It was only one short year ago that I was in Boston on this very weekend, getting ready to run the marathons of all marathons on Monday. People have since asked me, “Was Boston really all that?” The answer is it IS that, and so much more.
From the moment you set foot in Boston for marathon weekend, you feel you are on holy ground. The city transforms itself into a sea of blue and yellow, and you would feel out of place if you had anything on your feet besides runners. Runners signify athleticism over geekiness, a welcome change of events.
People everywhere near the runners expo at the Hynes Convention Center have their recognizable blue and yellow race day packages slung over their shoulder. Workers are lining the street with barriers and building the finish line stands. People are photographing each other on the finish line, smiling today knowing they may not be smiling on Monday. It is a hub of activity and excitement.
As you walk around on this blue and yellow cloud, it’s hard to believe it is just a regular weekend in other parts of the world.
I was humbled by the people I was meeting, runners who have run not one or two but sixteen and seventeen Boston’s. I met a man who had traveled from New Zealand for the race. People from all corners of America who regularly make this pilgrimage. The camaraderie is non-stop and all-invasive – not the place for a quiet weekend of reflection. It’s a place to embrace, and be embraced, by our great sport.
It’s hard not feel like you’re a part of running history by simply being there. At the runner’s expo I brushed elbows with storied people like Kathrine Switzer, Amby Burfoot, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and David Willey. Heady with touches of greatness and cross-eyed by the massive amounts of people, I actually got lost in the expo and couldn’t find my way out.
Everywhere, people are helping people. It restores ones faith in humanity. My high-tech Garmin watch broke on Sunday, and the manager at their booth simply gave me her watch to use. I was traveling alone, but was invited by a fellow runner to have dinner with his large extended running family in Boston’s storied north end. Everywhere people are speaking the body language of helping. It is impossible to get lost, or not know something. The first person you ask will help you.
It was surreal to walk out of my hotel at 6 am on race day and see the street lined with yellow school buses as far as the eye could see. Making my way to the Commons it could have been rush hour, as long lines of people waited to get on the buses that would take us out to Hopkinton, 26.2 miles outside of Boston.
The athletes village, set up at the Hopkinton high school, housed gigantic tents, with food and beverages being served at several tables for pre-race nutrition. People milled around in large groups, music boomed from speakers, and runners nervously chatted about their strategy or lack thereof. It was like being at a gigantic party. I reluctantly tore myself away from it and made my way to the starting line.
Waiting in my corral at the starting line, excitement crackling in the air, I could feel the ghosts of past runners who had stood on this same spot; albeit with fewer participants. In widely varying weather conditions, snow, rain, draining sunshine, people had stood here on Patriot’s Day, waiting to begin the journey to Boylston Street.
If the entire weekend leading up to the race wasn’t incredible enough, the race itself is out of a dream sequence. The festivities continue long after the sound of the gun. I saw a runner down a beer at the biker bar just down the road from Hopkinton, to the delight of the bikers. A runner veered off course in Natick to play lawn bowling with residents. Several runners stopped to kiss students in the Wellesley tunnel of love. I ran beside Captain Canada for a while, decked out head to toe in maple leafs and flags. Along the way people are holding up signs with the latest Red Sox score. Thousands of people lined the route, high-fiving and screaming the entire time.
It was evident that this was a moment in time. Despite a nagging pain in my knee that started only 5 km in, the momentum of both the crowd and the runners carried me through long after I would typically thrown in the towel. Boston is far from typical.
After Wellesley there are the Newton Hills, of which Heartbreak Hill is only one. Looming even larger is the descent from Heartbreak Hill to the Cleveland Circle, for me infinitely more difficult on my legs that were by then searing in pain, complaining loudly that they had had enough.
But Cleveland Circle leads to Beacon Street, and that meant thousands upon thousands of spectators lining the route, in some places 8 people deep, people on rooftops and balconies, everywhere spectators cheering you on. The Citgo sign appears, a vision to shoot for, proof that the end is actually in sight. If you can only put one foot in front of the other for a few more miles.
Fenway Park and the Citgo sign are the the last mile markers that send you through the famous directions, right on Hereford, left on Boylston, the shortest turn on the course, and undoubtably the loudest. Rounding the corner, the finish line is a short sprint away. Or crawl, depending.
As for the finish, let’s just say it is an odd juxtaposition, feeling physically terrible but mentally high. Yet I very much recommend it. If you ever get the chance to run the Boston Marathon, just do it. The mountains you may have to move to get there will be waiting for you when you get back. The memories of the race will stay with you forever.
Drum roll, please. I am unveiling my favorite things of 2010. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Who cares what her favorite things of 2010 were? Who does she think she is, Oprah?” But reflecting on the year gone past is the thing to do this time of year, as we begin our slide towards 2011. That, and think up new resolutions in order to break them in January. This is what we humans do, we are mired in tradition, as predictable as sheep. What better way to mark time’s passing then to reminisce over the last 365 days, and relive its highlights?
Besides, I have presents to wrap, and am in full avoidance mode, desperate for something to amuse myself. You can resume your drum roll now.
Favorite event: Vancouver Winter Olympics. If you didn’t experience it personally, it is difficult to explain the ground swell of Canadian pride that permeated from the pavement during these fantastic Olympic Games. Finally, we realized it was cool to be Canadian. We rocked those 2010 Winter Games.
Favorite album: Hands down, The Suburbs, by Arcade Fire. This album can calm any storm and soothe any soul, yet also raise the roof and uplift spirits. It does it all, from the lyrics to the message to its simple cohesion. A triumph and a work of art.
Favorite concert: Arcade Fire. The only thing better than listening to The Suburbs was watching Arcade Fire perform songs from that album live in concert. Even our nosebleed seats couldn’t take away the magic in that stadium; they clearly had more talent in their pinky fingers than everyone in that audience combined. Their rendition of Rococo took my breath away, the entire concert was larger than life.
Favorite book: The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. My first time reading this timeless novel, and I was blown away by Wharton’s perceptiveness and prose. I tend to rant and rave a lot about this book, but in this space suffice to say it is a classic for a reason, so read it, or reread it; as the case may be, it speaks for itself.
Favorite movie: A disclaimer: I see almost exclusively G rated movies, with the occasional PG film thrown in when feeling reckless, an environmental hazard of my job. Secretariat wins this race – watching a housewife overcome all odds to produce one of the greatest race horses in history is both a visual delight and a message I like to reinforce to my girls: we can do anything we set our minds to.
Favorite news story: The rescue of 33 Chilean miners. The world watched this improbable rescue en mass; since when does a Hollywood ending actually happen in real life?
Favorite gadget: Garmin Forerunner 405. This watch has revolutionized my running. Being able to glance at my distance or pace takes the guesswork out of my workouts. I set my intervals, and away I go – it’s like having a coach, but better, since it doesn’t care if I skip my workout when it’s raining too hard.
Favorite moment: Running the Boston Marathon. I should clarify, my favorite moment came after I had finished, because it was, well, hard. Nevertheless, an incredibly great experience that I will forever cherish.
Now if I were Oprah, a copy of The Suburbs, The Age of Innocence, and a Garmin watch would magically appear underneath your chair, and we would all be going to Boston for the 2011 marathon. But sadly I can’t compete with the queen of television’s empire, my audience is woefully small (although extremely intelligent), and the only thing I can give you is best wishes for 2011: here’s hoping it has beautiful moments, untold pleasures and many miracles in store.