Tag Archives: Boston

Duel In The Sun

Duel In the Sun: The Story of Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America’s Greatest Marathon – John Brant

In the twilight years of amateur running in the Boston Marathon before prize packages were introduced to incentivize big names and bigger turnouts, elite runners duked it out on 26.2 miles of pavement from Hopkinton to Boston for nothing other than bragging rights. Perhaps the greatest battle of all was the famed “duel in the sun” in 1982 between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. Beardsley had been favored to win the marathon until Salazar, the runner that confidently proclaimed improbable goals before his races only to demolish them, entered two months prior to the marathon. In a fierce contest of mental stamina and physical endurance, Beardsley and Salazar ran shoulder to shoulder for the last 9 miles of the race with no other competitors in sight. Although both men spent years dreaming about Boston and 2:09 minutes engaged in intense battle, the aftermath of the marathon was perhaps the most pivotal part of each man’s life. Salazar slowly descended from a promising career to one plagued by nagging and indeterminate maladies. Beardsley’s professional running career was cut short by ACL surgery shortly after the marathon, but his life was much more significantly impacted by addiction. In retrospect, each of the runners traces the change in their life trajectory back to the duel in the sun.

“Duel in the Sun” by John Brant chronicles much more than the famed race of ’82. Featuring two competitors, Brant spends time exploring the backgrounds of each runner, how they found their way to elite running, and the unexpected paths their lives branch out on after the culmination of the race. A thorough historian, Brant traces Cuban-American Salazar’s family history back to the days when his father was a resistor-in-arms with Castro before fleeing to the United States when he no longer felt safe under Castro’s communist Cuba. Similarly, Brant explores Beardsley’s country childhood and farming work ethic, as well as how the alcoholism of both his parents contributed to his genetic predisposition and later addiction to painkillers. As a sports writer, Brant focuses in on relevant details of training, racing, and everything else related to running without going into the weeds with nuance. At the same time, he offers a holistic picture of each runner and their experience by including how their childhoods shaped not only everything leading up to the duel in the sun, but also everything that came after. The result is a gripping retelling of an amazing race that considers all the factors at stake.

I love this book! The chapters alternate between runners, focusing on experiences before the marathon that influenced their running as well as significant moments after the marathon as the runners struggled to make meaning of the difficulties in their lives. Throughout the dueling narratives runs the theme of the ’82 Boston Marathon, which unites the multiple storylines. I was also pleased with the respectful tone Brant takes toward each of the runners’ struggles, rather than exploiting individual difficulty for consumption and comparison. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in running.


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Marathon Monday and the Restorative Power of the Icepop

The Boston Marathon is THE marathon of all marathons, and lives up to its reputation in every way. The Boston experience encompasses the entire weekend, starting as soon as the plane arrives at the airport, through the expo, from the athlete’s village to the finish line, and all the way back to the airport. The whole thing feels electric with excitement so palpable it hangs in the air like humidity, and the spectators are as much a part of the race (if not more so) than the runners themselves. It is an extraordinary atmosphere in which to run 26.2 miles.

Before the race
DSC02094For me, the entire trip to Boston was permeated with a sense of “Who’s running?!” and it seems to me that, on this particular weekend, marathon runners have a sixth sense for identifying each other. It was a happy surprise to discover I shared a flight up to Boston with a friend from my running group. I was also thrilled to find the Boston airport covered in signs for the marathon. So many people so excited about running!

Packet pickup was smooth and streamlined (how could it not be? They’ve had 120 years to figure it out!), and the expo was so jam-packed it was hard to move (to be expected). This was followed by a photo opportunity at the finish line, along with thousands of other runners and their personal cheering squads/photographers (my group consisted of my parents, sister, cousin, and his wife). Reasonably timed dinner, then laying everything out before an early bedtime.DSC02122

Race day
Before leaving for the race, I told many of my non-running friends that I was looking forward to the experience of a daytime marathon. This meant that instead of waking up at 4am, I would be allowed the luxury of sleeping in until 6! (Although nerves had me up early anyway). Runners congregated a few blocks down from the finish line to pile onto a fleet of yellow school buses for transport to the starting line. Boston is a point-to-point marathon, meaning it starts and ends in different locations, and I can only imagine the logistical nightmare of moving 30,000+ runners in a timely manner! I’m sure they used every school bus in the state of Massachusetts to accomplish this feat. The psychological aspect of running the marathon started here because the ride to the start took almost 45 minutes. If it takes that long to drive the distance, how long will it take to cover it on foot?!

The athlete’s village felt surreal. Runners in various states of preparation, whether snoozing, stretching, or standing in line for the port-a-potties, covered every square inch of the huge lawn. Massive tents had been put in place for shelter, although the weather was ideal at this point and the tents were unnecessary. Gradually, waves of runners left the village to head up to the starting line. I was seeded in the third wave, so I had about an hour to wait from when I arrived at the village to when I headed out to the start, and another 30 minutes at the starting line before we headed off. There was a lot of “hurry up and wait” to get to the starting line, but the waiting never felt boring.

The weather would have been perfect for a spring day in Massachusetts (or being a spectator on the course!) but was a bit on the warm side for running a marathon. Pre-race announcements emphasized the importance of hydration and adjusting time goals to factor in the heat. I didn’t have any expectations for my finishing time anyway, and just wanted to make it to the end in as whole a condition as possible.

The race itself was easier than I anticipated, considering my lack of training. The first few miles breezed by, aided in part by the downhill grade and enthusiasm from the crowd. I made it to the halfway point in under 2 hours, so I deemed the race a success and stopped watching my Garmin like a hawk. Instead, I settled back to enjoy the spectators. The Boston spectators know their race, and they know how to support runners. With the warmer temperatures this year, spectators lined the course with wet paper towels, garden hoses, and popsicles (in addition to orange slices every 1/2 mile and official BAA aid stations every other mile). I didn’t see the popsicles on the course until I hit mile 14, and I knew just by looking at the beautiful, blue ice on a stick that it would be exactly the thing I needed to keep me refreshed for the next few miles. That popsicle was magic! Gave me a major stomachache by mile 15.5, but it was absolutely worth it.

The Newton hills were the other part of the course that stuck out to me, and those things were serious! Heartbreak Hill at mile 21 is widely renowned as the major obstacle of the race, but with the rolling hills leading up to it, Heartbreak Hill seemed to me to be just one more uphill to cover.

DSC02169Aid stations and med tents came up at every mile starting around mile 20 (good planning, BAA!), which was quite necessary for this race. I had been walking through aid stations for most of the race, and by the time I got to the aid station at mile 24, I took my sip of water and made every effort to fall back into my jog (it was a jog at this point), and then just kept walking. I always hope to run the entirety of a marathon, but I had resigned myself to some walking breaks for Boston because I knew my training wasn’t up to snuff. The last 2.2 miles were bone-chillingly slow (and cold!), but I didn’t feel defeated. I had already proven myself by qualifying for the race, and had surpassed my own expectations of how well I would perform on race day.

The finish line was as seamless as every other aspect of theDSC02172 race weekend. The volunteers ushered us through the finishing chute, gave us heat blankets, water bottles, bags of food, and medals! Most races release pictures of the medal before the race, but try as I might, all my internet searching could not turn up a single image of the 2016 Boston Marathon medal. My personal cheering squad found me at our pre-arranged meeting location. I was lying on the ground curled in a tiny ball because the asphalt was so much warmer than the air and it was the only thing I could think of to do to try to stay warmer than I felt! Finishing a marathon is so much easier when I have other people to hold my bags, open my water bottles, and direct me to the train! I think I’ll start recruiting personal cheering squads for every race.

After the Race
I wore all my Boston swag to the airport the following day, as did most other runners. All the lines at the airport were dotted with teal jackets, blue and yellow shirts, and race medals. Most of the flights leaving the airport that day also offered priority boarding for marathoners. Sweet!

Final Reflections
I don’t know how to quantify this, but the Boston Marathon is the runners’ marathon. Everyone knows the drill, everyone supports each other, and everyone shares the same sense of nervous excitement. The individual achievements of the runners become the collective victory of the community (race organizers and spectators alike!). By the end of the race, the entire city is filled with a sense of celebration and solidarity. It was absolutely a phenomenal experience in every way.

Not to mention, I was able to raise an amazing $1,641 for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center! Thank you so much to all of you who donated to this wonderful agency! #trainedinteal #ranbold #notalone

boston finish


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