Against the backdrop of one of the world’s most demanding races, four men must fight their personal battles for survival.
THE RACE: South Africa’s awesome Comrades Marathon – fifty-five miles of physical torture run over a series of massive hills in stamina destroying heat and humidity.
THE MEN: an idealistic British marathon runner duped into assisting with a murderous plan; a world famous American entertainer who unknowingly puts far more than just his career on the line; a Zulu youth with outstanding athletic ability but an unknown enemy; and the dissolute son of a wealthy Johannesburg stockbroker competing in a desperate attempt to preserve his inheritance.
Some of these will learn harsh lesions. Some will pay a far heavier price.
None will ever forget.
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When In the Long Run was first published as a paperback in 2000, BBC TV presenter and former world champion athlete, Steve Cram, who has personal experience of the Comrades Marathon, was invited to read an advance copy. Neither my publishers nor I had any idea of what his reaction might be.
As it turned out, Steve thoroughly enjoyed the story. So much so that he offered to write a foreword for the novel, and agreed to be guest of honour at the book’s launch party held at Saatchi & Saatchi’s in-house pub in Charlotte Street. A few weeks later we even appeared together on the Gloria Hunniford TV chat show.
This is what Steve wrote.
When Nelson Mandela presented the Rugby World Cup in 1995 to the captain of the South African rugby team, Francois Pienaar, it created a lasting image of the amazing power of sport in South Africa to dissolve race barriers and help the healing process in a famously divided country.
Another example of this power is the awesome 55-mile Comrades Marathon held in Kwazulu-Natal – arguably South Africa’s single most popular annual sporting event. The sheer number of people, of all shapes, sizes, ages and colours, who attempt the tortuous course over mountainous terrain each year has to be seen to be believed. The tension-filled atmosphere, the camaraderie and sense of achievement at the finish makes the Comrades stand out as one of the very best road races in the world. Physical strength is important, but it’s mental strength that is paramount when tackling this arduous challenge.
I first encountered the Comrades Marathon through one of its great champions, Bruce Fordyce, in Bosnia, where a replica of the race was being run by a small British group to raise funds for children in the Balkans. That small group is now called COCO, Comrades of Children Overseas, and it was for them that I ran my first real Comrades in 1999. There are new lessons to be learned in every race, but as the brilliantly-drawn characters of In the Long Run demonstrate so well, the specific challenges of the Comrades – twice as long as a normal marathon – allow the ordinary people taking part to achieve something truly extraordinary.
Steve Cram: Six-time gold medallist at Commonwealth, European and World Championships, also Olympic silver medallist and world record holder for the mile for nearly eight years.