No pedals, he showed his mettle

Lance Armstrong may have wished he had his bike once he hit the Marathon's treacherous hills, but he got over them and finished 496th. Lance Armstrong may have wished he had his bike once he hit the Marathon's treacherous hills, but he got over them and finished 496th. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / April 22, 2008

A veteran of two New York City Marathons, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was asked yesterday to compare those race experiences with his first Boston Marathon, which he completed yesterday in 2 hours, 50 minutes, and 58 seconds, good for 496th place.

"I feel better than the first New York, and probably not as good as the second New York, so my fitness was probably in line to indicate that," said Armstrong. "To me, it was a harder course than New York and, obviously, as everybody knows, it's much tighter, so you have a much different atmosphere - not that New York has a bad atmosphere.

"But this one is just louder and more intense. It plays well for all of the runners, not just the leaders and not just the people they were looking for in the middle. Everybody feels that."

As for a comparison between competitive cycling and marathon running?

"It's totally different," he said. "Cycling was my job, and I was paid to win and I was paid to train.

"Not to diminish what the marathon means, but it is a hobby and it's something that keeps me fit on a daily basis, keeps me inspired and motivates me to go out and run.

"But you can't compare 45 minutes of training per day [for a marathon] to 6-7 hours of training per day [for the Tour de France]. If you don't follow the best training program, you're going to pay the price.

"So every time I come out here, I swear to myself that I'm going to train harder for the next one and I never do. But one of these days I might listen to myself."

Armstrong, a cancer survivor, said his presence in Boston was in part to promote awareness for his Livestrong Foundation and its campaign against cancer.

"If I had to impart one message, it's to remind people of the impact of the disease, which is cancer," said Armstrong. "It takes roughly 560,000 American lives every year, 7 million people around the globe. It's a huge, huge emotional toll.

"We have neglected to really focus on it in our country. Livestrong means a lot to a lot of different people. It's nice to run with the so-called Livestrong Army and to see the Livestrong placards along the way."

While he's scaled more challenging heights in the Tour de France, Armstrong was surprised by his first encounter with Heartbreak Hill.

"There's hills all around that area, so I when I went up one, I thought, 'Boy, that must be it,' " he said. "Then we went to the next one, and this guy's next to me, he said, 'Well, that was Heartbreak Hill,' and I thought, 'Well, that wasn't that bad,' but another guy said, 'No, it wasn't that one, it's coming up,' so we eventually got to it.

"But the very first one of that series of hills seemed to me to be the hardest. It's interesting because people always talk about Heartbreak Hill and everybody sort of led me to believe that that series of hills was so difficult.

"Then I had this period where everybody seemed to talk them down - 'They're not that big a deal, running the hills of Boston; don't worry about it.' They were wrong. They are harder and they do come at a difficult time in the race.

"For me, it's hard to run on the downhills. Perhaps my body weight comes into play; 175 pounds running downhill really takes a toll on your muscles, and then all of a sudden you hit another uphill.

"Where's the flat marathons? Anybody know?"

No one had an answer. But there was another question: Does he plan to come back?

"Yeah, oh yeah," Armstrong said. "If they let me come back. But there's a lot of other reasons to come back.

"I really love the event, the spectacle of a marathon and the challenges of a marathon. This is a landmark event. This was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a beautiful experience, but the crowds here made it 10 times what I expected."

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