These past few days the running world has been focused on one thing: the Boston Marathon, Marathon Monday, the best running day of the year. And for the past three years I’ve been a part of it. The first year was amazing. On my way to the expo, I cried when I saw the finish line, when I picked up my bib and as I marveled that I finally earned the right to be there. The second year was hot and tough and I don’t remember most of the race except for feeling grateful to have finished.
This time, I wasn’t certain I would go. My mom was dying, it was Easter weekend, and how many years in a row could I justify spending that much money and time for a race? But for the first time ever, my best running buddy and I were both qualified at the same time. After almost 14 years and thousands of miles together, how could we not run Boston together?
Our training was going well, until one long run in February. Amie wasn’t feeling well. She was sluggish, exhausted and feeling terrible. I advised her to take some time off. That’s when she discovered that she wasn’t sick. She had a future runner on board. We slowed down our pace and cut our runs short, but we figured if we could get her through one 16 mile run, we could get her through the race. She would be 13 weeks pregnant and had her doctor’s permission to run.
As we waited to board the buses Marathon Monday morning, I wasn’t filled with the same excitement that had been so overwhelming in the previous years. As the sun beat down on us, I worried about what the heat and sun would do to Amie. I wanted her to finish, but not at the risk of hurting herself or the baby. All we could do was be smart and hope some cloud cover would move in.
The downhill start of the race coupled with the electric atmosphere causes a lot of runners to go out too hard. It takes a lot of discipline not to get sucked up into the mob mentality and go out at a lighting pace. It’s also hard not to get frustrated as you get elbowed and kicked as people frantically swarm past you.
In those early miles I was thinking to myself that three Bostons is more than enough. I don’t need to come back here next year. But then I began to look around and observe what was happening around me. There was the guy that started the race with crutches, the woman running for someone who had recently passed away, the group of friends running with matching shirts and the double amputee.
I teared up when my friend Tina gracefully ran by me. Just a year ago Tina was injured and didn’t know if she would be able to finish the race. I saw the woman limping at mile three who I knew probably wouldn’t make it to the finish, but understood exactly why she started the race and understood that she had to give it a try.
As we ran, I worried less about Amie. She was smart and stopped at every aid station to dump water on her head and to drink plenty of liquid. She didn’t argue when I made her take Gu or salt tabs. She took bananas, oranges and even a Fig Newton from the crowd when she needed it, and as the miles clicked by I knew she would finish.
I learned a long time ago that the more tired Amie gets and the closer she gets to the finish, the faster she runs. So of course I found myself weaving in and out of runners chasing a pregnant woman through the streets of Boston for the last few miles. The crowds on Boylston were thicker than I remembered and I tried to take it all in. I took Amie’s hand and I cried as we finished the most iconic race together. How lucky was I and how badass was Amie?
Around 7 o’clock that night we wandered down to the finish line just to see what it looked like after everything was said and done. We made our way through workers deconstructing and happy runners taking post dinner celebratory pictures when suddenly three police officers on motorcycles escorting a runner approached the finish.
It took me a second to realize that this runner was just now finishing. Those milling around the finish lined up to high-five and cheer him on. Right after that we cheered on two more woman and a runner with two prosthetic legs. We found a restaurant with a patio to sit at and for the next two hours we helped cheer on the final finishers.
There is magic at the Boston Marathon. The history of this race, the course that’s covered with the footsteps of legends, but it’s more than that. These runners, the ones finishing in the dark, who were on their feet for nine hours or more on roads reopened to traffic, headed for a finish line while workers disassembled it, but they kept going. They kept moving with a determination nothing short of beautiful.
Everyone, finishers and fans alike, celebrating at the bars and restaurants lining Boylston Street, stood up to cheer and high-five these final runners. This is the true magic of Boston. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things while the community around them says we’ve got your back, you can do this.
As we sat there watching I found myself saying, “Next year we’ll head down to the finish line sooner” and “Next year we’ll do this.” Maybe I’ll try to qualify again, just in case I need to experience the magic one more time.
What do you think is magic about Boston?