“There is a Boston College fable that if you play Sympathy For The Devil backwards you hear “666 – 11:06 at the Pond- Jose Rocha, Joe Rocha… 666 seconds.” but that was just a drunken rumor that Dermot Fitzpatrick told me as a frosh at BC. I saw Rocha at the New Bedford Half Marathon a year ago and he totally denies it.”
12:03 at The Pond.
That’s what I ran that when I was 18 years old, just edging out the soon-to-be three-time world cross-country champion Lynn Jennings (12:04) in an early season tempo race while a freshman at Boston College. It was a speedy and flat 2.5 mile-ish blissful jaunt around a tiny reservoir off a busy parkway in Cambridge, Mass. with an Olympic Bronze medalist and my teammates from BC. We took a school-owned van to the race. (Jennings probably arrived in a fancy car.) A few of the runners ran there; and some others had arrived via the MBTA Red Line at the Alewife station just across the Fresh Pond Parkway. Fresh Pond is an unusual gathering of elites and joggers.
But that’s The Pond. You never know who is going to show up. Could be some weekend warriors, a collegiate harrier, or even a world-class athlete. You just have to keep showing up to see who appears. So, with this memory lingering in my aging head, I decided to go back to the pond by the woods. I decided once again to run intentionally; to suck the marrow out of my 40-year old legs, as Thoreau may have said if he were a runner.
It was cold November day and I had grown tired (actually my wife had) of the high entry fees for local road races and I wanted see what I could do for 5 miles around The Pond. I had a few 5K races looming ahead of me before I began my Boston Marathon training in December. The problem with The Pond now is, my commute is about 50 minutes from the suburbs instead of my BC dorm room in Newton or my post-collegiate abode in a three-decker in Brighton.
The Fresh Pond weekly (yes, 52 weeks a year!) 2.5- and 5-miler races are as known to the Boston running community as the marathon itself. The race offers no t-shirt or number, charges no entry fee, and serves no post-race feast. You get nothing but a choice of one or two loops (although I once watched a 2:11 marathoner complete ten loops at tempo pace). And be sure to park your car across the street at the elementary school behind the Honda dealership or the city of Cambridge will charger you a hefty parking ticket fee (unless, perhaps, it’s a Prius).
The recent recession has worn all of us down. Marathons can charge anywhere between $100-$150 per entry. Even the typical 5K has risen in cost – anywhere from $20-$35 per race! But not Fresh Pond; there is no Rock n Roll entry fee here. The cost has been the same forever and as long as the city of Cambridge allows it to continue, it will remain the same. $0. There’s no worry of qualifying times or online entries. You just show up and give your name to the main with the clipboard. He goes by Phil Keeley.
Then there is the folklore. BC kids regularly speak of the great alum Jose Rocha running 11:06 for the 2.5-miler (666 seconds). I had often thought there was something preposterous about the statement although I later heard that Charlie Spedding – the British Olympic bronze-medalist marathoner – actually had the record of 11:04. But who really knows? There is no record of these times, no Internet archive (believe me I looked). Like New England, the legend of Fresh Pond has been built on oral tradition. Maybe Rocha snuck over one Saturday and used his 10K speed to take a shot at the record and perhaps posted his result under another name (Randy Thomas and Norm Levine – collegiate coaches both loved and hated – have been pseudonyms allegedly used by runners I have been associated with.) We’ll never know.
My recent performances at The Pond were close to pathetic. I went out in a 5:40-something mile and faltered along the way, running 31:20 and 30:50 respectively for the 5-miler. Not very strong for someone trying to break 3-hours in the marathon. But my ability to train is not what it once was. My mileage is well below the 70-100 miles per week I trotted through the Boston streets as a youth. And my speed? Gone forever.
When I was 20 years old, I went to Fresh Pond with my teammate and roommate, Pete Sakalowsky, and we paced each other to a 25:20 time for two loops. It was one of the most comfortable runs I’d ever done. The sad part of the race was that the rest of our team was out at Notre Dame running in the National Catholics and we had been the #7 and #8 guys on the team and were left behind. The race showed we were in good cross-country shape, and later that year I ran excellent times in the 1,000 meters, 3000 meters, and steeplechase. I credit my base training and runs like The Pond for building my threshold ability to clip off 5:00 pace.
So if you are ever in Boston and you are looking for a race, go see Phil Keeley and the rest of the crowd over at The Pond, 10:00 a.m. any Saturday, rain, snow, wind or shine. I even called Keeley to check if the race was still going on.
“Of course we’ll be there,” he replied. “Where you coming from? Need directions?”
Coach @ ran cross country and track at Boston College back in the days when it was a big East, not ACC, contender. He is aiming for a strong Boston Marathon this spring, now that he is old and gray. Contact him here.
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