Tuesday, April 16, 2013
We Are Boston
I ran my first Boston Marathon in 1981. Before the race began at noon, I sat huddled in the doorway of an elementary school in Hopkinton, the hamlet 26.2 miles away from Boston that has hosted the start of the race for more than 100 years, with a teacher who celebrated Easter the night before by gorging himself on ham and swilling wine and beer.
He basically said what I was thinking, “That meal was not your typical pre-race carbo-loading.”
He also said, on this overcast day in the lows 50s, that I should expect all kinds of weather during the race, which I’d hoped to complete in under four hours. I was 22. And he’d been right: during the three hours and fifty minutes I was pounding the pavement to the finish line outside the Prudential Building, there was sun, rain, wind, and hail.
When I turned down Hereford Street near the finish and heard the roar of the crowd, some of it undoubtedly for me, an unofficial entrant, my body shook and shivered and I started to cry. I was elated that after years of quitting things, I had scaled a massive wall and finished something that had always seemed unimaginable to me ever since I’d been a kid in Hartford, CT, and followed the marathon every year and thought of all its runners as gods.
The marathon has been on my mind a lot since I heard the horrifying news yesterday and watched the surreal news reports on NBC and CNN. My first cousin is in Boston for cancer treatments, and she and her son were outside Fenway Park, at Kenmore Square, watching the runners pass by when my cousin’s son suggested they get closer to the finish, which would’ve put them right near the bombings. My cousin stayed put.
My sister-in-law’s niece, who is about to finish graduate school at Boston University, was a block from the bombings with a group of friends. She heard the explosions, and admitted to me last night that she is still in a state of shock.
My neighbor’s father, who is fifty and had qualified for Boston by running a sub-three-and-a-half hour marathon, was running Boston for the first time. I texted my neighbor moments after I learned of the tragedy, and he responded that his father was fine and he’d finished in 3:24. His father had been hoping to break three hours.
There is a family tonight who went from joyously celebrating the father’s completion of the grueling race to mourning the death of an innocent 8-year old boy.
I finished three other marathons in the 1980s, so I have been to that finish line, which has moved a few times over the years. I have hugged my parents there, and clapped for strangers, and waited 15 minutes for my brother to finish just after me when we ran together in 1987. One year I even saw Erma Bombeck, the late award-winning columnist, walking towards a family member who’d run the race.
The Boston Marathon of my youth was nearly full page coverage in the Hartford Courant sports page, and intense awe just oozing out of me as I contemplated what these seemingly extraordinary men and women had done. I wanted to be one of them, but I never thought it possible. Until 1981. Until a year of piling on 50, 60, 70-mile weeks, double runs on Thursdays, and 16-mile long runs every Saturday. Until I gulped protein shakes and stretched after each run on my dorm room floor on New York City’s Upper West Side. Until I rode the Greyhound Bus back to Columbia University by myself, my legs achy and sore, but my heart overflowing with pride for an accomplishment I never knew was possible. And it finally hit me that I had finished the Granddaddy of Marathons.
And now, in the aftermath of death and destruction and severed limbs and blood and children howling in agony, the marathon and Boston, and maybe all of us, will never be the same. I am scared now because it seems that evil lurks anywhere and everywhere. I don’t want to let Maya or Miguel out of my sight. And I also know my fears will subside, and I know evil will not ultimately triumph over good. But I am still afraid.