As Greg Meyer ran through the hills of Newton and headed into the final
miles of the 87th Boston Marathon yesterday, he thought only briefly of the
world record pace he was on and wound up focusing instead on what it would
mean just to win this ancient race.
"The game plan going in here was to win and all I wanted to do was make
sure I stayed in the lead," Meyer would say later. "I was getting my splits
the whole way but - to be honest - I didn't care. Records will come and go,
but winning Boston will be there forever."
In a perfectly executed game plan over a course where he has trained so
often, Meyer moved onto the list of the world's elite marathoners on this cool
and overcast day when he ran away from fading Benji Durden in the final six
miles to a smashing 2:09:00 victory.
Even though he fell off Alberto Salazar's world record pace when he ran
through 21 miles and headed into the density of the crowds that would escort
him to the finish line by Prudential Plaza, Meyer's time was history's 10th
fastest and Boston's third.
The magnitude of his performance was almost overshadowed by the
astonishing run of Joan Benoit, who set all sorts of American records en route
to a stunning world record 2:22:42. What she did, in effect, was to put
women's marathoning on a wondrous new plateau.
This was a remarkable Boston Marathon, resurrected out of the ashes of
doubt that followed the 86th race. With the race's future still somewhat
clouded because of the pending litigation over the Boston Athletic Assn.
contract with attorney Marshall Medoff, the race was the thing.
From the start by the village green in Hopkinton through the normally
troubled spots by Boston College and into Cleveland Circle and beyond, crowd
control was never better. "It's the best organized Boston Marathon I've ever
seen," said New York's Fred Lebow, the master of marathon organization.
If Meyer had to share some of the glow of the spotlight with Benoit, it
took nothing away from the glitter of his effort on a day when a favoring
tailwind was conducive to decent times and Bill Rodgers talked of maybe just
one more marathon after finishing 10th.
Meyer, who'd moved to the Greater Boston area in 1978 out of Grand Rapids,
Michigan and temporarily went to work for Rodgers in his Cleveland Circle
store, was perfectly trained for this race by Bill Squires, who did the same
thing for Dick Beardsley a year ago.
Squires, who once worked with Rodgers and Salazar in the halcyon days of
the Greater Boston TC, is the master at preparing the runner for the course.
Salazar (2:08:51), Beardsley (2:08:53), Meyer and Rodgers (2:09:27) own four
of the five fastest American times in Boston.
The man who now owns the fourth fastest time is Ron Tabb, who surged past
Durden as they headed through Coolidge Corner on Beacon Street and into the
26th mile. Tabb's time of 2:09:31 makes him the 6th fastest American and
Durden's 2:09:57 lifted him to 7th on the US list.
Even though there was a sizeable lead pack as they ran through the early
stretches of countryside in Ashland, it started to thin out rapidly and Meyer,
Durden and Paul Cummings went through 10 miles in 49:11. Salazar's comparable
split in his 1981 New York world record run was 49:06.
This would hold true for the next 11 miles, with Durden moving 25 yards in
front as he went through 14 miles in 1:08:02. Salazar's New York split was
1:08:23. Meyer was never out of contact, stalking his prey and following
Squires advice to be patient.
He started to close, making up a lot of ground on Brae Burn Hill
approaching 18 miles and finally running Durden down just past 19 miles, by
Newton City Hall. They talked.
Durden: "It looks like we've got a fast time."
Meyer: "Yeah, let's just keep going."
By the time they headed into the second of the four Newton hills, Meyer
was off by himself and he was ahead of Salazar's world record at 20 miles
- 1:37:11 to 1:37:29. Salazar's 21st mile in New York was 4:46, while Meyer's
was 5:22 heading up Heartbreak Hill and the focus was on the win.
"I was surprised more people didn't go with Benji," said Meyer. "I thought
Benji was going to run a conservative race. I'll never underestimate him
again. He ran a courageous race. He did a lot of the work out there. I was
hoping he would run himself out.
"Before the second hill, I threw a fake in. The fake worked. The only fake
I put in is the one that got me away. I think Benji was tired. I was just
trying to see what he had left. You really don't exect to break away from the
field with a fake. You do it just to let them know you're going to run hard.
"It was just survival. Squires had me just strong enough to hang on a
little longer. I was having leg cramps. I didn't want to work the uphills at
all. My plan was to work the flats of the hills. I wanted to just maintain
going uphill. I felt good at the top of Heartbreak Hill and I sort of lost my
"I didn't want to run downhill hard. I felt under control in Cleveland
Circle. I felt it would be hard for someone to catch me: I had something left.
The thing on my mind most was: Relax and go for the win.' I was very content
to be alone the last four miles. I slowed. I sort of went into that old
In the process, Meyer can shuffle off to Buffalo - where the US Olympic Trials are set for May, 1984 - should he choose to try to make the marathon
team. He may focus instead on the 10,000 meters, the race he hopes to run in
the first World Championships this summer in Helsinki and possibly in the '84
Durden, who trained in sweats and much warmer temperatures in Atlanta,
probably will head up the US team for the Helsinki meet and will be joined by
Tabb and Ed Mendoza, who finished fourth (2:10:06) on a day when 10 runners
broke 2:12 and 13 were under 2:13 in Boston's fastest mass finish.
"I felt I was in decent shape and I had a chance," said Durden, who won
the 1982 Montreal race on a hot Memorial Day weekend. "I blistered up. I
usually run strong downhill, but every time I plut my foot down I jarred it.
It got worse from 18 miles to the finish. I don't want to come off sounding
like I might have beaten Greg. He ran smart. I don't think I ran the best race
I could run, but I did under the circumstances."
Tabb's resume includes wins in Houston (1980), New Orleans (1980) and
Paris (1981, 2:11:44), a third in Boston (1980) and a fourth in the 1980 US
Olympic Trials. Now he is Ron Tabb the marathon runner again instead of Mary
Decker's husband-coach-trackside enthusiast.
"I felt very strong," said Tabb, who has worked the past 10 weeks in
Eugene, Ore., with Bill Dellinger, the man who coaches Salazar. "This year
something's at stake: Helsinki. I didn't think it would take a 2:10 to do it,
but it wasn't a pace that was out of control."
So Meyer became Boston's newest marathon celebrity, the guy who worked as
a clerk for Rodgers after giving up a job sweeping floors in the athletic
complex at the University of Michigan. So it was that he moved here five years
ago to train with Boston's best.
He's just 27, a restless spirit with an enormous talent who should start
to get the recognition he deserves on the world stage. He plans to run on the
tracks of the world this summer, leaving the date and site of his next
marathon somewhere in limbo.
"I don't know what he can do," said Squires. "Greg's the only athlete I've
had with speed and I've had seven marathoners go under 2:11. We're all going
to find out what he can do when he starts running 10,000 meters. We'll see
when we bring him back. He's a thoroughbred breed of marathoner."
ABOVE THE MADDING CROWD
BENOIT CONQUERS ALL THAT NOISE'
The island is close to Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a small island with dirt
roads and a couple of cottages. Joan Benoit will not mention the name of it.
Neither will her family and friends.
This is her place to be alone.
"There isn't a phone, there isn't any way to get in touch," Bob Sevene,
her long-distance coach, says with a smile. "She calls before she leaves and
we talk about the things she wants to accomplish and then, off she goes to
live in the family summer cottage. She comes back and the work has been done."
The circumference of the island is perhaps a mile and a half and so she
goes around. And around. And around. The noise of Boston and yesterday and the
world record - the astonishing 2:22.42 for the 26 miles, 385 yards from
Hopkinton to the television cameras and the state troopers at the Prudential
- is drowned by the sound of the surf hitting the rocks.
Joan Benoit can work the way she wants to work.
"I'm from Maine," she says. "I grew up in Maine and that's where I plan to
live when all of this is over. I guess we're just quiet up there. Maine people
are neat. They're not really looking for all kinds of excitement."
She is 25 years old, living in Watertown and coaching the women's track
team at Boston University, but still she is Maine. She is cut from the same
bolt of L.L. Bean flannel as lobster fishermen and woodsmen. She is a child of
the outdoors, clean air and clear horizons. Natural.
"I guess we grew up the old-time way," her oldest brother, Andy, says.
"The way you don't hear about very much today. We had a very close family.
Her father owns a clothing store in Cape Elizabeth. There are three boys
in the family, two older, one younger. They all have been runners at one time
or another, but more than that they have been involved with sports.
"I started out skiing," Joan Benoit says. "I liked that very much, mostly
following my two brothers. I started running mostly because I broke my leg
skiing one winter. I figured running would be a way to get healthy again. I
liked running from the beginning."
"Maybe that's one of her secrets," Sevene, the coach, says. "She wasn't
one of those age-group runners, going up the ladder. She was an athlete before
she ever was a runner. She played field hockey. She skied. She's just an all-
around athlete who runs.
"I think she's the toughest athlete in the country and I coach Alberto
Salazar, too. She's just a little thing, but look inside her and it's scary
what you see. I keep calling her an animal. Her mother hates me for it, but I
can't think of any better way to describe her."
She simply grew as a runner. Natural. She was not one of those characters
from a made-for-TV potboiler who was goaded and pushed by some Svengali with a
stopwatch and a scowl. Sevene and others might advise, help, but she never had
a coach, really. She simply ran by herself, for herself, did everything in a
self-taught way. From Class B high school mile champ in Maine, to Bowdoin
College - a school that didn't even have a women's track team - without a
scholarship, to Boston as a senior in 1979 and that remembered run down Ring
Road with a Red Sox cap on her head, she simply grew.
"The first marathon I ran, I really didn't run," she says. "I was in
Bermuda for a 10-kilometer race and after it was finished, a marathon began. A
bunch of us decided to run the first 13 miles or so, just for training. When
it came time to stop, though, I sat there and thought about all the way we had
to walk back. So I started running again. That was in January. The time was
2:56. The first time I really ran a marathon was that April here."
The Boston win in 2:35.15 was not as much of a shock to Joan Benoit as
what followed the Boston win. The winning was natural enough. The after
effects of winning were startling. Cape Elizabeth is good preparation for
marathons, not so good for flashbulbs and tape recorders.
"I really wasn't prepared for it all," Joan Benoit says. "The phone was
ringing all the time. I was a senior in college. Young. This was all different
"I don't even like talking about her because I know how she feels," her
brother, Andy, says. "There are constant demands on your privacy, which should
not be. It was driving everyone crazy, all these phone calls, these demands
for time. My mother was hoping the phone never would ring again."
"It's funny, when we were preparing Joan's schedule for this year, the
topic of attention from the media was the biggest question we had," Sevene
says. "The question was whether winning the Boston Marathon was worth all the
stuff that happens if you win the Boston Marathon."
Joan Benoit is four years older now, though, and a lot of things have
happened in that time. She was knocked out of action for a while by
appendicitis. She had to return from surgery on her Achilles tendons. She has
been working for almost two years in Boston. The 5-foot-3, 105-pound sprite
who left Hopkinton at noon and simply churned away from everyone yesterday
afternoon, record after record with each street corner she passed, might have
looked no different than the Joan Benoit of 1979, but she has grown.
She handled the ceremonies, the press conferences, the countless requests
for "just one more" with a pleasant, public ease. She made a small speech when
she accepted her award. She discussed her plans, her hopes, her future
Only once did the private person look toward the North.
"I was running those last few miles, really hurting, and all I could think
of was that race last year between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley," Joan
Benoit said, race finished, record set. "They sprinted at the end, through all
those crowds and all that noise. How did they ever do it? All that noise."
The surf closed in. The sun shone bright. An island in Maine seemed to be
a far simpler place to run.