I know that route the way anyone who grew up on the Red Sox and the Marathon knows that route. I know that block on Boylston between Dartmouth and Exeter the way any Bostonian knows where to find the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts.
When I was in high school and my sister ran track and cross-country, we’d take the Green Line to watch the race from Kenmore Square near the iconic Citgo sign. In college, a group of us would come home from UMass to watch near the finish. I cheered on friends who ran at the back-of-the-pack, joining them in 1981 when the temperature at the start was a blistering 74. I’ve watched it from Coolidge Corner, Boston College, Fenway, and Hereford Street. And for seven years I watched it from the photo bridge, calling the finish as I reported on the race for a national radio network.
Much of the year, especially in the depths of winter, I am happy to be in California. But Marathon Monday is the hardest day of the year for me to be away from my hometown.
It’s my high holy day of all that’s good about Boston: it’s sport and the world coming together and party and family and the Wellesley women whose enthusiasm gets amateurs going just a little faster than their planned race pace. It’s a four-year-old boy handing me a piece of ice as I run past in Ashland, his mouth a round O of delight as I look over my shoulder to thank him.
It’s cheering madly for my hometown hero Johnny Kelley (Arlington High, class of 1927) who ran it for more than 50 years, bridging the days of beef stew and laurel wreaths to today’s corporate sponsorship, real prize money, and the most elite field in the world. It’s feeling proud of K. Switzer, the first woman to run Boston back in 1967 and the men who surrounded her to keep her from being bodily ejected from the race. It’s calling the closest finish in marathon history live from the photo bridge –and getting it right.
It seems most everyone lining the route knows someone who’s running – and it’s seldom the elites. Usually it’s someone in their family, a college buddy, someone from work or worship or down the street. And just as often that someone is running for a charity such as the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, or in memory of someone they love. Or they’ve got something to prove – usually to themselves.
We loved to stay and cheer them on, into the fourth hour and fifth hour. They might not win trophies and accolades, but they won our hearts. By then there was a bit more space near the finish line, and we felt like we were helping each runner get through those last 385 yards with a good kick – or even a stumble, it didn’t matter. We were just pouring love into them with each shout of “GO!” and “Looking GOOD!!” and “You got it!”
For 116 years, this was feel of the Marathon. There is a singular joy to this day. While madness-turned-evil may dim it temporarily, it will never quench our joy and resolve. President Obama called us “tough and resilient.” Runners are already making their plans for next year’s Marathon Monday.
I like the way my friend and onetime news director, Sherman Whitman put it when a Facebook friend commented, “So sad. I mean, the marathon was our happy place, even for cynics.”
Sherman commented right back: “It will still be our happy place.”
-April 16, 2013