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Redemption: From Iron Bars to Ironman By John McAvoy with Mark Turley

Release date: 06th January, 2017
Publisher: Pitch Publishing

List Price: £16.99
Our Price: £11.89
You Save: £5.1 (30%)
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Redemption features one of the best introductions to a sporting title you’re ever likely to read. Within a few paragraphs, you have an empathy with the narrator embarked on a 106 km foot race from London to Brighton after he explains why tackling such distances appeals.

“Endurance sport hinges on pain, which is why it attracts a certain type of athlete,” he says. “You begin an event with your fitness and strength, but you finish it only with stubbornness.”

Around ten miles from the finish, he draws level with a female, number 76, who believes she’s in second place. They run together as she tells him how, while recovering from breast cancer which resulted in a double mastectomy, she realised she had ‘never used her body to the fullest’ and so began running longer and longer distances to achieve ‘frequent inspiration’. She wins, although you feel the narrator was happy to let her.

After such an engaging opening, it’s easy to understand how some people have read Redemption in one sitting because you’re prepared for more of the same, a rare, perhaps profound, insight into ultra-running and how it affects the body and mind. Yet what follows comes as a complete surprise.

Unlike other youngsters, whose first memories might be of playing for the school team, embarking on an epic bike, or some other pivotal moment that paved the way for a life in sport, John McAvoy, the narrator, differentiates himself from the mainstream.

“I’m an Ironman,” he declares. “Ironmen go through hell every time they race…maybe I always liked hell.” His defining youthful moment came in 1999 in a pub car park in Dulwich, south east London, for it was here that he handed over £600 to a man with bad teeth and nicotine-stained fingers in return for a sawn-off shotgun and 20 cartridges.

McAvoy comes from a family steeped primarily in crime. When Uncle Billy is released from prison, the narrative could come straight from an episode of the Sopranos, though Billy is adamant that the family are not gangsters.

This crime-soaked back story creates a compelling dimension to what might be called a ‘standard’ sporting tale and it is not long before John finds himself in prison for armed robbery.

His redemption came in the form of physical exercise, specifically indoor rowing. While in gaol, he broke three indoor world rowing records, including the longest-ever continuous row, an astonishing 45 hours. Upon release, he set his sights on becoming a professional Ironman competitor; following the introduction to this gripping book, few would bet against him achieving success in this toughest of athletic pursuits.

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