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In A Race Like No Other author Liz Robbins takes us through the journey of running the 2007 New York City Marathon. I’ve seen documentaries and read other books that dip into this race. How much more is there to say? The author mined its history, personalities, behind the scenes, competitive spirit and the unique stories of nearly 40,000 runners and came up with lots of good stuff.

Because I live in NYC and happen to like running friends often ask when I’m going to run this one. The answer is never because I don’t want to. Also it’s a pain to get in and the odds of ending up on the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge and beginning the race in a shower of urine (picture it!) are too high for my liking. Notice they never publish images of the disgusted lower level runners? Rather than advising unlucky lowers to stay away from the sides, why not install bounce-back guards along the top level? Oh, I’d pay to see that.

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Most if not every other running book I’ve read are authored by the runner/central figure in the book. Born to Run is one possible exception as it focuses more on other runners, but the author is an active player too. A seasoned sports writer, Liz Robbins brings a broad, bird’s-eye perspective to the race. She tells the story chronologically starting with the months of effort and anticipation poured into training, heart ache that steers some to the start line and the physical, mental and emotional struggles. And that’s all before race day.

Robbins then takes us through the physical course mile by mile alongside a few volunteers, elites and everywoman and man runners. We linger in the excitement and hours of boredom in the morning leading up and dig deeper into a few compelling backstories – a woman fighting her way back from alcoholism, a cancer survivor. Then there’s the stride-by-stride drama between Paula Radcliffe (returning after losing in Berlin) and Gete Wami. I didn’t remember who won so this level of detail added tension and a little thrill to the reading.

I enjoyed learning a few bits of running and specific race trivia. The Kenyans’ racing strategy is predictable, but pretty effective. They share the lead to pace one another until it comes to the final kick. Get a few buddies to pace with and maybe you can win? I also didn’t know the Fred Lebow statue on East 90th street and Central Park East has a chip in the finger in keeping with Orthodox tradition of not attempting to re-create god’s perfection, or something.

Upon finishing I felt like I’d ran this race minus the soreness, sweat and gross beginning. This years NYC Marathon is right around the corner on November 1st. I would be there cheering around mile 7 but the race is the day after Halloween so… High fives to everyone running races this fall.

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