Book review: The 27th Mile edited by Ray Charbonneau

By: Matt Reno

After the Boston Marathon bombing, the running world got a lot of added attention. Sure, it was for the most negative of reasons, but that new attention also had a positive effect: it showed the non-running world just how determined, resilient, passionate, and caring the running community is. Of course, we runners already knew all that. Those remarkable qualities and more are encapsulated in The 27th Mile: Going the Extra Mile to Support the Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing, a collection of writings that explore running from Boston and beyond.

Edited by Ray Charbonneau, The 27th Mile is comprised of essays, poems, and short stories focused on the simple but increasingly popular sport of running. Readers will find pieces by some of the biggest names in the running world: Kathrine Switzer, Jeff Galloway, and Hal Higdon, to name a few. Proceeds from the book’s sales benefit bombing victims through the One Fund, a charitable organization set up by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and former Boston mayor Tom Menino. 

The collection is book-ended by writings directly related to the 2013 tragedy, including Charbonneau’s own “Why I’ll Run the Marathon in 2014.” But the remarkable thing about this book is that it doesn't dwell on the attack. The majority of the nearly 200-page book is taken up by reflections on running in general or humorous stories of specific races. This shows just how much Charbonneau gets it. Yes, the attack deeply affected us all, especially those who run, but I have yet to meet a runner willing to cower and hide. Even many of those who ran Boston in 2013 are more than ever itching to get back and cross that finish line in 2014. Runners rarely let things like fear, anger, or sadness keep us off the roads. In fact, those are some of the things we use running to escape from. This book offers a perfect balance of that escape, along with harsh reality and tear-jerking inspiration. 

The circumstances that spurred this book into print certainly make it a poignant read. As a runner, however, I can say that The 27th Mile would have been a great read in 2012, 2011, or any other year before the Boston Marathon came to be associated in part with tragedy. This diverse array of authors and styles provides many insightful glimpses into what it’s like to be a runner. It can be a challenge to understand this sport and its participants, but The 27th Mile can help with that understanding and show readers that the spirit of a runner truly is the human spirit at its best.

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