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West Coast alums train for Boston Marathon in smoots, not miles

Alumni Paul Osepa (left) and Ron Duncan (right) will run the 24,777-smoot Boston Marathon in April.
Alumni Paul Osepa (left) and Ron Duncan (right) will run the 24,777-smoot Boston Marathon in April.

Members of the MIT Community Running Club are pounding out their smoots these days on the roads of Silicon Valley and points west, preparing for the club's third annual pilgrimage back east to run in the Boston Marathon.

The runners, many of them alumni who settled on the West Coast, measure their progress in smoots to perpetuate the legend of Oliver R. Smoot Jr., a Lambda Chi Alpha pledge whose fraternity brothers dragged him across the Harvard Bridge in 1958 to mark the distance from the Back Bay to the campus.

Smoot, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall was chosen because he was the shortest freshman pledging the fraternity that year. The length of the bridge was established at 364.4 smoots and one ear. Lambda Chi Alpha pledges have renewed the markings ever since.

Scott Feamster of Atherton, Calif., father of 2001 MIT graduate Nicholas Feamster, started the Community Running Club tradition when he celebrated the first graduating class of the new millennium by running one smoot for each of its 2,122 members, all of whose names were enscribed on his running shirt. He called it the MITcrc Graduation Run and covered the 26.2-mile course of 24,777 smoots in five hours, three minutes.

"My time was not too bad for a retired couch potato running his first marathon at age 57," said Feamster, who started the tradition of counting the distance in smoots because they are "a unique MIT measurement that claimed the Harvard Bridge for MIT." Several campaigns to rename the bridge after MIT have been unsuccessful.

Feamster, founder of MITcrc, has never met Oliver Smoot. "There is engineering elegance in running 26.2 smoots for each graduate," Feamster said.

Last year, Sharon Marcadis (S.B. 1991) of San Ramon, Calif., continued the MITcrc tradition, running 24,777 smoots in three hours and 46 minutes--an MITcrc marathon record. Marcadis has completed 18 marathons, more than any other MITcrc member.

While MITcrc members Ron Duncan (S.B. 1986) of Campbell, Calif., Paul Osepa (S.B. 1982) of Los Gatos, Calif., and John Ison (S.B. 1977, S.M.) of Saratoga, Calif., are running the 106th Boston Marathon on April 21, other club members will be cheering them on and celebrating the third Graduation Run.

Duncan (3:08.4 in last year's Silicon Valley marathon, a personal record) and Osepa (3:16 in Boston) qualified as official participants in the Boston Marathon and will run with numbers. Ison is unregistered, or a "bandit," and will not have a number.

Duncan and Osepa are colleagues at Synopsys Inc., circuit designers in Mountain View, Calif.

Duncan, MITcrc's most accomplished marathon runner, has been traveling in Asia and training sporadically, covering 90 miles one week and none the next. "I don't have high expectations for Boston," he said. "Under 3:10 would be acceptable. I just hope to have fun. My goal of a sub-three-hour marathon will have to wait until the fall when I have more time to train."

Osepa will be running his fourth consecutive Boston Marathon and his eighth overall. "This time I must set a new personal record because I have exhausted every possible way of missing in my last three runs at Boston," said Osepa, whose best time for the distance is 3:14. "It's 3:10 or bust--again."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 12, 2003.

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