Back in the day I was a decent short and middle distance road racer placing in the top 5-10% at most races. Even won a few smaller ones outright. But I never had an interest in running a marathon. That was until I got talked into running my first one by a few friends. It was the Cape Cod Marathon in December of 1979. The course was contained entirely within the grounds of Otis Air Force base. I remember running the cold, lonely, wind-swept roads as if it were yesterday. I was woefully undertrained for the distance but after finishing the race I was hooked. I just HAD to run another marathon and I HAD to qualify for Boston. And that’s when qualifying meant something, like running a 2:50 marathon in the open division.
The last chance to qualify for the 1980 race was at the Lowell Marathon, held just five weeks before Boston. The race was run on the rolling back roads of Lowell, not the pancake flat course of the current Baystate Marathon. I met Paul M, an experienced marathoner about 2 miles into the race. He was also gunning for the elusive 2:50 qualifying time so I just stuck with him for as long as I could. He dropped me with a few miles to go but his steady pacing was all I needed to qualify.
Running to the finish at the Lowell Marathon (1979).
Caught up in the excitement of qualifying for Boson in only my second marathon, and being very inexperienced with the distance, I made enough mistakes to guarantee I would have a miserable race at Boston. After qualifying only five weeks before Boston, I went from running 50 miles per week over five days, to running up to 70 miles a week on 6-7 days of training. I was so over trained and exhausted by race day that my Boston Marathon debut was pretty much over by the time I hit mile 10. I staggered to finish and was very disappointed with my 3:12 finishing time. I’d kill for that time now!
Bill Rogers on his way to a 4th Boston victory (1980).
My girlfriend (now wife) snaps a photo of Rosie Ruiz cheating her way to first place (later disqualified).
Me (in white and yellow) looking and feeling like I've been run over by a Green Line trolly car.
I gave up marathons for seven years until I got the itch again. By then the qualifying standard was relaxed to 3:00 for the open division. I qualified again in November 1987 at the Boston Peace Marathon running 2:58 on training of 40 miles a week and no speed work. I again made the same mistakes I made in 1980, increasing my mileage and training intensity in the weeks and months leading up to Boston. I went into the 1988 Boston Marathon with a bad hamstring injury and ran another crappy race. Boston was never good to me, but I didn't deserve it the way I trained. Bombing at Boston was hard to swallow.
When most runners think of Boston they think of the Newton hills, and Heartbreak Hill in particular. They’re not particularly long or steep but they get most of the media race coverage and instill fear in many runners. I never thought they were all that bad. In fact, the first few miles can do more to ruin your race than the hills. The first few miles are downhill. When combined with race day excitement, they cause many people to go out way too fast. Those that do pay a price later, most likely when they hit Heartbreak Hill. I think that’s why most runners struggle on the hills.
As marathon courses go, Boston’s is not a very difficult one. In fact, it’s rated at slightly below average difficulty by The Ultimate Guide To Marathons . On a scale of 1 to 10 for course difficulty, with 10 being extremely difficult and 1 being completely flat, Boston is ranked at 4 minus (average difficulty, rolling) by The Ultimate Guide. Boston has about 1000-1500 feet of elevation gain from information I could gather online. By comparison, many trail ultras have over 20,000 feet of elevation gain!
Boston is just a small speck when compaired to many trail ultras.
If you think I’m bashing Boston I’m not. I’m very happy and proud to have been a small part of it. I’m just trying to make a point about human potential. Back when I ran Boston I thought it was hard, very hard. I thought it was the most difficult thing I could ever do. Years later I realized it was not. I found out I was capable of even more. We all are capable of more if we believe in ourselves, if we free our minds of negative thoughts.
I’m beginning to see the hidden potential within myself. It began when I completed my first 50K trail ultra in August 2009. As soon as I crossed the finish line I told my friend Paul, who had finished 2 hours before me, that I would never run a 50 mile race. I suffered badly during the 50K so how could I ever run 19 miles more? But as the weeks passed I began to think, “If I ran 50K why can’t I run 50 miles? It’s not that much longer.” I went on to complete my first 50 mile ultra in the fall of 2009. It was my mind that was holding me back, not my physical capabilities. Yes, I've made progress but I have a way to go. I still don’t believe I am capable of running 100 miles, but by this time next year I’m sure I will have a different mindset. All I’m saying is look beyond your greatest accomplishment to date and set a loftier goal. The reward is great.
So, to all you Boston qualifiers out there, my wish for you on race day is clear, cool weather, a strong wind at your backs and all your race day goals met. To those still chasing that Boston qualifier, keep working at it and it will come. No worthy goal is ever reached easily. Lastly, to those of you that believe there is nothing beyond 26.2 miles, think again. You are capable of so much more.