Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In praise of Boston

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.

47 comments:

  1. It's just great, Dave, a lovely tribute. Volunteering at the marathon was a great part of being at Wellesley. But though the students look like girls to us, they are, in fact women: that's a matter of principle at old swellesley. xxxox

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  2. This was a truly amazing post. Thank you.

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  3. Wow, thanks for that. And yes--I will be out next year shouting out the names of everyone who puts it on their gear, and thank them for joining us again.

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  4. Wonderful post Dave. (And so glad you're okay!)

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  5. This was a breathtaking post. It's a gift to be able to see such beauty despite the filter of tragedy.

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  6. What a beautiful tribute to the people and the spirit of Boston.

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  7. Beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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  8. As a proud Bostonian and faithful spectator (you may have given my little boy a high five as you crossed the Hopkinton/Ashland line) I was sent this link to remind me that this pure and moving tradition will not be lost. Thank you for sharing this experience with the world. Not only for what it meant to you, but for the hope it brings to those of us who only know the Boston Marathon as you've just explained it. I've gone for 33 years and will go for 33 more (hopefully more!) if for nothing else than to make sure everyone who runs that race experiences the power that you did. And now you know.....nothing makes us happier than to cheer you on by name!! :)

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  9. Thank you. Boston will always be my home no matter where I am, and when I lived on Beacon Street for four years and loved cheering the runners on from the first lightning fast wheelchair racers to the last walkers at dusk. It was one of those things that made the city great and gave you faith in the world and your fellow man.

    Your post made me cry. You captured what made the Boston Marathon such a wonderful community event (not just a global or running event), and why it will endure. Thank you. I'm glad you are safe.

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  10. Thank you, and I hope you come back next year. We'll be very, very pleased to have you.

    I've never volunteered to work at the Marathon before, but next year, I will. Nobody should come to our city to run their hearts out and not have someone who smiles at them, gives them water, and makes sure it all goes well.

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  11. Thank you for your post, it captures Marathon Monday perfectly. Please come back to our city again next year to run and this time, put your name on your shirt so we can cheer you on. I'll be at the starting line, having moved from a tiny condo at mile 24 to a house near the start line. I live for Marathon Monday, it's the best day of the year. I'll be there next year to hopefully high five you before you take off. Thank you for coming to our city to run, we love you.

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  12. I used to be one of those spectators. I'm glad it helped.

    (Chad pointed me here.)

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  13. A great post. I will pass on the link.

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  14. Dave, I was one of the volunteers in Newton. Know that every single one of you impressed the hell out of us yesterday. Thank you.

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  15. No sir, you have it wrong. If you can show up and run 26.2 miles, the least we can do is show up and cheer. Thanks for running and thanks for your words. God bless.

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  16. Thank you Dave. And thank you Boston. You remain in our thoughts and prayers. Peace.

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  17. Beautiful piece. Thank you very much for sharing

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  18. what a touching article. My friend Robert Alexander sent me here via FB. So glad he did.

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  19. Definitely brought tears to my eyes thinking about all the people that make the marathon a wonderful event and not the (few) that tried to take that from it.

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  20. Great, great post, Dave. This is another example of why I love Boston so much. The people are just as beautiful as the architecture and culture. Glad you are okay.

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  21. Well said, Dave. I logged similar thoughts here - http://www.atrailrunnersblog.com/2013/04/new-pr-at-tragic-2013-boston-marathon.html . Boston is an amazing city, only more so now.

    BTW, congrats on your finish!

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    1. Excellent post, Scott -- I had already seen it via a Facebook friend. Congrats on your finish, and thank goodness for beer!

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    2. So glad you had the chance to be a part of it all Dave, and that you were not hurt. I hope that means you'll be back again? Next year will be even better ♥

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  22. Thank you for writing this, and for sharing it with all of us. Beautifully said.

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  23. Great post. I loved the Boston Marathon when I lived in Boston--even before I was a runner. The day is just as you described. A joyful, fun-filled day off where you can cheer the best in the world and then cheer the joe who lives next door.

    I volunteered one year. At the finish. And it was a great day.

    I hate that they chose such a happy non-politically oriented event to do such a horrible act. I hate it all. Cowards.

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  24. Hello Dave, I just wanted to say this is a beautiful post. This is the first account I've read from a witness, and instead of describing horror, you described hope. Thank you for the kind words and I'm glad you stayed safe through it all. Side comment, in reading your previous post about superstitions, maybe it was a good thing your wife wasn't there, you stayed safe and so did she. Thank you for writing such an uplifting post.

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  25. I was part of the Wellesley scream tunnel over twenty years ago. It's something to experience no matter what side of the race you're on. The cheering starts when the first racer comes into view and keeps going until the last one is long out of sight. For most of the day you can hear the cheers over the entire campus, and half the student body is hoarse for the next two days.

    The Boston Marathon is special, and if it wouldn't be the same without all the volunteers and spectators, it wouldn't exist at all without the runners.

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  26. My 11-year-old and I were cheering wildly in front of the Wellesley Free Library yesterday for every Dave, Bob, and Tinkerbell that came along. My hands hurt from clapping, and my kid needed to sit down after awhile, but it is absolutely one of the warmest and most heartfelt holidays I have experienced as well. I was moved almost to tears the first time we went to watch the marathon and saw all the goodwill among strangers, and last night I still felt warmed by it after all the horror. So you better believe we'll be there next year. Write your name on your right arm and we WILL cheer you on by name.

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  27. Wow, thanks for all the support! Over 17,000 people have seen this post, and there have been hundreds of RTs, +1s, and Shares. I just wanted to say something positive about the people of Boston and the surrounding communities, and I'm glad that I was able to touch so many people.

    I also wanted to apologize for all the typos and other issues that appeared in earlier versions of the post. The whole thing was composed on my phone this morning, and so it was difficult to get everything the way I wanted it. Thanks again for your appreciation, and please keep sharing the post!

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    1. I'm glad I stayed up late and caught this... wonderfully written.... you're not only an inspiration, you're a gifted writer!! Thank you!!

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  28. Hi Dave. I'm your mother's friend. My name is Levonne also. We worked together in Tucson for a long time and it was quite funny in meetings that we attended together. Neither of us had had the experience of being in a meeting with another Levonne/LaVonne. We didn't know what to do when the name was called. Anyway, thank you for sharing these words and memories of your experience in the marathon. I feel more connected with Boston now because of your actions and your words. You ran a great race! Here's a big yell out for DAVE!

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  29. I was one of the runners left on the course! I was at mile 25 when the cops stopped me, and all of us runners went all over the place. we didn't know where to go! I picked up my bag this morning, and couldn't help but burst into tears when they put my medal around my neck. I felt weird and sort of guilty taking it, because I only ran 25, not the FULL 26.2! Plus, this was my first marathon. So many emotions and feelings..... anyways, i'm glad you got that impression and view of my home, i love Boston with all my heart.

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    1. Mary, don't feel guilty! You deserve that medal! A marathon isn't just about the race. It's about those early weekend mornings, agonizingly long runs, and the months leading up to the day as well. You earned it!

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  30. Boston has long aspired to be the Athens of the new world. When a route was picked, it was selected to mimic the hills and dales between Athens and Marathon. The original messenger died upon delivering his message, but modern training and medical support renders such catastrophes avoidable. Unfortunately, mental instability is still a serious problem for enough individuals to make these incidents too common. This is why it is so important for good folks like Dave to write great posts like this one. Thanks so much. Peace to all.

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  31. Very well written. Thank you for sharing. I have never been to the race, but have heard all the wonderful stories. We will continue to hear them for years to come.

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  32. Thank-you for writing this wonderful account of the Boston Marathon.

    All around the world people are in shock. New Zealander Alison Roe a world class Marathon runner described her feelings of unreality and disbelief on our national news program.

    Levonne, Comment above, put this link on her Blog and I will do the same. I want to remember this.

    We returned from a holiday in Hawaii on 13th April and had visited Pearl Harbour earlier in the week. This most recent terrible act of violence left us sad, stunned and wondering about the craziness of the world. One terrible act bringing tragedy to many. But your post is full of hope and joy in the midst of the sorrow. Thanks again.

    Blessings

    Anne, New Zealand.

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  33. Thank you very much Dave, for sharing your Boston marathon with this beautiful words. My condolences to the victims and their families.

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  34. What a beautiful tribute to our great city. Thanks so much for your kind words.

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  35. Thank you Dave for such a wonderful perspective on such a horrific day-I was once one of those Wellesley women on rte 16 and I grew up in Newton so Marathon Monday holds a special place and thanks to your words I know that though the shadows may always be there as Barack said today "we will run again" Good running to you :)

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  36. Thank you, Dave. I grew up about 70 miles north of Boston, and it is really "The Hub" of New England. Marathons are a big part of the joy of living in the area. As you said, it's the "dark o'clock" training runs for months and months that precede the big day that earns one the right to a medal.

    I found your heartfelt essay from Ronnie Bennett who was tipped off by Bill Pederson (closer than "6 degrees"). ;-)

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