How I cut my deficit to Boston Billy by over 20 minutes…

After running Boston in 1978 in 3 hours 20 minutes, I came back to run the race again a year later. The rapid growth in the marathon’s popularity in those years was evident: in ’78 there were 4,764 official runners; in 1979, the number swelled to 7,927, the first year the number of racers exceeded the everyday population of tiny Hopkinton. With the large number of unofficial runners, I’d estimate the actual race size was more like 10,000.

While waiting in Hopkinton, a preteen boy asked for my autograph, probably thinking I was well known author [“Running & Being: The Total Experience”] George Sheehan who was nearby. (At age 61, Doctor Sheehan was a full two decades my senior at the time, but I took no offense.)

Start to…

My running log shows the temperature ranged between 45 and 50 degrees, with minimal headwind. I do remember the day being misty throughout. The elite entrants made this one of the fastest marathon fields ever gathered for one race: ten runners in the crowd had previously gone under 2 hours 12 minutes for 26.2 miles. By the time the last runners had crossed the start line, the leaders were already a mile and down the hill!

A year before, race winner Bill Rodgers had finished over an hour ahead of me. Now, among those leaders disappearing towards Prudential Center, the question of the day was, would Rodgers be able to join the ranks of the three-time Boston winners.

For myself, I had a good day without “hitting the wall.” I finished the downhill section of the course at good pace, but had moderate to severe pain in my quads with each step!

Boston 1979 finish (Photo by Bud Harris)
..Finish (some of my 3,030 sub-three hour friends)

It turned out to be one of the fastest races on record, with 3,031 runners breaking the tape in under three hours. I was able to join that group with a 2:59, and was pleased with my 21 minute improvement. Up ahead, Rodgers was able to improve by only 46 seconds over 1978, but this was enough for the course record and his Boston win #3, following his expected race-long duel with Japan’s Toshihiko Seko.

I ran two more marathons before opting for the shorter races. My marathon PR was 2:48 at New Orleans, across the lake with a tailwind! Running has meant the world to me and is still important at age 77. I feel this ability is a gift I should continue to use, and feel fortunate to be able to do so.

James Crosthwait
Brandon, Mississippi
April 16, 1979