“If it is only after that we understand what has come before, then we understand nothing,” says one of the fundamental quotes in my favourite work of fantasy “The Darkness That Comes Before” written by R. Scott Bakker.
In an Age of Regression for Western distance running, we could thus do worse than dig up the old books of the golden generations of the 60s, 70s and early 80s in order to understand them before it’s too late to be any use of to us. The tide has already turned after the dismal year of 2000 when no American runner reached the “A” standard of 2:14 for Olympic qualification for the marathon.
So today’s “Talking Books” will give an overview of some of the great books you can read from the age when a band of runners from Europe, Oceania and North-America ruled the world. I’ve already touched on a few that are still easily available in previous instalments: “Arthur Lydiard – Master Coach”, “The Perfect Distance” and “From Last to First” the story of Charlie Spedding, the English record holder for the marathon (his time of 2:08:33 set in 1985 has stood for 25 years).
Below are the books currently on my wish-list.
50s and before…
- The Lonely Breed: A lively compilation of biographical vignettes on 21 runners from Newton and Nurmi to Lindgren and Snell. Retails for around 57 euros
- Why Die? The extraordinary Percy Cerutty, maker of champions: “Australia’s most enigmatic, pioneering and controversial athletics coach,” coached greats such as Herb Elliott and John Landy. Currently sells at around 516 eur!
- No Drums, No Bugles: The biography of Lydiard’s greatest athlete triple-gold medalist Peter Snell. Retails around 77 euros
- A clean pair of heels – The Murray Halberg Story: Peter Snell’s compatriot who excelled at the slightly longer distances. Not currently available.
- The Unforgiving Minute: With seventeen world records to his name the great Australian Ron Clarke has something to write about. Retails around 140 euros
- A Cold Clear Day: An essential read for marathoners is this tale of the first man to break 2:15, the late Leonard Edelen. Retails on Amazon for as little as 9 euros in it’s republished 2000 version
- The Four Minute Mile: Even if Bannister’s training methods don’t impress, tracking the quest for the 4-minute mile sounds enticing. 50th anniversary edition retails at 8 euros.
- Gerry Lindgren’s Book on Running: “Gerry Lindgren takes readers through the growth process in distance running, from the back of the pack wimp to one of the world’s best.” (amazon.com). Retails at around
- Kiwis Can Fly: Dixon, Walker and the best generation of Kiwi runners all in one book. Retails at 27 euro.
- Running to the Top: Story of another great Australian, Derek Clayton, who ran the first sub-2:10 marathon race. Can be found as cheap as 3 euros.
- Bowerman and the Men of Oregon: Bill Bowerman cuts a controversial figuer if ever there was one but his contribution to running cannot be denied. Modern version retails at around 9 euros.
- PRE – The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend: The tragic tale of Bowerman’s greatest athlete. Still in print and retails at around 8 eur.
- John Walker Champion – an autobiography: Retails at 18 euros
- On the Run: In search of the perfect race: The story of Jim Ryun’s great rival Marty Liquori. Retails for as little as 4 euros.
- Staying the Course – A Runner’s Toughest Race: A biography of Dick Beardsley, one of the protagonists of “Duel in the Sun”. Retails at 8 euros.
- Ovett – The Autobiography: Get a more intimate picture of one of the two rivals described in “The Perfect Distance”. Retails for under 1 sterling!
- An Honourable Run: Matt McCue’s tribute to coach Mark Wetmore, first known from “Running with the Buffaloes”. Retails at
We’ll take a break now from “Talking Books” before returning with an instalment on the books on fell and mountain running. In the meantime, I can but ask? Did I miss a book about the great? One that no fan of the “running tribe” of 1960-80ish could be without?