The Complete History of Cross-Country Running
Andrew Boyd Hutchinson Carrel Books
Andrew Boyd Hutchinson’s encyclopedic new book about cross-country running begins with a description of a bureaucratic meeting. This decision to highlight an International Associat ion of Athelt ics Federat ions roundt able panic session about the dire state of cross-country running illustrates both the state of the event and what you’re getting with this large volume.
From a Canadian perspective, The Complete History of Cross-Country Running is a curious book. The bulk of this microscopically detailed archive focuses on American runners, primarily from the ncaa system over the past 50 years. But hardcore fans of the sport will happily glean a significant amount of valuable information and a staggering level of minutae of specific races. One charming example of both Hutchinson’s style and approach can be found in a detailed race report from the 1969 Pac-8 Championship (Gerry Lindgren beat Steve Prefontaine by a lean). He writes: “Once the gun fired, Pre and Lindgren became guided missiles – sprinting on their toes at breakneck speed on a collision course toward each other.” It may sound like f lowery prose, but the accompanying photograph shows the young Pre and Lindgren seemingly about to run into each other as they edge for the line.
The most valuable aspect of the book for the general fan of the sport is right at the beginning. Hutchinson goes into great detail describing the beginnings of cross-country, how it emerged out of a series of games schoolboys would play in 19th-century England. “Hare and hound” and “chalk the corners” sound thrilling, and Hutchinson’s descriptions capture the uniquely exhilarating experience of running as hard as you can across tricky terrain.
The very size of this book, coffee-table worthy, indicates its thoroughness – almost exhaustively so. There is a collection of photos from different periods in cross history (again, mostly of Americans), but the layout is unfortunately dictionary-like. Regardless, it’s also a necessary contribution to the annals of the sport. The Complete History of Cross-Country Running reads like a massive treasure trove of race reports methodically organized on a early-internet-era website. In fact, it’s puzzling why this project didn’t end up directly online, as it would better serve its intended purpose, to put the past of cross-country running in all its glory, on record so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuff le of time, and available for everyone to search for and discover.
This book may not be a perfectly presented archive of a discipline that sorely needs more love and care, but it’s still a fun and informative read. Hutchinson should consider taking the next step and putting every report online, and perhaps others will carry on the tradition, building upon cross-country’s great legacy for future generations who may never connect with this project in book form. That could help resolve cross-country running’s troubled and uncertain future. —MD