KFHS teacher hoping to qualify for 2nd Boston marathon

Published 9:18 pm Friday, June 15, 2012

submitted Photo Marathon: King’s Fork HIgh School teacher Tammi Clarke hopes to qualify for the 2012 Boston Marathon. This would be the second time she competes in the race.

By Titus Mohler
Correspondent

Tammi Clarke, a sign language interpreter at King’s Fork High School, recently became one of the select number of people to be invited to the Boston Marathon.

Clarke, 51, only began running in earnest when she was 40, and then “mainly, because of a dare by [her] sister-in-law,” she said.

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Going along with the rest of her family just for the sake of running, she wound up getting hooked on it.

“My first race was a half-marathon, which is 13.1 miles,” she said. “I liked it, so I decided to run a little farther.”

As she continued to run, she noticed something. For her age, she had some natural speed.

She noticed that one of her marathon running times was a mere five minutes off the pace to qualify for the Boston Marathon. This was significant.

“The Boston Marathon is the only marathon in the world that you have to qualify for,” she said. “You can’t just join. You can’t buy your entry; you have to earn it.”

Experts devise pre-set time limits based upon gender and age, and qualifiers must run a race under those limits and under certain other required conditions.

“The Boston Athletic Association looks at it to make certain that it met all the qualifications they need,” Clarke said. “Like, it’s got to be a certain amount of people in the field, it can’t be all the way downhill, the distance has to be certified by USA Track and Field, and then they send you an invitation to participate.”

Though many runners complete marathons, less than 10 percent of them are invited to compete in Boston.

Clarke embraced the challenge.

“I thought, ‘You know what? If I work a little harder, maybe I can qualify,’” she said. “So, I did, and I did.”

Her qualifying time needed to be no more than four hours and five minutes, and she came in with a time of three hours and 54 minutes.

When race day arrived, she was struck by the scope of the event, as even schools and government offices were closed.

“Up in Boston, they’re consumed with it, because that’s a holiday up there — it’s Patriot’s Day,” she said. “So they’ve been doing this forever. Everybody comes out — the crowd support, it almost gives me a lump in my throat now to think about it, but to just see all these people screaming and yelling, it’s like you’re one of the elite athletes of the world.”

Runners did not lack for supporters at any point along the way, from little kids handing out fruit, to college students offering kisses. In some instances, whole families helped out as the race went through Boston’s urban and residential areas.

“(Families) had big, giant huge coolers, and they were just handing you big chunks of ice and people were taking them and putting them in their shirts, putting them in their hats, just to keep cool,” Clarke said.

“It was the second-hottest Boston Marathon on record,” she said. “Optimal running conditions for a marathon (are), like, in the 50s, and it was, I think, 87 or 89 at one point during the race.”

For the first time in the 116 years of the race, officials offered runners the chance to defer until next year. Clarke and many others, however, went ahead with it, despite the risks.

“But the people of Boston and the race directors and the volunteers and the fire department and the medical staff were really, really, unbelievably well prepared,” Clarke said. “They never ran out of water or Gatorade, there was ice everywhere. The fire department had opened up some of the hydrants.”

Hundreds of gallons of water were consumed, and no serious medical issues arose as the city used bullhorns, road signs and local TV to urge runners to slow their pace and not strain for a personal best under such conditions.

The extraordinary conditions drove even elite runners and perennial winners from Kenya and Ethiopia to slow down. Clarke was pleased with her 4:28 finishing time.

Clarke aims to use an August marathon in Quebec to qualify for a return trip to Massachusetts. Clearly, her sister-in-law’s dare has given birth to a real passion.

“It was incredible,” she said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”