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

Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:02:46 -0400

Tale of Two Bostons

(This piece is for my book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each Friday, this one from May 1990.)

Boston, like it’s big brothers and sisters on the marathon circuit, is really two races. The media race you see on television and read about in national newspapers and magazines doesn’t much resemble the people’s race you can only see live and in person.

For the first time since 1982, I saw both races this year. I watched one on a hotel TV and the other from the sidewalk, and had a hard time connecting the two events happening in the same place and only an hour or so apart.

Reporters at the Boston Marathon do what they must. They tell about a tiny minority of runners, because that’s what the majority of viewers and readers want to know.

This focus gives a one-sided look at the Boston Marathon. It makes front-runner matters (along with financial and legal/political matters) sound like everyone’s main concern.

The 1990 race raised again the ongoing argument over Boston’s record status. The sponsor’s voice, David D’Alessandro, commented on the national governing body’s rule that bars the Boston point-to-point course as a record site. He again insulted the rule-makers who know running and care about it as more than a publicity vehicle for a company.

Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe asked D’Alessandro what would happen if a world record were set that day. The Hancock official said, “I think the scenario will be that all the scientific guessers will take out their rulers and tell us why it is not a record.

“There will be about 17 people in the world who believe them. Whoever sets that ‘non-record’ will find themselves worth another $100,000 on the circuit. If someone runs a 2:05, the headlines will blare, ‘World Record Set at Boston.’ ”

Money and headlines. Those are the exact reasons why the rule-makers must guard the integrity of its record book. Records are worth too much to be broken cheaply. I’d spoken out on this issue earlier, in the Globe.

One local running organizer greeted me on race weekend with, “Your name is mud in this town.” I worried that a question/answer session at the expo would turn ugly.

But in an hour of questions, this one never came up. None of the supposed big issues did. No one asked how the media race might go.

This wasn’t that type of crowd. These were the runners who pay their own way to Boston, buy their shoes and subscribe to magazines. Their concerns differ from those of the paid runners, the sponsors and the reporters.

I watched the media race on TV, enjoyed it but felt as distant from it as if watching from across the country. As their race wrapped up, the other one was just starting.

I elbowed into a spot on the curb, two blocks from the finish line. Here, my name wasn’t mud. It meant nothing. I was just one more drop in the sea of faces that the runners saw.

While recognizing very few of these runners, I knew them all. I knew them by where they had come from in the last three or four hours (as well as in the training that had made this racing possible), and by what they were feeling now. Without knowing their names, I felt close to these people as they finished Boston’s other race.

UPDATE FROM 2014

No one was closer to me that day than Chris Hazen. His mother, Barbara, was my wife-to-be that year and was with me that day to watch him run.

He was a senior at Boston University and set on running this race as his first marathon. Which meant, of course, that he would jump in as an unqualified “bandit.” Local college students did this then, and still try to do it despite increased security.

Chris started at sub-seven-minute pace, inevitably finished at 10-plus and wondered if he’d suffered a stroke when his legs stopped working as they should. I thought this cured him of distance running, but after moving to Hong Kong he did the training he’d missed before his first marathon. In his second his PR dropped by more than an hour to 3:07, qualifying him officially for Boston 1996.

I’ve never gotten back to the Boston Marathon since the year described here.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in three different formats: (1) in print from Amazon.com; (2) as e-books from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; (3) as PDFs for e-reader devices and apps, from Lulu.com. Just released was Joe’s Team. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log (not an e-book), and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe (e-book only). The middle book of the memoir series, Going Far, is being serialized in Marathon & Beyond magazine.]
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