I am of an age to understand at once who the Émile referred to in this book could be, a legend.
The book is a romanticised biography of Émile Zatopek, beginning before the war following his family situation where his father does not believe in sport, they are too poor and have too many mouths to fill to waste calories on sport. Through to his job working on the rubber soles in a shoe factory (a disgustingly smelly job that could not have helped his breathing).
He begins running but does not enjoy it and tries to avoid it but is just too good carrying out his whole career from within the army. Echenoz takes us through his very particular training methods for the time (a long distance runner who exceptionally ran using regular pace changes during his races to break down the resilience of his opponents) and explains to us the particular lack of beauty of his running style. Zatopek at one time holds 11 distinct world records and becomes a propaganda figure in the small post war communist regime in Czechoslovakia
His rapid rise and his slow decline are followed as well as an attempt to illustrate the changing political situation of the time.
If you are interested in the illustrated life of Zatopek ok but otherwise there are other books out there.
First published in French as Courir by Les Editions de Minuit in 2008
Translated into English by Linda Coverdale as Running and published by The New Press in 2009