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Reliving Boston 1982

I walked 5km today to give me aching joints a chance to recover after yesterday's exertions.  My right Achilles remains quite sore and concerns me a little, but hopefully the day off running will see it improved tomorrow.

The results of this year's Boston Marathon were on the news this morning, reviving memories of the two times I have competed there (1982 and 1986).  Although I have previously written blog posts about the 1982 race, I thought I would use the occasion to reprint an article I wrote for my club, Kew Camberwell, newsletter after the event.

Crossing the line (2:22, 49th) in the
1982 Boston Marathon.

Early in February I received a telephone call from Ted Paulin at the 'Big M' Marathon Committee.  Apparently Andy Lloyd, winner of the 1981 'Big M' had declined his first prize of a trip to the 1982 Boston Marathon and as runner-up I was next in line.  Having had an Achilles operation in late November with little training since and none in the preceding three weeks I had some doubts as to whether the eleven weeks remaining to the ‘Boston' (19 April 1982) would be sufficient to get at least reasonably fit.  My surgeon gave me the green light so I mapped out a training schedule which saw me go from 0 to 120 miles per week in four weeks and totalling 1224 miles over the eleven weeks.

I took a few extra days leave and spent five days with clubmate, John, and his wife, Brenda, in California en route.  They were very interested to hear all the club news and send their regards to all their old friends.  Despite some injury problems, John is training and has recently started competing in a few fun runs.  They are living in a house in the Santa Cruz Mountains, an area not unlike the Dandenongs, where it seems to rain all the time.  In the first three months of this year they had 89" of rain (Melbourne has 26" per year) and roads were closed, rivers flooded, and landslides commonplace.  If rain wasn’t enough, John took me on some very muddy tracks and in three days I had used my entire supply of clean running gear.

The Prudential Center basement carpark
after the 1982 Boston Marathon.

From California I flew to Boston arriving four days before the race with the first vestiges of a heavy cold - the product of sunny California.  For four days I trained lightly twice daily, tried to fight off the worsening cold, watched television and attempted to read all the articles published in the press about the forthcoming marathon.  The coverage was of ‘VFL Grand Final’ proportions culminating in direct television coverage of the entire race by four different television stations.

Race day, a public holiday Monday, dawned bright and sunny and I set off by train to the Prudential Center in town from where a steady stream of buses was transporting runners to the start at Hopkinton, 26 miles away to the west.

Winner, Alberto Salazar, speaking at the medal presentation
after the 1982 Boston Marathon.

The atmosphere in Hopkinton was electric.  All roads leading into the town had been blocked by the police at 9 a.m. - 3 hours before the start - and the only motorised traffic was the buses delivering their cargoes of 'psyched-up', animated athletes.  In the town centre you could hardly move for runners and spectators whilst overhead circled four helicopters and four light planes beaming television pictures to the entire U.S.A. There were 7623 official entrants for the race plus an estimated equal number of unofficial runners (entrants must meet stiff qualifying standards before being accepted) on the narrow road for the start at midday.

The first 800 metres is steadily downhill and everyone sets off at a furious pace.  Despite holding myself back and despite it taking me 10-15 seconds to get past the starting line I still reached the first mile in 5:05.  I had resolved to run the first half of the race steadily because of the question mark over my fitness but this proved impossible.  I was literally passed by scores of runners yet went through 5 kilometres in 15:50.  It was very warm with the temperature in the low 20’s complemented by a bright sun and a slight following wind.  By 10 kilometres (32:00) I was holding my own but getting decidedly warm.  The course was lined by thousands of spectators who cheered, clapped and held out cups of water to the competitors.  For the first few miles the course passes through a series of villages which is where the crowds are at their thickest until the suburb of Wellesley is reached after eleven miles.  Here crowd support reaches new undreamt of dimensions as the runners pass the Wellesley College for women.  The girls leave a gap about one to two metres wide for the runners to pass through and scream.  If you can imagine what it is like to run quickly down a hallway lined with giant stereo speakers you may be getting close.  You start to lose touch with reality.  Unfortunately, reality just around the corner as I had feared when passing through 10 miles in 52:07.  My next seven miles were miserable as various ailments assailed me and the crowds witnessing my demise grew thicker and thicker.  By now every inch of the course was covered by onlookers often three or four deep and usually only a couple of metres apart.  At 17 miles I heard a time which indicated that at my present rate of decline I would run 2:25 or over and also that I was in approximately 130th place.

Showing off my "First Hundred" finishers
medal after the 1982 Boston Marathon.

My big ambition, apart from beating Greta Waitz, was to run in the first hundred and earn a medal.  The course now entered the Newton Hills, a series of four hills climaxing in the world-renowned Heartbreak Hill at 21 miles.  For some reason my pace began to pick up and I actually began passing people.  The heat was taking its toll and a lot at fast starters were now paying their dues.  The crowds on Heartbreak Hill were unprecedented and the noise indescribable.  To pass a runner was often difficult because of the narrow path left by the spectators who were reaching out to touch you and give you much needed cups of water.  I was really starting to motor now and set out to run the last five miles hard.  Coming down from the hills on the winding course the closeness of the crowd often meant that a runner only five metres in front of you could not be seen.  Thousands of people crowded around the last 400 metres and I found the energy to catch a few more competitors before crossing the line in 2:22:39.  My relief at the time turned to joy upon receiving a note congratulating me on being in the first hundred.  It took some hours to find out I had come 49th.

All finishers were directed into the cavernous basement car park of the Prudential Center where they could collect gear left at Hopkinton, get refreshments, have a shower and receive medical attention if necessary.  The warm conditions resulted in a lot of stretcher cases (about 600) and the underground hospital resembled a scene from the Crimean War.  The winner, Alberto Salazar, received intravenously three litres of fluid after his temperature had dropped to 88°F following the race.

Two old Kew-Camberwellians also competed in this year’s race – Trevor and Kishore – but, unfortunately, I do not have their results.

I cannot hope in this article to convey the atmosphere and excitement present at Boston. However, I do encourage all distance runners to take part in this unique event at least once for an unforgettable experience.