The Quest to Run the Impossible MarathonBook - 2015
"Compelling...As becomes clear not long after its starting gun, this book transcends the search for a two-hour marathon." -- The Washington Post
Two hours to cover twenty-six miles and 385 yards. It is running's Everest, a feat once seen as impossible for the human body. But now we can glimpse the mountaintop. The sub-two hour marathon will require an exceptional combination of speed, mental strength, and endurance. The pioneer will have to endure more, live braver, plan better, and be luckier than anyone who has run before. So who will it be?
In this spellbinding book, journalist Ed Caesar takes us into the world of elite marathoners: some of the greatest runners on earth. Through the stories of these rich characters, like Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai, around whom the narrative is built, Caesar traces the history of the marathon as well as the science, physiology, and psychology involved in running so fast for so long. And he shows us why this most democratic of races retains its brutal, enthralling appeal--and why we are drawn to test ourselves to the limit.
Two Hours is a book about a beautiful sport few people understand. It takes us from big-money races in the United States and Europe to remote villages in Kenya. It's about talent, heroism, and refusing to accept defeat. It is a book about running that is about much more than running. It is a human drama like no other.
From the critics
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While not exactly what I'd expected, Ed Caesar has done a remarkable job of cohesively stringing together information that he's gathered over much time spent with elite Kenyan (primarily, there is also some exposure to Ethiopian elites, as well) runners; he has given generously of his time, resources, skills and goodwill to make these interviews and fact-finding missions possible. In return, he has been provided unprecedented access to international races, athletes, their coaches and their culture to share an update with readers, in layman's terms, on the quest to get closer to a mythical marathon finish time.
Although he interviews and writes about several other elite-level distance runners, and gives a succinct history and breakdown of the marathon as a distance race, the primary focus of this book is Geoffrey Mutai; Caesar formed a special bond with the athlete during his research for this book, and Mutai was very open with him about his background, his culture, the secrets of training in Kenya, his goals and dreams for the future. It's an inspiring and powerful story, and I'm grateful to the author for having shared this. If you've read a lot of other literature related to Kenyan running (for example, Running with the Kenyans) this may not be "news" to you; since I have not, I was very interested to hear about the background of some of these athletes and their lives outside the racing scene.
Having just finished watching the NYC Marathon last weekend, it was pretty fun to read about it's impact on the international racing world (as one of the World Marathon Majors) in this book. Normally, international elite runners are simply names on a bib (especially those from Kenya, since they seem to stay away from the press); it was interesting to have a little more story to go along with some of the faces. Caesar also explores the subject of drug use and recognizes the efforts of shoe companies to work with athletes toward this two-hour goal; what company wouldn't want to have their sponsored athlete hit this mark?
The ending is a little more abrupt than I prefer but, overall, I was impressed with his debut effort. In addition, I must draw attention to Caesar's notes at the back of the book; there is some fantastic information that was worth going through but I wish I'd done it while reading the book, instead of after I'd finished. I would recommend this to anyone who appreciates or is interested in the sport of distance running, runner or not; definitely worth the read.
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