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26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York

by Liz Robbins

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-137313-8
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

A celebratory narrative populated by dozens of characters who plan, run in and observe the annual New York City Marathon.

The 26.2-mile race through the streets and parks of all five boroughs began in 1970. In her first book, New York Times sportswriter Robbins reports the most recent one. On November 4, 2007, she writes, “39,265 participants swarmed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, making New York the largest marathon in the world for the fourth year in a row.” Most of the entrants will be unfamiliar to readers, with the exception of actress Katie Holmes and cycling champion Lance Armstrong. Some of the participants were serious runners from nations all over the globe; others walked more of the course than they ran; others never intended to stay the course for 26.2 miles. In all categories, a significant percentage were exorcising personal demons. The author skillfully weaves individual runners’ dramatic personal sagas throughout the narrative. One of the most interesting portraits captures 45-year-old wife and mother of three Pam Rickard from Rocky Mount, Va. Fourteen months before the race, Rickard completed a 90-day jail sentence for driving while intoxicated. She had been an alcoholic, dangerous to herself and others; the marathon, she hoped, would serve as a sign of her penance and recovery. Robbins unfolds Rickard’s and others’ efforts mile by mile. Along the way, she describes each neighborhood serving—occasionally unwillingly—the hordes of entrants disrupting its natural rhythms. For non-marathoners, the unusual tour of New York City’s five boroughs might be at least as interesting as the runners.

Well-reported, though marred by too many main characters and excessive enthusiasm about the race’s healing powers.