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home > community > viewpoint > impression of boston 101

Impression of Boston 101
Of the previous 100 Boston Marathons, the one most closely resembling the 101st edition, not surprisingly, was the 99th Boston in 1995. After all of the anticipation of the 1996 100th anniversary race, the event has now settled back into its comfortable position as America's most prestigious and historic marathon, rather than a huge mega-event. Now that the dust has settled, lets take a look at what the Boston Marathon has really become in the late 1990s.

  
Impression of Boston 101

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By Don Allison
Posted Tuesday, 25 March, 1997

Of the previous 100 Boston Marathons, the one most closely resembling the 101st edition, not surprisingly, was the 99th Boston in 1995. After all of the anticipation of the 1996 100th anniversary race, the event has now settled back into its comfortable position as America's most prestigious and historic marathon, rather than a huge mega-event. Now that the dust has settled, lets take a look at what the Boston Marathon has really become in the late 1990s.

* A world class international race.

Boston has taken a lot of heat for ignoring American athletes, instead focusing money and energy on an international class field. Although the names of this year's leading contenders may not be all that familiar, both the men's and women's elite races were fast and exciting this year. Surely elite American athletes have done nothing to make Boston want to focus their energy and attention on them. From this vantage point, it seems Hancock's strategy of focusing on the world's elite is the proper direction for Boston to take, in order to maintain its position as an internationally known event.

That said, it is a bit sad to witness the demise of the "yeoman" marathoner, those capable of running 2:25 to 2:50 or so. Years ago, the streets of Boston were packed with these marathoners. Watching the race this year, it was startling to see large gaps of open space after the elite men passed by in Framingham, and then the elite women. Apart from personal pride and the glory of finishing the top few hundred, there is no real incentive to train for and finish a marathon in that time. When the men's qualifying standard was 2:50, that was motivation enough to run that fast. No longer. Maybe the BAA should provide a special incentive for marathoners who break 2:30, 2:40, 2:50, or 3:00.

* A chance for Boston area residents to have a party

Patriot's Day is a holiday unique to Boston. People who have grown up in the area have come to associate the third Monday in April with the Boston Marathon. With winter finally having released its grip, the marathon offers folks an opportunity to come out and enjoy the festivities, only one of which is the actual race. Parties, cookouts, and mini-concerts abound along the race course. There is no discrimination in cheering among these spectators. They scream from the moment the first wheelchair arrives until the slowest runner passes by. To an onlooker in Framingham at the 10 km mark, it appeared to make little difference that this was the 101st Boston with only 10,000 runners, rather than the 100th Boston with 40,000 runners. As long as there is a Boston Marathon, the spectators will be out in full force to support it.

* A large but not mega-marathon.

Boston is more serious minded than New York, London, Honolulu, or some of the other big-city extravaganzas. Although qualifying standards have been stretched and exceptions made, on the whole it's still a pretty fast race. Anyone who wants evidence of this need only stand at the 24 mile mark of Boston at 5:00 p.m. on race day. The pack has thinned to a trickle, the large majority of spectators have departed, papers and cups blow across the road, crews begin to break down barricades and snow fencing, and "the bus,"a dreaded vehicle carrying runners who have dropped out, creeps along Beacon Street. Contrast this with Honolulu, where a five hour finishing time will place you well inside the top half of the field of 25,000.

* An event for the well-heeled.

Let's face the facts: this is primarily a rich man's sport. To afford to travel to Boston from another city, perhaps bringing along a spouse and family, one must be ready to shell out some serious dollars. Most of these folks stay at Boston area hotels, where even a modest room will run into triple figures per night. For these participants, the entry fee of $75 is almost incidental.

Not so for local area runners. To enter the Boston Marathon is not a trivial financial consideration. Surely some folks who may have run this year did not because of the entry fee. Non-qualified local runners who run for a charity must raise upwards of $1500 just to enter the race. The organizers of the marathon have the right to charge whatever they feel is fair, but should some consideration be given to runners who would like to run but cannot afford to fork over $75? The famous Comrades Marathon in South Africa charges a nominal entry fee to residents, opening the event to all, regardless of social or economic status. Boston should do the same. As it stands now, the race is more exclusionary on the basis of economics than it is on the basis of ability. A "no frills" fee of $30 for New England residents would resolve this issue.

Other observations along the road from Hopkinton to Boston

* The winning times were unremarkable, compared with recent years. Only once in the past 12 years (last year) has the women's winning time been slower than Roba's 2:26:40. Only twice in the past dozen years (1987 & 1991) has the men's winning time been over 2:10. Lameck Aguta's time was 2:10:34.

* Aguta's winning time in Boston would have placed 10th in both the London and Rotterdam Marathons.

* Kenyans have now won seven consecutive Boston marathons. In the 101 years of the race, the longest such streak by USA men is five, in the early 1920s.

* The best time by an American man this year was 2:18:30 by Dan Gonzalez from California. In 1983, 64 American men bettered that time at Boston.

* In 1979, a time of 2:31 placed 350th. In 1997, that same time was good for 52nd place.

* The London Marathon had 1499 finishers under three hours, the Boston Marathon 795.

* The weather has been remarkably similar for the last three Boston Marathons: in the 50's with a slight headwind, most pronounced as the runners approach the finish line.

* Surprisingly, there is no information available to family and or friends of runners in the race as to who has come into or left the medical area. For a multi-million dollar event, this is unfathomable. Unless a runner has been taken to a local hospital (and even then it is nearly impossible) there is no way of finding out if they received medical treatment.

* After three and a half hours, only about one out of every 50 runners has any lift in their stride at mile 25.

* Less than two minutes before the lead runners appeared in Framingham (and while wheelchair racers were still passing through) several teens on rollerblades cruised down route 135, right on the race course, while a bored policeman looked on and said nothing.

* Several bandits ran with fake bibs that displayed a $75 with a red "X" through it and a circle around it. Enterprising souls will think of anything.

* It seems there are several folks who have their sights set on surpassing Johnny Kelley's record of finishing 60 Boston Marathons. It is doubtful any of these marathoners will ever come close to achieving the feat., and even if someone does, it will not be someone who won it twice, finished second seven times and has a statue of themselves on the course.

 

 

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