Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Weekend Reading: 14 Minutes

At the end of the school year I was fortunate enough to get a Barnes and Noble gift card from a student with which I purchased Alberto Salazar's new memoir, "14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death."

If you're a running history buff (or an "experienced" runner), you probably know of Alberto Salazar as the former US and world record holder in the marathon. This was back in the early 80s, before East Africans started running in the marathon as much as they do in the modern era. You might also know Salazar from "Duel in the Sun," the story of his 26.2 mile battle with Dick Beardsley. If you follow US distance running currently, you know Salazar is now coaching the Nike Oregon Project's athletes, including US 10k record holder Galen Rupp.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book. Hearing about Salazar's childhood and how he developed as a runner was engaging, and reading about his relentless pursuit of being a great distance runner was intriguing. I think most seriously competitive runners will be able to relate to Salazar in some degree, and although most will never be as single-minded and focused as Salazar, his obsessiveness is something a runner can relate to.

"14 Minutes" begins with Salazar's 14 minute "death." He describes heart attack at the Nike campus in Oregon, and re-vists this "death" several times. The death serves as the thematic glue that holds "14 Minutes" and Alberto Salazar's obsessive competitiveness together.

After describing his family history (mainly that of his father), he describes his running career, his time at Nike, his family, and his coaching at the Nike Oregon Project.

While most of it was entertaining, there were some spots I wish he'd described in more detail. The 1982 "Duel in the Sun" Boston Marathon was brushed over, and his win at the Comrades Marathon later in his career didn't take up as many pages as I would have liked.

Besides the lack of detail in those scenes, there are a couple of areas that might be off-putting to some readers. I enjoyed Salazar's description of his catholic faith, but runners who would rather read about training and racing may not enjoy those sections of the book.

What I didn't enjoy reading was when Salazar showed off his arrogance through his tone and his evaluation of his own talent. Salazar claims (several times), that he, "wasn't really talented." He writes, "I was just stubborn and worked hard like my father and that's why I was so good."

Sorry--you don't run sub-2:10 marathons without being extremely talented. I don't understand how anyone can fool themselves into thinking that their success is a result of pure hard work, but maybe that attitude helps elite runners train harder. Talented athletes such as Steve Prefontaine and Michael Jordan demonstrated a similar mindset in their athletic careers.

Whether or not you're interest in running or in sports in general, "14 Minutes" may be a good read. If you can't get past the arrogant tone and the running community's suspicion of Salazar's training methods, you might want to skip this one.

Happy Running!


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the book review. That is funny that Salazar said he was not arrogant. . . .I agree, that pretty much says you are.

I also agree that elite runners do not get to the top *just* with a lot of hard work; they definitely have some talent too.

SteveQ said...

It's funny, but I always get looks when I say I'm not talented, but I think Salazar may mean the same thing I do. My best time for 5 miles is 25:29 and I think the absolute fastest I could run that distance is probably 25:25. Most of the guys who run 25:29, in my opinion, are capable of running 23 or 24 minutes - so they're talented and I just worked hard. Salazar might (and I stress might) think that 2:08 was it for him in the marathon, but maybe Beardsley was capable of breaking 2 hours and was a relative slacker.

But, having met him, Salazar is an arrogant jerk.