In the men’s race, a lead pack of five runners consisting of Levy, Tim Harte, Ryan LaFleur, Terrance Shea and Paul Gompers (first mile in 5:22; second mile in 10:45; and third mile in 16:16) led from the start at Roberto Clemente Park in the Fenway, along the Riverway, Olmsted Park into Brookline, and Jamaica Pond.
At four miles, the leaders had already passed the Arnold Arboretum and were running into a headwind on the Forest Hills overpass. While a clear day gives a view of the city skyline and beyond to the left of the overpass, a dense fog made seeing even the four-mile clock difficult (21:36). At the fifth mile (27:08) in historic Franklin Park, the largest jewel in the Emerald Necklace park system, Gompers seemed like he might restate the claim he once held on the Boston running scene. The former Harvard University All-American (and fourth place U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials finisher in 1988) looked like the class of the field. But when he began to assert himself going into the Franklin Park Zoo approaching the turnaround point of the race, the four Unicorn-clad contenders responded quickly.
The pack mentality took over in the zoo. Shea and Harte moved to the fore, while Gompers, Levy and LaFleur repositioned a step behind. Past Outback Trail and Butterfly Landing, the course suddenly turned cross country through Giraffe Savannah, a stone-dust tract which was cut specifically to showcase the zoo to the half’s participants. Reportedly, giraffes, zebras, lions and even a wallaby came forward to see what the excitement of the B.A.A.’s newest athletic masterpiece was all about.
Leaving the zoo, the lead pack was still intact and got a cheer from those behind them. (The two leading women–Sarah Nixon and Cathi Campbell–were entering the approximately ½-mile stretch in the zoo, just as the men were exiting.)
They went through seven miles in 38:05 before Harte and Shea made their move. Harte, on the faculty at Harvard and an alumnus himself, trains regularly not only with his B.A.A. teammates but also with Gompers, a faculty member at Harvard Business School. Gompers still holds the U.S. Junior Marathon World Record established when he was 19-years old, and he looked to be one to watch. But crossing back over the Forest Hills overpass, it was clear that it wouldn’t be his day. LaFleur, too, gave a fight to the eighth mile, but then began to fade.
That point marked a key moment in the race for Levy, who suddenly found himself gapped between Shea/Harte and Gompers/LaFleur. Levy, a Jamaica-born, early ‘90s grad from UMass/Amherst, has worked for the Boston Celtics for the past 15 years in community relations. Perhaps he drew inspiration from passing the Franklin Park golf course (site of the 1992 World Cross Country Championships) where he had competed for the Minutemen. At any rate, like the Celtics dynasty teams of the 1960s and ‘80s, he rallied.
Levy has received honors for his work from the city, the league and his alma mater for his contributions to Boston’s youth and sports constituencies. A veteran on the local road race scene, Levy is in the midst of training for this year’s November 4 New York City Marathon (as are Shea, Harte and LaFleur), a race which will serve as the U.S. National Championship.
Each of the four, however, knew the historical significance of what it might potentially mean 10, 20, or 106 years from now to be a B.A.A. champ. It was full-court press time on defense: Levy latched back on to Harte and Shea. Then, on offense, as if he was pushing the ball up court, he pulled the former two leaders to a five second gap by the eighth mile (43:20 and a 5:14 split, the day’s fastest).
Again past the Arboretum and Jamaica Pond, the trio faced familiar territory. Levy, Harte and Shea train together on this rolling stretch of the Jamaicaway along the Boston side of Olmsted Park during the summer and fall in preparation for road races, cross country and marathons. By nine miles (48:47), Levy ran one-second ahead of Harte and five seconds ahead of Shea. The winner would come from this trio.
Levy, 36-years old and from Watertown, said after the race, “I felt confident at the nine mile mark. We began to string-out, and I thought I could win.”
Leaving Jamaica Pond, he pushed his luck. It paid off. With a definitive break, Levy posted a seven-second margin over Harte at the 10-mile mark (Shea was seven seconds back). While Harte seemed to be resigned to the fact that Levy was increasing his lead comfortably, Shea had other ideas. By the 11th mile (59:31) and approaching the Fenway wrap-around to the finish, Levy was eight seconds ahead. With a last gasp, Shea closed to within five seconds by the 12th mile (1:06:01) but could get no closer. Beneath the late-morning shadows of the Museum of Fine Arts, the race was essentially over.
Levy’s winning time of 1:10:57 indicated the challenging and honest nature of the charted course. Shea, of Somerville and who matriculated at Bucknell, was runner-up in 1:11:03. Harte, of Cambridge, held on to third in 1:11:13, beating a hard-charging Gompers (1:11:25) for battle-of-Harvard-alum-and-faculty honors. LaFleur, a Back Bay resident, was a satisfied fifth in 1:11:41.
“I came to see the course yesterday [Saturday], and I’m glad I did,” said the victorious Levy. “The reason? I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy it today,” he said in reference to the challenges of racing.
“I’m generally not an [strong] uphill runner, but the pace was comfortable enough so that it really didn’t come into play,” said Levy. “They [race organizers] designed the course to showcase the Emerald Necklace, and they certainly did.”
Levy, who represented the B.A.A. and the City of Boston early this year at its sister city race in Japan (the Kyoto City Half Marathon), has witnessed some of the world’s greatest road running events. “I knew the B.A.A.’s reputation would bring a lot of people in,” he said. “It was definitely a race. I’m training to run as well as I can at New York, but this was one of those races that you really want to win.”
Four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers agreed. “It was a spectacular, well-managed, and beautiful course,” said the former Jamaica Plain resident. “I just had to run it … to be part of bringing an event of this caliber for the first time to Boston. A course can make the race, and this is an attractive one. Just like the Boston Marathon or certain cross country courses have their own characteristics which make them special, so does this run around the Emerald Necklace.”
Rodgers, who resides in Sherborn, Mass., finished 27th overall and won the 50-years and older category by nearly five minutes in a time of 1:20:31.
The B.A.A. Half Marathon, presented by New England Baptist Hospital, is the newest event added to the Boston Athletic Association’s schedule of events. Its premier event, the Boston Marathon, was first contested in 1897 and has become the world’s oldest annual marathon. Proceeds from the B.A.A. Half Marathon will benefit the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, a private-public partnership whose mission is to restore and maintain Olmsted’s vision and intended use of the park system.
- By Jack Fleming, with Bob Murdock