And I could hear the lords and ladies now from the grandstand, and could see them standing up to wave me in: "Run!" they were shouting in their posh voices. "Run!" But I was deaf, daft and blind, and stood where I was, still tasting bark in my mouth and still blubbing like a baby, blubbing now out of gladness that I'd got them beat at last. --From The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe
The first man to run in the marathon, Pheidippides, paid for it with his life. The marathon is that type of race--none of the quick glamour of the sprints, nor the intense excitement of the pole vault or the high jump--instead only 26 miles and 385 yards to cover in a finite amount of time, and it means, inevitably, pain.
When Mike Brittin lines up today in Hopkinton to start his first Boston Marathon he may not remember Philadelphia--but he probably will remember the pain it took to get there. To qualify for the BAA race a contestant must have previously finished a marathon in three hours and 30 minutes.
Brittin made it, but barely. He ran his second marathon ever in 3:27:56 and wound up in an ambulance, after collapsing at the finish line.
Brittin is one of four students from Washington and Lee University, a small all-male school in Lexington, Va., that have come north to Harvard to run in the hilly, tortuous, world-famous marathon today.
The runners will start in Hopkinton, and move through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and then hit "Heartbreak Hill" in the Boston College area, (230 feet above sea level), at around the 20-mile mark. From there it is literally downhill into the center of Boston and the finish at the Prudential Building.
The record for the gut-busting course is held by Ron Hill of England who ran it in 1970 in 2:10:30. No one should come near that today...least of all the four marathoners from W&L.
Until this year, Brittin had never run long distances. He was a star defensive safety and kick-off returner at W&L until he realized the game of football no longer held any allure for him. Switching to long distance running, he piled up a 4:01:38 in his first marathon, after only a month of training.
Then Brittin decided to qualify for the Boston Marathon, realizing he had to shave a half an hour off his previous time, a herculean feat. So, in pursuit of the lower time, he entered the Virginia Beach Rotary Shamrock Marathon in March.
"The last six miles I just knew it was going to be painful," he said during a weekend interview, munching on a piece of coconut. "I'd have to pretty much kill myself. But I'd never been to that point where I'd met that threshold of pain. After 21 miles at Virginia Beach I met that threshold."
Riding alongside Brittin on a bicycle, keeping the time and providing encouragement, was Mike Burns. Burns, from Martinsville, Va., placed 213th in last year's Boston Marathon and the stocky runner has a best-ever time of 2:43:10. He, Brittin, Bill Kalal and Ferris Mack will be part of the crowd of 1951 participants, the most ever, in today's 78th Boston Marathon.
What about the pain? Kalal, from Cleveland, Ohio, an introspective and articulate senior, said he had done some thinking on the subject. "Contrary to popular belief, I don't think that marathoners are masochists. We don't like pain any more than anybody else likes pain. You do learn to handle pain.
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