Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another Boston

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1990.)

BOSTON, LIKE its 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 in eight years, I saw both races in 1990. I watched one on TV near the finish line 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 spokesman, David D’Alessandro, commented on the national governing body’s rule that bars the Boston point-to-point course as a record site. He insulted the rule-makers who know running and care about it as more than a publicity vehicle for a company.

Joe Concannon of the 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 Boston Globe. As one local running organizer phrased his greeting on race weekend, “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 paying runners. They pay their 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 that 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.


CHRIS HAZEN is my Barbara’s son, and he had something to do with bringing the two of us together. In the mid-1980s, I spoke in a University of Oregon journalism class of hers. Afterward she came forward and introduced herself.

Then she said, “I have a son who does some running. Where can I find one of your books to give him?”

I handed her the one I’d used as a prop that day. “Here, let me sign this for... What’s his name?”

Chris was then a freshman at Boston University. He hadn’t competed on any high school or college team, but had run as far as a half-marathon during Outward Bound training.

In 1990, just before graduating from BU, he wanted to run the Boston Marathon without trying to qualify. He would jump in as a “bandit,” which is what local college students do there.

He asked me for a training program, but we never discussed how closely he followed it. On race day he started at sub-seven-minute pace and finished with 10-minute-plus miles for a total time of about four hours.

I thought this would have cured him of long-distance running. But as his work took him to Hong Kong, he joined the Hash House Harriers and another running club.

He announced, “Now I plan to run the Macau Marathon. I’m training well and would like to qualify for the 100th Boston.”

A tall goal, since as a 27-year-old male he faced Boston’s highest entry standard: a 3:10. Hoping he wasn’t setting himself up for disappointment, I sounded a note of caution. Even a time a half-hour slower than his goal would be impressive under the circumstances.

Chris might have taken my conservative tone as a challenge. His first communication with us after the marathon wasn’t the usual call or email.

Instead his told-you-so response was perfectly understated. He simply faxed his finisher’s certificate. I couldn’t have been more surprised, or pleased, with his time of 3:07:43 if I’d qualified myself.


Photo: My future stepson Chris Hazen became a Boston marathon veteran at age 21.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. Latest released was Miles to Go. Other titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]


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