Serpie Book Club He Said, She Said

Illustration credit: Grace Sim (

The first rule of Serpie book club: no running accounts. Can that be right? David and Kristin give us.....contrasting perceptions.

He said…

Talk about being sold a pup. I was expecting a bunch of guys to show up to regale us with fascinating narratives of how even their recovery runs are at 6.15 minutes per mile, or how they had worked out that a gel every 23.7 minutes rather than every 22.4 was the best way to eke them out. Maybe a token lass would show up, going on about how her self-esteem had increased since powering sub 60 minutes for a 10km, and that her lacrosse mistress at Oundle had never given her the slightest inkling she had this talent (guys yawn, gaze intensely at the craft beer label), but it hadn’t come easy, what with training every Tuesday and Sunday, except when it was raining or hot (guys scroll down footie scores on iphone, although they hate footie) or when it clashed with a cake icing workshop (guys throw themselves out of the window, even though a Met League is just days away and one of them is up for winning a £35 shoe voucher if he places top 20).

Then we would read a book about men’s running, or maybe, to avoid being too narrow minded, male triathlon or men’s cycling, and give it a score out of 10, avoiding 9s or 10s because that looked a bit gushing. Then on to the meat of the evening – a structured insightful prediction of Southern Relay results, perhaps tagging on the National as some AOB.

But, sadly, it wasn’t like this. Firstly, I was the only bloke. And the whole evening passed with some sort of implicit assumption that you could be interesting and fulfilled with quite slow PBs. It was quite insulting really, and with all the dronings on about characterisation and time shifts it was actually quite hard to mention my 71 minute half marathon more than a cursory three or four times. Some misguided lady actress seemed to spend her evenings watching plays. Poor lass, someone should tell her that the TH in the training template is for Threshold, not effing theatre.

We had to read a Nigerian book, set in 1996 and actually mentioning the Nigerian long jumper who got Olympic gold in Atlanta, and yet NO-ONE apart from me picked this up, but instead banged on about the major civil unrest, which was apparently big global news at the time. Not on the Athletics Weekly results pages it wasn’t. I skipped most of the plot really; the absence of the actual distance in the long jump took away any respect I had for the authorial eye for detail. And Nigeria. We are an endurance club right? Nigeria just doesn’t do anything over 400 metres.

The other book club members were also quite rude. At the end of the evening I did an air punch and said ‘Yay, we pissed on Shaftesbury and Woodford Green’ and they looked at me as if I was weird. However I am persevering, certain that soon we will all be revelling in that aerobic classic Finnish* Running Legends of the 1970s. (*Men’s)


She said…

The Kristin Duffy Checklist – Goals for Joining a Running Club:

  1. Stay fit and healthy
  2. Work toward PBs across running distances
  3. Make new friends
  4. Maybe coach some spinning classes?
  5. Help to start a book club that does not discuss running books

OK, maybe numbers four and five aren’t on everyone’s ‘joining a running club’ checklist, but I warned you that this was Kristin Duffy’s checklist. And fortunately for me, there are others who like coming to spin class, but more importantly, others who like reading books and talking about them over a glass of wine. And so began the Serpentine Book Club.

After a round of emails determining available evenings and locations, our very first book club meeting was held in the Serpentine meeting room, with five in attendance, discussing The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma. I should mention here that the first rule of book club is that you do not talk about book club… no, wait, that’s Fight Club. The first rule of book club is that we read literary fiction: no running accounts, no fluffy romance.

The discussion was lively, plenty of wine and crisps were consumed (it was a Serpie-born event, after all) and we decided to continue, with a second meeting to follow at fellow book club founder Xi Zou’s flat.

But still, book club? We’re a running club!

In the spirit of our second book choice, Rules of Civility, allow me to visit the past for a moment and, in doing so, share why I love a book club and why I thought it could work for a running club.

Years ago, when I moved to New York, I wanted to make some new friends (see checklist #3). As I had yet to run a step by choice in my life, I looked to my first love. Books. I joined a book club that met at a bookstore in Union Square and was introduced to a fascinating group of people, most of whom I was unlikely to have met through other means. They ranged in age from early 20s (me, the youngest in the group by a couple of decades) to some in their mid-80s. Regardless of differences in age, gender, background and education, we shared our love of books and discussed both the stories they told and the affect that they had on us.

Fast-forward a few years, my book club had disbanded and I was forced, against my will, to discover the joys of running (and soon after, triathlon). As it turned out, it was another way that I found new friends, of all backgrounds, who shared a common love…

Now I’m no Venn diagram expert, but when Xi and I talked about the book club idea, I was fairly certain that if we drew one, there would be an overlap between running club members and people who like both reading and talking about books. And fortunately, there is. A Kristin Duffy checklist sweet spot!

So if you’re one of us, the Serpentine reader-runners of the world, send me an email ( and we’ll keep you posted about our next choice of book and meeting location/date. Members of the male persuasion are especially welcome so that poor David Chalfen can stop talking to himself about some fast half-marathon he ran once upon a time or something? I’m not really sure what he was on about – I was too busy discussing amazing books.

Kristin Duffy is best known to most Serpies as the regular Wednesday spin teacher (though after some of her classes, she’s been called a few expletives as well). Despite coaching triathletes to go fast and train hard, she once skipped a training session to finish a good book.

David Chalfen has been running and coaching for too many years, and has harboured cultural pretentions every since he received Dylan´s Desire (we share birthdays, though not face to face) as a Bar Mitzvah present.

Grace Sim did the illustration for this article. Go and see her artwork in person - she has an Open Art Studio event in Oxfordshire in May, 13th-21st. See her website (link below) for more details.