The Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of American running. For practically any runner who has ever ran a marathon, it’s a life goal to make it to the start line. Heck, it’s a life goal for tons of people that have never even run a 10K. It takes months, years, decades even, massive amounts of time spent training to trim down times in order to toe the line. And getting to the starting line isn’t everything; there’s the whole thing about running yet another grueling 26.2 miles on asphalt, your knees aching and lungs burning, up Heartbreak Hill and across the city of Boston, just to cross the same finish line as tens of thousands of people just like you- some faster, some slower. It’s the same course every year, the same neighborhoods. Sometimes even the same spectators. Yet it draws the attention of all of us every year, whether we are runners, or not runners, if we’ve raced it before, or if we never will. It’s a race that is alluring, motivating, and inspirational for everyone.
The Boston Marathon has always been a lot more than just a race. It’s the months of diligent training. It’s the races that came before, the race that garnered a qualifying time and the many other races that didn’t. It’s the stories that were picked up along the way in training, in traveling, in life, that get you to the start line, those aspects of our lives that mean more than the race itself. Just starting, just toeing the line.
I have never raced the Boston Marathon. To be honest, it has always intimidated me. So many people, so much excitement. It’s just. So. Big. I suppose that I should have raced it by now; I have been fortunate to have run fast enough times and to have qualified with each of the five open marathons I’ve run. But even though I’ve qualified, when it comes time to register, I have just never even tried to sign up. When the time came, I just wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t excited, or I wanted to switch gears and focus on other things. For five years, I have always made excuses.
But now, everything is different. After the bombings on Monday, after worrying about my friends who were racing and spectating, after seeing the photos online of those injured and those crying. Watching the runners come down the finish chute, not to finish the race but rather to escape whatever exploded less than a block from the end. Watching runners and volunteers go backwards on the course, toward the blasts, towards those in need. Helping, or trying to help, anyway. Yesterday, there was little glory in finishing the biggest marathon in the world. For so many, there wasn’t even a finish line.
I set a goal back in 2008 to run a marathon in each of the fifty states by the time I am 50 years old, and planned to make sure that each one was a BQ. My ultimate goal? To run Boston as the final marathon- maybe not my final marathon ever, but rather the last in the series. Racing Boston would be the peak of this accomplishment, the culmination of what I hoped to accomplish over a period of 25 years. But now? I don’t know that I am going to stick with that goal; I don’t know that I want to.
What I want to do is race Boston now. I want to toe the line, I want to huddle next to other nervous runners just like me, waiting for the gun to go off. I want to stand next to my friends and strangers, the ones I trained with and the ones I met that morning. I want to shout “hiya hiya!” as the elites take off, and as I pass other runners, and as other runners pass me. I want to find my rhythm, maybe I even want to lose my rhythm. I want to feel the crunch of paper cups under my feet and hear the whirrrrr of crowds as I run by. I want to high five the cheering spectators lined up along East Main and Waverly Street, all while wearing a big grin on my face. I want to laugh at the cowbell ringers and people with awesome signs. I want to thank the volunteers for being out. I want to run as fast as I can when I turn onto Boylston, giving it my all, not holding back. Just raw, pure running, unhindered and unadulterated. What it’s supposed to be, and what it is to so many of us.
I want it, now.