Two Hours

Two Hours, a book about marathons, was something I only found out about via a circuitous chain of hyperlinks. DC Rainmaker’s blog linked to a Tracksmith-sponsored piece of photojournalism, where they took pictures of the 3rd and 4th place athletes at the US Olympic trials. (Third place goes to the Olympics, fourth place goes home.) Tracksmith is like an American Rapha but for well-paid runners rather than cyclists. They sponsor a running-and-stuff weekly newsletter called the Weekly Round-Up, and the writer of that had interviewed the author of Two Hours. Whew.

When I say marathons, Two Hours is more specifically about modern marathons, and the men that run them the fastest. There’s a short discussion of the start of the modern era (including what must have been one of the world’s most boring spectator events, 262 laps of Madison Square Gardens) but the majority of it is centred on the Kenyans who dominate the event since the turn of the century. (They almost all have names that start with a K, which makes it a little bit hard to keep track of.)

Caesar writes really well, although he’s got the advantage of good material. I read the story of Sammy Wanjiru’s life and death with a lump in my throat (I knew how it turned out, but hadn’t appreciated how much he achieved before he died) and then I watched the final 5 minutes of his second Chicago Marathon, where both he and the man in second place, Kebede, seem to be doing a 1500m sprint not the end of a 26 mile race. Watching somebody that you know will shortly afterwards be dead is sometimes unusually affecting. Even with a crappy Youtube rip of the final minutes, I was almost weeping at the end.

After that, the story of Geoffrey Mutei and his sub-2:03 marathon feels anti-climactic. As in so many things with sport, it’s aggravating to see it’s not accepted as a ‘proper’ world record, for a series of reasons that seem rather arbitrary. Not that the marathon isn’t arbitrary anyway, in distance or in the religious significance of people trying to run it in less than 2 hours.

Whether this is as fascinating for somebody who isn’t deeply embroiled in training for a marathon, I don’t know. It didn’t take me much more than the titular 2 hours to read though, so it’s not as if you’ve got to risk much finding out.

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