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Race for Boston
In the world of running, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is the ultimate degree. It is not so much for the elite athlete, but the recreational runner whose only thrill is to chase personal glory. To be able to run at Boston, you need to be very fast. Sample this: An 80 year-old man needs to run a marathon under 4 hours 55 minutes this year to even qualify for the 2013 event!
Not many Indians have qualified, in fact in the Indian running scene, Boston qualifiers are looked at with awe. He is the kind of runner who is admired like a superstar, a believable and friendly superstar.
Ramesh Kanjilimadhom, a 40-year-old from Kerala, is one such qualifier, having run in 2009 and 2010. This year, there is a deluge in relative terms with three Indian qualifiers. Ashok Nath, a 49-year-old Bangalorean who ran last year, will experience his second run this year. Bhaskar Desai, a 59-year-old, will run his first. So will Gerald Pde, a 38-year-old from Shillong.
Kanjilimadhom recollects his experience of running in Boston. "Everything about Boston is different. But the most endearing memory is the crowd. They just come in droves to cheer you. There are some crazy acts like the Scream Tunnel where the students of Wellesley College, mostly girls, scream and are ready to give kisses too. "
Ashok Nath, who after two decades in the corporate world is setting up his own sporting venture, is one who never wants to get caught up in the fact that merely qualifying for Boston is enough. "It is targeted to the top 80 per cent runners and there is no losing focus. It is easy to become complacent thinking that qualifying for this iconic race is enough but that would be a mistake. The course is a testing one, and the challenge has just begun, " says Nath.
The course is another factor and Heartbreak Hill is as famous among runners as Times Square among the general populace.
For Desai, who started running well past his 50th birthday, Boston was just another town, known more for its colleges. "When I ran my maiden half marathon in Mumbai in 2006, I had not heard of this world's most elite race! But once I heard my running mates talk about this Mecca of marathoners, I promised my angels I too will make them proud. Am so glad I did not fail them. "
For Pde, a green building consultant, the excitement of qualifying for Boston is huge. "Especially within my family, " he says. "Running for me started early and I would run wearing an old worn out shoe. After moving to the US, I reconnected with running by watching the New York City Marathon and the passion to run marathon grew. I told myself oneday, that's where I want to be. The Boston Marathon was even more elusive as I didn't know the difficulty of running a sub 3:15 marathon, the timing required to qualify for my age category. "
Last year, stunningly, the registrations for Boston closed in a mere 8 hours. For this year they changed it. The first wave was for those who qualified with more than 20 minutes to spare. Then came the second wave of those who qualified with more than 10 minutes to spare. The third wave was for those who merely qualified.
Boston in many ways is indeed the blue-ribboned event among marathons. It is one of the oldest marathons, having begun its first run in 1897, a year after the first modern Olympics. It has one of the stiffest qualifying standards, it is run on a Monday (Third Monday of April, St Patrick's Day), unlike most marathons, which are run on Sundays. It is among the few marathons that does not allow pacers. It is also run from point A to B, unlike most marathons where the route is out and back.
In fact this very fact was one of the reasons which Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai's effort of 2:03. 02, easily the world's best time over 42. 2 km, is not considered as a world record.
Another factor is the Newton Hill (Heartbreak Hill) over a 0. 4-mile stretch between kms 32-34 that is known to kill even the most seasoned runner. The start of the marathon is from Hopkington town. Before the finish at Boston, the route runs through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline.
Nath explains the feeling as he headed last year to run his first Boston Marathon. "From the time you meet the immigration to the hotel staff and so forth, everyone lights up when you share that your purpose of visit is to run the Boston Marathon, " he says.
For Pde, there is also a personal goal: "As long as you can meet your goal given the all the hurdles during training, that makes a winner. My goal is to break the elusive 3-hr mark and will be on top of the moon if I can break 2:55, " says Pde.
But somewhere the excitement is growing for Pde: "In the past few weeks of training, I am beginning to really feel the excitement building up. "
For Bhaskar, it is about putting method to his running. "I am a mindless runner. Never bothered about pace or distance when I ran. Boston has changed it all. A small dream has come true. I want to go there and enjoy running with the world's best but would lie if I say I feel no race day butterflies. I have never been more excited as a runner. "
Bhaskar has been helped by a good friend, Ken Skea, an American who made a 10-week chart for him. "Kanjilimadhom, too, has been filling me with more systematic approach to the racing day. "
Ashok encapsulated the whole spirit of running in Boston: "Runners wear their Boston Marathon jacket with pride, at Boston and thereafter. How often do you witness runners from nearly 100 countries come together, all with a common purpose to beat the challenging Boston Marathon Course?"
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