How do you finish a grueling 26-mile race on a chilly day among thousands of runners? With plenty of preparation, support from the sidelines--and cool sunglasses.
Among the many members of the MIT community who ran last week's Boston Marathon was Doug Osborne, a laboratory manager in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Like his co-runners, he cited crowd support as a major source of encouragement.
"I couldn't run for more than 10 seconds the entire race without someone yelling out for me," said Mr. Osborne. "The support from the crowd is just amazing. The highlight of the race has to be running through Wellesley. Having 5,000 girls cheer you on really adds a little charge into your run. I think I ran that mile in two minutes!"
"The things that helped me most overcome the urge to quit in the middle of the race were the finish line, the crowds and the other runners," said Carol Matsuzaki, the head coach for women's tennis who ran as an unregistered "bandit."
"There's a certain camaraderie among the bandits, right from the start," she said. They have to provide their own transportation to Hopkinton, so she met many others on the 9:05 commuter train to Framingham and shared a cab to a shuttle stop.
This was the second marathon and first Boston race for T. Luke Young, a graduate student in urban studies and planning who beat his anticipated time by about 15 minutes. "I attribute this to the wealth of moral support given to me in person and in spirit by my colleagues at MIT, to a shaved head, and a borrowed pair of wicked cool shades," he said.
Ironically, he decided to run because a doctor discouraged him from ever doing a marathon after knee surgery. "I interpreted this warning to be a resounding call to run a marathon then or never, as my condition would only worsen," Mr. Young said.
Charitable causes were another motivator for some. Robert Rippcondi, director of Student Information Systems, ran with others for the Leukemia Society, which matches up each runner with a specific leukemia patient. "It was definitely a key motivating factor for me," said Mr. Rippcondi, who was running his first-ever marathon. Mr. Young was a member of the Beth Israel Deaconess Run for Research Team, raising money for cancer and AIDS research.
The hardest part of the race is, of course, near the end. Many runners become exhausted and "hit the wall" around the infamous Newton hills.
"The marathon is all about the last 10 miles. It's such a challenge, because with every step your body is saying no way can I keep running, but your mind is saying step it up," said Mr. Osborne. "Hitting the wall is a feeling you can't even begin to describe. Last year I hit the wall at mile 23, while this year it was much earlier at mile 17. I was sick the entire weekend before the race, so I think that's the main reason for my time difference between last year and this year's" (3:55 vs. 4:50, though he was hoping for a time of 3:50).
Ms. Matsuzaki's goal was to complete the marathon without slowing to a walk. "The hills of Newton certainly were the toughest part, and took a lot out of me," she said. "Not having a hills plan, I squandered my energy, and I had to think. I was desperately looking for the Citgo sign, and after I saw it, I didn't have to think again. Whew! I had really come close to walking." She finished in 4:18, "which was better than my expectation of about four and a half to five hours."
Would they run a marathon again? "Definitely," said Mr. Rippcondi, who finished in 3:26, just six minutes more than his most optimistic pre-race prediction. "I already have a training plan in place for the Bay State Marathon."
"Running the marathon is perhaps the ultimate high," Mr. Young said. "I felt elated and overjoyed after having completed the fastest 26.2 miles I have ever run. I would recommend it to anyone!"
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 29, 1998.