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Before US drought came a worthy reign

Last US victor left field out to dry in '85

What she recalls most is loping past Wellesley College through an ear-splitting tunnel of love. "This screaming, narrow channel of women," says the woman who is now Lisa Rainsberger . "It was like Alpe d'Huez when the Tour de France comes through. There were no ropes then, so you had people high-fiving you and slapping you on the back. And all of them were women. That is the most profound memory I have of that day."

Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach was midway through what became a virtual fun run in her Boston Marathon debut in 1985. Nobody knew then that the youngest victor (at 23) in six years would be the last American woman to win here or the last victor to run the race for merely a laurel wreath and a medal.

That was fine for Rainsberger, a transformed All-America swimmer out of Michigan who was on the rise as a marathoner and later became a national-class triathlete.

"What I remember most was the feeling that it was the Boston Marathon," she says. And as soon as Rainsberger compared her personal best with everybody else's, she reckoned that it was likely to be her day.

"I knew if I didn't blow up and do something stupid that I could walk away with a victory," says Rainsberger, who'd finished fourth in the 1984 US Olympic trials. "But I always ran with an element of fear. There could be someone making a debut or somebody you didn't know about. So I ran scared."

She also ran fast and alone that day. After 7 miles, Rainsberger was under 39 minutes. Midway through, she was cruising at 1:13:53, on track to become only the fourth US woman to break 2:30. Then the muggy warmth began getting to her. "There'd been a snowstorm the week before," she recalls, "and the day before it had been blustery and in the mid-30s."

But as she walked to the starting line in Hopkinton and felt herself sweating as the temperature was heading toward 70, Rainsberger guessed she'd be in for a second-half grinder. "I'd like to apologize for having such a slow time," she said, after finishing in 2:34:06, which wouldn't have come close to winning since.

Still, it was far faster than it needed to be -- Rainsberger's margin of 8:09 over Lynne Huntington is still the third-widest in Boston history.

It was the laurel wreath that mattered to Saucony, her shoe company, and other sponsors who paid her nicely for a holiday jaunt. "As a businesswoman, it was a very sound investment for me," says Rainsberger, who now coaches in Colorado Springs and has a website called TrainingGoals.com. "It opened many doors for me later."

Her victory was the high point of a career that included two victories in Chicago, two more just-missed Olympic teams, and a US record over 15 kilometers.

But things never went that well again for her in Boston, where an injury kept her from defending her title in the first year of prize money.

In her 1989 return, Rainsberger went out too fast, blew up, and finished fifth. Then, in 1993, she was hit by a car the day before the race and broke her tailbone. "I started the race," Rainsberger says, "and I got to 8 miles before my pain tolerance gave out." Her last appearance was two years ago, on the 20th anniversary of her victory. "I ran as a memory," she says. "I'll come back in 2010, hopefully."

By then, one of her countrywomen may finally have ended a drought here that is heading into a third decade. Quite possibly, Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor will do it Monday. "I'd be thrilled and I hope she does," Lisa Rainsberger says. "I just wish I could be there."

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