First person: Running the 105th Boston Marathon

Two hours before the Boston Marathon, a singer bellowed out America the Beautiful at the top of his lungs from a made-for-the-Boston-Marathon grandstand in front of a Korean church near the starting line.

The song underscored the essence and the beauty of this world-famous sporting event. The streets of Hopkinton were filled with athletes of all shapes and sizes from the four corners of the globe. You hear so many languages and see so many forms of pre-race preparation. For its prestige, for its reputation and for the history it entails, from the start in Hopkinton to the finish in Copley Square, the starting gun of the Boston Marathon is a shot heard, and respected, around the world.

Because of my qualifying time, I got to start in the front. My teammate, Connie Buckwalter of Lancaster, Pa., and I did striders with the Kenyans and the Russians and the Asians. We stood in awe of the magnitude of this amazing, 105-year-old-running-extravaganza as they sang "The Star Spangled Banner," and we both cried beneath our matching Oakleys as the emotions of the day overwhelmed us near the end when the two planes flew overhead, showing the runners the way to the finish.

A marathon is one of the most unpredictable of all sporting events. Training, conditions for training, course terrain, how what you ate last night settled, how well you hydrated, life stress, job stress, psyching yourself up and marathon day wind, sun, rain, snow, etc. all come into play to create a myriad of variables. Though you can get a handle on some, there are others that remain question marks well into the 26.2-mile quest.

The Boston course is notorious for drawing runners out too fast. The first two miles are predominantly downhill, then you hit some rollers. Runners have been waiting for the start all morning (the race doesnt begin until noon) so the combination of the downhill start and the rarin to go attitude can equate to going out too fast and paying dearly for it later.

There are certain runners you meet in the road-racing scene whom you know are seasoned, smart and talented marathon runners and with whom you know can run for at least part of the marathon. New Yorks Gordon Bakoulis and Jillian Horowitz are two such marathon masters. Running the first 10 miles with them meant a smart, strong start rather then getting drawn out too fast or second-guessing myself and not having the gumption to go out ambitiously enough.

By mile13, Gordon and Jillian had pulled ahead, but I was thrilled with my personal half-marathon split. The miles leading into the Newton Hills werent so great. My hamstrings began to ache. Fortunately, I had Advil on me. I took some and waited for it to kick in. It did, just in time for the start of the hills.

Amanda Gordon, jumping out to cheer and give me electrolytes, was essential heading into Heartbreak.

One of the biggest pay-offs about being smart early at Boston is passing people in the Newton Hills. The one thing I didnt remember, however, was the length of the hill section. I was sure we were over the bumps when a final ascent hit my legs like a ton of bricks.

There are certain people you encounter during a race that serve as well, spontaneous inspiration. One guy had, for about four miles, sprinted to catch me, gotten right in front of me, then shifted his run to a slow-paced gazelle-like prance. Id have to go around him, then hed sprint to catch up, only to cut me off and slow-prance again. It was now that I used the pending satisfaction of once and for all shaking him to run as strongly as I could up the final hill.

Boston College is a welcome site. At mile 21, its the gateway to the final stretch. It wasnt as hot as it had been an hour before, and I could feel the salt drying on my face as the headwind picked up. I did my best to run behind people to block the wind, but it was in vain. I felt pretty strong and decided to just fight it in to the finish. I was delighted and thrilled to run 2:54:34, my fourth fastest time ever.

Memories ...

Things I missed in the race included my usual hit of Power Gel. They offered it along the way, but as I went to grab it from the volunteer, it fell to the ground.

At Boston, and at Boston only, I eat a bagel with cream cheese an hour before the race. Its weird, but it works and I am strongly considering adding it to my pre-marathon regime before all marathons.

People of significant influence included seeing the Hoyts at mile 15. Richard Hoyt pushes his son in a wheelchair and has done so for years. Theyre amazing. Also, the day before the marathon I saw my pen-pal Grete Waitz and we saw Bill Rodgers running by a photo shoot.

Laurie Parton is a runner and writer from Swartswood, New Jersey. Her team, The Bears, consisting of herself, Connie Buckwalter (Lancaster, Pa.), and Lee Di Pietro (Ruxton, Md.) won the Boston Open Women's Division.

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