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Neil Featherby: Looking for inspiration? Read how the runners of yesteryear achieved greatness

Reading books can provide inspiration for any runner. Picture: Neil Featherby

Reading books can provide inspiration for any runner. Picture: Neil Featherby

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Christmas is so very much on people’s agenda but it also offers the chance to look back on not only another year, but lots of Christmases past and what has gone many years before.

Reading books can provide inspiration for any runner. Picture: Neil FeatherbyReading books can provide inspiration for any runner. Picture: Neil Featherby

I used to always wonder why older people would get emotional about such thoughts, but of course as I am now an older person myself, I get it.

Anyway, whilst Christmas is very much a time for giving, needless to say we also receive.

In the past, receiving for me meant lots of new running kit and reading material.

I love reading and even in today's age where you can find just about anything online, I still love receiving a good book especially if it's another autobiography.

Runners will be out in force for the the Boxing Day Hare & Hounds XC run. Picture: Neil FeatherbyRunners will be out in force for the the Boxing Day Hare & Hounds XC run. Picture: Neil Featherby

As it happens, I have a huge library for which this week I have been looking through all the many running books I have collected over the years.

Whilst there is so much information available to us at the click of a finger these days, some of the books which I have of past running greats is absolutely invaluable as far as I am concerned and for a number of very good reasons why too.

Reading about how these legends of yesteryear got to the top of their game such as the likes of Ron Hill, Jim Alder, Brendon Foster and even Jim Peters who goes back even further, kept me absolutely absorbed to such a level I would almost feel like I was there with them.

As for inspiration and motivation as mentioned in my column last week, it is more often than not a quick visit to my bookshelves when I have needed that little bit extra oomph to get me going and while I have always been fascinated by people be it past or present who have made it to the top of their sport, it is very much my heroes of the past which really fires my imagination the most.

Not only reading about how they trained and raced, but how they grew from childhood into adulthood and what gave them the gritty determination to push themselves to the limit to achieve their aims.

I am not saying people of today don't have the same drive because they do, but I think it is fair to say that whilst we all know achieving success requires a high degree of input through hard work and dedication, certain things are much more readily available nowadays than they were back then, particularly when it comes to technology.

Take today's sports watches for instance which not only have features that can monitor all aspects of our training, but also our daily life throughout out each hour of a 24 hour a day including while we are asleep.

Apart from a casio or timex sportswatch back in the day, that was about as good as it got.

I regularly use the word mindset, but sometimes I do think we might have a little too much information to hand these days.

Whilst I know that sounds daft, whereas in the past you just had to get on with it and focus on the job in hand, I am amazed at how often I speak to people who tell me how concerned they are that it all went wrong because they had not got their diet spot on before a race, or consumed enough gels during a marathon and of course worrying that their shoes aren't as technical as someone else's (referring to another column of mine).

Back in the day, you knew what to eat, you didn't have gels and if anything you were very lucky if an electrolyte drink was available during a marathon.

As for shoes, even in the late 1970s when technology was first introduced to footwear, it was still pretty basic by today's standards.

At the end of the day there are no magic wands and it will always come down to covering the basics first and foremost whilst also being prepared to giving it your all if you want to achieve your very best results.

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Therefore and for anyone who might be looking for a best ever year in 2020, then I really can highly recommend seeking out some brilliant reading from some of the past greats. It might just give you a completely new fresh outlook to kick start the new year too.

Just don't ask to borrow my copies as I never get them back.

Lastly, this time of year also means for me another Boxing Day Hare & Hounds X/C Charity Run where of course I am the Hare and the runners all in fancy dress have to follow a trail I leave behind me.

As always they can guarantee that they are going to get covered in mud and absolutely soaked whilst running a distance of between eight and nine miles weighted down by their costumes. It is always good fun and staying on the theme of Christmas being a time for giving, this event is now in its 18th year and will of course once again be raising a lot of money for my favourite animal charities and organisations whilst also lending support to Nelson's Journey and one or two other very good local causes.

Happy Christmas and good running (and reading) to everyone.

My top running autobiographies/biographies

1. Ron Hill - The Long Hard Road Part One. Nearly To The Top

2. Jim Peters - In The Long Run

3. John Tarrant - The Ghost Runner

4. Emil Zatopek - Today We Die A Little

5. Jim Alder - Marathon and Chips

6. Ron Hill - The Long Hard Road Part Two. To The Peak and Beyond

7. Ron Daws - The Self Made Olympian

8. Lasse Viren - Olympic Champion

9. Brendon Foster - Biography

10. Steve Ovett - An Autobiography

11. Sebastian Coe - Running Free

12. Buddy Edelen - A Cold Clear Day

Bonus Book - Peter Duhig - The Prince of Pace. An awesome read and whilst he did not reach the heady heights of the above names, Pete is a very well known Norfolk athlete who not only proved that we can all push ourselves to a higher level as a runner, but if we are truly prepared to give it our best shot, then we can all achieve far much more in life than sometimes we think we can.


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