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THE START

New wave catches on quickly in Hopkinton

The runners weren’t really traveling at a blinding speed, but things did get off to a swift start yesterday.
The runners weren’t really traveling at a blinding speed, but things did get off to a swift start yesterday. (Globe Staff Photo / Suzanne Kreiter)

HOPKINTON -- At exactly 12:10 p.m. yesterday, Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray looked up at an empty Route 135 running through the center of town and proclaimed a ''home run."

Despite some detractors who describe themselves as traditionalists and do not like big changes in the nation's most historic marathon, the new two-wave start sped more than 20,000 runners past the village green and out of town in record time yesterday.

The first wave of 10,000, wearing blue numbers and sorted by qualifying times, hit the starting line just about noon, running 20 yards behind the 50 elite men. Within eight minutes, the flow had dwindled to the last stragglers, and in another two minutes, all were on the road to Boston.

The corrals were reloaded with the next 10,000 runners -- the red wave -- and at 12:30, another gun sounded. Within 15 minutes, only spectators and residents remained in town.

''I don't know," said Rita Boyce, who has run two Boston Marathons. ''I know what they're trying to do, but it just looks strange to do it this way. Anticlimactic or something."

But to Marathon organizers, the ever-increasing crowd of runners each year had pressed the little town of Hopkinton to the breaking point, so something had to be done.

''It was just too big a crowd for the real estate," said McGillivray.

Spreading out the runners and staging them in corrals, McGillivray said, minimized the pressure on local property owners, allowed more portable toilet facilities, and spread out the crowds using water stations and medical tents.

But if the marathon route is a long way to run, as always the memories were even longer on Hopkinton Green, where Dick and Rick Hoyt -- now as much a marathon fixture as Johnny Kelley was -- moved through the crowd signing autographs and responding to calls of good luck and pats on the back.

''You always inspire us," said a fan to Dick Hoyt as he pushed his son Rick through the crowd on the way to the pair's 25th running of Boston.

Former Governor Michael Dukakis, on hand at the start with his wife, Kitty, also shared a memory that is now 55 years old.

''When I ran Boston," he said, ''there were only about 200 runners. We went out at a 6:50 pace, but we couldn't catch up to Clarence DeMar for about 10 miles. He was about 65 by then."

Also at the starting line was Roberta Gibb, who in 1966 was the subject of the Boston headline: ''Hub Bride First Gal to Run Marathon." Now a lawyer, she vows to come back and run the Marathon again.

''I was going to run it this year," she said, ''but [the Boston Athletic Association] asked me to be the starter of this race."

When Gibb ran it as a student at Tufts, she stunned the sporting world. Starting the race in Bermuda shorts and a baggy sweatshirt, she aroused little suspicion. But after she peeled off the sweatshirt, it was clear that a woman was in the race. The men around her were supportive, though.

''They sort of hid me and spoke encouragingly," she remembered.

A radio reporter spotted her and began broadcasting that a woman was in the race.

''I didn't know whether people would be hostile because it was such a far-out thing to do at the time," said Gibb. ''But then they were cheering. When I got to Wellesley College, they'd all heard a woman was coming and they began just screaming and crying. It was just crazy. One woman was yelling, 'Ave Maria! Ave Maria!' "

Gibb believes she could have finished in less than three hours, but she held back and finished in 3:20.

''I really wanted to make sure I finished, because I knew if I didn't finish that race that women would never be allowed to run," she said. ''I had to get there and I had to do it well.

''The last 2 miles, I was really dehydrated because I didn't know you were supposed to drink the water. But when I got to Boston, I turned that corner and the crowd was just amazing. I finished ahead of two-thirds of the men."

Surveying the crowd of runners that she set off in the first wave yesterday, Gibb said she is pleased to have started a movement that resulted yesterday in a race with more than 8,000 official female entrants.

After her first race in 1966, she ran it again the next two years because, she said, ''People still couldn't believe a woman could do this, so I decided I had to come back and do it again. By then, more women were trickling into the race before the floodgates of gender equality opened in the years ahead.

''I ran the Boston Marathon because I fell in love with it. I still love it. So I intend to come back."

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