If speed traps were set up along today's Boston Marathon race route, Bob Hall might be a candidate for a traffic ticket. He expects to go 30 to 36 m.p.h. on the downhill that begins the race and perhaps on a few other inclines. Hall, an 11-time entrant from Belmont, Mass., won't be doing that on foot, but in one of the customized wheelchairs he makes for a living and markets to disabled individuals for everyday and sports use.
Hall won the race in 1980 with a time of 2 hours, 2 minutes, 21 seconds, which is 6 minutes faster than Boston record holder Alberto Salazar covered the 26.2 miles on foot in 1982.
For logistical reasons, the 38 wheelchair competitors in this year's race will take the starter's gun in Hopkinton 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the field, and the top entrants manage to extend that lead.
While not in head-to-head competition with runners, Hall says he uses their performances as a yardstick, and occasionally their proxmity as an inspiration. `` I've been in races with a pack of runners in front of me climbing a hill, and that group helped pull me up the hill because it made me work harder.''
Hall, who has been a US wheelchair team member in 1974, '82, and '83, says that wheelchair races are now included as part of virtually every major marathon.
Although acceptance of wheelchair competitors as athletes is still not as complete as he'd like, Hall points to two exhibition races in the '84 Olympics (a men's 1500 meters and a women's 800) as a definite sign of progress. He is disappointed, however, at the disparity in prize money in today's race, where the top male and female runners will receive $30,000 apiece and the first-place wheelchair finishers $2,500 each. ``We should be looked on as athletes, not just an added attraction,'' he says.