Bill Rodgers, Steve Colvin, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Linda Polach, Natalie Jacobson, President Bill Clinton/ Credit: Courtesy L. Polach

I have a special relationship with the Boston Marathon. Although I’ve never run even a step of that 26.2-mile route, each April for more than a decade during the ‘80s and early ‘90s I sat in a television control room — eyes glued to a dozen cameras capturing the runners — making split-second decisions about what the viewers at home would see.

In my role as executive producer of WCVB’s live coverage of the Boston Marathon, my team had to learn everything about every aspect of this complex, exciting, competitive and heart-wrenching road race. We knew the route, the elite runners, the wheelchair athletes, and it was our job to make sure we captured key moments in the race. 

We also had to attract the best marathon analysts to help guide our coverage. That was the beginning of my relationship with one of the greatest runners of all time, Joan Benoit Samuelson, the two-time winner of the Boston marathon and winner of the first-ever Olympic women’s marathon. Who better to work alongside Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson? Our No. 1-rated local news team was also partnered with another running legend, four-time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers. It was a perfect combination, but it wasn’t always glamorous. To get to the perch above the Lenox Hotel, everyone had to crawl through a hotel window and climb onto the roof.

As part of my job, it was my responsibility to market our coverage. One year, I went out on a limb with an idea to garner more attention. I called the White house and asked if then-President Clinton would like to jog with Joan and Bill. Much to my surprise, he said yes! Our team of Jacobson, photographer Steve Colvin, Bill, Joanie and I flew to Washington, D.C., where we filmed a great promotional video of the run. 

While that was the fun side of covering the marathon, the event itself was nerve-wracking and incredibly stressful. At any given moment during the race, we had to know when a given runner would be hitting checkpoints to make sure we captured it on camera. We needed to know if an elite runner fell off pace. We had to be aware of when the wheelchair athletes made it to the finish line so we could capture their victory. It felt like there were a million milestones we had to make sure our viewers saw — while expecting the unexpected such as an accident or a weather-related incident. Our cameras were everywhere, but we could choose only one image at a time. Once we started using split-screen technology, we could show viewers several things happening simultaneously. 

After the winners crossed the finish line we focused on the hundreds of stories that captured the essence of the race: runners crawling to the finish line, runners with prosthetic legs, runners with crazy costumes, runners who stopped to kiss loved ones for more inspiration — It was an endless series of stories that we were privileged to tell. 

For more than a decade, these annual experiences cemented my respect for all the runners and my admiration for those who work hard to produce coverage of the race. Today, only one local station, WCVB, covers the race live from start to finish. I wish I could say I’ll be watching on April 15, but my daughter Alyssa will be running her first Boston Marathon, and I’ll be trying to support her in person along the way — a fitting continuation of my family’s love of the marathon. 

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