By Lindsay Knake
Michigan has a special connection with the Boston Marathon.
The last male and female Americans to win are both Michiganders: Greg Meyer of Grand Rapids in 1983 in 2:09 and Lisa Larsen Rainsberger of Battle Creek in 1985 in 2:34.
In 2011, Michigan transplant Desi Davila Linden took second by two seconds in a memorable race, and she’s back this year trying to win it again. Rockford native Jason Hartmann is headed back to Boston after fourth place finishes in 2012 and 2013.
Why is that? Is it that good ol’ blue collar Midwestern work ethic and toughness? Runners deal with all types of interesting weather in the Midwest, where it’ll be 70 degrees and sunny one day and snowing the next.
While native Michiganders would likely love to think it’s the environment that’s the key to success, it doesn’t quite seem fair to other equally hard-working and tough American athletes who’ve performed well at Boston. How about Ryan Hall, who hails from sunny California, or the tough and fiery Shalane Flanagan from Massachusetts?
If the difficult Hopkinton-to-Boston course has something to do with it, that isn’t clear either. Michigan isn’t exactly a hilly place, although there are places around the state, including West Michigan, that have rolling hills to train on.
Perhaps it’s not the climate or the physical layout of the land, but that Meyer and Rainsberger came from an era where running was a bigger sport than it is now.
While running is the largest participation sport in the U.S., it falls to 10th among sports people watch. Parents and coaches may now encourage those faster runners to play soccer and football rather than turning to the track or cross country fields.
The 1970s and early 1980s brought American distance running heroes such as Steve Prefontaine, Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit Samuelson. Meyer referred to the 1983 race as “the high water mark of American male distance running.”
But for the last decade, there’s a growing running culture in the Great Lakes State, and Michigan has contributed its share of top runners.
The Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project focused on bringing team training back to the U.S., and has produced marathoners on the 2008 and 2012 Olympics teams.
Hartmann and Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein are Rockford natives. Gina Gall Lara, a 2012 Olympian in the 800 meters, is a Grand Blanc native.
Successful collegiate runners Megan Goethals of the University of Washington and Erin Finn of the University of Michigan are both from the Great Lakes State.
Maybe, just maybe, there’s something in the water. Maybe these successful runners and teams will encourage young athletes to bring their talents to running and we’ll continue to see Michigan have a special connection with the Boston Marathon.
Lindsay Knake is a long-time runner and news journalist from Michigan. She’s a fan of the sport — especially the marathon — and follows the professionals when she’s not training for her own marathons. Find her on twitter at @LindsayKnake.