I’ve decided to write about the 2013 Boston Marathon anyways, because I want you to know what it’s like. I want you to know how intimate this whole thing is, what it feels like for someone who ran it yesterday. I want you to know that this race of 26,000 people starts on a two lane road in a little town out in the country and it ends on a narrow street in the heart of one of America’s oldest cities: Boston, the birthplace of what many people call the American War for Independence.
I want you to know we rise early on a Monday in April—it’s a state holiday so as the rest of the country is meeting the federal tax deadline Boston is observing Patriots Day—and we meet at a park to board yellow school buses out to the town of Hopkinton and yes I cut the line again this year. On the bus the excitement is high but the nervous tension is higher, a young woman nervously devouring an incalculable quantity of bagels, young dude relaying the dew point to anyone who will listen, strangers debating the merits of competing brands of GPS watches. I want you to know that yes in Hopkinton there are actual NO STOPPING MONDAY towaway zone signs in which a runner breaking the tape figures as the central element of design, those aren’t for sale at tourist traps in town and yes we all lounge around in the grass at Hopkinton High School pretending to enjoy the perks of free coffee, Gatorade, bagels, bananas and a ravey remix of Soulja Boy “Superman” on the loudspeakers before jogging through a neighborhood to the corrals at the start, everyone in town so…so friendly, even the cops who pull you from behind the tree you’re using instead of a port-a-john.
Yes I‘m still me so I want you to know I jogged nonchalant to the front of the pack as befitted my low bib number and corral assignment, you’ll allow me this one indiscretion just as the grizzled race officials yelled to one another to let me through, the loudspeakers were blasting the classic “Mr Big Stuff” (“who do you think you are???”) as I climbed into the corral at the very front and anyways I got what I deserved, starting too fast or rather the pros started too slow, friends from Moscow and Mexico telling me later they saw me online or on TV coverage at the start, the worst thing to hear, really, I found myself running next to Gebremeskel before slamming the brakes and the first mile passed in 5:13. It was downhill though.
I want you to know most of the Boston Marathon is like that: “net downhill.” Doesn’t make the hills that come later feel any better but I want to tell you this year I ran with a guy who showed me how to make those hills of Newton manageable, you can actually take your time, relax and flow through those heartbreaks and everything after comes down to your preparation or critical lack thereof.
And now I want to tell you that I lived in NYC on 9/11. I want you to know that if as a New Yorker I will always run the NYC Marathon (and it is the world’s marathon), as an American I will always run the Boston Marathon because the Boston Marathon is America’s marathon, I want to tell you the entire length of this 26.2 mile race is jammed with passionate spectators year after year, for 117 years this has been their marathon as much it is yours when you’re running it, in our current running boom with its fringe fads, drugged up charlatans and overproduced outfits that underdeliver forced on us by two corner hustlers who put branding and sponsors before the runners actually putting one foot in front of the other I want to tell you that the talk around the Boston Marathon is about Bill Rodgers greeting runners at the prerace expo and about Joanie still lining up “to get a time,” I want to tell you about the Somali cab drivers treating you like royalty just because you are a marathoner and how I made it through Monday thanks in part to a young Canadian brother with a warm intelligence, full body tattoos and three years of clean blood in his veins who took six minutes off his previous marathon best, and I want to tell you about these proud Boston cops, these cops who early in the morning yesterday bellowed, Good luck guys, these cops who were out there again this morning to call out, Good morning, sir, how are we today? and likewise the handsome young priest stopping you on the street with some kind words to ask if indeed you are ok today.
I want these words to find you, catch you off guard and ask you to take pause, just as the FBI announced themselves with a soft knock and badges at the door of our rented apartment less than an hour after the explosions you’ve read and heard so much about, I hope these words will have a brief chance to move around, find you and fill you with doubt about calculus you hadn’t considered and shame for the petty destruction you planted near the finish line, just as I hope to say something counter to those who will even use yesterday’s act of cowardice and fear as yet another dull tool to confuse and divide us, I‘m talking now about the people who don’t actually run but are claiming the Boston Marathon and are talking about it for personal agendas surely as they are exercising their precious freedom to do so.
The flags were at half mast today in Boston as I made my way on Bolyston Street amid the throngs of media and tourists documenting destruction, cops stopping me with kind words and little jokes before I jumped on an anonymous Chinatown bus that will get me back to NYC in time to pick up my son from soccer practice, take him out for a burger, check his homework and put him to bed before hanging this finishers medal on the wall of his bedroom. It was only late in the day when I realized how heavy this particular medal is.
Text and photography Knox Robinson