Running in the 'Meda: Boston Strong

Running in the 'Meda: Boston Strong

Marty Beene

The Boston Marathon took place this past Monday. It was an emotional day for many people because of the bombing that occurred at the end of the race last year. In addition to those powerful non-running-related emotions, the running itself was being hyped for weeks, and for good reason: American elite distance running has been improving significantly in recent years, and this year there were American men and women who had legitimate shots to win the race. The last time an American man won was in 1983 (Greg Meyer), and the last time an American woman won was in 1985 (Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach). This year, Americans Desiree Linden (2011 runner-up) and Shalane Flanagan were believed to be serious contenders. On the men's side, Ryan Hall (one third and two fourth place finishes) and "Meb" Keflezighi (fifth in 2010) were the most well-known Americans with a chance to win.

The front end of the women's race featured a pack of about eight runners for quite some time - it was tall, blonde Shalane Flanagan loping along in front of a pack of petite Africans (a couple of whom do not quite reach five feet tall). Flanagan ran aggressively, finishing with the fastest time ever for an American woman. Unfortunately for her, Kenyan Rita Jeptoo had a record-setting day, smashing the course record by over a minute while winning her third Boston title. Five other runners also had stellar days, leaving Flanagan in seventh place.

In the men's race, Keflezighi took off at about the halfway point and never looked back. Well, he did actually look back late in the race because, despite reeling off the 24th mile in 4:47, Kenyan Wilson Chebet was rapidly gaining on him! Chebet had cranked out a series of 4:30 miles (no, that's not a typo) to pull to within about 10 seconds of Keflezighi. But Keflezighi, a UCLA grad who moved to the U.S. at age 12, held on to become the first American man to win Boston in 31 years.

Boston is the most famous marathon in the world, and because of its popularity, it became one of the first marathons to require a qualifying time: three and a half hours in 1971. Back in the early '80s, the qualifying time for men under age 40 was two hours and 50 minutes, which was out of reach for me. But they eased the standard to three hours in 1987 (it is currently three hours, five minutes), and suddenly I had a shot.

I had run a 3:19 in 1984 on very light training, so I trained much harder to run the (then fairly flat) 1987 San Francisco Marathon, shooting for that magic sub-3 time. I failed miserably, and swore off of marathoning for years before finally entering the California International Marathon in 2004. I wasn't specifically trying to qualify for Boston, but did, running just under three hours and 13 minutes (the 40+ age group standard was 3:20 then), a six-minute personal best at age 43. By then, though, I wasn't really interested in marathoning that much, so I didn't make the trek East, as I had wanted to so badly nearly 20 years earlier.

I think every runner should run at least one marathon to gain an appreciation for what goes into it. However, I don't really like the idea of focusing on marathons for myself. Completing one takes so much out of you, you have to rest for a month or two or more afterward. I want to be able to race more frequently, and marathon planning, training, and recovery just eats up too much calendar time. Even with these feelings, however, whenever I watch a marathon I begin to think, "Could I do another one? Could I qualify for Boston? Would I go if I did?"

What do you like or dislike about marathons?

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. Marty can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.