If you’re a runner, you’ll love Duel in the Sun by John Brant. If you’re not a runner, it’s still a really good book. It’s the story of two men driven to insanity. It is high drama at its best.
Alberto Salazar was the young, cocky, super talented, two time winner of the NYC marathon. Dick Beardsley was a farm boy and virtually unknown as a marathoner. Beardsley wasn’t known for his speed, but had improved in each of his marathons. Both runners had extreme endurance and confidence and that may be all they had in common. Both had a common opponent…the HEAT .
The style of the book reminds me of distance running itself. Chapters are not chronological. They move in time just like a runner’s mind will move during a long run. You may run a few miles and realize that you haven’t used your mind at all. Then you may flash back and see years of your past in the next few minutes of your run.
In general, as Bill Rodgers once said, “The Marathon can humble you.” In specific, the Boston Marathon can break you. Boston has Heartbreak Hill at the 20 mile mark. And it is about the 20 mile mark that all humans “hit the wall” in any marathon (when glycogen levels are depleted). This race in 1982 broke both of these men. They finished in first and second place, having dueled the entire race that Salazar won by two seconds. I remember seeing this race as an 18 year old. Salazar was all the rage and a new idol of mine. And then he fell off the map a few years later. I had always wondered what happened. This book explains it.
Both men had demons. Some of these demons were from childhood, some came from this race. Both men would become broken physically and mentally. Beardsley became addicted to drugs; Salazar became obsessed with becoming the dominant runner he was before the Duel in the Sun. The details of their decline are frightening. The fight back for both men is inspiring.
I’m not usually taken by “inspirational books.” This one is different, it has moved me deeply. You can reserve it here.
The Library also has Alberto Salazar’s new book, 14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death and Life, which also I plan to read.
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