THE LONG RUN: STRAIN AND STRUGGLE
‘The Long Run’ compares the ‘strain and struggle’ – and subsequent rewards – of the ancient Olympic games with the same qualities of the Wilson Run.
The two central themes are hard competition for its own sake and victory measured not in a material manner but in glory – the ‘immortal…renown’ of the last verse.
The name ‘Long Run’ itself, as well as allowing for the play on words of achieving something ‘in the long run’, is probably a reference to the ‘dolichos’, literally meaning ‘long race’, which was the longest of the foot races at the ancient Olympic games.
The reference to the ‘boyhood of the world’ in the first verse suggests a primeval, foundational quality to the ancient Olympics – a model for athletic behaviour which subsequent generations have followed, the Wilson Run being part of that tradition.
The range of events mentioned in the first verse reminds us of the range of challenges faced by the runner of the Wilson.
The second verse mentions the two major powers of the ancient Greek world, Athens and Sparta. Spartans in particular were renowned for their hardiness and pre-eminence in battle and were indeed prolific winners at Olympia.
The Athenians probably warrant their mention more for their great military victories over the Persians than for their Olympic efforts, though they were not without victories in the games.
The final verse speaks of the prizes available for the ancient Olympian, including, in addition to a crown, ‘breathing marble’ and ‘burning lay’. ‘Breathing marble’ refers to the statues which were built in honour of Olympic victors; the quality of workmanship sometimes being so good that the statues appeared to be alive, or ‘breathing’.
Praxiteles, arguably the most famous of all Greek sculptors, was a creator of such statues. ‘Burning lay’ is an esoteric reference to poetry, in this case the kind of victory ode which the likes of Pindar would write in honour of prolific winners at the games.
Through these forms of honour, the victors received ‘immortal…renown’, held up by the Greeks as the greatest of all prizes (something famously acknowledged by Achilles and other Greek heroes in Homer’s ‘Iliad’).
The final lines of the song suggest that Winder (and by extension the hills around it) has a timelessness and beauty which even the greatest sculpture or poetry of the Greeks cannot match. Such is the tradition shared in by those who complete this ‘long run’.