Before beginning to pedal I flicked on one of those fancy TV’s that distract you from the monotony and discomfort of exercise only to find that the 113th edition of the Boston Marathon was in full flight.
There’s nothing like the finest runners in the world at the oldest marathon on the planet to make me feel inadequate as I plod through another painful day of my meager training regimen.
But something happened as I watched the women in particular. There was a tall American by the name of Kara Goucher in the middle of the lead pack surrounded by Ethiopians and Kenyans. She was deep into the race and was holding her own. Though she still had a few miles to go before encountering the notorious ‘Heartbreak Hill,’ Goucher looked in control and the TV graphics kept flashing that no American women had won at Boston in nearly a quarter of a century.
It clicked that Goucher was a contender, in what many concede to be the most prestigious and toughest of the major distance races.
Suddenly, I looked at the time on my bike’s counter and I was at 25 minutes. I hadn’t felt a thing and had pushed through nearly nine miles!
Off I leapt and jogged over to the treadmill, flicking the converter to rejoin the race on a new TV. Then I began to run at a better than average speed for a Clydesdale like me! My goal was to do about three miles.
By now the production crew in Boston had abandoned the men’s race and switched over to exclusive coverage of the women’s battle. The lead pack was down to five beyond Newton and the brutal, spirit shattering hills. Goucher appeared to be cruising but at her shoulders were the ever-present east Africans…smooth and steady.
I had run Boston in 2005 and recall it being both the most rewarding and gut wrenching experience of my life. I had struggled through in a time of 3:46:01 and 6771st place in a field of 20,000. At the finish line on Boylston Street I sat down and cried like a baby vowing never to attempt such a torturous odyssey again.
Now, as the runners passed by Fenway Park and made for the final stretch, I was striding freely on the treadmill. My pace was well within the standard eight-minute miles I generally hope to maintain. I found myself wishing myself into the pack alongside Goucher and her adversaries.
A quick look to the right and there were three women on treadmills beside me. Their TV’s were tuned into what was happening at the Boston Marathon, as was that of this fireman I know named George who ran immediately to my left. They were all transfixed and you could sense they were firmly in Kara Goucher’s camp.
By the time I glanced back the pack was whittled to three. Leading was Goucher, then came Dire Tune of Ethiopia who had set a world record by running more than 18 km in an hour, and Salina Kosgei of Kenya, the winner of marathons in Paris and Prague and the tenth place finisher at the Olympics in Beijing.
They roared through the dark of an underpass and made a couple of downtown turns. Goucher attempted to surge and there was some crowding even some jostling. Then Tune and Kosgei found some freedom from the American challenger as Goucher tossed aside the gloves she had worn throughout.
The athletes screamed down Boylston Street and I punched the treadmill’s controls to pick up the pace and help Goucher out as she began to fade. The others were cheering her on as if magically she could hear their pleas through the television set.
In the end she just couldn’t get there. Kosgei won in 2:32:16 one measly second ahead of Tune, who crumpled at the finish line dropping like a stone, and eight ticks ahead of Goucher who claimed third place in only the second marathon of her career.
When it was done I reduced my speed and noted that I’d done forty minutes and more than five miles! I was soaked with sweat but felt completely exhilarated as if I had plenty left in the tank.
“What a beast!” It was a gasping George from the treadmill next door. “She hit ‘The Wall’ at just the wrong time!”
Indeed Kara Goucher had hit ‘The Wall’ in a merciless athletic pursuit. But along the way she had taken those of us who watched on a wild and thrilling journey. On this rainy day spent in the gym, we all agreed that we were swept up by the drama and the time we had vicariously spent in Boston.
What a race it had been!
What great sport was meant to be!
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