November 2008

Pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles

By Liz Robbins
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Ah, the New York City Marathon – it's the stuff of legend, from the sight of thousands upon thousands of people piling on to the Verrazano – Narrows Bridge to the personal dramas played out on the streets of Manhattan. In A Race Like No Other, Liz Robbins has created an engrossing, edifying and moving chronicle of a day in the life of the marathon and its participants. Mile by mile, runner by runner, she explores what it was like to participate in the 2007 race. Robbins has worked as a sportswriter for 17 years, the last nine at the New York Times, and she is a master of her craft: she deftly combines historical fact with creative interpretation, statistics and time – splits with detailed description.

She discusses the specifics of the race and explains logistics (Where do runners put their extra clothes and gear during the race? And, um, what's the bathroom situation?). Robbins describes the founding, history and changes to the race, and provides plenty of interesting tidbits – the marathon was founded in 1970, and 749,791 people have crossed the finish line since then; the 2007 race had 39,195 competitors, including Lance Armstrong and Katie Holmes.

But the author's focus isn't on celebrities; while she does follow elite runners like Martin Lel, a Kenyan who won the race in 2003 but wasn't able to run in the intervening years due to injury, she also introduces Pam Rickard, a recovering alcoholic who runs to regain her sense of self and forget her time in jail just one year prior, wheelchair athlete Edith Hunkeler and young cancer survivor Harrie Bakst. A Race Like No Other is a satisfying read for many reasons, not least because Robbins' writing is fluid and engaging, and she offers an unprecedented inside look at a storied event. But most of all, it's fascinating to learn what motivates the marathoners to keep running no matter what sort of walls they hit.

Linda M. Castellitto laces up her sneakers in North Carolina.

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A Race Like No Other

A Race Like No Other

By Liz Robbins
ISBN 9780061373138

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