My sanity was questioned recently with this question: Why would anyone want to run a marathon? It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this so I determined to do what I often do when presented with a deep question: write about it. I run for so many reasons and it is often difficult to verbalize those reasons. But something happened after that question was asked that brought all my thoughts together: I ran the Boston Marathon.
MONDAY, APRIL 17, 8:30AM:
So many thoughts and emotions course through me as I wade through the sea of humanity that has invaded the field behind Hopkinton High School, awaiting the start of what many consider to be the greatest race in the world. There is an enormous sense of pride in being a part of this remarkable event. There is also a humbling recognition that I’m part of a 121-year history that includes many of the greatest runners of all time—Bill Rodgers, Johnny Kelley, Kathrine Switzer, Meb Keflezighi, Catherine Ndereba; an epic race filled with stories of triumph, pain, great courage, terrorism.
There are also feelings of anticipation, nervousness, excitement, concern. Have I trained enough? Be careful in that first downhill mile. How can there be a 20-minute wait when there are at least 500 portable toilets in this field? Are my shoes tied too tight? What is that smell? Am I really ready for the pain of the next 3 hours? And maybe the biggest question of all: Why am I here?
As I stretch, jog, and munch on a power bar, the athlete’s village announcer continues his pre-race announcements: Don’t pet the guard dogs. Lather up with sunscreen. Don’t ask the official photographers to take your picture with your cell phone. Wave 1 runners, line up to head to the starting line. At 9:30, the 7,000 runners of Wave 1 begin the congested walk from the athlete’s village, up Grove Street toward Main Street. A block before Main Street, we cluster together as thousands of us line up once again in front of another hundred Porta Potties—effective hydration and limited toilets greatly contribute to this pre-race ritual of marathon runners. Knowing the start is minutes away, many of the runners—yes, including me–bypass the toilets and relieve themselves in the nearby trees, shame and shyness be damned.
At 9:45, Wave 1 runners are corralled onto Main Street. Hopkinton residents offer encouragement, cheers, a pre-race beer (denied by most). The sun is shining and the temperature hovers in the mid-60’s, on its way to the low 70’s. For spectators, it’s a perfect day. 27,000 runners aren’t so sure as the morning chill gives way to beads of sweat.
At 9:55, I snap a shameless selfie with my cell phone to try in some way to capture the magic of where I am. Runners press in on each other but we don’t mind—there is a camaraderie among these thousands of friends I’ve never met; a sense that we all belong together. For the next 3-5 hours, we will all be united, bound by a purpose to conquer this challenge we all volunteered to tackle. We will help each other along, perhaps without saying a word, understanding what each is thinking, feeling what each other is feeling, knowing we got to Main Street in Hopkinton by very different, yet very similar paths paved with sweat, hard work, dedication, and a few pair of smelly shoes. We’re all headed toward the same goal and that realization bonds us together.
The elite runners, lining up two blocks in front of me, are announced: Galen Rupp, Geoffrey Kirui, Meb Keflezighi. The mass of flesh presses even tighter, inching closer to the starting line. I turn to a nearby flag as the Star Spangled Banner is sung. My heart hammers in my chest. The rush is amazing. Finally, at 10:00 AM, the starting gun is fired.
Just what is this fascination with running? Why do so many men and women from around the world have an insatiable drive to sacrifice their comfort, their time, and a big chunk of change to pile into school buses in downtown Boston early on a Monday morning and ride for almost an hour to the town of Hopkinton to spend 3-4 hours of great discomfort running to the very place where they started hours before? Common sense would ask, “Why didn’t all of you just sleep in and walk a few blocks to the finish line?”
After most races, my mouth feels like I’m chewing dried cement. My shirt and shorts are drenched with sticky sweat. My gut throbs and my legs ache. And my mind wrestles with what it was that drew me to this activity. In the middle of that mixture of bodily fluids and thoughts, the big question always hovers—Why? Why do I do this? What could possibly motivate a sane person to lace up a pair of lightweight shoes, put on a skimpy pair of shorts, and beat his legs senseless for hours on a surface created for Michelin and Goodyear, not Asics and Nike? What sadistic, inconceivable thrill can be found in punishing the human body in such a way?
MONDAY, 10:04 AM
The human wall of runners inches slowly toward the starting line. I’m in Coral 7 of Wave 1 and it takes me 4 minutes of walking and slow jogging through the mass of humanity to get to the starting line. As I cross the bright blue and yellow line, a nearby runner kisses his hand and bends down to touch the line in honor and respect. Most of the first mile is downhill and I repeatedly remind myself to hold back, careful not to give in to the temptation to fly down the hill and burn myself out too soon. I’d heard the advice many times before the race: “Don’t go out too fast on that first hill or you’ll regret it later in the race.”
Compounding the temptation to over-exert in the first few miles is the cheering crowd. The adrenaline rush is intense and it’s a challenge to resist the urge to impress these new fans of mine. And yes, they are my fans. The wonderful truth about the Boston Marathon—in fact, about most running races—is that most of the tens of thousands of spectators who line the course from beginning to end don’t come out to just see the greatest runners in the world. They don’t leave after the elite speedsters pass by; they stay and cheer; for hours they cheer and high five and hand out wet cloths and ice and water to the mere mortals invading their neighborhoods. It’s icing on the cake to see the world’s best sail by, far ahead of the rest of us; but they are here to cheer me on, and the young kid next to me and the elderly lady and the college kids and the wheelchair racers and the thousands of other average folks like me who aspired to do something extraordinary with their Monday morning. I can almost feel the respect and admiration they have as they look in my face and see the determination and drive—and that admiration and cheering will work its way into my heart and soul and keep me moving forward for the next 26 miles, one step at a time.
As I pass the one mile marker I look at my GPS watch to see that, in spite of all the self-talk, I’m a bit ahead of my planned pace. I determine to hold back a bit in the next few miles—but that crowd, and the downhill, and the excitement…As we leave Hopkinton and enter the town of Ashland, the cheering continues and I work my way to the side of the road so I can high five the hundreds of kids and adults who excitedly hold out their hands.
Near mile two I grab my first cup of Gatorade, not really thirsty yet but recognizing the importance of taking in fluids, particularly on a warm, sunny day. The course is filled with aid stations every other mile, each one manned by volunteers who eagerly hand out Gatorade and water and offer cheers and encouragement to the runners. I am amazed by the enthusiasm of the thousands of volunteers, by their selfless giving and their positive attitude as they work for hours filling cups, handing them out, getting splashed on, shouting encouraging words, cleaning up the mess long after the runners pass by.
As I cruise toward the 10 Kilometer marker in Framingham, the temperature climbs steadily. A strong tailwind pushes us along but it would be nice to have some sort of breeze in the face to cool things off. With the sun beating down overhead, I work my way toward whichever side of the road is shaded by a building or trees. It’s not too uncomfortable yet, but with 20 miles to go, I’m planning for the future and doing whatever I can to reserve the energy I’ll desperately need soon. This also provides me the opportunity to keep the high fives going with my new friends and now favorite people in the world. The crowd is still huge—young, old, college students, a lady in a wheelchair, babies—all here to see the crazy people who decided that a Monday morning day off work would be best spent, not in a quaint New England café eating pancakes and drinking coffee, but seeing the beautiful countryside on foot in lightweight shorts and a sweaty T-shirt, pain written all over our faces.
I look at my watch again and see that I’m about on pace with my plan. I do a full body scan to assess my vitals—doing OK, feeling strong, but still cursing those 3 weeks of training I missed 2 months ago with a lower right leg injury. However, there’s no question in my mind that I’ll finish this battle because that’s what runners do.
I suppose long distance running is not unlike climbing mountains. A few years ago I read John Krakauer’s book, “Into Thin Air,” the story of his expedition to the top of Mount Everest. Early in the book he explores the age-old question of “Why?” Why do some men and women have this avid drive to risk their lives—nearly 200 climbers have died attempting to reach Everest’s summit—and a great deal of money—a climber could spend over $60,000 to be guided to the top of the world—to stand on a very small piece of land in southern Asia?
Thinking logically, it seems very strange that climbers start at the bottom of the mountain, spend up to six weeks of perilous hiking to get to the summit, then trek all the way back down to end up right where they started. Wouldn’t it make more sense to hire a helicopter to drop them off at the top, leave them for a while to take a few pictures, then pick them up? So much less work, so much cheaper, and the inside of the helicopter is heated. So, why? The well-worn answer is, “Because it’s there.” That’s what they have been telling us for years. This answer may not make sense to many, but I believe it resonates with most runners. We train for hours and hours, sweating and straining to get in shape and to prepare for the next race. We get up early and hit the pavement or treadmill when the rest of our family is still sleeping. We push our bodies to painful limits in workouts then do the same even more painfully in a race. Whether you are a casual runner whose goal is to finish a race, or a fierce competitor who is out to better your time or beat your neighbor, there is something in most every runner that pushes us to leap some unseen hurdle; to scale an imposing wall; to conquer some massive Everest looming large above us.
A legitimate question could be asked: “With all this talk of pain and effort, do you even enjoy running?” Absolutely! Although running competitively or to reach a challenging goal involves a great deal of hard work and pain, running is also an enjoyable and exciting activity that provides incredible health benefits, the opportunity to experience nature up close and personal, to travel and see the world, and the time to think and meditate or listen to music, audio books, or podcasts in your own quiet world. And there is nothing like the feeling of freedom experienced when flying down the road with the sky above, the wind in your face, and nothing but thin shoe soles between you and the earth.
MONDAY, 11:10 AM
Near the town of Natick, 10 miles into the race, behind the wall of enthusiastic spectators, a train rolls past on its way toward Boston. A fleeting thought tickles my brain—it would be so nice to be on that train heading to the city in comfort. But the thought is brief as I remember that I’m in the middle of something life-changing and monumental. Why would I want to take the easy way when I have the opportunity to be a part of something so much more purposeful than comfort, more meaningful than just getting to a destination, something bigger than my own small world? To borrow from Masters runner Roger Robinson, running is a celebration of life and health and freedom—the freedom to get somewhere in my own strength because I put in the time and effort to make it possible. And in getting to my goal, I can look back with the pride of accomplishment, feeling like a hero surrounded by thousands of other heroes who are celebrating that life and freedom with me.
Boston is a “Point to Point” marathon—the start is in Hopkinton and the finish is in downtown Boston, 26.2 miles away. Much of my thinking time (there’s plenty of it during 3 ½ hours of running) is spent navigating the turns to run the fewest number of steps (running the “tangent”) and aiming for the shadiest spots. I’m also wondering how much longer I’ll have the strength to keep the high fives going. Fortunately, a few miles into the race, the clouds appear to provide some relief, but the temperature hovers near 70. As the sweat continually runs down my face, I feel thankful for my lucky sweat rag—a Disney Lilo and Stitch washcloth my daughter gave me years ago that accompanies me in all of my races.
As I near 12 miles, I ponder a decision I’ve wrestled with from the start: I have purposefully held back my pace the first half of the race to have the strength to finish strong; to run a negative split (faster second half than first half). I want to pick up my pace at some point and decide that I’ll try this at the 14 mile mark. My mile splits to this point are a bit slower than usual and as I inventory my body, it feels like there might be enough in the tank to do this. However, with this being my first Boston Marathon, I have little understanding of what the next 7 miles are going to throw at me.
Near the halfway point, I hear a gradually-increasing roar that has an intensity unlike any heard in the previous 13 miles. I’d heard about the famous “Women of Wellesley” and their “Scream Tunnel”—I’m about to experience it up close. For over 100 years, the students of the all-women Wellesley College have lined the Boston Marathon course that runs alongside their school to scream and cheer and kiss and high-five the thousands of sweaty runners who cruise past their outstretched arms. As I motor down the slight downhill, my right hand held out to high-five as many hands as I can reach to acknowledge their undying support, I’m filled with an adrenaline rush as it feels again like these are hundreds of my adoring fans cheering for me. I’m only halfway through this grueling experience but for a brief minute, I feel like I could run forever. Three long miles later, I’m beaten back to reality by the equally famous hills of Boston.
The marathon race is named after the ancient Greek city of Marathon. The story is told that in 490 B.C., the under-manned Greeks defeated a massive Persian army on the plains of Marathon. A Greek soldier by the name of Pheidippides was sent to the city of Athens, about 25 miles away. His goal was clear: deliver the good news of the victory. Legend has it that when he reached Athens he declared, “Rejoice, we conquer,” and collapsed to the ground. The purpose, and sanity, of every distance runner since has been in question.
A few years ago, the brother of a good friend of mine ran the Leadville 100—a 100-mile ultra marathon in the mountains of Colorado. The race starts at an altitude of 9,200 feet and ascends up to 12,600 feet. The winning time that year was 15 hours, 42 minutes, 59 seconds. Many may ask, “What is wrong with you?” Hundreds of athletes train for months or years for the annual Ironman Triathlon held in Hawaii each year—a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. 80 ultra-marathoners each summer brave the 120+-degree temperature that saturates Death Valley to compete in the Badwater Ultramarathon: 135 miles of nearly intolerable torture. My physical therapist is running 5 marathons in 5 days later this month. 31 runners ran 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 different continents in January of this year. Why? The answer, and motivation, may be different for each runner. But most of these athletes are driven by something more than total insanity or the desire for a finishing metal. They long for the challenge of the unattainable; the beating of the unbeatable; the accomplishment of a feat they have never done before. This challenge instills within the runner a drive to push his or her body, sometimes to the brink of wreckage, to achieve something considered utterly foolish to many.
MONDAY, 11:57 AM
As we close in on 16 miles, a steep downhill provides some coasting relief and I’m thankful for the chance to take it easy for a brief moment. As the 16-mile marker comes into view, I notice a large electric sign notifying runners that there is a medical tent at each mile marker. A thought crosses my mind: Not needed, I hope.
A few steps after the bottom of that steep hill, a strange heaviness overwhelms the lower half of my body as my legs seem to pick up an extra 20 pounds. In reality, I’ve just encountered the first of the many monstrous and deadly Newton Hills that have contributed to the infamy of the Boston Marathon. I had heard somewhere in the past that the hills weren’t all that bad—I’m not sure what the person who said this was smoking but I’d like to set the record straight: the hills are absolutely dreadful! Other marathons can boast of higher and steeper hills, but on this 70 degree day, at this point in the race, the next 5 miles of uphills chew me up, swish me around, gargle me, and spew me out all over Commonwealth Avenue. As I ascend these mountains, one after the other, I repeatedly wonder, surely this must be “Heartbreak Hill,” the last of the killer hills. But no, they just keep coming. With each hill, I curse so many things: gravity, pain, heat, my pasty dry mouth, the injuries of the past few months that interrupted my training, even Kenny Stevens, my friend who talked me into running track in the 7th grade.
The one thing I don’t curse is the spectators, who continue their amazing support, cheering, encouraging, handing out ice, water, wet rags, and popsicles and holding signs about how wonderful we all are. Near the 17-mile mark I grab my second energy gel but before I rip it open to squirt it in my mouth, I hear someone say something about “no caffeine.” Caffeine is good, right—pick-me-up, instant energy, and all that? Realizing I need every milligram of energy I can get, I toss the non-caffeine pack aside and grab a caffeinated gel pack down the line. I gulp it down on a straightaway between hills, hoping for some kind of surge of super-hero strength to make it through the Himalayas I’m crossing.
Somewhere in this climbing excursion I glance at my watch and realize that if my name was Galen or Meb I’d just about be at the finish. I’m quite jealous of Galen and Meb because they’re there, and I’m here, with the evil hills still tearing me up. I want to stop and walk so badly. It would be so nice to provide some relief to my throbbing legs but I’ve run enough of these things to not question why I’m still pushing through. I know why: because it’s there. Because I have a goal. Because I know that any goal worth achieving takes hard work and intense effort. I’ve been here before and I know what it will feel like to cross the finish line. And remembering that feeling, I lean forward and press on, past the pain, past the doubt, past the fear, past the 20-mile marker.
The first Boston Marathon, a 24.5 mile route that ran from Ashland to Boston, was won in 1897 by John McDermott in 2:55:10. In 1924 the course was lengthened to the Olympic standard 26.2 miles and the start was moved west to the present day starting city of Hopkinton.
In 1966, the first woman, Roberta Gibb, ran the full Boston Marathon unofficially, hiding in the bushes near the start. In 1967, Katherine Switzer became the first woman to be issued a race bib when she entered her initials instead of her full first name on the race application. When race officials recognized along the course that she was a woman, they tried unsuccessfully to remove her from the race. A photographer captured the scuffle and Katherine’s bold move went viral. She finished the race but her finish was not recognized officially. However, her brave defiance of the gender rules helped pave the way for official women entrants in 1972. Roberta and Katherine are now considered heroes and Katherine returned to run the 2017 Boston Marathon, celebrating the 50-year anniversary of her brave act. Of the approximate 27,000 participants in the 2017 race, over 45% were women.
MONDAY, 12:41 PM
As I near the infamous Heartbreak Hill that looms ahead before the 21st mile marker, a generous volunteer hands me half a banana. Potassium—good for regulating fluids and preventing muscle cramps; just what the doctor ordered for this point in the race. I consume the fruit, hoping for a miraculous relieving of the pains in my legs. A mile later, I’m quite disappointed in Dole—the miles and the hills have proven victorious over the banana. Heartbreak Hill feels more like “Leg-Break Hill” as it reaches down deep into my quads and other upper leg muscles and breaks them into near submission. But as hard as it tries, it won’t break my heart. The realization that this is the last significant uphill keeps me moving to the crest—most of the rest of the way is downhill. The sign held by the spectator at the top of the hill praising me for conquering the beast helps to keep me pushing on. The realization that there are 21 miles behind me and only 5 miles in front is enough to keep my legs churning in a forward running motion, knowing that stopping is not an option in my driven mind and heart. I’ve beaten the hill that promised to break my heart and I’m not about to let 5 measly miles keep me from being a Boston Marathon finisher.
Just past the 21-mile mark I bypass the energy gel offerings, counting on the Gatorade, water, banana, and 2 previous gels to get me to Boylston Street. The crowd is still massive and growing as we near Boston. Thousands of cheering fans pack the sidewalks along the course, in some places three and four rows deep. I muscle up the strength to high five a few of them in appreciation for their giving up a few hours of their lives to support me and my new close and smelly friends.
Even though the road from Heartbreak Hill to the finish is mostly downhill, there are enough short uphills in miles 22-25 to provide cruel mini-tortures. As the pain in my legs intensifies, I regularly slow to a jog for a block or two to rest the muscles and joints then pick the pace back up for a few blocks. I run this pattern for the final few miles, focusing on some landmark such as a traffic light or a road sign as my slow-down or speed-up spot. What started as a 7:10 per mile pace 2 ½ hours ago has become an 8:20 pace—so much for my goal of a negative split. So much also for any chance of a personal best—the missed training, the heat, and the hills destroyed that goal quite some time ago.
But there are other goals and motivations pushing me forward with 4 miles to go. I definitely want to hit my “C” goal of breaking 3:30. And there’s this runner I keep passing on my faster surges who then passes me when I slow to a jog—for some hard-to-describe reason, I’d love to beat this unknown guy. I suppose it’s because, like the marathon itself, he’s “there,” begging to be beaten. Sure, it makes little sense but it’s a reality and a purpose. I also keep pushing on because quitting just isn’t in me today—finishing strong is. And isn’t that what this city, and this race, and running, and life are all about—tackling some challenging, difficult, seemingly insurmountable obstacle and conquering it? Pushing through exhaustion, discomfort, and pain is a part of achieving success in so many endeavors of life. It may not always be physical discomfort, but in proving to myself that I can persevere in this race, I grow in the confidence that I can persevere through any of the inevitable difficulties life throws at me and become a better version of myself with each challenge.
Yes, I run for so many reasons: health, fun, comradery, competition. I run marathons, in part because they mimic life and challenge me to push myself beyond the limits of what I may have thought possible; they help me realize that I can do just about anything I determine to do. Runners enter marathons with a dream, a goal in our hearts. For some, that goal is to finish the grueling trial; for some, the goal is to beat a previous time; other runners dream of winning their age group; some hope to cross the finish line without walking. We also have dreams in life—landing the ideal job, getting a promotion, writing a book, overcoming an addiction, being a great parent. Something about achieving my dream on the long and difficult road between Hopkinton and Boston on a hot day in April convinces me that I can conquer any challenge that crosses my path.
The 1980 Boston Marathon is remembered for perhaps the world’s most famous sports cheater. Cuban American runner Rosie Ruiz was the first woman to cross the finish line and was declared the female champion. But upon further examination of her time, physical condition, photographs of the race, strange responses to questions (when asked about her training and if she ran intervals in workouts, she famously said, “I’m not sure what intervals are.”), and interviewing spectators, it was discovered that she jumped into the race near the finish line. A few days later, Canadian Jacqueline Gareau was declared the official winner. As of 2000, it is reported that Rosie still maintains she ran the entire race.
MONDAY, 1:13 PM
As my back-and-forth friend and I near the 25-mile mark, historic Fenway Park is on my right but I barely notice it. I want to notice it; I want to enjoy all the historic and natural sights of this wonderful city; I want to show each of the half million spectators that have lined the course since Hopkinton how much I love them and appreciate their love for us. But the reality is that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs kicked in miles ago and breathing, mere survival, and finishing have booted most other desires to the sidelines. I realize that many in the race have probably run smarter than me and have plenty of reserves in their tank to more fully enjoy this experience—after all, one of running’s great benefits is the opportunities it affords to see and enjoy the world. But this being my first Boston, I expended most of my reserves a few miles back and I’m in survival mode; and survive I will. I don’t allow myself to consider any other option.
I grab my last few sips of Gatorade and dump one final cup of water over my head as we turn right off Beacon Street onto Commonwealth Avenue. The crowd is growing along with my excitement about spotting the iconic finish line. A few hundred yards down Commonwealth we hang a right on Hereford Street. Up ahead is the final left turn onto perhaps the most famous marathon finishing street in the world—Boylston Street. And being a marathon of surprises for first-timers, there’s one more little unexpected nugget ahead—a small uphill onto Boylston that nearly derails me.
As I make the turn, I do a quick inventory to assess my condition for the final 500 yards. As much as my legs cry out for it, I determine not to walk any one of those 500 steps. I can’t let myself down; I can’t let my fans down. Of course they don’t know me from 27,000 others they’ll cheer for today, but it kind of seems like each of the thousands of cheering Boylston Street Bostonians is rooting for me to finish strong.
This thought brings to mind an amazing aspect of distance running that separates it from just about any other sport. At 10:00 in the morning, I lined up to “compete” with some of the greatest runners in the world. I didn’t show up to simply watch them or get their autograph; I’m participating in the very same race they are. When could I ever compete on the football field with Tom Brady or go up against LeBron James on the court? Yet here I am, running in the same race as Olympic bronze medalist Galen Rupp, Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi, and Kenyan great Edna Kiplagat. Sure I’ll never see them on the course and there’s no chance I’ll come close to their pace, but I’m running the same course in the very same event in which the world’s greats are competing. And perhaps even more remarkable, the same spectators who cheered for them over an hour earlier are now cheering for me, with the same enthusiasm and energy. It’s a rush like no other I know of in the world of sports. And remarkably, these same fans will be yelling with the same passion two hours later as the final runners turn onto Boylston Street. They’ll erupt in cheers for the runner with a prosthetic leg. They’ll root with admiration for the father pushing his handicapped son in a wheelchair. They will scream for the runner with only half an arm. And they’ll cheer when two runners stop to put their arms around a limping runner to help him cross the finish line.
In 2013, the Boston Marathon made worldwide headlines when terrorism struck the cheering crowd surrounding the finish line on Boylston Street. 3 spectators died, including an 8-year-old boy, and 16 others lost one or more limbs when 2 bombs exploded near the finish. Eight minutes after the bombings, over 5000 runners who were still out on the course were directed by race officials to stop running. A four day manhunt by the Boston police resulted in one police officer and one of the two brothers who planted the bombs being killed and the other brother being captured—he is now in prison awaiting his death sentence.
In response to the terrible tragedy, the Boston community and the running community worldwide bonded together in unity in a movement that came to be known as “Boston Strong.”
The following year’s Boston Marathon was an epic and heroic event, not only because it displayed the resilience and bravery of the city of Boston and the 35,671 runners who ran but also because 38-year-old perennial favorite Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the race since 1983. Inspired by the names of those who had died in the 2013 bombings that were written on his race bib, Meb broke away from the lead pack midway through the race and was never caught.
The beautiful bright blue arch above the famous finish line stripe calls out to me. Every step brings it closer to me. My body screams at me to let up, to coast in. I’ll still get the medal if I walk across the line. This isn’t going to be a PR anyway so what does it matter? But my mind and heart override the complaints of my deteriorating legs and sore feet. The competitor in me can’t let myself down. I know I have to give it everything that may still be left in me. I can hang on for one more minute.
With a quarter mile left, I find a final gear deep down. As if every swallow of Gatorade and water, the 2 energy gel packs, and the half of banana, along with the energy emanating from the cheering crowd, come together in my muscles and joints and send one final jolt to my legs. As I pass the 26-mile sign, I’m a reborn runner with a reserve of strength that propels me toward the finish line with a hobbling kick that drives me past a handful of runners.
Three hours and 25 minutes after I charged down the hill in Hopkinton, I surge across the blue and yellow finish line. Such a beautiful, embracing, celebrated line. So many emotions—relief, pride, an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. As I hobble through the finish chute, dozens of volunteers—those wonderful, beautiful volunteers—greet me with a warm smile and congratulations. I realize that these aren’t just volunteers checking a charity event off their to-do list. There is a look in their eyes that embraces me—a look of deep respect, for their city, for this historic race, for this old guy who pushed himself beyond the limits of sensibility to accomplish a goal set long ago and change his life forever.
So what is the answer to the why? I believe it’s something like this: In addition to the fun, the freedom, and the camaraderie, we run to fulfill a great longing to attain something that surpasses the typical; to give our all for something we set out to accomplish. And in that accomplishment, and the preparation it takes to achieve it, a confidence is built deep inside that embraces the truth that anything else in life we desire to achieve will be possible.