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Heated battle, warm memories

Salazar and Beardsley left their footprints on the '82 Marathon

By Michael Vega, Globe Staff, 4/07/02

Their lives have taken divergent paths since intersecting on that ribbon of asphalt from Hopkinton to Boston for the 86th running of the Boston Marathon. In 1982, Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley were gladiators in singlets and running shoes.

They were marathoners of iron will, single-minded determination, and indefatigable spirit. But on that warm spring day 20 years ago, the cocksure Salazar, 23, and the unassuming Beardsley, three years Salazar's senior, engaged in a dangerous game of brinkmanship.

They pushed each other over 26 grueling miles and 385 yards, raising the ante to the limit of human endurance. It resulted in an epic ''Duel in the Sun'' between Salazar and Beardsley, the closest finish in Boston Marathon history to that point. It ended with a dehydrated and fatigued Salazar summoning his last ounce of strength in the final 150 yards to hold off a last-gasp kick by Beardsley.

Salazar, who was born in Cuba and raised in Wayland, crossed the tape 11/2 steps ahead of Beardsley to finish his one and only Boston Marathon in 2 hours 8 seconds 52 seconds, a course record. Beardsley, the Minnesotan who trained under Greater Boston Track Club coach Bill Squires, ran the race of his life, hoping to press the issue in the Newton hills and bring Salazar to his knees with a series of surges. But Salazar never broke, and Beardsley, whose right hamstring cramped in the final mile but came unknotted by a fortuitous false step in a pothole near the Eliot Lounge, finished two seconds back in 2:08:54.

Like a pair of punch-drunk prizefighters who had gone toe-to-toe for 15 rounds, Salazar and Beardsley fell into each other's arms at the finish near the Prudential Center.

Salazar, who became dangerously dehydrated after taking, by his count, no more than 21/2 cups of water out on the course, saluted the man who very nearly buried him.

''Great race, man,'' said Salazar. ''You pushed me harder than anybody's ever pushed me in my life.''

Salazar was then helped to the medical tent to have six liters of fluids pumped into his body. He had lost 10 pounds from his 145-pound frame.

''We almost put each other in the ground, seriously,'' remembered Beardsley. ''I might not have had to go into the medical tent afterward, but I probably should've. I mean, I was so hammered.

''I remember, my stomach, for a few days not being able to eat a whole lot. I had diarrhea. My right hamstring kept getting cramps. I didn't sleep good for a few nights. My whole body was cramped and I was really beat up, physically and mentally.

''Neither one of us ever ran that fast again after that race.''

But the lives of the two runners will intersect in Boston again, when the Boston Athletic Association recognizes the 20th anniversary of their duel a week from tomorrow, the day of the 106th Boston Marathon.

Catching up

''I'm in Portland [Ore.] now,'' Salazar said from his office at Nike headquarters. ''I moved from Eugene in 1992 when I started working for Nike. I work in the sports marketing division, in the running department.

''I do a lot of promotional work, public speaking, and help in the identification and contracting of athletes and elite runners, in particular.

''In 1981 when I graduated from the University of Oregon, I had a contract with Nike to represent them. In 1992, when I retired [as a marathon runner] I started working up here full-time.''

In 1983, Salazar had a raging case of bronchitis that lasted 4-5 months. It later developed into an asthma condition, which wasn't fully diagnosed until 1994.

''I couldn't go on a 1-mile jog without breathing heavy,'' he said.

Now 43, Salazar manages to run ''about 5-6 miles a day,'' he said. He and his wife, Molly, have three children: Tony, 19, a redshirt freshman defensive back at the University of Oregon; Alex, an 18-year-old high school senior; and Maria, 11.

Can he believe it's been 20 years since his magnificent Marathon feat?

''Sometimes it seems like it was yesterday, but most of the time it does seem like a long time ago,'' Salazar said. ''Obviously, people ask me about it a lot, but it's not something I, myself, will think about that much. It does seem like another lifetime.

''Running will always be a big part of my life. But I don't tend to reminisce about the good old days of running, because I'm having too much fun doing what I'm doing now.

''Certainly, when I do think about it, I do have good memories about it. It wasn't my fastest time, but it probably was my toughest race ever.''

A bumpy road

Salazar's postrace acknowledgement warmed Beardsley and helped him navigate the other potholes in his life.

''Probably the greatest compliment I've ever been paid by anybody was from Al right after the race,'' Beardsley recalled in a phone conversation from his home in Detroit Lakes, Minn. ''He said, `You pushed me harder than anybody's ever pushed me in my life.' That meant more to me than any race I'd ever won or any trophy I'd ever received. To come from him, it really meant a lot to me, it really did.''

After he retired from marathoning in 1988, Beardsley returned to Minnesota and took up dairy farming, a vocation that almost cost him his life in November 1989 when he was involved in a farm accident.

''I was unloading corn from a wagon up into a corn bin,'' Beardsley said. ''I got my leg caught in the power takeoff, which runs the auger, a long shaft that hooks back to the tractor and spins at 640 revolutions per minute, and I got my leg caught in it.

''It just beat the living tar out of me, about tore off my left leg and broke my right arm and all my ribs on my right side and punctured my right lung.

''It was just flopping me around and around and drilling me into the frozen ground. It was by the grace of God that I survived the darn thing.''

It was only the first of many trials for the resilient Beardsley, who was laid up for five months before returning to work.

In July 1992, Beardsley and his wife, Mary, were in an auto accident, blindsided by another driver. While his wife was not seriously hurt, Beardsley spent 15 days in the hospital with neck and back injuries.

The following January, while running in a snowstorm near Fargo, N.D., Beardsley was hit by a truck, putting him back in the hospital for another two weeks with leg, neck, and back injuries.

A month later, Beardsley was in another accident. This time, he rolled his Ford Bronco several times during a snowstorm, again suffering back and neck injuries.

In January 1994, Beardsley underwent back surgery, the first of three operations he would have in 10 months. The following year, he had surgery on his left knee.

In the course of his struggles, Beardsley developed an addiction to painkillers. He was arrested Sept. 30, 1996, for forging prescriptions. He had taken an old prescription form and photocopied it, forging the physician's signature.

Beardsley never did jail time, but he did community service and spent nine days in a psychiatric unit. After methadone treatment, Beardsley kicked his drug addiction in 1997.

He has been clean and sober for five years and recently authored a book, ''Staying the Course,'' which chronicled his struggles to overcome adversity time and again.

''The good Lord gave me the gift of being able to run, he gave me the gift of a positive attitude and a strong willpower,'' Beardsley said. ''There are certain things willpower helps you through, like running. Then you look at the other extreme, when you try to recover from an addiction, whether it be drugs or alcohol, I thought I could do it on willpower.

''If you think you're going to get through and stay in recovery and maintain your sobriety just through willpower, you won't last long. You've got to live the program and do the steps you learned in counseling and stuff.

''But I looked back at all the good things that happened in my life - and all the things that haven't been so good - and never once did I ask, `God, why is this happening to me?' There's a reason why it happened to me, and there's a reason why I survived.''

A gift of gab

Beardsley reasons that he was spared to take advantage of his ability to hold an audience while spinning a yarn, always with a message.

''I've always been kind of a yapper and stuff,'' he said. ''I mean, when I had a farm accident, because I was a marathoner, it got a lot of attention. It got into the papers and pretty soon everybody was talking about it.''

So, too, was Beardsley. He spoke about farm safety with farm groups, telling them of his horrific accident.

''The thing with my addiction, I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy,'' he said. ''But now I've been able to go out and talk to kids about drugs and alcohol and tell them the nasty parts of it. I really believe it will help somebody else not go through what I had to go through.''

It has led to a career as a motivational speaker and cohost of a morning radio program on a local country station. A fishing guide of local renown, Beardsley also hosts a local TV show and regionally syndicated radio program, ''The Fishing Scene.'' He's also a contributing writer for Marathon & Beyond magazine.

Beardsley, 46, also has been husband to ''St. Mary,'' as he calls his wife, and father to Andy, 18, whom them adopted from Honduras as a 16-month-old.

With so many demands on his time, Beardsley rises every day at 2:45 a.m. to take his black Labrador, Coal, out for a run.

''I do my run, then I go out and do my early-morning radio thing, and then I'm out on the water the rest of the day,'' Beardsley said.

On those predawn jaunts, Beardsley said, the memories of his duel with Salazar come flooding back.

''It's hard to believe that it's been 20 years already, because the memories, in my mind, it's almost like it just happened,'' he said. ''I go out and run every day and my knees hurt and I can't run faster anymore, but the memory of that day is still so vivid in my mind.

''It's still so incredible.''

Heated competition

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the Salazar-Beardsley duel was how they survived the attrition among the men's elite field to push a blistering sub-five-minute-mile pace. They shed Ed Mendoza and Bill Rodgers from the lead pack when they made a 4-mile charge through the Newton hills in 17:11, almost 31/2 minutes faster than the checkpoint record (20:45) set by Rodgers in his 1978 triumph. Then they sprinted to the finish to become the first two runners in Boston history to break the 2:09 barrier in the same race.

''And on such a hot day, too,'' marveled Rodgers, who wound up fourth in 2:12:38. ''But the most surprising thing of all was that everyone knew about Alberto Salazar. He had this image of Mr. Invincible. But no one figured that Dick Beardsley, who was far slower in the 10K, could ever challenge Alberto.''

Said Salazar, ''At the start I can remember looking around just before the race and thinking, `No one here is as fit as I am.' It didn't mean that I was going to win the race, but everything being the same, I felt no one was as fit as I was for that race.''

Salazar ran with an air of superiority. He had extensive track experience, he held the American records in the 5,000 and 10,000, and he had won his first two marathons - both in New York - in impressive fashion, with a 2:09:41 in 1980 and a world-record 2:08:13 in '81.

''Alberto was a proven quantity,'' Rodgers said. ''And Dick was not.''

Beardsley was a wild card. A newcomer to Boston who trained under Squires, Salazar's old GBTC mentor, Beardsley formulated a strategy to break the Wayland Wunderkind in the Newton hills.

''Squires knew me very well and, as a result, would know whatever strengths and weaknesses that I had,'' Salazar said. ''I knew that Dick Beardsley had been training in Georgia and had been flying up every couple of weeks to Boston to work out on Heartbreak Hill. So I knew his strategy was to try and beat me in the hills.

''Squires was probably thinking that I was more of a speed guy and Beardsley's best chance was to break me in the hills. So I knew that going into the race.''

Beardsley knew Salazar's speed would pose a problem, especially in the latter part of the race.

''He had just run a 27:30 10K on the track and so I knew he had some speed, at least more than I did,'' Beardsley said. ''It had been my strategy in other marathons to really try to make people hurt somewhere in that 16- to 20-mile range and knock the zap right out of them.''

When they came off Heartbreak Hill and rolled past Boston College, Salazar seemed to delight in withstanding Beardsley's attack in the hills.

''At that point I said to myself, `I gotcha now,''' Salazar said. ''I felt at that point he had taken a lot of good shots at me and had tried to break me several times. At that point I had the confidence to know he had taken his best shot.''

Said Beardsley, ''I was not going for the knockout there, I was just trying to knock the wind out of him and get him hurting through the hills, and, boy, the guy just hung. He hung tough.''

In addition to his struggles with dehydration, Salazar also battled a hamstring that had been tight from the starting gun.

''That day it was about 70 degrees and the wind was blowing slightly in your face and it was cooling you off,'' Salazar said. ''In my case, I underestimated how much water I was losing to perspiration. It was a dry day and quickly evaporating, so I didn't drink hardly at all and I got very dehydrated and it affected me at the end of the race.''

The final mile

After they battled for 8 miles, mano-a-mano, then came the final mile. It proved to be magical for Salazar, haunting for Beardsley.

Salazar had stalked Beardsley to that point and stayed tucked right behind the leader, waiting to make his move in the final 600 meters. Beardsley was sideswiped by the press bus as it tried to maneuver through the masses on Commonwealth Avenue, and later slowed by a cramp near Mass. Ave., which allowed Salazar to go by him.

''We were both dead,'' Beardsley said. ''I couldn't feel my legs and I was running on autopilot when I cramped up.

''For a split second, it hurt so bad, I didn't think I was going to be able to finish. Thank goodness the Boston Street Department missed one of their infamous potholes, because if they hadn't, you might not be talking to me right now.''

When Beardsley hit that pothole near the Eliot, it stretched out the cramped hamstring. But as he attempted to give chase to Salazar, Beardsley was cut off by a phalanx of motorcycle police. After he almost drew even with Salazar, he was nearly hit by a motorcycle as they made that final left-hand turn onto Ring Road.

''A lot of people made, I think, way more out of this motorcycle policeman,'' Beardsley said. ''I read some stories in the paper the next day that I had tire tracks on my back. That was not true.

''What happened was the poor guy on the motorbike was trying to keep the crowd back. As we were making that left-hand turn, Al was on the left, there was the motorcycle cop [in the middle], and I was on the right.

''The motorcycle cop didn't know I was there - he thought I was still way back - and so as we're making that left-hand turn, he was veering to the right to keep the crowd back.

''So I had to fight the interference and go up and around and jump over the front part of his tire to get back in line, which I did. I caught back up to Al and then I made the mistake of not knowing where the finish line was.''

Salazar had committed the same sin, but his speed and strength enabled him to outkick Beardsley.

Mutual admiration

When Salazar and Beardsley are reunited for the 106th Marathon, it'll be their first time together in the Hub since 1982.

Beardsley plans to run the race, as a gesture of thanks to the Boston fans who supported him that day 20 years ago and to those who came to his aid during his time of need. Salazar will not run, but he will attend several functions and make himself available to fans for questions and autographs at Runners Lounge at the Prudential shops Saturday at 1 p.m.

Last October, the two got together at the Twin Cities Marathon, where they reminisced and staged a ''tongue-in-cheek reenactment of our race,'' Salazar said.

''We ran a 10-mile race together and averaged a 6:30 pace and we both almost collapsed afterward,'' Salazar laughed. ''But we made a show of it at the finish and he ended up outsprinting me this time, by a second at the finish.

''I told Dick, `The next race is the tie-breaker, because we're now 1-1.' We had fun.''

Their competitive relationship has evolved into a mutual admiration.

''Oh, I'd say it's a friendship, definitely,'' Salazar said. ''I think both of us have gone on in life and we've both had our ups and downs and realized that the rest of our lives, our happiness, isn't really affected that much by what happened 20 years ago.

''We can let it affect us, but we have fun with it. He is the same as myself in that we look more towards the future. But we don't mind looking back and reminiscing about it.''

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 4/7/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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