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Feasting on marathon tradition

First-time runner heads for family's annual party

Shayna Ferrulo stretches before running in Newton. (Globe Staff Photo / Justine Ellement)
By Susan Smiley, Globe Correspondent, 4/8/2001

RAMINGHAM - Shayna Ferullo hasn't missed a Boston Marathon in all of her 20 years - but this is the first year she's actually running in the race.

''I told my family in January that I was going to run the Marathon, but I don't think they took me seriously,'' said Ferullo just minutes after completing a 20-mile run. ''But now that they know I'm really going to do it, they are excited.''

Usually, Ferullo watches the race from her grandparents' Framingham flat, where she and other guests gather to cheer as the sweaty competitors speed by. It's tradition.

''I don't think I've missed a single one,'' Ferullo said. ''I can remember so many specific things about each party each year - right down to what kind of food we ate. I look forward to it every year.''

Although the Ferullo family celebrates the Marathon heartily, no one ever actually thought about running.

''My family is Italian, so they like to eat,'' Ferullo said. ''That's why I think my grandparents started having the party - just because it's a good excuse to eat great food and get together with friends.''

Rena Ferullo confirms her granddaughter's suspicions: ''I like parties, I like to cook, and I like to see everyone eat.'' Rena bowls and husband Al plays a mean game of golf, but neither of them is a runner.

''We do walk our dog Buddy every day,'' Rena said.

The lack of running aside, they are Boston Marathon aficionados. For almost 40 years, the Ferullos owned a restaurant bearing their name and lived in the flat above their business. Rena cooked, Al tended bar, and friends and family often stopped in for a bite to eat and a little conversation.

At some point they got the idea to host a Marathon party at the restaurant, situated by the railroad tracks on Waverly Street. First, it was just about planning a special menu and giving out cups of water and orange slices to runners as they passed.

''The party has just mushroomed,'' Rena said.

Although the Ferullos sold their restaurant in 1992, they still have their annual party.

''We meet a lot of our old customers on that day,'' Al said. ''They have memories of the place and they come back.''

This year, just about everyone on the Ferullos' guest list knows that Shayna is running in the 2001 Boston Marathon. Banners are being made. Special food is being prepared. There is an extra bit of excitement in the air as party preparations unfold.

Ferullo is not sure why she wasn't inspired to try the Marathon until this year. She was an outstanding gymnast and soccer player at Algonquin High School, but never really embraced running.

''I don't think the idea of running a marathon ever occurred to me,'' Ferullo said. ''Twenty-six miles just seemed impossible. I mean, I played soccer in high school and I didn't even want to run the two miles we had to run at practice.''

Ferullo was a pole-vaulter, not a runner, with Algonquin's track team. The foray into Boston Marathon competition started very innocently last fall when a friend at Boston College, Anne McGuinnes, asked her if she wanted to start running just to stay in shape. The two college sophomores found what seemed like a reasonable training schedule on the Web site and began running.

''It was a good program, because it was very gradual,'' Ferullo said. ''When we started out, 6 miles seemed like a lot. But pretty soon I was running 6 miles, and then 7, then 9 ... and today I did 20 for the first time.''

After training together for a couple of months, the two women started toying with the idea of running the Boston Marathon.

They realized if they followed their program, they'd be more than ready to run 26 miles by April. Decision made; they were going for it.

McGuinnes and Ferullo run near the campus every day - past Dunkin' Donuts, past CVS, past whatever you have to pass to travel for 20 miles.

Having someone to train with and having good family support has helped Ferullo keep her focus.

''My mom is really, really excited. She's a pretty good runner too. I almost think if she did this, she'd do better than I would,'' Ferullo said.

And grandma and grandpa are thrilled, too. ''I think I've invited about 30 people this year and they all know about Shayna,'' Rena said. ''Shayna's mom is making a big banner or poster and we're going to put it up on our building for Shayna.''

As race day approaches, Ferullo admits she is getting a little nervous.

A pesky hamstring has given her trouble in the last month of her training and other little aches and pains have cropped up as she added miles to her training regime.

''My feet are kind of hurting,'' Ferullo admitted.

But, she added, ''the Boston Marathon is such a big thing with my family. It's always been a special day for us ... I don't really care what my time is; I just want to finish. Then I plan on going to my grandparents' party.''

That probably means Rena will be putting on some extra pasta for her carb-loading granddaughter.

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