So here I am, just off a bus, in a small town called Hopkinton on the outskirts of Boston at 7:00am on a cold and windy – but dry – morning in April. I am surrounded by several thousand strangers and we all have one goal in common: to run back to Boston as fast as we possibly can. It’s not that we have anything against Hopkinton (and presumably the residents of this New England town don’t have a complex about this mass desire to get out of town as this event has been happening for 113 years).

My own particular goal is to get to the end in less than 3 hours and 28 minutes, which happens to be the time that my friend set in Amsterdam when I qualified for this race in 3:35. A steady pace of 4 minutes and 55 seconds will give a time of 3:27 so I have set the Virtual Partner on my Garmin to this pace and I know that while the dial stays white that I will be inside the 3:27 goal.

This is my third competitive marathon and I have a carefully worked out strategy: I will find the 3:15 pacer and tuck in behind him for the first half or so and then see how I go after that. A similar strategy worked very well for me in Amsterdam. As we walked up to the corrals before the start I started scanning for the balloons which usually identify the pacers but couldn’t see any. I chatted to a young fit-looking guy (target 2:40) and he told me that there aren’t any pacers in Boston. Oops! There goes the first part of the carefully worked out strategy. Oh well, I will just have to rely on the Garmin and the time clocks. With 10 minutes to go I set up the Garmin, then there is an F15 fly-over, the Stars and Stripes are sung, the elite athletes are called down (I never saw them) and suddenly we are off! Then stop, then start, etc, etc. Eventually I get to the start line and go to start the Garmin to find that the bloody thing has turned itself off. While I am messing with it I go through the line and don’t see the clock.

When I eventually get it started I don’t know how far I am into the course and I realize that I am running very fast downhill. Now I love to run fast downhill. I just love to let the legs go and fly along. It’s my favourite thing in running. The Boston course was set up in 1897, the year after the resurrection of the Athens marathon and the organizers tried to set up a race that mimicked the Athens course as closely as possible. They ended up with a course that is almost all downhill or flat for the first 16 miles. Payback comes in a series of hills starting at mile 16 and ending with the famous “heartbreak hill” at mile 20. After that it’s pretty much downhill again. On the bus out to Hopkinton I got talking to a guy from Canada (target 3:55) who was running his 40th marathon and 6th Boston. He had run a sub 3 hr here on his first attempt 14 years ago. He gave me loads of really sound advice (all of which I ultimately ignored) on holding back in the first half so that there is something left for the end. It felt so good tearing along with the crowd roaring encouragement and the bands playing and the sun had even come out that I couldn’t bear to slow down. I went through 5k, 10k and 15k at the same pace, I felt great and I kept telling myself that I would pay for this but I couldn’t slow down. My slowest K was 4:33 in the first 15. The Garmin dial was white (very white), the crowds were magic and what the hell – I was having a ball.

Coming up to the 20K mark, still feeling good, I could hear this incredible noise of women screaming. Just after the marker there was a huge crowd of very good-looking young women with signs and tee shirts saying “Free Kisses”. Another runner told me later that they are students in Wellesley college – an all-girls school, and they have been doing their bit for the Boston marathon (male) runners for decades. I had written my name across my shirt at the start (a legacy from London where everybody does it). It’s great, especially near the end, when loads of spectators are shouting “Come on Tony”. However it’s not such a good idea in Boston when you seem to be the only prat in the race with your name on your chest. As one sardonic guy remarked as he passed me during one of my tough stages later on “That’s quite a fan club you got goin there man!” as all around us all you could hear was “TOWWW-NEEE, TOWWW-NEEE”. Anyway back to the girls of Wellesley college. It’s a mark of the determination and single mindedness of the average marathon runner that the girls were doing almost no business. (Except for one guy, presumably to show his appreciation for their effort who dallied with several along the line.) You could see the other runners shaking their heads and saying “imagine what that is doing to his time”. I had decided to ignore these sirens until near the end of the line an extremely pretty, buxom redhead started screaming at the top of her voice “KISS ME TONY, KISS ME TONY”. Now at 51 years of age this is not something that happens to me on a regular basis, so for this reason and not wanting to disappoint any volunteer I headed over. Well she grabbed my wrist with such force that images of torn ham strings, quads and all the other esoteric injuries that runners obsess about shot into my head. So I kissed my hand, planted it on her cheek, she did the same to me and I ran on with a very pleasant image of an undulating freckle covered landscape in my head for the next few miles.

3.5 miles to be precise! Payback arrived at mile 16, Horror of horrors! I was reduced to a walk and again at mile 18. But I found that a 20 second walk and some serious talking to myself got me going again and I wasn’t losing too much time. I promised myself that I would walk up heartbreak hill, take some photos at the top, and then run all the way home. Surprisingly, half way up what I didn’t think was a bad slope, I saw a huge chalk drawing on the road of a broken heart. I kept running and at the top I asked another runner if that was actually the famous hill. In the time honoured tradition of Americans she gave me a high-five and said “Yes it was – we made it man”. In front of me was the most beautiful downhill run so I didn’t bother with the camera and took off feeling fantastic. From mile 23 or so the body was very sore but I was just as determined not to stop. My Garmin was showing I had about 8 minutes to spare on my target so I knew that whatever happened I would make it.

I took the camera out with about a mile to go and started taking pictures. The atmosphere was incredible, the din deafening, some runners were sprinting, some dragging themselves. I really wanted one shot - the clock at the finish line.

At this stage in a marathon your head does some funny things – or at least mine does. In Amsterdam at the 38K marker I got it into my head that a marathon was only 40K long and that I was going to have a phenomenal time. A woman at the 39K marker shouted “Well done, only 3K to go” and I thought she was joking. I think a kind of hysteria sets in. Which brings me to the title of my report: Hysteresis is defined as a retardation of the effect when the forces acting upon a body are changed. According to Merriam Webster “There seems to be no etymological link between hysteresis and hysterical”. Well I can conclusively prove that there is. Everyone knows that after you press the shutter on a digital camera that it doesn’t take the picture immediately. Coming to the finish line I lined up the sign and the clock carefully, pressed the shutter and ended up with a picture of the sole of the shoe of the runner in front of me.

But what the heck! I have the memories and they are magical. For the record I had a PB 5K, 10K, Half and Full marathon all in one race. But more importantly I had a whale of a time. These are my splits:

Checkpoints 5k 10k 15k 20k Half 25k 30k 35k 40k

0:21:36 0:44:09 1:06:42 1:30:02 1:34:59 1:53:31 2:18:03 2:43:40 3:08:50

Finish Pace Projected Time Official Time Overall Gender Division

0:07:39 3:20:16 4729 4250 264

I would like to say a word of thanks to all the members of Athenry AC who helped me with advice or ran with me over the past few months, especially to Valerie Glavin, Frank Burke and most of all Owen Curran. Owen, you are a fantastic runner and I sincerely hope you get back to full fitness before too long.

Valerie G

15 years 3 months ago

Great report Tony,
I was having a field day watching your progress!
Oscar will be pleased!!


15 years 3 months ago

stuff Tony, I am inspired to do it one day.

Maire Treasa Beatty

15 years 3 months ago

Great Run Tony and a great report. I did this Marathon last year and I thought it was fantastic. Well wishers from the very start to the finish line. Would recommend it to anyone. Well done again.

frank b

15 years 3 months ago

tony, great report and super run
on a tough course. over 26,000 runners and you
finish in 264 place in your category

Paul F

15 years 3 months ago

That is the introductory line from the Bob Segar song, 'Hollywood Nights' which he recorded in the famous Boston Garden. After reading your report Tony, I felt like I was back there again! I ran Boston in '93, '96 (the 100th) and '97 and I plan to do it again next year.It is a course I am very familer with having lived there for 16yrs and trained on the course a lot. And boy do I remember those Wellsley girls :-)
Well done.