When Running Made History.A front-row seat to running’s most inspiring and historic moments, with New Zealand in a major role. —Kiwi 1500-metre runner Nick Willis

The professor does the history justice

By Roger Childs 

Roger Robinson has many talents. Now in his late 70s he has been a Professor of English Literature, a journalist, writer, commentator and event organiser. He has also been a world class runner, especially at the veteran / masters level for over 40 year olds. Fiercely competitive he still runs in events,  albeit with a few replacement parts! He once joked that the only thing that kept his legs moving was the scar tissue holding hands.

When Running Made History is his personal odyssey through a lifetime of intense interest in running, from the 1948 London Olympics which he watched as a boy, to the 2016 US 5km Masters Championships in Syracuse. 68 years of devotion to a sport in which he has been an observer, radio and television commentator, author of many books and articles, after dinner speaker and participant.

Snell Rome 800mThis is an outstanding book by any standards which will delight fellow runners of all ages. However, because it is brilliantly written with plenty of literary touches and references to so many momentous events since the Second World War — from the Cold War through the Munich Olympics killings, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Twin Towers, the Christchurch earthquakes to the Boston Marathon bombings — it will have widespread general appeal.

The book has had rave reviews around the world. For example, this from the New England Runner Magazine in 2019 — A literary lion roars across the decades, with an academic’s clarity and a world class athlete’s passion. Throw in wit and wonder and it’s the best running book we’ve read this century.

Being present when running made history

Roger Robinson and Kathrine SwitzerRoger Robinson is married to Kathrine Switzer – herself a running legend. She famously ran in the 1967 Boston Marathon when women were forbidden to compete and after two miles the Co-director Jock Semple tried to eject her from the race. He failed and Kathrine finished the race. From then on she became a key figure in promoting women’s distance running world-wide, especially over the marathon distance. Like her husband, she also commentates and writes running articles. Not surprisingly, the rise of women’s running features strongly in the book. 

Amazingly, the author was present, or in the vicinity, on a number of occasions when running made history and these have their own chapters:

  • 1948 – the austerity Olympics in London when as just a lad he was in awe of the amazing middle distance Czech runner, Emil Zatopek
  • 1960 – Kiwis Snell and Halberg winning gold medals on the same day in the Rome Olympics
  • 1974 – the Christchurch Commonwealth Games where he was the official announcer and commentator
  •  1990 – the Berlin Marathon celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall
  • 2001 – the New York Marathon following the Twin Towers tragedy
  • 2012 – helping to organise an athletics event after the Christchurch earthquakes
  • 2013 – being a correspondent at the Boston Marathon when the bombings occurred.

Comprehensive and always interesting

There are 21 chapters in all and Roger Robinson covers a huge amount of details as he touches on the rising of jogging, the drugs issue, the African running phenomenon, veteran running, the 1974 Christchurch Games and many of the great contests between the best athletes in the modern era.

However, the book is never tedious because of the author’s superb fluency, literary flourishes and dollops of humour. One example of the latter: If I listened to my body, I would live off toffee-pops and vintage port.  

Roger Robinson has produced a fascinating classic devoted to the sport he has loved for more than 70 years. There are plenty of illustrations, a comprehensive index and three appendices featuring chronologies of the running boom, women’s athletics and veterans/masters running.

When Running Made History is published by Canterbury University Press, and is available from good book shops for $40.