Marathon Prep Revs Up in Boston
For one day in the middle of April, Bostonians can do what they love to do best: look down their noses at everyone. No matter that the western half of the country has bigger waves, bigger mountains, and bigger open spaces. For one day, a 228-foot, gently sloping uphill in Newton becomes as infamous as the soaring peaks of the Rockies. On Marathon Monday, Boston is king.
Patriots' Day, this year celebrated Monday, April 19th, is a chance for Boston to stand up and shout “We were first!” And unlike the Fourth of July, our other big holiday, no one else celebrates Patriots' Day, so no one can steal our thunder. Classic rock stations play “I love that Dirty Water” by the Standells once every three hours as 25,000 registered athletes pour into our proud city. The Boston Athletic Association's Boston Marathon is as much ingrained in our identity as clam chowdah, the Green Monstah, and pahking our cah in Hahvahd Yahd. Just like Fenway, we'll never have a corporate name for this celebrated competition. ING Marathon? Please.
This Monday marks the 114th Boston Marathon, the country's oldest and arguably most prestigious marathon. It's been run in driving rain (1970, 2007), snow (at least five times), extreme heat (at least ten times) and a partial eclipse of the sun (1939). But this year, a new natural phenomenon is affecting many runners from Europe: the volcanic eruption in Iceland that grounded planes has stranded at least two dozen runners, and one elite runner, Abdellah Falil, of Morocco, according to the AP.
The local weather forecast calls for scattered rain and temperatures in the mid-50s, perfect long-distance running weather. More than light showers may dampen the enthusiasm of the estimated half a million spectators that line the route from Hopkinton to Boston.
One extra challenge for the elite women running Boston is that they start half an hour before the men and the open race, meaning they aren't able to draft off of slower men, as in other mixed-gender marathons like Berlin or Chicago. Boston is part of the World Marathon Majors, a two-year competition in which elite runners rack up points in five marathons around the world. The marathons are the B.A.A. Boston Marathon, Virgin London Marathon, real-Berlin Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and the ING New York City Marathon.
ATHLETES TO WATCH
Push Rim Wheelchair Elite Division
Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa is going after his ninth Boston victory, which would make him the winningest Boston competitor ever. He won the wheelchair division from 2001-2006, and again in 2008 and 2009.
Women's Elite Division
Salina Kosgei, Kenya: Kosgei is the reigning champion, but not by much–she edged out Dire Tune by one second in a photo finish. After finishing a disappointing fifth in New York after taking a hard fall, Kosgei wants to prove that she's still the same runner who was victorious in Boston last year. Personal Best: 2:23:22, Berlin, 2006
Dire Tune, Ethiopia: Tune has had the closest two finished in the history of the Boston Marathon. Though she lost last year by one second, she won in 2008 by two seconds in a final sprint with Russian Alevtina Biktimirova. Tune was 15th in Beijing. Personal Best: 2:24:20, Houston 2008
Catherine Ndereba, Kenya: Known as “Catherine the Great,” Ndereba is the only woman to win the marathon four times. A two-time silver medalist and two-time title winner in the World Marathon Championship, she's also the second-fastest woman marathoner of all time. ,Personal Best: 2:18:47, Chicago, 2001
Lidiya Grigoyeva, Russia: The winner of Boston in 2007 in a Nor'easter (blizzard, for all you non-Yanks), one of the worst weather years ever, Lidiya has also won the Chicago, Los Angeles, and Paris Marathons. Her 2008 victory in Chicago was during an extreme heat wave, proving that Grigoyeva can deal with any weather Boston throws at her. And that gets major respect from New Englanders. Personal Best: 2:25:10, Los Angeles, 2006
Men's Elite Division
Deriba Merga, Ethiopia: The 2009 champion started as a half-marathon prodigy, churning out three sub-one hour races in 2007. He finished 4th in Beijing. Personal Best: 2:06:38, London, 2008
Abderrahim Goumri, Morocco: Goumri certainly has a bone to pick–he's the fastest marathoner never to win a major race. He's been second in Chicago and twice in New York, but this time he hopes to cinch the win. Personal Best: 2:05:30, London, 2008
Ryan Hall, USA: Hall finished third last year after pushing a blistering pace in the early part of the course–he lead the first 5k in 14:33, a second ahead of world record pace. He faded in the Newton hills but fought hard for third place. Hall finished 10th in Beijing and 4th at last fall's New York Marathon. Personal Best: 2:06:17, London, 2008
Meb Keflezighi, USA: The first American to win New York in 27 years, Keflezighi is one of America's best long-distance runners. He won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics and became a local American hero after winning New York last fall. Keflezighi's last time on the Boston course was in 2006, when he finished 3rd. Personal Best: 209:15, New York City, 2009
Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, Kenya: This Cheruiyot (one of three, non-related Cheruiyot runners from Kenya) has the most experience on the course: he won in 2003 and 2006-2008, and currently holds the course record. Last year he had to drop out of Boston with an injury, but put in an impressive performance against Meb Keflezighi in New York, finishing second. Personal Best: 2:07:14, Boston, 2006
Top Five Places to Watch This Year's Race:
5. Online – If you can't make it to Boston this year, the race will be carried live on universalsports.com, starting at 9:30 AM EST. Web updates from the race, as well as commentary, are available on the B.A.A website baa.org.
4. Coolidge Corner – Around mile 24, the course finally trades in suburbia for a more urban setting. Coolidge Corner always has a noisy, festive feel on race day. When the runners start coming, head down Beacon Street towards Kenmore Square–the crowds are a little thinner so you'll get a better view.
3. Wellesley – The course's loudest spot is near Wellesley College at mile 12. Students and faculty from the all-female school make a “sound tunnel,” The spot also marks the beginning of a downhill stretch that lasts for five miles until the infamous Heartbreak Hill. This year, Wellesley students came up with a new name – “The Scream Tunnel” – and a Facebook page, where runners can request that students make signs with their names on them. They've also had past runners leave some comments on the page. “The best part of Boston is hearing you all from a half mile away!” and “Such a boost, I turned around and ran through again!” runners have written.
2. Heartbreak Hill – The hill was named in 1936, when defending champion John Kelley (a veritable stalwart of the marathon, who started the race 61 times, finished 58, and won twice) caught up to Ellison “Tarzan” Brown at the top of the hill and patted him on the backside. Instead of accepting defeat, the gesture pushed Brown on to a 2:33:40 win, while Kelley finished fifth. The next day, the Boston Globe sports editor Jerry Nason called the area “Heartbreak Hill,” in his race description, a name that has stuck ever since. The gentle, rolling hill isn't difficult–it's only about 90 vertical feet–but coming at mile 20.5 as the largest and last of the “four hills of Newton” makes it much more grueling. The area has been a favorite of serious spectators who love the drama on the hill. A little bit further, runners get their first view of the John Hancock Building, Boston's tallest skyscraper located right next to the finish line.
1. The Finish Line – for the past two years, the women's competition has been determined by a one or two-second difference. With both of last year's women returning, the finish should be just as cutthroat this year. There is a large video screen broadcasting coverage of the race. Bleachers line the last 100 meters of the course, but those are for invited guests only, so most spectators arrive at dawn to stake out their spot.
Check back throughout the weekend for more race coverage from behind the scenes at America's favorite–and most historic–marathon.
Melanie Lidman, a former Outside intern, is now a reporter for the Jerusalem Post. She grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, which is also known as the birthplace of American liberty. This is her first year watching the marathon live because she used to march with the Lexington High School Parade Band every Patriots' Day.
–Want to run a marathon? Check out coach Hal Higdon's interactive plan for beginners in the Outside Fitness Center.