Monday, April 19, 2010

Marathon Monday

There's something utterly inspiring, and humbling about being on the sidelines of the Boston Marathon.

Perhaps that's why, with every trip, I get a little closer to joining the race.

Mentally, at least.

Two years ago, I watched live television coverage of marathoners crossing the finish line. I remember being so moved and impressed. I had just finished my first half marathon a few months earlier. I couldn't imagine doubling that distance.

Yet, somehow I think the seed was planted.

The following year, that seed sprouted a little more when TC and I took a day off from work and watched the marathon in person.

I remember trying to take in as much as possible - the excitement of the crowd when the elite runners made the turn, the complete elation (or grimaces of pain and heartache) on the looks of runners faces as they made the final turn, the costumes, the signs - far too many sights and sounds to recap and describe.

I came away from the 2009 Boston Marathon thoroughly inspired and ready to tackle my own 26.2 in Manchester.

I never really thought about whether I'd want to run another marathon after finishing Manchester in the fall. Part of me wanted to file a marathon in the "checked off" pile of life's goals. Another, probably bigger, part of me is almost afraid to do another, mostly because my Manchester experience was so positive - with friends and family at points along the route, my training buddy running every step of the way and TC acting as my cycling Sherpa to take care of anything I needed. Part of me knows I can't duplicate that experience.

Then there's the part of me that can't stay away.

There's something impressive about watching a marathon - whether you've done one for not - and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to stand on the sidelines of the world's biggest and most prestigious 26.2.

However, this year's marathon weekend fell on what may have been one of the busiest for me and TC. We officially moved into our new place (which I love, by the way) on Saturday, so along with the usual packing and loading that goes along with that, TC had ambitious (yet apparently achievable) plans to completely unpack and organize the new place.

I took Friday and Monday off from work to give me some extra time to deal with moving must-do's. Inside, however, I thought of Monday as my carrot - a reward waiting for me at the end of a busy weekend. If we got "enough" done, we'd "let" ourselves go to the Boston Marathon.

Things were looking hopeful when, just 24 hours after we loaded the moving truck, we didn't have a single box left to unpack. Everything had a place, and to some it may have looked like we had been in the apartment for months.

We still had a short to-do list - things like hook up the DVD player, hang a cabinet in the bathroom and minor tasks like that, stuff that could generally wait a few hours until we returned home from the city.

The weather forecast was perfect for the marathon, a far cry from the raw, rainy weather we'd had over the weekend. TC and I made plans to get to our "usual" spectating spot (if you can have a "usual" after just one visit) - precisely at the corner of Hereford and Boylston, the last turn runners would take in their 26.2-mile journey.

Now Boston Marathon veterans (at least when it came to being on the sidelines), TC and I casually made our way via the subway to a stop near the Finish Line. We grabbed a bite to eat, then found a spot amid the 500,000 other spectators on the sidelines. (The 500,000 figure is not an exaggeration.)

We expectantly glanced down the road waiting for the elite runners to make the turn. We saw the motorcade pull off and the lead vehicles - a pick-up filled with photographers and a truck with the giant digital timer affixed to its roof.

A wave of cheers came from the crowd, which seemed to lurch forward as the runners whizzed by. First the elite women (they got an early start), then the elite men. Their athleticism was impressive and almost seemed un-human. They ran with what looked to be little effort, pulling in paces faster than I could run at a full-on sprint - even if someone where chasing me with a knife. And they had just done that for 26 miles.

Then, we saw what I like to call the "fast but real" runners - not the ones that are going to win the marathon, but ones that are still amazingly fast and fit. Then, the "like me" runners - the ones that came every age, shape and size, each one running for a different reason.

Some were smiling. Others were struggling. Some rallied the crowd as they rounded the turn. The people on the sidelines happily obliged - ringing cowbells, whistling, cheering and calling runners by name.

It was less than a half-mile to the Finish Line from that point. They had already made it. I've been told, appropriately, that a marathon is just the celebration and culmination of the months of hard work that leads up to the race. The hard part - the early mornings, aches and pains, long miles - is mostly over.

I couldn't help but recall the feeling I had when I crossed the Finish Line last fall. It was an indescribable sense of accomplishment and pride. It was probably - actually, undoubtedly - the most self-empowering feeling I can imagine.

After all, I had done it. Although I'm not sure I could have become a marathoner without the support of my friends, family and loved ones, it really came down to whether I wanted to train, whether I wanted to spend three months of Saturday mornings hitting the pavement for double-digit runs, whether I wanted to hurt and ache and chafe and sweat - whether I wanted to cross the finish line. No one else could get me there.

As I stood there at the last turn of the Boston Marathon route earlier today (the pic above is my view of the race - after wiggling and pushing my way to the front of the crowd), I couldn't help but want to be part of it.

The Boston Marathon seed planted in my mind two years ago became a sprout last year. Will it go into full bloom this year?

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