Charlie Spedding’s brilliant autobiography is a window into the thinking of someone who pushed himself to outstanding results against the odds.
I’ve read a lot of running books, but this latest read is now undoubtedly one of my absolute favourites. It is thoughtful, witty and well written. It explores the role self-perception and psychology can play in translating hard work through to positive results. But this isn’t some cheesy self-help manual: it is the real story of how a man of utterly humble origins and unpromising beginnings reached the Olympic podium.
“The straight line between talent and performance can be bent downwards by circumstances. I believe that if you can bend it down on a bad day, you can also bend it up. I believe that on occasions you can create the circumstances in which you can perform at a higher level than your talent says you can. This is one of the beauties of sport. This is what makes the outcome of every event uncertain. This is what gives the underdog his hopes and dreams. This is why sport brings passion and excitement into our lives.”
The Thinking of An Olympic Medallist
The opening chapter narrates Spedding’s race experience in the Los Angeles Olympic marathon, where he won the bronze medal. It is one of the best race accounts I have ever read – brilliant storytelling conveys the excitement and tension without skimming over the details that bring it to life and deliver a sense of the sheer guts, pain and determination the race demanded.
But the most fascinating aspect of the account is Spedding’s psychology. He explains how he controlled his nerves before the race, how he dealt with the sense of intimidation he felt when faced by the athletic prowess of world-class runners in the call room, and how he composed himself. He also describes his thinking process throughout the different stages of the race, introducing and emphasising his belief that psychology is the most important aspect of race performance – a belief which he goes on to unpick and explore throughout the book.
Enlightenment Over a Beer
Chapter 6, “Beer Drinker’s Guide to Sports Psychology” describes a pivotal moment in his running career when, sitting in a pub, he had the runner’s equivalent of a Road to Damascus moment. He resolved to think differently, and use this thinking to propel himself to success. He uses the simple questions:
- What do I want?
- Why do I want it?
- How much do I want it?
He decided that if he was to be successful in any race, he would have to be able to provide clear and compelling answers to these questions; answers which stemmed from his own motivation rather than anyone else’s.
The Rise of the Underdog
The book covers Charlie Spedding’s story from a childhood of unpromising experiences, such as being ranked 40th/41st in a class of 42, and being very poor at ball sports due to poor eyesight. It is a tale of overcoming the sense of inadequacy embedded by these early experiences.
Spedding’s career was pock-marked with ups and down, and riddled with injury. He had constant physical issues, including serious problems with his Achilles requiring surgery during his peak running years. He seemed unable to string together consistent training periods in any sustained way without injury interruption. Yet despite this, his ability to harness psychology and understand how to peak both mentally and physically for a major race allowed him to deliver unexpectedly brilliant performances at the perfect time – including in two Olympics and to win the London Marathon.
This is a great read. It is funny, engaging, insightful and gives cause for self-examination. It contains ideas that explore motivation far beyond the confines of running.
This book is available in The Flying Runner bookshop.
Click here to find it.