I hope no one will run very crazy," said 1988 Olympic marathon champion Gelindo Bordin of Italy before the 94th running of the Boston Marathon. He heaved a sigh of resignation. "But it's just a hope I have. Sometimes they don't respect the right way to run the marathon. There's no strategy, just crazy running."
"They" were the East Africans, Kenyans, Ethiopians and Tanzanians who had made the opening miles of the two previous Boston races look more like sprints than tests of endurance. And from the crack of the starter's pistol at noon on Monday, it was as clear as the skies over Hopkinton Green that Bordin would not get his wish.
As the 9,362 runners swept down the winding, wooded hills of Hopkinton and Ashland, Tanzania's tiny Juma Ikangaa, whom Bordin affectionately refers to as "that crazy man," was pushing the pace mercilessly. Ikangaa had finished second the past two years, and he was running like a man who would die before he allowed history to repeat itself again. "If I can win," he said before the race in the dignified, measured tone that befits a major in his country's army, "it will become history that once a Tanzanian, Juma Ikangaa by name, won the Boston Marathon."
In fact, Ikangaa was making Boston history at every mile marker he passed. He hit 10 miles in 46:53, 28 seconds faster than the course-record time for 10 miles that he had run last year. "I was trying to keep the same pace with which we started," said Ikangaa with a straight face. "We ran a 4:26 mile. I wanted to see if we could finish at that pace."
Astonishingly, Ikangaa was not alone in his lunacy. He towed behind him a pack of four, which comprised two Kenyans, Ibrahim Hussein and Kipkemboi Kimeli, and two Ethiopians, Zeleke Metafaria and Tesfaye Tafa. They averaged 4:41 a mile for their first 10. That pace, if carried to the finish, would have yielded a gaudy world best of 2:02:48, 4:02 under the mark Ethiopia's Belayneh Densimo set two years ago in Rotterdam.
But just what would that have meant? This year Boston's venerable course has been the center of a controversy that still isn't resolved. Because road courses vary so much, the International Amateur Athletic Federation does not recognize a world record for the marathon, only a world best. While that's a distinction most of us can live with, to the folks whose business it is to keep road racing records, it's an intolerable slight. So in December, at The Athletics Congress's convention in Washington, D.C., the members of the Long Distance Running Committees concocted a rule they hoped would standardize courses and thus be a significant step toward the establishment of recognized world marathon records. The new rule stipulates two things: First, a course cannot have a net loss of elevation of more than one meter per kilometer (in the case of a marathon, that's 138 feet), and second, its finish must lie within 30% of the total race distance from the start.
The most revered marathon course in the world, Boston's, fails on both counts. From start to finish it drops 480 feet, while the virtually straight line it traces puts its finish almost the full marathon distance away from its start. So, however fast Ikangaa might have run on Monday, no world record could have been set.
That left road race aficionados sputtering with rage. "It's so asinine," said New York City Marathon director Fred Lebow, feisty as ever despite the chemotherapy treatment he's undergoing for lymphoma of the brain. "It's a bunch of little guys with nothing better to do. The marathon has always been point-to-point. If Boston were a fast course, there would have been 20 world records set here. There have been three. Is 93 years not enough proof?"
What the new TAC rule seems to ignore is that marathoners pay a price for running on a course like Boston's, which follows 16 miles of downhill racing with five miles of nearly steady climbing. "It breaks the leys," said Bordin, snapping an invisible pretzel stick with his hands. Boston officials, who are hoping to have the criteria changed, ought to be supported.
If anyone required proof of the damage done by downhills, let him consider Ikangaa's slow progress up the winding hills of Newton. After breaking away convincingly at 15� miles, he built his lead to 120 yards. At 19 miles, however, Ikangaa was laboring. A single vein stood out like a ridge on his glistening forehead. At 20 miles his left calf began to cramp.