Monday, May 28, 2012

14 Minutes by Alberto Salazar: Book Review

"...a runner of any caliber almost never outlives the need to run. Once you get hooked-once the day comes when you suffer more by not running-you're stuck with it. Your daily runs become your solace and refuge, the place where you reflect, heal, and pray."  Alberto Salazar in "14 Minutes"

I finally finished Alberto Salazar's book 14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death and Life. I started it back a couple of months ago and didn't return to it until this weekend. Alberto is a running legend known for his awkward running style, dogged determination, and haughty stature holding a spot at the top as the greatest marathon runner alive in the early 1980s. He is also an enigmatic man, who seems a little difficult to figure out. It does seem, however, that Alberto has spent much time figuring out exactly who is his.

This book is a journey through the many threads and pathways of Alberto's life as a runner and person. The central part of the story is not really his outstanding running career, but rather the heart attack and subsequent 14 minutes of "death" before his heartbeat was fully restored. We learn about his demanding family life and his relationship with his father, who at one time was a confident of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara  before escaping Cuba. Alberto's strong Catholic faith comes through as well as his belief in miracles at a site in Yugoslavia called Megjugorje that turned a silver necklace to gold for his father years before  he claims the same miracle for himself on his own pilgrimage. We also learn about a boys drowning at a hometown pond that haunts the young Alberto. These images of death and struggle tempered with miracles and hardheadedness lead to two of the central running stories in the book: Alberto's collapse at the 1978 Falmouth Road Race that lead to a 108 degree temperature and the reading of last rights to Alberto and his epic Duel in the Sun at the 1982 Boston Marathon with Dick Beardsley. Alberto's introspection and the way he seems to compartmentalize all his experiences makes for an interesting, but not wholly inspired  reading.

Photo I took of an injured Salazar handing out awards at
the 1983 Falmouth Road Race.

Alberto does not seem impressed with himself or his own running and racing career, so as a fan of the sport you don't get a gee-whiz enthusiastic retelling of his stories. This is completely opposite of the feeling you get when you hear or read Dick Beardsley retell his impressions and experiences at the great Duel in the Sun. Maybe Alberto has a more mature view of his own importance and doesn't care to dwell on the past, but as a reader, I like hearing the breathless retellings and the minute details that seem to be lacking in this book. There is a cursory detailing of important races and key figures in Alberto's running career, but the stories are familiar if you grew up reading about and watching Alberto. Falmouth is here, the Boston and New York City Marathons, the Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa, and a few other key races. We also learn about Alberto's career with Nike and his coaching of Galen Rupp and others in the Oregon Distance Project. In all, the book is a good overview with enough details and connections made with his heart condition and faith that the book successfully captures a "whole" picture of how Alberto Salazar sees himself and his life as a runner and coach. It is interesting how he learns from the mistakes of his own enthusiastic rush to the top of  the world's list of great runners of his time as opposed  to how he methodically deals with the "gift" of finding and coaching a young talent like Galen Rupp in his high school years through professional career in a much slower and more calculated approach to reach the top of the current world rankings. Although he took one path to reach the top, Salazar has certainly learned from his own mistakes when guiding others.

Related Posts:
Preview of 14 Minutes and videos of Salazar and Beardsley retelling the Duel in in the Sun race.
How I made Sports Illustrated and Salazar and the Duel in the Sun.
Salazar, Ritzenhein, and the perfect stride.
1977 Falmouth Road Race
1978 Falmouth Road Race
1982 Boston Marathon

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