Skip to main content

Book Review: Kings of the Road, by Cameron Stracher

Another few weeks of going to physical therapy and not running, another running book. This time I read "Kings of the Road: How Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar Made Running Go Boom" by Cameron Stracher. This guy's an elitist, but the book is still a great read.

"Running is not soccer, or football, or baseball, where half the players on the field are victorious. There can be only one winner. Everyone else is a loser."

This sentiment, on page 91 of Cameron Stracher's exciting recounting of what he (justifiably) refers to as boomtime for running in America, also showcases his dual approach to this novel (his fifth). Aside from being an author and a lawyer, Stracher lists himself as a "competitive miler" in the mini-bio on the back of the book. And his competitive nature as a runner comes out pretty strongly in his writing. But I'll get to that in a bit.

Most importantly, Stracher is a compelling writer, with a firm grasp of what makes reading about running interesting. "Kings of the Road" jumps around quite a bit in time and location (mainly staying in the 70s and on the East coast), but he always keeps it fascinating. Throughout the book, Stracher covers various races, and he has a knack for recounting every twist and turn and surge and psyche-out with just a hint of breathlessness, managing to make the reader feel like they're right there with these front-runners (almost always Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter or Alberto Salazar). As a runner myself, I'm probably biased, but it seems to me that Stracher's skill here can't be understated - he really knows how to make running exciting.

He also knows how to capture the spirit of his three stars: Rodgers, Shorter and Salazar. He paints these three very distinct personalities with intimate details from each of their lives. And though he clearly admires all three of them and presents them as legends, he effectively steers clear of painting them as anything more than fallible humans with foibles, quirks and rough edges. This style makes the reading all the more interesting and adds an additional level of depth to the recounting of the races.

Stracher's commitment to the sport of running is clear on every page, but as I implied at the start of this review, it also causes the book to stumble a bit towards the end. In Stracher's story arc, these three American running stars help usher in a new era of running in the United States, causing running to go from a series of little-known, poorly attended street races to a hugely popular industry (still growing today). But though Stracher builds up to this outcome throughout the book, he bemoans it at the end.

Discussing the New York City Marathon on page 139, he says: "As the event grew in size and revenue, the race itself became an afterthought, with more attention paid to participating than winning." These kind of complaints are repeated throughout, as Stracher subtly (and not so subtly) describes what he sees as the downfall of competitive running. In the epilogue, he even decries some of the race organizers he previously lionized by saying that, "In popularizing running, they inadvertently dumbed it down, celebrating the participant over the winner."

While I can understand his sentiment, I would argue that this is the beauty of the sport of running (versus any other sport). When I run the New York City Marathon or the Chicago Marathon (or almost any big marathon or other distance race) I'm competing in the exact same event and on the same course as world-class athletes. No after work softball player can say that about her sport, no weekend soccer player can say that about his sport. For me, and for many runners that I know, that's what sets running apart and makes it so exciting.

Still, though I frequently disagreed with Stracher's attitude towards the average runner and the result of the popularity of road races, there's no denying that he's an expert chronicler of running history. 


  1. Nice review. Sounds like an interesting read. I agree with your sentiment that one of the beauties of running (vs. other sports) is that it allows us "average joes" the opportunity to run in the same event as the world-class elites.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A Daily Guide to Chicago Comedy Shows in April 2018

April 1: Character Assassination presents The Roast of Disney Princesses at Laugh Factory

The latest entry in the Character Assassination roast show series pits a collection of Disney princesses -played by Chicago comics - against each other. Starring Allison Dunne, Alex Kumin, Sarah Shockey, Gena Gephart, Audrey Jonas, Eunji Kim, Samantha Berkman, Stephanie Weber and Mandee McKelvey.

April 2: Comedy Overload Open Mic at Gallery Cabaret

A weekly open mic open to all forms of comedy that takes place at a sweet venue in Bucktown.

April 3: Shake 'Em Up Comedy Showcase at Shakers on Clark

This free two-hour comedy showcase is hosted by Darrick J and Nate Galloway. Comics get between four and 10 minutes each and the hosts let comedians know a bit needs work by hitting a bell and "shaking 'em up."

April 4: Comedians You Should Know at Timothy O'Toole's

Really you should be catching this weekly showcase at Timothy O'Toole's every week. This week's two hour …

Sunday double-header!

After the Run to Remember yesterday, today was a double-header, starting off with the 4-mile C4 Miles at 8 this morning in front of Peggy Notebaert and wrapping up with the 5-mile Cinco de Miler at 9:30 in Montrose Harbor. I was a little nervous about being able to make it to both, but I ended up with time to spare (thanks to the help of a cab that dropped me off at the packed turn-off to Montrose Harbor). Biking from the first race to the second would have been ideal... but I don't have a bike. And I wasn't about to run the three miles between the races carrying my gear check bag.
Anyway, my complete reviews of both races are up on C4 Miles reviewCinco de Miler review The races really couldn't have been more different:
C4 Miles was a quiet, relatively casual event, with probably around 350 participants (half running/half walking) and no pace groups. Since runners quickly got spread out, other runners on the trail sometimes seemed confused about what I was d…

Warrior Dash or It's Not Always About Speed

My parents were in town this weekend from Texas. We rented an I-GO (actually, even better than that, I won the WEGO 10 monthly competition for 10 free hours with an I-GO, which was very sweet) and drove out to Channahon, Illinois for the Warrior Dash. This was my first "mud run" and I was pretty excited about it, because I've been creating an image of the mud run in my mind as a pseudo-hardcore fun run. I would say that I still feel that after running it, but I think now I see it as intentionally not hardcore. They're asking people to have fun, not to kill themselves.

My full review is up at Newcity - I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected, but most of that was just based on seeing it in a different way. This isn't really a run for runners. It's a run that tricks non-runners into thinking running is fun. More on that later (like several weeks from now later, not like later in this blog post).

Anyway, I ran with Brynn, and we made sure to take our req…