Books by Bob Phillips, Steve Chilton, Mike Fleet and former AW man Jon Wigley are among those reviewed here
26 Miles 385 Yards – How Britain Made the Marathon and Other Tales of the Torrid Tarmac
Bob Phillips is one of the sport’s most prolific historians and writers – in addition to editing Track Stats, the quarterly newsletter of the National Union of Track Statisticians – he has written books about Emil Zatopek, the 1948 London Olympics and the history of the sub-four-minute mile and Commonwealth Games.
In this book Phillips starts with the first Olympic marathon of 1896 and he goes on to illustrate the growth of the event with some brilliant statistics showing how participation has ballooned and various time barriers have been broken.
There is a fascinating chapter on Dorando Pietri and Johnny Hayes and the Olympic marathon of 1908. There is also nice detail and background on the sport in the days before even AW was first published (1945). Here, Phillips mixes lots of original material with plenty of research from what sounds like an extraordinary personal athletics library.
Whereas men dominated these early years of the marathon, Phillips devotes some space to women running the distance, from the little-known Stamata Revithi to the pioneering world record-holder Dale Greig. There is also an interesting chapter on the background of Alan Turing, the marathon runner who is best known for his computer work in breaking the Nazi Enigma code during World War II.
By the time he gets into the era of athletes like Jim Peters, Phillips draws heavily on the pages of AW. The story comes to an end too soon as well. But, for any marathon fanatics, this is a must-read book.
26 miles 385 Yards is available for £9.99 Kindle or £14 paperback here
Voices from the Hills – pioneering women fell and mountain runners
The author, Steve Chiltern, specialises in writing about fell running as his previous books include It’s a Hill, Get Over It and the story of mountain runner Billy Bland. This latest book, Voices from the Hills, focuses on female fell runners and how they have increasingly made their mark over the years.
After a foreword by ultra and mountain runner Jasmin Paris, Chiltern chronicles the early days of fell running from the perspective of female athletes. He even precedes this with some useful background of women’s athletics in the days of ancient Greece and the modern Olympics and road marathons.
Chiltern traces the history back to the first fell race in Britain to promote a women’s race – the Lake District Mountain trial in 1952 – and, later, the first official women’s races that began to pop up in the 1970s.
The history is nicely chronicled with a look at key moments such as Kathleen Connochie becoming the first woman to run the historic Ben Nevis race in 1955. Connochie’s ambition was almost thwarted, incidentally, by Scottish athletics officials who tried to ban her from taking part, although organisers allowed her to start in the end, albeit two minutes after the main field of men.
He also does a fine job tracking down former athletes to ask them about their life in the sport. These range from early pioneers such as Carol McNeill to Sarah Rowell, Angela Mudge and many more. Much of this was done on Zoom, too, due to the challenges of writing a book during a pandemic.
Such is Chiltern’s research, there is even an extract from the readers’ letters section of AW from the 1970s where the organiser of the Three Peaks race talks about the inclusion of women. All in all this is a valuable addition to the history of the sport and professionally produced by Sandstone Press with a sizeable number of excellent photos.
The hardback version of this book is £24.99 and can be purchased here
In the Long Run – A Travelogue of my Life in the World of Sport
The author Jon Wigley was assistant editor at AW from 1973-1978 and the Invicta East Kent athlete has enjoyed a life rich with sporting experiences which he regales in this book.
He says: “Through my career in the global sports industry, mainly in athletics, for the best part of 30 years, I have had opportunities to run and race in some interesting places around the world, in the UK, and close to home. Those 30 “working” years were a unique time of dramatic growth for global sports with many fundamental changes and I wanted to capture the flavour of living in the goldfish bowl of world sport in a unique period of time.
“I have chosen 160 different locations in which I have run and raced over the years and let them become the framework for the tales that I tell in these pages. I wanted to allow each tale to be a door into memories and associations with a time and place; sometimes quite straight forward, others are more labyrinthine, with connections leading off at tangents.”
Wigley’s adventures see him travelling from Rochester to Rome, Cambridge to Canberra and Newcastle to New York as he brings the reader a number of anecdotes. He is self-deprecating about his own athletics achievements but shows his talent as a writer with an autobiography which avoids the standard chronological pattern seen in such books.
After leaving AW in the late 1970s he went on to become director of competitions for the IAAF from 1978 to 1992 before moving into motorcycle racing, tennis and sports technology services. Tales about athletics and running dominate this book, though.
In the Long Run is available via Amazon for £9.99 as an ebook or £15 paperback
Croydon Harriers History 1920-2020
This well-presented book, lavishly illustrated, covers the centenary history of Croydon Harriers, founded in 1920 by athletics enthusiasts who met at The Captain’s Sports Shop, 86 Station Road, West Croydon, and led by race walker Jack Lisney who became the Club’s first Secretary, writes Ian Tempest.
With the nearest cinder track in those days at Mitcham the new club had several different grass field “homes” (the first at Wallingford Football Club’s ground for 10 shillings a week) until finally opening their own track more than thirty years later.
It is evident from the text and photographs that a women’s section was soon added to the club with Cis Wright winning the WAAA 440 yards title in 1930. In the 1940s club members David Grigg, a local policeman and discus international (George Medal), and Reg Mercer, a club cross country runner, were recognised for gallantry during WWII. The first track was secured in 1953, a total of 33 years after the club was founded.
This was the era of small-scale inter-club matches in the South London and North Surrey areas and trophy meetings such as the Brockman and the club’s own Lewis Trophy. Mike Fleet, the author of this book, joined the club in the 1950s – also future shot put international Nick Morgan and in 1956 the great race walker Paul Nihill paid 7 shillings and 6 pence to join!
In 1956 there was a match between “Croydon and the Commonwealth” and the AAA at the Croydon arena in front of a record 7000 crowd. Gordon Pirie was one of the winners and Fleet ran a close third to Chris Chataway in the 880 yards.
Jack Lisney was club secretary for 40 years (to 1962) with Fleet starting as secretary in 1964 – two men engaging with the entire history of Croydon Harriers between them!
The club’s marathon record-holder, Don Faircloth, won bronze in Edinburgh at the Commonwealth Games. He was only 21 when he earned the medal in 2:12:19. In the 1500m at those Games was fellow clubman Norman Morrison (for Scotland). He set a record in the same year of 4:21 for running up the Post Office Tower (now BT Tower) in the era before it was closed to the public!
The book celebrates the club’s most bemedaled athlete – Judy Oakes – still British shot put record-holder and a six-time Commonwealth medallist (with three golds) and the outstanding 400m runner Donna Fraser.
The club’s all-weather track opened in May 1990, in front of, among others, Faircloth, who was Croydon’s Parks and Recreation Officer at the time!
The timeline ends in 2020 and just as valuable for future historians are eyewitness accounts of the impact of the pandemic on clubs – most striking in Croydon Harriers’ case in Centenary Year.
“What we hoped would be a great Centenary year of celebration and achievement rapidly turned pear-shaped,” writes Fleet. “Real track and field athletics as we knew it came to an abrupt halt … There was no club training at the Arena …. Croydon Council kept our base closed and competition only re-started elsewhere in a very limited way in September.”
The book celebrates families with different generations taking up the sport, and characters like Doug Birch, who’d take his hammer and unique date and onion sandwiches to competitions via motorbike and sidecar.
The book contains statistics and a raft of great photographs – some taken by club member Mark Shearman, with older photos of programmes, menu cards and other great paraphernalia.
There’s also a lovely foreword by Ann Packer, recalling her time when she was appointed as a PE teacher locally and was invited to use the facilities at the Croydon Arena in the vital run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, where she won Olympic 800m gold.
My overall feeling reading the book is the positive outlook and genuine celebration of club athletics which Mike Fleet imparts. Warmly recommended!
The book is available from Mike Fleet for £20 including p&p, or £15 if collected personally with all proceeds going to Cardiac Risk in the Young. Email [email protected]
Once Around the Planet
After realising his dream of running at least a half marathon on all seven continents before his 70th birthday, Doug Richards travelled to new remote locations to complete 24,902 miles, the equivalent of the circumference of the Earth’s equator.
Having discovered running late in life, his journey took him from an initial one-mile run to completing long races across deserts, mountains, jungles, snow and ice. In Once Around the Planet, he shares his latest adventures, contending with a pandemic and recurring anxiety as he returns to the marathon distance in Venice, runs among ancient Moai statues on Easter Island, across volcanic rim trails and hot springs in the Azores, lava formations in the Akamas peninsula of Cyprus and ventures into the mysterious confines of the Bermuda Triangle.
In addition, Once Around the Planet gives candid insight into Doug’s battles with anxiety and depression, the inevitable decline in performance as he enters his 70s and the key role running can play in mental health.
Published by Pitch, you can find Richards’ book here.
Cross Country and All That Stuff
Peter Hemming was a typical British club runner during the distance boom of the 1980s. He wasn’t an elite athlete but achieved decent PBs ranging from 32:50 for 10km through to 2:35 for the marathon.
These are his self-published memoirs from his years racing across the UK and also coaching junior distance runners in the North-East of England. Impressively it contains a foreword by former London Marathon winner Charlie Spedding too.
You can buy Hemming’s book here.