Figuratively, the Boston Marathon has been taking a lot of heat from the running community for being set in its ways. Literally, there was no sparing the tradition-steeped event on race day either, as the 89th edition was hit by unexpectedly warm, muggy conditions. ``Uh oh,'' said women's race favorite Lisa Larsen Weidenbach upon awakening Monday morning to find unneeded bed covers kicked onto the floor. ``The minute I stepped outside I started sweating.''
Joe Catalano, her concerned coach of two months and the marathon's runners' liason, had some advice. ``I called her a few hours before the race,'' he said, ``to warn her not to get too fancy. I told her to respect the heat and just go for the win.''
Weidenbach, who resides with her runner husband in Marblehead north of Boston, basically did just that, turning in a workmanlike victory, even if an unspectacular time. Afterward she apologized for her 2:34:17 clocking, which was well off Joan Benoit's Boston and world record of 2:22.43, set in 1983.
There was no need for the apology, though, since men's winner Geoff Smith of Great Britain met with similar results after a valiant effort to beat the heat and the clock. Mostly he just beat the field, wobbling across the finish line in 2:14:05, a full six minutes behind the world best set by Steve Jones in Chicago last year.
Smith, the first foreign entrant to take back-to-back victories since 1964, was determined to run a fast time, a world record if possible. He knew such a performance could pay hefty endorsement dividends even if the conservative Boston Athletic Association awarded only a laurel wreath and a medallion to the tape-breaker.
With few other elite runners willing to compete simply for prestige, Smith had to force the pace himself. He scorched through the first half of the course in 1:02:51, ticking off the miles faster than anyone had done to the midpoint of a 26-mile, 385-yard race.
``I was too cautious last year and was not going to be again,'' he said. ``I knew I'd have to make up some minutes somewhere and figured the sensible place to do it was at the beginning.''
This time the pace was right, but the conditions weren't. The engine suddenly overheated at about the 20-mile mark, leg cramps causing him to stop in despair momentarily. Then he pushed cautiously onward, unsure of ever making it to the Prudential Center finish.
Visions of New York, 1983, began dancing in his head as Smith wondered if someone would overtake him just as Rod Dixon had once done in his marathon debut.
After learning of Smith's condition, second-place runner Gary Tuttle experienced a brief surge of hope. ``I got real excited for a while,'' said Tuttle, who had never been within glimpsing distance of the leader and whose only means of tracking him were helicopters overhead. Tuttle ran into difficulties of his own, however, and settled for a distant second, some five minutes behind.
Smith, meanwhile, was saluted as ``The Man Who Would Not Quit'' by the finish line p.a. announcer, who described the Englishman's fitting passage by a firehouse at the top of the home stretch.
Though a 31-year-old graduate of Providence College in Rhode Island and now a resident of East Freetown, Mass., Smith had once been a member of the fire brigade in his native Liverpool.
A pool of a quite different sort, meanwhile, was in Weidenbach's background. A former All-American swimmer, she had competed in the 1980 Olympic trials after her freshman year at the University of Michigan. Looking for a change, she took up running and discovered all the discipline she'd learned in swimming served her well on the track and road.
Last year she barely missed making the three-woman US Olympic marathoning contingent, getting passed in the last mile at the trials race by Julie Isphording to finish fourth. This and other strong showings, including her 8-minute, 8-second victory over Lynne Huntington in Boston, indicate she's genuinely world-class, a real comer who has only begun to tap her potential.