Friday, April 19, 2013

The True Champions of the Boston Marathon

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The final stretch of the Boston Marathon leads to one of the most iconic finish lines in sport. Almost 26 miles into the 26.2-mile race, you make a final left-hand turn off Hereford Street and onto Boylston, and there in the distance, you can see the blue arches of the bridge that’s mounted above the blue and yellow finish line painted on the road.
I’ve run the Boston Marathon five times and this last quarter-mile always brings me to tears. Runners are often an emotional wreck this far into a marathon, but there's something magical about Boston, with its 117-year history, that brings out a powerful sense of being a part of something big.
When you cruise down that last straightaway, you can’t help but feel an incredible bond with the spectators who line the street on either side 10 or 15 people deep. Their cheering, clapping and high-fiving propels you through those final torturous strides toward your goal.
The two explosions that struck near the finish line at the 4 hour and 9 minute mark of Monday’s race hit densely packed areas of crowds – probably some of the same people who cheered me on the last time I ran Boston in 2011. And the thing about spectators in Boston is that they’re not just there to cheer on friends and family. This race has enough of a tradition that it brings out families, college kids, construction workers and just about anyone, to cheer on some 24,000 runners they’ve never met.
You might think it would be boring to stand on the street for hours watching people drag their tired selves through the end of a race, especially hours after the winners have come through, when the throngs of recreational runners come pouring in. But Boston Marathon spectators know better. They see the looks of determination on our faces. They know how hard we’ve worked to get to this point. They care.
If you’ve ever set your mind to train for any kind of athletic endeavor, you know how much it means to have other people recognize that commitment, and the marathon offers a unique experience to have thousands of people cheer you on as if you were a pro sports star. With 500,000 spectators along the point-to-point course, the Boston Marathon is the Super Bowl of amateur athletics, and as a runner the cheering crowds make you feel like you just caught the game-winning Hail Mary pass.
My best memories of approaching the Boston finish line are seeing the looks of excitement on the faces of all the little kids that I high-fived. It’s incomprehensible that one of those boys was killed. Some of the runners were injured in the blasts, but it was the spectators who suffered the brunt of the damage. They are the real heroes of the race.