Body Electric

Boston Marathon 1979

Boston 1979 Body Electric

It was the night before the big one and the hay was in the barn, but would it be enough? For certain I set the bar high: 2h15m and a top 10 finish were my stated goals and I knew I was capable, but then I was capable two years previously, when I ran 2h28m and finished 46th – a humbling experience.

It was a Sunday night and I was in my little upstairs apartment in a small house in Hanover, MA. I had been sequestered all week, with each passing day bringing a growing excitement. On every run I thought about the race and had to rein myself in, I felt so good and in control. I was winding myself up for battle.

I had somehow – through this obsession with running, and in particular, Boston – made it all about my own self-worth. I was ready to go out on a long limb and red-line it; mentally I was very strong, but this had to be tempered and anchored in reality. I knew I had that too, because I could look at my successes over the past few years. I could look at my more accomplished GBTC teammates and be confident because we worked in concert so we all improved, but on race day you took no prisoners, showed no mercy.

I had survived another New England winter: I’d had some racing disappointments at the World Cross Country Team Trials, but success at the National 20km Championships. I had been sick with a flu bug and been hobbled with a knee injury but I had overcome those setbacks and now I was primed.

I was 23 years young and the time was ripe. I dreamed of challenging the leaders in Boston and laying it all out there, kicking ass, taking names. I was pressurised inside and Zen outside: a deadly combination.

At work in the running retail emporium where I plied my trade, I was quieter than usual. When asked about Boston, I only said: “We shall see.”

At 23 we have plenty of time… or do we? I didn’t think so. It was do or die and I was right – at any age you strike in athletics, the right time is always now.

Life is too short to listen to reason.

Tilt at windmills.

In the evenings in my little bedroom apartment I re-read my collection of running books and listened to my stereo LPs, creating a soundtrack that would relax my mind before during and after the big race.

The night before the race, a friend who had been a high jumper on our college track team came to visit with his fiancée. It was nice to have company but a shock to see him moving into a form of adulthood that I did not yet relate to, running being my mistress.

I went to bed early and slept soundly. I arose early and had a cup of Hills Brothers instant coffee and one slice of toast. I then filled a jug with a mix of water and Gookinaid ERG and grabbed a banana to eat a little later. I was relieved to see my ride appear at the appointed time to get us there ahead of the noontime start– when I had nightmares, they usually included showing up late for the big one or forgetting my racing shoes or race number.

I had been given number 1066, based on my slowish qualifying time. I was a bit worried that I would not be allowed to start up front, but luckily I was just a few rows back.

I finished the race at 12 minutes after two in the afternoon and 12 hours after that I lay in bed in my little apartment, body electric coming to grips with all that had just passed as the day came back at me as a dream.