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THE START

Hopkinton gets rocking

Race's 'hometown' has festival feeling

HOPKINTON -- Long before State Police Sergeant Dan Hall sang the national anthem and the A-10 fighter jets zoomed over the Town Green and Walter Brown fired the starter's gun, the race to Boston started in this leafy town yesterday.

The invasion of Hopkinton begins in the predawn hours.

Rows of 500 portable toilets and an army of police officers are stationed at strategic points along the 1-mile route from the makeshift athletes' village behind Hopkinton High School to the starting line at the Town Green.

A horde of media arrives early in satellite-armed trucks, spilling out mini-cams and talking heads extolling the athletes and explaining how special Patriots Day is in this region.

It isn't long before hawkers invade the green, pitching all sorts of flotsam and jetsam. The air is permeated with the aroma of fried dough and french fries, adding to the carnival atmosphere. A high school band plays on the steps of the gazebo as tourists meander.

A stream of yellow school buses, carrying many of the 20,000 runners, occupies the slow lane of the Mass. Pike between Boston and Route 495. They clog the toll booths as they make their turn toward Hopkinton.

One after another, the buses arrive at the athletes' village. By 8 a.m., the village is humming. One of the two huge tents, about half the size of a football field, is jammed with runners who have staked out their own piece of real estate.

Some runners try to catch a nap before the race. Others read newspapers or make new acquaintances. Many wander the village, looking for old friends, grabbing a PowerBar or a bagel, pocketing some free Vaseline from the medical tent.

Music blares from the center stage, interrupted now and again for announcements. "We have found a bib," comes one. "Anyone who has the bib numbered 4503, please come and pick it up. You can't run this marathon without a number."

It feels more like a rock festival than an athletic event. Steven Schirripa, who plays Bobby Baccalieri on the HBO series, "The Sopranos," takes the stage and plays to that theme. "Don't take the brown acid," he screams. "Stay away from the brown acid. Jimi Hendrix will be on in a little while."

There is a long line of runners waiting to enter the high school gymnasium, where 62 massage therapists are giving free treatments. "We've been doing this for the last 14 years," says Richard Testa of Connecticut, who holds a clipboard and writes down the number of each runner in line for a massage. Before they are done, the therapists will give more than 400 massages.

"Our last massage is about 15 minutes before the race," says Testa. "We have our regulars. We have runners who come back every year and ask if they can have the same therapist who gave them a massage the year before."

A new wrinkle this year is the addition of scales near the medical tent so runners can monitor their weight change during the race. This is in response to the danger of hyponatremia, which has emerged as a life-threatening condition among non-elite marathoners.

An indication of hyponatremia is weight gain. "Runners shouldn't gain weight during a race," says Brenda Fitzgerald, a physical therapist at Metro West Medical Center and the medical coordinator at the start of the Marathon. "It is typical that you lose weight if you run a marathon. If they are gaining weight, they are drinking too many fluids." The result is low sodium in the body, and that can affect your heart.

Scales were placed at the 5- and 11-mile checkpoints as well as the finish line so runners could monitor their weight.

The main artery from the athletes' village to the Town Green is Hayden Rowe Street. Buses line one side of the road so runners can store their belongings. The only traffic is runners meandering to the Town Green.

Many runners stop at the home of Mike DiMascia and Nancy Stevenson to sign their banner, which is the size of a bed sheet. It has become a Marathon tradition.

"It started with our daughter, Hayley, six years ago," says DiMascia. "She had a guestbook type of thing that runners would sign. But she got tired of it. My wife decided to make a banner so runners could sign it."

There are five huge banners from previous marathons draped over their modest home. The 2005 banner is on a table in their front yard.

"My wife takes it to the schools to show the kids that runners from all over the world come to our town to run in the race," says DiMascia. "People tell their friends who are running in the race to look out for our house and sign. Other runners can point to the other banners and say they signed them all."

A handful of disabled runners begin their run to Boston at 10 a.m. Ninety minutes later, the wheelchair division explodes from the starting line and five minutes later the elite women begin their trek.

At noon, after a moment of silence and a musical tribute to Johnny Kelley, the men's race to Boston begins. It takes more than 30 minutes for all of the official runners to make it to the starting line and 10 more minutes for unofficial runners.

By that time, the road is soaked with spilled water. Quickly, it gets quiet. The hum of hovering helicopters has disappeared. The hawkers have packed up, the media withdrawn. The town doesn't waste any time cleaning up, and soon Hopkinton is a quiet hamlet again, for another 364 days.

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