Vermonters chart their own course to Boston Marathon

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VERNON — Vermonter Donna Smyth has raced her entire life, be it as a student sprinter or adult marathoner and 50-miler. But after suffering injury upon injury pounding the pavement, the 58-year-old physical education teacher has limited herself the past two decades to dirt roads and trails.

"She's a great runner," says her husband, Fred Ross III. "But when people ask how many times she has done the Boston Marathon, she has had to say she hasn't."

That hits Ross in the heart. Born and raised in Natick, Mass., at the race's 10-mile mark, the 71-year-old Vernon resident can tell you how he ran the event as a teenager in the 1960s (his mother driving alongside) before he could officially enter at age 18 as a student at Vermont Technical College.

"Boston is the oldest annual marathon there is," he says. "People line the whole course. It's a big deal."

Ross went on to work 49.5 years as a Vermont Agency of Transportation highway technician who helped roll out the Interstate. Retirement has given him time to win a slew of senior races — and to wonder how to get his wife to run with him in Boston.

Ross knew she'd first need to qualify by finishing under a specific time in an officially sanctioned marathon. Anticipating her concerns about asphalt, he proposed designing a 26.2-mile route on the gravel roads alongside Windham County's Green River.

Smyth recalls his pitch: "When he said, `What if I certify a course?' I said, `Fine,' thinking he's never going to do that."

Then her husband downloaded USA Track & Field's course measurement and certification procedures manual and Boston Athletic Association qualifying standards.

"Then I thought, `He's really doing this.'"

Last Labor Day weekend, Smyth and four friends ran what Ross deemed the Green River Marathon. Winning entry to the 122nd annual Boston event with a time of 3:40:49, she obtained shock-absorbing cushioned shoes to train with fellow area Red Clover Rovers every Tuesday morning before dawn.

As a result, Smyth and Ross are set to join 106 other Vermonters in a 30,000-participant field running Monday from the Boston suburb of Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill to the John Hancock Tower.

"If I'm going to do this once, I'd be happy if I ran my qualifying time or faster," Smyth says, "But I'm really out for the experience. My motto is run with your heart and have fun."

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.

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