CROSS-COUNTRY running enthusiasts and athletics fans with a thirst for history will find a new book by Andrew Boyd Hutchinson to be essential reading.
The Complete History of Cross-Country Running – from the 19th Century to the present day is a comprehensive review of the sport as it chronicles every part of its background in 400 pages.
The only downside is that this mouthwatering feast of cross-country history is not out until the new year. But AW has seen a preview of the book and can confirm it is an immense work of around 400 pages that is sure to stand the test of time as a definitive source of history for one of athletics’ most traditional disciplines.
The author is a keen cross country runner himself and his love of the sport is obvious as he has painstakingly logged the major events in the history of the sport over the past couple of hundred years.
This is not merely a regurgitation of events, though. While the book is big, it is also edited well and he has plucked the most interesting and significant events and athletes to focus on. So while each chapter moves through the history from the early 1800s to the present day, it is broken up with ‘event spotlight’ and ‘did you know?’ boxes and all of it is an easy, entertaining, informative read.
The book has a slight US bias, but the early section on the origins of cross country focus very much on England and, specifically, Shrewsbury School in the Midlands, which is credited with being the place where “the first recorded evidence of cross-country running as a sport appeared at the dawn of the Victorian Age” in 1819.
As an example of the style of writing in the book, the author writes: “The Shrewsbury schoolboys harnessed their adolescent adrenaline, answered the call of the outdoors, and aligned with their comrades to escape the rigour and discipline of the classroom. These were the seeds that allowed the sport to grow on a global scale.”
From then on, the book charts the growth of the sport across the United States and indeed around the world. Naturally, the impact of athletes from East African nations is also explored in detail.
Craig Virgin, twice world cross-country champion at the start of the 1980s, has given the book his seal of approval and writes a nice preface. In this he explains the beauty of cross-country but also includes his concerns about its current status in global athletics.
Virgin writes that Seb Coe’s appointment as IAAF president is good for cross country, for example, as he explains: “The survival of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships may hang in the balance over the next few years.”
He adds: “Cross-country will soon need “friends in high places” if the IAAF is to rebrand and reorganise the World Championships in order to survive and thrive into the future.”
Hutchinson agrees and expands in the pages as he says: “Cross-country has a rich, international tradition. For more than 200 years it has thrilled audiences and participants alike, has provided a natural venue for athletes, and now attracts runners of all ages. But some of the biggest names in cross-country are worried about the difficulties in growing the sport.
“There are multiple reasons why: lack of enthusiasm from professional coaches, the biennial structure of the world championship, format changes ranging from race distances to monetary compensation, and dominance by specific nations.”
Related to this, the book briefly explores the growth of obstacle course racing and gives an interesting explanation on why it has managed to secure sponsorship and massive growth in participation thanks to smart marketing while the more traditional sport of cross-country running
has seemingly struggled in comparison for popularity.
Certainly, if cross-country running is to enjoy a major revival then one of its great strengths is its history and this book demonstrates that it has it in abundance (see Comment, p4).
JASON HENDERSON REVIEWS AN UPCOMING BOOK THAT PROVIDES A DEFINITIVE BACKGROUND TO CROSS-COUNTRY RUNNING
From the world championships (above) to local league and schools events, cross country is a big part of the athletics calendar
The Complete History of CrossCountry Running – from the 19th Century to the Present Day by Andrew Boyd Hutchinson is published by Carrel Books for £35.99 hardback and is out in January