Running For the Fun of It

It's elite, intense and grueling. Is it Harvard? No, it's the Boston Marathon.

Many dedicated Harvard men and women will run in this year's Boston Marathon, pushing themselves--and each other--to new levels of exertion.

Although a 26-mile run hardly sounds like a walk in the park, many Harvard students participating in the marathon say the experience is not only rewarding, but fun.

"What I especially like about the Boston Marathon is that there's a buge crowd. After mile five it's like running through a party," says Caspar Brnt, a Lowell House tutor of mathematics.

"It's grueling, but there's a lot to see along the way," senior John H. Boit says.

Although running in the race may be enjoyable, completing a marathon still requires a special mind-set.

"I think I'll have to collapse before I stop short," says Boit, demonstrating the mind-over-matter determination characteristic of many of the runners from Harvard.

"It is very psychological," senior Stephanie V. Levin asserts. "In fact, almost all of it is psychological. I really think anyone can finish a marathon--it just depends on how long you decide it's going to take you."

In contrast with Levin and Boit's purposeful, pragmatic attitudes, freshman Scott R. Sheffield's thoughts belie a more philosophical outlook.

"I guess I'm approaching this new distance with the sort of mystical fear with which one might approach a barrier such as the speed of sound," Sheffield muses.

Sheffield has done runs of up to 20 miles to train for the marathon, an experience he describes as particularly uncomfortable.

"When you train for a big run, it's like grating a block of sandpaper along your thigh," Sheffield says. "But by the end of the year you're going to have a pretty wonderful patch of leather there."

While attitudes about the marathon vary as much as the marathoners themselves, running with partners was an integral part of the training for most students.

Levin and Boit have been training together for the past three and a half months.

Although Levin first interested Boit in training for the marathon, Boit has helped keep Levin going on the longer runs, goading her on if she begins to fall behind.

"Sometimes John thinks I'm thinking of ways to kill him," Levin concedes. "I certainly couldn't do it without a partner," she hastens to add.

Levin and Boit will also help psyche each other up before the race by watching Chariots of Fire.

Four Mather blockmates, juniors Timothy Dolan, Michael Cole, Thomas Leveroni and Scott Wilkinson, have also been training together for the big run.

"I'm from the Boston area and so is Tom [Leveroni], and we just decided this was something we wanted to finish," Dolan says. "If I don't do it this year, I'll definitely do it in the future."

Wilkinson, who is in ROTC, just decided to join the other three blockmates in training for the marathon "because he likes challenges," according to Cole.

Although the four have been training together throughout this year's grueling and unusually snowy winter, Dolan may not run due to a knee injury he sustained recently while playing lacrosse.

Dolan's injury is a disappointment to the blockmates, who had hoped to finish together.

While all have been developing their leg muscles through their training, Cole has prepped for the race by augmenting his knowledge as well. Cole has become an expert on marathons and became expansive on the subject of marathon history, boasting a slew of little-known race facts.

For example, all marathons are 26 miles and 385 yards. The original length of a marathon was 26 miles even--the distance from Athens to Attica--but the extra yards were added early this century to provide King George VI with a clear view of the finish line of the London marathon, according to Cole.

Although the Boston Marathon is the same length as other marathons, it's more elite in that it requires runners to qualify for entry by having an official time from another marathon that is under three hours and 15 minutes for men and under four hours for women.

While the marathon's length and course are official, many of the runners are not.

Everyone interviewed for this story is running as a non-registered participant, which means they will start behind the registered runners and will not receive numbers.

But the runners say they do not mind being unofficial. They just want to finish a marathon once in their lives.

"I think [the requirements] are totally fair because you don't want people who are more casual about it to screw it up for the runners who are really serious," Cole says.

After training through the hard winter, the sacrifice and the months of discipline, what kinds of celebrations do Harvard's marathoners plan?

"I have to write a lit, paper and study for a physics test the next day," Sheffield says.

"Sleep," Levin quips.

"If I can manage it, I'd like to drink a glass of champagne," Boit says.

If these runners finish the marathon, they'll certainly deserve congratulations.

The Boston Marathon takes place today and every year, members of the Harvard community train so that they may take part, and all say they're just...