the loneliness of the long distance runner


Running’s always been a big thing in our family, especially running away from the police. It’s hard to understand. All I know is you’ve got to run, run without knowing why through fields and woods, and the winning post’s no end, even though barmy crowds might be cheering themselves daft. That’s what the loneliness of the long distance runner feels like.

No, I won’t get them that cup, even though the stupid tash-twitching-bastard has all his hopes in me. Because what does his barmy hope mean? I ask myself… It don’t mean a bloody thing to me, only to him, and it means as much to him as it would mean to me if I picked up the racing paper and put my bet on a hoss I didn’t know, had never seen, and didn’t care a sod if I ever did see. That’s what it means to him. And I’ll lose that race, because I’m not a race horse at all, and I’ll let him know it when I’m about to get out - if I don’t sling my hook even before the race. By Christ I will. I’m a human being and I’ve got thoughts and secrets and bloody life inside me that he doesn’t know is there, and he’ll never know what’s there because he’s stupid. I suppose you’ll laugh at this, me saying the governor’s a stupid bastard when I know hardly how to write and he can read and write and add-up like a professor. But what I say is true right enough. He’s stupid, and I’m not, because I can see further into the likes of him than he can see into the likes of me. Admitted, we’re both cunning, but I’m more cunning and I’ll win in the end even if I die in gaol at eighty-two, because I’ll have more fun and fire out of my life than he’ll ever get out of his. He’s read a thousand books I suppose, and for all I know he might even have written a few, but I know for a dead cert, as sure as I’m sitting here, that what I’m scribbling down is worth a million to what he could ever scribble down. I don’t care what anybody says, but that’s the truth and can’t be denied. I know when he talks to me and I look into his army mug that I’m alive and he’s dead. He’s as dead as a doornail. If he ran ten yards he’d drop dead. If he got ten yards into what goes on in my guts he’d drop dead as well - with surprise. At the moment it’s dead blokes like him as have a whip-hand over blokes like me, and I’m almost dead sure it’ll always be like that, but even so, by Christ, I’d rather be like I am - always on the run and breaking into shops for a packet of fags and a jar of jam - than have the whip-hand over somebody else and be dead from the toe nails up. Maybe as soon as you get the whip-hand over somebody you do go dead. By God, to say that last sentence has needed a few hundred miles of long-distance running. I could no more have said it at first than I could have took a million-pound note from my back pocket. But it’s true, you know, now I think of it again, and always has been true, and always will be true, and I’m surer of it every time I see the governor open that door and say Goodmorning lads.
—  Alan Sillitoe, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
And so on and so on, items that have become part of me, foliage
that has grown to conceal the bare stem of my real personality, what I was like before I ever saw these books, or any book at all, come to that. Often I would like to rip them away from me one by one, extract their shadows out of my mouth and heart, cut them neatly with a scalpel from my jungle-brain. Impossible. You can’t wind back the clock that sits grinning on the marble shelf. You can’t even smash its face in and forget it.
—  Alan Sillitoe, The Decline and Fall of Frankie Buller (from The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, 1960)