat an entire bar of Cadbury’s ‘Dairy Milk’ to satisfy your chocolate craving – a square or two is enough.


I drink four to five litres of water, and one Cortado, a day. I sometimes have warm tea in winter with a little honey and lemon in the evening, but this is an area where I have been particularly strict with myself.

I started by cutting out Coca-Cola (which interestingly enough, I can’t abide the smell and taste of now). This was no mean feat, having drunk at least one can of coke per day for several years. I have now cut out all fizzy drinks, juices (unless squeezed from the fruit itself) and alcohol[5].

The impact of this has been significant. It has improved my digestion and acted as an appetite suppressant, helping me to lose weight. What’s more it has been important given the amount of increased physical activity I have engaged in.

Exercise (Or how I became addicted to running)

My wife deserves a lot of credit here. I could not have done any of this without her support and encouragement[6]. She decided that she wanted to be more active and bought a Fitbit. She started out by simply increasing the distance she was walking and I started to join her. As a techy-nerd, I soon decided that I also needed a Fitbit. Without a doubt, the tracking of metrics like steps, distance, calories burned, and sleep played a big part in encouraging me to become more active. Call this a trick if you want, but I would say that it is more to do with attention to detail and setting clear and achievable goals.

I quickly started to add in some jogging and then started playing football on a Friday after work. Encouraged by a colleague I started to frequent the gym at least twice a week and before I knew it the weight was falling off. My routine built up to include strength training and eventually jogging turned to running. And this was the biggest surprise of all. I have always loved getting involved in sport but running was anathema to me. Simply put, Running was boring. I don’t know if it is age or if some primal instinct has been awoken, but running has become my preferred way to keep fit.

Running is serene. I feel ‘one’ with the natural environment. I gain a sense of freedom – freedom from my day to day life; from the stresses of work; where by, after a good half-hour of running, my mind is clear and all that exists is me, the road and a drive to run further and further[7]. I am addicted. There is a lot of debate about the ‘runner’s high’ but all I can say is that there is something close to euphoria that takes over – even when it is pouring rain at 6:00am in the morning and your heart is pounding as you speed into kilometre number ten.

My routine has evolved and is broken down below in to term time and school holidays.

Term Time:

  • Monday: Gym (Upper Body+Cardio)
  • Tuesday: Gym (Legs/Abs+Cardio)
  • Wednesday: Rest Day (Due to meetings)
  • Thursday: Gym (Upper Body/Abs+Cardio)
  • Friday: Football
  • Saturday: Running (6–10k)
  • Sunday: Running (10–15k)

School Holidays:

  • Monday: Running (6–10k)
  • Tuesday: Running (10–15k)
  • Wednesday: Running (Sprints)
  • Thursday: Rest Day
  • Friday: Running (6–10k)
  • Saturday: Running (6–10k)
  • Sunday: Running (10–15k)

I am a work in progress…

My goals for the next 12 months are to lose at least another 20lbs; to complete a half marathon; and further improve my upper-body strength.

Therefore, I will make this my final point. I set goals constantly; long-term and short-term. This has been integral to my success. If you want to lose weight and get fit, set yourself a goal – keep it small and achievable. When you have met it, set another one. The path to success is literally step-by-step.

  1. The tl/dr version.  ↩
  2. I clocked in at 170.8lbs (77.5kg/12,2st) on the day that I am writing this post.  ↩
  3. Usually, granola, yogurt and fruit.  ↩
  4. Fruit (for energy if I am going to the gym) or a snack bar (usually 200 calories or less).  ↩
  5. I am not tee-total but I keep my consumption very low. I have only had a couple of pints of IPA this year, both on holiday in the summer.  ↩
  6. My wife is my biggest cheerleader and has made me go out and run even when all I wanted to do was pull the covers back over my head.  ↩
  7. This is a topic that definitely requires a blog post all of its own.  ↩