Andy Blackford, now a middle-aged advertising executive, was a guitarist in Genesis's support band when he was advised to give up smoking and keep fit - otherwise he would die. Having been voted the man least likely to reach 30 when he was at Oxford, he decided at 29 that running was the answer even though he'd come in second-to-last in the annual cross country race the last time he had done any running, saved only from the ultimate humiliation by a classmate with rickets. Yet he persevered, jogging nightly around London's squalid South Circular Road in a pair of exhausted Green Flash plimsolls. A year later, he was persuaded to enter the Hambledon Hill Race in Dorset, which involved a near-vertical ascent of an Iron Age fort after two compulsory pints of scrumpy. He came last, slightly rupturing a lung. But the seed was sown. Andy ran his first marathon within the year, knocking out a respectable 3hrs 30mins over a hilly 26 mile course. At the finish, he had to be stretchered to a swimming pool and unlocked by a physiotherapist. Running on Empty is the story of one man's devotion to a sport for which he had no natural aptitude whatsoever.
It is chiselled out in twenty years of anecdotal columns commissioned by Runner's World magazine, recording his battles with injury, his experiments with diets and equipment, and his participation in lunatic events that have had him running up the Himalayas, across the Sahara, onto the Greenland ice-cap and through the Amazonian rainforest. Andy has inspired two generations of runners, many of whom have followed his example in accepting hugely-serious challenges without ever taking them too seriously.