NYC Marathon "Streakers" Going Strong, Especially Michael Capiraso

Friday afternoon in New York City I learned for the first time that the NYC Marathon has an annual gathering for streakers and long-timers--those who have run at least 15 NYC Marathons. I’m a big fan of road-race streakers, so I hurried over to the Tavern on the Green to meet a few. 

In 1993, the year before his death, Fred Lebow greeted
New York City Marathon finishers for the last time.
I found a large room bustling with more activity than I had imagined. There must have been two hundred people in attendance, maybe more. They were milling about, chatting boisterously, sipping water, and eating light snacks at dozens of small tables.  

It didn’t take me long to recognize 74-year-old New Yorker Dave Obelkevich, whose 41 straight finishes made him the leading streaker. We had first met a decade earlier in the middle of South Africa’s Comrades Marathon. I asked Dave to point out Connie Brown, 73, who had run 38 in a row. The Sarasota, Florida, resident looked 10 years younger than her age, popping up out of her chair for our introduction.

Next I searched out an old friend who I don’t see much any longer. Will Franks, 69, had run 29 straight NYC Marathons, making the annual trek from his home in Frederiksted, St. Croix. This year was more grueling than most. After Hurricane Maria, his house still had only half a roof and no electricity at all. “I can’t cook, we don’t have refrigeration, and I’m getting tired of hauling water out of the cistern,” he said. “It hasn’t been my best preparation for the marathon.” 

From left: Michael Capiraso, Mary Wittenberg, George Hirsch,
and Peter Ciaccia.
Moments later, Michael Capiraso, 55, grabbed a microphone to welcome everyone to the meeting. This was a revelation. Capiraso is the President and CEO of New York Road Runners, and a streaker to boot. In two days, he’d be running his 26th straight NYC Marathon.

Later I learned that this makes him the exception to the rule. It turns out the NYRR prohibits staff from entering the Marathon. It’s a day for all hands on deck, not for feet on the blue line. When he was hired six years ago, he was “grandfathered” out of the rule due to his already established 20-year running streak.

I find it easy to like the idea of a race director who runs his own race, though there haven’t been many, at least not in the big-time marathon world. In 1992, during a respite from the cancer that would claim his life two years later, NYC Marathon founding race director Fred Lebow famously ran his own event with Grete Waitz. They finished with a hug and tears in both sets of eyes. Which was likewise the condition of all who witnessed them.

In Boston, race director Dave McGillivray has completed 45 consecutive Boston Marathons, but most have come in solitary nighttime darkness a half-dozen hours after the day’s 30,000 runners have reached downtown Boston. “Running in the middle of the pack could give me a great perspective,” he said. “But I feel my first obligation is to monitor the start, the middle of the race, from a lead vehicle, and the finish. As far as Michael goes, there’s definitely value in experiencing what all the runners in your race are experiencing.”
Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon
race director.

Mary Wittenberg is an ace runner, but during her decade at the helm of the NYC Marathon, she never entered the event. “We had a much smaller team then, so it really wasn’t possible,” she said. “Besides I loved race directing, and being there for everyone else.”

Wittenberg says she seriously considered running the Marathon just once, in 2011, six months after nine-time winner Grete Waitz passed away. That November, Waitz’s husband, Jack, ran in his wife’s honor. “I came super close to running with Jack,” Wittenberg said. “I really wanted to. But in the end, I knew my role was to support everyone else, and to be at the finish for Jack, a moment I will never forget.” 

Despite her own choices, Wittenberg supports the notion of race directors taking part in their own events. “It’s a great way for the leaders to really know their city and the runner experience on race day,” she said. “Michael works super hard before the marathon, and purposefully doesn’t take any time off on marathon week. He’s on his feet and with the team as much as anyone else.”

Capiraso spent Sunday morning not just on his feet but working his butt off. For 25 miles, he ran at about 8:45 pace, just a tick or two slower than his PR, 3:49:45. The last mile rolls upward along Central Park South, then up again into the park itself to finish at the Tavern on the Green. Somehow, despite his weeks and months of intense marathon prep with hundreds of other New York Road Runners staff, Capiraso dug deep. He clicked off a 7:36 final mile to eclipse his best time by three seconds. I don’t think Shalane Flanagan pushed any harder.

NYRR’s chairman of the board, George Hirsch, and race director, Peter Ciaccia, were there to greet him. There was no time for high-fives and back-slappings. Capiraso went down hard. “This was one of those full-out collapses,” Hirsch said. “He couldn’t have stood on his own. He looked so pale and drawn, I was actually worried about him for a few moments.”

An hour later, reached by cell phone, Capiraso sounded fine, entirely composed. “I knew I was close to a PR that last mile, so I closed with everything I had,” he reported. “I worked really hard this fall in my training, with added strength work. I wanted to prove to myself that it had all paid off.”

Let’s review. Twenty-six years later. Age 55. A new marathon PR. That doesn’t happen every day. It never happens in the small group of major marathon executives. 

“When it came up six years ago, we didn’t have to debate long about giving Michael his exemption,” said Hirsch. “We’re runners. We understand streaks. These things are important.”

Dave Obelkevich finished in 6:25:46. Streak intact at 42 straight.

Lively Connie Brown finished in 6:04:02. Streak intact at 39. “The New York spectators outdo themselves year after year,” she said. “They give me so much energy as I run. By the time I reached the finish line, my cheeks were sore from all the smiling. I’ll come back as long as I am able.”

Paul Fetscher doesn’t have a streak, but the 71-year-old from Long Beach, New York, has more NYC Marathon finishes than anyone else. He missed the inaugural 1970 marathon totally within Central Park--the marathon didn’t extend to the five boroughs until 1976--but has started every NYC Marathon from 1971 onward. Fetscher has suffered blips along the way--several DNFs due to injury--but Sunday finished for the 43rd time in 5:27:42.

“I still enjoy the people and the sport so much,” he said. “As I was walking to the start, I must have exchanged, “Hey, good to see you are still out here” greetings with about 20 other runners. You get slower with age, but if you just keep moving, sooner or later you get there.”

My friend Will Franks from St. Croix had the toughest battle of them all, finishing in 6:39:10. “After my various food problems back home, I caught a bug or food poisoning on Saturday before the marathon,” he said. “I couldn’t keep anything down. I literally had no fuel on board Sunday. I had to walk the last 10 miles. On any other day of the year, I would have spent the day in bed.”

But not on NYC Marathon day. Especially not when you’re a streaker.

Headlines Glitter, But Endurance Sports Face Business Hurdles

The marathon and triathlon worlds showcased two of their most sparkling events in the last week--the Chicago Marathon, and the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Both glittered. Chicago featured a rare win by an American, Galen Rupp, and the second fastest marathon ever by a U.S. woman, the 2:20:57 (third place) recorded by Jordan Hasay. In Kona, Germany’s Patrick Lange set an Ironman Championship record, while Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf won her third straight title. 
The print edition of
Competitor Running will
cease publication.

Below the newspaper headlines, however, there are signs of strong cross-currents for both sports. The leading road-running and triathlon media--Runner’s World, Competitor Running, and Triathlete--have changed hands, or will shortly. Road race participation and running shoe sales have declined, and the world’s biggest endurance event organizer faces potential over-expansion woes. In a separate situation, California fires forced the weekend cancellation of the first big USA event by another eager player--Virgin Sports. 

Multiple business-news stories have warned that Chinese conglomerate, Dalian Wanda, which owns both the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC, ie, all Ironman events) and the Rock n Roll Marathon franchise, is significantly over-leveraged. Asian banks are said to be eyeing Dalian carefully, and perhaps asking for the liquidation of some assets.

That could be one reason for Dalian’s abrupt sale on Thursday of the Competitor Group media properties. The new owner is Boulder-based Pocket Outdoor Media, whose principals owned many of the same properties a decade ago. Pocket CEO Felix Magowan says his company will continue to produce Velo News, Triathlon, and Women’s Running, and all their associated websites. It will also maintain the Competitor Running web site, but will cease publishing Competitor Running magazine. “The minute we stop the production and distribution of Competitor magazine, we get a huge positive delta in our business,” he says. “Competitor lost forty percent of its advertising in the last two years after it contracted out its ad sales.”

Pocket will also carry on with Velo Press books. Magowan says the book operation, which he launched 20 years ago,  is “an unappreciated little jewel” that has become the country’s leading publisher of running and bicycling titles. 

Runner’s World’s owner, Rodale Inc., of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, announced in June that it was seeking a buyer. In late September, the New York Post reported that Hearst, a large, diversified New York City media company, was the likely new owner. The deal has not been confirmed. Since both Rodale and Hearst are private companies, few details have emerged. 
Running shoe sales have
declined.
Earlier this year, Running USA reported in its annual Road Race Trends analysis that “For the third straight year, the number of road race finishers declined in the United States.”  Running shoe companies and retail stores have been hard hit. Foot Locker’s stock has plunged 50 percent in the last year, mostly in the last five months. The world’s biggest sporting goods retailer, Sports Authority, was forced to close a year ago, and couldn’t find a buyer. 


Nike, normally immune, has declined 15 percent in the last two months, and recently held a 40-percent off flash sale that one analyst called “unprecedented.” Under Armour stock has also declined 50 percent in a year. Adidas has bucked the trend, apparently riding a rise in popularity among teens. Its stock has risen almost 25 percent in a year. 

Dalian Wanda, owned by China’s second richest man, Wang Jianlin, bought the Rock n Roll Marathon race series four months ago. Just two years earlier, it had acquired the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), which owns the Ironman Triathlon events. In business circles, Dalian is often described as “the company that wants to be the Disney World and ESPN of China.” 

In recent months, press reports have indicated that Dalian might have undertaken too-large a shopping spree. It has supposedly bought more than $20 billion in new ventures since early 2016. The company may now face debt pressures, and was refused bank loans for a $1 billion purchase of Dick Clark Productions. 

Endurance sport insiders also believe that Dalian might have overpaid for the World Triathlon Corporation, which it reportedly bought from an investment group for $650 million in 2015. In 2008, the prior owners had picked up the WTC for about $85 million. 

The Rock n Roll races were the first big series in the U.S. to end up in the hands of investment firms. Others have followed, hoping to climb onto an ever-rising wave. Previously road races were primarily organized by local running clubs, who invested little and expected little. They simply wanted to offer their members the occasional race experience.

Now, if the wave is breaking, a certain amount of industry chaos is inevitable. That’s what happens when market expansion loses its oomph.

Two years ago, Mary Wittenberg joined Virgin Sports after leaving her CEO position at New York Road Runners. According to the web site of Virgin Sports, owned by the internationally famous Richard Branson, the company hopes “to get millions of people moving through irresistible, inclusive and entertaining athletic events.”

The first big U.S. event of this kind was scheduled to be the Virgin Sport San Francisco Festival of Fitness on October 15 with a half marathon, other fitness activities, and appearances by Sara and Ryan Hall. Last Thursday, October 12, the weekend festival was cancelled, with organizers saying their didn’t want to threaten the health of attendees, or burden “valuable Bay Area first responders and resources that can better be used elsewhere. 

Registered participants were assured that their fees would be refunded. In addition, Virgin Sports and ASICS each committed $25,000 to the Northern California coastal region of Red Cross. Wittenberg was also race director of the New York City Marathon in 2012 when it had to be cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath. The New York Road Runners held a Lloyds of London insurance policy for their marathon, and according to Insurance Journal received $15 million after Sandy. Virgin Sports may have carried similar protection. At any rate, the web site is already talking about another San Francisco event in 2018.

Rock n Roll adds its first Chinese
race in two weeks.
Despite some challenges, running participation remains at a very high level, with Running USA reporting that almost 17 million runners crossed a finish line in 2016. Events organized by traditional clubs like the New York Road Runners, Boston Athletic Association, Atlanta Track Club, and others appear to be robust. 

Even Dalian might find a bright new frontier in its home country where marathon races are growing at a China-like rate, from just over 100 in 2015 to nearly 400 last year. Dalian has also inked a 10-year agreement with the World Marathon Majors, apparently designed to create another major marathon in China during that decade. On October 28, with co-sponsorship from United Airlines, Dalian will hold the first Rock n Roll race in China. It will take place in Chengdu, a city of 14.5 million.

If Runner’s World ends up at Hearst, it will be owned by a company far bigger, and with more resources, than Rodale. Pocket CEO Magowan says his new properties are doing well on the Internet. He intends to focus at first on rebuilding magazine ad sales with an in-house staff. “We are not private equity buyers,” Magowan noted in a press release. “My partners and I see ourselves as long-term investors, and our goal is to improve the product across all platforms. We have ambitious growth plans, and want to restore these brands to their historical industry leadership positions as quickly as possible.”

Running shoe sales will do what running shoe sales have always done: follow the trends of the larger consumer audience.

In a period of flux, it seems likely that companies chasing after speculative endurance-event dollars may suffer. Those that focus on core participants should eventually prosper again, and grow even stronger.


Joan B Samuelson And Doug Kurtis: Two Long Running Marathon Greats

[Note: I wrote this story over several days prior to Samuelson's announcement, Wednesday afternoon, that she would not be racing in Sunday's Chicago Marathon, due to injury-limited training. I think much of the information and analysis is still interesting.]

Among marathon runners, who is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT)? It depends, of course, on your criteria.

If you choose only by world records, things are simple. You would opt for Dennis Kimetto (2:02:57) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25). If you believe, on the other hand, that the Olympics are the ultimate test, you might select Abebe Bikila. He won successive Olympic Marathons in 1960 and 1964, and set world records in both efforts.
Benoit Samuelson has scratched from
Sunday's Chicago Marathon.

There are other good measures, as well. For example: continued excellence through many years. After all, the marathon is an endurance test. Let’s see what runners have produced top results over long periods of time--decades. By this yardstick, Joan Benoit Samuelson leads the pack.

On Sunday in Chicago, Samuelson hopes to continue her high-level marathon career by becoming the first woman over-age-60 to break three hours in the marathon. According to the Association of Road Race Statisticians (ARRS), the current world record for a 60-year-old woman is the 3:01:30 that New Zealand’s Bernardine Portenski ran in 2010 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia.

Samuelson has run many other impressive marathons, including two Boston Marathon wins, an Olympic Marathon victory, and her personal best (2:21:21) at Chicago in 1985. After that, she entered a quiet period, raising two children. But she stormed back into the spotlight at the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, when she broke 2:50 at age 50.

Two-and-one-half years later, at 53, she set a single-age world record at Chicago, running 2:47:50. Her last fast marathon (2:54:26, Boston 2015, at one month short of 58 years) would also be a single-age world record, except the ARRS does not accept Boston for record performances. Benoit’s first fast marathon was a 2:31:23 she ran in New Zealand in 1980.

Doug Kurtis’s long marathon career followed a similar trajectory. His first fast marathon was a 2:30:31 at Boston in 1975. Thirty-eight years, six months, and six days later, Kurtis ran a 2:59:07 (at age 61) in the Detroit Free Press Marathon in October, 2013. It was his 200th sub-3-hour marathon, a record.
Kurtis ran 200 sub-3:00s.

“That last sub-3 didn’t come easy,” Kurtis told me several days ago. “I had to run 70 miles a week, and do speed work on the track with friends from my running club. Without them, I would never have made it. The older you get, the harder it is to push it alone in your training.”

The most interesting question to ask about Samuelson, Kurtis, and other long-performing runners is this one: How much did they slow down per year (or decade, etc)? The following Table shows the basic data. Samuelson has slowed only .43 percent per year (4.3 percent/decade) over 35 years and 2 months. Kurtis slowed .49 percent per year over a longer period, 38 years and six months.

Marathon Slow-Down Rates of Joan Benoit Samuelson and Doug Kurtis


First fast 26.2
Recent 26.2
Yrs Between
% Slow Down
% /year
Samuelson
2:31:23
Feb. 1980
2:54:26
Apr. 2015
35 yrs, 2 mos
15.19%
.43 % /year
Kurtis
2:30:31
Apr. 1975
2:59:06
Oct. 2013
38 yrs, 6 mos.
19.0%
.49 % /year

Those who remember Ed Whitlock’s incredible marathons into his mid-80s might imagine that he exceeded Samuelson and Kurtis. But, no, at least not on the slow-down-per-year metric. Whitlock’s strong late-life running began with a 2:50:22 when he was 63.

Twenty-two years later, he ran 3:56:38 at age 85. No one younger than Whitlock has ever broken 4 hours, but his per-year slowdown rate is 1.73% per year, much greater than Samuelson and Kurtis. Of course, he started much later than they did, and the post-60 years are a far tougher place to begin than the early 20s.

Samuelson’s longevity also shines in comparison to the younger U.S. stars in the generation that followed her. Meb Keflezighi will run his final serious marathon this fall in New York City at age 42, and Deena Kastor ran her last fast marathon two years ago in Chicago, also at 42. It doesn’t appear that they’ll be aiming for fast performances in another 20 years.

Thus far in 2017, Samuelson’s best race has been a 64:01 in the Cherry Blossom 10-mile in early April. That’s roughly equivalent to a 2:59 marathon. Her other races have been slightly slower, including a 3:12:27 at the Sugarloaf Marathon in mid-May. She ran there primarily to support a friend’s fund-raising.

In the early 1980s, famed physiologist-coach Jack Daniels, PhD, tested Samuelson in several Nike sport-science labs. She achieved a vo2 max level of 78.6 ml/kg/min, thought to be the highest ever obtained by a woman, and the same as Alberto Salazar, who could run a dozen minutes faster than Samuelson in the marathon. Why? Because Salazar had an exceptionally high running economy, says Daniels, whereas Samuelson’s was merely “average” for top runners. According to Daniels’s calculations, if Samuelson could run a 2:59 on Sunday, that would be equivalent to a 2:22 by an athlete in her prime. “It all depends on her training,” he adds. According to the official age-graded calculator of the World Masters Athletics association, the equivalent open division time would be 2:18. (Here’s the WMA age-graded calculator at RunnersWorld.com.) USA Track & Field lists tops American age-graded marathons by women here. Sunday’s weather will be a big factor for Samuelson, who couldn’t be reached for comment on her preparations. The current outlook is somewhat warmer and breezier than optimal. However, Samuelson has a strong record of fast races in Chicago. And no one doubts her ability or focus. “She’s so talented and has so much drive,” says Doug Kurtis. “I think she’ll make her sub-3 goal.”

Coach Jeff Billing and the Hall High "coaches' challenge"

Coach Jeff Billing addresses Hall High cross-country tream
Jeff has a better way. By "Jeff," I mean Jeff Billing, the cross-country coach at Hall High School in West Hartford, Connecticut. (Who also happens to be my nephew.) By “better way,”  I’m referring to the pre-season time trial that thousands of high-school coaches use to kick off the fall season.  

No doubt, the time-trial represents a long and honored tradition. Still, it has limitations. “A lot of the runners, especially the young ones, go out way too fast and blow up,” Jeff notes. “That means it’s not a good gauge of their fitness, or how to plan their training. Plus, it’s so demoralizing to the ones in the back. How can anyone pretend it’s a positive race experience for them?

Jeff calls his better way the “coaches' challenge.” Basically, it amounts to a series of controlled-pace 3200-meter races on the track, with each runner placed in an appropriate heat. Special guests and alums are invited to pace each group. They alone are given the goal time selected by Jeff and the other Hall coaches. None of the high school runners knows what the pace will be, and they are not allowed to wear a watch. 
Hall runners chase Ev Hackett at beginning of last lap.


The high schoolers receive just one instruction. “This will be the simplest race of your life,” Billing tells them. “Just stay with the pace leader as long as you can. When it starts to get hard, toughen up and hang in there. Stay with the pace.”

They are also told they can run the last lap as fast as they want. But until then, they must stay behind the pacer. No exceptions.

A week ago, when Jeff mentioned that he expected 120 runners at this year’s coaches’ challenge, I was intrigued. He said they would run in 11 different heats. Heat 1 would aim for 5:05 pace. Heat 9 would aim for 8:00 pace. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “ I can do that.” 

Which explains how, Monday evening on the Hall High track, a slow and stiff-striding 71-year-old former Boston Marathon winner lined up with a bunch of 14-year-old ninth-graders. “This is going to be fun,” I told them seconds before we stepped onto the track. “Just so long as you don’t try to pass the old guy.”

My comment elicited no responses. Not even a changed expression. I scanned the kids’ faces. They looked pale and slightly frightened. “Most of them have probably never run a race of any kind before,” Jeff had told me earlier. 


Jeff Billing, teacher and coach
Before we continue, a few more words about my nephew. Jeff graduated from MIT 15 years ago with a masters degree in artificial intelligence. He quickly inked a signing bonus with one of those famous Silicon Valley outfits. 

Jeff lasted two years in the big-brain world. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do the work. He just didn’t give a damn. It was so … un-fun and un-fulfilling. Jeff wasn’t born to write code. He was born to teach and coach.

Jeff quit his tech job, took a 50 percent pay cut, and began teaching math and coaching sports in a public high school. He’s been at it ever since. I’m biased of course; uncles have certain rights. But if you happen to have a youngster who’s interested in math and running, I’d suggest you check out the West Hartford real-estate listings right now.

The thing about Jeff is, he doesn’t match your MIT stereotype. Oh, he’s plenty quick with numbers. But it’s his smile, enthusiasm, and excitement over every life opportunity that stands out. It’s not by-chance-alone that Hall has 120 runners (and growing) in its cross-country program. This is genuine cause-and-effect. The kids love being on Jeff’s teams, as much as he loves figuring out the right pace, training, and year-over-year progression for them. Yes, the MIT math proves helpful.

Heat 1 is led by sub-1:05 half-marathoner Everett Hackett, an assistant coach at Hall. He’s joined by recent Yale grad and 3:58 miler James Randon, and about 15 high schoolers, many from a particularly talented Hall junior class.  Two years earlier, at the 2015 coaches’ challenge, several of these runners, then freshman, had finished in 11:10.

Tonight, while they don’t know their pace, the top kids show no fear of Hackett. They’re hard on his heels. After six laps, a few drift astern. Billing rushes onto the track, and begins screaming encouragement, his face reddening: “Hang in there, Patrick! Get back up on there, Dylan! You can do it!”

At the end of lap seven, several Hall runners surge past Hackett with impressive sprints. They can’t hold him off the whole way to the tape, nor Landon, but they run in the low 60s for their final 400, finishing in 9:51 and 9:53. Hall’s sixth runner clocks a 10:07, the ninth runner, a 10:17.

Thirty seconds later, Hackett is leading heat 2 off the line, this time running a 5:20 pace. The first girl, Frankie Lynch, starts in heat 3, aiming for 5:50 pace. She falls off after the mile, but still finishes in close to 12 minutes, and gets plenty of support along the way. “I tell everyone on the team, ‘If you’re not warming up, racing, or cooling down, then you’d better be cheering for a teammate,” says Billing. “There is no down-time in cross-country.”
Ninth-graders prepare to pass Burfoot brothers
(Amby in red; Gary in green)


In heat 9, I take the inside lane, and set out on our appointed rounds, anxiously checking my wristwatch every 100 meters or so. How long has it been since I’ve run a track race? At least 10 years. My brother, 68, runs at my side. “A little too fast,” he says at the mile. But we’ve clocked a 7:55, close enough.

The next three laps, I’m aware of two things. First, there’s a kid practically bumping shoulders with us who is running way over his head. His breath sounds deep and raspy. “I’m done,” he says suddenly on the sixth lap, collapsing to the infield. Second, I’m working hard while some of the ninth-graders a stride back appear to be going easy.

On the last lap, a handful of them blast around my brother and me. We had been running roughly 120 seconds per lap, but they cover the final 400 in 80 seconds. My brother hits 93. I stagger to the finish with a 110 for the last 400, and 15:45 for the two miles. 

“For a lot of the freshman, I think the coaches’ challenge illuminates what cross-country means to all of us at Hall,” team co-captain Erik Zeiberg emails me the next morning. “I know they wouldn’t say this out loud, but I’m confident many of them were thinking, ‘Wow, I didn’t know running could be so much fun!’ ”
Betty Remigino


Heat 11 is led by an Olympian … or the next closest thing. Sixty-two year old Betty Remigino, recently retired as athletic director at Hall, carries a last name that’s much revered around Hartford. In 1952, her father, Lindy Remigino, won the Olympic 100-meters. Betty’s no slouch herself, easily running 9:00 pace to lead her group.

A few minutes later, Jeff summons everyone to the center of the football field. “Three, two, one, quiet,” he says, raising his right arm. “I hope you had fun tonight,” he continues. “I hope you’re happy with your time, and enjoyed cheering for your teammates. Most of all, I hope you’re thinking about your goals for this season.”

That seems possible. The huge space--football field, track, bleachers, and surrounding soccer fields--has gone completely still. There’s not a word, whisper, or rustle. 

Looking Forward To The Real Boston Marathon Movie

Several producers of the official Boston Marathon movie have told me that Bill Rodgers and I play a significant part in their film. I’ve also been told that I say some funny stuff. This makes me nervous. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure the movie will be the best ever on marathon races. Director Jon Dunham has previously done outstanding feature films about the Chicago Marathon and the Rome Marathon. And unofficial Boston Marathon historian Tom Derderian is executive producer; he'll make sure all the facts line up right. The movie opens Saturday evening in Boston at a sold-out premier, and then around the country on one night only, Wed, April 19. See here for a theater near you.

My concern is this: Funny? Funny is close cousin to silly and stupid. I hope I don't say or do anything dumb in the movie.

First, the good news. You won’t be subjected to my lame attempts at Argentine tango dancing with my wife. Cristina moves like a goddess. Me, not so much. Director Dunham dutifully followed us to our lesson, and filmed my robotic tango. But he had the good sense to cut the footage.

Same for my explanation of the muesli-like concoction I often prepare for breakfast. “I start with oatmeal, add a lot of nuts, seed, and raisins, and top with allspice and a light stream of maple syrup.” Jon filmed the entire step-by-step process, but I could tell I was no Swedish Chef, Julia Child, or Mario Batali.

The truth is, I know almost nothing about the movie. Those in charge have been as secretive as magazine editors who keep their next issue under wraps. I know that world. Fine with me. But here’s where I'm secretly hoping to see myself in the film.

Dunham filmed Rodgers and me running up and down the Boston Marathon’s infamous Newton hills and standing beside the double statue of  “Old John” A. Kelley (as a young runner, and later a veteran.) History, tradition, and “passing the torch” are important to gnarly New England roadies like me and Bill. For a half-century, Old John was the most famous runner in the Boston Marathon, no matter what the year or who the ultimate winner. I don’t remember what Bill and I said about him, but I’m sure it conveyed our deep respect. His story deserves to be retold, and his memory honored.

I feel an even stronger personal connection to “Young John” Kelley, my high-school coach and 1957 Boston Marathon winner (the only member of the BAA running club ever to win the BAA Boston Marathon). It would be nice to see a clip from the Kelley statue dedication in downtown Mystic, Connecticut. I wore my high-school letter sweater that day to recall my early link to Kelley, and noted that he would have laughed heartily at the statue’s location next to the famous Mystic Pizza shop.

Of course the movie, a history of Boston’s long, proud marathon legacy, can't escape references to the bomb explosions of 2013. Much of the live action was filmed the following year when 36,000 of us celebrated our own, and the city of Boston’s, resilience in the face of the bombing tragedy. No one who ran or watched in 2014 will ever forget the high emotion and energy. “We’re back, baby, and we own this place!”

I ran the 2014 Boston, and the two since then, for the Martin Richard Foundation and Martin’s lasting message: “No more hurting people.” Cristina, a big John Lennon fan, ran with a t-shirt saying: “Imagine peace.” The picture of us together just beyond the finish line is one of my favorites. I wonder if that photo found its way into the movie?

If I made a funny remark on camera, it was probably about the time Cristina called my cell phone while I was still on the Boston course. I like to quip, “Like any red-blooded American male, I rarely do what my wife tells me.” This time was different. I had just reached an unexpected roadblock at the 25 mile mark. Yes, it was 2013. 

“There have been some explosions at the finish line,” Cristina said. “Don’t you dare keep running. Walk back to the hotel.” I had never heard such urgency in her voice, and I followed every syllable of her instructions.

Lastly, it would be nice if the movie mentioned my new favorite Boston Marathon activity. Starting in 2014, I’ve been handing out thank-you cards to spectators along the route. Mostly I steer toward the youngsters with outstretched hands--the kids hoping for a “slap me five.”

I give them that and a little more. The Boston Marathon is a great New England tradition, and the best and biggest piece of all is the multiple generations of roadside fans. I figure it’s never too soon to encourage the youngest among them. They’re the Boston Marathon runners, and supporters, of tomorrow. Let's keep 'em coming.