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Duel in the Sun

This is an excerpt from Runners on Running by Richard Elliott.

After watching the early part of the race on TV, and discovering that an extraordinary contest was in progress—two runners, stripped down to bone and will, relentlessly moving down the streets of their city—the citizens of Boston turned out of their houses to witness the finish. Fathers lifted their children up on their shoulders and told them to pay attention, as an estimated crowd of two million turned out to watch some part of the 1982 Boston Marathon.

Beardsley had come off Heartbreak with Salazar breathing down his neck. The crowd pressed so close there was barely a path to run through. They were screaming so loud he couldn’t hear himself think. He couldn’t feel his legs. They seemed to belong to somebody else.

Twenty-one miles into the eighty-sixth Boston Marathon, and he was running a stride in front of the great Salazar, who must be hurting too. Because if Salazar wasn’t fried, he would have blown past him by now.

Five more miles was unthinkable. Beardsley decided he’d just go one more mile. That would be easy—or at least possible. Stay ahead of Salazar for one more mile. After that—well, he’d think of something.

He couldn’t feel his legs. One more mile.

Meanwhile, Salazar was hurting. Shards of pain splintered up from Salazar’s left hamstring. Sometime during the last few miles he had stopped sweating. His singlet had stiffened, as if covered in dried blood.

All that mattered now was not losing. That made things simple. He could forget about his time and focus on that single and sovereign goal. He might lose a ten-thousand-meter race to a Henry Rono, but he did not lose marathons, especially to a palooka in a painter’s cap. Any moment now Beardsley might blow up and drop away like a disintegrating booster rocket. If he could maintain the pace, then it would simply be a matter of outkicking him.

Read more about Runners on Running, edited by Rich Elliott.