"Flanagan's Run" by Tom McNab is a wonderful book, and one of the best, not to say most unlikely, novels we have read in quite some time. It is Spring 1931. The United States and the wider world are in the grip of economic depression, and Charles C. Flanagan is about to launch the ultimate running race, with 2,000 competitors setting out from Los Angeles to cross the continent to New York, running over 3,000 miles in three months for huge cash prizes. The feat of endurance involved in running the equivalent of up to two marathons in a day, day after day, is beyond the imagination of most of the mere mortals who will read this book: especially when the route inevitably takes in deserts and mountains.
The book focuses on some of the characters who have been drawn together by the chance of making history, and enough money to secure their future in a hugely insecure world. We meet Hugh McPhail, bought up in the industrial heartland of Scotland and an ex-miner; Mike Morgan, an American who gave up prize fighting after unintentionally killing a man; Doc Cole, another American, now getting on in years who feels his whole life has been building up to this one long run; Kate Sheridan, an ex-burlesque dancer; and Lord Peter Thurleigh, an English aristocrat. We also meet Flanagan himself, a man you'd probably not trust as far as you could throw if you met him, but who steadily grows on you as the race progresses across the USA. Bring into play the issues of professional versus amateur sport that were so important at the time; doping (yes, even then); crooked local and national politicians; gangsters; and the sheer scale and character of the United States, and you have the ultimate road trip, literally. This is a book that draws you in, makes you truly feel for the central characters and, after elements of real suspense as the race runs into ever deeper difficulties, builds to a deeply satisfying conclusion.
Tom McNab is a Scottish sports writer, journalist and coach. "Flanagan's Run" was originally published in 1982, and has been republished by Sandstone Press to coincide with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. We are deeply grateful to them for doing so: otherwise we'd never have had cause to read a book we feel better for having read.