Boston is Seductive
The New York Marathon is exciting, the Sydney Marathon is exotic, but the Boston Marathon has an irresistible allure.
Posted Wednesday, 24 February, 2010
Although it is just January, the 2010 Boston Marathon has not been accepting entries since November 13, the earliest closing date ever. Twenty-five thousand runners had qualified by that date, and there’s no way to know how many runners wish they had sent in their applications before the surprise closing date.
Boston is seductive. The New York Marathon is exciting, the Sydney Marathon is exotic, but the Boston Marathon has an irresistible allure. And for New England runners the 2010 race is extra special because it will be run on the “real” Patriots Day, April 19.
I consider myself fortunate to have qualified - 25,000 of us with our goals and fantasies. My goal is to break four hours - my fantasy is to finish in the top 25 in my age group. That would require me to run a time of 3:35 or better. Once upon a time I could have “mailed it in” at Boston. But now I’m approaching age 69. Most senior runners will tell you that running marathons after sixty is a story of diminishing returns, but it doesn’t matter because this is Boston. So on April 19 I will be thrilled just to be at the starting line ready to be part of America’s oldest marathon.
I ran my first Boston in 1969 and my last one in 2003. After retiring to Florida, I hadn’t thought of running another Boston. Being away from Boston though doesn’t mean that you’re away from the mystique of the Boston Marathon. Each April I would go online to check results and compare runners’ stats.
And I’m not the only one in Florida thinking about Boston. Whenever I meet new runners they want to know whether I’ve run marathons and, in particular, whether I’ve ever run Boston. I work out regularly with a group of West Florida Y Track Club members and the number of conversations about qualifying for Boston is beyond count. Even after a seven-year hiatus from running Boston I wasn’t immune to the “I really want to qualify for Boston” bug. Last fall I found myself entering the OBX Marathon, a Boston qualifier, in North Carolina. The OBX is run on the beautiful Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a magical place of sand dunes, blue skies and even bluer water. My oldest son and his family live less than a quarter of a mile from the finish line. That was a big plus for me when I made my choice of a qualifier. It didn’t hurt either when I needed a place to stay that week!
On November 8th I ran the OBX Marathon and I qualified. Two days later I went online and submitted my entry for Boston. I received email from the BAA confirming that my entry had been accepted. Within a few days I learned that entries had been closed on the 13th!
Having just barely gotten my entry submitted before the cut-off, I had mixed emotions about the work that was in front of me. It made me think – was this what I really wanted for myself? After a seven-year layoff, did I really want to work towards this goal of breaking four hours?
I have run and finished Boston nine times in the more than forty years that I have been racing. That’s a relatively small number compared to a lot of Boston veterans, some of whom can boast totals well in excess of my nine and some of whom have unbroken strings of twenty-five or more. Six of my first eight Boston Marathons were run under 3:00. My very first Boston, in 1969, was run in 3:01. At that time you were considered “an aspiring marathoner” if you didn’t break three hours. So I gave it my all in the following two years, and in 1970 I finished in 2:40 and in 1971 I finished 31st in a time of 2:32:25, my best Boston time ever, no longer an aspiring marathoner.
After those three years I switched to running shorter distances, but seven years later, at the age of 36, I felt the lure of Boston again. Could I still break three hours? I just had to know. I finished in 2:58, happy to be under 3:00 but very aware that I was getting older.
Twelve more years went by. My heart and soul wanted to try one more Boston before I turned fifty.
3:20 - what a disappointment, but this time I refused to accept that I was just getting old. I would prove that it wasn’t age that kept me from breaking 3:00. So back to Boston I went in 1991, at age 49, and finished in 2:49.
Whenever I did well at Boston I prepped with an intensity that no other race has ever inspired in me. My Boston program generally consisted of running 15 hours a week for the15 weeks preceding the big show. I never counted miles. I was a believer in LSD (long, slow distance) combined with weekly races, preferably of 10 miles or longer.
From 1991 to early 1994 I used all my competitive spirit as a member of the Boston Running Club’s Senior Team. When they disbanded, Boston’s lure was irresistible again. I entered the 1994 Boston Marathon and ran a very satisfying 2:52. But I knew that success at shorter distances was far less demanding and so I turned away from the marathon again.
Eight more years and then I turned 60. Boston’s lure is particularly strong when you are about to reach a new age bracket, a new challenge. Could I? Should I? I couldn’t stop myself. It was 2002 and I trained hard and ran my eighth Boston. I crossed the finish line in 3:24, only four minutes behind my 1990 time. Not bad for an old guy, I thought.
2002 inspired me to come right back in 2003. But I put in just a paltry 8 hours a week. I ran no more than ninety minutes in any workout. I didn’t run a single prep race between January 1 and the marathon. My weight was up six pounds over my best marathon weight. The result? I ran the race in 3:59. My ninth Boston was a nightmare, and so at age 61 I ended my marathon career, forever so I thought.
Before the OBX Marathon this past fall, I averaged 9-10 hours a week in training and I didn’t run a single prep race. But as of January 1 this year I have gone back to the kind of marathon training regimen that served me well years ago. My plan is to run as close to 15 hours a week as I can for 15 weeks, to run half a dozen races by April and to get back to my best racing weight.
This year I’m like a kid going to a party – happy at the very thought of being there and being part of the festivities. This is Boston. And to me Boston is as seductive as it has ever been and as exciting as when I dropped into Jock Semple’s office at the Boston Garden in 1969 and handed him my entry blank with the $2 entry fee and heard him say, “You’re in, lad. Good luck. You’ll need it. This isn’t the Plodders Marathon. This is Boston.”
I wish all the 24,999 other entrants my best. May your goals - and your fantasies, too – be realized. And if you see me out there, know that I truly am happy just to be there with you. But, gosh, I really do want to break four hours!