Last week’s letter was written several hours before the horrific twin bomb blasts in Boston. Ellen and Reid never really knew of my past in Boston; we didn’t talk about it much although they wore the marathon’s yellow unicorned logo tee shirt as kids. Having run past those very locations (my 1980 finish was something less than race pace) it’s just hard to imagine explosions happening at all.
April 15, 2013
Ellen/Reid: I was browsing Yahoo! about 20 minutes ago, and at noon Eastern they started the Boston Marathon. I haven’t thought about that race for a long, long time. It’s incredible that my last one was 33 years ago in 1980. Neither of you have likely heard this story, but if you have, grin and bear it. It was bright sun and in the mid-70s at race time in Hopkinton.
I’d gone there with a few runner friends from Des Moines, including John Leonhardt, the Iron Man. The first inkling that this might not be my day was the feeling of water splashing on me as we lined up. It was a guy taking a final piss and he was hitting my feet. I do recall saying “What the f–k are you doing?” and he said ‘I had to go.’ Geez. The boob. What a way to get started.
I went into the race in really good shape, and if there was ever a race for me to go sub 2:20, and go top 100, that was it. But my head must not have been on straight. Before the gun sounded I should’ve told myself to bag Boston, back off and treat it as a training or fun run and live to race another day – and in cooler temps. But then stupidity took over. I was caught up in the moment, thought I was strong enough to handle things, and hit the bricks at the pace I’d planned on. With four miles to go, I paid dearly for it. I was on 2:20 pace through 22 miles when I ran head on into the hills. They just killed me. My time ended in 2:39. But that’s not the real story.
When I was barely limping on the downhill with a couple of miles to go, I could hear the roar of the crowd behind me, welling up as someone, the first woman no doubt, was gaining on me fast. My pace – to that point – was fast enough that no women would be ahead of me. I glanced behind and sure enough, here she comes, Jacqueline Gareau of Canada. She was steamrolling, motoring at warp speed. I stuck my hand out, and for an instant she grabbed it. I told her something inane like “First woman, go, go go.” There was no way in the world any other women, let alone hundreds of men, could be ahead of her.
By some miracle among the crush of runners and people, John and I found each other in the parking garage under the Prudential Center. We were covered in brine, our salts long having dried white on our running singlets. We found a couple of spare chairs and literally plopped down (an official came by, spotted us and asked if we wanted to go to the emergency tent. We must’ve looked like death warmed over).
But 40 feet ahead of us was the riser where the winners, Bill Rodgers for the men, and the leading woman, were doing a news conference. I knew who Rodgers was, but when I saw the woman, I told John “That’s not the woman who passed me.” He goes “What the hell are you talking about?” The woman was in gray cotton shorts and t-shirt, not the stuff real runners would wear on a broiling day. I kept telling John that this cannot be the winning woman. No way. No sweat rings on her clothes, no matted hair. None of that. After a couple of cups of water, we beat a retreat out of there to nurse our wounds over a couple of cold beers. I still thought “What the hell happened to the first woman?”
As it turned out that night, the cat escaped the bag in a big way. People had seen Rosie Ruiz jump in the race not far from the finish line, and her slightly pudgy body didn’t hold up to the scrutiny of the post-race news conference. No women could recall her in the lead pack of women runners. Ruiz couldn’t recount her splits or other race details. It was big news at the time and led to sensor-enabled microchips tied to runner laces to keep frauds out of races. I haven’t thought about that race or Jacqueline or Rosie for a long, long time. I was dragging a plow towards the end of the race, but that story makes it a little more worthwhile.