It was not exactly a Rosie Ruiz, but when Lee DiPietro first ran Boston as a Boston University student some 20 years ago, she jumped in as a "bandit" for the last 10 miles.
But it was enough to get her hooked. Within a year, she was a full-fledged marathoner who went on to cut her time from more than 4 hours in her first official race to a personal best in 2000 of 2 hours 47 minutes.
DiPietro, 46, from Ruxton, Md., will be among the top eight women's master runners Monday, and hopes the weather won't be so warm that she misses her goal of a sub-2:50.
"I remember that first time when I was about 25 years old," says DiPietro. "I ran the last 10 miles with my sister and I was just so in awe of the whole thing. I had never run a race or done anything [like that] in my life, but that got me started. I ran [the entire course] the following year."
DiPietro, who played lacrosse in high school and at BU, tried triathlons for a few years, occasionally running Boston as a spring tuneup for triathlon season. But she has run Boston for the last five years, and passed up this year's Olympic Trials race, for which she qualified by winning the masters division of the Grandma's Marathon in Minnesota.
At the beginning of her career, DiPietro was only running a few miles a week. Her first official marathon was New York. "My longest run leading up to that was maybe 15 miles. I had no idea what I was doing. The race was great," she remembers, "until I got to the Bronx and realized I had another 7 or 8 miles to go. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but just set your mind to get through it. And in that first marathon, you go from `Oh my God what am I doing here' to crossing the finish line saying, `That was the greatest thing I've ever done."
She said New York, with its start on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, has its own feel and character, and being a fall marathon, has the advantage of letting northern runners train in the summer. But Boston, she says, is special. She remembers her first official Boston.
"The whole thing is just so incredible, the spectators, the volunteers. And because I used to live there it's like coming home. It's the race that got me started and it's just very special for me. Maybe it's also because the race starts on a country road and runs through some really nice areas, whereas a lot of the areas of New York you run through, you know, are just . . . New York."
Living in Maryland hardly spared DiPietro the harsh New England winter to train in. "It was a nasty winter this year," she says. "Lots of cold days, and every Sunday when I did my long run, it seemed to be the coldest windiest day of the week. It's very hard to get ready to race Boston in the spring."
DiPietro says she finds treadmill work so tedious that she often goes outside -- over her husband's objections -- despite the snow and ice. And after the cold winter, and a very reluctant spring, the forecast of a near 80-degree day Monday is not exactly good news.
"That's going to make it really hard," said DiPietro, whose son, Tim, attends the University of New Hampshire, and Cryder, 16, is in high school. "I've done all my training in cold weather, and I haven't had many days when it's been over 50 degrees. So that makes it hard to acclimate to warm temperatures. If it's that warm it will slow the pace down a lot."
She also thinks the new start, in which she will run with other women rather than the mixed start, may affect her time. "I usually end up running with the men," she says. "It really helps you to pace. But I think this year will be a very different race, to be starting up front, and having the men go by really fast."
From New York and Chicago to the Ironman circuit, DiPietro has seen many venues, but Boston is unique. "There's nowhere else where you get that crowd support. There's nothing like it. For every runner, the opportunity to be in Boston is special."