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Harrell ready for return to Boston
by Steve Beavers
Apr 19, 2014 | 406 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woody Harrell can run again.

The 66-year-old has his sights set on Boston and tackling Heartbreak Hill for the first time in 39 years after overcoming a foot injury.

Harrell will be part of about 36,000 runners pounding the pavement Monday during the 118th Boston Marathon.

The runner is running Boston for a third time, the first since 1975. Monday's run through "Beantown" will be Harrell's 12th marathon. His first try in Boston produced a time of 3:09:08 in 1973.

"In '73, I was still in the Army and wasn't thinking about Boston until a couple years ahead of the race," said Harrell, the retired Shiloh National Military Park superintendent. "I qualified at the Rotary Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach on St. Patrick's Day in March and sent my $2 registration fee to Boston the following Monday."

Things have definitely changed since the 1973 version of the race, according to Harrell.

"In those days there were no T-shirts or participation medals," he said. "Medals went to only the top 15 places and they were hardly bigger than a thumbnail."

Harrell received a certificate for running weeks later.

Besting four-time Boston winner Bill Rodgers (1975, 1978-80) in '73 was a highlight for Harrell.

"I did something Bill didn't do," said Harrell of the twos first Boston event. "He dropped out after 22 miles because of the heat."

Harrell even had a T-shirt made to commemorate the occasion. The yellow shirt has the Boston Marathon course and "I Beat Bill Rodgers in 1973" on the front.

"I met Bill in Jackson at the Mississippi Blues marathon and he motioned for me to come over," said Harrell. "He got a big kick out of it."

Rodgers, grand marshal for Monday's running, also singed a photo with himself and Harrell in from the 1975 run.

After skipping Boston in 1974, Harrell was back in town for the '75 event.

"The urge for me to return was too strong to resist," he said.

1975 marked the bicentennial of Paul Revere’s ride and the start of the American Revolution. It was also a day where everything went right for Harrell.

"There are days when everything just seems to fall in place," he said. "For me, Monday, April 21, 1975, was one such day."

Through the help of a friend, Harrell started the race on the second row where he found himself rubbing shoulders with 1973 and 1974 runner-up Tom Fleming.

"My immediate thought was how to survive this stampede of runners whose pace today was going to be a minute or more per mile faster than mine," he said.

Harrell went on to finish with a PR time of 2:36:27, good for 208th place.

"Another 30 seconds would have put me in the top 200," he said.

Harrell would run nine marathons before cutting his foot while running on the beach. The injury put a hold on his marathon days.

"I was in Boston about six years ago and thought I would go run Heartbreak Hill one more time," he said.

After running the hill, he had the desire to go back to Boston.

"After completing the 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trial in 2012, I felt like my foot was stronger and I could run again," he noted.

He did.

After a successful Austin's Shoes Run with Rotary 5K, Harrell and his wife, Cynthia, headed to Virginia Beach to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

"I needed to run under 4:10 to qualify," he said.

Harrell finished in 4:04 and was Boston bound.

"Even if I had to drag myself, I wanted to go to Boston in 2014 because of what happened in 2013," he said.

Two explosions seconds apart near the finish line killed three and injured 264 more last year. Corinth runner Kenneth Williams, running in his 12th Boston, was among thousands of runners who were stopped less than a mile from the finish after the race was halted.

Williams will be back for his 13th Boston on Monday. The President of Corinth Coca-Cola Bottling Works has organized a special run and shirts for those he knows didn’t cross the finish line last year. Those runners are expected to go back Sunday and complete the short distance they weren't allowed to cover last year.

"There is a lot of pressure for me to do well, but I am looking at it as a run instead of a race … no one is expecting Peyton Manning to go to the Super Bowl 40 years after he played in his first one," said Harrell.

Should his ankle and achilles hold up, Harrell would like to qualify for the 2016 along with Cynthia.

"I am too old to start the 12- to 13-year stretch like Kenneth," he said. "It would be nice to requalify and Cynthia and I run Boston together … I will see how I feel after the first 2-3 miles."

Harrell plans on breaking the 26.2 miles into two races.

"The first 20 miles you will find out if it's your day or not," he said. "The last six, you hope you are in good shape and can go ahead and finish it."

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