No Marathon Monday.
No early morning buses shuttling runners to within walking range of the starting line. No piles of sweat pants and pullovers discarded on Hopkinton common. No kids along the route with orange slices and cups of water. No undergrads from Wellesley cheering runners when they pass through the Scream Tunnel. No massive gathering at the Newton firehouse on Comm. Ave. No breakfast club Red Sox fans atop the Green Monster, turning away from the infield to watch runners come into Kenmore Square. No thousands of Mylar sheets sheltering runners as they stagger from Copley Square after finishing the race.
For the first time since 1896 there will be no Boston Marathon in mid-April. This is the spring of 2020, which we will remember as a time when every path and roadway was Heartbreak Hill. If COVID-19 allows, the 124th Boston Marathon will be run on September 14.
Bill Rodgers, who won the race four times between 1975-80, says, "The world is upside down now, but it will be righted. It’s like a marathon, you feel your way through it. Think of the days ahead and what you’ll be aiming for. But right now, we’ve got to deal with this.''
Now 72, Rodgers last ran Boston in 2009. He still runs five times a week and says he’ll go for a run Monday, but he will not be tempted to go to Hopkinton and agrees with Boston mayor Marty Walsh who has discouraged the notion of runners taking to the course.
A Connecticut native who went to Wesleyan, Rodgers first won Boston in 1975 and remembers, "There was a tail-wind that day and it was a little blustery. I didn’t have much gear in those days so my brother Charlie went over to a nearby hardware store and bought me a pair of gloves. Gardening gloves. And they helped me so much. Those became my good luck gloves.''
Tuesday marks the 45th anniversary of Rodgers’ first Boston win.
Let the four-time champ take you through the paces of Boston:
"Running Boston, you’re trying to stay aware. I remember all the kids. I never felt that in any other marathon. You didn’t see that in other places. Here it’s like a family event because it’s so old.
"The start is loud and crazy and downhill. You could always tell the newcomers. They get carried away and go too fast at the beginning. There are helicopters overhead and it’s a very narrow start. So it’s intense at the starting line and people are sprinting. So as you go down to Ashland, you just watch and play it by ear the whole way. You’ve got to be careful because the crowds are so intense and by the time you get to Framingham and Natick it flattens out. You try to sit back and draft behind the other runners and you watch the contenders as much as you can.
"I remember the train station in Framingham. The crowds get bigger and bigger as you go. Natick is nice and flat. You should be feeling really good there. If it’s a hot day, you can already be struggling there at like 10 miles. The people make the race and you really feel that. I think everyone gets carried away in Boston.
"You cut to Wellesley which is kind of narrow, but the crowds are big. One of my favorite parts of the race is coming out of Wellesley toward Newton Lower Falls, it’s just a phenomenal downhill and I used to train there all the time so I really knew it. That’s where I made my move to win in ’78. Most people don’t want to run hard in the middle of the race.
"Turning onto Commonwealth Avenue at the firehouse was the best. There is nothing . . . New York has Central Park . . . but the crowds there on Comm Ave are more intense than anywhere. That’s Boston. It’s really priceless.
"Cleveland Circle is another good part of the course. I used to have the (running) store there. You can really fly out of there. If you go too early in the Boston Marathon, it will eat you alive. You’ve really got to be ready for the downhills.''
Our marathon tragedy of 2013 was a precursor of sorts. It was four days after the Marathon bombing that many of us first exercised Shelter In Place. In 2020, this is effectively what we non-essentials do every day. Monday, April 20 will be no different than the last five Mondays of our social-distance spring.
Boston Race Director Dave McGillivray says, "Since I’ve run 26.2 miles on Patriots Day for the last 47 years, I’m planning to run 26.2 miles on Monday. But I’ll be running around my own neighborhood and by myself. Of course it won’t be ‘offiical’, but I’ll have nothing else to do. I know many others doing the same thing — running a marathon by themselves in their own neighborhood.''
"Runners are very simple,'' says Rodgers. "We don’t make things complex. We find a simple way to keep going.''