Spring finally arrived. And with it came the dates on the calendar that forced our fair city, our whole world, to remember what happened at the finish line on a glorious day last April. We all looked back, whether we meant to or not. And even when the news feeds weren’t playing it up, the flashbacks kept creeping into our collective frontal lobes. This was the day it happened, one year ago. This was the day we were stuck at home, wondering what was going on in Watertown. This was the weekend when we all came out and the sun shined and it seemed like the world was a beautiful place, a little less scary, a lot more hopeful. We all kept remembering, last week, and then, having paid all the remembrances and acknowledgements their due, we all turned the page, adjusted our hats, resumed our journeys, and looked forward to the 118th Boston Marathon.
A trip to the Boston Public Library early last week turned into a moment of silence at the Dear Boston Memorial, at this quiet corner, where visitors could add their messages of hopefulness and healing to a leafless tree.
Okay, confession: over the years, I’d gotten a little bit blasé about marathon spectating. My sweetie grew up in Concord, where what you did on Patriot’s Day was show up for the crack o’ dawn Shot Heard ‘Round the World re-enactment at the Old North Bridge, rally to hand out bloody Marys while the parade passed by, then skidaddle out to watch the runners head for the hills of Newton. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and somehow, getting out to the race course started seeming too time consuming, finding a place to park near Heartbreak Hill to cheer the runners on, too dicey. Squeezing in along the barriers in Kenmore Square—it all seemed so unnecessary. The crowds, the traffic, the lack of actual bathrooms. The ease of watching on TV from home and checking online to see how my long distance runner friends were fairing. The absence of small boys at my house, on school vacation, needing an activity to fill their day. Truth be told, with the exception of one single outing with an out-of-town guest a couple of years back, it all added up to the fact that I hadn’t been to the sidelines to watch in person since, well, since my friend Joanie Samuelson was still Joan Benoit, the year she knocked 2 minutes off the fastest ever marathon time for women. That was before I was married. That was a long time ago.
But this year, on this beautiful spring day, I knew I had to go watch, and cheer, and be part of the throng. If a million people were going to show up, a year after what happened last time—well, I wanted to be there, too.
So off I set, on a morning perambulation that served to remind me how close to the race course I live. It turns out that the spot my California friend and I camped out at a few years back, for my one post-marriage viewing session,was as obliging a spot to spectate from as I could ask for.
I planted myself just across Beacon Street from Team GoJimbo. I was told he’d been given a heads up to be on the lookout for bunny ears. I suspect he had kicked quite a bit of asphalt by Mile 24, where we were watching.
As is always the case at these sorts of events, you find your spot, you stake out your space, and then you befriend the folks around you. I had a trio of North Shore attendees to my left who were pulling for the pride of Marblehead, Shalane Flanagan. On my right was a family of five, all there for no runner in particular, just collectively rallying for the day. That, and all intent upon offering red twizzler licorice sticks to whoever might need that particular form of pseudo-nourishment. They had no takers while I was there, but who knows, it might have been just what some back-of-the-pack marathoner was hankering for with 2.2 miles to go.
I got to the sidelines in time to clap for wheelchair athletes and army guys who had started walking the course before dawn. After them came the blue lights, the police escort, the press truck, and the excitement of the fastest women, so lithe, so focused. Not long after that, the elite men, led by Meb Keflizighi, decked out in red, white and blue, so proud, so strong. After each leader group came the aching long gaps between the front runners and the also-elites, those whose day wasn’t going as planned. The north shore native and USA hopeful Shalane Flanagan, who led for 17 miles at a blistering pace, seemed already in tears when she passed by, the crowds entreaties to keep on going unnecessary, but also incapable helping her bridge the widening gap. She ran boldly from Hopkinton onward, recklessly, perhaps, and in doing so, paced the winner to a new course record. But while she was at it, Flanagan also ran the fastest any American woman had ever run Boston. She had nothing to be ashamed of. Yet she apologized at the finish, for letting the whole of the Boston Strong realm down. She needn’t have worried; she was cheered and adored and celebrated all the same. Everyone was, on this day.
After awhile, as the number of runners increased and as their bib numbers jumped from two or three digits to four, I started searching for my friend Joan. Through the miracle of smart phone technology, I knew she’d passed the 40K mark, and would soon be coming my way. I suspected that her presence would be made obvious by a roar from the crowd, a more enthusiastic rumble of clapping and cheering. She’s a legend, after all, an Olympic gold medalist, a three time winner in Boston, a New England treasure. We’d know when she got there, I figured. But still, I was watching intently, in case the folks outbound from me were not aware of her presence, not looking for her familiar gait. I reminded myself to look for a hat, probably a white hat. She likes to wear hats. That, and her slack, stoic running face.
Sure enough, there she was. No entourage, no wave of recognition, no men hangers-on, trying to keep up with her pace and catch some time in the spotlight at the finish. No, my Joan was running alone in the crowd, her son Anders somewhere in the next wave, her daughter Abby just behind. No motorcade, no special treatment for the woman who has run marathons in under three hours in five different decades. Think about that. Last time I looked, there were fewer than a dozen people who had achieved that feat, in the history of mankind. Joanie is the only woman.
When I finally headed home, the sound of the crowd, the cheers, the endless applause, the recognition of appreciation for so many thousands of runners’ willingness to put in the miles, the training, the effort–it rang in my ears, all the way back to Cambridge.
And when I got home, on twitter, this:
Linda Muri. World class rower, phenomenal coach. She had one of those crappy mammogram results just a few weeks ago, and is now in the middle of chemo treatment. File under, one more amazing Boston Marathon story. Read all about her remarkable effort, here: http://ihopetheycaughtitintime.blogspot.com/