I still remember. It was 2010. With every footfall up Hereford Street, my quads protested. But then I made one of running’s most famous left turns. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Boylston Street boiled over with noise. The sound compounded as the cheering reverberated off of the buildings. The pain remained but muted somewhat now by this sudden infusion of adrenaline. The finish arch materialized, and I knew it would not be much longer. In the throng of spectators lined four and five deep, I somehow managed to pick out my wife, dad, and father-in-law hanging over the barricade. I flashed a huge smile, the pain blotted out, and I said to myself, “You’re about to finish the Boston Marathon.” It’s been eight years, and I still remember.
As this year’s race has drawn closer, I’ve spent the past week reliving this Boston training cycle as well as visiting with ghosts (good and bad) of my Bostons past. I also came across a long-ago editor’s note from former Running Times editor, Jonathan Beverly, titled “Once Each Spring,” that I thought summed up this annual tradition well:
In my mind Boston exists only on race day, ‘a runner’s Brigadoon appearing out of the Massachusetts woods.’ Having never lived there, my Boston is a magical place, unsullied by the mundane and the sorrows of real life. ‘It is always spring in my Boston,’ I wrote, describing a place where no one has to go to work on Monday, instead the people come out to run or celebrate runners. In this Boston, ‘Boylston Street is a single-lane stadium lined with overflowing stands, a half-mile of agony and bliss. The very name evokes images of great battles and the sweet feelings of accomplishment. Copley Square is always slightly out of focus, viewed through the happy haze of honorable exhaustion.’
Simply put, Boston is different. When you boil it down to its simplest form, it’s still 26.2 miles, the same as any marathon. Yet, it’s so much more. It’s a race that stays with you. It’s a vortex that can suck you in from the moment you set foot in Boston, caught up in the pageantry, the buzz, and the anticipation. To me, in no other city, for no other marathon (sorry, New York), does a city stop, open its collective arms for three straight days, pause, and celebrate this endeavor we call running.
At every start line, but Boston in particular, I like to take a brief moment and look around, to take in the sea of runners of which I am just one more body, one more story. We came from different places and backgrounds to get here and we will run for different reasons to finish. It’s that start line that brings us together. It’s the finish line that unites us.
In that way, every race, every Boston, belongs to each one of us as both a unique and collective experience.
My Boston is brightly colored jackets with white unicorns stitched along the back. It is something that once seemed unattainable and now is not to be taken for granted. It’s the electricity that starts at the airport (and I don’t mean Logan) and continues until you return home. It is past heroes and history that weaves you into its fabric: Bill Rodgers, Amby Burfoot, Katherine Switzer, the Dual in the Sun, Lisa Rainsberger, and Meb. It is the kindness of strangers lining 26.2 miles of road carrying you along. It is small towns, scream tunnels, and random high fives. It is fickle weather. It is tears of joy and exhaustion. My Boston is tinged with sadness and fortified by hope, love, and resilience. It is a race that can humble and elate you.
Whether it’s your first, fifth, or fiftieth, every Boston is special. No one, or no thing, can prepare you for your first trip from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. You can read the articles, watch the videos, and talk to those who have been there before, but all of it is insufficient.
As I toss the final pieces of my kit in my bag and obsessively check the weather again (and again), I depart for my fifth Boston with Amby Burfoot in my mind, “It’s time to keep enjoying the best day in running history.”
In less than three days, I’ll be on the bus aimed at Hopkinton, preparing to run back to Boston, seeking to get the best of myself, and enjoy the ride along the way.