Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 24 Apr 2003 08:27:08 -0400

Back to Boston


(Rerun from April 1997 RC)

I didn't just take away from my first Boston, what I'd gone there to find. I came back with something much better.

My intent in 1967 was to take care of the business of becoming a marathoner. I'd never run one before and wanted to start in the best. There weren't yet any qualifying times.

Boston wasn't a Monday race then but whenever April 19th happened to fall, which was midweek that year. I could spare only two days from work and would spend less than 24 hours in marathon city.

I didn't know anyone except my two roommates, John Clarke and Tom Murphy, who were there from Iowa for the marathon. And I hadn't allowed time for getting to know anyone new.

Business taken care of, I flew home that same evening. The best thing I took back with me wasn't a time that would forever stand as a PR, but the list of entrants published in the Globe. The value of that list would grow with time, as I added faces, voices and personalities to the names.

The number right next to mine was assigned to a Dr. G. A. Sheehan from New Jersey. The next year, he became "George" to me when we met at the Mexico City Olympics and soon afterward we became a writer-editor team that stayed together the rest of his life.

George wrote what may have been his first published running story after Boston 1967. He told the editor of the Asbury Park Evening Press in a note, "I was sitting the other night thinking of the run, and I just jotted down some impressions to pass some time."

The story was vintage George Sheehan. An excerpt:

"The runners and plodders are all home now, back on the roads and dreaming of floating through those Newton hills and sprinting down Commonwealth Avenue [next year]. Responding to that call will be physicians, physicists and teachers; firemen, policemen, ministers and priests anointed with the liniment of their calling, each with shoes unique to his owner and running togs beyond description, as another Boston starts to write itself indelibly on its participants."

What strikes me most from the old Boston entry list is how much these friends-to-be (from a field totaling only about 700) have written about running since 1967. George Sheehan, Amby Burfoot, Ed Ayres, Tom Derderian, Hal Higdon, Ron Daws, Dave Prokop, Peter Wood, Gabe Mirkin, Kathrine Switzer, Erich Segal -- writers all.

Segal wouldn't write running books but best-selling novels, starting with Love Story. In this and later books Segal gives minor characters the names of his runner friends such as Walt Hewlett and Hugh Jascourt.

Names of strangers to me then, friends now, jump off that yellowed and brittle newspaper page: Bill Clark, my onetime neighbor in California... Orville Atkins, my roommate as we watched the Mexico City Olympics... the legendary John J. Kelley, John A. Kelley and Ted Corbitt... Flory Rodd, a not-yet-reformed smoker who ran his first marathon that day and many more with me... Roy Reisinger, who shared the 1996 Olympic Track Trials with me.

I don't qualify to run Boston anymore, and might never again come within an hour of the PR set there. I can watch the TV show and read the results from home.

But I can't get the real feel of Boston anywhere else but there. That's why I'll be there on this anniversary of my first trip to recall and renew old acquaintances and make some new ones.

Times fade, friendships grow.

UPDATE. As editor, I'd first brought Amby Burfoot into Runner's World as a writer. Now RW's editor, Amby keeps me there as a writer. He had arranged my planned 1997 trip.

I didn't get there after all, and haven't been back in person since 1990. But in a sense I've never left Boston behind. Training for and running Boston changed me forever as a runner and writer.

I celebrated the 36th anniversary (on April 19th) in two good ways: by watching three teams of students run a marathon relay in Eugene, then by finishing work on the second edition of the book Marathon Training.

Amby Burfoot marked a bigger anniversary for him in a better way. This was 35 years since he won at Boston, and he ran again (wearing number "1968") as he does ever fifth year. His wife, daughter and nephew accompanied him.


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