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Boston Marathon Course section

Just getting to Boston a marathon challenge this year

By Rik Stevens, Associated Press, 4/4/2003

WILTON, N.Y. -- In training for seven marathons, there's always a day I point to and say: "That was it. That was the one that will get me to the finish line."

Maybe it was a fantastic run where I felt I could go all day. Or an impossibly difficult run that overcame injury, illness, fatigue or weather.

As I prepared for the 107th Boston Marathon during this Mother Of All Winters, I had my choice of "Aha" days.

Training started in December, just about the time winter cast its baleful gaze on the Northeast. On Christmas Day, there were 21 inches of snow in our driveway. Nine days later, another two-plus feet fell. Then more. And more.

And when it wasn't snowing, it was wickedly cold -- a seemingly endless stretch of 5:30 a.m. runs when the temperature was below zero. On training runs longer than five miles, the water I carried froze.

There were mornings when I would hit black ice and skitter off the road like a cartoon character on a banana peel.

I had my final "Aha" on Sunday, March 30, a 21.8 miler, fittingly enough, at 32 degrees in the rain, snow and sleet.

Early entries in my training log reflect a cheery resilience: "Solid eight despite frigid cold." Six weeks in, it descends into: "Ugh. Cold."

And every morning, to much head-shaking from just about everybody except my family and other marathoners, I was back at it because marathon training comes down to three simple rules:

  • Rule 1: Run really far.

  • Rule 2: Rest, eat right and drink plenty of water.

  • Rule 3: See Rule 1.

    There are dozens of training regimens available for marathoners, based on ability and goals. Any bookstore will have a shelf or two devoted to it and the Web is another good resource.

    But before you pick a program, figure out your goal.

    Maybe it is simply to finish, to feel the satisfaction of completing the most fabled of distances, named for the run a Greek messenger made from Marathon to Athens with news of an astounding victory over Persia. (Of course, after he shouted "Rejoice, we conquer!" he keeled over dead. I try not to dwell on the past.)

    Others have a time in mind. Breaking three hours for the 26.2 miles is a benchmark for many. I did it at the Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon in October (2:58:07) and that's the objective in Boston where my best is 3:02:40 last year.

    Going into my fourth Boston, I continue to use an 18-week program designed by Hal Higdon, a four-time masters track champion and senior writer at Runners World magazine. It's a mix of long, slow distance, and short, intense speed workouts or hills, workouts at marathon pace, and strength training, mixing fast and slow portions along a four- to eight-mile route.

    A lot of runners train in groups, feeding off the camaraderie, talking strategy, commiserating and competing. I am a creature of convenience so I train alone. I like to lace up my sneaks before first light, walk out the door and go. Around my house in the foothills of upstate New York's Adirondack Mountains, I have routes plotted from three to 21.8 miles.

    The long Sunday runs are key, gradually increasing to 20-milers in weeks 11, 13 and 15. These are at paces much slower than I expect to run in Boston but are to get my body used to pounding for three hours.

    Training six days a week for 18 weeks means a tremendous time commitment. By the time I get to the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass., I'll have logged close to 700 miles.

    I'm lucky. My wife and two daughters -- 20 and 9 -- are wholly supportive and look forward to the Boston trip as much as I do. They also help out in the training. My wife and youngest meet me at the halfway point of my long Sunday runs with fresh water, a towel and an encouraging kiss. Daughter Kiley often meets me with about a quarter mile to go, accompanying me home on her scooter, bicycle or skateboard.

    This year, the finish line in front of the Old South Church, that blue-and-gold arch on Boylston Street that marks the end of a marvelous journey, is going to seem like Valhalla.

    You run in the dark and the cold and the crud so that on the third Monday in April, you can make that turn at the corner of Hereford and Boylston with a quarter mile to go and hear what seems like a million people screaming for you. So you can see your family at their regular spot next to the utility pole on the south side of Boylston.

    So you can say: "Aha."

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