With the current marathon era in full bloom, though slowly waning in favor of the half-marathon, it is sometimes hard to remember that we do not run in a vacuum. There are historical antecedents to the current craze, just as there will be for the next go-around.
Many of us read books about running to be motivated, to glean training advice, or to fine-tune our nutrition. It’s rare that many runners read about the historical underpinnings of our sport. Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze (New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2012), by David Davis, is a book worth searching out.
I had vague ideas about the 1908 marathon, with a near-dead Italian runner being helped across the finish line and subsequently disqualified, but I had no idea the story behind this singular race, the basis for so much of modern-day marathoning. So much of what I thought I knew was simply incorrect--like the idea that the monarchy changed the start and finish of the marathon so that they could see it better, a myth in both cases.
Davis brings back to life the heady days leading up to the Olympics, including the runners and their supporting casts, now mostly relegated to the dustbin of history. This book is a must-read for all of us who want to know where the sport has been, how it was the same in the past, and how it differs now. I just wish that we still stopped “…to swig champagne, hoping this will provide [us] enough lift to make it home.”
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