Book Review: From Last to First, By Charlie Spedding


  Readers of a certain vintage will know who Charlie Speeding is. His name could in fact have been Charlie Speeding – especially as that is what I typed in the title originally – given his proclivity for running rather fast over long distances. 

This book charts his journey to Olympic bronze medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, the last won by a Briton, and success at London Marathon. His time of 2:08 & change was in fact the English marathon record until 2014 and only Steve Jones (Welshman) was a faster Briton till 2014. 

Charlie ran in a time when the UK was awash with great distance runners. He was competitive in an era of Foster, Jones, and when Ovett, Cram and Coe were trading blows over the mile. In short, he was an exceptionally talented runner in an exceptional period for UK athletics over distance. 

From Last to First tells the story of a boy who wasn’t academically bright or a natural athlete, and as a consequence was 40nd of 42 in the class exam scores and last in the class sports day race. Yet, he used these ‘failures’ as a catalyst to his success. 

He trained hard, despite constant Achilles issues. He was determined, made sacrifices and was single-minded to the point where it probably cost him to lose out financially. He gave up a role in his dad’s business, the heir to the pharmacy, to pursue his running career. 

This is a brilliant read. It is laden with little vignettes and insights, all of which chart his rise to Olympic podium and beyond. It was originally self-published before being picked up by a more mainstream publisher. It’s a testament to the tale of Spedding, and how he weaves it, to see it make this journey. Interestingly however, there is very little of his personal life and it remains strictly ‘professional’ throughout. I also noted a hint of some frostiness between Speeding and some of his competitors of the day, and there didn’t appear to be much affection eschewed upon his rivals. Although, he may well tell you that is as a result of his introversion as opposed to any personality clashes or rivalries. 

Despite having retired many years ago, his story is one worth hearing. Speeding comes across as personable but determined; you will be in no doubt about his ambitions and how he came about them. Also, he closes off with some interesting views and analysis on UK distance running today. Some of which I heartily agree with, and some I vehemently disagree with. Yet the arguments and points are well constructed and therefore worth considering. 

On a personal level, I really took his 3-point mantra of 1) what do I want, 2) why do I want it and 3) how much do I want it, from the book. I will be using this as I plan my own goals for 2016 and stories like Charlie’s are certainly inspiring. 

I was taken by this book, especially after the ennui of Natural Born Heroes, and would heartily recommend it for any runner, and especially marathoners who remember the 1980s. I just about do… 

8/10

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