By Bill Donnelly
As I write this introduction, it is exactly one week until I will be running in the 2005 Boston Marathon, which will be my eighth time doing it. I recently rediscovered an article I wrote that appeared in the
May 3, 1978 edition of The Buffalo Rocket, that fine North Buffalo paper that is probably perused by ones of readers. It is my take on the running of the Boston Marathon just a few days before, and I wrote it as soon as I returned, so the memories were fresh.
I am going to share this with you even though it does not contain much of the humor I usually try to write with. I think it gives a pretty good look at what it was like to run this race back in the Day. More importantly, it shows how much things have stayed the same, at least as far as why so many want to put themselves through this tough experience.
Among the changes, we used to finish at the
, there are way more runners now, but better crowd control so runners never have to run single file. Also, now we have to endure hours before the race in the Prudential Center , and many more bathrooms are provided in the way of port-a-potties, but still every tree and bush in Hopkinton becomes a potential bathroom. I also mention passing some wheelchair participants. Remember, this was when they first had wheelchair racers, and the picture from the Athletes Village April 18, 1978 Boston Harold American shows the winner of the wheelchair participants crossing the finish line. A guy named George Murray won that year in a record time of , and he is in a regular old fashioned wheelchair like you have to use when they wheel you out of the hospital after having an ingrown fingernail fixed. No souped up racers like they now use that gets them to the finish line over an hour faster than in those days.
A couple disclaimers are in order also. In my article I make a point by using O.J. Simpson as an example of a star athlete, and I did so because he was a big hero in
at the time. Of course, times have changed, and events happened that might make him less the hero if I were writing this today. If I were putting pen to paper now, I would undoubtedly pick a sports hero who has an untarnished record, perhaps a Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire. Buffalo
Also in my article, I mentioned I finished in 316th place with a . This is how I was listed in the
papers the next day. Months later when I got my results book, I had been moved back to 320th with a time of even. I do not know how I lost places or time, but they didn’t have the technology of today. We finished going through regular finish chutes like you see in small races, and of course there were no computer chips. Boston
The main thing about the article that has not changed in
is the thrill of the crowds cheering us on. That brought us back again and again, and now it lures even more runners. So read on, and if you have ever done Boston , see how your experience compares, and if you haven’t run Boston , dream on. Maybe one April day you will, and I guarantee you, it will be the thrill of a lifetime. Boston
By Bill Donnelly
I sat, with back leaning against the wall, and my aching legs stretched out before me. I was in the glass enclosed lobby that separates the
from the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Prudential Center My whole body was sore and tired, but my legs were in especially bad shape. My throat was dry and I was shaking from exhaustion. People who passed by stared and one man even took my picture. I had just finished running the Boston, Mass. Boston Marathon and I felt great!
I watched as many of the other 4,000 men and women who had run in the marathon walked, limped and staggered past. I was in a good spot to see the runners from
, because we had all agreed to meet at a certain bar in the hotel in order to quaff a few beers after the race. I was eager to see how others had done in the race. Buffalo
runners appeared. Fred Gordon was delighted by his best time ever of 2:25:29, but seemed just as pleased by the effort of his fellow teammate, Ralph Zimmerman. Ralph had accomplished what many runners dream of but very few do. He broke 2 hours and 20 minutes ( to be exact) and so now is designated as a world-class runner. Buffalo
This simply means that Ralph no longer needs a car, because he can get around faster by running.
Ralph’s place of 28th out of 4,212 runners was the best of any Buffalonian. He had set a
record for his age group, which is 35 to 39 years old. Pat Janiga actually danced a jig that made my legs hurt. Bob and Jim Herzog limped in together and Jim simply collapsed next to me. Tom Donnelly staggered in as did Dave Bogdan, Mike Miesczak, and Paul Schwandt. All my friends had one thing in common. They were all very pleased with their races. US
There is an excitement and thrill in running the
Boston Marathon that can be equaled by no other sporting event. Why else would so many people come from all over the world to put themselves through such agony? Just to go to , one must qualify by running another grueling marathon, and many of us have run Boston more than once. What is it that makes it so exciting? Boston
I believe for all runners, much of the lure of
is the people there. From the minute we arrive there, we are treated as stars, not just a group of crazy runners. The media plays up the event bigger than any professional sporting event going on there, including the Boston Cup Playoffs. Stanley
The race is run on the third Monday in April, which is Patriots Day in
. The Red Sox and the Bruins are playing, but the event of the day is the marathon. Over one million people turn out and line the whole 26 miles. OJ Simpson may have had the thrill of hearing 80,000 fans cheer him after scoring a touchdown, but in Boston I literally had one million people cheering me on. Boston
From the very start when we arrive at Hopkinton, where the race begins, electricity fills the air. A town of 6,500 residents, Hopkinton does not have enough bathrooms to service over 4,000 very nervous individuals who anticipate the agony they are about to endure. Thus, every available bush or tree in town becomes a potential bathroom.
Balloons, doughnuts and t-shirts are being sold everywhere. A hot-air balloon rises near the starting line, and I count five helicopters directly over the start at one time.
We line up, and I am fortunate to be near the front. Over 4,000 runners on a two lane road form a line several blocks long, and once the gun goes off, the last runner will not cross the starting line until five minutes later.
The announcer shouts “Ten minutes till we start. Everyone please line up. Joe Stump’s mother is looking for him to get his sweats. Will number 2507 please come to the official start because you’ve lost your number.” On it goes. We make small talk, but I wonder what the heck I am doing there. I’ve run 13 marathons and I know only too well what pain I will be in. Why should I be so happy and excited about being here?
The gun finally goes off and we slowly surge forward. A couple runners fall in the start and one can only hope that they get up before being trampled. It’s downhill at first, and we are flying, feeling loose and good. There are people lining the whole course, but in the first towns they are thickest, sometimes 10 people deep.
I have long contended that the
Boston Marathon is the greatest of all spectator sports because the spectators actually take part. Many people come with water or ice to hand to the runners. Thousands spend the night before slicing oranges to hand out. Some have hoses to spray us, and some simply hold out their hands hoping a runner will slap it. The rest will cheer loudly and help carry us through the race. Is it because we are amateurs that the spectators become so enthused and involved?
Over the next 14 miles, whenever I feel let down in my strength, I wave my arms “Rocky style.” The crowds love this and cheer all the more. By the half-way point my legs are already very tight and hurt, probably from going too fast on this cool day.
But at 13 miles we hit Wellesley, an all girls’ school with the enthusiasm and spirit of a
stampede. These women get me moving. Buffalo
Then came the Newton Hills, which includes the famous Heart-break Hill. These hills would be impossible but for the fact that the spectators are thickest and most encouraging here. The crowds become so thick that we have to run single file through them.
At the top, a police officer with a bullhorn congratulates us for climbing Heartbreak Hill, and informs us that we have only a bit over four miles to go, all downhill. The crowds grow larger, and police and national guardsmen have to hold back the spectators to give us room. I pass a few of the wheelchair racers, who started before us, and they give me added inspiration. I could hardly make it up those hills using my legs, and 17 are doing it using their arms.
The last four miles through
are long and hard. I want to quit, but the crowd urges me on. Two miles from the finish I pass a runner bent over losing his breakfast. I see the Boston but it looks miles away while the crowd tells me I have only a mile to go. A runner from Prudential Center passes me and is getting very loud cheers; I wave my arms in appreciation as if the cheers are for me. The crowd loves it and cheers me all the more. Boston University
I turn onto
Hereford Street, three blocks to go, but my heart sinks simply because there is a slight incline to climb. I get over it, turn towards the finish, one last block, and all downhill. I can only struggle in, there is no sprint left in my aching legs. Each step feels like someone is hitting the bottom of my foot with a sledgehammer, and the pain shoots through my legs.
I finish 316th in a time of 2 hours and 35 minutes and 45 seconds. Later I will be pleased with that, but in the finish chute I don’t give a damn. I was so tired, and so glad it was over. I slowly staggered through the huge crowd, getting congratulations and a cold beer from someone. I meet my girlfriend, Eleanor, and am glad to see her.
It is over. We partied that night. I won’t be able to walk without pain for a week, and going down stairs will be near impossible. But I am happy and have had one of the most memorable, thrilling experiences of my life. Next year I will be back in
to live it again. Boston