Friday, November 7, 2008

"a race like no other: 26.2 miles through the streets of new york" book review

i had looked forward to reading "a race like no other: 26.2 miles through the streets of new york" during marathon week. and it was an even more enjoyable read having met the author, liz robbins, at her book signing at the corner bookstore that same week. in addition to liz robbins reading selected passages, the audience was introduced to dave obelkevich, one of the handful of runners profiled in the book.

it was those portraits that brought the nyc marathon story to life. in 26.2 chapters, robbins covers the race from the pre-planning logistics, pre-race jitters at fort wadsworth, to the various mile by mile exploits, adventures and woes of her cast of runners. the story line focused on the 2007 nyc marathon. predictably, it lavished the most attention on the elite runners who had a chance to win the race. and it also spent a great deal of attention on the races of a cancer survivor and a recovering alcoholic.

the major shortcoming of the book was, however, its lack of coverage of the competitive road racers - the runners looking to qualify for boston, or pushing for a personal bests. the sub-elite runners (what nyrrc affectionately describes as local competitors) are strangely absent. while robbins covers 2 streakers (each who loggec his 32nd consecutive nyc marathon) - there's no mention of the central park track club or westchester track club, for example. those two clubs alone contributed dozens of competitive runners to the field.

while i would have liked coverage of competitive runners, the book presents a detailed look at the nyc marathon. anyone who plans to run it, has run it, or will go for a repeat performance - should read this wonderful book. for local nyc runners, "a race like no other" should be required reading. soaking up the rich details gives the entire race a historical, even panoramic dimension - to what may often seem like a neighborhood by neighborhood event.

some of my favorite parts are from brooklyn: carmine santoli's water station, bishop loughlin's high school band, and the 2 faces of williamsburg. i also loved the coverage of paula radcliffe and kara goucher. especially enjoyable was the vignette of kara watching paula's race from the back of the press bus! historical figures who populate the nyc marathon story are also brought to life. aside from fred lebow and grete waitz, who we'd expect substantial coverage of, we find details about percy sutton, lew rudin, bill rodgers and frank shorter, to name a few.

all these great, colorful details are woven together into a solid, compelling race narrative. while, ostensibly, the framework of the story rests on the 2007 race - the book could have described almost any nyc marathon. and that little detail is what makes "a race like no other," worth reading now - and again.

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