But occasionally there are self-coached runners who can identify, interpret, and correct their own errors. Among the first was the remarkable Arthur “Greatheart” Newton, whose competitive career spanned 13 years, from May 1922 to June 1935. During that time he won five of the six 90-km Comrades Marathons that he entered and also set the “up” and “down” records. (The
Comrades Marathon is run annually in opposite directions. The “up” from Durban climbs 2000 ft to Pietermaritzburg; the ‘ ‘down” run to Durban falls the same amount. The record for the “down” run is usually 5 to 10 minutes quicker than the “up” run.) He held the 86-km London-to-Brighton record; the world 30-, 35-, 40-, 45-, 50-, 60-, and 100-mile records; and the world 24-hour running record, covering 102,735 miles in training (Newton, 1935; see Exercises 5.1). In an era when it was usual for top athletes to train 30 miles a week (with the possible exception of the American marathoner Clarence de Mar; see post 8), Newton ran as much as 30 miles a day, 7 days a week.
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In his day, Newton was described variously as “the most phenomenal distance runner the world has ever known” (Newton, 1935, p. 5); “one of the marvels of all time” by London Observer, and “the greatest runner ever seen” (Clarke & Harris, 1967, p. 76).
Probably the greatest tribute paid to Newton was the retrospective award of the Helms Trophy for “outstanding sportsman on the African Continent in 1925.” This is the only occasion on which the Helms trophy, first awarded in 1936, was awarded retrospectively.
Although Newton had belonged to an athletic club in England, where he was bom, and had run races of up to 25 miles (40 km), it was only after he moved to South Africa that he became seriously committed to long-distance running. Andy Milroy (1987) found evidence to show that Newton finished fourth with a time of 1:31:00 in a 20-km race in Howick, Natal, on February 1, 1908, and ran 16 km with a time of 1:01:30.4 in December 1910 on the Scottsville race course in Pietermaritzburg.