A wide-ranging and compelling account of marathons and the very fastest men who run them.
Caesar, a British journalist with many American credits (New York Times Magazine, Outside, the Atlantic, etc.), explores the world of high-speed long-distance running. The dream of running the 26.2-mile race in less than two hours has not yet been achieved, and the author shows us the pursuit of that dream. Besides giving a capsule history of the race, from its mythical beginnings in Greece through its 20th-century ups and downs in popularity to its present dominance by East Africans, Caesar reveals its personalities and delves into its economics, science, and psychology. While the author depicts a host of runners, both well-known and otherwise, at the center of the story is Geoffrey Kiprono Mutai, a Kenyan runner whose personal best is 2:03:02. Caesar spent time with Mutai, observing the lives of Kenyan runners and how and why they run. Their mastery of marathon running has been variously attributed to geography (altitude, terrain), lifestyle (diet, arduous training), biology (genetic makeup, physique), and to an overwhelming desire to escape a difficult life. Caesar, whose admiration for his subjects is palpable, examines all of these, including the question of possible drug use. He also looks into the role of the runners' managers, the efforts of shoe companies to create the perfect running shoe, the varying design of marathon courses in different cities, and the outside factors affecting speed, such as wind and temperature. Readers should not skip the endnotes: this usually dry addendum is unexpectedly entertaining and informative. “Whatever science or common sense one uses to rebut the possibility of a two-hour marathon,” writes the author, “we still cannot resist its lure.”
Caesar’s winning prose will keep even armchair readers turning pages, perhaps tuning in to watch the next marathon.