Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
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Lynne in NYC

Kopac's Corner

2005 Boston Marathon Conversations

by Bob Kopac

One of the fun things about going to the Boston Marathon is the opportunity to talk to runners. From first-timers to veterans, each person has taken his or her personal journey to this point, and each person has a story to tell.

While in our hotel lobby the day before the race, Lynne and I noticed someone wearing a New York Flyers T-shirt, so we decided to introduce ourselves to 54-year-old Francisco Rodriguez.

Francisco has an interesting race history. He started running in 1988 after he quit smoking. His goal was to run Boston once, then quit--except he forgot to quit; this year was Francisco's 14th Boston Marathon. He also has run the NYC Marathon 16 times. Last year he ran 13 marathons. Overall, Francisco has run 129 marathons, and he has run a marathon in every state. He had planned on completing the Hawaii Marathon in 2001 as his 50th state, but that was derailed by the events of 9/11. He finally ran Hawaii in 2002.

He said he likes the NYC and Boston Marathons, but the most beautiful marathon was in Anchorage, Alaska. When I asked him what was his worst marathon, he immediately answered South Dakota, which he ran 5 days after running the Boston Marathon. He said the marathon in South Dakota was billed appropriately as the "longest day marathon." That day, there were 40 MPH headwinds with pouring rain. As the course was not closed to traffic, passing trucks continuously splashed water on the runners. While running the race, he thought, "If I can do this, I can do anything!"

He thought of that race when he ran the 2004 Boston Marathon in 87-degree heat. He said that was the only marathon where he ever thought of dropping out, although he finished.

Francisco's goal for the 2005 Boston Marathon was to run 3:45. His marathon-training regimen won't be found in any training guides, for his longest training run was only 5 miles. However, he did do half-marathon and 20-mile races. With that unorthodox training, Francisco finished the 2005 Boston Marathon the next day in a net time of 3:33:41.

On race day, after I had photographed runners from the Photo Bridge above the finish line, I headed over to the family reunion area. On the (unexpectedly hot) 70-degree day, the main topic of conversation was the weather. I first talked with Kimberly Likens of Tallahassee, Florida after her friend sprayed her with champagne. (Perhaps to cool her down?)

Kimberly: It was a lot harder than I thought. My time was 3:41 [3:35:30 net time]. It was hard. It was brutal. The hills were something else. But I got through it. It was a blast! My first Boston! It was incredible. It was hilly. They are not kidding about Heartbreak Hill.

Q: Is it what you expected?

Kimberly: It was harder than I expected. It was hotter. I train in Florida, so I thought I could handle the heat, but it was hot. It was fun. It was the greatest experience! It really was. Now I'm done, and I got the medal. Yea!

Richard LeBlanc's spouse was waiting to welcome him after he finished his first marathon.

Q: How long has he been training?

A: Since November 2004. He did it on his own. He bought some books. He talked with some people. And that's it.

Q: Did he run before that?

A: Not like this, no. [Laughs]

Q: So what made him do it?

A: The Boston Marathon goes right by our house. [Laughs] We live at about the 101/2-mile mark, right in Natick. Every year he said he's going to do it, and this year he finally decided he was going to do it.

Q: But isn't that hard? I mean, it would be so easy to say, I'm tired, I'm going to drop out at my home!

A: He said he stopped there for like 2 seconds.

I next met up with John Farrow of Albuquerque, New Mexico and his spouse Stephanie. John is a director-at-large of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA).

John: Hot, got too hot. I was on pace through 20 miles, for an 81/2-minute pace. I started to get light-headed at 22 miles. I had to do a mile walk for the last 4 [miles]. They took at least 2 people off in ambulances.

Stephanie: I heard one woman talking about someone next to her. She said his eyes started rolling back in his head, and he leaned left, and he leaned right. He was on his feet.

John: I've never seen so many people going off in wheelchairs at the finish. It just got hotter after 20-some miles.

Stephanie: It was 20 minutes more than you had projected.

John: My time was around 4:05 or 4:06, something like that. [4:06:00 net time]. I was on a 3:45 pace through 20 miles, but after that I just started to get light-headed a couple of times. I just had to stop and put my head down and throw water on it and everything. I was afraid I was almost there [seeing spots and passing out].

Stephanie: I checked at the information booth, because you know you can get the splits, and it was like, oh boy, he is really coming in on time. And I waited and waited and waited, and after 20 minutes I went back and said, "Are you sure?" And they said, "Well, it's really hard."

John: It took me 13 minutes just to get to the starting line. Most of the way it's just 2 lane New England roads until you get close to Boston. It's a pretty course, no question.

Stephanie: How long was it really crowded until it started to break up?

John: Because everybody was seeded by time, and they made you get in the corrals with your number, you could start running pretty quickly. In New York [his first marathon and his qualifier for Boston], it took me a mile and a half to start running quickly. [Laughs]

After returning to Poughkeepsie, I e-mailed Jodi Gravino of the Onteora Runners Club (ORC), who answered my questions about her first Boston Marathon.

Q: Are you happy with your performance?

Jodi: I must say for me, Boston was a very humbling marathon! I underestimated the course, and the heat got to me tremendously. I wanted to run a 3:20 or at least sub 3:30, but that was not to be! [Jodi ran 3:37:37 net time.] The first 16 miles I felt great. I was right on course, but then I crashed! I felt I was hydrated enough with water, but I did not take in enough salt (Gatorade, electrolytes) because I went from feeling really well to wanting to die! By the end, just making it through was the goal.

Q: How did you train for Boston?

Jodi: As far as my training, I didn't do anything special as far as downhill training. The hills were not so much the issue, I think. When I was going up Heartbreak I didn't even realize that particular hill was "the infinite one".

Q: Did you see any ORC members before, during, or after the race?

Jodi: I saw Mary Denitto after the finish. She did a great job. I didn't get to talk to her much, because I was hurting and it was right after we came in. I also saw Charles Pegg before the race. He ran a 3.08 or something! Just great!

Q: Did you see any "interesting" characters at the start or during the race?

Jodi: Lets see, I saw Wonder Woman... along with a man in a pink tutu. That was quite a sight. Also two guys ran it barefoot! I would have liked to see them after the race! Or at least their feet!

Q: Any other impressions?

Jodi: I was pleased to have re-qualified, and I will run it again next year, but I'll tell you, at the end I was thinking this really, really doesn't feel good! The heat was such a factor for me. There was no shade whatsoever! No escape! :) And it was my own stupidity in not taking in the Gatorade, etc.

Q: What were your favorite memories of running the marathon?

Jodi: The crowds were incredible! I've never seen anything like it! And as you crested a hill, as you looked ahead down the street at the sea of runners it was amazing! I think that maybe next time a fuel belt wouldn't be a bad idea. It was sort of hard to get water at the stops sometimes, you are always in the midst of other runners and it's (for me at least) too frustrating!

Jodi: All in all, it was a great experience. I'm learning that each marathon is going to be different. Not every one is going to go according to plan! There are so many factors that play a part. It's finding that perfect balance of all the necessities! We have to learn from them. I won't make the same mistakes again, I hope. I'll probably make some new ones, but such is life! Now, it's rest and then finally back to some speed work! Some shorter distance stuff. :) I'm just a bit disappointed with myself still. But, it could have been worse!!!!!

Once again, I photographed Lynn Mueller of Lancaster, New Hampshire, as she finished the race wearing pink wings. I just had to know why she wore wings, so I decided to call her to find out.

Q: Why do you wear pink angel wings?

Lynn: I got them at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati that I ran after Boston in 2003. I wear them in every marathon that I run for fun. There's a woman at the Flying Pig who has a booth there, and she is a costume designer-type person, so she makes these wings. They are very light, you don't even know they are there. I'm registered; I believe I have the official wings 202. If you go to the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, you will see a bunch of people wearing pig wings. So I can tell if people know about the Cincinnati Marathon because they will call me a Flying Pig, otherwise they will call me an angel. Like, "What's with the wings?" It's a nice distraction, too. I get a kick out of it, and the crowd seems to get a kick out of it. If I am not racing, I am wearing my wings. I did meet a lot of Cincinnati folk who knew about the Flying Pig Marathon during the race. One fellow was running the marathon, and then he was going to turn around and run all the way back to Cincinnati.

Q: He was going to do WHAT?

Lynn: He was going to run all the way back to Cincinnati to raise money for charity. He was going to try to do it in 20 days.

Q: How many times have you run Boston?

Lynn: This was my 5th consecutive Boston. I have another back there in 1997. I love it! I will run Boston until I can't run anymore. For me, Boston is a celebration of running and what it is about. And that is why I wear the wings, and why I do it for fun. Because I want to make sure that I am seeing the spectators along the way, and I am high-fiving the children and enjoying the runners who are there with me. It's a great, great experience. It rejuvenates me every spring.