CJ Albertson led the Boston Marathon last October for 20 miles.


The history of the BAA Boston Marathon is replete with tales of running bunnies, individuals who command attention by rushing forward in an unholy clip for a 26.2-mile journey.

Rabbit sprints from the start line to create significant separation from the elite peloton on the Hopkinton Center descent. The TV truck in front has no choice but to focus on the bunny, ensuring quality face time in front of a global audience.

The 15 minutes of fame granted to the hare rarely exceed his allotted time. The bunny slowly fades away and is swallowed unceremoniously by Ashland Center’s surging pack, never to be seen or mentioned again.

But Clayton “CJ” Albertson of Fresno, Calif., was, in the cinematic words of Monty Python, “no ordinary rabbit.”

Albertson is a teacher who supplements his income as a cross country and track coach at Clovis Community College in Fresno. Albertson made his Boston debut in the only fall race in BAA history on Oct. 11, his 28th birthday. The 2020 race and the April 2021 race have been canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Albertson used a scorched earth, take no prisoner pace with the gun. But unlike the outrageous pioneers of the past, Albertson nearly succeeded.

Albertson ran the first mile in 4:32.0 and maintained a considerable lead over the flats of Framingham and through the business districts of Natick and Wellesley.

Albertson was still running solo at the fire station bend and on the first of Newton’s four hills, but started working at the gates of Heartbreak Hill and was swallowed up by a group of 15 tactical runners before the summit.

Even with his race plan in pieces, Albertson refused to blend in. He rallied on the descent to Cleveland Circle and crossed the finish line at Copley Square in 10th place with a splendid rookie time of 2:11:44.

“After they passed me, I just made a conscious effort to keep them close,” Albertson said. “Basically I ran as hard as I could to the top of the hill and luckily there was only about 100 meters of the climb left when they passed me.

“Then I took the descent again and basically ran as hard as I could to catch up with them and get back into the race. By then they hadn’t made their moves yet and I could catch them.

“Shortly after that they put down the hammer and the race opened up from there. So it was a combination of my accelerating downhill before they really started to accelerate.

Albertson has returned to training over 100 miles a week to prepare for his second race in Boston and will reunite with the elite peloton for the 126th edition on the morning of Patriots Day.

The year following the Summer Olympics is a great time for the Abbott World Marathon Majors and the BAA believes this is the fastest field Boston has ever assembled. The Tokyo games were held in 2021 instead of 2020 due to the pandemic.

Barring late dropouts, the men’s pro field has 11 entrants who ran under 2:06.00, with five former Boston winners including last October’s champion Benson Kipruto of Kenya beating the tape in 2:09:51.

Other returning champions are two-time winner Lelisa Desisa (2013, 2015) and Lawrence Cherono (2019) from Kenya, Lemi Berhanu (2016) from Ethiopia and Yuki Kawauchi (2018) from Japan. Albertson said he plans to run fast from the start but expects to be in good company this time around.

“I think I’ll start the same way and I think most competitors will start a little faster,” Albertson said. “My pace will be the same but I’ll probably be with a peloton this year but you never know.

“I thought the same thing last year, but this year with the talent and quality of the field and the large number of guys, I imagine someone else is leaving quite quickly.

“It will just be a matter that I will feel pretty good about and I know the first half really suits me. So it’s just about how fast I can actually run without it being too fast. I think the peloton will come out very soon and we will see what happens.

Kim Smith of New Zealand pulled off a similar ploy on the women’s field during the Boston Marathon in 2011. The former Providence College harrier built a 30-second lead in the field, but her blistering pace in the downhills did a number on his left calf around Newton Lower Falls.

Smith started work after the firehouse bend and was devoured by the field on the first of the Newton Hills. Smith retired from the race near mile 20.

“It was the strategy in place and I felt comfortable doing it,” Smith said after the race.


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