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October 9, 2016

Completing a marathon trumps finishing time

I was digging around in different folders and thinking about getting organized a little more. Actually my wife encouraged me to clean off some shelves so she could have more room for something else.

One of the manila folders had some weathered newspapers folded inside of it. Upon further inspection, they were newspapers from Boston dated April 20, 1982. It was some memorabilia that I brought back from running the Boston Marathon. There was also another sports section with it from the San Antonio Express-News  dated October 26, 1980.

Both sections included the times of runners who entered and finished the marathon. It was an interesting time looking at the times of the runners. Boston, at that time, had a fast qualifying time to even be considered to enter. For me, the qualifying time had to be faster than 3:10.

The 1982 Boston Marathon was won by Alberto Salazar in 2:08:51, beating Dick Beardsley who ran a 2:08:53. I didn’t see any of this, as I was struggling back in the pack, and was still about an hour and a half from the finish line. The paper reported that it was a very exciting finish, with Salazar being able to outkick Beardsley to the finish line.

Bill Rodgers finished fourth in a time of 2:12:13; and the paper reported that his overexposure finally caught up with him. He had completed 9 marathons in the previous 16 months.

The women’s race was won by Charlotte Teske from West Germany in 2:29:33. Grete Waitz was the odds-on favorite to win, and was on a record pace until she hit Heartbreak Hill and had to drop out with leg cramps. She finished her race in an ambulance.

The toll of finishing at the fast pace cost Salazar some discomfort afterwards. He came down with hypothermia, and his body temperature dropped to 88 degrees. He cramped up and needed three liters of fluid delivered intravenously to replace what he had lost in his dual with Beardsley. Doctors described Salazar as “a potato chip: dried out, dehydrated, unsalted, flat and crisp.”

The bad part of a physical exertion like this is that this type of story gets circulated around by the media, and any runner thinking of running a marathon thinks it just isn’t worth it. The truth is that even slower marathon runners can come down dehydrated if they didn’t rehydrate during the marathon; and the large majority of runners had no problems.

When we had the first 10K here in San Marcos back in the late 70s, stories like this were being printed in the paper about runners and the possible dangers of “hitting the wall.” I imagine it could happen; but hitting the wall in a 10K distance is very unlikely.

There was one thing that I found interesting in looking at the times of the finishers of both the San Antonio Las Colonias Marathon and the Boston Marathon. It was the fact that Boston had a much larger number of runners – around 12,000 at that time - including a group of “bandits” at the back of the pack. These are runners who have not qualified with a time to enter, but still want to run. They get in the back, and follow the lead pack.

Looking at the list of runners in the Boston papers, the number stopped at 599; and that last runner’s time was 2:41:47. It is hard to imagine how many runners came across the finish line with a time under 3 hours.

Comparing the fast times for the Las Colonias Marathon, the number of times stopped at 780, with an estimate of 50 to 80 more runners crossing with no numbers. The number of runners breaking the 3-hour mark stopped at 87, with Billy Hicks, from Prescott, Arizona, crossing in 2:59:49. The number breaking the 4-hour time at Las Colonias was 551 runners. That comes down to around 250 runners who were after four hours.

I guess that is one of the reasons that, when a runner says that they qualified for the Boston Marathon, the person knows that this runner can run a pretty fast marathon.

My advice to a runner wanting to run a marathon is, “Set the goal to finish only. Don’t worry about the time. After you have run a couple of marathons, then you can think about running one for a time.”

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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