Most of the running books I’ve read have looked into the world of the elite. I’ve read about insane ultrarunners, for instance, learned of legends like Emile Zátopek, and have heard all about the intense natural ability of Kenyan marathon runners. It’s always nice to get a different perspective though, hence the enduring appeal of Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – a highly introspective reflection on one man’s recreational running journey.
Your Pace or Mine? is once again a different perspective, but whereas Murakami’s book focused inwards, Lisa Jackson is more focused on looking out. To paraphrase her, to her mind, running is less about ‘me time’ and more about ‘we time.’
The book is about lessons. What has running taught Lisa about life? She is no elite level athlete in terms of pace, no, she is unashamedly a back-of-the-pack runner with a taste for fancy dress over fast feet, but having started marathon running at 31 she quickly caught the bug and has tucked plenty of world class races (as of checking her Twitter account today, she lays claim to 110 completed marathons) under her hydration belt.
The reason why I picked up Lisa’s book is perspective. As a club runner I am reasonably competitive (or I would be, if there were any races to compete in) and push myself in training to my physical limits. I am, depending on the race, someone who wants to be pretty far forwards in the pack. Lisa doesn’t really want that, and I thought that it would be interesting to get some fresh perspective on my sport of choice.
By keeping her pace slower, Lisa finds herself surrounded by interesting strangers, chatting, swapping stories, and finding (and delivering) inspiration. Long distance running is a very accessible sport, hence why it is done by people of all colours, creeds, and cultures, around the world. Amongst those people, across all levels, everyone has a different reason to run. Lisa’s is other people – her mum, her aunty, and maverick marathoner Katherine Switzer, for example.
Each chapter focuses on a different lesson. Lisa first lays out her stories in a detailed and humorous fashion and then, after that, she leaves the floor open for anecdotes from her running friends from around the world. This demonstrates the underlying thesis of the book: that running is a community event. Lisa references a term, Ubuntu, a Zulu phrase most famously used by Nelson Mandela, which can be translated to humanity, or I am because we are, or humanity towards others. By opening up her book to all those who she has met and been touched by through running, it becomes an example of what she believes running is: an act of community, and of togetherness.
In a particularly touching moment, in a chapter on what running has taught her about death, we hear from Colleen, a woman sharing what she has learnt, not about someone else’s death through running, but how it helped her come to terms with her own terminal illness. It is a tender, powerful, and touching moment that goes far in proving the power of such an accessible, simple sport.
Without being too dramatic (okay, a little dramatic) this book serves an always timely reminder that running can help us come to terms with ourselves, with others, with life, and with death.