Duel In The Sun

By John Brant
224 pp. Rodale Books. $15.95.

Curious is how I would summarize my pre-read thoughts for “Duel In The Sun”. Marathons are long, but how could the 1982 Boston Marathon fill 200+ pages? Well, multiple journeys would ensue. The deliberations of that Patriot’s Day are woven in and out of the life experiences of Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. The 1982 race discussion never strays far (the individual chapter number illustrations reflect the long shadows cast that day). However, this book’s center stage is also shared by what occurs prior to that Hopkinton start and beyond that Boston Finish. As book contributors, both Salazar and Beardsley offer sincere, honest accounts.

One comes away from this read accepting that Dick Beardsley is a cup is half full kind of guy. That said, he describes Salazar as a non-braggart and welding a simply honest persona. However, Salazar’s pre Boston words give pause to that status. “…well, the facts are plain; I’m the fastest man in the race.” Beginning in childhood, it’s Salazar’s work ethic that persists. However, as his physical prowess had not yet arrived, he was his own greatest challenger. Dealing himself repeated anguish. Charging towards athletic goals before his body was ready. That mentality fueled a fire. As his physical maturity caught up, the fire raged on. Further, in those rare cases that his physicality did not warrant top seed, he would outwork an opponent. His pain-threshold beyond comprehension.

Post 1982 Boston, Salazar is broken. The extreme stress of that day would illicit both a physical (asthma) and mental (depression) change that hampered his running ability for much of his remaining prime athletic years. He sets out on multiple journeys attempting to resolve these maladies and eventually discovers a modicum of relief (Prozac), leading to a 1994 Comrades Marathon victory. Trying to fend off injury, his self-prescribed buildup to winning that grueling 55 mile race put him in his basement doing the bulk of his training on a treadmill. His unquestionable, personal belief that no one would work harder had not wavered.

One of Salazar’s methods for mitigating his health woes involved a couple religious pilgrimages to Yugoslavia. While this matter is undoubtedly relevant, I found the number of pages devoted to it to be excessive. Perhaps others will embrace this content and won’t share my sentiment.

Beardsley’s pre-1982 Boston account follows a coming of age stemming from the Minnesota wilderness. It’s in these lands he finds several means (fishing, hunting, farming) of coping in an effort to steer clear of the alcoholism-fueled behaviors of both his mother and father. Beardsley then follows a much more aptly path in cross country running after a brief football try-out and subsequent trouncing. Next would be a moderately successful college career and then a return to farming until the draw of running would again capture Beardsley’s attention.

Much like Salazar, Beardsley post-Boston road is more associated with trauma than success. He would quickly succumb to an Achilles injury and then inevitably invite another round of Minnesota farming. It’s in this period that he tragically injures himself in a tractor-related accident. Brant (with Beardsley surely contributing) writes with frightening clarity the brutality of this event. Somehow avoiding death, it’s this dire occasion and seemingly impossible recovery that puts Beardsley on the path of a full-on drug addict (pain meds). The law catches up with him which enables Beardsley to narrowly escape death from addiction. Ultimately, he succeeds in finding a path to normalcy and, incredibly, Beardsley returns to running (for pleasure). He would post marathon times later in life in the 2:40s.

The post 1982 Boston upheaval for both men well in the past, Beardsley and Salazar do recognize their appreciation for one another. A greater mutual respect than was apparent on that fateful Patriot’s Day is real. A Beardsley-built half marathon brings Salazar to Minnesota. Now, whoever finishes first is irrelevant (and not disclosed).


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Duel In The Sun”: Bill Rodgers was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and gave up running during his CO service at a state mental hospital.

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