Students race in Boston Marathon

On Monday, April 19th, the 103rd Annual Boston Marathon was underway at noon, with a gunshot at the traditional starting line on Main Street in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Roughly two and a half hours later, the victor had been decided in both the men’s and women’s open field. In the end, there were no real surprises as to the champions.

Since most of the focus is on elite runners and the $500,000 purse, it is easy to forget about the thousands of other runners who take part in the Boston Marathon every year but who are not there to win.

They are running for the joy, the challenge, and the excitement of it all. Over ten Williams students participated in the event this year, specifically with those intentions in mind.

Charley Abernathy ’01, Gusty Babson ’00, Cathryn Christensen ’01, Catherine Doe ’01, Elliot Gansner ’02, Zach Grossman ’99, Ellen Jacobson ’01, Noel Johnson ’01, Rob MacDougall ’01, Aaron Marsh ’01, Henry Mathieu ’02, Daniel Morales ’02, Ben Smeal ’00 and Alice Stout ’01 all made the trip to Hopkinton for the marathon, whether to run the race or support those who did.

Although none of those who raced were in contention for a top finish, they expressed that there was definitely more to be gained from such an experience than just money. Stout was the only Williams runner who had previously qualified, and therefore the only one with an assigned number. A time of 3:40 is required for qualification; Stout qualified during The Twin Cities Marathon, according to Doe.

The race is 26.2 miles long – or just over 42 kilometers – running from Hopkinton into Boston, and ending at the public library. The course has a downhill slope overall, but is mostly flat for its length. Aside from the anomaly of “Heartbreak Hill,” there are no extraordinarily tough uphill sections with which the runners have to concern themselves. Altogether, it is a good course on which runners can experience their first marathon. Although it was a little warm on the day of the race, conditions this year were otherwise perfect.

The motivation behind each of the students who participated was different; yet, it seems as though the most memorable moments for them all were focused around the intensity, friendliness and extremely supportive nature of the crowd that lined the entire 26 mile course.

“I was amazed at the crowd’s optimism, enthusiasm and selflessness,” recalled Abernathy. “I enjoyed respecting the crowd right back, too: high-fiving kids’ hands, giving thumbs up to a dad handing out oranges and getting teary-eyed when I noticed how truly beautiful balding children in chemotherapy were that represented a pediatric hospital and cheered on the runners. I really learned the extent to which a person’s beauty is determined by how they act. The crowd was truly altruistic. It reaffirmed my faith in humanity. If I ever run another I want to raise money for something such as medical research. Why not? You have about four hours to burn!”

“Training for it was one of my favorite parts,” said Doe, “but I loved the crowds – their energy was amazing. Anytime I was dragging, I could run over to the side and give the kids high fives and grab an orange slice. It was an incredible feeling.”

Marsh and MacDougall agreed about that particular part of the race. “The crowds were definitely an amazing part of the experience,” claimed Marsh. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this, and I’ve only been able to run since I tore cartilage in my shoulder.”

MacDougall had similar sentiments. “I went to the finish line and saw the winner cross. The enthusiasm in Boston was incredible – everyone was in the bars and sitting out on the ledges and crowding the sidewalks. It was just a fun day to celebrate; everyone cheers on the runners even though they are strangers. It was great to see Williams people other than Marsh out there running too.” Rumor from Morales and Gansner has it that there was no Amherst students sighted during the run.

Babson and Smeal, co-JA’s from Williams F, and Christensen made the trip together, along with Gansner, Morales, and Mathieu. Gansner and Morales made signs for the two JA’s and cheered on their effort, while Mathieu actually joined in the run with Smeal at the 13-mile mark, finishing the race with him.

“This was my first marathon, and definitely not the last,” said Babson. “I didn’t train superbly either, but I finished, and hey, that’s great with me!”

Christensen echoed the sentiment. “It’s much more of a mental thing than a physical one and that anyone who is in some kind of shape could run one, as long as they don’t try to kill themselves doing it.”

Even those who came to support their friends found it to be an equally amazing experience. “It was just really cool how excited and focused the entire city of Boston was for the marathon,” said Gansner. “There was a real community out on the road with everyone behind the runners. There was just a real feeling of good will in the air. The thing I remember about Ben was that he started jumping up and down and yelling when he saw the signs we had made for him. Gusty waved and yelled at us too. I was tempted to go run along with them for a couple of miles because it looked like they were having so much fun.”

In the women’s race, Ethiopian Fatuma Roba claimed her third straight title, a feat only matched once before by German record-holder Uta Pippig. Her time of 2:23:25 was about two minutes slower than the world-record time of 2:21:45, set by Pippig in 1994. In the men’s open, victory came to Joseph Chebet of Kenya after having been stymied in last year’s New York and Boston marathons, which he lost by a combined time of six seconds. His winning time this year of 2:09:52 was over two minutes from the standing record of 2:07:15 set by fellow Kenyan Cosmas Ndeti in 1994.

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