By Michael Connelly
The long and storied history of the Boston Marathon has become so entwined with the eight towns along the New England course that the traditions, runners, and everything surrounding the event has grown into legend. As the pinnacle of the marathon world, Boston stands out as a world-class and world-renowned celebration of running, runners, and grit. This book follows the history and spectacle of the Boston Marathon every step of the way. Each chapter is devoted to a piece of the race, most of those pieces being a full mile in length with the exception of the final 385 yards. This book provides a meticulous description of the course, complete with warnings about traffic islands and course bottlenecks, as well as wistful commentary on the local scenery and prominent sights. Of course it includes a highlights reel of close races, fierce rivalries, and athletic feats of defiance and valor, but it also draws attention to some of the less frequently discussed pieces of history, such as barriers for wheelchair competitors, the impact of politics and war, the evolution of health concerns, and early (and ongoing) attempts to sabotage the course leaders. If at any point it crossed paths with 26.2 miles through 8 New England towns, it made it into this book.
“26.2 Miles to Boston: A Journey Into the Heart of the Boston Marathon) by Michael Connelly is an glowing dedication to the lore of the Boston Marathon and bold pilgrims in pursuit of triumph along the course. Connelly recognizes that the event itself is greater than the sum of its parts, and makes a valiant effort to give proper attention to every individual aspect of the Boston Marathon. Having run the marathon himself, his descriptions of the course (and, if you are new to the course, unexpected hazards) reflect the information that runners need to know. He recounts epic battles for victory with the detail and enthusiasm of the most avid fans. He also reflects respectfully on the ability of the city to rise again, Boston strong, after the terrible attack at the finish line in 2013. Throughout the book, Connelly writes with the appropriate tenor to incite interest, inspiration, and the eternal conflict of fearful admiration. Connelly has done his research, both on the topic and the audience, and delivers a thorough and spirited description of everything the Boston Marathon has come to stand for.
As a runner and avid non-fiction reader, I love this book. The bizarre artifacts of history gathered among the pages help the book to feel intriguing and unexpected, though I cannot fathom why anyone wouldn’t want to read about the Boston Marathon. My one critique of this book is that it focuses much more on the elite athletes than the masses of runners who battled just to get to the starting line. It also reads like a boys’ club type of book, begging the question of who will write the girls’ club version (maybe me? I’ll add it to my list). Complaints aside, this is a phenomenal read.