Sunday, April 19, 2009

Boston Marathon 1982: When Things Go Wrong!

I am looking forward to seeing how all my friends do at Boston tomorrow for the Marathon. I hope they don't have a day like my college running coach and I had back  in 1982.
It took me eight tries, but I finally qualified for first my Boston in a race in 1981 (you had to run a sub 2:50 marathon to qualify for Boston back then). That meant I was ready to fulfill a long time dream to run the Boston Marathon. I got myself in fantastic shape for the 1982 race, probably the best shape I have ever been in for a marathon (which meant I did long runs). I was living on the Cape and taking night school classes at Northeastern University in Boston to get a teaching certificate. I had just started student teaching in a fourth grade classroom in Duxbury, Ma. and I could not wait for the race. There was a major April snowstorm a couple of weeks before the race but by race day the weather became unbearably warm.

At the BAA Marathon Expo I found my former Wheaton College cross-country coach, Jim Whitnah, and stayed with some friends he knew in Somerville, MA. We drove out to the start to check out the course the day before the race and went out for some Italian food that evening. In the morning I dressed in my racing gear, but Whitnah decided to get dressed in Hopkinton. The day didn't seem bad at all and was nice and pleasant at first. Eventually Jim decided to get changed and realized he had left his racing shorts and singlet back in Somerville. What to do? The race was in less than an hour so we made a dash from the starting area to Hopkinton High School to see what he could find. I gave him an Air Florida shirt I was thinking of wearing (there was a promotion that might give you free airplane tickets if you wore the shirt). He cut it up a bit, but couldn't find any shorts! Eventually he found the largest and crustiest pair of cotton gym shorts with paint stains all over them. They came down almost to his knees and were huge and  baggy. These were the days when runners wore short shorts so of course he looked completely ridiculous. But that is what he would have to wear in the race.

We hightailed it back to the start and wished each other good luck. Jim would be starting in the seeded runners section with a number in the 50s. I would not! I don't remember much about the first half of the race. I was taking it all in. I remember going through Wellesley and  feeling real good, although I am sure I was getting hot at that point. I was shooting for a 2:42 marathon and I was under pace at that point. I remember it getting warm, hot, and then very hot. The sun was glaring down on the streets. I don't remember Heartbreak Hill, but I do remember after it. I was getting incredibly hot, thirsty, and lethargic. I started stopping and drinking every cup of fluid and eating every orange handed to me for miles. Nothing helped. It felt like my brain was melting. It got incredibly hard to run as I was feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and prickly, but I HAD to finish. I waited so long to do my first Boston that I was not going to drop out, so I had to keep walking and looking for handouts of water. I remember the incredible noise running through the buildings near the finish on Hereford Street and eventually finishing. I recall going underneath a building (a garage) and slumping down while trying to get some energy back into my body. I was not in good shape at all. Eventually I could walk again and that was that, except I desperately wanted to know who had won the race.

If you know your Boston History, this race was the greatest marathon of all time (in my opinion as Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley had their incredible dual in the sun). Knowing how hot it was that day in the glaring sun, those two runners ran such a "killer" race (and it did seem to kill the running careers of both of these two great athletes).

My finishing time was embarrassing, but I finished, as I ran 3:23:58 for 3933rd place. I eventually found Jim Whitnah and he had dropped out on a bridge somewhere in the middle of the race. I am not sure if it was because of the heat, an injury, or the ridiculousness of his running costume. I would love to see a picture of him running in the top 100 dressed like he was.

I chowed down at a McDonald's (what I considered fine cuisine at the time) and drank everything I could. Still when I got home I was eight pounds lighter that I had been before the race!

Five days after that Boston I ran a five mile race in Hyannis and finished in 3rd place in 26:36 for a PR after being passed for the lead by two guys in the last 1/2 mile (one of them a sub 2:30 marathoner) so I recovered well and was still in good shape. The next week I was playing in a softball game and slid into first base. The base was really a sack of sand. I broke a few bones in my ankle and foot.

Twenty years later I decided to run a marathon to commemorate my first Boston. I still was not allowed to take a personal day by my school district to run Boston, so I could not do the big race, but a day before Boston there was the Fred's Marathon in Worcester. I did not train and had only done a few hundred miles in the months before. I ran a 16 miler two weeks before the race and a 20 miler the week before. I started the day by listening to a BBC feed online of the London Marathon (this was the anticipated dual between Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrsalassie that was instead won by Khalid Khannouchi). After listening to the finish I headed out for the race. The day was hot, but a bit shady on the multi-loop course. I came in fourth which really was not impressive if you consider my time. I finished in 3:23:58. I realized a couple of weeks later that almost 20 years to the day after my first Boston Marathon I had run another marathon in the EXACT same time! How cool is that?


Michael said...

Nice post Jim. What was the deal with all those motorcycle cops at the finish of that race? Crazy dumb.

Jim Hansen said...

There was no crowd control or barriers on the course in those days- sort of like during the mountain stages of the Tour de France today. I think a motorcycle interfered with Jeff Wells as he almost caught up to Bill Rodgers at the finish one year.