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5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing tale of the man who took distance running to a new plane, 12 Aug 2009
This review is from: Tea with Mr Newton (Desert Island Athletics Histories) (Hardcover)
Who better to write the long overdue biography of Arthur Newton than Rob Hadgraft, author of that trilogy of eminently readable books about historic running legends Alf Shrubb, Walter George and Deerfoot.
Once again, Hadgraft has crafted a meticulously researched, well-illustrated and entertaining athletics biography, his subject matter this time being the `founding father' of ultra-distance running, Arthur Newton.
Newton died almost exactly half a century ago, so this is thus far the most contemporary of Hadgraft's athletic biographies.
"Tea With Mr. Newton" is the truly fascinating story of an English gent who, against all odds and on limited means, goes from obscurity to international acclaim as a record-breaking distance runner.
But there is evidently much more to the man.
Besides being the inspirational figure behind the world-famous Comrades" Marathon, Newton is credited with inventing what we today called LSD, which in its legal form is Long Slow Distance running, "slow" being relative because Newton clearly didn't hang around!
Hadgraft guides us expertly through Newton's formative years in England, but the story begins in earnest when his parents send him to Boer-war-torn South Africa at the age of 19.
Years later, now eking out a living as a farmer in the province of Natal, Newton finds himself embroiled in a land dispute with the South African government. Newton is 38, a committed pipe smoker and non-runner, but to draw attention to his grievances he decides to win the upcoming Comrades Marathon, a recently launched 54 mile footrace from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.
The rest, they say, is history.
Running on intellect and commonsense, he embarks on a quite remarkable journey. His first run, a mile down the road, leaves him exhausted and gasping for air. But within a year he is running on average almost a marathon every day. And yet, somehow, he contrives to fit all this training around a busy working life.
Hadgraft depicts Newton as a typical English gent with an extrovert bent, a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde all wrapped up in one. A quiet-spoken man who became one of the most outspoken athletics critics of the athletics establishment. For all his controversy, he was a generous and kind gentleman in the truest sense of the word. Despised by the establishment, adored by runners.
The author's enthusiasm for one of the most colourful characters ever to don a running shoe comes through on every page of this well-scripted story. Rob Hadgraft is not so much a biographer as an accomplished storyteller with a biographer's eye for detail. Hadgraft also manages to interview several former runners, including the great South African marathoner Jackie Mekler, who stayed at Newton's modest Ruislip home more than half a century ago.
Ambitious runners and coaches from far afield made the pilgrimage to West London to listen to the advice generously dispensed by this `Obi-Wan Kenobi' of marathon running. Tea with Mr. Newton was one date no-one wanted to miss!
This is a page-turner and an education. Get your copy now!
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