Thirty nine years ago, I ran the Boston Marathon. The longest race I had run prior to that was the Nike New Jersey 10 Miler in March 1984. I met a woman at the race who had qualified for Boston and was running it on April 16th. We drove up together and stayed at the apartment of a friend of hers. On marathon morning we had breakfast and then went to the staging area where the buses would take us to the starting line in Hopkinton. I was, as usual, dressed in running clothes and on the bus ride to the start, I was asked too many times, “Hey, what kinda time are you going to run today” or “Is this your first Boston” or “How many marathons have you done”. Since I had never run farther than 13 miles in a training run and was neither qualified to run nor entered into the marathon, my stock response became, “I’m just holding her sweats” hah, hah, hah…
Well that got pretty old and not very funny after awhile and I started to think that maybe I should just run as a bandit (you know, one of those people who is too cheap to enter a race and they run without paying and without a number). Okay, not really a bandit, but rather a guy whose ego was being damaged and was willing to give it a shot to see if he could run 26.2 miles and on a day that was 38 degrees and raining just so he wouldn’t have to be the guy holding his friend’s sweats.
Running in a race without a number is frowned upon by other runners, because they paid and you didn’t. Running Boston in 1984 amongst less than 4,000 other runners meant that you had qualified with a pretty good time in the marathon and that is why you got to run the race. My thinking was that if I started in the back, then very few people would notice me and that when I stopped to get water, everyone else had already had a chance to get theirs (it is even worse if a bandit takes water at a water stop).
At the mile, which I passed through in 12:00 pace, my plan was working to perfection. I wasn’t being yanked off the course by an official (it used to happen) and with the rain and cold temperatures, no one seemed to notice me. I had told my friend that I would try to catch her by 10 miles (I don’t know what I was thinking that I was going to do after that, since it was still 16.2 miles back to Boston) and I just kept running and looking at people’s backs trying to find my friend.
Ten miles passed, then 13.1 miles then Heartbreak Hill and 20 miles and all I kept thinking was that my friend was really having a great race because my time was pretty good and I had passed other people in our running club from New Jersey.
The lowest point for me in the race, besides not catching my friend, was that when I really wanted the finish line to finally be there, there was one more turn and a little ways to go. I did finish, however, ran 3:00:09, was wrapped in one of those shiny Tyvek blankets at the finish and ushered away from the finish area because, you know, I was a bandit.
And there I stood, elated but deflated, having been beaten by my friend and thinking that this was worse than the ride up when I was just a dry, warm “sweats holder”. But the worst was yet to come. Glancing around, I saw my friend hop over one of the yellow police tapes and I was then totally crushed. Not only had she beaten me, but she had the energy to hop over a police tape when I could hardly move.
The happy ending to my first (and only) Boston Marathon story is that my friend had actually dropped out at 10 miles and taken the bus back. In trying to keep my word and catch her, I had focused entirely on my commitment and the miles just breezed by making it by far the most enjoyable marathon that I have ever run!
This post was first published on April 21st, 2008.
Geoffrey Smith Wins the 1984 Boston Marathon
Geoffrey Smith won the 1984 Boston Marathon by more than four minutes with a time of 2:10:34. The win helped him qualify for the British Olympic team for the 1984 games.