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Going 26.2 on the 21st

Two Women Reflect on Their Decision to Run the Marathon

By Caitlin M. Hurley and Shira A. Springer

What would the astrologists and the numerologists say? Probably the same thing that most of our friends and relatives have been telling us over and over again these last few months of training: "You've got to be stupid, or crazy, or both, to run the Boston Marathon!" Today at noon, when we stand at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. with tens of thousands of other marathoners, we will test our sanity and celebrate a fortunate conversion of, appropriately enough, milestones. This Marathon Monday we fete our final day as 21-year-olds, as well as celebrate Patriot's Day and the 25th anniversary of women being allowed to run in Boston's most famous annual sporting event. Tomorrow we will be two extremely sore and tired 22-year-olds, but today, as young and energetic 21'ers, we will tackle Heartbreak Hill on our way to the finish at Copley Square.

Inevitably, the final days before a much anticipated and, in this case, much prepared for day become time for reflection. The training is done, we have run our longest pre-marathon run, the last-minute panic has passed and a good, anxious nervousness has settled in and will stay with us until the starter's gun. Sitting in our cozy rooms, the wind from the most recent Nor'Easter banging at our windows, begging to come in, we contemplate that question a lot of people have been posing to us lately: Are we in fact crazy? Why would anyone in her right mind want to run 26 miles? 26.2, to be exact, and we smile ruefully. As two New Englanders and long-time runners, the exciting and powerful tradition of the Boston Marathon has always been nearly palpable in the weeks and days leading up to the race each year. The names Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit immediately conjure up proud historic images of trial and triumph. So as impetuous and illplanned as some of our friends and relatives think our participation in the Marathon may be, it was a longer time coming than it will be going.

Another clap on our windows draws our rattled minds in a new direction. Perhaps this wind will keep up and one of us will be pushed from Hopkinton to Boston, getting the American record and a million dollars to boot. Good that the other one is here for a reality check: nice though, but unlikely. We've done the training, slogged through some long runs, felt like death at mile 12 and been congratulated with a second wind by number 15, but American records are a little out of reach.

Today, with much relief, we'll see the top of the Prudential building and encounter the stumbling Boston College students ("join us early: the race may begin at 12, but we start partying at 10," as their motto goes) as we crest Heartbreak Hill after 21 miles. Among the BC race watchers, the drink of choice has always been that most enduring of college carbohydrate supplements: beer. The students even offer a patriotic cup of Sam Adams to unsuspecting runners as they struggle by, waiting with drunken anticipation for their gagging reaction (runners beware). Although not exactly the energybooster every weekend runner looks for, it's nice to know that people will be helping us celebrate the first and finalday of being 21 by generously providing alcohol.

This year's Marathon is not only a time for personal reflection and Dionysian pleasure, but also for historical perspective. There is particular significance to running this year's marathon as women. We will follow in the literal footsteps of women like Kathrine Switzer, fellow Cantabridgian Sara Mae Berman and Joan Benoit who were among the first women to run Boston's course. While Nina Kuscsik of Huntington, N.Y. won the first official women's marathon in 1972, Switzer, Berman and Benoit stand out as three female pioneers. In 1967, Switzer, a Syracuse University student, applied for a race by using only the initials of her first and middle name. Boston's first female competitor completed the race only after her boyfriend tackled a race official who attempted to remove her from the course. Two years later, Berman, a mother of three, won the unofficial women's race, accompanied by her husband, in 3:22:46. But perhaps the most remarkable and inspirational finish for the two of us as we run the marathon occurred in 1983. Joan Benoit of Portland, Maine triumphed in a time of 2:22:43, setting a world-record in the process.

Though the anticipation and nervousness make our minds work in strange--but very human--ways, we are ready to go for it, with all the pain, sweat, questioning and, finally, joy that come along with being able to call yourself a marathoner for the first time. There are lots of ways to mark birthdays, but how many opportunities do you have to celebrate with a 26.2 mile run? So, for all you astrologists and numerologists out there, here's our prediction: we will be going 26.2 on the 21st and 25th before 22.

Shira A. Springer '97 and Caitlin M. Hurley '97 are celebrating the completion of the Boston Marathon and of their 21st year today.

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