Paul Tonkinson’s 26.2 Miles to Happiness: A Comedian’s Tale of Running, Red Wine, and Redemption has quickly ascended towards the top of my running book podium.
It is, admittedly, a relatively small pile, as reading about running is still a newer habit of mine but, nevertheless, it is very good.
Although that pile is small, it is mighty. I’ve talked about some of the greats on this site already. Tonkinson’s book may not be quite as desperately inward facing as Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, nor does it seek to change the running landscape like Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, but it is an insightful read for runners of all abilities and ambitions and, more importantly, it is a whole lot of fun to read.
Structured around Tonkinson’s sub-3 hour attempt at the London Marathon, the book is a journey (aren’t they all?) firstly in the physical sense, sure, but also emotionally, and perhaps you might say, if you were so inclined, spiritually. That perhaps suggests a kind of pretentious worthiness which is not on display in the writing, but running is a multi-faceted journey of sorts. It is a test of spirit, heart, and grit, more so than it is about VO2 max, and anaerobic thresholds. Running is a journey which takes you out of the door, around the block, and back to your door again but also, in the grander scheme of Things, the habit of running when looked at as whole represents a journey on a broader scale, perhaps not in terms of location, but in terms of our development, in terms of history, and in terms of character.
That is what this book is. A running journey, A Tale, as it is put in the title, of Running, Red Wine, and Redemption.
Tonkinson is a comedian who has slipped betwixt the ears of many a runner, including myself, through the Running Commentary podcast which he hosts with his pal and fellow comedian Rob Deering. If you aren’t familiar with the show it features the two comedians running and chatting (at the same time) for our listening pleasure. It is the perfect companion for a solo run meant to be managed at that somewhat elusive “conversational” pace. Often the talk is rather casual, just a catch up, other times they talk training, and then, sometimes, it can all turn rather existential.
It is, in all, a good old time and, like the book, I recommend it.
Tonkinson’s is a seasoned runner, aiming for sub-3 at London. A good runner, but not a pro. He doesn’t break down his training into little crumbs of data for us hungry little tech pigeons to peck at, no, he is just a guy who really likes running, has liked it for a long time, and is rather excellent when it comes to writing about it. I particularly enjoy his penchant for slightly over-doing it in his descriptions of the highs and lows of a run.
Take, for example, this snippet about the joy which comes at the end of a tough run:
“To run for ever would be sweaty purgatory; to never run at all would be unimaginable hell; but to stop running after running is a heavenly stillness, a celestial cessation of self-inflicted torment, a sensational stasis.”
A bit much, yes, but at the same time…is that not exactly how it feels when you’re in it? Yes, yes it’s a joke but you know, it’s funny because it’s true. Running is one of the most dramatically awful/joyous activities that we continuously return to.
Why do we do it?
It’s a question we hear from those who don’t understand why we’d subject ourselves to such frequent misery, and also it’s a question that, from time to time, we ask ourselves. Throughout the book Tonkinson addresses that question, and explores the complicated nature of the answers in a manner which is extremely funny, and genuinely profound.
And once drawn into Tonkinson’s reflections you may start to have some small revelations of your own.
Where did it all start?
What keeps you doing it? Day after day after day after…
Why does it feels so good?
Why does it feel so bad?
And, where, when all is said and done, do you want running to take you?
The book doesn’t have the answers. It’s not about your journey. But it might just serve as inspiration for a healthy dose of self-reflection, and an increased appreciation for a gruelling, wonderful, simple, sport.