Saturday, October 22, 2016

Frank Shorter: My Marathon:Reflections on a Gold Medal Life

Frank Shorter has always been one of my heroes in the running world. I watched him win the Olympic Marathon in Munich on our family's television and fretted along with the announcers when an impostor ran into the stadium ahead of him trying to steal his Olympic glory. I started running cross-country the next year when I began high school. I bought the first book written about him, by John Parker of  "Once a Runner" fame, in 1973 from Runner's World. I was one of the less than 1000 people who ran in the 1975 Falmouth Road Race which has been described as the start of the road racing running boom along with Frank Shorter in my hometown. I used a quote I found from Frank Shorter in a Sports Illustrated article as my high school yearbook quote in 1977 and I followed his career though the years.

On his way to winning the 1975 Falmouth Road Race

I bought a copy of his first autobiography when it first came out it 1984: Olympic Gold: A Runner's Life and Times, so I wasn't too keen to shell out the bucks when a new autobiography from Frank Shorter came out this year, particularly when I started hearing about the many factual mistakes in the book that an editor should have caught and corrected. So I sort of ignored getting a copy of the book My Marathon: Reflections of a Gold Medal Life until I noticed that the Kindle edition of the book was only $2.99 (compared to the hardcover price of $26 on Amazon). I knew that the book would have new information on the abuse charges that Frank had been recently discussing in relationship to his father and I wanted to hear what Frank had to say so I splurged the small amount of cash needed to buy it and downloaded a copy.

Many years ago at Fitness University
in Nashua, NH with Frank
and two of my children.
I enjoyed reading Frank's new book even though most of his reflections were about stories I was already well aware of (still worth reading again): his Olympic gold medal run, his reflections on Steve Prefontaine, particularly as Frank was the last person to see Pre alive, and his silver medal run in the 1976 Olympics and his wonderment and concerns about the surprise winner Waldemar Cierpinski and the much later confirmations that this runner was doped up by the East German sports machine. The book also touches on other issues that Frank was involved in including the rise of professionalism in the sport and the anti-doping measures that Frank is so tightly tied to. Then there is the hovering story of his abusive father and the effect on Frank and his siblings and how he quietly dealt with this throughout his life and eventually started opening up to the public about his father.

After a run with Frank in Hollis, NH about 20 years ago.

Most of the stories here are like a greatest hits of his career. A runner who hasn't lived through the events of Franks life through the books, running magazines, and races that he has run may find the telling of his life interesting and I would say necessary if you are a runner. Those of us from the road running glory days will appreciate the new angle on things, but will also realize that Frank can't write about all the races that he has run that are missing in this book.  Probably due to how Frank has compartmentalized his life due to his childhood experiences and his schooling as a lawyer, this book is reflective of the facts and how they all fit together. As much as Frank thought out how he would win the gold medal, and planned and trained for that, in Munich, his writings give an outline of his experiences in races and in transforming running into the sport it is today. On the other hand, Frank doesn't write as much about his feelings, nor does he give much insight into the internal struggles that he may have faced. And this is to be expected.

My signed copy of The Frank Shorter Story
I won't write about the many factual mistakes in the book except to relate two that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere and in particular, these two mistakes refer to my hometown Falmouth Road Race. The section of the book that refers to the running of the 1975 Falmouth Road Race refers to it as the inaugural edition of the race and talked about the cream of the running Boston running community running it along with about 100 citizen racers. The 1975 race was the third running of the race in Falmouth, not the first, and there were about 800 racers.  As a fifth grade teacher, I just have a minor quibble about a sentence mentioning Falmouth, "...the Falmouth Road Race in Cape Cod." We say, "On Cape Cod!" There are many other errors in the proofreading of this book that should be corrected, but they are documented elsewhere.

Frank signed this for my class a few years ago, then looked
at it, laughed, and rewrote the message in a different way
on another board.
I do find that as a reader who knows Frank's stories that the new book updates with a new perspective of him that you might not find in older sources. I recall reading years ago about his small town family doctor father and Frank's large family thinking how charming and blessed he was with his upbringing, only to find out later that he dad was a monster and the happy family story was only an illusion. I remember reading about how Frank trained in Taos, New Mexico for the Olympics and reading how his father use to trail behind him in a car with a rifle due to Frank having a run in with some locals, but then reading that story in a different light with the revelations about his dad.

This book is well worth a read in finding out how a champion athlete trains and thinks and would recommend that you read it particularly while it is now selling at Amazon for only $2.99 for the Kindle version.

I have already started to read another running Kindle version bargain that I also bought and this one was only $1.99: First Ladies of Running: 22 Inspiring Profiles of the Rebels, Rule Breakers, and Visionaries Who Changed the Sport Forever by Amby Burfoot. While I may have grown up running races far behind the greats of running like Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, I saw more closely the struggle and growth of the first women to break down the barriers that held women back in sports and it is good to read about the history of many of these women that I have met, run with (or behind), and watched as they broke down the barriers holding them back.

Meb for Mortals is only $2.99 on the Kindle.

14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death and Life Alberto Salazar's autobiography is only $1.99. My review of that book is here.

1 comment:

Wendy Rivard said...

I'm reviewing this book for my running blog--I host a monthly "book club". I enjoyed your review and appreciate your perspective! How lucky you are to have met this living legend!