Orville Atkins is one of the great old-timers. He’s especially good when someone in the running community looks down at someone else. I frequent the weekly 50+ thread on LetsRun. One topic this week: what’s your marathon history? Note some sentiment about the benefits of focusing on shorter stuff.
- When I raced my first marathon the world best was the 2:15:16.2 run by Abebe Bikila in Rome in !960. There were less than ten marathons annually on the continent. Women did not run and men under 21 were not allowed in the Boston Marathon. There were no gels, no gatorade or GookinaidERG and many runners drank very little water unless it was very hot.
Last week I wrote that my first marathon took place on Labour Day 1961 and was billed as the Canadian and North American Championship. A couple of years ago Patti wrote that John Kelley told her that the weather that day was “Brutal”. I struggled home second (first Canadian) in 3:01.
About 7 months later I flew to Chicago to run in the first Annual Windy City Marathon. It was March and there was a snow storm the night before the race so we raced on a 2 mile stretch along the waterfront. The temoperature was in the 30s and there was some slush and a little ice on the road. 15 runners started and 9 finished. I won by 5 minutes in 2:31:16.8 which made me the fourth Canadian to run under 2:32. I never got warm in that race.
Six weeks later I was in Boston for the Boston Marathon. What an experience! There were only 181 male starters and no women. There were the same big crowds as there are today. In those days times were not as important as running to win. I went out with the leaders. I found the helicopter overhead a bit disconcerting. There was a flatbed truck and a bus travelling along with us. The eventual winner who ran 2:23:48 kept looking back and talking to a reporter. I heard the name Kelley several times. By the ten mile mark the 3 others in the lead pack were beginning to lose me. I had run just under my best ten miles. I was alone for most of the the rest of the race. I later found out where Kelley was as he driffted by me cutting the tangents beautifully at about half way. Also, another runner came up to my shoulder on the hills but that woke me up and he dropped off. I saw no other runners after half way. I remember thinking several times that I was done and I wanted to quit but that I could not do so while in the top ten. I came 5th in 2::31:49. (Arne Richards was 47th in 2:58:16)
Three weeks later I was in bed with a 101-102 fever from a severe case of mono. No one in our household had a car but we were lucky as doctors in those days made house calls. I was out of work for a month and then I worked half days and napped and started my comeback in the afternoons. It took months to gain strength and another while to regain confidence.
My next Boston Marathon race was the 1964 version. There were 369 entrants. There were no women. It was won by Vandendriessche in 2:19:59. I ran 2:57:25 and placed 66th. That race was the beginning of the Canadian Marathon Boom. Five runners from Ontario ran under 2:30 and placed in the top 12 nearly pushing me out of Canada’s top ten. (Eric Segal ran that year finishing 63rd in 2:56:30).
My next Boston Marathon was in 1967. Two women ran that year (Robert Gibb ran 3:27:45 and Katherine Switzer ran about 4:20). Dave McKenzie won in 2:15:45. I was 23rd in 2:30:26, my best Boston time and second best marathon time.
I was not back to Boston until 1971. By now there were 877 starters and 588 broke 3:30. Sara Berman (3:08:30) won over two other women) I was 25th in 2:31:07.
My final Boston Marathon was in 1974. By now there were 30 women in the race. Miki Gorman won in 2:47:11. I was able to run a mile or so with Miki. I finished 414th in 2:53:53. Neil Cusck won in 2:13:39 and 1266th place was 3:24:10 What a change since 1962!
The only time I broke 2:30 was in 1973 when I was second in the Orange Marathon. I was given a time of 2:28:22. My last marathon was in 1987 in Palos Verdes at age 51. I ran 3:28:47. After 26 years 44 completed marathon (with 6 additional DNFs)and two 50 K races I stopped running marathons. It was great fun competing and watching the tremendous changes in the sport. I have a lot of great memories! I have made many many friends!