Someone steals my thunder

The Fenway Hotel was about a mile from the finish line, but it may as well have been a thousand miles away. On blistered feet, space blanket covering my body, which was caked with dried sweat, I shuffled back to the hotel, spent and exhausted having completed my first Boston Marathon. The unicorn medal, bearing the number ‘82,’ signifying the number of annual Boston Marathon races, hung from my neck. It was the third Monday of April, 1978.

With sunken eyes, and a salt-covered face, I entered the small lobby, where a pleasant desk clerk smiled at me. She gazed with pity at the decrepit figure who stood before her. I knew that all I needed to do was pick up a key and I could hobble to my room, where a hot shower and a cozy bed awaited me. It was at that moment, out of nowhere, a pair of pliers gripped my right hamstring. In reality it was a cramp. The kind that strikes in the middle of the night. A painful, silent grimace crossed my face, sweat beaded on my forehead, and the concerned clerk implored, “May I help you?” At that moment, the pain was white-hot. I gripped the marble desk top. Before I could reply, however, a middle-aged man, who simply could not grasp the mentality of those who run 26.2-miles for fun, emerged. He glanced at the pained figure on the other side of the counter and drawled in his thick Boston accent, “Not unless yaw name is Gawd!”

Thus began my love affair with the Boston Marathon. A love affair that has covered five decades, and sixteen Boston Marathons, including the 2013 race, where, at age 59, I turned in a time of 3:04:21.

It was the 1983 race, however, that stands out as my most memorable Boston Marathon. When I crossed the finish line, the clock read 2:22:54. I had run what would be my personal best marathon time, a mere 54 seconds off the then Olympic Trials marathon qualifying time. These days, that time would win many marathons. At a time, however, when the selection of available marathons was limited, everybody who was anybody ran the Boston Marathon. My time was good enough to earn me 125th place.

Conditions were perfect for the 1983 race. Temperatures were in the low 50s, and the wind was at our backs. In 1982, I had run a time of 2:28:43 at Boston, at the race dubbed, “The Duel in the Sun,” as Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley battled to the finish under crystal clear skies, in temperatures that neared 80 degrees. Salazar edged Beardsley by a mere two seconds.

During a relatively mild winter of 1983, I had consistently logged 100-mile training weeks, and felt ready to record my best marathon time. In addition, a local rival of mine in my hometown of Pottsville, Pennsylvania had run a time of 2:23 at the 1981 Boston Marathon. I was determined to beat his time.

My pace remained consistent throughout the race, dropping off slightly on the Newton Hills. Having crested the infamous Heartbreak Hill, with its screaming crowds, I was able to glide past Boston College, and Commonwealth Avenue was a breeze. At Fenway Park’s Citgo sign, with a mile to go, I knew I had to turn in a final mile in the 5:20s if I were to crack the 2:23 mark. As I made the left turn onto Boylston Street, onto the world’s biggest marathon stage, chills shot down my spine as I realized I may actually achieve my goal. The noise of the Boston Marathon crowd, which is always deafening, seemed to reach a higher decibel level. “They’re cheering this loudly for me?” I thought. Did they have an extrasensory sense that told them I would cross the line earning my personal best?


Someone had stolen my thunder.

Eleven seconds ahead of me, Joan Benoit, who had run the first half of the race at an incredible 2:17 pace, had just shattered the women’s world record by more than two minutes, with a time of 2:22:43! She had been ahead of me for the entire race, and it was her, of course, for whom the crowd cheered wildly.

At the 2012 Wineglass Half Marathon in Corning, New York, I had the honor of running several miles of the race along with the first women’s Olympic Marathon gold medalist, Joan Benoit Samuelson. We talked about the 1983 Boston Marathon. She was gracious and friendly. As we approached the seven-mile mark of the half marathon, we said our goodbyes, and she, once again, crossed the finish line ahead of me…

Joe Muldowney
Pottsville, Pennsylvania
April 18, 1983
Age – 29