There is no running race with as much tradition as the Boston Marathon, nor any event that celebrates its history as much. That’s understandable, with 116 years of running on which to draw for moments of greatness and inspiration.
Boston formalizes this celebration each Saturday of race weekend with its Champions Breakfast, where past winners are recognized, with those marking a five-year anniversary of their victories being especially singled out. “It’s a great thing,” said Bill Rodgers, who won here four times between 1975 and 1980. “Our sport has a great history, and we need to keep it alive with things like this. I think a lot more races should do it.”
This year’s honorees were 1968 winner Amby Burfoot, Jackie Hansen, who won in course record 3:05:59 five years later, and 1983 champions Joan Samuelson and Greg Meyer, the latter the last American man to win Boston.
All four reminisced about their historic runs with a mixture of humor and reverence. Hansen, the only one of the quartet who will not be reprising their run on Monday, recalled her mistake of wearing terrycloth shorts on a warm day. “I wanted to look patriotic, but halfway through the race they were soaked with every drop of water that had been sprayed or tossed on us,” she said. “The water ran down my legs and soaked my wool socks, so I squish-squoshed my way up Heartbreak Hill. But winning Boston really changed my life as a runner. I was no longer a miler, I was a marathoner.”
Burfoot, coached by former Boston winner Johnny Kelley, has continued a lifetime in the world of running after his Boston win, chronicling the sport for almost 40 decades and earning the mantle as one of its most eloquent and insightful observers. “I don’t consider myself a particularly religious or spiritual person, but I realized I needed a mantra for my race,” he said. “And the one I came up with is, ‘Every mile is a gift’.”
Burfoot was the first U.S. victor at Boston in 11 years when he won 45 years ago; Meyer’s win 15 years later marked the last time an American man ever crossed the line first. Running with two of his children Monday, Meyer anticipates a much slower time than his 2:09:00 clocking of 1983. “We plan to run an unremarkable race in an unremarkable time,” he said. “We hope to finish in time for dinner, because we like to eat.” Responding to that line, Burfoot quipped, “Wait another 15 years Greg. You’ll be lucky to make Tuesday breakfast.” Working with the John Hancock corporate running team this year helped Meyer keep his training honest, he said. “It’s a lot harder to skip a workout when you have to get out there with other people.”
Samuelson, who set a world record 2:22:34 when she followed Meyer across the line 30 years ago, also plans to run slower, but for the 1984 Olympic gold medalist, that’s a relative term. “Everybody who meets Joanie thinks what a nice person she is,” said Meyer. “When she gets in a race, she’s a cutthroat.” Samuelson recalled a more leisurely run last year with her daughter, Abby. “I never thought I’d still be running long enough to be able to do that,” she said.
Samuelson, Meyer, Burfoot and Hansen have all continued their involvement in the sport in one way or another throughout the years since their victories, all of them acting as inspiration and role models for thousands of runners. Perfect embodiments of what being a champion means, they prove why Boston celebrates its past winners like no other race, and justifiably so.