Reflections on the Boston Marathon

I live close to mile 24 of the Boston Marathon and when I’m in town I love to go watch it. Today I was there for more than an hour, from just before the elite runners arrived till the first part of the main group came through. I enjoy cheering for the runners. Those with their names in big letters make it easier to give them a boost. Some highlights today were:

  • The lead pack of women, still neck and neck when they went by
  • Deriba Merga, way ahead of the rest of the men
  • The wheelchair participants
  • The man with the “Cheetah” prosthetic legs –he got the biggest cheers
  • The man with the big American flag. How could he possibly carry it?
  • The man in the Captain America suit. Must have been incredibly hot in there
  • The guy waving the Montreal Canadiens flag. What chutzpah!

Still, I felt the most empathy for the runners who were cramped up or out of gas by the time they got to 24, and were walking or hobbling along. It brought back memories from 30 years ago when my dad –40 years old at the time, younger than I am now– ran the Marine Corps Marathon on November 4, 1979 in Washington, DC. It was a big day on the world stage as well, the day the US embassy in Tehran was taken over, and a day that made a big impact on me for other reasons.

I was in seventh grade and had kept my dad company while he trained for much of the previous year, often biking along the tow path on the C&O Canal in Washington when he did his long runs on weekends. My dad is competitive  and disciplined, and much more of an athlete than I ever was or will be, so it was a big disappointment for him when he cramped up and had to alternate between running and walking for the last few miles.  I wasn’t dressed for it or planning on it, but I ended up getting on the course with my dad and keeping him company as he hobbled along.

Somewhere around the end of the race –probably about mile 24– a guy with a big sloppy beer gut started taunting my father. “This is the Marine Corps Marathon! You don’t walk!” My dad was pretty burned up by that comment, and I felt pretty lousy about the whole thing, feeling sorry for my dad but knowing he wouldn’t want that. My dad managed to finish –taking 3:40 instead of  his 3 hour target time that would have qualified him for Boston.

My dad didn’t do any more marathons but he continued running shorter races, sometimes winning in his age group. At Thanksgiving he could usually be counted on to win a turkey. His knees are shot now but he still works out and keeps in shape. Somehow I doubt the guy with the beer gut from 30 years ago is quite as healthy.

April 20, 2009

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