First Ladies of Running, by Amby Burfoot: The RunBlogRun Book Review, by Jeff Benjamin


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Jeff Benjamin wrote this review. A long time writer for American Athletics, then, American Track & Field, and now, RunBlogRun, Jeff noted to me, "This was the best book that I have read in a long time."

Updated February 2, 2016, by editor.

Review of First Ladies of Running, by Amby Burfoot
Those of us who have gotten to know (and run!) with Amby Burfoot through his years as editor at Runners World Magazine would be surprised to learn that underneath his jovial, friendly, respectful persona there was the Amby Burfoot who had a goal in the 1960s to win the Boston Marathon. In his essential book "The Boston Marathon", author Tom Derderian, who chronologically and excellently writes about every Boston Marathon race since it's birth in 1897, writes on Burfoot, his stewardship under John J. Kelley as he rose to become a very good runner, his preparations and the subsequent performance in the 1967 edition, where Burfoot suffered stomach issues but gamely hung on to finish 5th in 2:28:04.
Jumping ahead to the 1968 edition, Derderian writes about Burfoot's intensity and laser-like focus in his preparations to make up for what he saw as a disappointing performance the previous year. One of those preparations was Burfoots' belief was that he absolutely had to awake at 6AM to consume his tea and honey. "Burfoot feared that if he overslept all his training would be wasted," wrote Derderian. The running gods favored for Burfoot on this day for he awoke to no alarm clock just at 6AM, consumed his drink, and then went on that day to make history by winning his beloved Boston Marathon in a time of 2:22:17 and achieving greatness.
It was Burfoot's quality of that laser-like focus that was supplemented by his passion that I experienced firsthand here by reading through his new book, "First Ladies of Running." The book encompasses the growing history of the Women's running "boom" and who better to chronicle these women than Burfoot himself, as his running career coincided with almost all of these women chronicled and their events over the last 70 some odd years.
In his Introduction, Burfoot writes about the historical obstacles facing women's runners in the early half of the 20th century and describes the "lay of the of the land" in front of women during this trying period, as they battled the attitudes of male chauvinism from the local right up to the Olympic level. As he states in the Introduction, Burfoot many of these women were not looking to make a statement or shake running's political powers to the ground.
They basically wanted to run!
Burfoot then thoroughly goes through his list of these women, beginning with Grace Butcher and finishing with Oprah Winfrey-Yes! That Oprah Winfrey, who Burfoot strongly writes had a huge impact upon the women's running growth of the 1990's. Sandwiched between them are richly-detailed, inspirational bios of all 20 other greats like Kathrine Switzer, Roberta Gibb, Joan Benoit, Nina Kuscik, Patti Catalano, Grete Waitz among others. Aside from general facts, Burfoot's firsthand experience with these athletes and their events makes for entertaining storytelling.
As one is perusing through this world of the Women greats and their present-day status, one of the best rewards awaiting the reader is the end of the book where Brurfoot lists his "Honorable Mentions" - short paragraphs on the accomplishments and contributions of people such as Rose Mota, Lorraine Moeller, Laurie Binder, Kathy Mills, Julie Brown and a long list of others.
In conclusion, it is my humble opinion that once started, readers will feel like they are on one of those euphoric runs and will not be able to put "First Ladies of Running" down. Burfoot's book should be put right alongside any major historical running book, especially Derderian's work, joining many others who have masterfully woven the history of Sport from their perspective. Burfoot not only rewards us with that perspective, but also his laser-like focus which has brought him success as in the past.
Amby, you still got it!

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