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Islander Bill Lehr competes in Boston Marathon

“I thought I was free-falling,” Islander Bill Lehr said about pushing off from the starting line at Oct. 11’s Boston Marathon. 

He was in the field of about 30 wheelchair athletes, which was about half of a regular lineup for past races. The veteran of hundreds of competitive races, including Boston and two Olympics, as well as being a fixture at the Island’s 10K, said he’s never gone “as fast in my life at the start. I never heard sounds coming from a chair like that before.”

The speed was because for a couple of miles or so of the marathon, it was downhill. Also, in previous races, there was a more controlled start, which Mr. Lehr remembered when he competed in 1986. But the 2021 version was a mad dash.

“The top guys, they were just gone,” Mr. Lehr said. “I mean ‘whoosh!’”

The 63-year-old athlete finished the 26 miles, 385-yard course in a very respectable 2 hours, 46 minutes. Marcel Hug, 35, won the wheelchair division in 1:08, just a few seconds off his course record.

It wasn’t just the wheelchair division that had a smaller than normal field for the world-famous marathon. After a 30-month absence due to the pandemic, the runners in the field numbered about 18,000. In the pre-COVID era there would be more than 30,000 competing through the streets of Boston.

Mr. Lehr’s Boston race 35 years ago was difficult, he said, because the weather that April day was “cold, rainy with a strong headwind.” October’s marathon had a bit of wind, but was warm and dry.

He had high praise for the marathon’s organizers, handling transportation efficiently and taking care of  equipment.

Overall, he was a bit “disgruntled with my time,” but added that he didn’t hit a “wall,” the racers’ term for suddenly feeling exhausted near the middle or end of a long race. “I finished strong,” Mr. Lehr said.

And that start, although a bit scary, “was a real thrill,” he added.