Before I take up the amusing little matter of whether John Kerry’s claim of having run the Boston Marathon is true, let me share some relevant personal background:
I am married to a long-distance runner. As any similarly situated spouse or significant other will tell you, runners are statistics freaks. Over the course of our 11-year-marriage (and nearly three years of courtship beforehand), I have had to listen to the stories behind every race and notable run my hubby has undertaken–from the fun runs he ran as a kid to every college steeplechase race to every community 5k and 10k race he has run in Los Angeles, Seattle, and the D.C. area. I have had to hear time and again about the training regimens before the races, the weather conditions on the day of each race, what was eaten before each run, and, of course, the times of each run.
But that’s not all. Runners aren’t only obsessed with their own times and performances. They’re obsessed with everyone else’s times and performances, too. My hubby, like most serious runners, is a font of running trivia. Want to know what the splits were for the winner of the Chicago Marathon in 1985? Or who the most recent American distance runner to win an Olympic medal was? Or the name of the first female finisher in the Boston Marathon in 1980? You get the idea.
So, anyway, the b.s. detector of my husband and many other runners went crazy when Kerry told sports reporters that he had run the Boston Marathon. This is a significant athletic achievement, if true. There is no official record of him having run, however, and the November issue of Runner’s World reports that “he doesn’t recall his time…”
No record of him having run? That means that if Kerry ran, he did so unofficially. In the running community, this is considered a major no-no. Unofficial runners do not pay to run (the costs involved in hosting a marathon are not trivial); they have a tendency to line up at the starting line ahead of registered runners; and they increase the likelihood of error in the recording of finishing times of registered runners. Running unofficially at Boston in the 1970s or 1980s would have been an especially egregious breach of runners’ etiquette because it was the nation’s most prestigious race and entry was limited to those who had met a tough qualifying time.
Doesn’t recall the year he ran? It’s possible, but the year of the race could easily be inferred from details Kerry should be able to remember. If he ran in 1977, he would remember the heat (nearly 80 degrees). If he ran in 1978, he would probably remember hearing about the close finish (two seconds between first and second places). If he ran in 1979, he would remember the cold, drizzly weather (40 degrees) and the American Records set by the winning man and woman. If he ran in 1980, he would definitely remember the Rosie Ruiz scandal.
Doesn’t recall his time? As I say, runners remember everything. And they never let you forget it either.
My nose began to twitch at Kerry’s apparent inability to recall the year of his first marathon–a very unlikely memory lapse given the intensity of the training experience.
If Kerry really ran this race, then Hillary Clinton is telling the truth about being named about Sir Edmund Hillary. The claims are equally incredible.
Meanwhile, President Bush’s impressive running record is here. 3:44:52 for the Houston Marathon. Whew! How do you like them apples, John?
Update: Reader Blaine Alvarez-Backus, who is himself an accomplished marathoner, writes:
[Y]ou’re spot-on about runners. I’ve done Boston, New York, Chicago, LA, Vermont, Twin Cities, Houston, and a bunch of smaller marathons to small to even mention, and I can remember the weather, what I wore, how I felt and what my times were. Kerry might have run the first 5 or 10k of Boston, but he sure as hell didn’t run it, or even run a qualifying time in either a half-marathon of a full marathon for it!
Most of my readers agree that running the Boston Marathon as a bandit would be improper. Dr. David Shimm disagrees:
While I share your opinion that Kerry is a serial liar and I think he is a sociopath, I should point out that running in the Boston Marathon as an unregistered “bandit” was hardly a “major no-no,” at least in the 70’s thru early 80’s (when I lived there). In fact, I even had a friend who ran a qualifying time fast enough to be an official entrant, but chose to run as a bandit to protest what he felt were exclusionary qualifying rules.
For more commentary on politics and running, check out this piece on the great miler Jim Ryun, which I wrote a few years ago after ESPN neglected to include Ryun among its “Congressional Athletes of the Century.”