Whatever their individual motivations are, the Boston Marathon will push local runners to the limit.
Dan Thayer got his from an ill-timed nor’easter. For Rick Abradi, absence did, indeed, make the heart grow fonder. Debbie Moreau wanted to lose a little bit of weight.
No matter the reason for their motivation, all three runners will join five other local athletes and will be three of 153 official participants from Maine in Monday’s running of the 110th Boston Marathon.
Thayer, 48, is running in his fifth consecutive Boston race, Moreau, 34, in her fourth overall and for Abradi, 47, this will be a new experience – sort of.
“My first (marathon) was back in 1991, and it almost cured me of running altogether,” quipped Abradi. “It was a very difficult experience. I wasn’t as prepared as I needed to be.”
A few years passed, and Abradi once again got the itch.
“I kind of ramped up over a few years,” said Abradi. I ran a half-marathon down in Portland, ran a pretty good time, so I said, Well, let me try the next step.'”
With a bit of extra confidence, Abradi entered the Sugarloaf marathon and ran seven minutes better than the minimum qualifying standard for his age bracket.
“I had no choice at that point,” Abradi said. “I wasn’t going to qualify and not race.”
Thayer recalled his first experience trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and he, too had a rough go at it, though instead of causing him to relax, it drove him harder.
“I trained very hard that first year,” said Thayer. “I got involved late in the season, and the last qualifying race I know of is in Hyannis (Massachusetts), it’s held in February. A couple of friends who are experienced marathoners said they’d done it the last two years, and Cape Cod, in February will probably be a long-sleeve shirt and shorts race, a little cool, but I like running in cool weather because it keeps my body temperature down.”
Thayer got a lot more than he bargained for, and “cool” might have been the understatement of his life to that point.
“Wouldn’t you know we had a nor’easter that day and we were standing ready for the start of the race, we had about 5 inches of fresh snow. The footing was OK then. Those of us who train up here in Maine, it’s not that bad.”
Thayer paused, smirked and continued.
“But it turned to freezing rain and driving wind,” Thayer went on. “And it turned into slush. They didn’t plow the roads and they salted them, so it was just about 3 or 4 inches of wet slush. It was a horribly bitter day. The course itself was two laps around a closed course, and by the second lap most of the volunteers had gone home, and the water in the cups at the water stations was frozen.”
Thayer barely missed qualifying, and vowed that wouldn’t happen again.
“The next fall, I came back and qualified for my first one. I was better prepared for that one.”
Moreau, meanwhile, just wanted to shed a few pounds.
“I actually started running just to lose weight,” said Moreau. “I’m only 5-feet, a half-inch tall, and I tend to do the longer runs better than the shorter ones. My 10K is better than my 5K. I’m competitive by nature, and I had run in high school.”
After her first big marathon, Moreau had two kids. She has run at Boston since.
Weathering the race
The adage warns people who visit New England to just “wait a minute” if they don’t like the current weather. During no other season is that so true as in the spring, and with the Boston Marathon set squarely on the third Monday in April (Patriot’s Day) every year since 1969, the weather can be as unpredictable as who wins.
“The biggest factor for me has been the weather,” said Moreau. “It’s supposed to be 50 degrees and cloudy on Monday, which is good.”
The last two years, the weather hasn’t cooperated with cold-weather-trained athletes like Moreau, with temperatures soaring to summer-like highs in the low 80s.
“I ran my two worst times in marathons in those races,” said Moreau. “The first year I didn’t notice Heartbreak Hill all that much, but the last couple, with the temperatures, I had to walk it. It was frustrating.”
But to train properly, athletes in the Northeast have little options.
“Boston, I think, is he toughest one to train for,” said Thayer. “You have to train all winter, getting up at 4:30 in the morning to run before work. You’re getting up when it’s cold and dark and you’re by yourself, and it’s a lot easier just roll over and pull the blankets back over your head. That makes Boston tough, that, and giving up good ski days.”
With a job at the NewPage Mill in Rumford and a more-than-one-hour commute each day, Abradi finds it easier to run after work, and sometimes even during lunch.
“There’s a group of guys up at work that run at lunchtime,” said Abradi. “So I can usually get a good three, four or five mile run in then. In the winter months, getting home at five-thirty, six o’clock and having to run at night is tough. By getting those runs in in the daytime, that really helps. There weren’t too many days where the weather was too much of a problem, either, but running in the rain and the cold and all that, you just do it.”
Intricacies of the course
Those who have raced Boston before know the race is unique, not only for the time of the year during which its is run, but for the course itself.
“Boston is an unusual course,” said Thayer. “It’s deceptively difficult. I had my personal best marathon on one of the toughest courses in the world in Athens, Greece, and I thought that once I had conquered that that Boston would be a cake walk. If you look at the course profile, there’s a significant amount of downhill, so you think it’s going to be easy, but the tendency, then, is to go out too fast. You have to restrain yourself.”
Abradi, has heard the same thing, though he has yet to experience it for himself.
“I’ve had people tell me to be careful at the start,” said Abradi. “It’s a downhill start, and the crowd and the whole excitement to be there, you have to worry about not going out too fast. That could be a real problem. I’m going to have to watch the pacing.”
Still, there are some runners, like Moreau, who expect – and like – to get caught up in the moment at the start.
“The whole thing is awesome,” said Moreau, “but at the start, for about a mile in front of you, all you see is a sea of people. You see everybody, and because it’s downhill, you can see it all very well. It’s very pretty at the beginning, and with all the fans, it’s incredible.”
The starting line is also the best chance most runners will get to be close to the world class athletes entered in the race, another unique piece of being involved in such a prestigious race.
“About as close I’ll ever get to the elite runners is at the start line,” said Thayer. “It always kills me to think that when I’m hurting the most out there, that I realize the elites are probably already showered and on a plane. That’s a little bit of the Walter Mitty in us all, I guess.”
Goals and motivation
Most of the runners you talk to today will say they are addicted – in a good way – to the sport in some capacity. Some like it simply for the camaraderie it provides, other for the fitness level and still others for the competitive aspect races can provide. Abradi, after first saying that this Boston Marathon will likely be his last in addition to his first, reconsidered.
“When I first got back into it, I said it was going to be a one-time thing,” said Abradi, “but I may do other marathons. Just the whole logistics of getting down to Boston and hotels and planning a whole year ahead of time, but I don’t know. If I really enjoy it, I just may have to keep doing it.”
Thayer doesn’t see himself slowing down at all. Now a veteran of 17 marathons, it’s become part of his life.
“All of us that do marathons have different reasons,” said Thayer. “Very few of us do it to win the race outright, there’s a very small percentage. We’re questioned frequently, why do we do it. It’s a very goal-oriented sport. There’s a very personal level of satisfaction. You develop a goal, you develop a strategy to achieve that goal, and then you give it everything you have. In business (Thayer is the president and CEO of Thayer Corp. in Auburn), there’s no finish line, no crowd cheering. Running a race, there’s a finite end, a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.”