By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

This year's Boston Marathon stands out for one reason: I won't be there. After 13 straight appearances, I'm stuck here on the West Coast, as one of the defining events in Boston sports carries on without me.

Will I miss running it? Absolutely. More than you know. Because I never actually, um, ran the thing. But I did watch it every year, and I cheered on the runners, and I knew some people who ran the race, and my family gathered in the same place to watch the race every year. So that counts, right? It was always one of my favorite days of the year.

With that in mind, and only because I can't be there this year, I slapped together one final edition of one my favorite old columns, an idiot's guide to the Boston Marathon:

Boston Marathon
For some the Boston Marathon is a grueling 26.2 mile quest, for others it's a long party.

Q: Where and when does the Marathon start and finish? How long have they been doing it?
The Marathon takes place on the third Monday in April, the centerpiece of a pseudo-holiday in Massachusetts called "Patriots Day." What are we celebrating? Nobody knows. Basically, it's an excuse for college students, state workers and people who don't care about their jobs to take the day off and get hammered. They've been doing this thing for 106 years, making this race almost as old as Jesse Orosco.

The race kicks off in Hopkinton at noon, stretching for 26.2 miles through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brighton, Brookline and finishing at Boston's Copley Square. The last acknowledged group of runners stagger through the finish line around 5:30-6:00 p.m.; that's when we give up and leave everyone still running the course for dead.

Q: What are the course records?
Kenya's Cosmas Ndeti currently owns the course record, having finished the '94 race with a time of 2:07:15. Fellow Kenyan Margaret Okoyo set the women's record last April -- 2:20:43, a full 13 1/2 minutes slower than my man Cosmas. The lesson, as always: Men are faster than women. Also, South Boston's Murph broke the record for "most beers and cigarettes" in 1992, downing 31 bottles of Bud and plowing through four packs of Marlboro Reds in a six-hour span at Cleveland Circle.

Q: Does the local media pay too much attention to the Boston Marathon?
Geez, you think? The Boston Globe devotes a 780-page special section to the Marathon every year. Who reads that thing? Aren't they all the same stories every year? If they accidentally printed the 1993 special section instead of the 2002 section, would anyone even notice? And do we really need live TV coverage from every major local network? Apparently, it's better to have three TV networks beating a local event into the ground than one.

I always compare big local sports events to blowouts in football, because the overkill/oversaturation of media coverage gives networks and newspapers a chance to utilize some of their "talent" that hasn't been used enough lately (like the third-string QB playing in a blowout). Something like the Marathon allows everyone in the local sports media to get some PT. And I mean, everyone ... third string TV reporters, the print reporters buried on the high school/college beat, the news room janitor ...

Q: Before fleeing for the West Coast, where did you watch the Marathon?
Right on Route 16, at my Dad's house, which is pretty close to the midway point of the course. Back in the day, I was usually good for three sandwiches, 200 potato chips, 150 pretzels, five beers and at least 25 inappropriate comments. You can't put a price on shouting encouragement to the finest runners in the world while holding a beer in one hand and a corned beef sandwich in the other. As an added bonus, Marathon Day always marks the first time in the Red Sox season when my Dad shakes his head and says, "They don't have it this year."

Boston Marathon
From elite runners to your beer guzzling friends, the marathon is open to everyone.

Q: Which places would you recommend to watch the Marathon?
Definitely check out that Wellesley College area, just because everyone in the all-female school comes out in droves (right around the 10-mile mark). Also, the Coolidge Corner area can get pretty lively (quality bars galore, especially if you walk down to Allston), plus, you can hop right onto the Mass Pike or Storrow Drive after the runners cruise though. And Heartbreak Hill -- a punishing uphill climb near the Boston College campus, kicking off the final six miles of the race -- is appealing if you want to watch exhausted runners throwing up and defecating on themselves.

Q: Which places would you avoid?
Avoid the Kenmore area at all costs, because there's a double whammy: the Marathon and the annual 11 a.m. Red Sox game, which makes for a congestion nightmare once Sox fans start pouring out of Fenway (usually around 1:30-2:00, right as the first runners are running through). And Cleveland Circle is always too crowded, filled with drunken BC students bemoaning the fact that they couldn't get into Holy Cross.

Q: Why is it that you can't buy most products unless they have tamper-proof packaging, but when you run the marathon, you eagerly accept oranges and water from complete strangers who might be raging psychopaths?
No idea.

Q. Why do female Bostonians go bonkers when the top female runners start running by?
Who knows? It's like some sort of inexplicable robo-feminism/sisterhood thing, absolutely the most annoying subplot of the whole afternoon. I always tried to get my revenge beforehand -- whenever I was watching the Marathon in a large group, I always waited for someone to ask the question, "Have any of the female runners come by yet?" After somebody answered, "No, they haven't," I would wait for two seconds, then answer, "Don't all the women run at the beginning with the wheelchair people?"

(Guaranteed high comedy. Women flip out when they hear stuff like that, even if you don't really mean it. It's just fun to get women riled up. That joke made my Dad laugh every year ... then my stepmom would stay mad at him for at least a half-hour afterwards. The good old days.)

Q: Where do the runners go the bathroom?
Usually they set up port-o-johns along the race, but runners concerned with their times usually do one of three things:

Boston Marathon
When you've run 20 miles, you'll trust anyone handing stuff out.

A. Hold it in.

B. Veer off the course and pee behind a car.

C. Pee on themselves while they're running.

Just for the record, the Sports Gal performed "C" a few years ago while running the race. She explains the situation matter-of-factly, saying, "I didn't want to kill my time so I just kinda let it seep out ... it's all water, anyway, especially when you've been running for a few miles."

Sounds like a good time, huh? Any athletic activity that causes you to pee on yourself, justify it and have the justification actually make sense is something I don't want to be doing under any circumstances. Thanks, anyway.

Q: Why do casual runners put themselves through this?
You really have to love competing to understand. For instance, my first time hiking Mount Washington was the worst experience of my life -- hot, miserable, endless, almost as painful as the ESPN column I ended up writing about Mount Washington -- yet I eagerly did it two more times. Does that sound rational? Of course not. Maybe it's that moment when you see the finish line (or the top of the mountain, or whatever) and feel that rush of exhilaration, or the feeling of warm pee running down your leg, with no repercussions. I'm really not sure.

Then again, I'm not sure I understand the marathon thing, or triathalons, or any of those things. Anything that causes your toenails to fall off and dehydrates your body to the point where you lose control of your bowels ... well, that isn't high on my "things to do" list. That's just me.

Q: What happens once you finish the race?
They throw a warm jacket on you, then make you walk another half-mile to the post-race center in Copley. When you get there, you pick up your clothes, greet your family and receive a free massage. Since you smell like holy hell, nobody wants to come within five feet of you. Pretty anti-climactic. Most runners just want to head home and pick their toenails out of their sneakers at that point.

Q: On to the important stuff ... how would you break down the event for somebody who has never attended the Marathon before?
All right, this is easy, and it definitely applies to any marathon: Let's say you're watching the Boston Marathon on the 13-mile mark on Route 16. Here's a quick diary of what might happen:

12:00 -- The race kicks off. Meanwhile, male spectators are saying, "Well, it's the afternoon now, I think I'll crack open my first beer."

12:35 -- The first wheelchair competitors zoom by us. They get a 15-minute head start over the runners, and the best ones always finish the race in the 90-100 minute range. I'm always disappointed that they don't make them use old-fashioned, four-wheel wheelchairs -- like the ones they have in hospital -- instead of these aero-dynamic tricycle things. Why use wheelchairs that nobody would ever use in any sort of a real-life situation? Does anyone else think about this stuff?

Boston Marathon
These wheelchairs could out-perform most SUVs.

1:05 -- The first group of runners passes through, always the most electric part of the race. Sure, they're all foreigners with American first names and bizarre last names with all consonants -- like Joseph Prtwqdfxvc and Miles Ktrrwtcvfgn -- and there are no Americans to be seen, but you really have to see these guys tearing along in person, clumped in a pack, to appreciate them. They look like they're jogging and barely breaking a sweat ... and yet they're running three times faster than we could ever hope. Whoosh. Amazing to watch in person. Almost as good as Mike Tyson's pigeons.

1:06 -- About 20 seconds later, the second group of male runners come flying by ... or as my Dad always jokes, "Here come the white guys!" Then the next 10 minutes are filled with top-notch runners, maybe the best 250-300 male runners in the world.

1:15 -- The third tier of runners makes it through -- guys in terrific shape, but not quite world-class -- along with the first few female runners. Those females always elicit the loudest responses from the crowd. You know, the whole sisterhood thing.

(That reminds me ... did you ever notice how some of the elite female runners are so skinny that they appear like another species entirely? Can you imagine seeing any of them naked? Who would date them? Wouldn't it be a little gross to have a girlfriend who's 5-foot-5 and weighs 53 pounds? What do they eat, bugs?)

1:25 -- Now we're into the fourth-tier: average guys in superb shape, former college runners and females who aren't quite world-class. Every runner over the next 10 minutes looks serious because they've been training for the past few months to break three hours. All of them have a business-like, "Don't make eye contact with me" look going. These are the guys in college that A) hit on your girlfriend when you were away for the weekend, B) rowed crew, and C) drove Miatas.

1:45 -- This is my favorite group ... the fifth tier. For the next 30 minutes, expect to see a variety of athletes running by, including the following groups:

A. Average runners like my buddy Nez, who hope to finish around the four-hour mark but don't mind stopping for a second to chat.

B. Older guys chugging along nicely, even though they look like they could drop dead at any moment.

C. Really, really hot, scantily-clad chicks in superb shape. God bless the invention of the jogging bra. It's added five years to my life. And they're so into the whole running thing, it's probably the only time you can openly goggle women without their "Somebody's checking me out" radar kicking in. What a beautiful thing. Whoops, am I talking out loud?

2:15 -- Now we've entered the "freak" portion of the race: People trying to finish in four hours or less, running alongside college kids carrying fraternity flags, transvestites, people dressed in Viking garb and wackos wearing Larry Bird jerseys or multi-colored afros. There are some strange people out there. This usually lasts for about 20-25 minutes. After that, you've seen enough and you're probably buzzed enough to call it a day.

Boston Marathon
A free piece of tinfoil and a backrub -- yep, looks like it was all worth it.

Q: What's the best part of the Marathon?
Patriots Day ... or as I like to call it, a day off!

Put it this way: There are hundreds of reasons to hate living in Massachusetts. The weather stinks. City living is ridiculously expensive. The accents and fashion senses are just plain humiliating. Every time you walk into Store 24 or 7-11 to purchase a newspaper, you end up waiting in line for 20 minutes while losers load up on scratch cards in front of you. You can't find good Red Sox tickets, you can't afford Celtics tickets and you don't want Bruins tickets. Our football team was forced to build its stadium 30 miles outside of downtown (and we almost lost them to Hartford).

Wait, there's more: The Never-Ending Big Dig makes it impossible to go from one side of Boston to the other in less than 30 minutes (will that thing ever be finished?). You need to drive almost an hour out of the city to see a good concert. You can't find a good slice of pizza unless you're in the North End. The bar scene crawls with big-haired chicks and beefy guys looking to sucker-punch someone. The list goes on. Believe me.

And yet Bostonians have this one thing that nobody else in the country has -- a random day off in the middle of April, when it's finally getting warm and we can spend a guilt-free afternoon outside. Maybe the only day of the year when everyone in Boston is having fun at once. Well, except for the people running the damned thing.

Q: Finally, what are your Top 5 favorite perversely-entertaining Marathon moments?
Hmmm ... I'll guess I'll go with these five, none of them involving that horrifying Uta Pippig "incident" from a few years ago (she's been ragged on enough for that one):

1. Rosie Ruiz faking her women's victory in 1980 -- she ran a few miles, hopped on the T, snuck back in around the 22-mile mark, crossed the finish line first and was actually declared the winner for a few hours. That always cracked me up. Now they stick computer chips in everyone's sneakers.

2. Ever hear of a famous local named Johnny Kelly, who won the Marathon in like 1940, then kept running it every year into the mid-90's? About a decade ago, Kelly was laboring to finish the race and stumbled across the finish line, where his equally-ancient wife was greeting him. Of course, since Johnny was so damned old at this point, he couldn't put on the brakes fast enough ... and he bowled his wife over. At the time, it wasn't funny at all. It was awful, actually.

Now?

Well, as Alan Alda said in "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Comedy equals tragedy plus time." In fact, I'm giggling as I'm typing this.

Boston Marathon
In the Boston Marathon you can bet on someone from Kenya, or you can lose.

3. During the '92 Marathon, back when I was a college senior, we drove down from Worcester to support two of my running roommates -- Nez and Night Train -- from my Dad's house off Route 16. Two-plus hours into the race, they reached our group and stopped for a few minutes, looked at everyone eating and drinking, then simultaneously said, "Screw it, why are we doing this?"

And they stopped running right there. Five minutes later, they were eating sandwiches and drinking beer. A classic moment in Peer Pressure History. Brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

4. That time the foreign guy beat the other foreign guy down the stretch. Will you ever forget that moment? Yeah. Me, neither.

5. Four years ago, the Sports Gal reached my group at the aforementioned 13-mile mark, stopping to say hello for a few seconds, a moment that was captured perfectly by my stepmom's camera:

There's my girlfriend, caked in sweat, her hands on her knees, trying desperately to catch her breath ... there I am, the supportive boyfriend, my left hand on her shoulder, looking concerned ... and if you look closely enough, you can see me holding a plate in my right hand, a plate filled with a half-eaten roast beef sandwich, some Ruffles and a giant scoop of potato salad.

Sums up the Marathon experience for all parties, doesn't it? I miss it already.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and he's a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.




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