Concord author Stephen Lane recalls watching the 1984 Olympic marathon on television as a 13-year-old and seeing a lone runner striding across a freeway overpass with heat waves shimmering in the Los Angeles sun. Something about the solitary passion and drive of that athlete touched him to his core and sparked a lifelong love of running.
The runner he saw that day was New England favorite Joan Benoit, the young Mainer who won the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon. Her story and those of other women long-distance pioneers are chronicled in his “Long Run the Glory: The Story of the Greatest Marathon in Olympic History and the Women Who Made It Happen.”
The book traces women’s participation in races from a time when distance running was seen as an unladylike health hazard to the tremendous impact that Title IX has had on women’s participation in sports.
Along the way are historical tidbits, like the fact that cosmetic companies were the primary sponsors of early women’s races.
Lane, who teaches social studies at Concord-Carlisle High School and has coached the cross country and track teams, pays special attention to the venerable Boston Marathon and the flashier New York version. “One of the greatest things are all the characters. You had to be driven and persistent and non-conformist in a lot of ways,” he said.
Lane interviewed many participants in and around the 1984 marathon, and reading the book brings you inside the heads of the lead characters. He accomplished this in part by viewing the raw footage of the race from the UCLA archives. Lane estimates he watched the entire race at least 20 times and would focus on a different runner through the entire course.
“At times the ABC commentary was incorrect, so I compared it to the actual pace-course measurements to get a visually accurate account of the race,” he said.
It took three and a half years to research and write the book, but first he had to pitch it to publishers. At least 30 rejected him. “When you’re pitching a book, a rejection letter is a good thing. At least they looked at your proposal.” Eventually, Lane signed with Lyons Press.
Both the book deal and the writing require the perseverance of a long-distance runner. Lane has run a marathon and he’s written two books. “In a marathon, you just put one foot in front of the other and for a book you do the same with each word,” he said.
Lane’s previous book, “No Sanctuary,” highlighted students and teachers who formed early LGBTQ support groups in high schools. He says there are a couple of other book notions in his head but doesn’t want to jinx himself by divulging details.
Like Joan Benoit on the overpass, Lane has to finish the race at his own pace.
Signed copies of “Long Run to Glory” are available at the Concord Bookshop. An author reading will be scheduled at the Concord Free Public Library in the coming months.