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April 17, 2008

Pitt runners are off to the Boston Marathon

When runners at the 112th annual Boston Marathon take their marks on Monday, the University community will be represented. More than a dozen registrants included in the field of some 25,000 marathoners have connections as Pitt or UPMC employees or Pitt students. Among them are a pair of Pitt economics professors who have been training together in preparation for running the 26-mile, 385-yard course.

Andreas Blume and Oliver Board are in the final stages of a 16-week program that included runs of varying lengths to train for the grueling event.

Both have marathon experience, including the famed Boston race. Board, 35, was introduced to long-distance running by his wife seven years ago and has run in seven marathons including several in Paris and one in Philadelphia. Blume, 15 years Board’s senior, has lost track of the marathons he’s run since he traded his addiction to smoking for an addiction to running in 1982. On average, he competes in two marathons a year and estimated he’s run Boston about a half-dozen times.

Both competed in the infamous 2007 Chicago marathon that was cut short by race organizers who feared for runners’ safety after race day temperatures soared into the 80s with high humidity.

The two are hoping for more reasonable weather in Boston on Monday — temperatures in the mid-50s would be ideal, they agreed.

Board has been the architect of their training protocol, using a program gleaned from an advanced marathoning book that he has settled on as his preferred method. The program alternates short runs with longer ones — up to 17-21 miles — on the weekends, although the concentration has turned to speed work as race day looms near.

Blume readily admits Board is the scientific one when it comes to training strategy — he has kept records of all his training since he began running seven years ago. And, he was well prepared when he ran his first marathon, thanks to his wife’s experience. “Through her I knew what I was doing,” Board said.

Blume’s initial experience was very different, he recalled with bemusement. He was utterly unprepared for the race, which took place on a rainy November day with temperatures in the 40s.

In his inexperience, he donned warm socks, a sweat suit and a hat as his running attire. “I very quickly realized I was overdressed,” he said, laughing at how he abandoned his sweatshirt before the end of the first mile and how he had to run the second half of the race holding up his rain-soaked sweatpants.

“I had no notion of what it would be like,” he admitted.

Blume, whose personal best marathon time is 2:56:22, said he’d be happy to run 3:15 in Boston, while Board, whose training for the race was sidetracked by a bout of bronchitis, realistically is aiming for a 3:10. In spite of being slowed down recently, Board, whose personal best time is 2:56:20, believes he eventually can post a time under three hours again.

Blume noted that running marathons requires a serious time commitment, making it difficult to balance training time with other responsibilities — a long training run might take up the bulk of a Saturday, he said. “You come home and you’re useless.”

On the contrary, Board believes his running makes him more productive, explaining that he once suffered from symptoms of depression that have been eliminated by the regular exercise. “I don’t feel guilty about spending time running,” he said.

Training for Boston in particular presents its own challenges. Because the race is in spring, runners in Pittsburgh find themselves training in less-than-ideal cold and often dark conditions.

Blume said the Boston course is unusual as well. Its terrain is hilly rather than flat. Instead of being a loop, it’s a point-to-point race, starting in rural Hopkinton and ending in downtown Boston on Copley Square.

The Boston Marathon is unique. The race, which is the world’s oldest marathon, is an event embraced by the entire city, Board said. “There are a million people cheering you on in the race,” he said.

Conversely, in Paris, many residents “don’t even know it’s on and couldn’t care less,” he said. “In Boston they are really proud of it.”

The professors will have family members joining them in Boston. Board’s mother and sister plan to fly in from their home in London to cheer him on. Blume’s 19-year-old son, a student at New York University, is registered to run the marathon.

Those who wish to track the runners’ progress can log into on race day.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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