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It's back to Boston for Amby Burfoot

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published April 12. 2013 4:00AM

Sometime Monday afternoon Amby Burfoot will run along a stretch of road in Boston where he had one of the scariest running experiences of his life.

The 66-year-old Groton native will be running the Boston Marathon on the 45th anniversary of his win in 1968.

It was in the latter stages of that race, as he had taken the lead and was closing in on the finish, that the then 21-year-old Wesleyan University senior could not see the road in front of him.

As he ran, huge crowds blocked his path but parted so he could pass, something he likened to Moses parting the Red Sea or the climbs in the Tour de France.

But as he passed, the crowd would close back in behind him. So when he tried to sneak a peak to see if anyone was getting close, his view was blocked. So on he ran, scared to death.

"Being in the front at Boston is the most fearful experience I've ever had in running," he told me earlier this week. "I wasn't envisioning breaking the tape but someone catching me."

But no one did and Burfoot went on to victory taking home the winner's wreath instead of the $100,000 that will go to Monday's winner.

Burfoot's run in Boston on Monday will be a lot less stressful as he plans to run-walk his way to a sub 4:30-finish. Running with him will be his brother-in-law Bill Billing of Noank and a friend, Kris Wraight of New London. A first time marathoner, Wraight will have the thrill of running the course with a past champion.

Since the 25th anniversary of his win, Burfoot has a tradition of running Boston every five years.

"I haven't done it now in five years so it's time to haul my carcass back on the course," he joked. "For me it begins the countdown to the 50th. I can see that on the horizon."

Not only does Burfoot hope to run the marathon on the 50th anniversary of his win, he said he's toying with the idea of running the race every year until then, when he will be 71.

"It gets more difficult every five years," he said. "You don't get younger. You don't get stronger and you don't get fitter," he said.

Burfoot's training for Monday's race did not start out well. Around Christmas and New Year's he was sick with the flu and bronchitis and by mid-January he said he said zero fitness.

But three weeks of running on the beach in Florida got him back on track.

"I hung in there and gradually increased my runs," he said, adding that's he'd got in one 18-mile run.

"I'm feeling pretty good actually," he said.

But Burfoot quickly pointed out that he no longer goes to Boston to race.

"I just want to run comfortably to the finish," he said, calling Boston "a very personal experience where you can challenge yourself" and enjoy the celebration of life that occurs there every Patriot's Day.

Last Thanksgiving, Burfoot celebrated another anniversary running in his 50th straight Manchester Road Race, an event he has won nine times. He is also a fixture each New Year's Day at the annual Run and swim in Groton.

And on June 30, he will join former Wesleyan teammate and four-time Boston winner Bill Rodgers at the inaugural Legends Run four-mile race in Middletown. The race is sponsored by the Hartford Marathon Foundation.

"I'm very excited to be part of it. Me and Bill have not run together at Wesleyan in 45 years," he said.

Finally, we're all going to be seeing more of Burfoot, who has recently retired from his longtime editor's position at Runner's World magazine in Emmaus, Pa.. He was in town last weekend looking for a house and he said he and his wife plan to move back to Mystic. He also plans to run some local races.

Joe Wojtas is The Day's running columnist

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