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.
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."
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.
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
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.