Friday, April 18, 2008

Boston Marathon Monday: III. Marathon Sunday, Too!

There will be not one, but two, marathons in Boston this weekend:

This being the year for the Summer Olympics, each country's Olympic team needs to have time trials for each event. At November's men's event in New York City, Ryan Hall set the U. S. men's marathon time trial record by 17 seconds -- but the real news was that runner Ryan Shay collapsed after five-and-a-half-miles, and later died. Hall will be joined by Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell to represent the U. S. in the Beijing Olympics in August.

The marathon time trial organizers bought into Boston's bid to hold a separate women's marathon time trial race the day before the Boston Marathon itself.

Is there a problem with holding a time trial during an event full of the unwashed masses? Absolutely not. They Kenyan Olympics Team has held their time trials before at the Boston Marathon, and those Kenyans know how to win in the event. The unique aspect of the marathon sport is that the lowest amateur gets to line up with the best athletes at the same start line (or a few city blocks behind) -- I think it is the only Olympic sport where that is true throughout the sport. Holding a separate time trials event takes away that amateur-professional atmosphere of the marathon.


The women's time trial event course will follow a downtown Boston and Cambridge course that is not the same course as the Boston Marathon. It starts and ends near Copley Square, and has a series of loops of a six-mile route that crosses the Harvard Bridge (at Massachusetts Avenue) into Cambridge and follows Memorial Drive.

The sad thing about this course is that it doesn't have any of the wonderful hills that make the Boston Marathon so famous. The downtown course for the time trials is flat, flat, flat:
When you think of Boston and marathon running, you think of hills, especially punishing downhills followed by deceptively tough climbs. Alas, the Olympic Trials marathon will not be run on the Hopkinton to Boston route, which features those fabled undulations. The trials race route, a five-loop configuration throughout Boston and nearby Cambridge, will be mostly flat, following many of the same roads used for the Tufts 10 Km, held each October on Columbus Day.


On Sunday's women's time trial, the favorite has to be Deena Kastor. She won the bronze medal in the women's marathon at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and enters the women's time trials with a qualifying time 12 minutes faster than anyone in the field -- and itself a U. S. women's time trials qualifying time record. Kastor blew away the competition at October's Tufts 10-K, which was run along much of the same route as the women's time trial on Sunday.

American women have been shut out of winning the Boston Marathon since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach won the race in 1985. This year, Kastor is in such good form -- with a 2:19 qualifying time -- that she would stand a decent chance of winning the Boston Marathon outright. Sadly, she won't be running the Boston Marathon -- she'll be running the time trials the day before.

Other people favored to get one of the three slots to Beijing includes Elva Dryer and Kate O'Neill of Milton.

But perhaps the fan favorite among the scheduled entrants will be Maine resident Joan Samuelson -- who won the gold medal in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics women's marathon in 1984.

A runner's perspective of the Boston Marathon.
Spectator's perspective of the Boston Marathon.

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