I will risk the ire of Jock' Semple, but I have to say it: the Boston marathon is not a hard race. It is a heady one and a lovely one, graced with the legends of Clarence H. DeMar, Tarzan Brown, the Kelleys elder and younger, and bolstered by the cheerful and cheering crowds through which the runners ooze. But tough? No. Still less is it gruelling, to use that most favored word when sportswriters slide out of tap rooms to cover marathons.
No one need tell me that I have a few dozen more marathons to run before I can issue pronunciamentos on the subject. But of the five courses that I've done in the past six months - New York, Washington, Baltimore, Beltsville and Boston - the one on Patriot's Day last Monday had a measure of ease that even the untethered goats and sheep in my part of the pack had to notice.
I realize what a first-time-at-Boston scrip calls for: a tale of agony and pain, collapsing at the finish line but gamely calling out to the medics - as they hook you into the IV bottle - that nothing in this life or the next will ever be as excruciating as the Boston marathon.
My first sense of the opposite reality came when I looked at a contour map of the course, provided by The Boston Globe in the race program. Of the first 17 miles, about 16 slope downhill. Going home, the final five miles are also downhill or clamly level. That's 21 miles of easy footwork. As for Heartbreak Hill, I found it to be little more than a large groundswell, neither long nor steep and no more of a terror than the climb on Massachusetts Avenue is Washington, and only then as far up as the Naval Observatory. Compared with Baltimore's Satyr Hill, which really is a demonic hill, or the Himalayan foothills in Beltsville, the touters of Heartbreak have made a mountain out of a molehill. In fact, I was a bit disappointed by the easy time I had while moving to the top. When the famed policeman at the crest of Heartbreak called out "Congratulations," I had an urge to cry back, "what for a cakewalk?"
I mean no disrespect for this hallowed ground. I know, too, that the temperatures of last Monday meant a fast track for everyone.The day was so perfect for running that the persons who finished sixth had a time that would have won all but there of the previous 82 Bostons.
My own feeling that easy day approached came at five miles. The clock read 35 minutes. For me, that was going out fast, even though i knew the downhill slopes were helping. At 10 miles, I had 72 minutes. This, too, was not the usual me. I was running at a pace that would have brought me in at 3:30, which was 15 minutes less than what I considered worthy of a brag to the kiddies on my block. At 13 miles, pranciang past the nubiles of Wellesley College, I remembered what a veteran runner once told me: if you feel fresh at the halfway point, you'll be fine at the finish.
I brought it in at 3:28. This ranked about 3,300 out of 4,600 official entries.
Official numbers are given only to those who qualify with a decent time in another marathon, but nothing short of a frown is done to stop the crashers who haven't qualified. I noticed no disdain among official runners for the nonofficials. Personally, I find the latter a touching gang . They don't get their names in the program or the Globe to show the grandchildren (who will just yawn, anyway) their time aren't recorded and they don't get any stew at the end.
My only concern about the crashers is that they are in Boston on a lark and haven't trained well. That means they are likely to run a painful race. Boston shouldn't be remembered for that. It ought to stickin the mind, as it does in mine, as a delightfully relaxing social event that tests the body and elevates the spirit. On top of that, if one is lucky enough to finish with a good time, Santayana's comment can be savored: "There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval." The enjoyment of starting out in Hopkinton and finishing at the Prudential building is not hare to analyze: marathons make us athletes but Boston makes us romantics.