The Com­plete His­tory of Cross-Coun­try Run­ning

Canadian Running - - DEPARTMENTS -

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

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