By DAVID GRILK
Runners and organizers rally together to beat the heat at the 2012 Boston Marathon
The 116th Boston Marathon featured near record high temperatures, that left it to runners and race officials to work together in order to create a safe race. In a sport that is primarily an individual event, this year’s race will be remembered for what was accomplished under grueling conditions for runners and spectators alike.
“The Boston Marathon on Monday gave a new meaning to the word ‘marathon,’” said Joan Benoit Samuelson, a two-time Boston Marathon champion and Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist. This year, Samuelson ran the race with her daughter Abby. “Every stitch of a runner’s fabric was tested over the 26.2 mile course and there were countless volunteers, organizations, families and spectators out there to help sustain and mend the runners as necessary,” she said.
Organizing an event like the Boston Marathon takes countless resources and people to make everything run smoothly. People often do not realize the amount of time and effort that goes into organizing the event. This year, organizers faced an uphill battle in the days leading up to the race, but were able to pull together, allowing everything to go according to plan. However, that did not mean that there were not some serious concerns surrounding the race.
“Go or no-go?” said Dave McGillivray, who has been serving as race director since 1988. “Not only pondering if we can handle it, but should we even go there? If it was any other race I was directing, I might have leaned closer to the no go, but given that we have the best medical and public safety team on the planet, they actually turned the stress into a greater feeling of comfort and confidence in making the decision to go.”
Once the race was underway, the lives of the runners were in the hands of the volunteers and the medical personnel, as well as many of the spectators who found ways to help the runners along the course. For some, the spectators and the support staff were the ones who made all the difference.
Following the race, Boston Athletic Association Executive Director Tom Grilk observed that, “The 2012 Boston Marathon turned out not to be a series of individual races, but instead a shared enterprise among over 22,000 runners, 8,000 volunteers, more than a thousand medical personnel and hundreds of thousands of spectators along the way. The spectators came out to help in a manner reminiscent of the British citizens who took it upon themselves to save the English army at Dunkirk: they saw a challenge and they rose to meet it.”
An integral part of this year’s race, as in every year, was the medical staff. They were prepared for the high number of runners who would need medical attention, and they were able to accommodate all the runners accordingly. “Lives were saved in a number of locations along the course, in our supporting hospitals and in the Boston medical tents,” said Boston Marathon Medical Director Pierre d’Hemecourt, “We really believe that Boston is the only marathon in the world that could have handled this event and the number of casualties we experienced.”
For runners, the Boston Marathon presented a new set of challenges that many training for the event had never experienced. Most of the runners trained in very cold conditions, and even in the snow. “The hardest part of running Boston is surviving the training,” said Greg Meyer, the last American to win the race. When asked about his preparations for the race. “It generally takes four to six months of building the strength to cover the distance. For the masses of runners not gifted with the genes of the Kenyans, this is real work, and often through the dead of winter.”
This was true for another runner, SLU Associate Athletic Director Mike Howard, who was taking his first shot at the marathon distance. He trained for the marathon by running with St. Lawrence Women’s Track Coach Kate Curran over the past six to seven months.
For many of them however, it came down to the event itself, and not just the race he was running. “The overall experience was the experience of a lifetime. I’ve run hundreds of races all over the country and nothing compares to Boston. The organization was over the top and the crowd support unbelievable. I will remember both of those things for years to come,” said Howard.
“In the years to come, they’ll remember they ran that rare day in the heat and their time won’t matter, only that they overcame it,” said Meyer, “Same with the BAA and volunteers, they rose to the occasion and meet the challenge of providing the needed water, medical attention and opportunities that the runners needed. Like Apollo 13, it was really the runners and the organizers greatest success.”