As someone who has never run the Boston Marathon, who doesn’t know first-hand the magic of Marathon Monday and the rush of the finish down Boylston Street, I sometimes feel “unqualified” to feel for the race like I often catch myself doing. No, I don’t have a connection to the city that those who have run it do. I can’t pretend to understand the cursories towards the Newton Hills or the elation the Citgo sign brings. I haven’t sat in anticipation during registration week wondering if my qualifying time was fast enough, or felt the camaraderie of boarding a flight at Logan International with dozens of people wearing the same jacket as me.
(I haven’t let myself daydream hard enough to decide whether I’ll be “one of those” people or not yet)
Millions of people have more of an earned love than I, yet I still feel a little piece of my heart is colored blue and gold. Why do I care so much?? Is this desperation or obsession – claiming to love something you don’t even know? The only other time I’ve felt this way was about Ben Affleck after Armageddon and come to think of it… if Pinterest is today’s taping Teen Beat pullouts onto you bedroom wall, then yeah actually this is kind of the same thing.
“2 years ago” – have I been a delusional masochist that long?
Like many others, I set out after last year’s race with a renewed vigor to train hard, qualify, and stand at that damn start line in Hopkinton. I wanted to pin that “2014 Boston Marathon” bib to my race singlet, stick my fist in the face of last year’s terrors, and prove first-hand just how resilient and damn proud runners are.
My anger and scorn towards the 2013 attacks seems a little surface-oriented, since I was thousands of miles away watching from the safety of my office, well out of harm’s way of the bombing. But as I sat in front of my computer streaming the live coverage this year, just as I did last, I felt all those helpless emotions rise back up. Only this year instead of fear, worry, and concern for everyone in the city, I felt excitement, gutting disappointment, and long-awaited satisfaction.
Yelling at the screen hoping Meb could hear, “he’s closing! Keep pushing!!” Hearing the gun announcing the start of the age group waves. Crying when Shalane told reporters that she wished her best was better. Wondering what it really felt like to run an entire 26.2 miles packed with spectators, like a home stretch crowd the entire course. Seeing paces creep higher and higher late, worrying a million worries and hoping it was “just” that their legs were shot from the hills. Staring un-blinking at the live finish line feed searching for triumphant friends, swelling with happiness for them and even the complete strangers distracting my view.
And wondering what it’d be like to cross that line some day.
I realized then that while being a participant is obviously the highest of regards, just being a runner is so much bigger than it seems. This bond, the community – the one you see when a cramping runner is carried across the finish line by fellow finishers, when your Twitter feed blows up with hundreds of fellow virtual cheerleaders completely immersed in the event, when you care so deeply about someone else’s day it feels like your own – that’s fucking special. One of the most individual and lonely sports is surrounded by so much support the minute you look out from within, and it just blows my mind.
I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to Boston or not. Lord knows my stubborn side will give a few more hacks at a qualifying time – cursing the whole way I’m sure – but I’d be lying if I said it was my main focus. Yes, the allure is there, so much that I’ve put myself on a one week “holding period” to try and avoid any secondhand endorphin highs instigating decisions I might regret a few months from now. But I’ve had my share of ups and downs with this maniacal hobby, and through them I’ve learned that the relationships rooted in the miles are what matter most. The training partners, mentors, converted friends, all of you!, and mostly, the relationship I’m building with myself. While I think we’ve debunked the claim that running is the “cheapest” form of therapy, there’s no denying that the best place to find yourself is a few miles into a therapeutic run. And that’s what I want to focus on.
I know earning one of those Adidas finisher jackets doesn’t define me as a runner, that I’m no more or less a part of this community with or without one. But as I strive to keep bettering myself and maintaining these healthy relationships I’m rebuilding with running, I hope someday it does take me down a path that has an April stop in Massachusetts on the itinerary.
I’ll keep avoiding the jacket-on-the-plane theoretical scenario until then.
If you’re wondering whether I ran in an obnoxiously “Boston from afar” outfit Monday anyway, Flat Sarah has been resurrected from the hamper to tell you, you’re fucking right I did