Book Review: Duel in the Sun

With the Boston Marathon approaching on April 20th, I thought it was high time to read a running themed book again. After reviewing some archived episodes of the Phedippedations Podcast I found one about the 1982 men's race, that has been dubbed the "Duel in the Sun". Being new to distance running in 1982, I remember seeing the news highlights of Alberto Salazar collapsing after the finish, but not much else about the race. The podcast did a nice job of presenting the race using narrative and archived TV audio, but since the 'book is always better', I sought out a copy at my local library to get a more complete background.

I almost always have a book going, mostly to read at lunch time, but a lot of times at home the book gets moved from room to room without being opened. Duel in the Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America's Greatest Marathon by John Brant was not one of those books. I had it open every chance I got.

The backdrop to the book is the 1982 Boston Marathon and the very competitive race between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. But the book goes beyond the conflict on the road between an internationally acclaimed runner versus a journeyman dairy farmer from Minnesota and spends much of the time on the time examining the troubles each runner experienced following that legendary race.

Reading the story of the race was like watching the movie Apollo 13, you know how everything turns out, but you are on the edge of your seat, waitng to see who wins. Brant does a good job presenting what was going on in the underdog Beardsley's head during the race, but doesn't provide much from Alberto. I don't know if that was intentional or not, but it left me rooting for the underdog.

The basis for the rest of the book is that the 1982 Boston Marathon was the last really great running performance for each of the athletes. Salazar lost his performance level through the effects of overtraining and depression. Beardsley was taken down by achilles surgery, a freak farming accident, and finally an addiction to prescription pain killers.

Brant did a good job presenting the stories. I found myself anticipating the alternating sections focusing on each athlete almost as much as the sections on the race. However, I picked up the book wanting to read about the race, not the downward slides of 2 individuals after that time.

Would I read the book again? Yes. Would I recommend the book to others? Without a doubt. In fact it is making the rounds through my family now. Did I enjoy the book? Very much. I just wish there had been more about the race, that I agree is the greatest American marathon to this date.

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