SI Vault
Hal Higdon
April 15, 1963
Hounds, kids and, in Boston, 300,000 spectators gather to watch and sometimes harass long-distance men who might prefer to be lonely
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 15, 1963

On The Run From Dogs And People

Hounds, kids and, in Boston, 300,000 spectators gather to watch and sometimes harass long-distance men who might prefer to be lonely

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Pete Bjarkman, a University of Hartford honor student, writes, "As I was dressing for the marathon, I tried to think of any other sport in which a beginner could find himself dressing alongside the world's leading performers."

Don Fay, a young executive, advises aspiring runners, "Don't be afraid of public opinion. Most adverse comment is just jealousy anyway."

Tom Osier, a graduate math student at NYU, says, "Writers should not describe marathoners as 'a clan of masochistic idiots.' A well-trained runner experiences very little pain, even during an all-out effort."

Ken Joseph, a 40-year-old MIT alumnus and a marathoning buddy of Gray's, says, "I even enjoy shoveling snow now that I've started running again. I know I'm not going to drop dead, and I can laugh at the fellows in the office with their gimmicky $150 snow blowers."

And then there was Clarence DeMar. Mr. DeMarathon, somebody once called him, and the punster should be forgiven his trespass for DeMar was wonderful. A seven-time winner of the Boston Marathon, starting in 1911, he was still in the first 10 in the '30s, 17th in 1943, and even in the '50s a young runner had to train thousands of miles to beat him. DeMar ran races right up to within a year of his death at 70 (from cancer, not from the "bad heart" he was told he had in 1912).

DeMar's great tradition, including that of pleasing the crowd, is carried on by Old John Kelley. The safest bet about the Boston Marathon is that, whoever wins the race, John will receive and deserve far greater applause. Now 55, Kelley—who was running this race in the late '20s—needs only a hot day on April 19th to be a real threat for the first 10. Last year in cold weather he was only 25th, but a month later in the national championship in Yonkers he came up with the least recognized performance of the year in any sport when he finished a brilliant fourth in a strong field of 80. A younger runner, expected to be a future champion, matched strides with Kelley for 25 miles over the hilly and extremely demanding course, then staggered to the curb, embraced a telephone pole and nearly collapsed. The old man sped swiftly on—at about 5:15 per mile, a pace that most untrained young men would have trouble keeping for even half a mile.

The youthfulness and the accompanying joy in life of the marathoner is one of the charms of his sport. For once the spectator sees man scoring a victory over Father Time. A temporary victory, admittedly, but a highly dramatic one nevertheless. Where else can you watch an athlete who is better today than he was in 1928 as a 20-year-old?

At one time most of the competitors in the Boston Marathon were local products. Today they come from almost anywhere on earth, from such diverse places as Guatemala, Japan, Finland, Ethiopia and Little Rock, Ark. Many of these out-of-towners stay at the Hotel Lenox, a middle-aged mausoleum that, since the old athletic club across the street gave way to urban renewal a few years ago, has become both the headquarters of the race and a place of solace for those who go the distance. In front of the Lenox a yellow line has been painted on the street with the word "finish" written behind it. Since only once in the past 17 years has a native-born American won the Boston Marathon, the yellow line in effect has been deeded to foreign runners—such as Finland's Eino Oksanen, Paavo Kotila and Veikko Karvonen, who have won in the past, and Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila, the 1960 Olympic champion, who is entered this year. Abebe has never lost a marathon.

No one can claim to have really eaten breakfast until he has broken fast in the coffee shop of the Hotel Lenox on the morning of the Boston Marathon. The committee on food faddism of the American Medical Association should someday look into what goes on there. Runners sit around grouchily at booths and tables sprinkling sunflower seeds into their oatmeal, swigging wheat germ and sipping Sustagen, a kind of nourishment they give to old ladies dying in the hospital. All year long waitresses at the Lenox get standard orders for waffles and coffee. Comes the day of the Boston Marathon, however, and the dialogue goes something like this:

"What would you like for breakfast, sir?"

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7