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Boston Marathon Course section


Runyan finishes fifth after an uphill battle

By Jim McCabe, Globe Staff, 4/22/2003


Road rave
Zakharova takes women's title
Boston street smarts
Kimutai got over the hump
Runyan fifth after battle
Denisova knew her place: 2d
Hellebuyck leads the way
Ripp, Van Dyk: Spin control
Russian contingent was rushin'
Wellesley voices carry
Heart, sole are put to the test
Hopkinton's just the beginning
Pushing the human body
Up-close view for this father
Girl OK after wheelchair collision
In the running

R. Cheruiyot 2:10:11
Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai 2:10:34
Martin Lel 2:11:11
Timothy Cherigat 2:11:28
Christopher Cheboiboch 2:12:45
Fedor V. Ryzhov 2:15:29
Rodgers Rop 2:16:14
David Kiptum Busienei 2:16:16
Elly K. Rono 2:17:00
Eddy Hellebuyck 2:17:18
| Men's Top 25 |

Svetlana Zakharova 2:25:20
Lyubov Denisova 2:26:51
Joyce Chepchumba 2:27:20
Margaret Okaya 2:27:39
Marla Runyan 2:30:28
Albina Ivanova 2:30:57
Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova 2:31:30
Milena Glusac 2:37:32
Jill Gaitenby 2:38:19
Esther Kiplagat 2:38:43
| Women's Top 25 |

Ernst F. Van Dyk1:28:32
Krige Schabort1:30:07
Kelly Smith 1:30:52
| Complete list (men & women) |

Christina Ripp1:54:47
Cheri A. Blauwet1:54:57
Edith Hunkeler1:56:54
| Complete list (men & women) |

Search BAA database of all finishers

For more than 2 1/2 hours and 26 miles yesterday, Marla Runyan was on her own. Amid a sea of human interest stories at the 107th running of the Boston Marathon, Runyan stood out as a solitary profile in courage, very much up to this grueling challenge.

It wasn't until she faced those six slight steps to the stage at the postrace press conference at the Fairmont Copley Plaza that the 34-year-old from Eugene, Ore., sought assistance. Her husband, Matt Lonergan, was a shoulder to lean on as Runyan gingerly got help for the first time all day. Things had not gone exactly as planned, at least not when compared with the other marathon she had run, last fall in New York City.

''Obviously,'' said Runyan, ''it was a very different experience. I wasn't feeling as recovered as I was when I went into New York. Maybe I tried to overprepare for this one too much.''

Though Runyan was to many as much a winner of the women's race as was Svetlana Zakharova of Russia, it was impossible to miss the disappointment in her voice. Running just her second marathon, Runyan finished fifth, her time of 2:30:28 good enough to make her the top American but nearly five minutes behind Zakharova (2:25:20). Forget that she is legally blind, forget that she just recently turned her attention to these endurance tests, forget that she was experiencing the brutal hills of this 26.2-mile route for the first time; Runyan had come in with a game plan, and that game plan did not pan out.

''I think the course is a great course here in Boston,'' said Runyan, who at 9 was stricken with Stargardt's disease, a degenerative disorder that is the most common cause of blindness in the US. ''But I think it's easier to handle when you're more rested and it's not so warm. It was hot today.

''I had trained to run 2:24 or 2:25. That was my goal when I came here, and we were right on that pace for halfway.''

Indeed, she was jockeying for the lead throughout the early going, second at 3 miles, still second at 6 miles, and by a whisper she was the leader at 9 miles. ''I felt like I had good rhythm,'' she said.

At 12 miles, then again at 15, the women's lead pack was crowded, with Zakharova, Runyan, Lyubov Denisova, and defending champ Margaret Okayo pushing one another. But it was shortly thereafter that Zakharova and Okayo began to pull away and Runyan took notice.

''I was thinking, `Well, I'll be able to work back up to [Zakharova],' '' said Runyan. ''But I just never did. Then I had a cramp, a side stitch at 16, 17 [miles] and things got a lot tougher. I kind of reevaluated my goal, and my goal became to just run as strong as I could and finish.''

By the time the hills had come and gone, Runyan's attention had shifted from winning to holding on to fifth place, knowing that Albina Ivanova of Russia was closing fast. On that task, Runyan was successful, her fifth-place finish the best for an American woman in Boston since Kim Jones was second in 1993. She also is the first American woman to finish Top 10 here since 1997.

There were no excuses, said Runyan, whose vision is 20/300 in the left eye, 20/400 in the right. A Boston Athletic Association cyclist (Josh Nemzer) had ridden behind the whole way, advising Runyan of her fluid stations, the position of other runners, and any possible road hazards. All of it, she said, worked smoothly.

''I knew where I was at all times,'' she said. ''I knew what position I was in. I think I only missed one water station.''

Zakharova stormed to an easy win, Denisova finished second, and Joyce Chepchumba of Kenya closed well to take third, just ahead of Okayo, but at the postrace press conference, it was debatable whether there was a more victorious story than Runyan, the former track standout from San Diego State who finished eighth in the 1,500 meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Oh, her finish (fourth) and time (2:27:10) were better in New York, but Boston is a tougher race.

Runyan discovered that, but just as she has never let her affliction slow her, she vowed not to quit. She won the Tufts 10K in Boston last October, which brought her to the attention of American road racing icon Joan Benoit Samuelson, and soon thereafter came encouragement to take the Hopkinton-to-Boston challenge.

Runyan is glad she did. She will do so again, too.

''It means a great deal to me that [Samuelson] believes in me,'' said Runyan. ''It gives me a lot of hope.

''Obviously, I didn't have a great race today. But you have days like that and you learn from it and you come back and hopefully come back stronger. So I'm not going to give up on this.''

This story ran on page C3 of the Boston Globe on 4/22/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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