Thursday, April 16, 2015

THE DUEL

A good day to watch a marathon is a bad day to run a marathon.

Non-runners look at a weather forecast for a marathon, see 75 degrees and exclaim, "Wow, it looks like you're going to have great weather for your race."

Not so.

A cloudy, calm, 50-degree day is perfection for running a marathon.

All indicators point to such a day for the 119th running of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

That wasn't the case in 1982, however, and it led to one of the greatest finishes in Boston Marathon history. A race that has been called, "The duel in the sun."

Back in the last century, Boston Marathon race organizers remained stubborn traditionalists, insisting that the race begin at noon, as it always had.

It was a beautiful day...for the beach and for an early spring tan.

The sky was cloudless, the sun was hot, and a slight tailwind sucked moisture from the body like a blow-dryer. Temperatures topped out in the 80s. I completed the race in a respectable time of 2:28:43, and my most significant post-race pain did not stem from sore muscles and joints; rather from pink sunburn lines which outlined the shape of my race singlet on my shoulders, and upon my ankles above the sock line. My nose, a significant perch for birds, glowed like Rudolph's.

Alberto Salazar was the world's best marathon runner at the time. While others, including the iconic Bill Rodgers, wilted from the intense heat, gritty Minnesotan, Dick Beardsley stubbornly hung with Salazar.

Through the Newton Hills, Beardsley refused to be broken.

Crowds went wild on Commonwealth Avenue as the moving duel ensued.

With less than a mile to go, Beardsley's hamstring tightened up and Salazar took the lead.

Beardsley's cramped leg found some unlikely relief from an unlikely ally: a Boston pothole!

Like most potholes we encounter in our cars, he didn't miss it, but miraculously, it loosened his cramped leg, and he drew even with his rival.

Crowds exploded as the gladiators sprinted to the finish, with Salazar prevailing by a mere two seconds.

 Salazar crossed the line in 2:08:52; while Beardsley clocked a 2:08:54. It was the first time two men had broken 2:09 in the same race.

Alberto Salazar, however, paid a steep price for his victory. The searing, dry heat robbed him of fluids, causing his body temperature to drop to a near-fatal 88 degrees and it took several liters of intravenous fluids to stabilize him. By Salazar's own admission he was never the same after the race.

We all hope there are no more "duels in the sun." Let's keep those temperatures in the 50s for Marathon Monday.

Save the beach weather for Tuesday.


More Boston Marathon history the chapter entitled 'Boston,' in my book, Running Shorts. www.muldowneyrunning.com