I wanted to tell you about my race yesterday at the Boston Marathon. That is what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell you everything about what happened to me during the race.
I wanted to tell you about leaving my Garmin in the hotel, and running the race with only a 1980s era digital wristwatch.
I wanted to tell you my splits for every mile of the race, how I started out strong, but then just gradually lost the energy to keep up the pace I had planned. I wanted to tell you all about it.
I wanted to tell you that I finished in 3:39, 17 minutes slower than my PR, and that I was disappointed with that.
But instead, I'm going to tell you about the people of Boston, and the way they come together, by the thousands, by the hundreds of thousands, for one day every year, to celebrate what we runners sometimes take for granted.
Before and after the race, I had dozens of ordinary people, not runners, stop me to tell me how proud they were of me. Not one of them asked what my finishing time was, or whether I was happy with my performance. They just wanted to share that they admired my accomplishment.
This race had thousands of volunteers. Not spectators, volunteers, who wanted nothing more than to help out and give the runners the best experience they could possibly have. There were so many volunteers that some of them almost seemed superfluous, but they didn't care. They just did what they could, with a big smile on their face. You could spot them a mile away, in their bright yellow Boston Marathon volunteer jackets.
Every place where a volunteer might be useful there was a volunteer, and then there was another volunteer behind that one just in case the first volunteer got too busy to help you.
I have been to races where there were 3-foot-tall posts in the middle of the course, with nothing to mark them or let you know that there was a potential danger ahead. At Boston, anywhere where there might be a hazard, there were three or four volunteers, telling the runners exactly what to do.
I have been to races where they ran out of water. Or where the water stops were so poorly manned, that even though there was water there, they couldn't get it to the runners fast enough, and so we had to run on without getting anything to drink.
At Boston, there were water stops every mile. Every single mile on the course, there was Gatorade, and there was water. Gatorade first, then water, and there were water stations on both sides of the road, so wherever you were running, it was easy to get what you needed. And of course, at every water station, there were dozens and dozens of people handing the water to you.
But the Boston Marathon isn't just about volunteers. It's about everybody in the city and the surrounding areas getting together to celebrate the accomplishments of gifted athletes, hard-working journeymen, and ordinary weekend warriors who might not be able to qualify for the race, but who raised thousands of dollars for charity in order to participate in a world-class event.
I was over an hour behind the leaders in the race, but on nearly every inch of the course as I ran, there were thousands of spectators lining the road, often three, four, five people deep.
I have been to races where there were spectators. Usually in little clumps, if they said anything at all when you passed by it was "good job." Maybe they gave a polite clap of the hands. At Boston, they were cheering, screaming, as if you had just scored the touchdown that won the Super Bowl. And this was an hour after the actual race winners passed by. They kept it up like that, for several hours more.
At the infamous Wellesley College "scream tunnel," I had heard that some of the girls (correction: WOMEN) held up signs offering a kiss to passing men. What a bawdy ritual, I thought, I can't believe that any of the runners would actually take them up on it.
When I got there, I saw that it wasn't just a few of the women, it was nearly every woman. They had signs like "Kiss me I'm from Colombia!" and "Kiss me if you're from the South!"
And I also saw that when the runners did kiss them, they offered up a demure cheek. It wasn't bawdy at all, it was adorable. I wanted to kiss the woman with the "Kiss me I'm a cellist!" sign, but she was a little distracted as I was passing by so I let the moment escape. I wish I hadn't.
The spectators weren't just enthusiastic, they were innovative. At many points, clumps of spectators would make up cheers on the spot for a whoever happened to be running by. If somebody from Mexico came by they would make up a song about Mexico. If somebody named Bob came by they would have a chant just for him.
Many runners put their names on their shirts, so that the spectators could call them by name as they passed. I didn't think to do this, but for several miles I was running next to a guy named Dave who had. I got to enjoy his cheers as if they were my own.
I passed a man who was running to support research for melanoma. I told him that I had survived melanoma, and showed him the scar on my arm, and thanked him for what he was doing. I was happy to receive his well wishes as I ran by.
By the time I reached the intimidating Newton Hills, I knew this was not going to be my day. But whenever a runner stopped to walk on the hills, there were hundreds of people encouraging him or her on, and usually within a few steps they would start running again. I decided there was no way I was going to stop and walk. I might run slowly, but I was going to run all the way. I was going to finish the Boston Marathon running. If these hundreds of thousands of people could show up and cheer us on for hours and hours, the least I could do was run for them.
This was not my race. It was their race, and they were sharing it with me. I was honored to be a part of it. I was tremendously impressed with the people of Boston, Hopkinton, Wellesley, Newton, Natick, Framingham.
After the race was stopped, I heard that the runners that were still on the course didn't know what to do. They weren't dressed to be standing around in cold weather, and they were exhausted. I really wasn't surprised at all when I heard to the local residents invited those runners into their homes, and allowed them to stay until buses could be sent to pick them up.
Marathon day in Boston is one of the warmest and most heartfelt holidays and events that I have ever been a part of. Someone tried to take that away from the people of Boston yesterday, but I don't think they succeeded. They only gave Boston another chance to show how generous and brave its people are. While I am horrified by the events that occurred yesterday, I'm glad to have had the chance to see so many people at their best.
Boston's people showed us their true colors yesterday. They gave the rest of us something to aspire to.