Monday, June 05, 2006

Book Review: Duel In The Sun

The 1982 Boston Marathon is arguably the greatest road race in the history of American distance running. As an 11 year-old, I actually remember seeing it on TV. This was at a time when my whole family was into running. Dad did a lot of racing in the summers, so there were many times the family would pile into the car to head to a little town for a race. So it was no surprise that we would be watching the Boston Marathon.

Being a little kid, I had no idea who the two frontrunners, Dick Beardsley or Alberto Salazar, were. During the race I learned that Beardsley was from Minnesota, so naturally I was cheering for him. What unfolded was a race for the ages. These two men broke away from the pack with miles to go and battled each other all the way to the finish, where Salazar just edged Beardsley for the win by a mere two seconds. It has since become a legendary race.

I just finished reading the book "Duel In The Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America's Greatest Marathon" by John Brant, which chronicles the lives of Salazar and Beardsley before and after this great race. Both men had remarkably different upbringings. Salazar was the son of a Cuban immigrant, a born runner, and a prodigy who was destined for greatness. Beardsley was a plucky, hard-working kid from Wayzata who left the city to become a dairy farmer, of all things! Both had vastly different personalities, and differing approaches to running and racing, yet these two opposites both took center stage in greatest Boston Marathon battle ever.

The book not written in chronological order, and it jumps around to different times in each of these individuals' lives before and after the race. The author also spreads out details of the race as it unfolded. I thought this approach helped to build suspense, both in terms of the race, and also in documenting the unraveling of their personal lives.

I enjoyed this book very much, although I think it would be more appealing to people who are runners. It talks a lot about running and racing, however there is a strong human element to the book as well, illustrating the desperation of these two men in the face of adversity. After this great race, each man experienced more than his share of hardships and setbacks (Salazar with unexplained injuries and depression, and Beardsley with a bizarre series of accidents and drug addiction). The chapters I found most intriguing were those dealing with Beardsley, perhaps because of the Minnesota connection. Salazar is certainly a compelling, rather high-strung figure, however I thought it was easier to relate to Beardsley, because throughout his running career he was a bit of an underdog, which I like.

"Duel In The Sun" offers an interesting perspective on the greatest Boston Marathon ever, as well as an in-depth look into the lives, hardships, and attempts at redemption for these two elite runners.
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