Green’s Dictionary of Slang

runner n.

1. (UK Und.) as a thief.

(a) [late 17C–18C] a sneak thief, esp. one who specializes in entering houses and taking furs, cloaks and coats.

(b) [late 19C] a dog-stealer.

2. in senses of an intermediary, a go-between.

(a) [mid-18C] an employee of a casino who keeps track of police activity.

(b) [mid-18C; 1920s+] (US Und.) often with defining n. comb.; someone engaged in conveying prohibited goods (such as drugs, liquor), or illegal immigrants, secretly.

(c) [mid-19C+] (US Und.) an employee of a dancehall or gambling house whose task was to entice passers-by into the establishment; some runners worked from hotel lobbies, where they paid the clerk a fee to introduce them to wealthy or gullible tourists [see Williams for 17C use of runner as a brothel errand-boy].

(d) [late 19C] one who lures victims into a confidence trick.

(e) [1930s+] a bookmaker’s clerk or assistant.

(f) [1940s+] (US) in numbers gambling, one who picks up bets and takes the money to the central operator/operators.

(g) [1950s] (US drugs) one who recruits new customers for a narcotics dealer.

3. [1910s] (US) a commercial traveller.

4. in pl.

(a) [1920s] (US Und.) a foot.

(b) [1930s+] (Aus./Can./Irish) track shoes, training shoes.

5. [1930s] (US) a soda to take out.

6. in senses of physical running.

(a) [1970s+] someone who is on the run from the police.

(b) [1980s+] (Aus. prison) an escapee.

In phrases

do a runner (v.)

[1970s+] (UK Und.) to abscond from the police or to be on the run, before possible capture by the police, or simply to run away.