"It's gonna be awful, especially the wind. It's the most difficult challenge," said Gerald Morais of Montreal, who ran the Boston Marathon in 1998 and whose goal today is to finish in 3:30.
The nearly 18,000 runners who gathered in Hopkinton for the 104th running of the Boston Marathon this morning huddled beneath tents and wrapped themselves in blankets, plastic bags, and anything else they could find to keep warm.
Despite the chill wind, estimated by forecasters to be about 15 to 20 miles per hour, the runners remained optimistic.
"It's perfect except for the headwind," said aptly-named Hal Goforth, 55, of San Diego, who finished first in the Boston Marathon in his age group in 1998, and second last year.
"I love it. I love the people," said Goforth, who will run his 23d consecutive marathon today. "I do it to try to keep up with John Kelley."
Goforth strolled around the Hopkinton athletes' village with his trainer, Wayne Karlson, 38, who races with Goforth to pace him. "I'm always chasing him," Goforth said.
An exercise physiologist, Goforth said he might run until he's 92, like Kelley. "But I'm beginning to suffer some injuries," he said.
His goal today is to finish in 2:46. His personal best is 2:28:32, achieved in Boston in 1981.
"A marathon is the ultimate challenge for people who want to run fast," he said.
Another veteran of marathons, Kerry Parker, 40, of Dallas, said he likes the fact that it was chilly this morning. "It's better this year than last. It was very hot," he said. Parker said he has run 27 marathons, and his goal today is to run 3:30.
Parker, a Web designer (www.kerryparker.com), said his personal best was 3:13 in Chicago in 1998.
Jo Ko of Tokyo, Japan, who does not speak English, had just one word to describe today: "Wind."
Runners lay inside huge tents napping, reading newspapers, drinking water, and eating bagels, the universal food of choice. A lot of runners walked around wrapped in yellow plastic bags adorned with a PowerBar logo. Many runners jumped up and down to keep warm in the chill air.
"It's torture just waiting for the race to start," said Anne Murphy of Tinderhook, NY. It's her first time running Boston, and only her second marathon. She qualified in Albany in October with a time of 3:35. "I'm not in peak form," she said, noting that she's nervous about the hills in Newton.
Although the New England Conservatory did its best to keep runners' minds off the cold by playing some lively jazz tunes, many nonetheless headed to the medical tent, set up on the high school grounds, in an effort to warm up.
"We've had a few people come in because of the cold," said Dr. Mark Bracken, a volunteer working in the medical tent. Unfortunately, he had only shelter to offer the runners. Next year, he said, he'd make sure he had blankets and heaters on hand.