A Cold Clear Day

(author: Frank Murphy)

This self-styled “athletic biography” tells the story of the marathon career of Leonard Graves Edelen better known simply as “Buddy”.

Few who deserve to be remembered so well have been forgotten as widely, so the next time you raise a cheer to an over-rated modern sports performer, consider “Buddy” Edelen who died of cancer in 1997 at the age of 59, a true hero of sport who received little yet gave his profession so much.

The book reminds me of all that was good about Charlie Spedding’s “From last to first” with the narrative as simple and straightforward as the lives of the athletes who made the West in 60s, 70s and early 80s. For all the technology and welfare they were missing, Buddy and his compatriots could focus more sharply and ran the better for it even if it was during a time when “drivers would regularly try to run you off the road.”

Each chapter starts with a catchy quotes such as “These bursts are dangerous, but more dangerous to others than to you” and “I fell twice but so did everyone else”, the latter referring to Buddy’s formative years as a marathoner when he moved to England to make his name on the tough cross-country scene at a time when American distance runners did not merit much respect. Buddy Edelen changed that, well before the time of Frank Shorter and Prefontaine.

His marathon world record is the inevitable athletic highlight of the book but coaches and serious thinkers on the field of athletics will enjoy the detailed training plans, the many observations on the effects of continued hard training and the causes behind Edelen’s rapid decline.

Allow me a moment to remember Buddy Edelen with this the finest quote from the book:

“…the question was not so much how he did that but why he did that. Because the question rarely resolves itself in material terms, running was pointless to many people. Others, far more fortunate, recognised intuitively that the very pointlessness of running was its greatest strength. That pointlessness meant that no spectator could ever entirely know what was going on as he watched a distance being run. The casual spectator might have a single clue: he had what he saw. The better informed spectator might have additional clues, by knowing what performances had been rendered in the past by the particular athlete…In sum, when running was pointless, running was fascinating because running had very little to do with running. It had to do with people and why they act the way they do.”

As in “Bowerman and the Men of Oregon” you put down this book feeling that the heavy commercialisation of athletics have left us poorer in as many ways as it has left us richer and these old biographies bear reading to remind us that you do not need government grants, fancy facilities and a team of experts to survive elite levels of mileage and reach the pinnacle of the sport.

[rating: 4/5] (a short but eminently worthwhile reminder of times gone by)

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Director and coach at Borg Coaching Services
Rene Borg is the head coach of Glendalough AC and a passionate runner competing over all distances and terrains.

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