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MIT runners step up for Boston Marathon

Running both officially and as "bandits," dozens of MIT affiliates were among the 20,000 people who trekked 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston during the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 17.

All said they found that the race truly lives up to its reputation.

"My Boston experience was amazing, painful, unforgettable and arduous all at the same time," said Amanda Lanza, a sophomore who grew up outside of Boston. "I would watch the marathon every year and fantasized about running it someday."

Last October, Lanza ran a qualifying time in the BayState Marathon in Lowell. "I was elated," Lanza said of her three-hour, 40-minute time, roughly an 8-minute-mile pace that qualified her for the oldest marathon in the country.

The Boston Marathon stands out from other marathons for many reasons -- the difficult course, the fan support and the fact that it falls on a state holiday -- but what really sets it apart is the competition. Unless a person is running for charity, he or she must run a qualifying time at an earlier marathon.

For women under 35, that qualifying time is three hours and 40 minutes. For men, it is three hours and 10 minutes.

"Every runner's dream is to run the Boston Marathon. It is a legendary competition attracting the best distance runners from around the globe," said junior ̪ron Varga, a materials science and engineering major, who qualified last October in the Cape Cod Marathon.

Neither Lanza nor Varga were disappointed, they said. "Fans literally line the entire 26.2-mile course. You are never alone," Lanza said. "They are so supportive, handing out water, oranges, Vaseline, paper towels, wet sponges, jelly beans, candy, really anything you could need."

Varga agreed. "The feeling of solidarity between 20,000 runners is very strong, even though in theory everybody is a competitor," he said.

Sloan graduate student Bernat Olle, who also qualified in the BayState Marathon, was equally wowed. "The road was packed with children in Hopkinton and I high-fived a few hundred of them. Totally awesome," he said. "There were bands playing along the route, people with crazy costumes ��� and hundreds of Wellesley girls screaming their lungs out at the half marathon."

For Olle, the race started as a quest to hit the three-hour mark, but ended with a desire to finish -- which he did in three hours and 14 minutes. "I learned the Boston course can really humble you. Next year I'll be better prepared and make a second attempt at three hours."

Senior Valerie Wong ran the race as a "bandit," which is the name given to unofficial runners. She and her running partner, senior Antonella Alunni, made the commitment to try Boston just after winter break. Although Wong had only been running for two years, she and Alunni decided to go for it.

"Thank goodness I had her (Alunni) because I honestly don't believe I could have pulled through the last mile," Wong said. The two wore Batman and Robin costumes and just tried to have fun.

Although the two ran well (four hours and 26 minutes) Wong said she might be done with marathons.

"Now that I know I can do it, I think I am going to give marathons a rest and do a triathlon next and probably just shorter races," Wong said. "A marathon is a great accomplishment, but it's just such a huge project. Even professional runners admit that the human body really isn't made to run it. What's amazing is that we can stretch its limit, but only once in a while."

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