BOSTON (AP) — When marathon runners talk about hitting the wall, they don’t usually mean the Big Green Monster at Fenway Park.
But on Friday, 50 runners will circle the outfield 116 times to cover the classic 26.2-mile distance in a race being billed as the first marathon held entirely within the confines of a major league ballpark.
“I’ll have ‘Sweet Caroline’ playing on my iPod,” said Becca Pizzi, a competitor from Belmont, Massachusetts.
Longtime Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray organized the unusual event, which will be staged while the Red Sox are on the road against the Rays in hurricane-ravaged Florida.
As a boy, McGillivray dreamed of playing second base for the Sox, but despite some success in high school, he was a little too short to have a reasonable crack at a professional baseball career.
So McGillivray turned to running, where he had some national success during America’s long-distance running boom in the 1970s.
He’s competed in several events where the finish line was inside Fenway — most notably a 1978 run across the continental U.S. that began in Seattle’s Kingdome and ended within the hallowed walls of Boston’s storied ballpark.
“That sort of started it in my mind,” McGillivray told The Associated Press. “The stars were lining up and a pattern was forming. I thought, ‘Instead of running into it, why don’t you run a race within it?'”
Over its 105-year history, Fenway has hosted hockey tournaments, European soccer friendlies, Irish hurling, rock concerts, movie nights and even ski jumping.
McGillivray approached the Red Sox Foundation, the team’s official charity. When he got the go-ahead, he floated the concept on Facebook to see if anyone in the running community was willing to participate.
“I just got slammed” with expressions of interest, he said.
To keep things manageable, McGillivray decided to limit the field to the first 50 runners who entered. Each had to commit to raising $5,000 for the foundation, which focuses mainly on improving health and promoting recreation for New England children.
Pizzi, 37, who won the 2016 World Marathon Challenge — seven marathons in seven days on seven continents — didn’t hesitate to sign up for Friday afternoon’s odyssey, despite acknowledging the monotony of running 116 laps on the crushed stone path around the park.
“I think it’s going to be so unbelievably awesome to be running around that field and past the Green Monster,” she said. “The Boston Red Sox and running are two of my favorite things. And we’re making history.”
Others in the field include Michael Wardian, a world-class ultramarathoner from Arlington, Virginia; Rick Hoyt, who was born with cerebral palsy and was pushed in his wheelchair by his father, Dick, for 32 successive Boston Marathons; and McGillivray, who’s served as race director for three decades.
Already, McGillivray is thinking big. If the Fenway race is a success, he envisions sequels in other big ballparks — maybe even a World Series of stadium marathoners.
“There aren’t too many hills,” he said, joking. “Not unless you run up the steps to the concessions.”
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