Don’t Stop Me Now by Vassos Alexander – Review
Don’t Stop Me Now by Vassos Alexander
by Nigel Armitage
Regular listeners of the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 will know its sports presenter, Vassos Alexander. They will also know something of Vassos’s love of running and his ability to inspire others to athletic feats that they did not think possible, including Chris Evans himself. “Just being in the same studio for three hours a day, five days a week, forty weeks a year had been enough for him to infect me with energy, purpose and a goal that would change my life more profoundly and positively than anything I have ever done before,” says Chris in the book’s Foreword.
Don’t Stop Me Now is the story of how Vassos fell in love with running; from his unpromising starting point as an overweight, heavy-drinking, smoker with a moderate Frazzles addiction to a regular high-achieving marathon runner and participant in some of the world’s toughest ultra distance challenges.
Although the book’s witty and engaging style will appeal to those already aware of running’s transformative potential, there’s no doubt that Vassos’s real target audience are those of the ‘can’t run, won’t run’ persuasion. Much like the considerable amount of blood, sweat and tears involved in his personal running journey, his enthusiasm drips from every page, and it would be a couch potato of the utmost starchiness indeed to read this book and remain unmoved.
“An appreciation of running’s ability to enrich both his life and the lives of his wife and children”
If Vassos’s love of running is communicated more than anything else in this book, the next thing is his capability – no, his total proficiency – in suffering for his love. The book’s first line: “My body is at war with itself” sets the tone and the reader will go on to share, in sometimes excruciating detail, the depths of Vassos’s commitment to his life’s passion. Prefacing each of the 26.2 chapters is a ‘running’ mile by mile commentary of his agonising progress towards completing the final discipline of his first Ironman Triathlon. At the half-way stage, it is impossible to imagine him succeeding in his extreme endeavour: “13.1 miles complete. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? Actually, who am I kidding? That was brutal. Beyond brutal. And this is only half-way. Which means I’ve got it all to do over again.”
Vassos is not sparing of the potential of running to turn you inside out and back again, but he is also eloquent on running’s huge physical and psychological rewards. It is an activity whose power lies in its simplicity and Vassos conveys this idea by means of a number of insightful anecdotes. As his experience and confidence grows, so too does his appreciation of running’s ability to enrich both his life and the lives of his wife and children. “I sometimes wonder what my life would be like without [running]. Simultaneously less strenuous but more stressful. And worse. Definitely worse.”
“A journey towards happiness and contentment”
Each chapter finishes with a contribution from various notable individuals; some known for running, others known for other endeavours but whose lives have been similarly enriched by running. But it is in the words of the poet Wendy Cope that Vassos finds a fitting expression of running’s true worth:
“She’s talking about an enormous orange, but it may as well have been running:
‘And that… made me happy,
As ordinary things often do
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.’”
In Don’t Stop Me Now, Vassos Alexander documents this realisation of a journey towards happiness and contentment. It is his laudable and heartfelt hope that the reader will also be inspired to take the first few steps on a journey to a similar destination.
‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Vassos Alexander is published by Bloomsbury, £8.99 paperback/eBook