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On the day of the 100th Boston Marathon, books celebrate why we run

Boston Marathon - A Century of Photos

A Century of Running

By Hal Higdon

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Rodale Press

242 pp., $40

The first sentence on the dust cover says it best. "The Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail of running." Beginning nearly four generations before the running boom of the 1970s, this century-old April tradition has thrilled millions of spectators and challenged thousands of participants.

Hal Higdon's book captures the spirit of the race and introduces the reader to the lore and legend that have developed over its long history.

The Boston Marathon was first held in 1897 with a field of 15 men. Ten finished the race. Since then, it has been held on Patriot's Day in April every year. This year's 100th running will draw about 37,000 participants according to the Boston Athletic Association, which has organized the event since its inception.

Higdon introduces us to such heroes as Clarence DeMar, Les Pawson, "Tarzan" Brown, the two John Kelleys, Bill Rodgers, Cosmos N'Deti, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Roberta Gibb, and Katherine Switzer. We get just enough detail to identify with each, and enough pictures to provide the look and feel of the race as it has evolved through the 20th century.

By the end of the book, it is easy to see why the race draws runners from around the world.

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The book's best chapter is "The Duel," in which Higdon skillfully unfolds the drama of the 1982 race. Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley battled bravely in what was arguably the most exciting and dramatic of the 99 races thus far. It had me on the edge of my seat, and I already knew who won!

This volume belongs on the coffee table of all serious runners and anyone who ever wondered why they run. But be careful! It may make you want to run in the 101st Boston.

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