Care to run the Boston Marathon on April 15? Might as well. Seems as if everyone who ever laced up a running shoe will be in Hopkinton that morning to celebrate the 100th running of the great race. Riding the crest of this wave of enthusiasm are two new books, Boston Marathon: 100 Years of Blood, Sweat, and Cheers by Tom Derderian (Triumph Books, $19.95) and Boston: A Century of Running by Hal Higdon (Rodale Press, $40).
The first volume is shaped somewhat like a gasoline-station road map—about a foot long and four inches wide. Inside are panels organized by towns through which the marathon passes: Hopkinton, Ashland, etc. When you reach the final page, Natick, you simply turn over the booklet (for that is what it really is) and read your way from Wellesley to Boston.
The author, Derderian, is a former 2:19 marathoner. His book contains 100 (get it?) vignettes from the Boston race, with titles such as "The Day Billy Saved Alberto" (a dog attacked Salazar, Rodgers shooed it away), "Politicians Run Too" (Michael Dukakis once clocked a 3:31) and "Rosie Ruiz Pulls Fast One" (surely you know). Peppered among these are trivia sidebars: For instance, 275 stretchers and 500 boxes of sterilized gloves are among the medical supplies gathered for the race. Finally, every page contains two or more postage-stamp-sized photos of a wide range of marathon-related subjects: starts, finishes, crowds, landmarks.
Someone searching for a deeper understanding of the race should read Boston, a coffee-table book illustrated with a marvelous combination of vintage and modern photos, many from the personal albums of participants, both famous and obscure. The text by Higdon, also an accomplished marathoner, has 11 chapters, each high-lighting a personality or aspect of the race.
To wit: Clarence DeMar rates a whole chapter, as well he should. The legendary runner won the marathon seven times, and at 54 he was still finishing in less than three hours. But who knew that as a boy DeMar sold apples on the street, that he earned a Harvard degree, that he was a scoutmaster and a Sunday school teacher, yet he was considered rude by many, possibly because he was hard of hearing?
Higdon gives a fascinating account of the advent of women to the race that includes the pioneers Roberta Gibb Bingay and Kathrine Switzer and their battles with the track establishment. For instance, in 1966, when Switzer asked a Syracuse coach if she could try out for the university's cross-country team, she was told to run the five-mile course that afternoon. When Switzer left for the run, the coach said, "I guess I got rid of her."
One chapter is devoted to a stride-by-stride re-creation of the 1982 duel between Salazar and Dick Beardsley, which Salazar won by two seconds. But the best descriptions of what it's like to run Boston come, perhaps not surprisingly, from the late Dr. George Sheehan, a cardiologist who ran his first marathon at age 45 and became a prolific writer and lecturer on the subject.
"It is a course that may be triumphed over but never defeated," Sheehan wrote. "Accept your limitations and with thought and care, you will have a creditable race. But go for broke and prepare to be broken." Sheehan's best time was 3:01. He thought that with more work he might clip below three hours, but he opted not to, musing, "What else would be left in life after you broke three hours in the marathon?"
For this year's 100th race, anyone with a qualifying time will be permitted to run. Inspired after reading this book, you may wish you were on the starling line, too.