For One Marathoner, Race Isn’t Always to the Swift

HOPKINTON, Mass. The rows of portable toilets that line the streets of this bucolic suburb in preparation for the Boston Marathon see heavy duty just before the starter’s gun goes off as runners nervously empty their bladders before the race, but one contestant who is checking out the turquoise and white facilities will stand out from the crowd.


“I know I’m different,” the male runner who identifies himself only as “Sam” says to this reporter, “but my needs are the same.”

Sam is conspicuous by his shortcomings; he’s not nearly as tall as the other entrants who have already arrived here, and despite a diet that consists entirely of seafood, he’s nowhere near as slim as the world-class competitors who will line up against him Monday morning.

               Training run.


“Lotta people are counting me out,” says the three-and-a-half foot emperor penguin. “I’ve never let other people’s opinions hold me back.”

The Boston Marathon is the nation’s oldest, and it has gradually expanded from an event for able-bodied men only to one that features ten different divisions, including male and female runners, male and female handcyclists, male and female wheelchair competitors, and unisex categories for cosmetologists, osteopaths, calligraphers, Aleutian Islanders and excommunicated members of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. “The race now reflects the colorful tapestry that makes Boston such a vibrant city,” says Chamber of Commerce Spokeswoman Edie Miniscus. “I just hope the penguins don’t litter the streets with krill.”

Switzer: “Back off — the penguins are gaining on me!”


There was no official bar to penguins entering the historic race, which is patterned after the 26.1 mile course run by Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens to bring news of a military victory, but a culture of anti-penguin sentiment worked to discourage the aquatic birds from entering. “In high school I showed up for track and field and the coach told me I’d be better off on the yearbook staff,” says a determined Sphenisciformwho will wear bib number 16,001 named “Lyle.” “I went to one meeting and couldn’t get away from those goody-goody types fast enough.”

And so it took guerilla action similar to that employed by Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the race with an official number that she obtained by the subterfuge of signing her registration papers as “K.V. Switzer.” Sam and Lyle mingled with other runners at the starting line last year and jumped into the field as it took off, only to be accosted by Boston Athletic Association officials when they slowed down to climb “Heartbreak Hill” in Newton, Mass.

“Guys — remember to stretch.”


“I don’t mind them birds racing,” said Jock Semple IV, great-grandson of the race official who tried to remove Switzer from the race course. “As long as they remain flightless, which I figure ain’t gonna change for a couple million years of evolution.”

Last year the penguins made good time through Ashland, Framingham and Natick, but begin to slow as they reached the half-way point, alongside the campus of the all-female Wellesley College. There, young women lavished attention and affection on them in addition to the customary cup of water as the birds re-hydrated in style, then lingered longer than their race-day game plan calls for.



“How you feeling?” Sam said to Lyle as the latter climbed onto the lap of Meredith Gersh, a senior English major from Nyack, New York.

“I’ve got a cramp,” Lyle replied. “I think I’d better drop out.”

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