Boston, Ma. — It’s springtime in New England, where the opening of baseball season and the running of the Boston Marathon bring the promise of warmer days ahead. And this morning with the thermometer stuck at 39F and howling east winds blowing in off the Atlantic, the 27,000 marathoners heading to town must have been wondering what Mother Nature had in store for them this year come Marathon Monday.
Weather has been the big story the last two years in Boston. A zephyring tailwind led to record performances in 2011, while a blistering heat scorched the course in 2012, leading to a men’s winning time over nine minutes slower than 2011. A check of the forecast does show a warming trend heading toward the area for Monday’s 117th Boston Marathon, but close observers of New England weather always know to hold their predictions. Anything, as we’ve seen, can happen.
Last night marathon weekend kicked off with the Cheers to the Boston Marathon party at the Hampshire House at the base of Beacon Hill. There BAA president Joann Flaminio and executive race director Tom Grilk presided over the annual Patriot’s Award ceremony. This year the award was presented to U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Rodney Freeman of York, Maine. Colonel Freeman founded the Shadow Boston Marathon for U.S. service personnel in Iraq in 2005. The colonel was joined by his wife, Missy and their four children, 15 year-old Jerrod, 14 year-old twins Orrin and Mary, and 11 year-old Gibson.
This morning the serious business of racing took center stage at the Copley Plaza hotel as the marathon’s principal sponsor John Hancock introduced its elite athlete team for this year’s race. On hand were 14 men and 18 women including defending champions Wesley Korir and Sharon Cherop, both of Kenya, past champions Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot (2010), Deriba Merga (2009) and Rita Jeptoo (2006). John Hancock chief administration officer Jim Gallagher emceed the proceedings. Afterwards the athletes scattered to individual tables where we of the media had at them.
With America’s London 2012 Olympic marathoners Meb Keflizighi, Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahmam all pulling out due to injury or illness — Abdi pulled out only yesterday with a bout of the flu — the American male hopes of ending their 30-year drought in Boston land on the shoulders of Jason Hartmann and Fernando Cabada, both of whom are training in Boulder, Colorado. Hartmann ran a crafty fourth last year in the searing heat, while Cabada comes in as the American record holder over 25Km.
“I’ve just wanted the gun to go off for the last two weeks,” said Rockford, Michigan born Hartmann. “I’ve been trying to be smart the last week, using hand sanitizer every time I shake someone’s hand, downing a lot of vitamin C.
Jason’s marathon best is a 2:11:06 from Chicago 2010 where he finished in eighth position, but he has prepped for Boston with a ninth-place 1:01:52 personal best at the March 17th New York City Half Marathon. He also said he learned last year that he had to be patient in Boston, because the hills come at such a tough time.
“The race begins at 21 – 22 miles,” he said. “But the first 21 determines how you run the last 5.2.”
Jason had no complaints about his training cycle, but admitted that he changed things up a little this time around.
“I was more aggressive, and I added some cross-training,” he explained. “That helps keep my mind sharp. It’s easy to get stale doing the same workouts all the time. So I did some Alter G training and also some elliptical cross training. I loved it. I want to buy one.“
The half-marathon in New York was a good evaluation and confirmation of his methods.
“I tapered a little for New York,” he admitted. “As a young athlete I found I was grinding the gears. Now I’m more relaxed rather than trying to hit a home-run every time out. Now I’m happy to hit singles, and maybe when I get a pitch to hit, I can get a hold of it. Because if you try to hit home-runs every time, you end up striking out a lot.”
Fernando Cabada sat on the opposite end of the table from Jason with U.S. women’s hopeful Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce in between. Cabada was also philosophical about his preparations as he, too, is a veteran of the marathon wars now at age 30.
“Training has been better than good,” he concluded. “Not to say I’m 100%, but when everything goes perfect, when you get very ambitious, it can cloud your mind. Sometimes good-enough training can level you off, make you slow down so you don’t put yourself in danger.
“I did workouts, yeah, but I also recovered well from those workouts which is key. That’s what has me confident. I know if the pace gets down to 4:50 per mile (on the early downhills) I won’t be over the top.”
While Fernando trains in Boulder, like Jason, he also spent time in Scottsdale, Arizona to take advantage of the lower altitude for speed work. He doesn’t have the super half-marathon PR to show like Hartmann, but his two prep halves were solid enough for his liking.
“I ran the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach March 17th, and the Birmingham Half February 17th. Both were sub-1:05, and more like glorified tempo runs. With Meb, Ryan, and Abdi now out, it just makes my chances that much better. But I’m not chopped liver, either. I know I’m a lot better than my PR (2:11:53, 7th at Houston Olympic Trials 2012). If I ever run 2:08 or 2:09 people shouldn’t be surprised. But if I ran 2:12 and got seventh place, I’d be happy, too.”
It’s been 30 years since Michigan’s Greg Meyer won the Boston Marathon in 2:09:00. Greg moved to Boston in 1978 to train with marathon legend Bill Rodgers under the tutelage of Greater Boston Track Club coach Bill Squires. He ran Boston in 1981 for the first time in 2:13 before returning to win two years later. He said that long-range focus is the key to an American breakthrough.
“Yes, the competition is a lot harder and deeper than in our day, but you can’t look at these major marathons as just another race. You have to have as much as an 18-month plan that leads you to that big performance, and with all the opportunities out there today, people just aren’t making that level of commitment.”
The odds against an American male win in Boston 2013 are pretty long, but there is reason to believe that both Jason Hartmann and Fernando Cabada are ready for the kind of breakthroughs which will continue the recent American trend toward the top which might eventually lead to another man taking on the mantel of “Last American Man to Win Boston.” Greg Meyer sure hopes so.