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Taxing returns

Every year they file in at Hopkinton to pay price

By Tony Chamberlain, Globe Staff, 4/18/2003

"Every year I say no," says Pam Kelley, a 25-year old English teacher from South Boston who began running the Boston Marathon six years ago. "But then I'll find a different reason to run just one more."

For Ron Kmiec, a 60-year-old musician and teacher from Carlisle who will run his 29th straight Boston on Monday, there is never a question, or search for a reason.

"Running," he declares, "is a compulsion. And having a streak going there's just no way I could stop running it. Only serious injury or death could stop me."

From Kelley's one-year-at-a-time approach to the world's most famous road race to Kmiec's lifetime lock on the event, the thousands of runners who will begin the journey from Hopkinton Monday have a thousand reasons and motivations to run.

Some run for a cause or charity, some so they can enjoy pizza and beer guiltlessly. Some runners shape their lives around performance runs and weekly races, and most do some training. Still, there is always the paunchy, proudly out-of-shape huffer who runs to prove he can withstand a humiliation of the flesh for 26.2 miles. A few years ago, one participant wearing a Joe Camel T-shirt told a reporter at the finish that the worst part of the race was going five hours without a cigarette.

Perhaps the most romantic notion of all is the Wordsworthian reason voiced by a Fall River runner, Pete Castine: "I think running puts us in touch with the child in us, and that's a joyous thing. After all, what is the first thing a child learns to do almost effortlessly and constantly and joyously: run. And then we grow out of it."

Like stories of love and marriage, every runner's tale has an origin, never forgotten, always presented as if to answer that most elusive question: Why?

As a child, Pam Kelley was taken to the Marathon every year by her father, Bob Kelley, a Yale hockey player who appreciated the race, but never ran it. "It was really thrilling, all the excitement in Boston and the crowds at BC and Wellesley," she said. "I watched it from Heartbreak Hill, and now when I run Boston I always notice that spot where I watched it from."

She began running at Trinity College in Hartford, where she was also a member of a field hockey team that made it to the NCAA championships. But, she says, "There isn't a lot of opportunity to play field hockey at 25."

Kelley started with friends in her senior year, and the first goal was to finish. She ran without a number and accomplished her goal, then set her eyes on the next one: qualifying.

After five Bostons and a Chicago Marathon last year, Kelley finally earned her number for this year's race.

And that, she says, will provide her with additional motivation. If she keeps running Boston, she won't have to go through the qualifying process again. "I need a different motivation every year, especially this winter," Kelley said. "This was the worst year to train for Boston in the last five."

Finding motivation

Training season for Boston runners traces the worst months of Northeast weather -- late fall through the winter. Kelley likes to do short runs through the week, and then a 20-miler on Saturdays. As a support for her resolve to run that far every weekend, she has her father or her boyfriend, John Manley, drive her to Framingham and drop her off to run home along the Marathon course. Fresh in her mind are the days of ice, freezing rain, sub-zero temperatures. And then there are the days she just can't get it going and never feels that smooth. "Those are days when it's a struggle," says Kelley, who teaches English at Duxbury High School. "You just keep thinking about how much longer it's going to be."

But what keeps her coming back every season are the other days. "I start the first few miles warming up, and then in the next 5 miles I just feel great," Kelley says. "I go faster and notice how smooth my gait is. It really feels great on days like that and I love those runs."

Still, she has learned not to run loops. "Every time you get close to home, it gets harder to pass your house," she says.

The devotion and sacrifice that once made runners seem like oddballs finds its origins in ancient Greece. The messenger Pheidippides is said to have run 26 miles in 490 BC to bring word to the emperor that the Athenian army had turned back the invading Persians. As soon as he delivered the famous "Rejoice! We conquer," Pheidippides dropped dead.

While most historians consider this tale apocryphal, it nevertheless depicts runners from the start as self-sacrificing, driven, even patriotic -- a theme woven throughout the history of the sport, as runners from the time of Pheidippides were dedicated to running messages sometimes hundreds of miles for their leaders.

And if dying at the end of a message delivery seems a kind of old-fashioned runners' morality play to people who enjoy the sport today, the early runners of Boston were closer to that classical view. Writes Tom Derderian in his history of the Boston Marathon:

" 'Rejoice! We conquer!' followed by death seems a bit extreme to those of us who now run for fun. But it did not sound extreme to marathoners in the first decades of this century, who believed that a marathon 'used a man up,' and that any more than one marathon would permanently damage health."

Road rage

While the connection between running and self-sacrifice was always clear, by the time the 1970s' running boom swept the country, Boston once again seemed a national hub, with local racers Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson dominating the sport. In a few short years, running evolved from an exercise of near religious purity to fashion statement, complete with stopwatches, ever-sophisticated (and stylish) footwear, and even running uniforms.

The caricature of the self-absorbed runner jogging in place at a red light while fingering his neck to count his heartrate grew out of that time period, as did the mega-industry that grew to serve them. And found somewhere in the attitudes and motivation of runners was a sense of self-discovery.

"I remember being in a fitness program where we had to run 3 miles," says Dennis McAnulty, a 30-year-old who began running just two years ago. "And I thought I'd never be able to run 3 miles. I had tried to run a mile road race in Milton and could never do that. But when I made the 3-mile goal, I set 10 as my goal, and then entered a BAA [Boston Athletic Association] half-marathon. Again, I thought I never could do that. Then I joined the L Street Running Club last summer and set a new goal. Once I did the half-marathon, you know what was next. I knew I didn't have it in me, but never in my life did I ever think I could do a marathon."

And, McAnulty readily acknowledges, "I can't run alone. I maybe get a couple of miles and then get bored. So running with the L Street club has really helped me keep motivated."

Running at lunch time with a group that began discussing the Marathon, McAnulty resolved last New Year's that he could and would run his first marathon.

In stark contrast is Kmiec, who has no problem with motivation. "Most of the people in my group [more than 25 Bostons] focus their running life around the race," he says. "Then the streak has a life of its own. It's just something all of us do on the third Monday in April. It's my focus every year. The history of the race is so compelling and having been a participant all these years, I can't imagine not running Boston from now on as long as I can."

Kmiec describes himself as obsessive-compulsive about running, and has another streak concurrent with Boston. "The last time I missed a day of running was Nov. 12, 1975. I'm 12th on the list of consecutive days running in the US, and the compulsiveness is definitely in that personality."

But there are other motives, perhaps easier to recognize. Health concerns are obvious, and Kmiec says age just makes the commitment stronger. "I guess running is part of the quest for the fountain of youth," he says. "For older runners we still want to hold on to your figure, and being able to do things which most people in the population can't or won't do. Keeping health gets rid of a number of risk factors. So there are lots of motivations to run."

Cause and effect

For 30-year-old Kara Russo, the Boston Marathon used to be a spring spectacle for her and her Boston University friends. But now as a child physical therapist, Russo is also a runner, and with a deep motivation. Not qualified by time, she will run with a charity number for Ladders -- a children's aid organization.

"Running a marathon is painful," says Russo. "But the pain will fade while the glory lasts. And running that far lets me understand better what I ask kids to do to push themselves."

Even through a winter of brutal weather and trying to balance her training with a full- and part-time job, "I love being out there running," says Russo. "And it's worth the sacrifice to be in shape."

According to Derderian, whose book is often referred to as the bible of the Boston Marathon, as much as the race has changed over the decades, so has the ideal of sacrifice itself.

"We can see in the Boston Marathons over the past century a reflection of the changes in the average person's hopes, heroes, and dreams," he writes. "When the public needed heroes, the Boston Marathon provided them, and when the public needed empowerment -- the delicious notion that anyone can overcome time and distance to finish a marathon, the New Age idea that there was a god within -- the Boston Marathon was there."

Castine, a 34-year-old who found running just three years ago, and will run Boston unregistered, agrees with Derderian's deeply philosophical notions.

"Most of the things Americans do in life these days involves the pleasure principle," Castine says. "And as time has gone on, they want the pleasure faster and without having to work for it. Kind of like amusement park rides and video games. People are wrong to think that runners are into pain. They're into pleasure, too, but it's the exquisite pleasure that only comes when you work hard to gain it. That's the sacrifice part."

This story ran on page F2 of the Boston Globe on 4/18/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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