Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

Book Reviews

55 Years Running

Oxlade, Edwin

4th August 2016

55 Years Running  by Edwin Oxlade2013, 396pp  There must be lots of people in the British running community who know the name Edwin Oxlade. Not that he was a top-level runner. In fact, he was a good club runner with times of 49:52 for 10 Miles, 1:05:57 for a half Marathon and 2:24:24 for a Marathon. For a long time he was deeply involved with the UK club scene, and he has now decided to put all his memories and opinions into print. “ I like to think of the book as a personal view of the history of running,  in particular British distance running, during the course of my lifetime,” he explains in his short preface. “Personal” is a key word here because Edwin Oxlade has a lot of opinions--and I don’t mean this in a negative way.

As If Running on Air

Colquhoun, ed., David

3rd April 2012

AS IF RUNNING ON AIR: THE JOURNALS OF JACK LOVELOCKEdited by David ColquhounCraig Potton Publishing, Nelson, New Zealand, 2008  $49.99NZ  This superbly produced 282-page large-format book must rank as one of the most finely produced books on running. David Colquhoun, Curator of Manuscripts at New Zealand’s Alexander Turnbull Library, describes Lovelock’s journals in his fine Introduction: “An entry appears for every race. Some are brief—little more than notes. Others are eloquent and reflective. All show an intense commitment.” (9) As a photo in the book shows, these “journals” were actually four diaries of daily entries and 23 scrapbook albums, of which 13 contain his races from 1931 to 1935. Although Lovelock’s journals have not been published before, they have been used by, among others, Norman Harris in his biography The Legend of Lovelock and James McNeish in his novel based on Lovelock’s  life, Lovelock.New Zealand runner Jack Lovelock is most famous for his brilliant 1,500 victory in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He left his homeland at 21 to attend Oxford University in England. In the next five years, while qualifying as a doctor, he set world records at 1,500 and One Mile and won many important races. He didn’t race often, but when he did, he was always thoroughly prepared.  The care and intelligence with which he developed his running ability are evident in the journals he kept throughout his career. It is indeed fortunate that these have not only been preserved but have now been published some 70 years later under the title As If Running on Air.

Conquerors of Time

McConnell, Lynn

31st March 2014

Conquerors of Time by Lynn McConnell. Sports Books, Cheltenham, UK, 2009. 239pp. It took me a while to get hold of this book, but I’m glad that I persevered. It’s now in my must-have collection. This highly researched book focuses on the 1,500 and covers the 1932 and 1936 Olympics and the years in between. Primarily the book is about Jack Lovelock, Luigi Beccali, Glenn Cunningham, and Bill Bonthron, the first three having run in both Olympics. There is also information about other great 1,500 runners of this 1932-1936 period: Sydney Wooderson, Gene Venzke, Phil Edwards, and Jerry Cornes. Wooderson and Venzke had one disappointing Olympics in 1936; Cornes and Edwards, however, medaled in one Olympics and placed in the top six in the other.

Run to Win

Capozzoli, Charlie

30th November 2011

Run to Win by Charlie Capozzoli  This autobiography is a wonderful historical document. It tells the story of  a young American, the son of Italian immigrants, who became a top schoolboy runner in the late 1940’s and then an Olympian at the age of 21 in 1952. “Vanity may be a reason for writing this,” Charlie Capozzoli writes in the introduction. “However, the main purpose is for my children, their spouses, and their children (our grandchildren) to have something to look back on.” And the book does provide some family history as well as conveying a strong religious (Catholic) faith. Still, this book will not just be valuable for the Capozzoli family; it will also be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the American running world from 1945 to 1953. I thus highly recommend it to visitors to this website.

The Destiny of Ali Mimoun

Butcher, Pat

30th November 2011

The Destiny of Ali Mimoun by Pat Butcher Algerian-born Alain Mimoun was voted “French Athlete of the 20th Century” by the magazine Athlétisme.  As a distance runner he won one gold and three silvers in the 1948, 1952 and 1956 Olympics. His name would be better known internationally today if it hadn’t been for the amazing Emil Zatopek, who three times beat Mimoun for an Olympic title. Still, Mimoun’s story is definitely worth telling. The surprise is that it has been done by an English writer.

The Landy Era

Johnson, Len

2nd February 2017

The Landy Era by Len Johnson: Book Review   There have been several books on Bannister’s breaking of the four-minute Mile, but until now we haven’t had a book that focuses on John Landy. This is not to say that there hasn’t been some good material on the great Australian miler. Neal Bascomb’s excellent The Perfect Mile provides some excellent material on Landy’s build-up to 1954; Nelson and Quercetani cover Landy’s career with their usual thoroughness in their indispensible The Milers. There is also good material on Landy, although on a smaller scale, in John Bryant’s 3:59.4: The Quest to Break the Four-Minute Mile and in Jim Denison’s Bannister and Beyond. But was not until Len Johnson’s The Landy Era, published in 2009, that have we been given the full story.

Running: A Global History

Gotaas, Thor

25th November 2012

Running: A Global Historyby Thor GotaasReaktion Books, London, 2009.  383pp. 15 illustrations Writing a global history of running is a huge undertaking. Few have attempted such a daunting project—only Edward Sears’ Running Through the Ages comes to mind. And Thor Gotaas is realistic. “It is of course impossible to write a complete version of the world history of running.” Nevertheless, he has tried to “create the broadest picture possible.” To do this, he has used material in many different languages. His nine pages of closely printed references attest to the breadth and thoroughness of his research. In 32 chapters he succeeds in providing a fine history of running from early man to the Greek, Roman and Inca cultures to the beginning of the 21st  century. Gotaas admits that this book “bears the impress of being written by a European who sees the world from Scandinavia.” But I believe that readers around the world--it has already been translated into many languages--will not find this a drawback.

Showdown at Shepherd's Bush

Davis, David

21st January 2013

Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze.By David DavisNew York: Thomas Downe Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2012. David Davis’s wonderful historical book tells the story of three runners who made headlines in the first decade of the 20th century: Johnny Hayes of the USA, Tom Longboat of Canada and Dorando Pietri of Italy. Although this book purports to be about the 1908 Olympic Marathon, it actually recounts the careers of these three running legends. Davis deftly interweaves the three stories using the same technique that Neil Bascomb successfully employed to cover the careers of Landy, Bannister and Santee in The Perfect Mile. Only 27 of the 224 pages are focused on the actual 1908 race, the “showdown.” The subtitle of the book explains this a little better than the main title: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze.

Rob Hadgraft, Plimsolls On, Eyeballs Out: The Rise and Fall of Marathon Legend Jim PetersDesert Island Books, 2011 Although outshone by his contemporary and Olympic nemesis Emil Zatopek, Peters had a huge impact on marathon running in the early 1950s. It is accurate to say he obliterated the world best for the Marathon. (I say “world best” rather than “world record” because marathon courses have varied in distance and height over the years—the Boston Marathon for example was considerably shorter than the standard distance from 1951 to 1957. As well, it still drops 220 ft. from start to finish.) When Peters started running marathons in 1951, the World Best was 2:25:39, set in 1947 by Suh Yun-bok of South Korea. In three years (1952-1954) Peters lowered that mark four times, eventually running 2:17:39, an unbelievable 8:00 faster. Three of these world-best marks were achieved in three consecutive UK Poly Marathons; the fourth was run in the Turku Marathon in Finland. Two books by Peters have preceded Hadgraft’s new biography. Soon after his retirement in 1954, Peters wrote his autobiography, In the Long Run. As well, with his coach Johnny Johnston he wrote a technical book on training, Modern Middle- and Long-Distance Running. But generally it is hard to find much material on Jim Peters, especially since his autobiography is long out of print and very expensive to buy. With his fifth biography, running historian Rob Hadgraft has moved closer to the present with this superb book on Jim Peters. Following books on Deerfoot, Alfred Shrubb, Walter George and Arthur Newton, he has now tackled the life of a runner who made his name in the middle of the last century—only some 60 years ago! Jim Peters was a great choice because the Essex marathoner has not been given the general recognition he deserves. Although much was written about him during his career in the 1940s and 1950s, his fame has gradually faded. And when he is remembered, it is for his two failures in a stellar career: the tragic conclusion to the 1954 marathon in Vancouver, when he nearly died; and incomplete run in the 1952 Olympics.

Book Review: Bannister and Beyond

Denison, Jim

20th January 2012

Bannister and Beyond: The Mystique of the Four-Minute Mileby Jim DenisonBreakaway Books, New York, 2008  256pp Jim Denison, Associate Professor at the University of Alberta, finds it “a strange omission of history” that “few records or statements exist besides Bannister’s own literary account of 1955 of how it actually feels to break four minutes for the first time.” In this book, he aims to redress this omission by interviewing 21 four-minute milers. As well as getting detailed accounts of their first sub-four, he asks them to describe the “meaningfulness and significance of breaking four minutes.”