They say it’s the Holy Grail of running and who can argue?
The Boston Marathon, chugging along since the 1800s, truly is the gold standard for those who take the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thing really seriously.
Not only because of its amazing heritage but because you have to qualify to get in.
The standards are high: Young folks have to run around three hours and the rest of us in the four-hour range in order to toe the line in Beantown each April.
In a sense, if you get in, you win. You can strut around and brag, telling everyone in the office or school or bar that you made the 26.2-mile cut.
In fact, there are marathons around the country which boast about their percentage of Boston qualifiers, such as Steamtown up in Scranton, which features about a thousand-foot elevation drop.
For first-time qualifier Fraser Marlow, a training partner of mine, running a 3:18 at last month’s Philadelphia Marathon became an instant highlight of his running career.
He had gotten close before, missing by just 40 seconds in 2017, but this time he was determined not to fall short.
“Arriving at the turnaround at mile 20 in Manayunk I was waiting for that familiar sinking feeling as otherwise healthy leg muscles turn to lead,’’ Marlow recalled. “But the feeling never arrived so I pushed on.
“By mile 24 I knew a qualifying time was in my sights so I dug deep to maintain a 7.35 pace through to the finish.
“I still have yet to decide if I will apply to run Boston, but something tells me that when the time comes, the draw will be too strong. I have coveted the Boston jersey for many years, and now that I have the chance to go up to Massachusetts and collect it, it would be stupid not to.’’
For veterans such as Mike Gross and Pete Lederer of the Bucks County Roadrunners Club, it’s almost become old hat.
That doesn’t mean it’s ho-hum, it just means they know what to expect.
Both men were on hand in Boston when the bombs went off in 2013 but sure enough they were back the next year, not giving in to the terrorists.
Gross first qualified when he ran the 1990 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington with hopes of finishing in the neighborhood of 2:25, which was close to the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying standard. Boston wasn’t really on his mind.
He may have gone out a little too fast and paid for it in the final two miles, crossing the line around 2:48. But that was still good enough to get him into Boston.
“I didn’t run Boston until a few years later but after running one I knew I wanted to go back,’’ he said. “My goal then was to run well at the 100th anniversary Boston in 1996. That was an amazing day and one I was happy to be a part of.’’
To top it off, Gross ran in a distance medley relay at the Penn Relays four days later. That just happened to be the 100th anniversary of that venerable event, so quite a unique double.
Lederer qualified in 2003 and, incredibly, has run every Boston since.
Like Marlow, he qualified at Philly, needing to break 3:16 to make it.
“Being that this was going to be my first marathon I was mostly concerned with finishing, but I kept that time in the back of my mind,’’ Lederer said.
“I struck up a conversation during the marathon with another guy who had the same goal, but he had run that time previously so I stayed with him for a long stretch. Late in the race the wall hit me hard and I struggled in the last few miles.
“I remember getting to mile 25 and I knew that if I pushed I could make my qualifying time. I tried to pick up the pace and it hurt, so for a few seconds I slowed down. I then pictured myself finishing just a few seconds away from qualifying and thought about how bad I would feel, so despite the pain I picked it back up again and finished in 3:15:42.’’
Seventeen seconds to spare. That was cutting it close but maybe it made it a little extra special.
“Given the small percentage of people that are able to qualify it felt like a huge accomplishment for me,’’ Lederer said. “Once I ran Boston I was hooked and haven’t missed one since.’’
Richard and Maggie Kanak hit the mark on the first try, in Philly, on their first tries in 2011.
He ran 3:09 (16 minutes under the standard) and she ran 3:27 (28 minutes to spare).
“Funny part is neither of us knew anything about running a marathon, we just winged it,’’ Richard said.
“In 2013 I wound up with a stress fracture and had to be happy with running Maggie in the last couple miles, but it was one of the most incredible moments of my life to be with my wife as she made the “right on Hereford and left on Boylston” to finish the Boston Marathon.
“We got back to the hotel and then the chaos of the day occurred, the bombings. But we didn’t let them keep us from going back, though. We were back together for Boston in 2015 and 2017 and, God willing, we’ll be back for some more.’’
Bucks County Roadrunners Winter Series Jingle Bell 5.3-Miler, 9 a.m., Tyler State Park, Newtown. Contact www.bcrrclub.com