Like a lot of other people, I thought I was going to write something about the boston bombers. I haven’t rules it out, but I’m leaning more and more to spending the summer working on something else. That said, I have some drafts I wrote over the past two weeks, stuff I liked or at least felt are worth sharing. Here’s one of them, along with some Marathon-related photos I have taken since April 15….
Everyone who grew up in Boston has a marathon story. This one is mine.
I grew up in Melrose, a few miles north of Boston. Between 1975 and 1980 – when I was just about old enough to understand just how long 26.2 miles is – a guy named Bill Rodgers from our town won the Boston Marathon four times. Later, as a high school kids, we’d use the day – a holiday in Boston that always fell in the Massachusetts school vacation week – to go into the city and catch a glimpse at the sight of tens of thousands of runners crowded into the streets of Boston.
In 2006 a friend and I went to the Patriot’s Day Red Sox game, a Boston tradition and the only game on the Major League Baseball schedule that starts in the morning. The 11 a.m. start time is a throwback to the days when the marathon started at noon, meaning in most years – barring rain delays and extra innings — fans could leave Fenway Park and be in Kenmore Square, about a mile from the marathon finish line, as the lead runners passed.
In recent years, however, the Boston Athletic Association had moved up the start times, so now the game ended around the time “normal” people were nearing the finish of the race. But whether they were the Kenyans, Ethiopians and occasional American who flirted with times close to two hours, or the people who had day jobs and still found time to log hours of training and finish in four, five or six hours – the people running the marathon never seemed normal to me. I was no longer a seven-year-old kid in awe of my hometown hero, but a 33-year-old who drank and ate too much and exercised too little. The idea that anyone could run 26.2 miles seemed just as unbelievable to me then as it had when I coveted Bill Rodgers’s autograph as much as a Carl Yastrzemski rookie card.
“These people?” I said to my friend as runners trudged by us. “It’s amazing. I could never do what they do.”
Six months later I proved myself wrong, and finished the Dublin Marathon in just over six hours. Two years later I finished the 2008 Boston Marathon and two years after that, I finished the 2010 New York City Marathon. At this writing, I am done with distance running with three marathon finishes to my credit.
But the only one that really matters, the only one that really counts, is Boston.
You don’t have to have run Boston to call the marathon your own. We liked that our marathon was one of the oldest, one of the toughest and – without argument – the most prestigious in the world. We liked that in running circles you simply had to say “Boston,” not “the Boston Marathon” for people to know what you were talking about. It was the one place in sports where we always topped New York City, and it made us a world-class city that could be mentioned in the same breath as Chicago and London and Berlin.
Unlike many other major, metro-area marathons, the Boston Marathon doesn’t confine itself to just the city proper. It starts 26.2 miles west of the city, in sleepy Hopkinton, and winds through five additional towns before runners cross over the Boston city line for the last mile and a half. More than a million people live within walking distance of the course, and those people have parties, set-up unofficial water stops and have as much right as the runners to call Boston their own.
The former Red Sox utility player and talk radio show host Lou Merloni never ran Boston. But he grew up in Framingham and remembers lugging a bucket of oranges to the end of his street every Patriots Day morning to pass out to runners as they sped past. Long before I met her, my fiancée was one of the Wellesley College students who lined the course in front of the school and offered kisses to passing runners (as a runner, one of the most incredible aspects of the race is being able to hear the cheering of the Wellesley students several minutes before and after you see and kiss them). In 2013 I was working with students in my Social Media & Journalism class at Bridgewater State University to live-tweet the race from various points on the course and share with them the excitement of an event that had become so important in my life.
Patriot’s Day – which is interchangeably known as Marathon Monday in Boston – is our holiday. It commemorates the start of spring as much as the start of the Revolutionary War. It was a reason to celebrate Boston and Massachusetts as much as a reason to celebrate the start of a nation.
And that is why the bombings felt so personal to so many people, and why they made us feel so helpless. It wasn’t just that the bombers had taken away lives. They had taken away a way of life for all of us.
And, it being 2013, we took to social media to vent our rage, express our disbelief and, most of all, share our sorrow.
“Ain’t no love in the heart of the city,” Dzhokhar Tsarnaev posted to Twitter a few hours after the bombs went off. “Stay safe people.”