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From Last to First: A long-distance runner's journey from failure to success

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We got changed at the Coatsworth Road Junior School," recalled Charlie. "There were no showers when you came in sweaty from a 10-mile run, only washbasins which were about a foot off the floor and tiny. And only cold water. We weren't pampered in those days, I can tell you! And governments worry about nothing except getting and keeping power – which entails seeking the goodwill of huge corporations and the rich. Those baying for the blood of Boris and Cummings are similarly missing Charlie’s point. The Cummings incident (which I think was more about the GSK vaccine contract than any of the obvious lies he smirked his way through) has been a very convenient smokescreen – even down to the timing of its disclosure.

Bristol staged the World Half Marathon Championships two years ago and they were a great success. However, last year was a damp squib and, in an effort to create more interest and publicity, the organisers decided to bring in eight former stars to run their own race within the body of the main event. What came across to me, during the talk, was that not only that Charlie is a gifted runner he is intelligent and incredibly mentally strong. To not have made it on the international stage by the age of 28 and have the belief that you can be a world beater shows determination. All runners get prerace nerves and Charlie was no exception, but what marked him out was his ability to turn such butterflies into galloping horses. Citing the ’84 Olympic marathon, warming up Charlie observed and took in all the great runners swarming around; Rob de Castella, Alberto Salazar, Carlos Lopes, Takeshi So, Juma Ikangaa, Rod Dixon to name a few in what was the greatest ever assembled marathon field, but instead of withering he turned it into a powerful positive, realising that he was only 1 race away from achieving a dream, only 1 good race to gain what so few will get their hands on, an Olympic medal. When I asked at the end of the talk if he considered his mental strength a key advantage over his rivals, without a moment’s hesitation he answered, “yes”. It was something I certainly took away from the talk as it’s not easy to change but having been crippled by nerves, to the point of not even starting races, as a kid I am much the stronger for now realising all the fun of competing that I missed out on. Number of deaths ascribed to C-19 continue to decline to trivial levels compared to normal daily deaths, but the word has gone out to the media to keep that positive information as quiet as possible.

Brendan Foster and Charlie Spedding on the impact Dunn had on their lives and the wider sport following the coaching legend’s death aged 77

I've often wished I was a bit fitter and now I have an incentive. I'm actually getting out more often because I have the motivation." However, I suggested to Charlie that winning an unexpected Olympic medal must have had considerable spin-off effects. The year was 1975 and Charlie was only 23 with, as he puts it, "no evidence of what was to come" - but nine years later he stood on the Olympic medal rostrum.

We had to put our winnings in a trust fund for when we retired," explained Spedding. "If we wanted to dip into it we had to satisfy the trustees that everything was pukka.Which is also why Magee’s commentary – recalling Ireland’s 12 previous Olympic medal winners in the time it took Treacy to run the final 100 metres – was so magnificent: he did realise, about a mile from the finish, that Treacy was going to medal, unless he collapsed, and yet his astonishing display of sporting memory took Treacy’s achievement straight into the sporting pantheon where it belonged. London 2012 was a massive achievement for me and he was really pleased but I think he was just as excited to see a record in the national road relays or something like that.”

Whereas a most acceptable amount of money had been gathered in by Spedding at Houston and London the return in Los Angeles wasn't to be gauged by cash. When you receive an Oscar a pay cheque doesn't go with it. So, yes, the official dietary gudelines are atrocious, yes Boris is a lying buffoon, yes Cummings is an evil anarchist. But Vallance is the one to watch right this moment. I don’t think he needs to go because he’s incompetent. He needs to go because, I suspect, he’s doing it very well. Whereas proper nutrition is the most important single requirement for health, governments and corporations – aided by universities and scientists – have been grossly misinforming people for 60-70 years, telling them to avoid healthy foods and consume unhealthy ones. However, I didn't want to come last yet again so I gave it a real go. I didn't win - but I finished second or third and thought: `Hey, this is for me.' I was good at something." Charlie Spedding is a mild mannered grandfather who immediately strikes the reader as a grown-up who should be heeded, one with no vestedinterestbeyond aphilanthropic desire to seek after truth. (Though as reviewer I should perhaps declare my own interest as a farmer). He is a retired chemist who has spent a lifetime atthe coalface of the health service dispensing advice and drugs to patients in a community pharmacy. And in his youth he was a top athlete. In the golden era of long distance runners from the NorthEast, Durham based Spedding was up there with Brendan Foster and Steve Cram. In 1984 he won the London Marathon and an OlympicBronze Medal. The deduction isthat he might just know a tad more about nutrition than the host of writers with PhDs in the subject, particularly as – crucially – he is immune to the groupthink spawned by the peer review system and the funding of research. He says his motivation to take early retirement and write the book was triggered by a recognition that he had been a pawn of Big Pharma, selling drugs to patients who weren’t going to get better because they were being advised to eat the wrong things.

It was 1985, in London. Spedding and world record-holder Steve Jones were side by side, clear of the field. Jones (now 54) who ran yesterday in New York, told Spedding he needed to answer a call of nature. “What should I do?” Presumably, the overhead helicopter made matters rather public. I really began hurting and was awfully tired. But this was the Olympics. I ran with caution in Houston and London, testing myself over strange territory, but in the Olympics you have one shot and give it everything. Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; etal. "Charlie Spedding". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 4 December 2016. As well as the enthralling life story of one of our finest distance runners, this book is a wonderfully clear and inspiring piece of life coaching for anyone who wants to make the most of their talents. But more than this, as Spedding says at the start, ‘I believe that on occasions you can create the circumstances in which you can perform at a higher level than your talent says you can’. Spedding’s own story, and his chronicle of the big races he excelled in, proves it’s true.

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