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Boston hasn't strangled my marathon enthusiasm

April 24, 2003|by ANDY MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

You would think having thousands of cheering fans screaming, "Let's go Hagerstown!" and "Come on Hagerstown!" and "You can do it Hagerstown!" would have made me feel like royalty as I made my way into Boston on Monday afternoon - especially since they were yelling for me.

My Cumberland Valley Athletic Club issued "Hagerstown" singlet said where I was from. The number pinned to it implied where I was going. And everyone packed along the crowded streets from the start at Hopkinton to the finish at Copley Square was more than happy to encourage the roughly 20,000 runners making the fabled 26.2-mile journey of the 107th Boston Marathon.

But I certainly didn't feel like a king, not even a welcomed guest. Not the way I was getting pummeled.

The downhill jabs delivered through Ashland, Framingham and Wellesley during the first half of the race nicely set up Newton's uphill blows in the second half.

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By the time I crested the final summit at Heartbreak Hill, I was spent. My legs throbbed, and my skin was caked with a sticky crust of salt, spit and Gatorade and baked by the scorching sun. And I still had five miles to go.

My target 6:45-mile pace had slowed to an 8-minute survival one. My realistic dreams of breaking 3 hours were gone, and my hopes of at least topping my personal record of 3:03 were quickly vanishing.

Prestigious race or not, this was it for me at Boston, I kept telling myself as I approached the city. I was done here, never again to return. This - countless hours and weeks of training, plotting and planning, capped by a 900-mile round-trip drive - was just crazy, absolutely foolish and definitely not worth it.

Who in their right mind would take five days off work and not spend it vacationing?

From the cold I didn't catch all winter finally catching up to me three days before the race to the unexpected arrival of hot weather, I had lost all control of my tiny universe.

Then a funny thing happened: I regained a handle on it just like that, as I rounded the final turn onto Boylston Street and saw the magical arches of the finish line just 600 meters ahead.

The loud cheers of encouragement were now feverish roars of admiration, as the crowd carried home its Patriots Day survivors.

I was reborn.

Any real memory of that final stretch will be forever lost in the stirring chills of the moment and as long-lasting as the official Boston Marathon medal they threw over my head after I crossed the line.

Life doesn't get much more inspirational, and it certainly couldn't have been more grand as I feasted on a post-race meal of shrimp and beer with family.

Sure, my 3:08 clocking was the slowest of my three Bostons, but my overall place (1,184th) was my best yet, in what was reported as the second-largest field there ever.

Most importantly, though, my time was still good enough to earn me another Open Male berth for the 108th edition next April.

The madness called marathon continues.




Andy Mason is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at andrewm@herald-mail.com

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