Just before Australian Rob de Castella runs a marathon, he carefully writes his predicted splits in indelible ink on the top of his left hand.
When he entered the Boston Marathon Monday, his left hand reflected two paces: 2 hours 8 minutes, and 2 hours 10 minutes--the fastest and slowest times he had hoped to run.
Even the fastest turned out to be too slow.
De Castella, 29, who hasn’t won a marathon since the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki, not only won his first Boston Marathon Monday, but he did it without a challenge and in 2:07.51, establishing a record for the course, which was revised this year. His performance was the third fastest in marathon history.
Only Portugal’s Carlos Lopes, the world record-holder at 2:07.12, and Welshman Steve Jones, who ran 2:07.13 last fall in Chicago, have run the 26.2-mile distance faster.
It was De Castella’s best performance and his first win in this country. His best previous time was the 2:08.18 he ran nearly five years ago in Japan. “The most satisfying thing is winning,” he said when it was over.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve won a major race. It certainly is great to be first across the line.
“The next satisfying thing is the time. It gives me tremendous personal satisfaction that I’ve run my best time. I’ve beaten the course. I’ve beaten the field. It gives me an indication that this should be a good year.”
The results were not as sweet for women’s winner, Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen, who has been locked in a race with Joan Benoit Samuelson, the Olympic gold medalist, to become the first woman to break 2:20.
Kristiansen, 30, who said she was plagued by menstrual cramps, finished her first Boston Marathon in 2:24.55, way off the world-record time of 2:21.06 she ran last spring in London.
“I didn’t feel I could push enough today,” she said. “I don’t feel my body was with me. I had some problems with my stomach. I’m very disappointed. But it is still a goal for me. I will try the next time again.”
De Castella and Kristiansen each won $30,000 and a Mercedes-Benz in Boston’s first year of awarding prize money. De Castella earned an additional $25,000 for breaking the course record of 2:08.52 set by American Alberto Salazar in 1982. The women’s course record is 2:22.43, run by Samuelson in 1983.
Canadian Art Boileau was the second man, in 2:11.15. Third was Italian Orlando Pizzolato, winner of the last two New York City Marathons, in 2:11.43.
A surprise fourth-place finisher in 2:13.36 was four-time Boston winner Bill Rodgers, who had aimed only to place in the top 10.
“I thought maybe I could get 9th or 10th,” Rodgers said. “I knew I couldn’t win. I got fourth by default. But now I’m psyched to train harder.”
The second woman was Carla Beurskens of the Netherlands in 2:27.35. Lizanne Bussieres of Montreal was third in 2:32.16. Evy Palm, a 44-year-old Swedish runner, was fourth in 2:32.47 and Sinikka Keskitalo of Finland was fifth in 2:33.18.
The first American woman to finish was Julie Isphording, a member of the 1984 Olympic marathon team, who was sixth in 2:33.40.
About 4,800 entrants lined up in Hopkinton to run under nearly ideal conditions--cloudy skies, occasional mist that later turned to rain and temperatures in the 50s.
The powerfully built De Castella, termed “a meat grinder” by Rodgers Monday, typically runs with a pack until about the 20th mile, where he uses his strength to break his competitors. This time, however, he found himself running a solitary race by the 10th mile. And he continued running alone until the end.
“My basic plan was to try to settle down within the first 6-10 miles--I thought there’d be a big group and I’d sit in the back,” he said. “But I was in the front almost right from the start. I was feeling relatively comfortable, so I thought ‘What the hell--I might as well go to the front and keep the pressure on.’ ”
Among those he left behind him were Kunitmitsu Ito of Japan, who finished 10th, Arturo Barrios of Mexico, running his first marathon, who finished fifth in 2:14.09, and Joseph Kipsang, a Kenyan who ran second for most of the race and eventually dropped out.
“Kipsang and I ran together for a few miles,” De Castella said. “At one of the hills he seemed to be struggling. That was a good sign to me.”
Once De Castella moved out front, he began to concentrate on the notorious hills in Newton he knew awaited him just after the 17th mile. They are known collectively--and for good reason--as Heartbreak Hill.
De Castella, stockier and with thicker thigh muscles than most elite distance runners, has a distinct advantage when it comes to hills, particularly when they occur near the end of a marathon. For most runners, running downhill can be as punishing as going up, and there is more downhill running on the Boston course than uphill.
“I tried to keep in control,” De Castella said. “I knew those hills were coming up. I was focusing on running strongly. I tried to run aggressively through the hills.
“I prepared myself to be challenged at any stretch. It’s when you relax and think the race is won that someone comes up on your shoulder. I didn’t think I had the race won until I crossed that finish line.”
Between mile 21 and 22, a young, overweight spectator jumped onto the course and began running alongside De Castella, showboating for the television cameras. An irritated De Castella shoved him off the road.
“He was just some big fool,” De Castella said. “I guess I just got a bit short-tempered during the race. These things happen sometimes.”
For Kristiansen, it was one disappointment after another as she continually lowered her sights. She had planned to pass the half in 1:07. Instead, she didn’t reach it until 1:09.44.
“I thought if I ran the same the second half, I could still do it,” she said, groping for the proper English words. “But I saw I couldn’t push enough. I then tried to concentrate to get the best time on the course. But I didn’t get it.
“But I won the race and that’s it,” she added. “Maybe I can do a better race next time.”
Despite De Castella’s marathon losses in recent years, he has still run respectable times, including a 2:08.48 last fall in Chicago for third place.
“At no time did I ever doubt that I could win again,” he said. “But I don’t go into races just to win them. I like to compete. I’m a competitive athlete. That’s what I do best.”
As he spoke during a postrace press conference, he was interrupted by a fire alarm that sounded throughout the hotel where the session was taking place.
As the sirens continued, he grinned. “I sure hope we don’t have to make a run for it,” he said.