The book oscillates between chapters about the characters’ lives before and after the race with chapters describing the race. You finish one chapter and think “They’re in Kenmore Square, they are so close! It’s down to the wire!” and hate that you’ll have to wait until after the next chapter about Beardsley’s struggle with drugs. But by the end of that chapter, you’re thinking “Hey wait, I need to hear how he gets out of this!” before starting a new chapter about Salazar’s stint in Yugoslavia. It’s basically three parallel stories (the race, Beardsley’s life, and Salazar’s life) but all of them are engaging. It also seems to cram a lot into its few pages.
Appropriately, I read this book a few days after my marathon. As a cautionary tale of people who didn’t rest enough or recover well, it gives the post-marathon reader another excuse to skip the gym in the morning, sleep in, and eat that huge bowl of ice cream.* It will probably be hard to find a book about running I don’t like, so I’ll warn you now my recommendations may be worthless. But I would recommend this book, particularly if you only know who wins the race and not much about the aftermath. If you’ve already read it but can’t get enough of Alberto Salazar, he has again teamed up with John Brant for a new book, 14 Minutes, his memoir named for the time he spent unconscious after a heart attack (not covered in Duel in the Sun.)
On a slightly different note, below are some of my thoughts on this year’s Boston, which turned out to be an epic duel between all the participants and the sweltering sun.
- First, I’d like to say congrats to all the finishers. All the people who struggled through the heat, ignored their watch, drank more water than they ever had, and finished happily despite a slow time. If it was me, I would not have handled the heat as well as the runners this year did. I ran Chicago 2010, which wasn’t as bad as Boston, and still was (literally) a crybaby about it. It seemed like people heeded the advice of the organizers, and hopefully enjoyed a historic run on a historic course as much as possible on such a steamy day. Although a lot of people were treated by medical staff, no major tragedies occurred. Even the elites slowed down by nine minutes each in the women’s and men’s races, which shows it was an incredibly tough day. I take inspiration from the maturity of the people who ran so smartly and I hope that the next marathon you all run will be on a beautiful, clear, and cool day. I know you’ll all get the PRs you deserve. In the meantime, be proud you ran that race; we'll be talking about it for years to come.
- I have to ask about a reference a NY Times article made to both Korir and Hartmann taking in a lot of “water and fruit.” I watched a lot of Boston videos and interviews, and I didn’t hear any talk of fruit. Was this an error? I’ve just never heard or seen an elite runner taking fruit in the middle of a race, but clearly Boston's conditions were special circumstances.
- Lastly, I want to say that while I’m sorry Geoffrey Mutai dropped out (please, let the Kenyan Olympic selectors pick him!), I can’t get over how cool Wesley Korir is. He was singing the whole way. He buys two Subway sandwiches before a race and gives one to a homeless person. He had typhoid a few months ago and didn't let it slow him. (Can Emmanuel Mutai do the same with less time?) He’s such a character and an inspiration, I hope we see a lot more of him.
*If you read the entire book just to figure out how ice cream helps recovery, you’ll be disappointed, because I made that up. But I can make up a reason why too, and it’s calcium.