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 Book Review: 26 Miles To Boston
Submitted by Rickshaw :: Wed Jan 12, 2005 1:46 pm
If you're one of the many runners who has always dreamed about running the Boston Marathon, Michael Connelly's 26 Miles to Boston is aimed squarely at you. The book combines a variety of Boston viewpoints: historical records, interviews with past champions, stories from people living and working along the course, and the author's account of his own Boston Marathon run. The result is rich and intimate portrait of the country's oldest marathon that will interest any Boston die-hard.

While it's packed with plenty of fascinating anecdotes and information, the book as a whole is uneven. It does a good job of relaying the history of Boston, including stories such as the first run in 1897, and Kathy Switzer's sneaking into the 1977 race when it was still closed to women. The tales of people and places along the route also give a great feeling for the race's flavor. If you enjoy learning about how Boston-area families and business celebrate marathon day and the traditions that have evolved outside the race itself, then you'll enjoy this part of the book.

Unfortunately 26 Miles to Boston has a few major flaws that cause it to fall short of the great book it might have been. One minor quibble is that the mile-by-mile account of the race sometimes turns into little more than colorless driving directions: turn left at the light, go up a small hill, pass the video store, etc. With a chapter for each mile of the race, the less eventful miles make for pretty uninteresting reading.

The dry parts could be excused if it weren't for the major gaffe involving preparation for the race. Most runners spend years working towards the Boston Marathon as a long-term goal, and are ecstatic when they finally achieve the necessary qualifying time. For many, seeking the BQ is what makes the race special, and is just as important as actually running it. It's a big part of what sets Boston apart from all the other marathons. Unfortunately this book gives the reader no sense of that at all, because the author entered the race illegally as a bandit, just six months after taking up running. And not only did he bandit the race, but he also wrote a page-long frothing rant against Marty Liquori, who had the audacity to suggest that unregistered runners should stay off the course.

This disappointing fact really spoils the book. There's no discussion of the meaning of Boston to those who work so hard to qualify for it, and the author's own race account as a bandit will be of little use to those who seek to run the race legitimately. For instance, he describes how he was forced to run from the very back, bottle-necked by slower runners for miles, which forced major changes in his race strategy. In contrast, anyone who qualifies and registers for the race will start in corrals sorted by their qualifying time, ensuring they won't be blocked by hordes of slower runners in front, and providing a much smoother race experience overall.

There's still a lot to like about 26 Miles to Boston, and for fans of the marathon it's probably worth a look. It's unfortunate that a few major flaws prevent it from being the great book it might otherwise have been.

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