Book review: Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley
‘Runners don’t do it for their bodies, but for their minds,’ says Alexandra Heminsley… and she should know!
Defeated by soulless gyms, bored with sanctimonious yoga teachers and intimidated by glossy tennis clubs in her efforts to keep fit and sane, the intrepid thirty-something journalist and broadcaster decided she was going to run.
Her first attempt to circumnavigate the block near her London home via an embarrassing mishmash of running and walking did not end well but six years later, she has completed five marathons on two continents and never looked back.
Well, not until now… armed with experience of all the pain and the gain, she has decided to give other aspiring runners – and those who falsely believe they are predestined to forever be a potato couch – the will to get out there and give it a go.
And as she so successfully proves, this charming, funny, brutally honest and inspiring book is not a mission to persuade us all that we should run but quite simply that we can.
By her own admission, Heminsley was a ‘curvy girl’ with little or no competitive spirit who dutifully went to the gym but could never fall in love with exercise. For her, running was about ambition, self-belief and the search for fulfilment – pushing herself that bit further not just to improve her figure and fitness but to enhance how she lived her life.
She doesn’t promise an easy ride, admitting early in the book that ‘Running is awful. It feels unnatural, unnecessary, painful. It can hijack you with breathlessness, cripple you with panic and overwhelm you with self-consciousness. It’s cold and hard and unforgiving.’
But it also brings wonderful rewards and as her dad wisely says, you run with your head as much as with your legs.
After years of suffering crippling depression, weeping bouts and erratic sleep, Heminsley discovered that ‘a good run has a magical ability to unravel a knotty problem that has been vexing you for days.’ It offers the pleasure of being outside on a sunny day or feeling your body temperature rise despite the crisp winter breeze.
So although this is ostensibly a book about running, in reality it’s not just about running. It’s about relationships, self-discipline (getting out of bed on a rainy Sunday morning), enjoying not feeling trapped in an overweight body and feeling lighter of spirit (as if someone has popped in your head ‘and run a duster around it.’)
It’s also about Rudyard Kipling’s two imposters… triumph and disaster, the determination to try and exceed your expectations, and the strength to accept that sometimes you might not.
Wry, entertaining, high on emotion and with an eminently practical section on everything from buying the right bra to exchanges with intimidating staff in sports shops, this is just the book to inspire you to put on your running shoes or simply take a brisk walk round the park.
Either way, it could be the start of a new you for a new year…
(Windmill Books, paperback, £8.99)