Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

Racing Past Book Reviews As If Running on Air


Edited by David Colquhoun

Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, New Zealand, 2008  $49.99NZ



This superbly produced 282-page large-format book must rank as one of the most finely produced books on running. David Colquhoun, Curator of Manuscripts at New Zealand’s Alexander Turnbull Library, describes Lovelock’s journals in his fine Introduction: “An entry appears for every race. Some are brief—little more than notes. Others are eloquent and reflective. All show an intense commitment.” (9) As a photo in the book shows, these “journals” were actually four diaries of daily entries and 23 scrapbook albums, of which 13 contain his races from 1931 to 1935. Although Lovelock’s journals have not been published before, they have been used by, among others, Norman Harris in his biography The Legend of Lovelock and James McNeish in his novel based on Lovelock’s  life, Lovelock.New Zealand runner Jack Lovelock is most famous for his brilliant 1,500 victory in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He left his homeland at 21 to attend Oxford University in England. In the next five years, while qualifying as a doctor, he set world records at 1,500 and One Mile and won many important races. He didn’t race often, but when he did, he was always thoroughly prepared.  The care and intelligence with which he developed his running ability are evident in the journals he kept throughout his career. It is indeed fortunate that these have not only been preserved but have now been published some 70 years later under the title As If Running on Air.

Colquhoun’s book tells the full story of Lovelock’s career in more detail than has ever been available. Every training session is provided as well as vivid details of all his races. His other sporting activities—boxing, swimming, riding and cricket—are covered. Even his self-administered  injections are noted—a streptococcal vaccine injection that he believed helped his sore knees and heels.

Lovelock wins the 1936 Olympic
1,500 from Cunningham and Beccali.   

Lovelock was a highly intelligent man, and he took his running very seriously. Here is a journal comment on his big 4:11.2 win in the 1935 Princeton Mile over Bonthron and Cunningham: “It still leaves unanswered the old question of how fast any of the three of us is capable of moving under ideal conditions of training, track, weather and pacing; it still leaves the fascinating 4.0 minute mile as far away as ever, thought I am convinced in my own mind that it must come before many years are out.” (183) Though mainly covering his races, his journals also describe in detail his training sessions. Here is what he did on June 23, 1936, in his build-up for the Berlin Olympics: “Jog and stride 3 1/2 miles at varying paces; jog one mile slowly; stride one mile steadily; 600 in 1:22 striding/jog 1200 slowly/stride 220 in 29.8/jog 880 slowly. Wt 9.4 [130lbs/59Kg]. Cricket.”

But there is much more than the actual journal entries in this book. It contains literally hundreds of photos from Lovelock’s career. Some of these are taken straight from the albums complete with handwritten, fountain-pen annotations. As well, there are cartoons and caricatures, letters and a copy of the actual entry for his Olympic race in Berlin. For background, Colquhoun provides several two-page biographies of Lovelock’s rivals—like Wooderson, Bonthron, Beccali, Cunningham.

Colquhoun’s objective introduction is most valuable. He provides a good biographical material on Lovelock’s complex personality, including the issues around his controversial death at 39 when he fell under a train in New York.

This wonderful book is a must for anyone with an interest in 1930s middle-distance running. The price of around $41US or 31EUR is reasonable for a finely produced book. It can be obtained from Craig Potton Publishing.   

Leave a Comment