Dr.J. on Running


Ed Sears' Book

Running Through the Ages

Published March 18, 2002 in The Syracuse Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Katherine Switzer once told me: "where there is a need, there is an opportunity". So, when Edward S. Sears was unable to find a single source that covered the complete history of running, he wrote one. A 330-page book published in 2001, "Running through the Ages" starts with running by pre-humans 5 million years ago, and ends with a look into the future of running.

On a lazy winter morning, I settled into my lounge with cappuccino in one hand and Sears' book in the other. Time went by very quickly, literally and figuratively, as Sears took me on a journey of running through the ages. Divided into seven historical chapters, the book focused on anthropology and technology, and featured the greatest runners from each era.

Sir Arthur Newton summarized running by pre- and early humans in simple words: "Eat, or be eaten." Man ran to hunt and to escape hunters. The slowest in his weight group, man was no match for zebra or antelope, springbok or cheetah. However, with the best cooling system around, only horses and wolves could match human endurance for long distance running.

The Scriptures and Mythology gave a window onto running in the ancient world. Sears took me on a quick tour of ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek runners, leading to the original Olympics. From footmen to pedestrians, he continued the journey through the second millennium and the Scottish Highland Games, "she-shirt" women's races and cross country running, into the discovery of the new world and the first race in America.

The nineteenth century gave birth to modern running, professional athletes and the rise of the amateurs. From Captain Barclay's 1,000-mile walk in 1,000 hours in 1809 to the revival of the Olympic Games, Sears profiled the men who dominated their competition. It was that century that witnessed the first formal training techniques, and the greatest improvement in the measurement of time and distance.

The twentieth century occupied almost half the book, as modern transportation and communication led to the globalization and standardization of running competition. The modern Olympic Games populated the last two chapters of the book, although non-Olympic feats retained their rightful place in history.

From Arthur Duffey's fall in the 100 meters at the 1900 Paris Olympics to Daniel Komen's sub-8-minute 2-miler in 1997, the last chapter is a concise Who's Who in modern running. Sears arranged it by event, from the sprints through the ultra-marathons. Within each event, he profiled the men and women who left their mark on the sport.

The last section of the book stands on its own merit as a valuable historic contribution. A bibliography of over 130 references, it gives the avid historian and the casual reader ample material for the rest of winter, and beyond.

© 2002 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Syracuse Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created TrackMeets.com, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at jabbour@i2sports.com.