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"Two salt tablets and a glass of orange juice."
But the Lenox waitresses apparently are attuned to the whims of road runners. Two minutes later one will appear with the orange juice and two pills on a silver platter: "Do you want them mixed, sir?"
There is a ritual to the prerace preparations that is every bit as unusual as the race itself. It begins with a bus ride on the morning of the big day. The better runners usually get chaperoned in cars and by friends to the starting line 26 miles away in Hopkinton, but the rank and file—those who will be lucky to go the distance in three hours—usually take the bus that leaves from in front of the Lenox at 8:30 in the morning. The sponsoring Boston Athletic Association hires one or two shock-absorberless machines that on normal days do nothing more exciting than carry lunch-clutching children to their local grammar school. On Patriots' Day these buses take on an extra aura of glamour—and the dank smell of sweat. Runners board the bus clad in street clothes, in warmup suits and sometimes in nothing more than the shirt and shorts they will wear from start to finish. Not burdened with the nervousness of those who run for records, the road runners converse freely about the race to come and all past marathon races in which they have competed. Some have been riding the bus from the Lenox to Hopkinton for years.
"Remember Tarzan Brown?" chuckles one oldtimer, recalling the Rhode Island Indian who won the Boston Marathon twice, in 1936 and 1939. Others nod in instant recognition. "Back in 1937 it was so hot he went for a swim in Lake Cochituate. It felt so good he decided not to get out." The oldtimers laugh at the familiar story, as though acting out a part in some passion play. In the back of the bus newcomers sit in awed silence.
Someone tells the story of Tom Longboat, an Onondaga Indian from Ontario, who in 1907 surprised the other runners by suddenly springing ahead early in the race. He arrived at a railroad crossing just ahead of a long freight train. It delayed his opponents long enough to guarantee his easy victory—if there ever is easy victory in the marathon. "At the Yonkers Marathon years ago," an anecdotist informs the crowd, "they used to run the last lap around the racetrack. The race starts at noon, you know. They close the track up, and along about 10 or 12 that night this member of the Yonkers Fire Department shows up still trotting. He had to climb over the fence to finish. He had a bet with his buddies."
The marathoners continue to dwell on late finishers: "Ted Vogel came running onto the track in the 1948 Olympic marathon just as they were presenting the awards. The national anthem of the winner's country was playing. Instead of continuing running he stops on the track and stands at attention."
"That's what I call sportsmanship," volunteered one.
"Yeah?" said a cynic in the crowd. "How many other runners passed him?"
Some on the bus seem much concerned with the problems of being an also-ran. Cars are barred from the entire length of the Boston Marathon course during the race—at least as far as the front runners know. By the time most of those in the bus approach the finish line they will be threading through thick holiday traffic on Commonwealth Avenue. "I don't mind the traffic," says one marathoner. "The discouraging thing is when you get to the 15-mile mark and see a newsboy standing on the corner with the name of the winner in headlines."
About 45 minutes after leaving the Hotel Lenox, the marathoners' bus chugs past Marathon Farm and Marathon Rock. In years past, America's most prestigious road race used to start by this rock, second in New England historical importance only to Plymouth Rock. Foreign track statisticians, however, used to sneer at the fast times turned in on the Boston course—times that used to be entered in the record book of world athletics with an asterisk, like Roger Maris' 61st home run. "The course is short," snorted the foreigners.