The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner  

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"The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner" is a short story by Alan Sillitoe, published in 1959 as part of a short story collection of the same title. The work focuses on Smith, a poor Nottingham teenager from a dismal home in a working class area, who has bleak prospects in life and few interests beyond petty crime. The boy experiences social alienation and turns to long-distance running as a method of both emotional and physical escape from his situation. The story was adapted for a 1962 film of the same title. A new adaptation of the story is in development.


When he is caught by the police for robbing a bakery, Smith is sentenced to be confined in Ruxton Towers in Essex, a borstal (young offenders institution) for delinquent youths. He seeks solace in long-distance running, attracting the notice of the school's authorities for his physical prowess. Smith is offered a light workload for his last six months at Ruxton Towers if he wins in an important cross-country competition against a prestigious public school. For Ruxton Towers to win the cross-country race would be a major public relations boost for the borstal administrators.

However, when the day of the race arrives Smith throws victory away: after speeding ahead of the other runners he deliberately stops a few metres short of the finishing line, though well ahead and easily able to win. He lets the other runners pass him and cross the finishing line, thereby losing the race in a defiant gesture aimed against his Ruxton Towers administrators. In deliberately losing the race, Smith demonstrates his free spirit and independence. The response of the borstal authorities to Smith's action is heavy-handed: Smith resigns himself to the drudgery of manual labour he is returned to. However, looking back on his actions, he has no regrets.

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