Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review – Iron War

ironwar

Great sports starts are also born out of great sports rivalries. Whether it’s Bird/Magic, Brady/Manning, Yankees/Red Sox, Michigan/Ohio State, Palmer/Nicklaus, Seabiscuit/War Admiral, Fererer/Nadal, Agassi/Sampras, or Ali/Frazier, having a side to cheer for makes sports that much more interesting. The world of endurance sports has had some good historic rivalries that have been turned into some fantastic books. Had “The Perfect Mile” been a story about just Roger Bannister, it would’ve been worth a read. The race between Bannister, Australian miler John Landy, and American miler Wes Santee made it one of my favorite books of all-time. The inter-country rival of possibly two of the greatest middle distance runners of all-time (Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe) made “The Perfect Distance” another of my favorite book ever.

As a runner, I’m familiar with the sport of triathlons although I can’t claim to know very much about the history of the sport. Reading “Iron War” by Matt Fitzgerald, I learned a little about the history of the sport especially as it pertains to the classic Ironman race in Kona, Hawaii. The Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, followed by a leisurely 26.2 mile jog. Every year, the world championship Ironman takes place in Kona, HI.

“Iron War” takes a look at two of the biggest figures in Ironman history – Dave Scott and Mark Allen. Both considered pioneers of the sport, Scott and Allen have different philosophies and different training methods towards running this impossible race. Considered two of the pioneers of the sport, “Iron War” focuses on the epic 1989 race between these long-time rivals. Coming into the race, Dave Scott was six-time champion who had cut over 2 hrs and 40 minutes off the previous Ironman record. Coming into the race, Mark Allen is considered one of the greatest triathletes in the world, but Dave Scott has always had his number when it came the race in Kona.

I came into this moving not knowing or really caring about anything related to Ironman (Robert Downey franchise movie aside, of course). I found the story incredibly compelling. I may have enjoyed the book more than others simply because I had no idea how the epic race ends. Matt Fitzgerald, who I’ve read before in “Brain Training for Runners” and “Racing Weight” did a fantastic job here despite rumors of a lawsuit from Scott and Allen.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If my bookshelf were arranged by quality tiers, it would be sitting on the same shelf as some of my favorite running books ever (such as Running with the Buffaloes, Sub-4:00, The Perfect Distance, and The Perfect Mile).

Book Review: 14 Minutes by Alberto Salazar

Alberto Salazar and I have a lot in common.

No, it’s not our amazing running ability. Only one of us was blessed with that although I’m still looking for a rematch from the last time I raced against him. And even though we’ve both coached many great runners (although I think he’s got an advantage in this category, as well), that isn’t it, either.

Unfortunately, we’ve both seen what’s commonly referred to as the other side. “14 Minutes” is a recollection of Alberto Salazar’s impressive running and coaching career, but a big chunk of the book focuses on a massive heart attack in June 2007 that left him essentially for dead for 14 minutes.

For those of you under the age of 40, here’s a quick synapses of Salazar’s career. After immigrating from Cuba with his family as a child, Salazar was probably the greatest American distance runner (and arguably the greatest in the world) during the early 80s. His battle with Dick Beardsley in the 1982 Boston Marathon is arguably one of the greatest races ever. After that race, his career was never quite the same.

Eventually he landed a job with Nike where he started coaching elite athletes with hopes of bringing American distance running back. He’s coached some very good runners, but easily his most impressive coaching moment came in to 2012 Olympics when two athletes he coached – Britain’s Mo Farah and Oregon’s own Galen Rupp – finished 1-2 in the 10k.

The book deals a lot with Salazar’s perceived cockiness in the early parts of his career, rumors around performance enhancing drugs that have surrounding his career as both an athlete and a coach, depression as his career came to a close, and much more.

More than anything, though, the book spends a lot of time reflecting on how the near-death experience changed Salazar’s perspective on life both positively and negatively. At first, he wondered how someone who had dedicated his life to such a healthy activity could possibly have a near-fatal heart attack. Later on, the heart attack allowed him to step back a little as a coach and realize what’s important in life.

If you are a survivor of a near-death experience like myself (I’m guessing you aren’t) or a fan of running, you’ll find this book very interesting.