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"No," answered the sponsoring BAA. "The fast times are in part due to the prevailing wind that usually pushes the runners from behind."
"The course is short," countered the foreigners.
"Not necessarily," insisted the BAA. "Our course is a bit hilly. Since we run toward the sea, it is more downhill than up."
"The course is short," reiterated the foreigners, sounding like a well-worn 78-rpm record. About half a dozen years ago, to still their critics, BAA officials walked out to Hopkinton, tape measures in hand, and remeasured their course. "The course is short," they admitted, their Yankee pride disintegrating. Mumbling something about expressway construction, they moved the starting line half a mile back from fabled Marathon Rock to a nondescript place in the middle of the highway where there isn't even a gas station.
Marathoners must report for a physical at 10 at the Hopkinton high school gym. The bus from the Lenox arrives a little before that hour. Soon the gym bursts with athletes in various states of dress and undress, rubbing liniment into their legs, taping toes to prevent blisters and socializing with all the amiability of delegates at a Lions convention. But nobody at a respectable Lions convention would be caught drinking honey.
The physical itself consists of stepping on a scale, having your heart listened to and pulse taken by a physician. It is the kind of examination that might catch a person in the advanced stages of coronary thrombosis. Yet a certain small number of otherwise sound athletes possess heart murmurs bearing no relationship either to their training or to their health but which cause them to live in constant fear of disqualification. In 1957 the examining doctors thumbed three runners out of the race, including Ted Corbitt, who was a member of the 1952 Olympic team, and Al Confalone, a 1959 U.S. Pan American Games entrant. They ran the race without numbers anyway and finished in the top 10. All survived the experience. Little things such as this cause the marathon runner to distrust medical expertise.
But the ritual proceeds. Having finished with the physical exam, the competitors dress in their running uniforms, pinning numbers front and back, then place their street clothes in a truck that will transport the clothes to the finish line. This provides an incentive to finish, since if they don't get to the finish line one way or another the runners have little chance of getting their clothes back. Marathoners then crowd back into the bus to be transported the half mile to the starting line. Some intrepid competitors who actually expect to finish jog to the start for a warmup, which seems like adding insult to injury.
At this point, most runners, if they have not already done so back in the gym, follow the call of nature. I always jog a couple of hundred yards down the highway to a gas station, which if not included in the current edition of "Where to Go and What to Do in Hopkinton" should be. Usually an amiable gas station attendant directs me and others around the corner, past a grease rack and to a back room. He doesn't know any of our names, I am sure, but he must scan the pictures in the paper to see if any of his customers have achieved athletic immortality.
Back in the Hopkinton town square runners enter a bullpen, a snow-fence-lined area designed to protect them from autograph seekers, dogs, small children and voracious females. They mill around like happy cattle. Some already stand in their shorts, having sent their sweat suits packing by truck to the Hotel Lenox. Ten minutes before the start, officials check the runners out of the bullpen. Then they trot down the street and stand chattering in the middle of the highway. At noon the starting gun sounds.
The early pace is easy, almost luxurious compared to the slapdash start of a mile run indoors. A few morning stars flash briefly to the front, aware perhaps that photographers take pictures at two points in a race: at the start and at the finish. At the time of the finish they will be wobbling along somewhere in the vicinity of Boston College, which isn't even within spyglass range, so they might as well get their pictures in the paper at the start. Photographers and reporters sit on the back of a flatbed truck traveling just before the lead runners, their pencils poised, shutters cocked, looking for a grimace of pain, the attack of a dog, a murmur of sympathy from the crowd, so it can be dutifully reported to 500,000 Boston readers.