Book Traces the Holy Grail of Marathons


By Sheryl Rosen,


In a few weeks, thousands will descend upon Boston for the 111th running of the Mecca of distance running – the Boston Marathon. No race can match the history and allure of this revered event. In “26 Miles to Boston,” author Michael Connelly explains why.

Connelly’s book wraps a personal account of his 1996 race with a history lesson about the marathon from its inaugural running in 1897. While other accounts chronicle the struggles of those at the front of the pack, Connelly writes from the perspective of a competitor not hoping to conquer the championship but simply aiming for the finish line. He long enjoyed the race as a spectator before deciding to put down his beer and lace up his running shoes, and his book shares this experience with the reader. His personal connection to the race is obvious and sincere as he weaves a description of his journey with details about the race course and facts about various occurrences that happened each mile during the race’s rich history.

Connelly’s lack of talent as an author is clear. The book is drowning in clichés and cheesy metaphors. The transitions are full of potholes. However, his emotional and physical journey is respectable and his account heartfelt. The reader can’t help but cheer him on from Hopkinton to Boston.

An interesting aspect of “26 Miles to Boston” is its unique construction. Each mile in the race receives its own chapter, and the chapters are an interesting mix: narrative about the author’s progress in the race, topographical details of the course, landmarks along the way, historical facts, and pictures from many years’ races.

For anyone looking forward to someday making the trek to the Boston Marathon, the description of the course is priceless. Connelly doesn’t fail to mention a hill or turn. Descriptions of landmarks such as the old Citgo sign in Boston make the journey easier to visualize. Pictures of the course also aid this effort. One of the best is the image of Geoff Smith of England, winner of the 1984 and 1985 races, complete with a big grin while passing cheering Wellesley College women.

The historical details in the book also add context and color to the chapters. Readers will be entertained by varying accounts, such as the 1907 race in which a passing freight train separated the two leaders from the rest of the field or the underhanded actions of 1980 cheater Rosie Ruiz.

While the writing is lackluster, Connelly’s journey and the intriguing legacy of the race are not. By the time the reader reaches the back cover, he or she may very well be ready to book the flight to Beantown.