The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner




The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner


            The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a story by Alan Sillitoe, which forms part of a collection of short stories. The main character is Smith, a poor teenager from Nottingham who has desolate prospects of life while having low interest in trivial crime. Smith turns to long-distance races as an avenue to get emotional release and escape his physical situation. The story was written in the 1950s and consequently adapted into film in the 1960s. The main reason for Smith’s switch into running the long-distance races has both literal and psychological understanding towards his motives and lifestyle choices. Smith runs because he tries to fight the system while evading his psychological struggles that are consequences of his actions.


            Smith is in one of the delinquent youth schools and is chosen to participate as a runner in the long-distance races, which are highly coveted. Smith has working-class parents from Nottingham. He believes that his choice as a runner was meditated upon due to his stature and constant racing away from authority. During the practice runs, he gets mental freedom as he explores philosophies of life and societal perceptions. He evaluates the street life and experiences from Borstal institutions. He concludes that he would always be an outlaw being pursued by in-laws of the society due to his unlawful actions. He notes that despite having personal abilities, he would lose the race. He mediates on the governor’s hypocrisy in winning the coveted acclaim and deliberately loses the race through self-defiance. Borstal authorities force him to the drudgery but Smith held no regrets.

On the literal view of the title, Smith runs the races due to the physical attributes and abilities that he possesses. Of his build, it is said that he was tall, had long legs and the natural ease of competing against the other opponents. This would easily propel him to victory in the coveted race. In addition, he races due to the experience gained from leaving the street life. He had been an outlaw and was able to escape the numerous chases from the authorities. This gave him an edge leading into the race.

In the psychological and socio-political dispositions, Smith races to free up his battle with his inner view of life and societal perceptions. He evaluates that due to his unlawful ways, he always had to be on the run from authority. In addition, he defied the governor because of his hypocritical ways. Winning the award that was much desired would gratify the governor. Smith had to battle the repressive forces within his life and psychological thoughts. He had to free his spirit from all the actions and take up a personal change to better his life. He had to be independent and free his soul by racing and deliberately losing it, even though he was the clear front-runner.


The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a short story that sheds light on the psychological struggle of a young teenager who wanted to change the system and societal perspective. Smith, who had been an outlaw, decided to race a coveted long-distance event in order to free up his soul, inner battle and make changes to his life. He defied the governor and Borstal’s captors by deliberately losing a race and achieved his inner peace and independence without regret.

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