Elite start gives Bryans Boston advantage in Boston Marathon

Schenectady's Emily Bryans is taking a serious approach as she joins the elite women's field for Mon
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It’s easy to get lost in the crowd at the Boston Marathon, whether you’re a runner or a spectator.

They cram over 25,000 athletes into the town square of Hopkinton, and by the time you find your way to the big city, you’ve weaved and perhaps elbowed your way out of the throng, and certainly have run past the eyes of a million friendly strangers.

Emily Bryans of Schenectady experienced this in 1995, when the legendary race celebrated its 100th anniversary. Lightly raced as a marathoner, she trudged to the finish line and somehow spotted her mom and sister among the tens of thousands of people lining Boylston Street.

“It was kind of miraculous,” she said.

In many ways, it will be a different story for Bryans on Monday, when she returns to the Boston Marathon for the first time since that race.

Most significantly, she’ll get a tremendous — and well-earned — advantage by joining about 70 runners for the elite women’s start at 9:35 a.m., 25 minutes before the elite men and first wave, and 55 minutes before the bulk of the field is unleashed.

Like the tumblers in a lock,

everything came together to point Bryans, one of the most accomplished women’s road racers in the Capital Region over the last 10 years, back to Boston this year. It fit her schedule, and her fitness and training give her the opportunity to tackle the challenging 26.2-mile race much more proficiently than she did in 1995.

“I have to tell you, I was a very different runner then,” Bryans said. “I was a novice with the marathon. Now, I’m training with good people and I have a coach. I wasn’t looking at pace back then, I was just in it to run it, and because of that, it was fun. I didn’t care about my time, so it was fun.

“At least until the last few miles,” she said with a chuckle.

Bryans doesn’t even count the anniversary race among the half dozen or so marathons that she has run competitively in her career. This time, she’s serious, which is a different kind of fun.

She ran a 2:55:29 to win the

Mohawk Hudson River Marathon in 2006, which easily met the Boston qualifying standard for a woman of any age, and she turned 40 last July 31, which just made the cutoff to get into the elite starting group, as a master runner.

The advantage of that can’t be overstated. For years, the slower runners were stuck with official times that were misleading, since it took several minutes just to shuffle through the sardine can up to the starting line once the race started.

Even after chip timing was introduced for the big anniversary race, giving runners more accurate net times, it still takes a while to find open, comfortable running room after crossing the starting line.

Bryans won’t have to worry about that. In fact, after racing in obscurity in 1995, there’s a chance her face will show up on the television broadcast when they cut to the elite women’s start.

“It’s pretty nice,” she said. “I don’t really like being in big crowds, so there’s an advantage there.

“I’m going to run my own pace, which, for me, is the approach I have to take with a marathon.”

That will be tricky to gauge, since, although her group is small, everyone is fast, even the other 20 elite masters women.

Bryans is well-prepared, though, with a training program from her coach, Ed Neiles, that started in January. She has also been racing magnificently over the last year, during which she won the GHI Workforce Challenge last spring, finished second by five seconds to 26-year-old Willow Street AC teammate Eileen Combs in the Gazette Stockade-athon in November and has posted some of the fastest masters times in the country at the shorter distances, from 5k to 15k.

Bryans’ Stockade-athon (57:35) was two minutes faster than she ran in 2006 and ranked fourth in the U.S. for masters women and first in the Northeast. Last fall, she posted three 5k’s under 17:50, including a 17:42 at the Eliot (Maine) Run, which was in the top 20 for masters in 2007.

In March, she was second (23:27) by two seconds to former University at Albany star Alyssa Lotmore, who’s 22, in the Running of the Green (Island) four-miler, then she was the first masters finisher and third overall runner at the Chenango Forks 15k in 58:15.

“The Running of the Green, I was happy with that, because I didn’t expect to be under a six-minute pace,” Bryans said.

Under the advice of Neiles, she has been stepping up her track workouts, doing 1,000- and 1,200-meter speed work at the University at Albany with Willow Street teammate Martha DeGrazia of Slingerlands, a veteran of about 60 marathons who won the 50-54 age group at the 2003 New York City Marathon and has finished as high as sixth in the 50-59 at Boston.

Bryans’ weekly mileage has peaked around 70.

“The program has gone well for me,” she said. “It’s going as well as I’ve ever done. I was surprised with my early-season speed, and it’s a product of the program from Ed Neiles.”

Now she has to apply it to the difficult Boston course, which can lull runners into a false sense of comfort early.

She has leaned on some advice from DeGrazia and another friend, Brian DeBraccio of Scotia, a Boston regular. Bryans brings no expectations into the race other than that she’s well-armed to give it her best shot.

“It’s hard to say, because it’s Boston, and it has the reputation of being a difficult course,” she said. “I ran the 100th, and I wasn’t well-trained for it, so I can’t really compare this with that. And my last marathon was a 2:55 in the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon, and that’s a pretty easy course, so it’s hard to say.

“Some handle it OK. Martha loves it. I’m just going to try and not go out too fast. I don’t want to hold back, but I want it to be a comfortable pace. It’s easy to get caught up with a downhill start and being in a quick group. Talking about the course, she said don’t get caught up in the starts, because it can be hard on your quads.”

Who knows, maybe Bryans will stand out in the crowd.

She’s 13 years older than when she ran her last Boston, but she comes into this one with a fresh outlook as a masters runner.

“Actually, it’s been fun. That’s the great thing about running,” she said. “I really looked forward to turning 40 and running in that division, but still being able to mix it up a little bit with the younger runners.”

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If it’s the Boston Marathon, the doctor is in.

Dr. Dan Larson of Queensbury is entered once again and will attempt to maintain an incredible streak of having finished this marathon that reached 32 straight last year, one of the longest of anyone in the world at Boston.

The former Yale University cross country runner has run the race 37 of the last 38 years. . . .

The field also includes 30-year-old Shaun Evans of Middle Grove, a Galway High graduate who ran a Boston personal-record 2:39:03 in miserably windy, wet conditions last year. . . .

Siena College cross country junior captain Ryan Donnelly of Washingtonville will run in his first major competition alongside his mother, Cathy, a veteran of some of the country’s biggest races.

“I’ve ran close to 3,800 miles in the past year to prepare for Boston, but not a single one of those miles can prepare me for how amazing it will feel to cross that finish line,” Donnelly said on the team Web site. “My mom ran with me during my first marathon and was the one who inspired me to run 26.2 miles, so it only seems right to run my first Boston with her.”

Donnelly qualified for Boston by posting a 2:55 at the Hyannis Marathon in Fenruary.

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