Race Report from LPTRunner Mary Gorski...
They sure are a lot better to hear when they are based in joy rather than in shock and terror.
Coming into the last miles of the Boston Marathon this year I could barely hear my own thoughts over the screaming cheers of marathon fans along the course. I was in the third wave – many of the spectators had been cheering their lungs out for a couple of hours before I got there.
It was incredible.
And then there were the tears. Making the final turn I saw the finish, the backdrop to last year’s bombs; the stage for horrific videos and photos of pain and suffering; screaming, tears.
Remembering what was, and celebrating what is… my eyes weren’t the only ones welling up with tears in the final stretch on Boylston Street.
Last year was my first at the Boston Marathon. A bucket list item, it was a 50th birthday gift. The plan was to enjoy the experience and then mark it off the list.
The bombs changed all that. “You have to come back!” In the two days after the race Dave and I heard it from Bostonians everywhere we went: the bellhop at our hotel, the servers at meals, the store clerks and streetside hawkers. Even the security officials at the airport genuinely wanted to know “Were you able to finish?” “Will you come back?”
How could I not?
And what a delight it was, starting with Dave’s own race on Saturday: the Boston 5K. After losing most of a foot last summer to a nasty infection, the race would be his first attempt at getting back into sports. Slow and steady, he walked the course, coming in after the official finishers. But organizers still had a finisher’s medal waiting for him when he came across the line, cheered by friends.
It was a good start to the weekend. A birthday gift for him this year, just a few days before the date itself.
Saturday evening we were at a dinner with others who had contributed to a book that running guru and legend Hal Higdon wrote about last year’s marathon: “4:09:43.” I was apprehensive going, expecting sad rehashes of the day, but instead it was a fun evening of laughter, food and a couple of Sam Adams beers. It was good to put names and faces together and share our individual stories of the experience.
Sunday: Easter Sunday. Last year Dave and I went to the early service at the Old South Church, a UCC congregation. In 2013 the 9 a.m. service was a small, intimate gathering in the side chapel of the church. We experienced a wonderfully welcoming community, good music and a great sense of worship. When we realized that the marathon this year would coincide with Easter weekend there was no doubt that we would go back to the Old South Church to celebrate it.
Easter is a busy day at any church, but at Old South, it was record-breaking. Located just past the finish line, it spent several days behind crime scene tape after last year’s bombing.
Because of its location, the church has a special connection to runners. One of the ways the church reached out to them this year was through the Marathon Scarf Project. The“Old South Knitters,” a group of about 30 knitters, chrocheters and weavers, got busy making scarves to, “wrap each runner of this year’s race in love, hope and prayer,” said the church’s pastor.
With an anticipated 36,000 runners coming to Boston, they were going to have to do a lot of knitting so they invited anyone to join them in their efforts. Knitters sent their donated efforts from all over Massachusetts, and a few states beyond. Each scarf had the name of the knitter attached to it.
Mine was from Cynthia in Beverly, MA.
During the Easter service, runners were asked to stand for a blessing. Members of the UCC congregation came through with the scarves. However, they did not simply had them out. Runners had the scarves placed on them by another. Funny how a bunch of knotted yarn brought so many to tears.
But again, tears of joy. Tears of happiness.
Race morning. Time to finally lace up the shoes and go. No bags would be allowed at the start area, so runners dressed in their hobo best to keep warm. Whatever clothing you left behind would be donated to charity. Though I think that my 25-year-old saggy tights and Helly Hansen polypro shirt with the permanent stink of 25 years’ of running probably (hopefully) was donated to the trash.
I wondered how chaotic it would be to travel in a herd of 36,000 runners. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad. Race organizers did a great job with logistics, moving us to our starting areas like expert cattle ranchers.
And then the start, and the screaming began. Screams of joy from the runners; screams of encouragement and solidarity from the volunteers and spectators. There were a few spots on the course that weren’t too crowded, but not many. Each town welcomed you as if they were waiting just for YOU.
“Boston Strong, Boston Strong!!!” You saw it on shirts, on banners, in windows and you heard it from every direction.
I wore my race shirt from 2013 (a long-sleeved shirt, it wasn’t necessarily the best choice for the quickly warming weather). People saw it and yelled “Welcome back to Boston! We’re glad you came back!! Boston Strong!”
And every mile or two I heard that wonderful Boston accent letting me know that “waTAH is just ahead.” BAHston volunteers always serve up waTAH, not water.
The Boston course is a tease. It starts with gentle downhills, giving runners a false sense of confidence. But then, just as the temperatures were getting toasty, the hills made their appearance. I forgot that there was more than just Heartbreak Hill. “Is this it?” I thought, but then there would be another. “Is this Heartbreak?” said a woman next to me, but "no," she was told by a veteran, “this one is just a ‘regular’ hill, it doesn’t have a name.”
Finally, after 20 miles we came to Heartbreak. I’d run all the other hills, might as well run this one too. I put my head down and went up the middle, never looking ahead, figuring that my huffing and puffing would let me know when the hill was over.
At the top my legs were toast. But again, the cheers, the screaming from spectators urging runners to keep moving, to keep running to Boylston. To finish strong, Boston Strong.
And so I did. Even came in a few minutes faster than last year.
Weather had been warm for running, but wonderful for lounging around post-race in Boston Commons. But eventually all good things come to an end. The Li’l Mister and I headed to the subway for the ride back to the hotel. Time for a shower and dinner.
And then there was one more treat. A subway worker pulled me away from the ticket machines and led me to an open gate.
“Congratulations on your finish! Thanks for being here. The ride is on us!”
The cherry on top of the sundae.
Boston, I'm glad that I came back.