Yuri and Lena were already here. Leonid and Sasha were on the way. David McNicol was settling in. Ivan, Tulio, Sue and Don were also on the way.
The staff was already on the cusp of exhaustion from the intensity of the pre race buildup. The coming together of the forces injected the store with a big energy lift. Staff members cranked into a new gear and away we went, one more time, around the annual block known as the Boston Marathon. It starts for real on Friday. As I enter the upper level of the commuter boat I look for the familiar form of my right hand man at the Expo, Chris Hidell. I immediately spot Chris and his girlfriend Trish. Except for an occasional encounter in our neighborhood in Hull this five-day stretch is when we really see each other. So there is a good deal of anticipation as to our up coming journey. We immediately head downstairs for coffee and over the newspaper we catch up and plan ahead for the next five days.
Upon entering the Faneuil Hall Marketplace we are greeted by Bill Ripley, our annual cart man up from West Virginia, Leonid Moceev (Russia's top marathoner in the late "70's") and Sasha who amazed me by opening a non-twist off top with his bare hands. After surviving Moceevís handshake (he's actually lightened up on it a bit) we made our way into the store, where the phones were ringing, and switched into high gear.
The biggest challenge for me on Friday is to go over to the Hynes Auditorium and set up for the expo. There is always a certain amount of dread since the experience is Challenging. Chris and I have gotten this down after all these years and with the help of Ivan have pulled the whole thing off in a few hours. Donal and Roby set up the artwork for the backdrops and we were ready. Having the expo setup behind me is always a great relief. All of the ducks were in a row. All we had to do was plug in tomorrow.
Back at the store things were beginning to hum. People from all over the world were here and we were in our high intensity mode. The whole feel of the store is different than usual.
The mishmash of people from so many different places was a change of pace from our usual local clientele. Charlie had to leave early with his international guests, so Chris and I had to man the fort till 8, when we caught a boat for the South Shore. I slept fit fully that night. Expos do that to me.
The first hit of the expo always overwhelms me. With lots of people and lots of booths, the expo is a sensory overload of the first order. The initial stages of the expo experience are always difficult for me. (Iím not a morning person). But after a few bursts of activity I was like a football player who took his first hit. I was ready to play.
It started out somewhat slowly. The 9 O'clock start always seemed a bit early to me. Once you get into your high hustle gear the spaces between customers are like someone taking the resistance away from you. You need the resistance to stay up. Without it you fall down. Well, things picked up predictably and in the end it was a solid day. Maybe slightly less human density than usual but acceptably robust. The expo is a mixed experience for me. With a little help from Chris and later Sue the hustle becomes almost fun. The real fun comes in seeing people who you haven't seen since last yearís expo. People like Tom Grilk, Brad Hurst, Chico, Dick Beardslee, Gerry Beegan, Steve Harris and Toni Reaves were there. The most poignant moment of the day came when I ran into Jane Palmer. Her brother, Andy passed away in February. Totally unexpectedly; he collapsed from a heart attack after a 2 hour and 10 minute run. The time was on his watch. Those of us who knew Andy were shocked and saddened by the early death of a friend who personified what a real runner was. In his late forties and not competing on a serious level any more, Andy still ran up to 100 miles per week. He had recently married Zika, his lovely wife, with whom he opened his Zap fitness center in Blowing Rock N.C. It was becoming a state of the art Training Center for serious runners developing to their full potential. Andy's dreams were just being actualized and his death did not seem fair. I had thought of Jane regularly since Andyís death and had anticipated seeing her at the expo. Our embrace was intense and tears welled in our eyes saying what words could not. Zika came over and I met her for the first time. I had thought of how strong she would have to be to go through this heartbreaking experience. She is a lovely young woman who exudes a quiet strength. I sensed that with the support she got from family and finds that she would survive and carry on the work that she and Andy had started.
The expo always puts the running community in perspective for me. It always occurs to me how long I have known these people and that we seem to be forever linked through our experiences as runners.
Chris and I schlepped back to the store, with Tulio and Sue. Tulio had just come from Venezuela where it had really hit the fan with coups and counter coups with in a few days time. Tulio was here irregardless. The show must go on.
Coming back to the store after the expo was like going from one war zone into another. The feel at the store was different than any other time of the year. There were literally hundred s of runners in and around the store. They are from all over the world and we welcome them.
Chris and I slide back to the office to organize and count the money for the day. It is always a task to focus on this after the long day, but our own curiosity plus a huge desire to knock it off and go out for food and beverages pushes us onward.
Saturday nights can be a challenging time to find a seat in any local establishment. We lucked out with two bar stools at Durgan Park and a friendly hello from bar tenders Kevin and Brian. Scallops were the choice of the evening. They were delicious as was the Bass Ale. Soon, though, fatigue overwhelmed us and the high energy level at the bar drove us home to try for a better nights sleep than yesterdays. Luckily, I scored a few more hours of sleep Saturday night and was several increments more rested on Sunday.
As I walked out to my car I could see the manic form of Chris walking down the street. Active lad, that Chris. His parents used to get him Chickens as a child to keep him occupied during his early morning hyperactivity.
Sunday is an easier day. Youíve already established as much of a groove as possibly and the anxiety level is down. Business is usually better and it's the last day of the expo. In a more relaxed mode, I enjoyed the endless encounters with people past and present. I met Toni's new girlfriend Toya. Lovely lass full of brains and beauty. Toni gives hope to all of us middle age guys.
Business is good and we power through day 2 of the expo in good form. The wrap up is always stressful. Chris and I, Dough and Bob, and our wigwam booth people all have that ashen white drained look of people who have redlined on hustling retail activity. In short, we were toast, but we had to gather ourselves one more time to pack and lug all of our stuff out of the expo and back tot he store. Reavis has a theory that people who work expos should have time deducted from any felony punishments that they may encounter in life. I think that Iím good for armed robbery at this point.
The expo was over, but not the marathon experience. Once again Chris and I staggered back to the store, weaving our way though the masses of runners on the cusp of their Boston Marathon Experience. We count the money and head out, with Dave Kromer, to Durgan Park for some R&R. After gaining some form of equilibrium we pound our way back to the South Shore. It occurs to me that the race is tomorrow. I try to recall what I've been able to read in the papers, in the last few days, about who is running the race. Men's and womenís defending Champions were back, South Korean Lee Bong-Ju on the menís side and Catherine Ndereba on the womenís. There were murmurings that Bong-Ju was not in the same from as last year. There was the usual group of Kenyans on the menís side, one of whom caught our eyes with a first name of Rodgers. Hmmmm!
On the women's side Ndereba had run a world record 2:18:47 in Chicago last fall and seemed unbeatable. The one woman who i thought might give her some trouble was Margaret Okayo, also of Kenya. She won New York handily in 2:24:21 stuffing a good field down 1'st Ave. with a surge that seemed more like a 10 K surge than a marathon surge.
So as I settled down for a few hours of sleep I started to focus on the race, for the race is really what this is all about.
Unlike most years, I did not go out on the course this time. John Ellis, the annual driver of the "magic bus", was on Hancock duty race day and being severely geographically challenged I did not feel up tot he quirky route with its precise timing realities. So we listened to the usual inept coverage on the radio and followed our own guys on the computer. The race, as usual, had it's own story to tell and what a story it was!
The menís race started out typically with a large pack of Kenyans and a sprinkling of other countries, being represented. It unfolded as usual, with the pack being pared down little by little till all but two men fell off, Rodgers Rop and Christopher Cheboilboch. Rop had finished 3rd in New York in the fall and was a legitimate contender. His first name was a question mark to us at the BRRC. I was surprised that the media had not made more of it. He was also wearing #14, which is the number Bill Rodgers had in his "75" victory. According to Larry Newman, more #14's have won the race than any other number except #1. So it was with an additional sense of weirdness that one of the two men left in the race was named Rodgers Rop and was wearing #14. At one point in the race Rop looked back at Cheboilboch and gestured for him to come up with him. Cheboilboch, almost reluctantly, caught up, but as the final miles of the race went by Rop pulled away and went on to 2:09:02 victory. "Rodgers wins Boston marathon" was not the headline in the Newspaper the next day, but Rodgers Rop did win a competitive race in a good time. As for the origins of the first name, we still own know. Do you?
The woman's race was historic. Defending champion and world record holder Catherine (Ndereba) was back. She seemed unbeatable. The only woman in the field that I thought could give her a race was Margaret Okayo. I figured she would give Ndereba a good race and push her on to a fast time. Well, that she did; only her fast time was better than Ndereba 's, because it was Okayo who pulled away in the final miles, and won in a course record of 2:20:43. This is a great time on a course that is challenging.
So, women's marathoning is evolving to a point now, where there are several elite level women who, on a given day, could win a major race. The word race is the key here. As womenís marathoning was developing the victories were often like time trials. One woman would separate herself from the pack early and run against the clock the rest of the way. Now there is real racing going on. Womenís marathoning has now started to get where I always thought it could go. There are now big important raceís with several players in a position to win and run fast times. The race between Ndereba and Okayo was historic and with a the new addition of Paula Radcliff (2:18:56 in London on Sunday) and Naoko Takahshi of Japan (2:19: 46 in Berlin) there is starting to be a small core of elite women marathoners. Deena Drossin is our top American Marathoner. Her 2:26:58 debut marathon in New York and her success at cross-country lead me to believe that she has the tools to make it to the top. Exciting stuff!
On the more local level, our troops were having predicable races as we followed them on the web.
David McNicol (18 miles of anxiety followed by 8 miles of misery) our Scottish representative, who had dropped out the past two years, got back on the horse to finish in 2:55. In the process he reeled in 1999 senior champion Yuri Laptev. We watched their progress on the computer and were pleased that they had both run reasonably well, (Yuri ran 3 hrs) for men who were under trained.
The real story, from our point of view was Vladimir Krivoy. A Ukrainian who now lives in America, Krivoy won last years senior division in 2:39:30, a pretty fair time for a guy who had been injured for a while. 2002 had been a healthy year for Vladimir. He had run 90 miles a week for the entire year. His training was going so well that he could barely control his excitement in the weeks preceding the marathon. He ran a beautiful race crushing the 2nd place senior by 7 minutes. His time was 2:35:11 and excellent time by a 51 year old man who works full time! Quite a performance. Needles to say, we were in a celebratory mode when he came back tot he store. There was a heartfelt toast to Vladimir Krivoy, 2002 Boston Marathon senior division champion.
A group of us went over to the Green Dragon that evening and sampled Guinness and nachos. It was with a nice combination of exhaustion and excitement that we enjoyed our evening.
Tuesday is, in some ways, the busiest day of the five. On the boat ride that morning, Chris, Trish and I enjoyed going over the newspaper to check out all the results and the great photos that the Globe ran.
Tuesday is a day to enjoy. The weather was beautiful. One of the Tuesday traditions is Billís autograph session at the store. This year we also had Dick Beardsley with his new book "Staying the course; a Runners toughest Race." Between Bill and Dick the long line of marathoners had quite a treat. I'm always impressed with Billís ability to stay engaged with each and every runner who approaches him. Trish stood in line go get a log autographed for a friend. Trish is a non-runner who does not seem to relate much to the endurance athlete types. I watched her interaction with Bill. He immediately made eye contact with her and greeted her in a truly sincere way. One might say 'well, isnít that what civilized people do. The answer in general life is yes, but when you have talked to hundred s of people all weekend long and still make each encounter fresh and real, thatís a real test of ones sincerity. Bills ability to engage runners in this way is why he is distance runningís best ambassador.
Dick Beardsley was great too. His open, upbeat, engaging manner is wonderful. He is a man who has known the highs and lows in life. He is a great example of the resiliency of the human spirit. The two of them made for a nice scene at the store. Little by little the runners left the store heading to the airport for places all over the world. Ivan and Sue left for Evansville, the first of our inner circle to go. It's always intense when people leave. We become a close know group over the 5 days.
Inevitably there is a series of toasts, a sampling of top shelf liquor from all over the world. As the libations loosen our tongues, someone activates our singing blue bird. Zippity do da comes spilling in congruously out of this plastic bird. Suddenly we were all singing along and my-oh-my, it was a wonderful day. It was a good laugh and it was fun to unwind a little after the weekend. The beer continued to flow. Pizzas were ordered and consumed. Toni Reavis came by and off to the Green dragon we went. It's always great to talk with Toni. His intelligence and insight make for great conversation.
As we walked to the commuter boat of Rowes Warf, with the euphoria that only Guinness can provide, there was a great sense of having had a robust experience. Conversation on the boat was animated and as I shook Chris's hand in the parking lot there was a sense that these were five days well spent, a job well done by all involved.
So there you have it, the nitty gritty marathon experience as lived by the Bill Rodgerís Running Center. Once again I would like tot thank all for the people who helped make this the special experience that it is. Without Yuri and Lena Laptev, David McNicol, Toni Reaves, Leonid Moceev, Alexander Troshkin, Ivan Rodrigues, Tulio Carta, Sue Bengert, Don Aujean, and many others our experience would be much more difficult. They bring a super charged energy that lifts us up and through the marathon. Thanks also goes tot he staff members of the Bill Rodgers Running Center part time and full. Chris Hidell, Doug Simonton, Doug's friend Bob, Debbie and Beth Simonton, Bill Babcock, Billyís' brother in law Glen, Bill Ripley, Jack Coakly, Danny Kass, Dave Kromer, John MacNamara, John Ellis, Jerry Ahern, and our fearless leader Charlie Rodgers, and ultimately, of course, the man who made all this possible, Billy Rodgers. For without Bill there would not have been a running scene, as we know it. Bill was the engine that lead us all along during the late "70's and early "80's". Even now, we are mostly all still running, a lot slower than Bill but continuing our daily ritual. Our daily commune with body and spirit has slowed down but our effort has not. We work harder for less now, but this is predictable. The message we can derive from all of this is that we have tapped into something special, something self-affirming, something essential. The daily push against the resistance of gravity both real and imagined, gives us a feeling that I am convinced, makes one vibrate on a cellular level. This is, in fact, the fountain of youth. Look around you at the people who exercise every day and those who do not, particularly those in the middle of life. The difference is easy to see. Use it or lose it.
So here we are in the middle of life. The store is almost 25 years old. The cast of characters changes but once a member of our family always a member. Our current group of marathon revelers is a good bunch of folks and every year we ride the coattails of the great Boston Marathon. We are all lucky to be part of it.