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Jock, Beef Stew, and the Boston Marathon

By Bennett H. Beach

JOCK SEMPLE is Scottish with an Irish temper, and if you tell him you're from Harvard and that you want to enter his Boston Marathon, he will regard you with an instant hate. This means that Jock Semple has a lot of hating to do because last year about 30 Harvard students decided the famous Marathon was at least worth a laugh, and probably quite a few more will send in entry blanks for this year's event. But the thrill of running in the Marathon is worth the price of incurring Jock's wrath.

The famous race used to attract only 200 runners each year, but the recent jogging craze has caused applications to mushroom, and this year Chairman Will Clooney encouraged only those who felt they could finish within four hours to enter.

Another reason for over-application is the college crowd. Jock made his stand known quite unambiguously in a newspaper last April. "It's those jokers from M.I.T. and Harvard that drive me nuts. You know, the ones with the funny hats who run for fraternity stunts," Jock proclaimed. He probably won't be too very pleased if and when he learns of the competition between the Crimson and the Yale Daily News.

The Marathon represents all the euphoria in the Boston area, all the class. It's like lying by the Charles on a sunny day, riding a bicycle out to Wellesley, or eating baked beans. It falls on Patriots' Day in the wonderful state of Massachusetts, and scores of people line the streets to watch friends and some good runners pass by. Patriots' Day is April 19th, but this year the race has been moved to April 21. Strangely, Harvard does not honor this holiday.

And the Marathon is probably your best entertainment value in the area. Assuming you are registered with the AAU, which requests $1 for the honor of membership, you pay only $2 to enter the Marathon and here is what you receive: bus ride to Hopkinton, numbers and pins, dressing facilities at Hopkinton Junior High School, 26 miles of open concrete, dressing facilities in the Prudential, and best of all, tasty beef stew in the Pru afterwards. And of course, while you're receiving all these benefits, you enjoy a healthy run as well.

HALF THE excitement of this festive affair is the time leading up to it when you train, if that seems necessary, and get yourself psyched for the big way. Around Cambridge, it's especially enthralling. The Charles is a spawning ground, rather a training place, for an enormous number of marathoners and a fair amount of regular old runners, too.

As you run by them you may either flash the warming smile as if to say, "Isn't jogging refreshing and aren't a lot of people missing something," or else you stare him down, a warning to look out for you in the Marathon because "look how fast I'm runing without even breathing and I can go so much faster." At any rate, you contemplate the runner, figure htat he'll be at the starting line, and wonder if you can beat him. Man is a competitive animal, remember.

But while one may conjure up idyllic images of smiling people merrily skipping on the river banks in preparation for a slightly more strenuous workout on Patriots' Day, it should be mentioned that marathoners are usually plagued by physical problems. Legs, of course, can act up, knees can rattle around, and calves often tighten.

Though these are dangers, it is his feet that a distance runner must normally be most wary of. With step after step on the concrete, one can only expect some reaction in terms of blisters. They crop up on the balls of your feet, heels, and arches; sometimes elsewhere. These must be worried about continually and dressed up in band aids, tape, or the wonderfully helpful Dr. School's Moleskin.

I've often been tempted to go lay a big juicy kiss on the 60-year-old lady in the College House Pharmacy who gave me my very own box of Mollskin on a fateful day last spring. Blisters had been a terrible problem for me, but after my trip to the Pharmacy, life for my feet was immeasurably better. A good deal of any success I had in last year's Marathon must be credited to the little old lady.

Blisters have been my only difficulty this year, too. One day, the feet are fine. So you run a long workout. New blisters develop or old ones recur. An easy day, then you feel better, and you try again. Blisters. It seems a fact of life for the marathoner, but it's minor after all. Blisters, not life.

I first considered running in the Boston Marathon while I was a senior in high school listening to the coverage of the race on the radio. It was run in 45-degree, rainy weather. I quickly decided that since I was going to be in the area the next spring and that I would be old enough (18 years), the Marathon was a necessity for me. The idea of running 26 miles, in the rain yet, was just insane enough to be tasteful.

One day in March, 1968, I telephoned the sponsoring B.A.A. to tell them I'd be there on Patriots' Day. I was greeted, if that's the appropriate word, by that Scottish voice so familiar to runners around Boston. I was talking to Jock Semple. I felt a certain sense of excitement. But I didn't give him the satisfaction of letting him know that I knew who he was. "I'd like to run in the Marathon. What is the procedure for entering? I'm a college student."

Nothing that I said appealed to the great master. "What makes you think you can run 26 miles? Have you ever done it before?" Jock was reacting to the record field of 1100 entrants.

"Well, no, but I'd like to try." Jock had every reason to hate me, from his point of view anyway, and I'm sure he did. Nevertheless, he told me what I had to do to run in it, and I had jumped my biggest hurdle.

One of my roommates said he'd do it, too, but I knew all along he wouldn't, and so did he. Lots of people inevitably plan to do it, but preparation just involves too much work for a guy to go through with, and even if one selects a non-training policy, the thought of actually covering 26 miles on April 19 is usually too much to overcome unless one is sufficiently masochistic.

MY WORKOUTS officially began on Sunday, March 24, when I ran five miles, three times around the circuit from Newell Boathouse over Eliot and Larz Anderson Bridges back to the Boathouse. I had run, intermittently, distances like a mile or two throughout the year. I loved those five miles, but picked up blisters. Two days later I ran an energetic two miles or so, but blisters stopped me and kept me idle on Wednesday, too.

In the Frankie Avalon "Bobbysox to Stockings" tradition, I went to Brine's in Harvard Square and picked up my first pair of Adidas running shoes, the $13.50 variety, to replace my P.F. Flyers. Immediately, I went out and ran four miles in the stiff new shoes and had a new set of blisters.

My next good workout was the next Monday, April Fool's Day, when I ran 8 1/2 miles without problems. It was spring recess, and I was in Cambridge since I was a coxswain of sorts for the freshman lightweights. I was running evenings around the paths of the Yard, averaging 5 miles. It was still strictly minor league.

On Saturday, April 6, my training began to blossom. I was running boathouse circuits again, and I was a bad enough cox, ranking third, to have almost every afternoon off and thus lots of running time. I averaged 12 miles the next five days, but then a new problem: my calves tightened up.

I thought this might be just the last straw because I could not perform well at all on them. A day off, 8 1/2 miles the next day, and my legs were okay. On both Saturday and Sunday I ran 15.3 miles, and with the Marathon five days away, I thought maybe it'd go well after all.

Monday I ran 17 miles in the rain, and concluded my training with -6 and 20 miles on Tuesday and Wednesday. The day before the race I did nothing, reasoning that the rest would be better.

One big fault of my procedure was that I ran a big distance once a day rather than running part of it in the morning and the rest of it later. The important thing seems to be the total number of miles per week rather than running 20 miles at all once. Track coaches think it's better twice a day, too, and that's how I did it this year.

Goals. I naturally had to have something to shoot for. I had averaged under 8 minutes per mile for 15 miles, but just aimed for breaking four hours. I also wanted to finish in the top half of the field off 900 starters. Never having run for a track team and in fact, never having been much of a jock, I was scared of the other runners. The Herald ran a picture of six members of the Harvard track team preparing for the race. How could I ever beat such professionals?

On April 19, I rose at 7 a.m. and made a beeline for the Union for breakfast. The lady at the desk and some more important bitch told me, while the Harvard Band was filing in to eat, that since I wasn't in the band I could not eat so early. Pissed off.

My next stop was the Bick. I ordered their $1.50 steak for protein, and turned down the guy's offer of french fries and a roll three times. I sat down with my steak and surveyed the list of entrants in the Marathon, printed in the newspaper. I went through all 1100 of the runners without finding my name. Trouble. I started through again, and finally, there I was, number 527. Now I was psyched.

I hopped onto the subway and was at the Pru before long. I got my number there and jumped in the bus. I sat with some kid who had come from Buffalo. He said he'd run about 3 miles a day the past week, and I began to wonder just what kind of a fiasco this was. I looked around the bus at the seasoned veterans and figured there was perhaps one guy, a man in his fifties, that I could hope to beat.

At Hopkinton Junior High, runners covered their crotches with Johnson & Johnsons, rubbed in Ben-Gay, and got their heartbeats checked by the doctors.

Jock Semple was flaming around as he had been at the Pru earlier. Like any outspoken man, Jock has his share of enemies. At a recent road race an official was heard to say: "Where's Semple? I hope he went home, but I doubt he did."

Jock's problems will be worse this year since recent tabulations reveal that there are 1350 entrants. Jock told the Herald's Tim Horgan how he felt the other day. "The greatest race in the world is becoming a three-ring circus. I'm all for physical fitness, but this is ridiculous," Semple quipped.

Jock was willing to explain further, of course. "I say we throw all the nuts out. It's the guys with the 56-inch waistlines that bother me," he said. Horgan related that last week one of these big boys offered to punch Jock in the nose after the guy's entry was turned down. "The guy was five-by-five and weighed 225 pounds," Semple claimed, adding, "He got insulted when I told him he was a bloody idiot." He could have called him worse things, and in fact probably did, but they weren't printed.

After getting dressed, I sat out in the sunny field, downing lumps of sugar, my plan for extra energy. Then it was time. I began to walk to the starting line, a few hundred yards away. I lined up in the very back because I planned a slow start and feared getting trampled by the mob.

In the back, all of us were jokers, losers.

People were sitting up in trees, we were all laughing, and then we heard what seemed to be a gun. A few seconds later, those in front of us began to move. It had started. The start has been compared to a rifle shot. The top runners, positioned in the first two rows, start up imme- diately, the bullet, leaving the rest of us, the rifle, behind.

THE COURSE is downhill for 300 yards, and after the first quarter mile, I had a stitch, rare for me. Panic. I thought I was really losing big and wondered what the next 25 miles might bring. Soon, the stitch went away.

It was about 70 degrees and quite a pleasant day to run through the western suburbs, though many complained of the heat. My feet got hot, but not blistery. I was thankful for that.

The field spread out more and more, though there was always somebody around. And the streets were lined with people. Many had programs and as they saw a runner approaching, they checked his number and then urged him on by name. The psychological boost, at least to a novice like me, was immeasurable. A person would yell, "That a boy, Ben, keep going." I think I got special attention because many pitied me. Here comes this whimp of a kid who certainly doesn't look 18. On the other hand, some kids, ver considerately, I thought, called me names, but it was sort of funny.

At several points there were people with water and oranges, and the trick was to grab their offerings as you ran by without breaking strike. They were nice people. And it was so nice to have cars pretty much cleared from the route.

While we were jogging along having a great time, we occasionally thought of those up front. Where were they by this time? Who was winning? I tossed these questions off as insignificant and didn't really care even when the race was over. The leaders were in an entirely different race as far as I was concerned. I'm sure they felt the same way about us hackers or whatever we were.

Having started in the rear, I got many chances to pass people and found it quite a thrill in front of the audience, especially after all my training alone. I'd seen someone a bit ahead and notice myself speeding up until I went by him. It became a game. People along the route, some of them, seemed to be playing their own little game: fool the runners. They were a minority and meant well I think, but gave incorrect information on the distance we have covered. Somewhere out there I was sure I had done 15 miles and asked a cop as I went by him. "This is the 10-mile point," he said. This irritated me no end, and was to get worse.

After a while I began to get tired. No pain to speak of, but I was breathing harder. Then came Newton and the three notorious hills which newspapers and veterans had warned me about. I got up the first two without killing myself and thought that everyone else must be a sissy.

I started hard up the last hill, Heartbreak Hill, and then began to slow down. Quite a bit did I slow down. It seemed to go on forever, and for the first time I wondered what would happen if I stopped. I was bent over and just tried to keep my legs moving. Length, not steep-ness, made it torturous. But then the Hill stopped and I started back towards the center of the earth, and I was very happy.

Then I was up in the hills around Boston College and people were saying it's downhill from then on. I became excited as I saw the Prudential climbing out of the song. It still looked a bit distant, but if I could see it, that was certainly reason for encouragement.

My mind turned to the winners of the race. Probably just stepping into the showers, I figured. I felt that I was moving along at a pretty good clip for me, and a bank clock near Newton had indicated that I was running easily within the four-hour goal. The obvious concern was: could I finish the last few miles? It became a matter of figuring, well, if I stop here and walk the rest of the way, can I still break four hours?

Then a problem. I started getting a sharp pain in my left calf every few steps. At last, I thought, I'm doomed. But the pain was bearable. At about that time the first Harvard runner was crossing the finish line--John Heyburn, 101st.

SOON I was clearly in Boston, the calf getting worse and my grimaces thrilling bystanders. Then some guy finally said, "Last mile." It was a lie, of course, but the race was undeniably nearing completion. The Prudential came closer and closer. Estimates by the crowd of distance remaining was all contradictory and more a handicap than a help. But they meant well.

Now the calf was really bad news, but here was a right turn. I could tell that I had run 100 yards and then turn left for the final 100. So I poured it on and my calf got all better. No one was around me so I coudn't make any attempts to pass to thrill the bigger crowd. Nor could I be passed.

Then I made the final turn. I could see the timers. The huge crowd saw the little runt trying to sprint, and they responded with applause which seemed ear shattering to me. And since there was no one near me, I relished the thought that they were making all that noise for me. Then the loudspeaker. "Now finishing is #527, Bennett H. Beach of Harvard." This unexpected bit of class really thrilled me, and my ego was going wild.

Last 25 yards, still the noise. I had run for hours and only a handful of seconds were left. It ended. Some official put a horse blanket over me and walked me to the Pru escalator and asked me if I was all right. I gave him the reassuring nod and went up the escalator. More people clapping at the top, and I even smiled. They were nice people; why can't everyone be like that?

Before long I was in the dressing room. I got root beer, sat down, and watched guys vomit. Some didn't, but when they got up, they fell down. We were all a bunch of destroyed human beings. But we loved it. Only my feet hurt, and that was just the traditional soreness. Elsewhere a husband and wife team was relaxing. The man had dropped out; the woman finished. All females, however, are unofficial, and Jock hates them. But the crowds love them, and a few run every year.

There was one shower at the Pru, but I got to use it eventually. I went to get my food after dressing, but I just could not eat the stew. My stomach said no. I had about four glasses of milk, though. My mother would have been proud.

Cloney's recent threat that, due to increasing numbers, they might have to do away with beef stew at the finishing line will probably do little to discourage entrants.

I noticed a group of people, so I permanently deserted my tray to investigate. I knew when I had finished that I had bettered three and a half hours, but the sheets the people were looking at told me even better news. My time of 3:23:50 had earned me 138th. I was astonished. I thought I had come in about 250th.

I smiled at all the grubbies on the subway back to Harvard. I wanted to tell them about the greatest event of my life, and I wanted all of them to experience it. But they probably would have laughed at me

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