Thursday, April 26, 2012

i love boston

Our lives intersect.  This is what makes life so special.  Sometimes it’s for just a few hours, or a weekend.  Last week I ran the Boston Marathon in near-record heat.  It became one of the hardest races I have ever done, yet the run itself brought lots of inspiration. 
22,480 of us started this year's race
I had flown out early to catch up with my great friend Maggie, whom I have known since graduate school in New Orleans.  Then my longtime friend Susanne and her sister Beth arrived.  We had a full weekend together and were eventually joined by Mandy, one of Susanne’s training partners in Carlsbad.  Spring in Boston brought summerlike temperatures, trees in full bloom (gorgeous white and pink flowers) and tulips galore.

Maggie and I
A highlight at the expo on Saturday was the celebration of the 40th anniversary of women being able to compete in the Boston Marathon.  Five of the original eight in the 1972 women's field were present: Valerie Rogosheske, Sara Mae Berman, Nina Kuscsik (first to be awarded the champion’s olive wreath), Pat Barrett, and Kathrine Switzer (she also ran with a race number in ’67 but it was considered a scandal since she had registered with her initials and the race director therefore did not know she was a female).  Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon (unofficially, with no race number '66-'68), was also there. 
Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to ever run Boston talks about taking the bus from California to do the race in '66
Their stories about what it was like to compete in those early days were fascinating.  It was astonishing to hear how they were told they would ruin their bodies.  They were also escorted by male friends for protection, raced in street clothes, and relentlessly petitioned the Amateur Athletic Union to allow women into all sports, including the Olympic Marathon (which wouldn’t happen until 1984!).

These women were integral to the passage of Title IX
Superstars are everywhere in Boston on marathon weekend.  Sunday morning Beth and I got up early to watch my Flagstaff friend Janet compete in the Boston Athletic Association 5K.  She shaved 30 seconds off her personal best time, to place 4th in a world class field.  Thrilling to see!!

Janet and me
Later that day Susanne, Beth, and I did our shakeout run around Boston Commons.  The park was teeming with life.  People were doing countless activities, even playing Quidditch (with imaginary broomsticks)!  I peeled off to finish my run along Bolyston Street.  Near the end, I popped into the Fairmount Hotel (adjacent to the finish line) and happened to see the ballroom where they were setting up a floor-ceiling, arcing, Boston Marathon results board: Open Men, Open Women, Wheelchair Division…so exciting.   All sorts of equipment was going up too.  As I walked toward the hotel lobby, there was Bill Rodgers, talking casually with others clad in jeans the official orange jacket of this year’s race.  Such a beautiful afternoon, wherein one could find quiet moments such as these amidst the building momentum. 
Once my strides were done I ambled over to Newbury Street to see if my favorite shoe store (which I had spotted that morning) had opened.  Historic buildings housing neat shops, sidewalks full of people, cafes and restaurants brimming…everyone was enjoying the afternoon warmth and sunshine.  Fortunately a credit card had fit into my shorts pocket and I was able to get some work shoes.  Even though I was there all sweaty, I got the best customer service plus several wonderful race wishes.  It’s magical and fun to be in Boston as Marathon Monday approaches. 
Beth, Susanne and I in Hopkinton
Race day loomed HOT and the BAA encouraged participants to “Adopt the attitude that THIS IS NOT A RACE.  It is an experience.”  My own coach echoed this sentiment about the extreme heat and high humidity: “Can’t control temperature but you can control attitude!  Choose to see it as a great day.”  Originally we had anticipated me going for my PR at this race, but instead I needed to let go of time and take a more relaxed approach.  The scent of Coppertone welcomed  runners to the Athletes’ Village in Hopkinton.   
Mandy, Susanne, Beth and I excited to run
Mandy and I were in the same corral, so we walked over to Main Street together.  She stopped at a lawn to get her name written both on her number and arm…next thing I knew, a Hopkinton resident was also writing “SARA” down each of my arms.  The national anthem was being sung as we approached the already-packed corrals.  Once inside ours, I glanced up and noticed that someone had decorated their second-story window with GOOD LUCK RUNNERS; this homemade touch is just the type of thing everyone out there does for us on Patriots’ Day.
Crossing the actual starting line in Hopkinton always makes my heart beat faster.  I have never been to a grander race.  There is nothing like it.  Favorite snapshots in my mind’s eye along this year's course include: road ahead seeming like a storybook, so packed with people and colors.  thousands of screaming fans.  string musicians, many drummers, a bagpiper.  kids on mini-trampolines, bouncing and cheering.  little ones singing On Wisconsin.  garden hoses, hydrants, cooling houses.  home owners with pitchers of water, popsicles, fruit, ice, and soaked paper towels.  "Yeah Sara!" and "You got this, Sara!" in Boston accents.  Wellesley girls sounding like a siren.  cups of Mardi Gras proportions underfoot. 

Upon finishing this year’s Boston Marathon I felt an intense wave of emotion.  Each person who supports this race does so from his or her heart.  It’s so genuine.  And never-ending.  Even after crossing the line, person after person was there to assist and congratulate.  There was also a steady stream of runners being wheeled into the medical tent, with others on cots, some with IV drips…I heard requests on the intercom for Spanish, then Japanese translators…love how international this event is.

For those who want to know such things (only because I’ve been asked a bunch about my time), I netted 3:25:56 for the course, was 2,508 overall, 276th amidst the 8,991 women, and 27th in my division of 1,522.  I improved my Boston time by 9 minutes yet was 10 minutes off my marathon PR, which was to be expected on such a sweltering day. 

My coach summed it up perfectly: “Some races the time may not mean anything but the way you fought did. When you look back over all the years it's not just the fastest ones that meant something.” This is absolutely how I feel.  The heat made it extremely difficult, but I had the support of so many friends and family to draw from; this, combined with the phenomenal deluge along the course, enhanced my experience beyond what the clock can measure.  

Boston is a very classy place.  The Boston Globe mentions every single finisher by name the next day (all 21,606 of us).  Restaurants print special menus for runners, billboards change, hotel managers hand out bananas and snacks on race day morning…you cannot go anywhere without being supported and encouraged. 

I heard a race official say that upwards of 20,000 volunteers touch this race.  Love pours out in so many forms.  Even flying out the next day, Southwest was still congratulating all the runners. 

Susanne, Beth, and I celebrated in grand style with a lavish dinner and high-end bottle of champagne

In many ways I feel like I just discovered Boston, even though I had been there a handful of times in the past.  We see things differently as the years go by, take in so much more sometimes.  I feel so fortunate to have been part of this year’s event.  It is something that will never come again, not with this exact mix of people and circumstances anyway.  Such a wonder that year after year this magnificent event happens. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your trip, it was really nice to hear about your experiences and I was very touched by how much this event is so dear to ya, melindaklein


Live the way you run. Run happy.

Live the way you run. Run happy.
Thanks to Kevin Riley at Action in Solitude for this Buffalo Park (Flagstaff, Arizona) photo