In recent years Author Ron Clarke has been so busy setting pen to paper that it is a wonder Distance Runner Ron Clarke ever has time to set spike to track. In 1966 Author Clarke (a real pro who keeps Runner Clarke amateur by the simple device of not collecting any royalties) wrote the story of his own life as a runner in collaboration with Alan Trengove. Now he has turned his attention to the careers of other distance men. Co-authored by Norman Harris, an able New Zealander, Clarke's newest volume is called The Lonely Breed (Pelham Books, London, price 30s net) and is a very remarkable book indeed—a lively collection of biographical vignettes of 21 athletes, whose careers cover 86 years and 11 countries. Clarke and Harris write about many of history's most famous runners—Paavo Nurmi, Herb Elliott, Peter Snell, Gerry Lindgren—as well as some shadowy figures whose names would be familiar only to the most dedicated historian: Walter George, Arthur Newton, Teddy Flack, Jean Bouin. The well-known stars in the book are shown for the most part in some of the less well-known moments of their lives. Elliott, the Olympic champion, is seen in action only at a relatively unimportant race on a grass track in Brisbane. Snell, the double Olympic champion, has his moment at an invitational mile race in Modesto, Calif. There are some startling omissions: Ron Delany's upset triumph in the 1956 Olympic 1,500-meter race in Clarke's own home city of Melbourne; Billy Mills and his epic upset of Clarke in the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; Clarke himself in any number of astonishing world-record races.
If Authors Clarke and Harris have ignored the cliché guidelines to commercial success, however, the result is an artistic one. They have picked their men and their moments with care, and their research has been extremely thorough.
"We have based our work on facts," says Clarke, "with the intention to express and interpret these in such a way as to clearly illustrate the character of the men whom we chose to represent all the thousands who make up 'the lonely breed.' "
Clarke has interviewed and/or raced against just about all of the contemporary subjects in the book. Harris retraced some of Clarke's steps and also did much original research following guidance by his coauthor. An old trunk, hidden away in a Berkshire, England attic, produced a mother lode of material for one of the most interesting chapters, professional Walter George's historic mile race against William Cummings at London in August of 1886.
Actually a chapter on Co-author Harris could have been included. His interest in running is matched only by Clarke's in writing. He took up the sport for the first time at the age of 20, in 1960, shortly after being hired by the New Zealand Herald and assigned to write track. By 1964 he was sufficiently accomplished as a journalist to have won the Baird Award for the best sports writing of the year in New Zealand. And though his running career has yielded up no such triumphs, he points to a 28th place in the 1965 British Marathon championship as the high point of his athletic career. Now living in London, Harris still runs 60 miles a week, apparently for no more reason than the sheer joy of being one of the lonely breed.