More concerned about her carbohydrate intake than her schoolwork, Miriam R. Asnes '02 worries that Passover observation has interfered with her preparation for the 105th annual Boston Marathon.
At noon today, Asnes and handfuls of other Harvard students will join 15,000 registered runners and a few thousand unofficial participants for one of the most famous and most challenging long runs.
One of the largest single-day sporting event after the Super Bowl, the Boston Marathon has a reputation for its unpredictable weather and 26.2 miles of hilly terrain. Registered runners have qualified by running other marathons with times of less than three hours and ten minutes for men and three hours and 40 minutes for women.
For each of the 26.2 miles ahead, these athletes will run at roughly a seven mile per hour clip, beginning their journey in the small town of Hopkinton and finishing in Copley Square.
Throughout the race, official runners will have their pace monitored by chips installed in their shoes. At the finish line, volunteers will meet them with a warm blanket and a bronze participant medal.
The Boston Marathon is a tremendously difficult course. Runners must brave the four hills of Newton during the most mentally trying portion for runners, miles 16 to 21.
The notorious Heartbreak Hill gets its name from the one-mile stretch where each year runners simply hit the wall and may actually stop running.
"Boston has a lot of hills," Kirkland House Allston Burr Senior Tutor Timothy C. Harte '90 said. "But with the uphill you need to go downhill. The pounding of the downhills are difficult to deal with."
Half a million spectators will be cheering on the runners, as many as five people deep along certain areas of the course.
The allure of testing the limits of one's body and the promise of an unforgettable emotional experience have compelled students to attempt the
feat, despite the intense discipline required.
"The idea of running 26.2 miles is terrible for your body," said Jordan "Jack" A. Chase '02, who is running the marathon for the second time. "I just want to challenge myself to my physical limits. Running [the Marathon] is an incredible experience."
Adam J. Cohon '03 sees the Boston Marathon as a Harvard tradition. "It's just one of those things you have to do before you graduate. You sled down Widner, have sex in the library, piss on John Harvard and run a Marathon."
Cohon eventually plans to run the Ironman Triathlon in November. The last leg of that race is a marathon, so Boston is a practice event for him.
Curiosity inspired Aaron Nagiel '04 to attempt the marathon for the first time.
"I never ran officially in high school," Nagiel said. "My uncle had run
Boston before and he told me I cold do it. The long runs challenge me and I had really never run that far before."
Seniors tend to dominate the Harvard contingency, using the last year of college in Boston as motivation to run the marathon.
"I wanted to do a marathon before I got old. I'm in Boston and have the chance," David B. Amerikaner '01 said.
A tailgate party organized by the class marshals will await the senior runners near Cleveland Park at mile 22, directly after the steepest portion of the course.
"What will keep me going up the hills is knowing that they are all up at Mile 22 waiting for me," Amerikaner said. His mother and younger brother have flown in from California and will join the tailgate.
Training for the marathon is a commitment that begins for most in January. A series of short weekly runs with the occasional long weekend run comprise most of the training. Balancing the long runs with a Harvard schedule, though, can be demanding.
"It was tough to keep training with my thesis, but I tried to run about
six to eight miles four times a week and to run for at least an hour," T. Christopher King '01 said.
James T. Platts '01, who is a Crimson editor, said he has not trained as much as he did for last year's marathon.
"I went for a long 18-mile run two weekends ago and that went okay," he said. "Until then, I had not even decided if I was going to run."
Melissa A. Crandall '01, joined by her training partner Katherine S. Burrage '01, waited until senior year to ensure she would have adequate time to train.
"Senior spring is not the most stressful time for me," Crandall said. "I'm used to a big time commitment of about two and a half to three hours a day with soccer."
The two women will receive race numbers as part of the Dana Farber
Cancer Institute Team, which will use pledges from the race to raise money for
Most Harvard students have not met the strict qualifying times but will
run the course as anyway.
These so-called "bandit" runners will jump into the starting corrals, following the pack of qualified runners to test the limits of their endurance for the chance to participate in momentous and emotional test of physical and mental endurance.
Kirkland House marathon fans will provide an extra boost to Harte, who was named the House's new Allston Burr Senior Tutor last Tuesday. The inspiration to many runners in the House, Harte is Harvard's current marathon legend.
Two years ago he finished 38th in the men's pack with a personal record of 2:27. While professional runners fell to the weather conditions, Harte outlasted the heat.
The four-time participant has found scheduling training difficult.
"My training hasn't been as consistent as it has been in the past. I've gotten a late jump as I finish my dissertation," Harte said. "I'm not aiming so high this year. After becoming senior tutor, there are other things in
my life right now."
Harte, sidelined last year because of injury, feels both pressure and inspiration from the members of Kirkland House.
"In Kirkland House, everyone asks you if you are running. There are many
people counting on me to run," he said. "Being a runner in the Boston area, it's hard to avoid the Boston marathon."
With 25,000 Power Bars available for quick energy boosts, and spectators lining every inch of the course, Harvard's marathon runners should have plenty of inspiration.
First time runner Crandall offers has a clearly defined race goal. "I'm just hoping to finish."