Wednesday, June 27, 2012
The Purple Runner by Paul Christman
There is a very short list of classic running stories. Once a Runner a novel by John Parker has held the esteemed number one position for years, but there was always the mention of another book The Purple Runner first published in 1983 and written by Paul Christman. I have read and enjoyed Once a Runner and even sold a copy for $250 before it had been reprinted, but I have never had a chance to read The Purple Runnerdue to it long ago being out of print (I will sell a book for a lot, but do not want to spend a lot for an out of print book). The good news is that The Purple Runner is back in print and you are in for a treat if you enjoy reading stories with interesting characters who are involved with the sport of running.
The Purple Runner has always seemed sort of mysterious to me. I had seen ads for it in the back of running magazines in the 1980s, but never had a chance to even remotely find out what the story was about. Well, the story is sort of mysterious too, or at least one character is, that being the title character. The purple runner is a world class running talent who strives to remain anonymous as he speedily trains through the Hampstead Heath in England. Due to his disfigured face, he remains reclusive, but throughout the story my imagination was piqued as to which former American distance runner who died in an automobile accident in the Pacific Northwest could this mysterious runner actually be possibly modeled after.
Imaginations are free to run wild with this story. Could the reclusive runner venture forth and enter the London Marathon? Could he finish the race in under 2 hours. Remember this story took place in the 1980s when the world record had not seen the recent assault by the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners of the present age. What was once so preposterous is now something that could actually happen. The story leaves you wondering what the purple runner might do as well as who he might be.
Another main character in the story is a Kiwi (New Zealand) female runner. Will she learn the dedication that is required to become a champion runner after a move to England. There is a wily old hard-core 50+ year old runner who trains to break 2:30 in the marathon and a couple of other American runners who also end up running on the Hampstead Heath and who intertwine their lives with the other main characters.
The book was written by an author well versed in the running sub-culture. The workout times and distances, the races, and the numerous mentions of the the great runners of the 1970s and 1980s add an element of authenticity and delight to the story. I do not want to give away the mysteries of the book. At times, the book sounds like it could have been written recently and at other times you know you are reading a somewhat dated story. None of this detracts from the intricacies of the plot and by the end of the story, all elements start blending together towards the dramatic conclusion making the book extremely difficult to put down until its conclusion.
Without giving away something that happens in the London Marathon at the end of the story, I am extremely curious if that one bit of action was added to the story during a revision based on an actual event that happened at a later Olympic marathon. All in all it is a satisfying read. One, because I know now what The Purple Runner is about and two, it was an entertaining read right to the dramatic end.