You may think that the world needs another book on marathoning about as much as the marathon needs another mile, but Sandy Treadwell's The World of Marathons (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95) proves you should think again.
The book is a coffee-table guide for the not-so-idle rich, advising affluent runners on not how to run marathons but where to run them. From the multitude of marathons that have popped up around the globe, Treadwell has chosen 26. They may not be the biggest or the fastest or the best known, but all 26, from Reykjavik to Rio to Moscow to Melbourne, are worth the trip.
Whatever your goals as a runner—to run competitively or just to find an excuse for an expensive holiday—Tread-well gives the facts you'll need to choose the race that suits you. Along with providing a map of each course and the information you'll need to register, he tells you what you can expect in regard to the weather, the hills, the number of participants and spectators and the "extras"—the pasta parties, discos and live bands—that are inseparable from marathoning today. There are several pages of text on each marathon, plus nice color photographs.
Hoping to run a fast time? You might want to try Fukuoka in Japan, where near-perfect temperatures (55°), a flat course and the world's toughest qualifying time (2:27) entice a superb field every December. Like a flat course? Then don't even think about Bermuda. It has a frightening average of two hills per mile, 52 in all. For students of history, there's the International Athens Peace Marathon, which traces the 26-mile, 385-yard route between Marathon and Athens that was taken by Pheidippides, the messenger from anicent Greece who got this whole thing started.
Some of Treadwell's choices—such as the New York, Boston and London marathons—are at once races for the serious competitor and events for the back-of-the-pack pleasure plodder. But The World of Marathons also reveals some lesser-known gems. Consider, for example, the Mount Meru in Tanzania, which passes the mud-and-straw huts of Masai villagers; the Honolulu, at which one aid station is a Rolls-Royce staffed by white-suited butlers serving champagne and cake; or the Dublin City, which an incredible 96% of the starters finish—Treadwell claims because of the spectators' enthusiasm.
Not all of Treadwell's choices are so festive. Israel's Tiberias Marathon is run in the shadow of the Golan Heights, and its finish line is patrolled by soldiers carrying automatic weapons. And at the Berlin Marathon, hitting the "wall" can happen literally, as runners have to make their way past Checkpoint Charlie. The Berlin race even has its own joke, though it is more grim than funny: Why doesn't the race go through East Berlin? Because 10,000 runners would start and 20,000 would finish.
The World of Marathons has two other sections, one a somewhat sketchy history of the event, the other a compilation of results from select major marathons that will probably be out of date by the time you read this. Neither covers new ground.
Still, The World of Marathons is, for the most part, a glossy and seductive travel brochure for runners. Sure, it costs almost 25 bucks. But is that really so much if it saves you going all the way to Beijing when you could have just as much fun in Rome?