LetsRun.com Running Book Reviews October 16, 2009
October 16, 2009
Below we have book reviews on 3 running related books. First up is Charlie Spedding's "From Last to First". Spedding was the 1984 Olympic Marathon bronze medallists and won the 1984 London Marathon."Last to First" is his autobiography and it chronicles the incredible journey to Olympic bronze of a man who finished last in his first race as a kid. A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New
York by New York Times writer Liz Robbins takes an in depth look at the NYC Marathon through the eyes of various runners in the 2007 race. Last up is Dane Rauschenberg's See Dane Run which recounts him running 52 marathons in 52 weeks.
Charlie Speddings: "From Last to First"
Review by Joe Garland
Note: LetsRun.com viewer Joe Garland's full review can be found on his blog here. We have excerpted the first 3 paragraphs and a few other key passages below.
Note: Charlie Spedding finished last in his first race ever, but went on to win the bronze medal at the
In 1984 I finished second in a race won by Ireland’s John Treacy. I
was so far back that the Times’ headline was “Treacy Wins By A Mile.”
In 1984, Charlie Spedding finished a race one place behind Treacy.
He was quite a bit closer. Two seconds. The race was the Olympic
Marathon in 1984, a race won by Carlos Lopes of Portugal. Both Lopes
and Treacy had the pedigree, each having won the World Cross-Country
Championships twice. Spedding’s finish was a surprise.
He has written an autobiography, and however unknown he was to me
before, his Los Angeles finish remains stunning. But the book, “From
Last To First,” goes well beyond I Trained/I Raced. It has a core lesson from which all serious runners can learn....
The core of the book, and what makes it more than I Trained/I Raced,
is Spedding’s ability to peak. The flip-side to this was his relative
inability to be competitive in other races. He spent a chunk of time in
the U.S., chiefly in the Boston area, and appeared at some of the top
races of the time, Peachtree, Gasparrilla, Falmouth, always running
well but not great...
What This Book Is Really About: The gold is Chapter 6, “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Sports Psychology.”...
*LetsRun.com viewer Joe Garland continues his review on his blog here. If you want to buy the book you can do so at Charlie Spedding's website. £8.99 for those in the UK and £12.49 ($20.41) including shipping for those in the US.
A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York by Liz Robbins
Review by: J. David
Telling the story of a marathon—particularly
the largest one in the world—is similar to panoramic photography.
The final image, since all lenses are limited, inevitably loses something.
This limitation is particularly true when the nearly 50,000 runners
who cross the finish line of the New York Marathon share only one thing
in common: they all run 26.2 miles. Otherwise, like all marathons, New
York City’s is run for so many different reasons and at so many paces
that it can be difficult to stand in one place and appreciate the panoramic
beauty of a sporting event that stretches from the greatest women’s
marathoner in history to a cancer survivor whose only goal is simply
to finish. Yet, Liz Robbins’ new book A Race Like No Other
makes a rather courageous attempt to paint a picture that appreciates
the subtle and often contradictory nature of major marathons. Written
in 26 chapters that wind through New York’s five Burroughs, Robbins
follows not only a number of the elite favorites but a pack of amateurs
who run—not to win—but for far more complex and often more profound
reasons. In the end, Robbins’ snapshot is both rather striking and
bothersome. On the one hand, she rather remarkably tells the story of
a dozen or so finishers for which the 2007 marathon had particular significance.
On the other hand, her coverage of the elite racing too often passes
quickly by the reader or (even worse) diverges down the long roads of
“human interest” that frequently mar the spectacle of distance racing.
Still, Robbins’ panoramic view is worth pulling over to read even
if some of it gets lost in the seams.
A Race Like No Other
spends considerable time tracing the New York Marathon’s history from
its humble start in 1970 under the direction of pied piper Fred Lebow
to its current, sprawling form. For Robbins the history of the race
includes not only the winners who built their careers in New York like
Alberto Salazar or Grete Waitz but unknown volunteers such as Carmine
Santoli who has manned the same aid station for 27 years. In celebrating
both the champions and the trumpet players, Robbins reiterates her thesis
that the “professional runners are not so different from the recreational
athletes.” Throughout the book, she tries to shrink the distance between
the elites and the amateurs (whose stories she is more adept at telling).
But, her efforts do seem strained and so the elite racing of the 2007
marathon passes by as if the reader is standing at a solitary intersection
in Brooklyn. To be fair, Robbins has her moments such as Henrick Raamala’s
surge at mile 17 or Gete Wami’s last minute move on Paula Radcliffe
just before Radcliffe roared onward to victory. But, the bulk of the
racing is swift, light and barely noticeable. This is particularly noted
in the complete lack of training detail of any of the professionals.
While we hear about nearly every root on the 3.5 kilometer trail that
Henrick Raamala trains on every day, we never hear anything concrete
about how he trains to drop 4:30 miles into the middle of his races.
While the reader learns the source of Gete Wami’s endearing modesty,
we hear almost nothing about the training that earned her the 2007 World
Major Marathon title. Instead, Robbins fixes her attention on the personal
stories of these elites in an attempt to make them more like the finishers
who stumble across the finish line hours later.
In this regard, Robbins’ book is
quite a feat as she possesses tremendous skill at capturing the story
of the other 49,000 people who cross the finish line every year. This
is a world of women who talk on cell phones while they race; men dressed
as superheroes; and an endless stream of charity causes and custom t-shirts.
And Liz Robbins seems at home in the middle of them. She makes their
struggles and triumphs—which plod along at about the pace they run—seem
exceptionally vivid and meaningful. She details everything from the
smell of Patsy’s Pizza as the pack turns onto First Avenue to the
gospel harmonies that ring through their heads. This is terra firma
for Robbins and she uses the ground to tell some compelling tales that
will certainly inspire another wave of runners to discover the strange
painful grace of running New York’s unique 26.2 miles.
So, if the thesis of A Race Like
No Other, is really that the elite runners and the ordinary finishers
are not all that different then the book is a success. Paula Radcliffe’s
victory, as told by Robbins, is much more about her returning from the
birth of her daughter than it is about Radcliffe being the best female
racer on the course. In this story, the elites become part of the crowd
but, sadly, the movement is one way. There is something touching about
humanizing the likes of Martin Lel and Paula Radcliffe. But there is
something so much more powerful about the untouchable—that peculiar
arena where we catch glimpses of the human potential. Robbins does much
to make the elite seem more like people; she struggles to make the people
see the untouchable beauty of elite racing. This issue here is that
Robbins misunderstands—like every network that covers distance running—that
some of us just like watching the race. There is a complex, powerful
beauty to a two hour race that one only appreciates in time like a full
size Van Gogh or Dylan’s Basement
Tapes. There is an audience—albeit smaller than the one Robbins
had in mind for this book—that is content to simply stare, study and
let the inspiration come slowly. But, we will have to wait another day
for someone to tell that story in such a way that the even the slowest
finishers will appreciate. For now, A Race Like No Other is the
best there is and, if nothing else, it will keeps things moving.
Writer J. David is a runner and former coach. He now lives and writes in Raleigh, NC. He can be reached at [email protected].
LRC Note: A Race Like No Other was named a Top 10
Sports Books of the Year by USA Today and by Booklist
“Robbins, a longtime New York Times sportswriter, offers a broad and
loving look of the 39-year-old event through the prism of the 2007 race...The
book so seamlessly interweaves the micro and macro stories of the New
York marathon that it may require two reads to catch every amusing detail....
Robbins nails the race, painting a broad, impressionistic portrait of
what I consider New York’s greatest day.”
— Wall Street Journal
*Buy a Race Like No Other for $9.98 at Amazon.com (Where it Gets 4.5 Out of 5 Stars)
See Dane Run by Dane Rauschenberg
Review by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Columbus, Ohio
are probably not a lot of people who could run a marathon a week—or
frankly would even want to, supposing they were physically up to the
task. How many pasta dinners, cups of Gatorade and blackened toenails
can a person handle, anyway? But there are plenty of us who could benefit
from the motto of someone who did lace up for 26.2 miles every weekend
for a year. “There are many things in this world you cannot do,”
says Dane Rauschenberg, author of See Dane Run (The Experience
Publishers, 245 pages, $19.90). “Trying is not one of them.”
conceives of his 2006 odyssey after getting hooked on the marathon distance
but realizing he probably won’t ever run fast at that distance (an
arguable point, given the steady stream of near three-hour races he
produces). Looking for another goal, he decides to run a race a week.
Looking for a cause to support, he connects with L’Arche Mobile, an
international organization that works with the disabled. With the discipline
of a general preparing for war, Rauschenberg undertakes the task of
finding enough marathons to run—it has to be each weekend, no cheating
with two races over two days—booking flights, arranging schedules
and promoting his charity. He dubs his venture “Fiddy2” (after a
mispronunciation of “52”) and gets underway with the Walt Disney
World Marathon. He concludes, twelve months and 1,362 miles later, with
the Run for the Ranch Marathon in Springfield, Missouri. In-between
he takes readers on a tour of some of America’s most famous marathons—Marine
Corps and New York—and some of the most obscure: the Frank Maier Marathon
in Juneau, Alaska, anyone? Rauschenberg concludes with summaries of
the questions he got over the year. My favorite: “Are you going to
do all 52 states?”
far, so good. The problem with Rauschenberg’s book, as with similar
personal accounts of running achievements, is it becomes an insider’s
journal that sets much of the experience off limits to the average runner,
let alone non-athletic readers. His prose reads like a cross between
a long, breezy e-mail to friends and a gossipy Christmas letter to family—not
exactly inviting styles. His frequent use of mild profanities like “damn”
and “crap” is off-putting. His sexist comments about attractive
women he sees during races are offensive. His complaints about air travel—late
departures, crying babies—are annoying in the least: it’s not as
if anyone is forcing him to do this.
troubling, we get little of the local color of the marathons that Rauschenberg
runs and a lot—a whole lot—about him: how many times he stopped
to use the bathroom, how many times he needed a gel pack, how many times
he felt good or crummy. Enough already. It would also have been nice
to hear more about the training he did between marathons, and how he
managed to squeeze his career as a lawyer into what feels like a full-time
job of running and travel. He makes it clear he paid for everything
himself, but that doesn’t help the average person trying to figure
out a way to do something similar. To add a final insult to injury,
the poorly edited book mangles the name of Czechoslovakian running legend
Emil Zatopek. It’s a mistake a three-second Google search could have
of this is a shame. Rauschenberg’s heart is in the right place. His
accomplishment is remarkable. His mantra about trying is inspirational.
Unfortunately, the flaws of See Dane Run
obscure his feat and limit his ability to spread a message all of us
could benefit from: the only way to test our limits is to try.
*Read More Reviews and Purchase From Amazon.com
--Andrew Welsh-Huggins writes and runs in Columbus, Ohio. He has written a book on the Death Penalty in Ohio you can find here.