The People's Race Inc.: Behind the Scenes at the Honolulu Marathon by Michael S. K. N. Tsai (review)
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The People's Race Inc.: Behind the Scenes at the Honolulu Marathon. By Michael S. K. N. Tsai. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2016. 206 pp. Illustrated. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $19.99 paper

Reporter-columnist Tsai delivers an intriguing history of the Honolulu Marathon, which has long been among the most significant and popular in the [End Page 191] United States. A seasoned marathoner himself, Tsai discusses the evolution of the event, from its founding with few participants to its pulling in over 30,000 entries to the city of Honolulu.

The People's Race Inc. offers, in many ways, a succinct but instructive telling of the history of marathon running, particularly in the United States. Tsai traces the release of Aerobics, published in 1968 by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, as triggering the initial "American fitness movement" (p. 10). Also influential was Jogging: A Physical Fitness Program for All Ages (1967), by William J. Bowerman and W.E. Harris (p. 11). Along with Phil Knight, Bowerman went on to found Blue Ribbon Sports, which later became Nike, Inc., and he designed "the first great recreational running shoe" in 1971 (p. 11).

The following year, running for both recreational and competitive purposes received a big boost from marathoner Frank Shorter's triumph at the Olympic Games in Munich, when he became the first American to win the gold medal in the events since 1908, and only the third to do so in the modern Olympic era. ABC's relaying of the event enthralled many in the United States, and the appearance of Runner's World and other running magazines underscored the growing popularity of running and jogging.

Meanwhile, Jack Scaff, who was working in Honolulu, teamed with another cardiologist, John Wagner, and an academic pathologist, Thomas Bassler, in exploring the impact of exercise in diminishing cardiovascular risks. Scaff would work with Honolulu mayor Frank Fasi, among others, to establish the Honolulu Marathon; Fasi was intent on modernizing the city and spurring tourism. Cognizant of Honolulu's year-round heat and humidity, Scaff insisted that aid stations, intended to foster hydration, be set up along the course route. Serving as medical director, he also placed health professionals at those aid stations, ambulances, radio communication, and nurses ready on bicycles. Exactly 151 people—virtually all of those who began—completed the initial "Rim of the Pacific Run." One was the pianist Val Nolasco, a heart attack victim two years earlier, seemingly verifying Scaff's contention that distance running could help those suffering from cardiac problems or sedentary existences. Scaff, author Tsai indicates, spearheaded "a revolutionary movement" that enabled non-elite runners to undertake and finish marathons (p. 27). That helped to ensure that the number of entrants for the Honolulu Marathon rose immediately, almost doubling from the first year.

During the 1970s, the running craze began to take hold in the United States, with articles in popular magazines, discussions of the "runner's high" (p. 30) or hitting the "wall," and Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Running (1977) becoming a best seller. Hawai'i appeared particularly caught up in the mania, while the Honolulu Marathon surged in popularity, having 8500 [End Page 192] entrants by the end of the decade. A raft of volunteers helped to make the race succeed, along with key figures like Jeannette and Ron Chun, who dealt with organizational and operational matters. Scaff's own notoriety heightened, leading to appearances in Sports Illustrated but he was soon pushed aside by the Honolulu Marathon Association's Board of Directors.

As participation in the Honolulu Marathon continued to grow, controversies occurred. This included the role of disabled athletes, banned for a period, and payments for top finishers and notable entrants. Such payments violated strictures pertaining to amateur status, something that other Olympic sports confronted. Prize moneys began to be allowed, as did corporate sponsorships, the most significant of all from Nike.

About a third way into the book, Tsai looks back at the origin of the marathon and its recent development. He writes about Pierre de Coubertin's dream of a modern Olympic Games, before discussing the standardizing of the event at 26 miles...


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