There are a lot of books I’m supposed to be reading: library books and NetGalley queue, to name two sources. I also needed to buy a new book like I needed a hole in the head, but then the London Marathon came around, a conversation bubbled up on The Runners’ Bookshelf and I fell into this book. Liz had the privilege of reading it while en route to London to spectate

Michael McEwan’s Running the Smoke

What an amazing read.

I think what I loved about this book falls into two tracks: that it was a collection of runners’ stories rather than one runner’s story of his/her London training & race and that those featured ran the gamut from world class runners and athletes in other sports to every day people who found meaningful reasons to run the London Marathon. While the elites are always amazing, I can definitely relate more to the everyday runners.

I can’t even begin to pick a favorite as these were all amazing, but the ones that resonated with me the most were:

  • Dick Beardsley & Inge Simonsen’s finish line sportsmanship after running a very close race. Neither man should have lost, and neither did. I think it particularly resonated with me due to Desi Linden & Shalane Flanagan’s sportsmanship in Boston last week.
  • Claude Umuhire’s stories of survival were amazing. The Rwandan genocide is one of those news events that I remember watching unfold on the news and like Sarajevo, it comes back to me when reading. His subsequent struggles with homelessness were just heartbreaking, yet he and the other 25 runners featured here really fought to overcome their challenges.
  • Similarly, I’m in awe of how Jo-ann Ellis and Kannan Ganga ran in memory of their son and partner, respectively, after each passed away due to cancer.  It’s one thing to run with artificial limbs as Jamie Andrew did after his mountaineering accident, but another to run with such a large and fresh hole in the heart. But what a way to honor those gone
  • I loved the sillies, from Lloyd Scott’s deep-sea diving suit to John Farnworth’s football free styling. Not everyone needs a Reason to run, and this was a nice counter to some of the heartbreaking stories that McEwan told so well.
  • 7/7 survivor Jill Tyrrell was perhaps the perfect culmination. Like 9/11 (and later Boston in 2013), 7/7 defined London not in it being a victim of an attack, but for its resiliency. For Tyrrell personally, but all of these runners overcame something, or many somethings to survive and thrive. Almost fitting that Tyrrell and other 7/7 victims were among the first adults treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital since the Blitz, another time London had been under siege.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Although I know that “fancy dress” means costume, my mental picture of these runners was still in a fancy dress, even men running in deep-sea diving suits. Now that would be a sight.
  • I love that these were all edited together in one “voice” and style. One of my pet peeves about International/US editions of books is when they don’t stick in one format. Either do pounds/kilos/stone and color/colour. Don’t mix and match, it’s too confusing and jarring. I have more patience for distances varying as those do even in one country.
  • For whatever reason, I always interpreted “fell pregnant” to mean an accidental pregnancy. It took me a few stories to read it’s the same as US English’s “got pregnant” yet seems so much more elegant.

A really wonderful book, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend whether or not you have any interest in running in general, or the London Marathon specifically. It’s not exactly a guide to London in the same way Liz Robbins’ A Race Like No Other is to NYC, but it certainly feeds the travel itch.

I’m going to regret asking this due to the size of Mt. TBR, but what other running reads have you enjoyed? If you’re looking for further recommendations, Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home’s Book Club and The Runners’ Bookshelf never let me down.

5 thoughts on “Review: Michael McEwan’s Running the Smoke”

  1. I feel like I commented on this post but I don’t see it here. Great review, and I will add it to my huge to-read list! Do we follow each other on Goodreads?

    And thanks for the shout out!

    1. I don’t think we do, going to try to find you.
      I think maybe we had a chat about it when Liz & I posted to the FB group. Definitely recommend the book. It’s probably a two-seat read, I just didn’t quite have the chance last weekend.

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