Do you like stories about rebels, about people defying societal constraints? If you do, then Stephen Lane’s captivating debut book, “Long Run to Glory,” is for you. The “Greatest Marathon ” in the book’s subtitle – “The Story of the Greatest Marathon in Olympic History and the Women Who Made it Happen” – is the Olympics’ first women’s marathon in 1984, with four historic runners competing, including Maine’s own Joan Benoit, now Joan Benoit Samuelson.

Stephen Lane teaches high school, coaches high school track and field in Massachusetts, and writes for running publications. He recounts not just the 1984 race, but also the stories of the pioneering women who broke barriers imposed by men for many decades prior to that seminal 1984 marathon. Their rebellion, like the more famous one, begins in Boston.

In April 1966, 24-year-old Bobbi Gibb snuck into the Boston Marathon. She had been denied registration because women were not sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union to race more than 1.5 miles. She ran anyway, in a hooded sweatshirt with no number, no support team, not even a ride home.

In 1967, Katherine Switzer registered as K. Switzer and received an official number. But a race official spotted her and tried to physically pull her off the course. Switzer’s protection team of three male runners, however, pushed him aside. A locked door had been kicked open.

In the 1970s, women’s distance running grew rapidly, along with running in general. Lane profiles key runners who later became marathon advocates, including Sara Mae Berman, Switzer, Nina Kuscsik and Jackie Hansen. An important male ally was Fred Lebow, who started the New York Marathon and organized and promoted women’s running events.

After years of petitioning governing bodies and documenting that women could run marathons, and even staging a marathon to compete with the Olympics, the pioneers scored a victory in 1980 when the International Olympic Committee approved a women’s marathon for 1984 in Los Angeles. This preceded the women’s 5,000-meter, 10,000-meter and steeplechase races in the Olympics.


Lane sets the Olympic stage beautifully. We get to know the world’s four best women marathoners who were to meet in that 1984 race: Grete Waitz of Norway, the heavy favorite, had won New York City marathons and cross-country championships for years; Ingrid Kristiansen, also of Norway, held the world record for 5,000 meters and was improving in the marathon; Portugal’s Rosa Mota was the current European marathon champion.

The fourth runner was Joan Benoit. Based on acknowledged generous input from her, Lane gives readers vivid descriptions of Benoit’s childhood in Cape Elizabeth – a “non-stop athlete” who played multiple sports and enjoyed running at Fort Williams, where she now stages the annual Beach to Beacon 10K road race. Running, though, is what drove her. She had found that when running with other women, she would run progressively faster, thus turning workouts into races. Lane describes her in training as: “A bit of a lone wolf.”

We learn about Benoit’s injuries, her aversion to doctors, her surgeries, and her outgoing personality; she was someone who could party all night. After she set a world marathon record at Boston in 1983, a local observer said of her: “She’s Maine tough. She’s a female Paul Bunyan.” In 1984, she ran the Olympic Trials marathon a mere 17 days after arthroscopic knee surgery.

We know who wins the actual marathon, but Lane nevertheless succeeds in building suspense by inserting nearly mile-by-mile race updates (“Interludes”) throughout the book. After the start, Benoit eases steadily away from the pack while the other three champions bide their time in a groupthink of caution. Finally, at about the 18-mile mark, Waitz and the others set out to close the gap, but Benoit will not be overtaken. We are treated to a stirring account of the finish and how thousands of miles away, when the L.L. Bean store in Freeport announces that native Mainer Joanie Benoit is about to win the first Olympic women’s marathon, the staff and shoppers erupt in cheers.

Lane is a fine storyteller who did exhaustive research, including many interviews to bring to life the experiences of the early days of the “Long Run.” Profuse colons and semi-colons distract at times, but runners and former runners, like me, will appreciate his detailed descriptions of races, the runners’ personalities, tactics and inner thoughts. The narrative moves at a runner’s clip, and it is filled with colorful characters and entertaining anecdotes about the history of running and the bonds that continue to unite the racers far beyond the finish line.

Dewey Meteer is retired from being a career naval officer, an Early Childhood educator, a rugby coach and a road runner. He lives in Nobleboro.

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